Disclaimer: Yeah, yeah, yeah, not mine... belong to the usual suspects: Trilogy, Mirisch, MGM, CBS, TNN, TPTB, LSMFT (except for Chris and Vin, who belong to each other). ARCHIVE: No, thanks PAIRING: Thought I'd surprise y'all. It's... C/V. Gee, y'all don't look very surprised.
Notes: Follows "ODOW."
Try as I might, I can't think about anything else, can't get my damn mind to focus on another goddamn thing.
Except that mouth.
Hell, I don't know whether to laugh or cuss. For three years now, I've been wandering around in a haze of despair, rage and whiskey, able to think of nothing, see nothing, except the burned-out shell of what had been my home and the blackened bodies of my wife and son. Three long, dark years, haunted by memories, by visions, that no amount of liquor and whores could take from me. No matter what I did, not matter where I went, no matter what or how much I drank, the smell of smoke, the taste of ash, the charred remains of my wife, my son, my life, had never for a moment left me.
Until now. But it wasn't whiskey that finally chased them from my mind.
It was that goddamn mouth.
Strangely enough, though, it wasn't the mouth I first noticed. Nope, it was the eyes. Even from across the street they caught me, snared me, swallowed me, their gaze searing through me like one of those goddamn desert lightning storms that leaves your whole body charged and tingling and every hair standing on end. It had lasted for just the briefest of moments, yet in that instant, that flash, was an eternity of knowing, of recognition, of understanding that this was not new, and would not end here. It had been, and was, and would be, because in a lifetime of wrongs, this was what was right. And we'd both nodded, because we both knew it.
How can I describe those eyes? Bluer than the summer sky at twilight, and deeper; clear and sharp and bright, filled with all the sorrows and all the joys and all the wonders and all the wounds of the ages, ancient in their knowing, in the terrible and beautiful sights they'd beheld, revealing a soul older even than the mountains in the distance.
And alive. God Almighty, were those eyes alive! As changeable as the skies over the mountains in summer, they flickered and flashed with all the feelings the stoic face in which they were set refused to show. One moment, they glinted hard with a cold, dangerous anger at some wrong being done before them, and promised retribution. The next, they danced with laughter, with a wild and wicked mischief that gave the lie to the oldness in them and showed how really young they were. And then -- oh, God, and then -- something would happen and some sorrow would flood them, some age-old hurt would resurrect itself in their depths and those eyes were not the eyes of an adult at all, but of a child, a lost child, hurt and scared and alone and wanting only someplace to hide from the pain and the fear.
I lost my soul in those eyes the moment they met mine, and I've never gotten it back. Don't want it back. I know it's in safekeeping in those eyes, know it's where it belongs. Those eyes, in that split second, had looked at me, looked into me, and laid me bare, seeing every wound, every scar, every sin that marks me, and had softened in recognition and acceptance. And, knowing what it was to need such, had offered me a refuge, a haven, where I can rest my broken, bleeding soul and begin to heal.
Those eyes had saved me. Had reached out to me and stopped my downward spiral, had pulled me back from the darkness and turned me toward the light. Rescued me from the world of the dead and set me back on the path of the living. And promised I'll never walk that path alone.
Yet, for all the miracles they'd wrought, for all the healing they'd brought, it's not those eyes -- those beautiful, brilliant, young-old eyes -- that now occupy -- hell, possess -- my mind, that fill my thoughts and send rivers of heat and the ache of want through every part of my body.
It's that goddamn mouth.
It's as beautiful a mouth as I've ever seen. Full and firm and shapely, not at all the kind of mouth you'd expect to see on the one who wears it. When relaxed, it's set in a nearly straight line, the lips slightly parted and possessing just the barest hint of an upward curve at their corners. And in moments of wry, dry wit, one corner lifts in a lopsided half-smile as some softly-drawled but pointed barb escapes. But when the wicked humor strikes in full force, the corners begin their slow, lazy climb and the lips part until the whole transforms itself into an engagingly crooked and surprisingly boyish grin that shows a flash of startlingly white teeth. In anger, though, the mouth loses all youth, all softness, and sets hard and firm, the lips pressed together in a tight line behind which the white teeth clench. And now and then, in those rare times when the anger deepens to rage, the lips thin, turn down and part just slightly in a wolfish baring of those teeth. At that moment, the mouth that can be so young, so wicked, becomes the grim harbinger of death.
I've got absolutely no idea when I'd so completely memorized that mouth in all its aspects, when I'd become so utterly fascinated by it. But I had. Am still. And now can't get it out of my mind. And the image that haunts me now, that has me hanging on the knife-edge of an all-consuming ache I know and should be surprised at, appalled by, but am not, was that mouth, soft, relaxed, slightly open and moistened by the enticing tip of a pink tongue that licks shyly over full lips. It's a habitual gesture, unconscious, wholly ingenuous, and utterly mesmerizing. And now, at the mere thought of it, I want nothing more than to capture that tongue and taste it, feel it darting over my own lips, dancing with my own tongue and coming to life in the depths of my own mouth.
God Almighty, I want to take possession of that mouth, those lips, that tongue, to devour them, ravish them, plunder them, loose upon them all the fierce hunger that burns in my flesh and rages in my soul, and feel them doing the same to me. I want that mouth to know me as those blue eyes do, want to feel it on every part of me, staking claim to my body as those eyes have to my soul. I want to lose myself, drown myself, plunge myself into that mouth and let it take from me whatever it will. I want that mouth to engulf and swallow me whole, I want -- I need -- it to extinguish the white fire of hunger that now fills my every waking moment.
God help me, my whole existence has been reduced to the desperate need to have the wet warmth of Vin Tanner's beautiful mouth upon me.
So now I'm sitting here in the saloon, again seeking company with whiskey, and wondering just when the hell this need had taken such complete possession of me. I remember the two of us sitting together on those cliffs overlooking the Seminole village, enjoying the tranquil beauty of the sunset and sharing a blessed interlude of peace before the heat and hell of a battle we both knew was coming. I remember how the long strands of Vin's hair had lifted and danced on the light breeze, how the blue eyes had glowed with contentment as they swept the rugged landscape about us, and how young -- God, how young! -- Vin had suddenly looked.
Young. And beautiful. So beautiful it had taken away my breath.
And that's when the first spark was ignited. I'd felt it, I remember that now, but I'd also seen it leaping into those blue eyes, lighting them, darkening them, giving new depth to them. A slight flush had touched the high cheekbones, the lean body had shifted ever so slightly, and that pink tongue -- God help me, that tongue -- had come out to play lightly over those lips.
Yeah, that's it. That's the moment I'd been lost. Or found. That evening up on the cliffs. But then so much happened, and so fast, that nothing had come of it. Except for the silent promise that had been made between us. We've never needed words, not between the two of us. In fact, for the deepest, most important things between us, silence serves better than words. Because it's not silence at all. It's the communing of souls, but it's something only we can hear.
Then the next thing I knew, I was hunched over a table -- this table -- in the saloon, keeping company with another bottle of whiskey and trying to figure out where the hell I was going from here. Anderson was dead, his men scattered, the Seminoles safe. The purpose I'd found for a while was gone, and it seemed the seven of us were set to scatter, as well. Then I'd heard the jingle of spurs and the soft scrape of boots against the floor, felt a presence that made my soul rise in recognition, and heard the soft, husky drawl.
"Hey, Cowboy. Join ya?"
Vin had folded his lean body into the chair across the table, removed his hat to reveal the wealth of long brown curls, and that mouth had curved again into the slow, slight smile that fanned the flame in me he'd ignited that evening on the cliff. I watched him, and it hit me like a punch to the gut -- even unshaven and covered in trail dust and sweat, Tanner is goddamn beautiful.
"I was thinkin' 'bout gittin' an early start fer Tascosa," he had drawled by way of invitation.
And I'd felt my own mouth curving into a smile, thinking I had a better plan. "I was thinkin' about whiskey. A room. Bed. More whiskey." Another invitation, a way of letting him know what I wanted. "Why don't you give it a few days?"
But I hadn't reckoned with the Tanner stubbornness. His mouth had tightened into a slight grimace, the blue eyes had shadowed. "With this bounty on my head, I ain't got a few days." And he'd downed the whiskey I had slid him.
At those words, I'd felt cold, sick fear knotting in my gut. Hell, I knew what going back meant to Vin, but I also knew what it could mean for him, and that hideous threat froze the blood in my veins. There was a rope waiting back there for him, and we both knew it. "Never met a man in such a hurry to get himself hung," I'd said with a touch of irritation caused by my fear.
But the blue eyes had been unwavering. I've learned that when Vin gets an idea into his head, dynamite won't shake it loose. "Chance I gotta take. Need ta clear my name." The determination in his voice had made clear how important that was to him, and what he was willing to risk to do it. He'd fidgeted with his hat, as if waiting for something, then nodded slightly, his mind made up. "I'm leavin' in th' mornin'." He'd put on the hat, and cast an appraising glance at me. "Wouldn't blame ya if ya preferred ta stay."
It wasn't a question. Tanner doesn't have it in him to ask another man to risk his life on his behalf; all he'll do is offer a graceful way out. In that moment, I'd gotten an idea of just how many people had taken that out, had left Vin to face whatever threatened him on his own. So many that he expected it, and excused it. Was willing to excuse me.
But I wasn't willing to excuse myself. Not knowing what else to say, or not yet willing to say what I really meant, I'd snatched at the first likely-sounding reason for joining a fool on his errand. "What are the women like in Tascosa?"
Had that been confusion, disappointment, in the blue eyes? A fleeting fear that Tanner had misread me and what he thought he'd seen in me? He'd stayed silent a few moments, searching my eyes with his own. Then, at my slight smile, he'd relaxed and signalled his understanding with a sly grin of his own.
There just were certain wants, needs, one man couldn't voice to another in a saloon crowded with other men.
"Don't come much livelier," he'd finally drawled, the wicked gleam in those blue eyes assuring me he wasn't talking about the women.
I'd felt the slow burn in my belly, in my blood, at those words, found myself wondering exactly what kind of hellcat lurked beneath that placid, laconic surface, and couldn't stop my grin from widening. "See ya in th' mornin'."
Then, wanting to knock the smug smile that had appeared from that tempting mouth, and wanting Vin to wonder some what he'd gotten into, I'd risen from the table and walked away. Wouldn't do for Tanner to get cocky.
But events -- in the persons of Lucas and Stuart James -- had conspired to blow our plans to hell. The seven of us hadn't split up after all, but had been drawn into Judge Orrin and Mary Travis's efforts to stem the tide of violence and lawlessness sweeping their town. We'd found ourselves united once again in the fight to see justice done. Some unseen bond seemed to join us, some elemental energy seemed to charge us when we were together, working not in spite of but through our vast differences to forge us into an unbeatable force. Somehow, we'd all become part of something much bigger than ourselves.
And all the while, I was falling ever deeper into changeable, expressive blue eyes, was drawing closer to a soul as familiar as my own, was growing increasingly fascinated by, and hungry for, that beautiful, tantalizing mouth. I would watch, mesmerized, as Vin blew tunelessly on that damn harmonica, as he chewed on a piece of straw or sucked on one of the sticks of hard candy Mrs. Potter is forever giving him, and I'd find myself growing jealous as hell of whatever it was he'd wrap those luscious lips around.
Now, how pathetic does that sound? Chris Larabee, notorious and widely feared gunslinger, a man other men walk softly and carefully around, jealous of a goddamn piece of candy or straw because Vin Tanner was sucking on it instead of me? Wonder what the newspaper stories and dime-store novels would make of that?
But that's not the worst of it. Because every time I see the pink tongue slide across those lips, it's all I can do not to jump Tanner then and there and just take whatever that mouth has to offer. Like that day at the James ranch, when we'd gone after Lucas. Vin had picked his vantage point and, having no doubt whatsoever about his abilities but still worrying about him, I'd asked, sounding ever so cool and disinterested, "Think you can handle it?"
And, goddamn that cocky sonuvabitch if he hadn't given me one of those quick, all-seeing glances of his, flashed that maddening little grin, and said, "Like lickin' butter off a knife." I'd almost come on the spot, just thinking about that tongue sliding along a knife, lapping at butter.
Jesus Christ, does Tanner have any idea what he does to me?
But we'd taken care of the Jameses, seen Stuart defeated and Lucas hung, and had taken the Judge up on his offer to guard the town for thirty days. A month. Longer than I'd spent in one place since Sarah and Adam died. I told myself I didn't know what had possessed me, but it was a lie; I knew. Purpose had taken hold of me. People who needed my help had taken hold of me. Six men who could aggravate, irritate and bedevil the bejeezus out of me had taken hold of me.
And one scruffy tracker with a battered hide coat, long hair that insisted on curling, lost-little-boy blue eyes and a mouth that was the most beautiful I've ever seen had taken hold of me, had a grip on me that I pray will never break.
I told the Judge I'd probably regret staying. But I know -- had known when I'd said it -- that, too, was a lie. Because right here, right in this dirty, trouble-plagued, backwater, piss-ant town, is everything I want.
Including -- especially -- that mouth.
So now here I sit, almost alone in the saloon, hunched over my table, the hour grown late, the whiskey low in the bottle, my thoughts going where they have no business being, but exactly where they belong. Hell, I'm no innocent, no blushing kid who doesn't know the ways of the world. Women have always been my first choice, but I've also had men on the trail, when the closest woman was days away and the need was so great it had either been another man or my own hand. And, God knows, there've been plenty of times it's been my own hand.
But this -- what I feel for and want from Vin -- isn't like those other times. It's not just relief I'm after. If that was it, I could have any one of the working girls here. It's not just some quick, nameless, faceless fuck in the dark I want.
It's Vin. All of him, body and soul. I need to feel him in every part of me. I want to lose myself, and find myself, in him, in that lean body, in those haunting eyes.
In that exquisite mouth.
And then all I want is here. I hear the jingle of spurs, the soft scrape of boots against the floor, feel the presence that makes my soul rise in recognition, and hear the soft, husky drawl.
"Hey, Cowboy. Join ya?"
As I watch Tanner fold his lean body into the chair across from me, I scowl at his impertinence. "You just call me 'cowboy'?".
He slouches in his chair, removes his hat and shakes his long hair loose, fixing dark blue eyes and a cocky, crooked grin on me. "Reckon I did," he drawls. Sonuvabitch isn't the least bit afraid of me, and never misses a chance to let me know it.
One day I'm gonna shoot him, and surprise the hell out of him.
But not today. Right now, I just glare at him, give him my most menacing scowl, and growl, "I've shot men for less."
And that goddamn tracker just smiles, completely unimpressed. "Reckon ya have." He nods toward the bottle. "Gonna keep that all to yerself? Ain't good fer a man yer age ta drink so much, y'know."
I can feel my whole body heating as those blue eyes laugh at me, as the age and lost little boy in them disappear and reveal the mischievous young man, the hellcat, that lurks inside Vin Tanner. And when that mouth -- goddamn the man to seven kinds of hell -- curves into that lopsided, cocky, knowing grin, my heart's suddenly too big for my chest, even as my pants are suddenly two sizes too small.
"You ain't ever gotta worry about hangin', Tanner," I tell him, pouring him a drink. "'Cause I'm gonna shoot yer ass long before any bounty hunter gets ya."
He just looks again at the bottle, sees how low the whiskey in it is, and shrugs. "Well, you keep drinkin' like this, at least I won't have ta worry about yer aim." He takes the glass and knocks the whiskey back in one swallow. Likes his liquor, he does, but he's not one to get drunk. I guess he figures he can't afford to with that price on his head.
And suddenly I ache for him. Not with desire, but with sorrow. What the hell kind of life is that for any man to lead, for this man to lead, always on the run, never able to relax, always glancing over his shoulder and having to sleep with one eye open? Gotta be sheer hell on a man's nerves.
But you'd never know it by Vin. He's the coolest, quietest, least nervous man I've ever met. He can get so still, sometimes I'm tempted to check him to make sure he's still breathing. And there's a peace in him, an easiness, that never ceases to amaze me. I know there are dark places in him, in his life, demons he carries around like all the rest of us. But unlike the rest of us, he's wrestled them and won. Whatever he's done, and whatever's been done to him, he's made his peace with it.
Jesus God, how did somebody so young learn that, when it still eludes me? And is there any chance I can learn it from him?
Then Tanner fixes those blue eyes on me, those old-young eyes with the hurts of the ages and all the laughter of childhood in them, and wrestling with demons is the last thing on my mind. Only one man I want to wrestle with right now, and he's giving me that slight, crooked grin that tells me he knows it.
And my pants are now three sizes too small.
He slides his glass to me, nods at the bottle for another drink, and leans back in his chair. If the man ever sat or stood up straight, the world would probably come to an end.
"Been thinkin'," he drawls in that raspy, sandpaper-against-leather voice, those shimmering blue eyes never leaving me.
I slide the newly filled glass back to him. As he reaches for it, just for a moment our fingers meet, the tips brushing together. The touch is light as a feather, yet even so the force of it shoots through both of us like a jolt of lightning, and we both know where this night is headed. Has been headed since that day we locked glances across the street. I slide my hand away from his, but that doesn't stop the throbbing that's taken up residence in every nerve I've got.
"Lemme guess," I say, easing back in my own chair and staring at him, wanting him with everything that's in me. "Whiskey. A room. Bed. More whiskey." Though right now this table's starting to look pretty damn good to me.
He nods, downs the whiskey, and wipes the back of a hand across his mouth. His hands are beautiful, too. Slender, fine-boned, long-fingered, too callused to be considered anything but rough, yet capable also of a startling gentleness. And a chilling deadliness.
Right now, I can think of a thousand and one things I'd like to feel those hands do to me. And I'm determined that we'll try every one of them.
"Reckon we might's well give 'er a whirl," he drawls, as simple and direct as ever. Tanner doesn't beat around the bush; hell, Tanner doesn't even see the bush. "Been pussyfootin' 'round it long enough." The blue eyes are darker, denser than I've ever seen them, gone smokey with desire. "Reckon it's time we shit 'r git off the pot."
I almost choke on my whiskey at that. "You got a real way with words, Vin," I gasp. "Real romantic."
He smiles slightly and shrugs again. "Well, I got me some nicer words, but I reckon I'll save 'em 'til we're alone. Cain't have nobody thinkin' yer goin' soft." He winks. "You bein' 'the bad element' 'n all."
The man definitely believes in living dangerously. "I'm gonna shoot yer ass yet, Tanner!" I growl, again trying to glare him into submission. It works on everybody else, why not Vin Tanner?
But he only sighs sadly and shakes his head. "That'd be a right shame," he breathes. "'Cause I'se thinkin' of a few other things I'd rather have ya do ta my ass."
And now I understand. It's real hard to be scared shitless of a gunfighter when you can make him spew whiskey all over himself and the table. And, completely unrepentant, the sonuvabitch grins and hands me his bandana so I can clean myself up.
"Terrible thing when a feller cain't hold his liquor," he muses. "'Course," his blue eyes track the bead of whiskey I can feel sliding down my throat, "if'n we's ta go ta yer room, I c'd mebbe help ya clean up some." And then, to complete my ruin, he slowly licks his lips, that pink tongue gliding lightly across them and almost stopping my breathing.
"Seems... the least you could do," I manage to croak, unable to tear my gaze from that tongue. Those lips.
That mouth. It ought to be against the law for a man to have a mouth like that.
Hell, maybe that's why Tanner's wanted in Texas. Maybe he did kill that man. Just plain tortured him to death with that mouth.
Kinda like he's doing to me right now.
But I'm determined to show him he's not the only one who can play this game. "Could be a long, demandin' job. Needs somebody with stayin' power. You think you can handle it?"
And, goddamn his evil soul to hell, Vin Tanner looks at me, smirks at me, runs that tongue over those lips again and drawls, "Like lickin' butter off a knife."
God help me, I can see it now. When they write my obituary, under "cause of death" they're going to have to write: "Vin Tanner's mouth."
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