by Dierdre

ATF Universe

Part 7

He felt the blackness receding as the painful waves of reality washed over him. The first impression that he became aware of was the taste of blood in his mouth. He couldn't see a thing, then realized it would be necessary to open his eyes. His face was numb, save the left side of his jaw which throbbed in a tandem duet with the right side of his head. He was laying on his side, and managed to peel one eye open. It was dark, the blackness of the night gave the television, recliner chair and bookshelves he eyed a shadowy image. He blinked in confusion, trying to place where he was. Then the memory tripped back into his brain, Chris's black rage exploding.

"...ris...Chris..." He whispered painfully.

He rolled onto his stomach and tried to ease himself up on all fours. That was a mistake. A searing pain tore through his right arm and he collapsed, seeing red and gold stars dancing to the painful strumming that coursed through him. His breathing came in short pants, accentuated by soft cries of pain. He dared not close his eyes, fearing he'd black out again. As he lay in the dark, he tried not to let the swirling currents in his head have his stomach to upturn. It took several moments for him to collect himself. He cradled his injured arm and eyed the table next to him. The lump on the right side of his head made quite a dent in the wood, no doubt. He wiggled until he was sitting up, his back to the table. Taking a deep breath, he used his left arm to push himself up.

"Aw, hell..." He hissed as the room began to spin. He staggered forward through the door and towards the railing the led upstairs. The ceiling light illuminated the entryway. He grabbed at the rail and blinked, trying to focus, as he heard voices. His sudden movement across the room slam danced with his throbbing jaw and pounding head. As the contents of his stomach rose with a vengeance, he heard Chris's desperate voice overhead. The utter defeat that echoed in the hollow tone scared the Texan.

"Sarah...I miss you...and Adam. I need...need to see you again. I'm coming, Sweetheart."

Vin's heart began to pound as Chris's suicidal words struck him.

"No..." He whispered, fighting the black spots. In his urgency, he moved too quickly and fell forward, brushing the railing with his injured arm. The wave of pain caused the bile to move more rapidly. He eyed the bathroom a few feet away and left the staircase. He almost made it.

+ + + + + + +

Chris was sitting on the floor, his back against his bed. He watched Adam through bleary eyes, hearing the word 'protector' slam into his head again. He hit mute button, not wanting to hear the voices anymore. The half-empty bottle of Jack Daniels rested in his lap. He aimed the remote at the television and hit the power button. He managed to get to his feet and stagger towards the bathroom. He flipped the light on and jumped back at the repugnance on the face staring back at him. The eyes were dripping with loathsome intent. The lips were curled in disgust.

"What the fuck are you looking at?" He screamed at the evil twin in the glass. The tortured image jeered at him, seeming to fill the room with garish laughter.

"You don't deserve Vin," the taunting twin spat, "It's not easy facing the truth. He's right and you know it. You'll lose him...you'll lose him...he's gone already. You've lost him...forever." The jeering voice began to laugh evilly.

"SHUT UP! SHUT THE FUCK UP!" Chris screamed, heaving a glass of water at his twin tormentor. "I hate you. Leave me alone." He cursed as the rivulets of moisture only enhanced the leering face.

He covered his ears in an attempt to escape the harsh laughter, but as he stumbled towards the bed, it only got louder. He collapsed on the bed, rolling his head around. He welcomed the blackness as it began to descend. The last image he saw was his best friend's crumpled still body.

"Don't leave me...Vin." He whispered as his eyes rolled shut.

+ + + + + + +

Vin landed just inside the bathroom door at the same time his stomach contents made an unwelcomed appearance. His feet shot back as the painful retching ensued, shutting the door behind him. The aching jaw didn't help as blood and vomit shot forth. By the time the last dry heave ended, the injured man was weak and worn. He slumped against the wall, next to the tub. He gasped great gulps of air, trying not to pass out. His held his right arm across his chest as his left hand explored and found the sticky lump on his head. He slid over enough to find the cold water faucet in the tub and managed to pull himself up enough to rinse his mouth and get a drink. As he thought on how to get back to the stairs and up to Chris, the walls closed in. He slumped sideways and slid down the wall onto the floor. His heart was tearing apart as his heavy eyes looked at the spots on the ceiling.

"Chris...don't..." He whispered before passing out.

+ + + + + + +

The first rays of dawn slapped the hungover man hard in the face. He squinted and rolled off the bed, covering his eyes. He lurched to the bathroom as his sour stomach rebelled. He ran the faucets and got cleaned up, washing down some aspirin with a mouthful of water. A Granddaddy of a hangover seemed punishment enough. As he dried his face, the triple images that were seared in his wounded brain seem to scream. Sarah, Adam and Vin. He'd neglected Sarah far too long. He hadn't been to the grave since the funeral. She deserved better than that. He had to apologize and make peace with himself once and for all. Vin...the laughing blue eyes dissolved into the image of his fist smashing into the Texan's face. The pain that lanced his heart was unequalled. He made his way to the window and hissed as the knife-like rays stabbed his eyes. The spot next to his truck, where Vin's bike had been, was glaringly vacant.

"Shit..." He smacked his palm painfully against the wall, rousing the hangover demons. They turned their jackhammers on high and he lurched to the phone. He punched out the numbers and held his breath. Vin's recorder came on. He covered his eyes with one hand and tried to make his lips work.

"Jesus God..." He croaked, "I'm sorry, Vin. I got no right asking forgiveness. I..." He swore and hung up, his words choking him. He dialed Vin's cell phone but go no reply.

His pounding head and sour stomach made the room shrink. He needed air...wind...he needed to talk to Sarah. He picked up her picture and traced the delicate curve of her face. "I'm sorry..."

He hushed, setting the frame down. His quest manifested inside the pounding head. After the atonement with Sarah and Adam, he'd find Vin and seek forgiveness, even if it meant hitting his knees. He stumbled from the room and bounded down the stairs, every inch of him throbbed and the roaring in his ears increased. He stopped only long enough to get his coat off the floor. He never looked back as he hurried to the truck, gulping great mouthfuls of cold air. He turned the ignition and gravel went flying as he pulled away. If he hadn't been in such a hurry, he'd have noticed the motorcycle under the deck outside the kitchen. It was right where Vin moved it, before the storm the night before.

+ + + + + + +

Someone was coughing painfully and it forced the sleepy eyes to open. It was then he realized he'd been the one coughing. He fingered the fresh vomit on his shirt and eyed the bright bathroom. The sunlight sliced through him like a knife. He felt like shit warmed over. His head felt like an axe was stuck in the side, his right arm was useless and his jaw was swollen and throbbing. Next to that, the dizziness and nausea seemed minor. He managed to stand and got the water in the sink going. He took large gulps of water, screwing his face up at the bitter taste of blood and bile. He washed his face and dried it, before being brave enough to face the mirror.

"Ya look like shit Vin." He muffled, eyeing the swollen, purple and blue jaw. Dried blood matted his hair high above his right ear. He eyed the swollen right wrist and hoped it was a sprain. His eyes widened as Chris's desperate plea replayed itself in his mind.

"CHRIS!" He hollered, opening the door and staggering outside.

His legs felt like lead as they went upstairs and into Chris's room. He closed his eyes as he entered, not prepared for the unholy sight that he might encounter. His heart was hammering, his breathing shallow and labored and he gripped the doorframe. Taking a deep breath, he opened his eyes. The sigh of relief was welcome and very audible. His eyes flicked towards the bathroom.

"Aw, hell." He hissed, eyeing the shower. He didn't wait for his pounding heart and trembling arms to stop him, he jerked the door open and sank against the sink in relief. Where was Chris?

He sat on the toilet seat and began to shake. He rocked back and forth, shivering so bad his teeth chattered. He'd been too late...he failed his best friend when he needed him most. Chris was already dead...his last minutes tormented and alone.

"No..." He cried softly, as a ghoulish image of Chris's body next to a gun sprung forth. The unseeing green eyes marred by blood. "No..." He coughed; grabbing the towel rack as the room started to spin. He closed his eyes until the wave passed. His heavy heart dictated the next move. He'd have to search the house. He held the injured wrist close to his chest. He eyed Chris's vanity and opened the drawers, searching for an ace bandage. He found one and wrapped his arm and wrist. He carefully tucked it inside his shirt and began his gruesome task.

An hour later his job was complete. He slumped exhausted onto a kitchen chair. He still couldn't stop shaking and his hands were like ice. Even with his coat on, he couldn't get warm. His mind was as numb as his injured face. Would Chris have the balls to go through with it? He remembered the half-empty bottle of booze on the floor upstairs. What if he were drunk? That would make it easier. The pain in his chest felt like a massive heart attack. A roaring throb fueled by a burning pain as his soul was slowly shredding. He eyed the approaching hour of ten a.m. If Chris hadn't done it in the house, where would he go? He'd been horseback riding with Chris and recalled a couple places the blond liked. He could check there. He stood and waited for his legs to begin working. They tried to walk forward but he took a zigzag path instead. His hand froze on the door. A painful explosion disrupted his intent. What if Chris went to the graves? What if he intended to do it there? He didn't even know where that was. He eyed the phone and dialed Buck again, hoping the line was free this time, the machine came on.

"Damn," He swore as the beep sounded. "Buck...I think...Chris...Buck, I need yer help...call...me .it's real important. Chris is ...I think's he gonna." Vin dropped the phone as the room spun wildly. "Oh God...not now..." He grabbed the door and hung on until it passed. He needed air. The sun provided some warmth and he took several deep breaths as he made his way carefully down the stairs. He went down on his backside, not trusting his bouts of dizziness. He'd keep calling Buck. Ezra was still in Rome and Nathan, J.D. and Josiah were skiing in Breckenridge. He slipped the bandaged hand from its protective nest. The support helped. He strapped his helmet on and turned the motor on. He wished the pain in his chest would go away. It made it difficult to breathe. But the thought of losing his soul-sharer ripped his insides with jagged teeth. He eyed the road and headed north, for a rocky overlook that was Chris's favorite spot. It was where the brooding man in black went to sort out problems. Would he have gone there to solve his final problem?

+ + + + + + +

Buck came back from the supermarket and dropped his groceries on the counter. He put away the perishables and eyed the clock. It was a couple minutes past noon. Time to read the paper before the game came on at one. He spotted the red light blinking on his machine and frowned. He pushed the button and went to pour a cup of coffee.


"Vin?" Buck's voice dropped in alarm and he retraced his steps, his heart gripped by the painful, frail voice on the phone. It wasn't just the disjointed words that caused his heart to turn to ice, it was the helpless small voice. He played the message again. What the hell had Chris done? What was 'he gonna' do? What did Vin mean? The aborted ending is what turned his blood cold. Vin's voice, barely audible, 'Oh God...not now." Not now what? The heaving breaths and crashing sounds didn't help anything. Buck played the message a third time and dialed Chris's house. The rhythmic sound of a phone off the hook greeted him. He dialed Chris's cell phone, which rang without answer. He tried Vin's cell and got no response. He tried Vin's house and left a message. He eyed the clock and dialed Josiah's.

"If you get in, call my cell. I got a scary message from Vin. I'll play it...I'm heading up to Chris's. Something's very wrong." He ended, and played the troubling call again. Vin's hollow voice stabbed him hard. He threw his coat on and jumped into the Bronco. He placed his cell on the passenger seat and kept trying Chris and Vin.

+ + + + + + +

Vin was an expert rider, but the combination of his dizziness and the ineffective right hand was making the trip difficult. The main roads were okay, but the trails were still slick from the storm. He'd checked out the most of Chris's favorite spots and now was heading for the rocky overhang where Chris went to brood. He slowed down as the patches of ice appeared. It was a well traveled trail off the main road, with tall pine trees on either side. He maneuvered down the path, eyes darting from the icy patches to the cluster of rocks ahead. A large splash of red stuck out amidst the golden leaves and gray rocks. His heart constricted and he hissed as the pain seized his chest. His breath was ragged and forced and his eyes hurt. The rocky outcrop was well below the road and it was difficult to see. But as he drew nearer, the red splash grew larger and was unmistakably a puddle of blood. It was at the edge of the rocks, overlooking a sheer drop. The split second it took for his silent scream to appear was too long. His tire's hit the slick spot and the bike slid out of control.

+ + + + + + +

"Vin!" Buck screamed, running in Chris's front door. Chris's missing truck didn't help ease his fears. He assumed the two men came together. He gave the utility room and kitchen a fast look and entered the den. He dropped to his knees next to the oddly angled table. His eyes saw the dark stain on the beige rug. His fingers traced the dried blood and his fears increased.

"Vin!" He called out again; racing towards the stairs that led upstairs. The unmistakable odor of vomit stopped him. He stuck he head in the bathroom off to the side and frowned.

"Shit." He hissed, spotting the congealed puddle of vomit and blood. His gaze saw the distinct imprints of bloody fingers on the rim of the tub. "What the hell happened?" His voice raged in frustration as he pounded the wall. He headed upstairs and spotted the bottle of Jack Daniels, lying on the floor. He saw the video sticking out of the VCR and went closer. Adam's familiar scrawl on the label stopped him in his tracks. The tape Sarah made just before the fire. All the originals were destroyed in the fire. He'd given it a couple years ago.

"Jesus, Chris. What the hell did you do?" He thought outloud, raking a hand through his dark hair. The haunting images appeared in front of him. That dark night when Chris attacked him in a drunken rage. Vin's broken voice still echoed in his head. He flipped open his cell phone and dialed Chris again. He heard the phone ringing nearby and looked around the bedroom. There on the floor by the bedstand, was Chris's cell phone.

"Shit." He sighed, dialing Vin as he headed down the hall, checking out all the rooms. He froze mid stride when the phone stopped ringing.

"Vin...you there?" He asked. "VIN!" He hollered, hearing the raspy breathing.

+ + + + + + +

The sun faded and dark clouds rolled in. Large fat icy rain fell, pelting the unmoving figure. He flinched and rolled, sitting up with a start.

"Damn." Chris swore eyeing the rain falling. He glanced at his wrist, only to discover he'd left without his watch. There was no sun to judge the time. How could this day possibly get worse? He never suffered such sickness after a hangover. He'd made his peace with Sarah. He'd sat against the granite stone, intending on closing his eyes for a minute to quell the constant pounding. He thought about his slain family and still felt pain that would never go away. But the rage was gone and so was the 'fuckin' pathetic martyr'. He knelt and traced Sarah's name with his fingers. He could almost hear her voice. It was lilting and passionate again; not angry as it had been when he'd arrived. He felt her very clearly. The unbridled anger at his thoughtless actions. The empty years he'd wasted brooding. Mostly he felt her cold anger at his treatment of Vin Tanner. She'd have loved Vin; she was a lot like him. A free spirit at ease with the universe and lover of nature. But he'd made his peace and felt she was resting at last. He felt a lightness inside and kissed his fingers and laid them on the stone.

"Thank you, Sweet Sarah...I love you." He proclaimed and then made the painful journey of a few feet and bent over Adam's grave. Two tears raced down his face as he kissed his fingertips and placed them on the etching of a child's face over Adam's name. "You take care of your Ma for me, Son. You're the man in charge now. I'm proud of you, Adam and I'll always love you."

He pulled his collar up and hastened his steps back to his truck. Vin's place was about fifteen minutes from the Denver Cemetery. He'd been calling constantly and hoped the younger man was sleeping. He'd stopped at a diner and used the payphone to call the hospitals, thinking if Vin left in the dark and was groggy; the icy roads might have been troublesome. But no record of a Tanner was found in the county where his house was or in Denver. He had no idea what to say to Vin. How could he look in those eyes after what he'd done? But the visit with Sarah had renewed his spirit. He wouldn't lose Vin. He'd do whatever was necessary to solidify their unique bond. He pulled up in front of the house and frowned. There was no bike.

"Oh God..." He groaned, rubbing his aching eyes. What if the bike and Vin went off the road? What if he was lying hurt somewhere on the mountain? His hand hesitated and shut the engine off. He jogged over to Vin's and let himself in with the spare key. The message indicator was blinking. Vin hadn't been home yet. Saturday's mail was still laying on the step. He picked up Vin's phone in the kitchen and dialed Buck. The rest of the team was out of town. Buck's machine came on. Chris swore and eyed the clock. It was after one and Buck was probably in one of the Sport's Bars watching the game. He dialed the cell number but the call wouldn't go through. He turned towards the door, intending on heading back home and checking out the path carefully.

His eye caught a small picture on the end table by the door. It was at the surprise birthday party the team threw for Vin a few months after he'd joined the team. They expected him to be angry, cussing them and carrying on. His cranky humor touched all of them, but he'd surprised them. His wide-eyed gaze, flushed face and silence had left them shifting uncomfortably. They'd held it at the office after work and he slipped outside, seeking higher ground. Chris found him on the roof, looking very young and vulnerable. After a quiet talk, which took forever, the few lines Vin did utter indicated he'd never had a party before. The former loner was still struggling to fit in and adjust as a team member. The newly forming friendships were hard for him. They talked for some time and Vin finally relented and rejoined the party. It took Buck all of ten seconds to get a smile on the sullen face. Chris smiled recalling Buck's arm draped around the smaller man and the affection in the teasing tone. J.D. took the picture, Vin looking sheepish and Buck grinning like a fool. "Where are you, Cowboy?" He sighed painfully and locked the door.

Part 8

Why didn't it stop? The ringing in his head was back. He groaned and covered his ear, but that didn't work. He was cold, no, he was freezing. The uncontrollable shivering had only made the aching body feel worse. He shifted pulled his coat closer, watching dizzily as the tree limbs above him moved like a kaleidoscope. He turned his head painfully his blurry vision couldn't find the road. He raised his head painfully, hissing as the pain intensified. He realized the ringing wasn't in his head. His pocket was ringing. A picture formed in his head of the phone. His frozen fingers fumbled with the pocket, but he finally got the phone free. The effort left him breathless and as he flipped it open, he saw the black spots dancing.

Someone was talking to him. He turned his head, his fuzzy sight saw only dancing tree limbs and mud. "'lo.." he whispered. "who...who..se...there..."

"Vin!" Buck faltered, his heart sinking at the fragile pitch. "Vin, where are you?"

Vin frowned and looked for the owner of the voice. He knew that voice. Another picture...a man with a mustache. "Buck..." He gasped, "...ya here." he hoped. "...hurry..."

"Aw, hell." Buck lamented, hearing the confusion. "Vin...You hurt bad?"

"Buck..." He squinted, looking for a body, the voice near his ear continued to distract him. "...wait...somebody's on the phone."

"Shit..." Buck swore, unlocking his car and sliding behind the wheel. The confusion now spelled out a bad injury, probably a head injury, "Vin, I'm the one on the phone. Where are you?" He said sharply. "You better tell me." He hollered.

"...sorry Buck...lin..." Vin's voice fell "...don't be mad..."

Every painful word struck Buck like bullets. His mind drew a picture of the Texan, bleeding and broken. "I'm not mad, Junior. Where's Chris? Is he with you?"

"Chris...Oh God...Buck...he's dead...my fault...a few seconds shorter...should have pulled the tape..."

"Dead?" Buck's voice rose in alarm, as his blood went ice cold. "Vin where are you, dammit!"

"Uh...uh...m'tired Buck. Wait a minute..."

"NO!" Buck screamed, hearing the fading voice. "You tell me now!"

"Uh...his black place..."

"Black place?" Buck puzzled. "Are you in the truck?"

"No...bike hit ice..."

"Where Vin?" Buck demanded, hearing the voice grow weaker. "What black place?"

"...he said he missed her...needed to see her...was coming...I shouldn't have hollered at him....Oh God..." Vin gasped.

"VIN, Stay awake." Buck screamed, mentally trying to sort out the tangled message, "You off the highway?"

"Yeah...the place...broodin' spot...I seen the blood...shook me up...lost control...you here Buck? I'm cold..."

"I know you are, Son." Buck eased, hoping to take the fear from his voice. "Brooding place..." He cocked his head and then his eyes widened. "The Outlook...Vin, keep talkin' to me I'm not far. You and Chris have a fight?" "...damn martyr...told 'im so...told...told...Adam'd be 'shamed...told 'im" Vin sighed. "...he snapped...my face got in the way...s'cold..."

"I know Vin, I'm almost there." He coached, his eyes spotting the bike lying in the road ahead. "Vin wave your hand, I can't see you."

"Wave?" Vin croaked, dropping the phone.

Buck saw a small pink movement and leapt from the car. He ran past the bike and slid down the incline. "Vin..." He cried out, dropping beside the freezing form leaning against a tree stump. Vin's eyes were wide and dark. His rapid blinking told the older man he couldn't see him clearly. Blood covered the side of his face and one arm was cradled against his chest. Buck winced at the old bruises, undoubtedly Chris's signature. He did a quick check, and sighed in relief at the lack of broken bones. One knee was bloodied, but he was intact. He turned the face towards him and wiped the blood away. "It's Buck, Vin. Can you hear me? Talk to me, Junior."

Vin frowned at the voice. He tried hard to see who was talking. He knew the voice. He fumbled for the phone. "Buck...talk to Buck." He stuttered, handing the phone to the fuzzy form.

"Jesus..." Buck's hands were trembling. Vin was really out of it. He took the phone and put it in his pocket. "Come on Vin, we got get you to a hospital. He frowned at the icy hand that touched his face. The large blue eyes widened in recognition.


"Right here, Vin. You take it easy. I'm gonna get you up the hill to the car and...'

"No...Chris..." He pleaded, tears welling, "He's down there...I seen the blood. He said...said...told...Sarah he's comin'...I should...should have..." His head lolled

"Vin...wake up." Buck shouted, slapping the icy cheek.

"Huh?" The eyes blinked.

"Where's Chris?"

"With Sarah...I seen blood...I's too late...Buck...I's too late." He croaked, tears freezing on his face.

Buck kept one hand on Vin and eyed the icy, mud covered terrain. He saw the outlook and saw the large amount of blood and his heart sank. Could Vin be right? He leaned close and got Vin's muddled eyes to focus. "I'm gonna have a look. You stay put, understand?" He waited for the nod and shucked off his coat. He wrapped the shivering, injured man and began his slow descent. He didn't dwell on the blood, and held his breath as peered over the edge.

"Thank God...." He slumped, dropping back on his heels at the sight of the dead deer. "Where the hell are you Chris?" He called out and climbed back up the hill. Vin's head was on his chest. Buck shook him gently and the head rose slowly, the muddled eyes were half-mast. "It wasn't Chris...it was a damn deer. You hear me, Vin?" He saw the nod and winced at the lost eyes. He pulled Vin up and half carried him up the incline to the car. He got a blanket out of his truck and wrapped it around the freezing Texan. He'd get Vin to the Clinic in town and call the State Police. They could put out and APB on the truck.

+ + + + + + +

It was nearly dark when Chris arrived home. The slam of the door brought the two occupants to twin windows on either side of the door. If Chris hadn't been lost in thought, he'd have seen them. He'd called the State Police and tried to report Vin missing, but a clerk told him he needed to wait twenty-four hours. He cursed himself for not lying. He was barely inside when he was grabbed by the collar and thrown against the wall hard. His already aching head protested at the shock.

"WHERE THE FUCK HAVE YA BEEN!" The irate voice bellowed.

Chris was so shocked to see Vin inches from his face that he couldn't speak. The blue eyes were bulging and the skin was flushed with pure hostility. Vin's forearm was pressed so hard against his windpipe, he was choking. He pushed the arm away and regained control.

"Uh...I...uh...Jesus Vin I thought you were dead..." He finally gasped, reaching up to grab his shoulder. He saw the swollen jaw, colored purple and blue with slashes of scarlet and winced. He noticed the left hand was gripping his throat and saw the right hidden in a blue sling. Then he saw the jagged cut, neatly stitched. He vaguely recalled Vin landing near the table. The alcohol made it difficult to remember. Could he have done this damage?

"Oh that's rich..." Vin shot back, blue eyes shooting fire.

Buck hung up the phone, canceling the all points bulletin on Chris's truck. He dialed Josiah and updated his voicemail. After leaving the Emergency Room, where the stubborn patient refused admission, he'd reported Chris's truck stolen. He'd brought Vin back to the house and settled him on the couch, where he was supposed to be resting. He eyed the battered pale face, so enraged the words were barely slipping through the clenched teeth. He'd let Vin have a go, and then he intended to teach Chris Larabee a good lesson.

"ANSWER ME!" Vin screamed, banging Chris hard against the kitchen wall.

"I went to see Sarah...and then spent...went looking for you. You weren't home so..." Chris stammered, never having seen Vin so ballistic.

"Home!" Vin screeched, eyes bulging "Ya went to Denver? Jesus Fuckin' Christ, ya got brass balls. Do you know what ya done? Do have a fuckin' clue? I come to and heard ya up there...sayin' ya missed her and was comin' to see her. I woke up in a puddle of bloody vomit and thought...ya went to her..." He scorched, so enraged by Chris's actions he was trembling in anger. He released the other man, stared at him hard with utter disgust and staggered away.

Chris was numb and unable to move. He couldn't even blink. His mind was trying to absorb Vin's painful testimony. He saw the pure rage radiating off Vin. He'd never seen him so mad, not like this red zone he was pulsating in. His face drew in a puzzle as Vin's words suddenly created a picture. A ghastly image...one that pained him deeply. Then he got angry.

"You thought I killed myself?" Chris ranted, approaching the tense muscles in the bloody flannel shirt. "I'm no coward, Vin. I'd never do something that low. How could you think that of me?"

"What the hell was I supposed to think?" Vin shouted and turned, controlling the urge to send the cocky blond through the window. "Ya said ya were comin' to see her...I woke up and yer gone...ya didn't leave a fuckin' note...Why the hell didn't ya call? It's been all Goddamn day."

Chris backed up, staggered by the speech and the furious blue fire shooting from Vin's eyes. He took a deep breath and raised his hands trying to think of a reply. He put himself in Vin's shoes and realized how frightened the younger man must have been. All day...My God...Vin thought he'd killed himself and was worried all day. The color drained from his face as the pain entered his bloodstream. He'd beaten his best friend and left him in a pool of vomit. No wonder Vin was incensed.

"I woke up early and didn't see the bike. I was worried, I thought you rode off pissed. I went to see Sarah and passed out. When I woke up I went to your place, but you weren't there. I checked the hospitals...I thought you wrecked the bike."

Vin snorted sarcastically, limping away. "First right thing ya've said..."

Chris's eyes narrowed and he saw the torn knee and the bandage. "What happened?"

"When I didn't find yer body in the house." Vin shot back, his eyes wide and hard, "I went huntin' ya. It happened up near the Outlook."

Chris knew that road was dangerous in good weather, on ice it was deadly. He wanted to stay calm, but saw the blue sling and lost control. "That was a stupid thing to do. That road's bad in good weather. You had no business riding on ice with one arm. You could have been killed." He bellowed, fists clenched.

"What the hell would ya care?" Vin seethed, "Ya ever tried drivin' trying to watch the road and not see at the same time? I's doin' fine until I seen the pool of blood on that rock yer so fond of. I thought it was yers..." Vin gasped, flinching as he remembered. "...that's when the bike spun out." He rasped, shaking so violently his teeth rattled.

Chris swallowed disagreeably as Vin's words assaulted him. The image of the heartbroken, injured urban cowboy out hunting for his body chilled him to the bone. He eyed the battered body, trembling with anger and fright. He felt his own fear inside, that his rash actions had done permanent damage. Life without Vin...unthinkable. "I'm sorry Vin." He reached out only to have the irate victim shove him hard, backwards onto the couch.

"Don't ya fuckin' touch me." Vin clenched, slowly limping out of the room.

"Vin..." A new voice warned.

"I need some air. It stinks in here." He spat, grabbing the blanket he'd dropped by the door. He struggled with it until Buck wrapped it securely around him. He felt the grip on his shoulder and nodded once, letting Buck know not to worry. He went out onto the porch and took a deep breath.

"Buck..." Chris started to approach to follow Vin and saw the same fire that Vin housed, now in the tall man's eyes. Buck never moved and grabbed Chris as he tried to get by. He gripped the back of the black sweater hard. The rough hand propelled him to where they could see Vin under the porch light, shivering in the night air. Every bruise stood out against the pale face. But it was those baleful eyes that Buck knew would burn right through Chris Larabee. He wanted Chris to hurt...he wanted agony. He got his wish, reflected clearly in the blond's tortured gaze.

"Take a good look at your handiwork." Buck growled, "Of course the real damage you did is inside, where his heart was ripped to shreds."

"Try to understand, Buck." Chris croaked, as he wormed his way free of the vice-like grasp.

"Understand? No, Chris, I don't understand." He railed, eyes stormy, "Let me walk you through my day." He picked up the phone and dialed home, then punched the code and accessed his voice mail. He thrust the phone at Chris, then stood and waited.

Chris blanched when he heard Vin's frail voice. He sounded desolate and utterly lost. He cast an eye over Buck's shoulder to the mauled face outside. He pushed his fingers onto his eyelids and saw Vin bleeding...eyes wild...fearing he was dead. His trembling hand gave the phone back. "Buck, I would never commit suicide. How could he think that?"

"I'll tell you how!" Buck roared, "After you decked him, which I might add gave him that pretty color on his jaw, a badly sprained wrist and a concussion, he woke up in the middle of the night and tried to find you. He heard your drunken plea to Sarah. You said you missed her and were coming to see her. What the hell was he supposed to think?

You didn't leave a note...so he took off after you on that Goddamn bike and got in a wreck."

Chris never flinched; his green eyes were locked on Vin outside. Buck's tirade continued, "Then I got here and saw the blood. How the hell could you leave him? He could have choked to death on his own vomit. Some friend you are."

"Blood?" Chris scowled. "What blood?"

"That blood," Buck pointed to the stained carpet. Chris eyed the visible mark and paled. "I didn't see it."

"How could not notice the bathroom?" Buck raged, "He was laying in a pile of blood and puke. You left him like that? Did you even look for him?"

"His bike was gone..." Chris stammered, "I thought he'd left during the night. I went after him."

"His bike was under the deck." Buck drilled. "I came up here not knowing what the hell I would find. I finally got Vin on the phone. Hell, he was damn near in shock. I found him at the bottom of a hill, bleeding, busted up and freezing. He was barely conscious and confused. He thought your body was over the cliff. He was blaming himself..." Buck shot, glad for the gutshot pain it caused.

"How?" Chris whispered.

"Something about not taking the video out on time. He thought if he'd gotten the tape out before the last scene, you wouldn't have gone postal on him. I got to him pretty quick and I found a dead deer over the outlook. He never said a word from the time I told him. He was damn near froze...throwing up all over the ER. But he never said a word. They stitched his head and knee, took X-Rays, diagnosed the concussion. He never said a word, his eyes...I never seen such a look. Then he left, which they strongly disagreed with. He sat on that couch, without moving an inch until we heard your car. We were expecting a State Trooper with your body. All day, Chris...he carried that pain...guilt...all day. How could you be so fuckin' careless?" Buck seethed, through gritted teeth.

Chris sighed and rubbed his face. "Look Buck. Nobody feels worse than I do about this mess. But you have to understand...'

"No, you understand this." Buck growled, putting his irate face inches from Chris's. Each word was delivered with slow, deliberate poison. "If you ever hurt him like that again, I will clean that yard with you."

The feral tone in Buck's voice stunned Chris into silence. It was well over a dozen years he'd known Buck Wilmington and he could count the times on one hand he'd seen such a deep anger, bordering on hate. His eyes were black with rage and the hand that gripped his throat was iron in it's intent. The venom that dripped off every word matched the fury in the eyes drilling into him. He had no doubt Buck was serious and knew he'd carry out the threat. He met the gaze and nodded once.

"His bike needs to be brought back before dark. Let's go," Buck ordered, grabbing his coat."

The hurricane stormed through the door and dissolved. Chris followed behind, and saw the body language illustrate the temperament change. Buck eased behind Vin and laid a hand gently on his back.

"We're gonna get your bike. You get some rest." He said gently, resting a hand on Vin's neck. "You look like shit, Vin." His teasing tone brought the stitched, sore head up.

"Fuck y'all, Bucklin," the Texan rasped, putting a huge grin on Buck's face. He felt Buck grip his neck and turned slightly, meeting the dark blue eyes. They silently inquired on his mental state. He sighed deeply and nodded once. He raised his good hand and gripped Buck's shoulder. He recalled the immense relief that coursed through him when the fuzzy stranger on the mountain turned into Buck Wilmington. "'scuse my poor manners. Reckon I owe y'all a heap of thanks...savin' my life and all."

"Reckon you do, Junior." Buck's eyes crinkled and he squeezed the neck. "Hell, you know seven is my lucky number. Besides, I'm kind of fond of that pretty face of yours."

"Y'all need glasses." Vin smiled slightly, "I ain't lookin' so pretty now."

"Get them feet movin' now." Buck ordered, steering Vin towards the door. "Use the quilt and the blanket. There's a bucket next to the sofa if your gonna puke."

"Quit motherin' me..." Vin complained, swatting at the larger man's protective arm. An action which gave Buck a broad grin.

He moved away and towards the steps leading down into the yard. Vin paused briefly as he came abreast of Chris. Chris placed a tentative hand on the blanketed shoulder. "Vin..." But the Vin jerked away without looking and went inside. He flinched, sighed and slowly followed the path to his black truck. "You fucked up good this time, Larabee." He growled, punching the hood.

"You ain't gonna get an argument from me," Buck leveled, climbing inside.


Comments to: Deeshamrock@comcast.net