Disclaimer: Wish I did, but I don't. Trilogy Entertainment, The Mirisch Group, MGM Worldwide, CBS and TNN all have that privilege. Even if I could have one or two to keep, by the looks of things, I'd be standing at the back of a verrry long line.
Comments:Okay, couple of boo boos and lotsa bad words. And, sorry, this one's fairly clean.
Vin Tanner was a happy man. He couldn't believe his luck. Instead of having to wait until morning, he'd managed to go standby and was given the last available seat on the last available flight and now he'd arrive in Denver almost a whole day earlier than planned. This never happened to him. He strolled down the ramp and boarded the plane, finding his seat half way down the aisle, in the middle of the row.
That figured. Oh well, can't have all the luck. Doesn't matter, just think, in a few hours: home.
He threw his carry-on into a compartment and crammed his body into the tiny seat. Geeze, a 727, the airlines must've had to dig down into storage to find this one. But, who cares? So it cost a little more to make the switch, home a whole night earlier, that's what counted. He relaxed back, trying not to let his usual panic at being confined to a small area get the best of him.
The conference in Washington had been tedious and incredibly boring. He, Ezra and Josiah had been elected to attend the weeks long affair and Vin was relieved when it had finally ended. Ezra and Josiah had planned to stay the weekend in D.C., take in the Smithsonian, Kennedy Center and other cultural events but Vin was itching to escape the city and head home.
He looked up as a woman with an older baby sat in the aisle seat next to him. She smiled. He groaned, inwardly. Oh, God, not a baby, shouldn't it have a seat, too? Nope, a lap baby. Looks like for the next couple hours it was going to be able to crawl all over him.
Okay, Tanner, deep breath. That's okay, that's okay, home, home, home.
Not that he didn't like children. He did, some of his favorite people were kids. He glanced over at the child, the baby girl was looking right at him, smiling. He smiled back and played with her hand for most of the take-off. He stopped smiling a half-hour later, however, when she vomited what looked to him like at least a four-course meal complete with drinks and dessert onto his flannel shirt. The mother looked stricken, apologizing all over the place, explaining that the little one had a touch of the flu. A touch? Vin cleaned himself up as best as possible, assuring the woman it was alright, certainly, he was fine.
He sighed, s'okay, going home. Going home to Chris.
Chris. He couldn't wait until he got to his lover's ranch. He hadn't seen him in almost a week and was looking forward to an unexpected early reunion. The thought of the blond man's skilled hands trailing over his body made him shiver with anticipation. By the time the plane touched down, he was more than ready to hurry home.
He grabbed his small carry-on bag, grateful to be able to avoid the baggage area altogether, and rushed to the concourse trains, just missing the one to take him from the arrival gates to the transportation area. But, hey, that was okay, he was home.
He was thankful he'd agreed to drive everyone to the airport, leaving his Jeep in the long-term lot. Normally one of the other members of the ATF team would have volunteered to chauffeur, but at the last minute Vin had insisted on driving and leaving his own vehicle there. He preferred to rely on finding his own way home after the last airport fiasco which left him stranded at DIA for hours waiting for someone to pick him up. The thought reminded him to arrange transportation for Ezra and Josiah when they arrived. He inhaled deeply, the air felt crisp and he enjoyed the brisk feel as he waited for the next bus to take him to the satellite lot. He'd just missed getting on the first, it having been full with too many people traveling with too many skis.
Finally, he was deposited in the lot and found his Jeep. Dumping his bag in the back, he headed out into the cold, dark night. Although he couldn't make out the mountain range line, he knew it was there rising tall and majestic toward the sky. It felt good to be home.
Damned good to be home.
Deciding to bypass the city and subsequently, his apartment, he headed straight for the ranch. This was going to be great, surprising Chris was a feat not accomplished too often and he grinned at the thought of the other man's reaction. He drove out of the airport's environs, which always seemed to take forever since they extended so far, and headed for the highway. The moon allowed some of its silvery light to illuminate the land, but it was really quite a dark night. The Jeep's one working headlight didn't make for the greatest of driving conditions and he reminded himself for the umpteenth time to replace it in the morning.
He was traveling along at quite a good pace, circling around Denver, making his way to south of the city toward Chris's ranch. Traffic had been fairly light and he turned up the radio as Stevie Ray Vaughan's voice sang 'if the house is a rockin', don't bother knockin'. Yep this was gong to be a great night. Almost there, almost home.
The Jeep rounded a corner and suddenly he was faced with hundreds of bright red lights. Tail lights. Far as the eye could see.
Shit, shit, shit.
He braked heavily, almost rear-ending the sedan in front of him. Where th' hell did all this traffic come from? Shit.
Cars were at an almost complete stand-still, barely creeping their way down the road. Vin groaned and smacked the steering wheel hard, craning his neck to see around the traffic, see if there were any flashing lights up ahead that might signify some end to this nightmare. Nope, nothing. Just red brake lights. How far was this back-up, anyway? He could see nothing but red in front of him, and it bathed the inside of the Jeep in warm color. The traffic trailed along, never reaching a speed above ten miles per hour. Stop and go and stop and go. Vin's clutch foot was falling asleep and he stomped it a few times to try and get it revived. Inch by inch the Jeep worked its way forward. He checked his watch, disgusted to find he'd been sitting for almost 45 minutes and had hardly moved. And he was so close.
Several cars passed him on the shoulder and he watched them breeze by with envy. Most were exiting at the next off-ramp, which seemed to parallel the highway for a bit, then disappear from view. Vin chewed his lip for a moment, then cranked hard on the wheel and turned onto the shoulder.
Hell, there's gotta be another way to the ranch, just need t'find the right back roads 's all.
He followed the other cars meandering along the small road which certainly looked like it might eventually lead back to the highway, hopefully joining it after the back-up. Around, up and down the road led, Vin following the several other cars and trucks in front of him. The road paralleled the highway for a while but there was no on-ramp to enter. He decided that as long as the side route headed in the direction of Chris's ranch, he'd follow, no point in turning around now. Several of the cars he'd been following turned off at various intersections until he was almost alone. There were two or three other vehicles ahead of him and none that he could see in his rear-view. The land around him was dark, only the occasional light from a house ot two twinkling in the distance.
Ten minutes or so after the last car had turned off, the road abruptly ended. He had the choice of turning left or right and shrugging his shoulders, he chose right. It seemed to be the most likely direction, the ranch was somewhere that way, he was fairly certain, so he turned and headed out. The one headlight was fairly poor illumination and he drove the next several miles at a somewhat cautious speed down the narrow lane. Suddenly, his tires hit dirt and the paved route gave way to a deeply rutted path. The Jeep bounced around and Vin bounced around in it. This wasn't looking good.
Just about the time he'd decided to give in and turn around, although it pained him to do so knowing the ranch just had to be close, a large shape rose up in front of his one headlight and he instinctively swerved to miss striking it. He saw a flash of deer tail caught by the Jeep's single light and then all went black as the vehicle slid down an embankment, crashing through underbrush until finally wrapping its front fender around a large tree, halting its momentum.
Wet. He felt something wet. Chris, that you? No, wait. Not Chris. Vin reached up to rub his forehead, rid himself of the annoying tickle, and pulled his hand back quickly when it contacted the wet substance. Blood. His blood. What? He lightly touched his forehead, fingers tracing around a large lump rising above his right eye.
He pulled himself up from his reclining position in the front seat. Reclining? His seats didn't recline, and certainly not all the way to the back, leastways, they never had before. With somewhat groggy realization, he reasoned the back of his seat had broken on impact and was now fully collapsed. As he unbuckled his seatbelt and shifted to get out of the Jeep, a sharp pain flamed in his side and he bent over with a gasp, hand pressing into the tender area.
Now that fuckin' hurts.
He waited a moment, breathed deeply and gingerly slid out of the damaged vehicle leaning his weight on the car's side. His head spun and for a moment he was not convinced he wasn't going to wind up collapsing on the ground. Gripping the Jeep's door frame, he leaned over and emptied the contents of his stomach. He groaned softly as the heaving pulled at his bruised side and he rested his head against the vehicle waiting for the pain and nausea to lessen. His heart beat a pulse in his temples and he stood silently counting the steady rythym, willing the pain to vanish. It didn't pay much attention to his wish. Figures.
As the nausea abated, he crept to the front of the Jeep to survey the damage. The whole passenger area was smashed in and wrapped around a fairly large tree and he gave silent thanks no one else had been riding with him. After deciding it was completely useless, he tossed aside his limited first-aid kit, retrieving only a small flashlight which he gripped in one hand and stuffed his wallet, keys and phone into pockets with his other, then slowly made his way up the steep incline. It was dark and the flashlight offered a very limited range of visibility.
He turned on the phone, its screen lighting up then shutting off quickly. He hit the on button again, this time shining his flashlight onto the small face and saw the no battery charge symbol flash smugly at him before it shut off, once again.
Well, double shit.
Okay, get home, charge the phone, buy a new headlight for the-. No, wait, guess that don't need t' be on the to-do list no more.
He jammed the dead phone back into his pocket and started walking. The dirt road was rough and he stumbled several times over the uneven terrain, each j arring step sending a flash of hot fire shooting into his side. He was hurting enough to moan, and he pressed his hand onto the sore area, covering it as he progressed down the rocky road. He hiked up a small rise trying to get an idea of where he was and where he thought he ought to go next. Following the dirt road had seemed the most likely alternative until he realized there really was no road left to follow, it had blended away into the ground leaving him standing in pretty much just dirt.
In the distance he saw the faint lights of a small ranch. Not Chris's, no, but hey, at this point anyone with a phone would do. He trudged down the slope, his eyes straining to see past the limited field of vision the inadequate flashlight provided, not to mention the limited field of vision his one non-swollen eye was providing. He lightly fingered his face, one eye was swollen completely shut and the lump above it seemed to be growing large enough to want to claim its own zip code. He sighed, at least he wasn't bleed ing anymore, though.
There, that was a bright side...wasn't it?
He continued on, following an imaginary line to the light in the distance. Down, then up, then down, then up again. Geeze, where'd all these little hills come from? And the trees? He hadn't noticed the trees and brush thickening around him, and was relatively surprised when he found himself surrounded by what appeared to be a small forest. He could even hear the sound of water coming from somewhere. What had looked like just a straight shot from the so-called road to the house with the little light, was now turning into some wilderness endurance trek and he suddenly felt like he'd been walking for mile upon endless mile.
He huffed, annoyed with the turn of events, annoyed with himself for being annoyed and annoyed that the fuckin' light was still that fuckin' far away and his fuckin' side was fuckin' killing him. AND his head was pounding a beat so viscious he was convinced it would just crack open any minute letting spill the idiot brain that resided inside, which now actually seemed none too horrible an idea, if it meant some measure of pain relief. He rested for a moment, hands on knees, then pressed onward, repeating to himself, 'Home's not that far, just keep moving, y' dumb fuck'.
Just had to fly standby, didn't ya? Just had to take a shortcut. Just had to get home early.
Home. Chris'd sure like he was referring to the ranch as his home, too. Spent enough time there recently, now if he could only get there. In one piece.
He reached the bottom of the next hill and found himself on one side of a fairly good sized stream. As much as he was an outdoors kind of guy, this was getting ridiculous. He shined the flashlight down and the light danced over the quickly running water.
Oh, of course there'd be a fuckin' ocean to cross. Shit.
He followed the muddy banks, hoping for a place to traverse without having to wade into the God knows how deep water. And just when he was about to give up hope, ready to take the plunge, a felled tree came into view. It lay diagonally over the rapidly moving water, sitting about four feet above the surface and looked to be sturdy enough to hold his weight. He hoped. He shined the flashlight over the tree, then hopped up and began a slow crawl across its trunk. Afraid his boots would slip on the smooth bark, he shinnied on hands and knees, maintaining a snail's pace.
The trunk bobbed with the added weight and he stopped, holding his breath, dreading to hear the telltale crack of a limb about to break, but it held fast and he continued his forward slide. About half way to the other side, something small and furry run across his hand and he jerked up in surprise, leaning far to one side as he shook off the offending creature. The momentum was too great and he felt himself falling as his balance shifted off-center, his body curled around the trunk and he wrapped arms and legs tightly to the tree as he slid to an upside down position. Now gazing up at what sky was visible through the thick tree branches, he cringed when he heard several plops in the water below him.
Ohmigod, ohmigod. No, no, no. Not the wallet and phone. Please, not the wallet and phone. Please, please, I'll do anything, I'll stop sending Buck's name to any more sex therapy groups, anything. Please, not my wallet.
He shifted forward then cried out when pain again flared sharply in his side and he tenderly pulled himself upright. Sitting on the log and directed the flashlight down into the water, he saw no trace of either phone or wallet. He checked his pockets and felt nothing but empty. Empty.
Keys! No, no, not the keys, too. He checked all pockets again, and again, but came up emptyhanded. His head was splitting.
Fuckin' shitty river. Fuckin' tree.
Making his way further across the tree, he finally reached the other bank and stopped to double over again from the burning in his side. It was becoming considerably more painful to take each step and he had to rest, clutching the inflamed area with his hand. The flashlight was becoming dim and he shook it, praying it would hold out just a little while longer. He started up the incline, then found himself rolling backwards as he lost footing and tumbled head over heels back down to the muddy bank. Shit. He dug his boot heels hard down and braced himself, panting heavily as he managed to stop his wild momentum. He let loose a groan, then picked himself up and reclimbed the slick bank on hands and knees. Standing upright as he reached the top he laughed sharply when he realized that not only was his side on fire, now his ankle was as well. His clothing and hair clung to him in damp, muddy folds and somehow there was a gale force wind blowing up his ass. With a shaky hand he reached around to find his favorite worn jeans now sporting an open vent. They were split wide apart, from stem to stern. And he was freezing.
Yer a fuckin' mess, Tanner. Just get yer ass on home.
Home. Chris. Vin could just picture the man, he was probably sitting by a warm, soothing fire reading, wondering why he hadn't received the nightly phone call yet. Hell, Chris, I'm calling, I'm calling, come get me! Sure would like to share the fire. Get warm. He sighed.
Limping to the top of the next rise, he finally found himself facing the light in back of the small ranch he'd seen from afar. It seemed like hours ago.
He made his way quickly as he could to the house, only one light seemed to be on and he hoped someone would be home to answer his knock. He limped around the side, painfully progressing to the front door when a shrill scream split the air. A woman's voice shrieked at him:
"I've got a gun and I'm not afraid to use it!"
He jumped back, landing hard on his twisted ankle and after supressing a growl called back, "Ma'am? Ma'am, I-"
A shot rang out above his head and the voice screeched again, "I've already called the police and the next shot's gonna take your head off!"
Without another hesitation, Vin rushed from the house into the cover of night, hurrying away as fast as he could and hoping he didn't feel any buckshot pierce his exposed backside. That would be a fun one to explain to Chris.
Fuckin' lunatic woman.
He limped quickly away from the ranch, slowing as he realized he could no longer see its lights, and finally stopping altogether when his one eye could barely see where it needed to go. It had really become dark and he realized he'd dropped the flashlight somewhere behind him. Cursing in a fit of frustration and rage at his own stupidity, he slapped a palm to his forehead, only to be reminded he had a lump the size of New Jersey already there. The pain in his head was now the leading candidate for his attention, his side and ankle would just have to wait their respective turns. And just when he'd decided he couldn't see well enough to walk one more step, not to mention his body was screaming with protest every time he did, he again saw a light ahead of him. And not too far away, either. Well, it was about time something went in his favor.
And, hey, wasn't there something vaguely familiar about the place?
The ranch? Oh, yes, home! Yes, yes, yes!
He was hopping, skipping and limping all at the same time as he hurried as best he could to the approaching haven. Not too far, not too far, home, home, home. Almost there. He was so close, he could just make out the outline of the roof under the moon's soft light, and as his feet hit the dirt road that led to this wonderful place, a siren sounded in his ear and flashing blue lights blinded him.
What th' fuck?
"'Scuse me, sir?" A deep voice sounded and a bright light shined into his face.
Oh, you gotta be fuckin' shittin' me. Not now.
"'Scuse me, I need you to stop right there, please, sir."
Vin stood, hands spread slightly out from his body. This was insane.
"Something wrong, officer?"
"Well, we've had a couple complaints 'bout a possible peeping Tom in the area and we're checking everyone we run across. You live around here?"
"Aah...no, but I'm headed to that ranch over there, that's where I'm staying, " he said, pointing to the light.
"That right? What's your name?"
"Tanner. Vin Tanner. I work for the ATF in Denver, that ranch belongs to my boss, Chris Larabee."
"Okay, you got any ID on you, son?"
"Well, no, but only 'cause I lost it with my wallet, crossin' whatever river's back over there somewheres. It fell outta my pockets and so did my phone when I..." Vin stopped, realizing he was now ramblng. "Look, my boss will vouch for me, just gimme a ride over there and he'll tell you who I am."
"You look pretty beat up. Care to explain?"
"I...I had an accident, wrecked my Jeep, over there," he waved in the general direction. "Been walkin' to get here, had a couple mishaps 'long the way...listen, just take me over there, he'll tell you who I am..."
"Unh, huh. Okay, get in the back. I'll drive you over."
Vin sat in the back of the police cruiser, not particularly caring for the view from the backseat.
The officer opened the door and they both headed up to the house together. Vin knocked hard on the door, impatiently drumming his fingers against the wood. He knocked again, harder and was about to just start beating both fists against the door when a vice-like grip encircled his wrist.
"Sorry son, doesn't appear anyone's home. Why don't you come with me and maybe we can get this straightened out at the station come morning."
"No! I didn't come all this fuckin' way to be shut out at the last min-" He stopped ranting as the front door swung open and a somewhat bleary-eyed Chris Larabee stood staring at the odd couple arguing at his door.
"What?" was all he said, looking slightly unfocussed at the two men at his door.
"Chris, it's me-"
"Quiet, son. Mr. Larabee, this person says you know him? That you can vouch for him being in the vicinity? A Mr. Banner?"
"Tanner. A Jim Tanner?"
"It's Vin. Not Jim, Vin. Vin Tanner. What? Are you fuckin' hard of hearing or something?"
"I'd advise you to calm down sir. Mr. Larabee, do you know this man or not?"
Chris had been staring at the two, paying no attention to the strained voices. He was staring at the somewhat battered young man in front of him. God, was that Vin? He wasn't sure if what he felt was tremendous anger or tremendous relief at seeing his lover, having worried for the past several hours about his whereabouts. At the moment, his anger was winning out.
"Weeell, I'm not sure. Hard to tell under all that mess. The Vin Tanner I know is supposed to be out of town on a business trip. Isn't supposed to arrive until sometime tomorow night. Doubt he'd show up this hour of the night to my place without calling to let me know of his plans first. So, I'm not sure. He got any ID on him?" Okay, let Vin squirm for a minute or two.
"Chris, I-" He was silenced as the officer squeezed firmly on his upper arm.
"Just a minute, sir. No, has no ID, claims he lost it after some sort of accident. I'm going to ask you again: Mr. Larabee, do you know this man?"
"Okay...yes, Officer...Tyler, is it? Yes, he is who he says he is, this is Vin Tanner, works for me at the Denver ATF agency. He's staying with me, so I'll take him from here. Hope he hasn't caused too much trouble for anyone."
"Me cause trouble? Chris, what th' hell you talkin' 'bout, I-," again Vin was stopped short as Chris snaked one hand around his arm and pulled him inside.
"No Mr. Larabee, as far as I can tell one of your neighbors claimed to have seen a 'peeping Tom' outside her home, she even fired a shot in the air to warn him away. Since you're vouching for him, I'll head out. Still need to go have a talk with your nervous neighbor...someone could get hurt...," the officer's voice trailed off as he walked away.
"Thanks, Officer. 'Preciate you giving him the benefit of the doubt," Chris said, waving out the door, then closing it behind him. He turned to look at Vin, green eyes narrowing to slits. "Now, peeping Vin, where the hell have you been and what the hell happened to you?"
Vin stared back. His head was throbbing and the last thing he wanted to deal with was an inquisition. Especially from the one person he had thought of for the last several hours.
"Well? You look like shit, Vin. Care to elaborate?" Chris's voice held a sharp edge, although relief was fast replacing the anger he had felt. Ezra had let slip Vin's early departure and intent to surprise him at the ranch, but when the hours ticked off with no word from the young man, Chris's fear escalated thinking the worst may have happened. Now with Vin standing before him, albeit somewhat worse for wear, Chris was finding it difficult to rein in all the angry emotion his worry had wrought.
Vin gazed into the older man's eyes. He felt incredibly tired and he swayed slightly on his feet. His ankle was so swollen he wasn't sure he'd be able to remove his boot without cutting it off, his side and head were playing duelling drumbeats and his eye was itching something awful under all that swelling. The lump on his head had expanded in size to include all of New Jersey and parts of New York as well. It too, throbbed with its own percussion. His body shivered under his damp clothing, his hair hung heavy in tangled knots and twists and there was definitely a cold breeze still blowing up his ass from the Grand Canyon-sized hole in his pants. He looked up at Chris again.
"Y'want the short or the long?"
"Any version'll do."
"'kay. Well, it goes somethin' like this: Standby. Traffic. Brake lights. Shortcut. Dirt road. No road. Deer. Crash. Walk. Walk. Walk. Water. Tree. Lost phone. No keys. No ID. Light. Yelling. Shots. Police. Here...Sleep."
Chris was silent, his features softening as he listened to the brief explanation.
"Well, that's not telling me a whole hell of a lot. Dammit, Vin, I was really worried about you. Ezra told me you'd taken an earlier flight and when I didn't hear from you for hours-" he stopped, really taking in the other man's weary appearance. He reached out a hand, cupping it tenderly around the bruised face and gently pulled Vin toward him. Chris wrapped his arms around the shivering body and whispered, "C'mon, let's get you cleaned up and outta these wet clothes, though I see you're out of your pants already." He ran a finger along the exposed area. God, it was good to have him home.
Chris led him into the bathroom and started the shower, letting the hot water run, steaming up the room. He helped Vin remove his clothing, tugging gently on the ruined jeans.
"Guess these're finally destroyed, going in the trash," he said as he rolled them in a ball.
"Guess again," Vin protested, grabbing the ripped pants out of the other man's hands, "They just need a little tender love and care, be good as new." He placed them in the pile with the rest of his other clothing.
Chris smiled, "They're not the only ones." He pulled Vin toward him in a light embrace, pushing him back as he studied the bruised face. "Ought to have you looked at, this bump's huge, how you feelin?" His fingers traced the grapefruit sized bruise on his torso.
"I'm okay. Really. Just cold, is all," Vin replied, turning to look at his reflecton in the mirror. He did look like a mess. He sighed and stepped into the warm shower, his feet becoming rooted to the tile as the water cascaded over his worn body. He sighed again.
"We'll tomorrow, we're going to the doctor. Then you can show me which tree claimed the Jeep, but right now, I'll go build a fire, let you get real warmed up."
"I know something that'll warm me faster than a fire," Vin replied with a slight grin as he opened up the glass shower door.
"Sold me," Chris grinned, quickly removing his sweats. "Sorry about the Jeep. Mind tellin' me just what the hell you were thinking, trying to blaze a new trail to the ranch?"
"Home," he said softly, "I was just thinkin' 'bout gettin' home."
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