Feedback: I'd love it.
Disclaimer: None of these guys are mine.
Comments: This is still going on. Follows the storyline in my fics: The Twelve Pack, then In Hiding, now this. But you don't have to have read those for this to make sense. It can stand alone. And thanks, Judy. It ain't over yet. Oh, and it's not nearly as seriously toned as the first two.
A lucky man.
That's what they keep calling him. Lucky.
A lucky man.
Lucky to be alive, they say. So they all keep saying. The doctors, the nurses, his friends. All of them. Everyone keeps telling him this. Yes, Chris Larabee, you are a lucky man.
Oh sure, he would admit he was lucky to be alive. What was it? A few inches to one side and that would've been the end--he'd be dead. Would have bled to death within minutes right there on that warehouse floor in front of all the good guys and the bad guys. But instead, here he was...alive and... well, not exactly up to kicking just yet, but alive, nonetheless.
Lucky to be sporting just a sore shoulder and sore head. As if sore even covered the amount of agony he'd endured these past few weeks. God, who could know how much pain one little bullet could cause. Okay, two bullets. But still, he'd been told over and over how lucky he was to be around to have that pain at all.
Could've been worse.
Could've been dead.
So, that was him, then. Lucky.
A lucky man.
He sighed and stretched his arm a little, grimacing as the muscle twinged with a sharp pain. So, then--just why didn't he feel all that lucky? He was improving...the physical therapist had said so just that morning. His shoulder was healing, the muscles not as tight, his range of motion increasing daily. That was good. And his headache had diminished to just trace levels. Well, until Buck entered the room, anyway.
He chuckled at that. Guess he was lucky in that area. Buck was about the most loyal, giving friend he'd known in his lifetime. But God, could he talk. Incessantly. And if JD happened to show up... well, the two of them together could create noise enough for it to be a sure guarantee his headache would return full fold.
He shifted again in the chair and gazed down the long hospital corridor, glancing at the watch on his wrist. What the hell was keeping him? He slid around in the orange plastic seat, grimacing when the pull of his shoulder prevented him from sitting up any higher.
"You sure your ride's comin', Mr. Larabee? If ya want, I could call y' a cab."
Chris jumped as the unexpected voice sounded right next to him.
"Sorry, did I scare ya?"
"No... I'm okay. Was just lost in thought I guess, didn't hear you coming."
"Sorry. Just wanted to know if you needed me to get a taxi for ya."
Chris paused and stared at the young man who was looking at him. He knew the orderly, but for some reason he couldn't quite pinpoint, he now sensed a certain deep familiarity as he gazed at the young man. Familiarity he'd not noticed before. "No. Thanks though, Henry," he said, dismissing his thoughts. "My ride's just running a little late. He...I'm sure he'll be here any minute."
"He's here right now," Buck Wilmington boomed, long strides taking him quickly down the hallway toward his impatiently waiting friend. "What's this? Few seconds late and you're ready to jump ship?"
Chris glared at Buck and pointed to his watch. "Try a half hour, Buck. I've been sitting in this chair so long, think I'm molded to the plastic." He thankfully took the outstretched hand before him as the young orderly offered to help him rise. "Thanks, Henry."
"No problem, Mr. Larabee. Anytime you need a hand, just call on me. Have a good day, see you again at your next appointment, I guess."
Chris watched as the young man retreated down the hallway. Something... "He remind you of anybody we know?" Buck asked as he, too, watched the retreating figure.
Chris stared after the man, then shook his head.
"Oh, c'mon Chris. Don't you think that guy reminds you a little of Vin?"
Chris turned back to watch as Henry turned a corner. Vin? Was that it? "Well, looks like they both have got something against haircuts, I guess. Other than that... no, I don't see--"
Buck chuckled as he helped his friend from the chair. "Yeah, you don't see much."
Chris glared at the tall man as he was hoisted slowly to his feet, and shook his head. "What's that supposed to mean?"
"Means that some of the time, your eyes are open, but they ain't always seein' what's in front of 'em. Now me, I notice everything. Like, for instance, that guy and Vin. They... resemble... each other."
"What are you talking about, Buck. The hair is one thing, but other than that, I don't see any--"
Buck chuckled as he cut in, "Well, now... seems they both got nice, um...rear views. That's what."
Chris turned and gaped at his friend. "Christ."
"What? Shit, Buck. You're talkin' about Vin."
White teeth flashed under a dark mustache as Buck grinned widely. "Nah, I'm only talkin' about his ass."
Chris stopped altogether in the middle of the white hall. "Why are you talkin' about Vin's--his...you know--"
Green eyes rolled. "Buck."
Buck laughed out loud, clearly amused at his friend's sudden discomfort. "You got a problem with saying that word all of a sudden?"
Chris hissed a response as his aggravation with the man rose higher. "No, no problem. It's ass. His ass. Vin's...ass."
Buck grinned again...or maybe he'd never stopped. "Well, okay. What about it?"
"Christ, Buck. Are you trying to be annoying? What is it with you and--"
"Vin's ass? Why? You think you might want to a piece of it, too?"
Chris groaned, not sure if it was from the pain in his shoulder or the pain standing next to him. His head shot up when Buck's reply fully registered between the beats of his newly awakened headache.
"I knew I should have asked Mary to pick me up."
Buck frowned upon hearing the words and slowly shook his head. "Oh. Mary. Right, right. So."
"What so? There is no so."
"Okaaayy, sorry. I didn't realize you and Miz Travis were getting--"
"We're not anything, Buck."
Buck threw up his hands, then resumed position and helped brace Chris as they continued down the hall. "'S'okay, Chris. You're right. You and Mary, ain't none of my business."
"Got that right, Wilmington. Besides, I just said, Mary and I aren't anything."
"Sure, fine. Like I've been sayin', you are one lucky man, Stud. That Mary, she is a beautiful woman. And she has got a nice--"
"Jeeze, Buck--don't say it," Chris warned, already sick to death of the conversation. Lucky. Ha.
"Lord, Chris. Give me some credit, I wasn't raised in a cesspool, y'now. I was just gonna say Mary's got a nice son. Y'now, her boy? Billy? Yep, man could do a lot worse that having t' look at that woman every day for the rest of his life, I guess. Yep, lucky. One lucky man, Chris."
"Stop saying that."
"What? Why? You don't feel lucky...orrr..."
"Well, maybe you just haven't... gotten lucky?"
"You know, I think you were raised in a cesspool."
"Oh. Okay, I get it. You don't want to talk about Mary."
"Okay, okay. Well, hmm. Let's see. Don't want to talk about Mary. Shouldn't talk about politics. Can't talk about religion. So, hmm, I guess that leaves, um... oh, I know! We're back to Vin's ass."
"Shit, Buck. You've got a one track mind. Not to mention... well, let's just say I didn't realize you were heading so far that way these days."
"Hell, Chris. You know me, I'll blow whichever direction the wind sends me."
Chris looked into the eyes glinting with glee under the waggling eyebrows. "That's not funny."
Buck laughed. "Oh, c'mon, Chris. Blow. It was a little funny. Besides, You know me...if it sounds good, looks good and smells good, I have been known to change course and blaze a new trail, male or female. You know I've never liked just heading down a one way road."
"Great. So what now? You've decided on... on... Vin's road?" Chris was annoyed and embarrassed to be talking of his best friend this way. Especially to his other best friend. They reached Buck's truck and he carefully eased himself into the seat.
"Buck. You work with the guy, for God's sake." Chris was confused. Why was Buck suddenly so interested in Vin? "And what is it with this obsession with Vin all of a sudden, anyway? Thought you were into someone else, these days. Beetle, or...what was it? Wait... Grasshopper or someone."
Buck frowned. "Who? What? Wait... are y' talkin' about Cricket?"
Chris nodded, relieved to have the conversation directed away from the young sharpshooter of the team. "Yeah, her. I knew it was some bug name. Cricket. Thought you were in love with Cricket." Thank God, they'd stopped joking about Vin. It was a joke, wasn't it?
The large man chuckled as he maneuvered the truck through the parking garage. "Love? Me? Ha! You know better'n that. But yeah, Cricket an' me 've had some times, that's for sure. That girl was the most flexible thing I ever did see. In fact, I ever tell you about--" he stopped as he glanced toward Chris, catching the man's pinched expression. "Well, another time then. Still..."
"Buck," Chris groaned, sure he was about to suffer through yet another chapter in the man's wild sexploits. But at least they had stopped talking about his interest in Vin. No. Buck couldn't really be interested in Vin. Not possible.
"Well, hell, Chris," Buck protested. "Y' don't wanna talk about Mary. Y' don't wanna hear about Cricket and her wicked ways--"
"Wicked ways?" On the other hand, why the hell should he care if Buck was interested in Vin.
"Oh, yeah. See this one time, she..."
Chris faced out the window as Buck launched into his tale. He heard the voice, but the words all ran together as his mind contemplated other things. HIs eyes narrowed as he stared at the landscape blurring past. Buck. Buck interested in Vin. Huh. Wasn't all that surprising, really. Vin was a good-looking guy... Buck liked a good-looking anything...
"So, then, after I opened the tube of cookie dough, she... are you listening here, pard? Chris?"
Chris turned back to Buck with a small wave, not hearing a word the man was saying. Buck returned the wave with a laugh and continued his story. "Well, I tell you what. Once I told her about JD's little stash of chocolate sauce, she just about..."
Chris turned back to staring outside the window. What did it matter if Buck lusted after Vin, anyway? Buck lusted after everybody. And it really shouldn't matter to him. Didn't matter to him. Wasn't anyone's business what happened behind closed doors. He turned his attention back to Buck, who was continuing his tale with great bravado.
"...when we get to your place, I'll show you just how it happened. Unbelievable that she could achieve that kind of momentum when--"
Chris held up a hand. "NO...ah, that's enough. I really don't think I want to know anymore." Huh. Of course, it didn't matter, anyway. None of it. Moot point. Vin wasn't even interested in men.
What if he was?
Christ, could Vin be interested in Buck?
"See? That right there's what I'm gettin' at--y' just ain't lived 'til you've tried it and now you don't even want to hear about it. I ain't all that sure you even heard a word I was saying, either. Shame. It's just a shame, Chris."
Chris sighed. He was listening...to too much. Buck and Vin. Ridiculous. "I am listening, Buck. I just...I guess I've still got a pretty good headache going right now...sorry." And so what if something were to happen between the two of them. They were both adults. Besides, what did it matter to him, anyway?
Lord, his head really was starting to hurt.
Buck slapped the steering wheel and groaned. "Oh, Lord, Chris. No, I'm sorry. Here you are the one gettin' over the concussion, and I'm rambling on like nobody's business. Hell, I'll just sit here an' shut up. See? I'm shutting up. Not going t' say one more word. Promise. I can be as quiet as a mouse. Not a peep." He turned on the radio and both men jumped when the music came blasting out of the car speakers. Buck quickly turned off the noise, looking apologetically at Chris who had fingers pressed to both temples.
"Good God-Almighty...that is definitely the last time I let JD drive my truck. I'm really sorry. Jeeze, you ever heard such a racket? I swear, that kid could--"
"Buck," Chris groaned as the voice continued.
"Oh. Sorry, Chris. Okay, back to bein' quiet. See? I'm bein' quiet. Not another word. Not another sound. Here I sit, just being quiet."
Chris nodded as he closed his eyes and rested his aching head against the seatback.
Buck and Vin. Preposterous.
What was that smell? He pushed up to sit, wincing as his shoulder rebelled against the strain of the movement. The room was darkened by the closed curtains, but a quick glance at his watch let him know he hadn't been asleep for too long... it was still early evening. Again, the smell of burned food wafted through the den and he wrinkled his nose at the odor, then looked to the door as a loud crash, followed by even louder cursing, sounded from down the hall.
Shaking his head with some amusement, he picked up the remote to the tv, muting the sound as he began channel surfing, watching with vague disinterest as bright pictures flew by on the large screen. She was attempting to make dinner. And as he listened to the continued rattling of the pots and pans in the kitchen with some dismay, he shuddered, knowing he did not feel much like eating and definitely did not feel much like having company. But he couldn't tell her to leave, either. He played with the pillows on the sofa trying to ease his shoulder to a less straining position and after failing miserably, ended up tossing most of them onto the rug.
"Can't get comfortable?"
Chris startled hearing the voice at his back, then nodded. "Yeah. I'm having a hard time. I thought I was feeling better, but...I don't know. Something just feels kinda...off."
Mary smiled and leaned over the back of the sofa. "I'm sorry. What can I get for you?"
He smiled, wishing he could say he wanted to be left alone without hurting her feelings. "Well... not dinner, I'm assuming."
She laughed. "Ha. You noticed. As accomplished as I am, I will admit cooking is just not my forte. So, how do you feel about pizza, or Chinese, maybe?"
He waved a hand through the air. "Fine. That's fine."
"Which is fine? Pizza? or Chinese? Maybe something else?"
"Either. Both. All of it...or...?" He turned to look at her. She was staring right at him. Pretty eyes. She did have pretty eyes. Were they green? No...blue, maybe.
"Hmmm. Sounds to me like you don't have a clue what you want," she said with a small laugh and resisted the urge to place her hand on his hair. Such beautiful hair. She drew her eyes back to his.
"Yeah," he sighed, "Maybe. I don't know, Mary, seems ever since this happened nothing has felt...quite right. Maybe I'm just tired." Vin definitely has blue eyes. No mistaking them...Good God, where is all this coming from? Vin's eyes? Damn that Buck, anyway.
"Yes, I'm sure you're tired of being tired, as well. I mean, think about it. You're a take-charge kind of guy. You lead a team of--"
"No," she laughed, "I was going to say a team of highly skilled professionals on the most incredible of missions. Your everyday work life is so much more than most people can even imagine to have occur in their lifetime. In ten lifetimes. And--"
"Mary, don't get carried away. Most of what I do seems to be filling out required reports. And making sure six others fill out theirs, as well. Y'now, now that I think about it, half the time I'm writing my own, the other half I'm fixing someone else's."
"My point exactly." She glided around the sofa and sat next to the reclined man, trying her best to resist throwing herself on top of him. It was hard.
"What is?" He asked, suddenly wondering if Buck and Vin got their reports finished in time. Although he wasn't there, the paperwork still needed to be completed. Should find out.
"What is what? My point? Well, that you're not used to sitting idle. And now, it's been a few weeks since the incident and you're starting to feel somewhat better, yet you can't go back to doing the things you're used to doing. Like going back to work. So, here you are, day after day, with not much to do."
Chris looked at her. Maybe that was all it was. He really wasn't used to sitting around with nothing to do. Nothing to occupy his mind. Probably explained why the whole Buck and Vin thing kept creeping into his thoughts... he had nothing else to think about. On a normal day, he'd never have given Buck's comment another second. So what if this time it was about Vin. Buck was always making comments about someone. So Buck noticed Vin has a nice ass. So what? He probably does have a nice ass.
Damn that Buck, anyway.
"--and so, if you'd like, I could order now. Chris? Chris, did you hear me?"
"What? Oh, sorry, Mary. I was... you know, I really think I am just getting very tired."
Mary gazed at the handsome face before her. Chris really did look exhausted, and she knew she should probably head on home and let him get the rest he needed. "Well, I guess I ought to get going then, anyway. Billy's at home with a sitter and I'm sure she'd like to get home herself. If I can... if there's anything I can get you, before I leave? A sandwich? Soup, maybe? I may not be a whiz in the kitchen, but I can open a can of soup."
Just go, please. "No thanks, Mary. I'm just going to take a painkiller or two, and head on to bed. I do appreciate you stopping by to make dinner, though... really. Very nice of you." Just go.
She stood, wanting so much to run her hands along that fine brow, like she had chanced to do in the hospital. Of course, then, he had been unconscious. "I was glad to do it, Chris. Anything you need... please, don't hesitate. I'll be more than happy to help." More than more than happy. Anything.
"Thanks, Mary. I'd walk you out, but..."
"No, don't. I can see myself out. I'll lock up for you as I go, if you'd like. Um, and the kitchen's semi-clean. The food's been thrown out... again, I apologize for my cooking skills, or lack thereof... so I just need to put away all the pots and pans. I'll finish doing that and--"
"Leave it. It's okay. I have a cleaning woman who can do it in the morning. Plus, Buck and Nathan are coming by, they can always help."
"Well, if you're sure," she smiled brightly, feeling anything but. "I guess I'm going, then. Like I said, don't hestitate to call me. Okay. Well. Goodnight."
"Good night, Mary. Oh, and tell Billy I said hello. And... and thanks, again." Just go, dammit.
After making sure she locked the front door, she retrieved her purse and headed out the kitchen's side door, turning the lock and pulling it closed behind her as she made her way out into the evening with a deep sigh.
+ + + + + + +
Vin. Where had Vin been these past few weeks? It occurred to him that he hadn't seen Vin all too often since he'd been released from the hospital. No, that wasn't quite right, it had been before even that... Since he'd been admitted. Come to think of it, after the initial trauma had subsided, and it looked as though he was going to make a full recovery, Vin had begun to make himself scarce. Chris frowned at that. Was that right? Was he remembering that correctly?
Since he'd first awakened from the surgery, there had been a sea of people coming and going in and out of his room. And Vin had been one of that sea. He had been there, true, but never alone. Never by himself. Chris was sure he was recalling that correctly, now that he could think back. Of course, except when the nurse shooed everyone out, he was never left alone, either... always seeming to have a room full of visitors, nurses or doctors. And as he got stronger in the days that followed, there was a lot more for him to concentrate on besides who and how many times he had visitors.
Okay, Chris thought. So Vin had been around some. That was true for the time he was in the hospital, anyway. But since he'd been released... since he'd been home... had Vin come out to the ranch? Even once? No. Oh, they had talked on the phone a few times... but Vin, in person, just hadn't been around. And Vin was always around. Where Chris was, Vin was to be found. And vice-versa. If Vin had been at home recovering, Chris would have been there to help.
Maybe that was what was making things seem so off kilter. He just expected Vin to be by his side and he hadn't been. So, where was Vin now? Something must be wrong. Not showing his presence was just not standard behavior for the young man. He grabbed the phone and began dialing...then hesitated, placing the receiver back down as his mind began to argue with itself.
Wait. First off, Larabee, what the hell are you doing? You had Mary Travis here. Mary. An incredibly beautiful woman... who seems to really be taking an interest... and what do you do? Run her off and then worry about the unexpected behavior of some ragamuffin, smart-ass sharpshooter who wouldn't begin to recognize the finer points of normalcy if they bit him in his ass.
He pressed fingers to his temples, hissing as his shoulder sent shooting pain into his back with the movement. Oh my God, Larabee, you're doing it again. What is it with thinking of Vin's ass?
Damn that Buck.
Buck. Vin and Buck. What if Vin and Buck were... No. God, Larabee. Get a handle on yourself. It was one small comment. Buck and Vin are not together. And even if they were, what does it matter to you? What? You have a crush on Vin, too, all of a sudden? He chuckled aloud as the thought entered his head. Right. Vin was...is a guy. Good-looking guy, yeah. But a man. He likes woman. And so do you, Larabee, remember? You were married? Okay, so maybe there was the one time... but that was in college. Years ago.
He smiled to himself again, at his own foolishness. Just call Vin, see if he's finished his part of the report or if he needs help, and then go to bed. It's just a business call. He dialed the sharpshooter's cell number, letting the phone ring and ring until he was greeted by Vin's voice. Or, rather, his voice-mail. He left a short message, then hung-up. Staring at the receiver for a minute, he then dialed Buck's number and was pleased to hear the loud voice booming over the phone.
"Buck? It's me, Chris. I --"
"Chris? Hey, how th' hell are ya? Mary still there, cooookin'? I ran into her earlier, and she told me she was gonna stop over to make dinner for you. That's why Vin and I didn't come by tonight. We figured you were in real, good hands. Are ya, pard? In real gooood hands?"
Chris held the phone away from his ear for a surprised minute. Vin and I? Buck sounded strange. "Buck, is... are you drunk?"
"Drunk? Nah... not me. Not yet, anyway. 'Course, can't say the same for everyone here, though."
Chris could hear muffled sounds in the background, then Buck's voice thinned as he yelled something away from the phone.
"Buck. Buck... is Vin with you?"
"Vin? Oh, yeah. He's here. We went out for pizza and a couple beers after work, and then came back to my place for a couple more. Beers, that is, not pizza. Josiah was here, too, for a bit, but he just left. Hey--"
Again, Buck seemed to pull away from the phone as he said something to someone in the room. Chris's head and shoulder were beginning to pound with fury.
"Buck? Buck, are you there?" He could hear muffled thumps. What was going on over there?
"Here. Hey, Stud. How's Ms. Travisssss?" Buck slurred the word. Purposefully or not, Chris wasn't sure.
"She left. Listen, I was trying to--"
"Well hell, Chris. Y' just let her get away? The night's still young. Wait... what was that, Vin?"
Chris frowned. He could hear laughter over the phone. Mostly Buck's. "Buck. Buck--"
"Sorry...sorry, Chris. Vin's just bein'... well, bein' Vin. I said, 'the night's young'... and he said, 'yeah, but Chris ain't.' " Buck laughed again. "Sorry, pard. I know it ain't funny... you're still not one hundred percent an' all... but it did made me laugh. Here, you wanna glare at Vin? I bet you could send one through the phone that would just about--"
"Buck. Listen. I'm hanging up now. I'm tired. I just wanted to... tell Vin I wanted to... Shit. Never mind. I'll talk to you in the morning. Have... have fun. 'Night."
"'Kay, Chris. Goodnight to you, too. And feel better. You sound tired. Get some rest. Nathan and I'll be by tomorrow to check on ya, remember. Call me if ya need to... any time."
"Thanks. Good night, Buck."
He sat for a moment with the silent phone cradled in his hand, then replaced it and slowly headed to take his medication and to bed.
As he slipped into sleep, his mind pictured Vin. His young friend was next to the barn, shoulder braced against the wood, his body leaning easily into the structure. He bent down and the view changed. Chris's lips parted in a soft smile as he slipped toward a drug-laced sleep, his mind focusing on one thing.
The weeks passed slowly until finally, finally, he was back.
Being back to work was a wonderful thing. After having been forced to take more disability leave than he thought he could stand, he was finally back to his life. His work. Even though it was desk duty only, he thrilled to the fact that he was, once again, master of his own schedule.
He sat behind the closed door of his small office and grinned as he put his feet up on his desk. His shoulder was still somewhat achy, and he still had the required physical therapy appointments to complete, but otherwise, he felt as good as he had in quite some while. Things were settling back down, back to a normal routine. Everything was back in place. Except for one small thing.
Chris leaned forward and tossed the paperwork he held onto his desk. He couldn't pinpoint it exactly, but there still seemed that something was definitely off target with the young sharpshooter, and it bothered him that he couldn't place the problem.
For whatever reason, Vin just didn't seem to want to be around him much. Chris almost felt Vin was avoiding him purposefully. And that bothered him even more. So, he kept speculating about Vin's behavior, which led him to speculate about Buck and Vin's behavior, which was driving him crazy.
He had thought he'd be able to rid himself of the idea that Buck and Vin had somehow formed a relationship together. But he hadn't as of yet. In fact, if anything, the images of the two of them crept into his mind even more frequently than before. At first, he'd only dreamed of them together, waking himself several times in a cold sweat as he tried to grab onto whatever feelings raced around in his head. What it was, exactly, that bothered him about the two of them possibly being together. Now, though, he found himself drifting during the day... thoughts of them sharing some kind of intimacy creeping into his daydreams as he ate breakfast, sat in his office, watched television.
He shook himself as he realized that, for the second time that morning, he'd found himself thinking about his two friends. This just had to stop. He sat up and purposely directed his thoughts elsewhere. He didn't need to dwell on these two. He had his own social life to look after. Mary. She had called the night before, wanting to stop by and try another attempt at cooking dinner, but he had declined. When he actually sat and thought about her, he knew he had no real interest in the woman. As beautiful and lovely as she was... it just wasn't enough. She wasn't enough. She just wasn't what he wanted. Whatever that was.
Grabbing his empty mug, he charged out his door into the office bullpen and headed to the small cantina for a fresh cup of coffee. He noticed the empty desks immediately and stopped abruptly in the middle of the room.
"It is Friday, is it not?" he asked of the four faces staring his way.
They all nodded.
"And it is 9:20 on a workday morning. Only 10 minutes left until we have our scheduled meeting at 9:30. Am I right?"
Again, all heads nodded in agreement.
"So, why is it that two of my staff have yet to arrive? JD, where's Buck?"
JD stood up and faced the glare, suddenly remembering every revolting minute of being called upon to speak during 8th grade assembly. "Uh, he's running late... he said."
Chris nodded. "Yeah. I believe that's fairly obvious. Care to elucidate?"
"Uh... he an' Vin were going to be carpooling. Buck said Vin's Jeep wasn't running, so he... Buck that is... was going to pick him up, then head on in. Here. To... to the office."
Chris frowned. Buck and Vin. Together. Again. He nodded and headed off to the cantina. "Okay then, I guess we'll just get started whenever those two finally deign it acceptable to arrive. Tanner ought to just put that damn thing out of its misery. Out of my misery."
The remaining four men glanced to one another and shrugged. It wasn't the first time Vin's Jeep had broken down. It also wasn't the first time Chris snarled about the fact.
He filled his cup and stood at the counter, trying hard to rein in the raging emotions that threatened to overspill. Christ, Buck and Vin. Again. Together yet again. And yes, it was bothering him now. Bothering him a lot.
He sipped at his coffee and stilled as he heard Buck's unmistakable voice bellowing salutations in the adjacent room. Slowly, he carried his full mug with him and ventured out into the bullpen area, only half listening to the others as they greeted one another.
"Buck," Chris said as he nodded to the tall man. "Glad you decided to grace us with your presence this morning. Friday meeting, ten minutes.
Buck smiled and saluted as Chris strode by and pointed toward the conference room. Chris then glanced to Vin who stood leaning over his desk, his back to the two men.
Chris passed Buck and stopped as he found himself staring at Vin's backside. For a moment he was frozen, then, embarrassed, he looked up and frowned as he saw Buck grinning widely back at him. Buck mouthed the words 'Nice ass' and Chris felt himself almost blush as he hastily reminded the sharpshooter about the upcoming meeting and then fled to his office.
Buck watched the man retreat and smiled as he nodded to himself.
The day had been long, filled with meetings and reports that seemed never-ending and so, by the time it was suggested they finally quit working, everyone agree they were more than ready for a little afterwork release. The men of Team 7 ended up at their favorite hangout, each member sitting tiredly around the table, a glass at each hand.
Chris hadn't been drinking due to the medication he was still taking, and he watched with some amusement as the rest of his team allowed themselves to relax. Over the course of evening the beer drinking changed as someone produced a tray of shooters and soon, as far as Chris could discern, most of his team was happily and steadily unwinding. Especially Buck. Buck was most definitely unwinding. Or perhaps, unraveling was a more appropriate term.
Chris tried not to stare as the large man draped a heavy arm around Vin's shoulders for what had, he was sure, to be the fiftieth time in less than an hour. He frowned as he watched Buck pulling the slighter man into a warm embrace as he leaned in to speak.
"Hey, Junior," Buck slurred as he spoke, his face only inches away from Vin's. "I ever tell you what a great time I had t' other night at your place?"
Vin laughed somewhat drunkenly himself. A few nights back, he and Buck had watched several old western movies together. It had been the most fun thing Vin had done in weeks. He didn't know exactly how or why Buck sensed his need for escape lately, but he was sure glad he had. All this time spent in Buck's company had almost allowed him to forget about this obsession he was having with Chris. Almost. He skin still tingled whenever he got within the same airspace as the older man. Right this very moment, in fact, it was almost hard to breathe as he sensed Chris looking his way. He was glad the man was seated across the table from him, not at all sure how he'd be able to cope if Chris was seated next to him. He sighed and turned his attention back to Buck and his antics, as he tried to squelch the longing he felt rising inside his chest. He reminded himself that some things were never meant to be. Chris had Mary and would remain forever seated across the table.
Chris was sure he was about to have a coronary. That was the only reason he could think of that explained why his heart was pounding out of control. Vin's place? A great time? He watched as the young man smiled up into Buck's leering face. That's what it looked like to him. Leering. What the hell was Buck thinking? Leering at Vin in a public place. He looked around the table but no one else seemed to be noticing. How could they not notice? Buck had been draping himself all over Vin for most of the evening. It was disgustingly obvious.
Damn that Buck.
And Vin. What the hell was going on in his mind? Chris stared at the two of them, completely oblivious himself, to the conversation going on around him at the table. He was focused only on two men. How could Vin allow this? And why? Surely he wasn't taking Buck's ridiculous, blatant flirting seriously? Surely he wasn't allowing himself to be taken in by that Lothario. As he stared at the two men, he reminded himself again that Vin wasn't interested in men. Certainly he couldn't be interested in Buck.
Could Vin be interested in men... in Buck? Had he been so totally blind to the whole thing? Buck and Vin... He thought back over the past few weeks. No wonder he hadn't seen Vin all that often during his recovery. He was obviously occupied elsewhere. With sudden clarity his mind remembered and pictured every small brush of the arm, every whispered conversation between the two. God, it was all too clear now.
Buck and Vin were... were ...
He frowned again at his own thoughts as he gazed over the table to the two who were now laughing heartily over some idiotic joke told by JD. Buck was grinning and looking at Vin. No. Staring at Vin. Hungrily staring at Vin. Chris shook his head half expecting Buck to lick his lips. Buck was practically undressing the man with his eyes, for Christ's sake. He tried not to pay attention as the two laughed again and Buck slapped Vin on the back. It wasn't his business he told himself and forced himself to look away.
The next time he glanced in their direction, Buck was staring intently into Vin's face. With one hand he held onto Vin's chin, as though he were steadying him. The other hand was brushing lightly down one cheek.
Chris almost choked.
"There, got it," Buck said as he brushed something off of Vin's cheek. The man was smiling hugely, his teeth shining impossibly white underneath a dark mustache. Too huge, Chris thought. There was absolutely no reason for Buck to be grinning like that in Vin's face. None. None whatsoever. He looked like he was ready to bite him.
His exhaled heavily as he realized he'e been holding his breath watching the two. This was absurd. He shouldn't care. He didn't care. He didn't... but...
He did care. God, did he care.
+ + + + + + +
As the evening lengthened and the empties piled high, the members of Team 7 began saying their goodnights. Nathan and his wife, Rain, were the first to leave.
"Aw, Nathan. C'mon now... don't leave too soon. We only just got started," Buck exclaimed as the couple moved to leave.
"Started? Buck, we've all been here going on three hours now. I got t' get my wife home."
Buck chuckled and winked. "Yeah, I hear ya, Nate. Okay, go on you two. Have fun now, y'hear?"
Nathan scowled in mock protest at the words and he led his wife away. He grabbed JD and pointed to Buck. "You make sure he doesn't end up driving tonight, JD. He's in no condition to get behind the wheel."
"Yeah, don't worry. He gave me his car keys when we got here. Told me he wasn't planning on driving home tonight anyway."
"Okay, good thing. An' make sure Ezra and Vin make it home as well. It's just as well Vin has no working car at the moment."
JD laughed and nodded his head. "I will, I will. Not a problem."
Nathan looked to his friends, then back to JD. "You are okay to drive yourself, JD?"
"Oh yeah. I switched to water the minute the shooters showed up. Learned my lesson about those things last month an' I don't ever want a repeat of that night. Don't worry about me, I'm fine."
Nathan squeezed the young man's shoulder and smiled. "Okay, JD. Listen, I'm giving Josiah a lift home... you and Chris take care of the rest of them. 'Specially Buck, he's--"
Nathan laughed and left, he and Rain leading a very tired Josiah out the door.
JD turned back to the table and sat down next to Chris. The older man had been mostly quiet during the loud festivities. Not that that was so unusual, really.
"Hey, Chris. I'm gonna take Buck with me, he's in no shape to drive himself home."
"He's in no shape to do anything."
Both men looked to Buck who was grinning ear to ear and leaning close to Vin as he said something to the young man. Chris's eyes narrowed. Leaning dangerously close to Vin.
"So? Is that okay with you, Chris?"
Chris turned to JD, who was staring at him with his dark eyebrows raised.
"Uh... what? Sorry, JD. What did you ask me?"
"I said I was taking Buck with me and offered to give Vin and Ezra a ride as well. Unless you maybe could give one of them a ride... that would sure be a help."
Chris stared at the men laughing around the table, then sighed and nodded to JD. "Sure, JD. I'll... I can give... Ezra... a ride home."
Both men turned quickly to the others as a loud crash brought laughter from around the bar. Buck had disappeared. Or a least, had disappeared from view. The large man was flat on his back in his upended chair and laughing his ass off.
"I dare say, Missster Wiiiimingt'n. You...you seem t've losss' your ssseat," Ezra slurred as he looked to the fallen man. He sipped at his drink, its contents spilling over the sides. "P'haps Missster Dunne... Misssster Dunne. Dunne...Dunne" He stopped silently for a moment and cocked his head. "Y'now? That sssoundsss f'miliar... it doesss. Dunne...Dunne. Dunne. Dun, dun, dun...dunnnnnn." Ezra grinned as he stretched JD's surname into the opening of Beethoven's Fifth.
Vin chimed in and completed the well known measure. "Dun, dun, dun...dunnnn."
Ezra's eyes brightened. "Why... why Missher Tanner, I never thoughtchoo were one forrr the classsics."
"There's lo'ssa 'bout me y' don' know, Ezzzzra."
A voice floated up from the darkened shadows of the floor area. "Ain't that th' truth."
Chris winced. He nodded to JD and pointed to the inebriated men. Buck was still hidden from view, Ezra was half asleep doing head-bobs in his chair and Vin looked to be trying to pass out as his head dropped onto the table, his face obscured by the long strands of hair that had fallen foward.
"Time to go home, guys," JD informed his less than alert team members. He looked to Chris as they began pulling Buck to his feet. "Y'now, Chris. It makes more sense for me to drive Ezra home since his place is on the way to mine."
Chris nodded his head, not sure at all if he was agreeing to the wisest decision in that he would now be driving Vin home himself. "Alright, JD. Let's get 'em up and moving."
They walked slowly to the car, Buck barely supporting his own weight as he was guided between them. Lowering him into the car, Chris leaned over and pulled the seatbelt across the large man's lap when his arm was grabbed. He startled and looked up into not-so-clear blue eyes.
"You... y' takin' Vin home?" Buck asked and let go of Chris's wrist.
Chris nodded, not at all sure what to read, if anything, into the query.
Buck nodded in return. His eyes closed and he rested his head on the back of the seat as he mumbled. "'S good. Thassa good thing... you an' Vin... 'bout time, Lar'bee. Take him... you take him home."
Chris stood abruptly, somewhat shocked. He looked back to Buck but the man was sound asleep.
JD returned to the car guiding a very unsteady Ezra. Chris watched as Ezra slid into the back seat and promptly fell asleep.
"JD. You going to be able to get these two out of the car?"
The young man shrugged as he started the ignition. "I have no idea. Got any suggestions?"
Chris chuckled. "Yeah, JD. Let 'em sleep it off in the car. Just get them each a blanket."
"And a bucket," JD added and waved as he pulled away.
Chris watched the tail lights turn and headed back into the bar where he found Vin in exactly the same position he'd left him. Vin was snoring softly.
"Vin," he said and gently pushed on the young man. "Vin... wake up, Tanner. Time to go home."
Vin lifted his head and looked around blearily. "Buck?" he said as his head dropped back onto the table.
Chris felt a twinge in his heart and sighed. He shook his head as and pulled the groggy man to his feet, leading him step by step to his car. "No, it's not Buck. It's me, Vin. It's just me."
Chris drove, occasionally looking at the young face turned toward him, feeling himself become enraptured by the way the streetlights highlighted the waves of soft hair that curled over Vin's shoulder.
He reached out a hand with a suddenly overwhelming desire to twine his fingers deeply into the silken locks, his mind conjuring up the image of himself holding Vin's hair tightly as he thrust his tongue deeply into those captured lips. Then with a groan, he slammed his hand back onto the steering wheel, perfectly horrified by what he'd just imagined.
What the hell was happening to him? This was Vin. Vin.
Oh God, Vin.
He turned again to the passed out figure in his front seat, looking at him as though he'd never done so before.
I'm fucked, he thought, as he let his eyes trace slowly over the handsome features. He wanted him. He wanted Vin. More than anything he'd ever wanted before this moment, he wanted Vin.
Wanted to hold him... wanted to touch him... wanted to run his fingers down that softly stubbled cheek just the way Buck had done. Wanted to lick those lips, and fill that mouth with his tongue so he could taste every part of him. He wanted to stroke him and caress him and bury himself so deeply into that sweet body until they were both...
"Christ," he said aloud as he felt himself become so hard he could barely keep still as he drove. He looked over at Vin, who remained oblivious. At one red light, he sat and studied the pale, pink lips that had parted ever so slightly...
Yes, he thought, I'm totally... fucked.
Damn that Buck.
The end? Not hardly ;-)
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