Just a Tickle

by Annie

Feedback: please

Pairing: C/V

Huge thanks to Diana, so good at giving that much-need push.

Just a little PWP that came to mind.

The town was quiet, had been quiet. Not so unusual, and welcomed, actually, after what they’d all been through, what they’d been tangled up in the days prior; local ranch hands turned angry brawlers turned a long day into hell--a long day full of fighting and blood and more wounded bodies than anyone really wanted to deal with.

But now, finally, two days later and the town seemed tranquil. Nathan had been busy as hell patching people up, and the ranchers’ foremen had their hands full now they’d collected their men, but the town was finally quiet--quiet and peaceful and calm--and given that, he ought to be feeling quiet, peaceful and calm himself.

Except he wasn’t, because something felt--well, not quite right, for lack of any more precise definition.

It wasn’t just two days before all hell had broken loose through the streets, fists flying, bodies flying, bullets flying which, if he thought too long and hard about it, would get him riled all over again, people screaming and running every which way to escape the melee. It had been a hard, tiring day then and the day after with the clean up, and he was glad now it was over and done.

So what was bothering him now he couldn’t place. It sure wasn’t this calm after the storm.

He just felt…unsettled.

The weather was perfect, the sky clear blue and stretching out for miles in a cloudless expanse that would have most men wishing for a good horse and open plain.

For him, he ought to be happy just keeping watch over a quiet street, surrounded by a quiet town--nothing going on, no one doing much of anything, no ranch hands left to disturb the peace.

A day like this usually found him perched on the boardwalk outside the saloon or jail, reading the small book he kept at hand for just such afternoons--nothing to do, nowhere to be, no one needing or wanting or asking for anything.

Should be a relief.

But something still felt…off.

There was something in the back of his mind…something that remained quiet and calm as the day surrounding him, and yet was lurking there, niggling at him much like a sneeze that wouldn’t come. No pressure about it, whatever it was, but there all the same, as if a reminder that something was out there he should be doing. Or thinking, anyway, and he’d already spent time raking through and muddling over things in his head, ticking off should do’s and might’ve missed’s and could be’s, but nothing came to the forefront.

There was nothing pressing he could think of—nothing he’d forgotten he was supposed to be doing--and yet, that feeling lingered, like he was missing something.

Maybe it was just things were too quiet.

He strolled slowly around town--nothing amiss, nothing out of the ordinary and while that gave him a feeling of satisfaction that all was well and as it should be…still…

There was something.

Voices behind him had him turning. Nathan was standing on the bottom step leading to his place, speaking to a woman and her son, and he slowly walked near.

“You did real well,” Nathan was saying to the boy. “I told you gettin’ them stitches out would just be a little tickle is all.”

“We can’t thank you enough, Mr. Jackson,” the woman replied, her arm around her son’s shoulders.

“Happy to help, Mrs. Cleary.” Nathan turned to the boy. “And you, just don’t go fallin’ out of no more trees, okay?”

The boy smiled and the woman smiled and Nathan was smiling, and he felt himself give half a smile as well even though he wasn’t a part of it all because on such a fine day it seemed fitting to be smiling.

Fitting and yet…lacking.

Not that he wanted anyone riding in to shoot up the place or anything. There’d been enough of that and he could use the quiet, reveled in it, really, if he just didn’t have that feeling there was something he was neglecting.

Maybe it was just too quiet.

“Hey, Chris.”

Turning, he watched Buck amble toward him.

“You lookin’ for me?” Buck asked.

He shook his head. “Not especially.”

“Things been kinda quiet around here today. Kinda nice.”

He agreed because yeah, it was nice. Nice and…calm. Quiet.

Buck was standing there looking as relaxed as he ought on a fine day like this. “Where you headed?” he asked him, not because he cared so much, but because maybe wherever Buck was going was where he might find whatever it was tickling at him.

A flashing grin then, Buck’s smile held the luster of polished gold, bright as the sun and for a quick second, Chris felt that twinge telling him he should be off doing something.

“Lookin’ for Lauralee.”

“Bit early in the day for that, isn’t it?”

Buck stood there in the middle of the street, hands on hips and a gleam in his eye Chris had seen emerge many times in the past.

“Depends on what you might call early.” Buck laughed and then moved on toward the saloon, calling over his shoulder, “Besides, it’s a beautiful day, nothing goin’ on, and I got me a tickle needs soothing!”

And Chris stood there a moment more, not having anywhere in particular to be and so followed thinking what was in the back of his head was like his own tickle needing soothing and what the hell, the saloon was as good a place as any to find…

Well, more quiet if the stillness of the room was any indication.

Few people were there, Buck already headed up the stairs even as he’d passed through the swinging doors in his wake.

Ezra and JD were seated at a table, but from the looks of things, only Ezra was playing cards. Solitaire, it looked like. And Ezra seemed to be winning.

“Hey, Chris,” JD called out with half a wave, and a quick thought had him wondering why the kid wasn’t watching the jail.

Then he remembered. No use watching a room full of empty.

He really didn’t want to sit, nothing to talk about with these two came to mind and JD seemed already to be in the midst of relaying one story or another; worse, maybe a joke.

“Well, maybe you ought to find Nathan then, ask his advice,” Ezra was telling him.

He didn’t really want to ask, but there was nothing better to do, so, “Ask Nathan’s advice for what?”

JD cleared his throat and pointed to his neck. “I got a tickle back here.”

“Most likely a cold,” Ezra said and from the rather dismissive tone, Chris wondered if he, too, was a bit tired of the quiet.

“Yeah, I guess,” JD responded, nodding, then proceeded to drain what looked to be a full mug of water. “I always seem to get a sore throat just as cold weather comes. It’s how I know winter isn’t too far away.”

“Nathan’s at his place,” Chris offered, if nothing else to get JD out of the saloon. It wasn’t he didn’t like the kid, but quiet as things were this day, he thought maybe he’d like to keep that going for a while. JD’s constant chatter didn’t fit the bill.

“I know, I was there a bit ago,” JD said. “Told me to come by after he finished takin’ out Luther Cleary’s stitches. Kid fell out of the big ol’ tree down near the pond outside Walker’s place last week. Cut his arm up good.” He finished his water. “Guess I’ll go see what he thinks.”

“You do that,” Ezra said, not once raising his head from his game of cards.

So he and Ezra sat there a while, then a long while more, neither of them saying anything until Ezra looked up. “Shame there’s no one here to play.”

Initially, Chris figured he meant play cards and he almost offered despite his utter lack of interest, but then he saw Ezra was nodding toward the back of the room, the old piano sitting there under enough dust to prove it hadn’t been used in quite some time.

“I don’t know,” Chris said, “kinda nice, the quiet.”

Ezra nodded. “Yes, but I wouldn’t mind someone around who might tickle the ivories now and again.”

“Thing probably won’t play.”


And that was the extent of their conversation. Ezra resumed his game, Chris noting that cheating at solitaire not apparently a moral hurdle to overcome, and then reminded himself the reason he never played poker with the man in the first place. He stood to leave.

“Departing so soon?”

Ezra still hadn’t looked up from his cards and Chris decided he probably must want to revel in his own brand of quiet.

“Just going to check on things,” he replied, not that he had anywhere specifically in mind to check, there was just…


“It still warm out there?”

Chris nodded.

And Ezra nodded in return. “Fall definitely has arrived, though.”


“Do let me know if my services are needed elsewhere, will you? Otherwise, here I will be.”

He nodded. Doubtful any of them would be needed today, and it occurred to him that wasn’t such a bad thing.

Josiah was busy hammering one thing or another. It never ceased to amaze him how much the man could find to nail together.


“Hey, Josiah.” He watched a while, Josiah driving nails into two boards stacked on top of each other. Didn’t look like anything much.

Josiah stood and the sun lit his hair with a silver halo. “A glorious day.”


“Cooler weather’s blowin’ in, though I could go for a few more days like this.”

“Yeah,” Chris agreed, still standing there, just watching.

“You need me for something?”

And no, he was sure whatever was sitting there in the back of his mind had nothing to do with Josiah. He shook his head. “Nah, just checkin’ on things.”

“Okay,” Josiah answered, stacking yet another board on top of the first two. It still didn’t look like he was working on anything that would prove to be useful.

Josiah glanced up at him. “Saw Buck heading to the saloon.”

“Yep,” he replied. “Saw him.”

Josiah resumed his hammering, pausing in between strikes to glance up again. ”You maybe lookin’ for Vin?”

That thing in the back of his head, that sneeze that wouldn’t surface, twinged. “Wasn’t.” Though maybe he should.

“He rode through a bit ago. Didn’t look to be in no hurry. Said he was going down to Walker’s pond if anyone was lookin’ for him, tickle his toes in the current.”

“Vin said that?”

Josiah smiled, “Boy can be downright poetic when he’s a mind. Think he’s just out enjoyin’ this fine sunshine.”

Chris nodded. Vin enjoying the outdoors wasn’t news to anyone, and this was as fine a day as any to be out enjoying.

He wandered over to the livery, not exactly sure what he was going to do.

Then again, maybe he’d go find Vin—seemed like something to do.

Seemed like exactly the thing to do.

And vaguely, he realized that thing in the back of his mind wasn’t tickling him anymore.

+ + + + + + +

No, in fact, as he watched from the low hill that circled the small pond where Vin stood looking out over the water, he realized that what was tickling had nothing at all to do with the back of his mind whatsoever. That tickle had definitely moved to a more southern locale, and what the hell was he going to do about that?

Suddenly, the urge to stir up the quiet was irresistible.

Besides, quiet was boring, and what that tickle was telling him to do with Vin hadn’t a thing to do with boring. Had everything to do with two days prior, and how had he let that get by him?

Busy, he knew. Busy with cleaning up the mess made by a few dozen brawling, drunken ranch hands.

But now he was pretty sure where that tickle was stemming from—pretty sure, very sure.

He started down, knowing Vin would spot him instantly if he hadn’t sensed him already.

“Hey,” came the call from the man though he hadn’t turned away from whatever was so fascinating in the water. Vin’s boots were off and his pants rolled halfway up his calves. He stood there, like Josiah had said, letting the water roll over his feet. Tickling his toes.

He looked so out of the norm for Vin, Chris almost let loose a laugh, though it was refreshing to see him so seemingly relaxed.

Vin finally turned slightly, and he nodded back toward him, indicating the water and the fact the man had his bare feet immersed. “You that hot?” Not that he wasn’t feeling a bit warm, himself--warm and getting decidedly warmer as he took in the sight before him.

And that tickle in the back of his mind seemed pretty much appeased by the sight as well.

“Feels good,” Vin responded, legs braced and looking like he was, as he’d said, tickling the toes that were submerged in the shallow waters on the banks of the small pond.

A flash of a scene from two days ago shot through his head and in his mind’s eye, Chris recalled how toward the end of the fight in the saloon, he’d wound up thrown underneath a table.

Bodies and fists were flying around him and who the hell knew which one of the brawlers had sent him sprawling under there, but in the next instant, there was Vin as well, splayed out all arms and legs and landing like a ton of bricks right on top of him.

For one brief, quick, faster-than-a-breath millisecond, their eyes had locked. Vin had shifted, head dropping, hair falling forward in a thick curtain of waves and, in the middle of this frenzied turmoil with the sound of all hell breaking loose around them, the man’s lips descended to brush across his in the lightest of feathery touches.

Just a tickle.

And then it was over, both of them pulled back into the fracas, the surprising moment gone as if it had never really happened.

After, things had been too hectic, tempers too escalated and too much clean up to do to even begin to consider what that had been about, if anything.

He’d managed to push that brief whatever it was to the back of his mind—until that little tickle of this morning showed up. Reminding him.

That had been a kiss—Vin had actually kissed him.

He hadn’t imagined it, had he?

Vin turned a bit more. “You lookin’ for me?”

In more than one way, Chris thought then nodded, trying to ignore the shadow of doubt trying to splinter into him. What if he was wrong? What if it had been nothing more than Vin shifting for better leverage? He shook his head. “Nothin’ important, thought I’d take myself out of the quiet in town for a while.”

Vin said nothing, just gave a slow look around at the few trees lining the small pond, then back to Chris. “Ain’t much more ’n quiet goin’ on out here.” He turned completely then, weight on one hip and still as the day surrounding them.

Chris felt the man’s eyes, hidden though they were under the shadows of his hat, and for a fraction had that same feeling he’d had when his and Vin’s eyes had locked under the table.

A tickle of a shiver.

He found it hard to look anywhere else save that shadowed face, and oh, God, he could have this all wrong.

So wrong.

Fuck it.

He dropped his coat where he stood, it too warm to wear anyway, and was pleased to see it looked like he had the whole of Vin’s attention. “Was a bitch of a day.”

“All quiet out here now,” Vin responded softly. Chris thought he detected a subtle hitch in the man’s breath as he leisurely undid the buttons on his shirt.

“Bit warm for this time of year,” he said, slowly bending to pull off one, then another boot and socks and letting them drop to the ground.

“Warm now,” Vin repeated. “Be cold soon enough.”

“Nights are getting’ cooler, yeah,” Chris added. His gunbelt was next, it carefully folded and set within reach. “Leaves are startin’ to turn.”

Vin nodded, his weight shifting to one hip then back to the first in what seemed a restless move, at least for Vin. Chris could see his attention was definitely not on the leaves and he suppressed a smile at Vin’s somewhat perplexed expression.

“You come out here t’ talk about the weather?”

Chris fingered the buttons on his pants then let his hands fall to his sides, looking up as he cocked a slight grin at Vin. “Not especially.”

Vin nodded. “Oh.”

His pants dropped and he stepped from them, leaving them pooled on the ground like a dark shadow amid the soft blades of grass.

Clad in faded underclothes, he slowly unbuttoned the top and peeled out of them where they fell around his waist, parting just over his lower abdomen.

“You, uh, goin’ for a swim?”

He grinned again, saying nothing as he shucked the last of those longjohns. Naked now, and he’d admit to feeling a bit on display as he strode past Vin and his now gaping mouth to the inviting water, but as Mary had said weeks before, nothing attracted interest more than a little advertising.

He glanced at Vin as he passed. “Looking to catch a few flies there, Tanner?”

Vin abruptly closed his mouth and Chris had to bite back an outright laugh and okay, it wasn’t everyday he chose to disrobe in front of his friends for a little skinny-dipping, but damn, he was enjoying the hell out of this.

That had to have been a kiss.

The water was cool, though still warmed enough from the last of the summer rains to not leave him feeling too chilled. Felt nice. He waded out a somewhat deeper part of the pond, then dropped to his knees and let the water lap over his chest.

Vin was still standing on the banks, watching.

Diving under, he came up fast, water spraying from his hair in a fine arc. And still Vin stood there.

“You comin’ in?”

After a minute reaction of surprise, Vin seemed to contemplate the idea, thinking who the hell knew what, and Chris decided he wouldn’t ask again. Either that had been a deliberate kiss or it hadn’t. Either Vin, too, had a tickle to soothe or he didn’t.

The invitation was clear enough, he figured, unless his hazy recollection of that split second was so at fault he’d deluded himself in which case yeah, he’d pretty much ridden all the way out here to talk about the weather.

Well, at least he’d get a relaxing swim in the peace and quiet.

Thing was, though, as he watched Vin watching the water, the man standing there doing absolutely nothing and saying less than that—and it amazed him, sometimes, how completely still Vin could become sometimes—he couldn’t even pick up on a hint of what Vin might be thinking.

For a moment, a tense moment during which that tickle began to feel more like an aching pain full of doubt, and he found himself staring at Vin while Vin stared at nothing, he thought Vin was just going to up and leave.

But then Vin removed his hat.

Slowly at first, standing there holding that battered thing with his fingers rubbing lightly along the brim and pausing to look rather contemplatively in his direction, his expression unreadable even as their eyes met, and then he let it sail to the ground.

Chris knew what he was hoping for, was then rewarded as Vin began to repeat almost the same pattern of undress just performed, only much more slowly—and much more enjoyable for Chris to be on this part of the pond, watching.

The gun belt fell first, or rather Vin removed it and set it down next to his. From where he was in the water, and the way the pond was situated, they’d have knowledge of anyone intruding long before they’d be discovered--probably how Vin knew he’d arrived—and all reassuring in that they’d have plenty of time to grab guns if need arose.

It was a good thing he was half-submerged under the water, for as Vin’s fingers reached for and then fumbled at the buttons on his pants, the material there parting and releasing as if in painstakingly slow motion, he felt the stirrings of much more than any damned little tickle.

Yes, it was definitely a good day for a swim.

Pants undone, and that made him catch his breath, and then fingers began undoing buttons on both shirts the man was wearing and those, too, fell to the ground, and now he felt himself pretty much flat-out staring. It was hard not to.

Vin was just standing there, light colored pants slung low on his hips without the benefit of suspenders to help keep them aloft, and he’d not been wearing any undershirt so his chest was bare. When he looked up, Chris felt the rise of a whole lot more than a tickle surging through him.

Had fucking well better have been a kiss.

Long hair brushing lightly at his shoulders, bare skin gleaming under the warmth of the late season sun; Chris thought if the man didn’t hurry the hell up and get all the way naked he’d just have to get his gun and prod things along.

Vin was looking down again, pushing a bit hesitatingly at his pants and Chris had to bite back the urge to ask if he needed any help.

And then he was naked, and wasn’t it interesting Vin chose not to wear underclothes. It wasn’t all that hot out, and the man did have on two shirts and usually that damned heavy coat no matter the weather, so it seemed unlikely he’d not add underclothing to the layers for warmth if he was feeling the cold.

Maybe Vin never wore them.

And wasn’t that an even more interesting thing to ponder.

“Nice?” Vin asked and stepped forward into the shallows.

The water, Chris knew and he nodded all the same, though what he was agreeing was nice hadn’t a thing to do with Walker’s swimming pond.

Vin stepped in; Chris couldn’t tell if the man’s own nakedness was bothersome to him or not, though he knew Vin to be somewhat on the reserved side when it came to any sort of public display.

Not usually with him, though, although it wasn’t like this was anywhere near the norm of a day. Wasn’t like any of them ever tickled the idea of sitting around in the altogether, and even on bath days most kept their eyes to themselves—except Ezra, who seemed, from habit, to always be watching out of the corner of his eye, and maybe Buck who seemed to have some sort of voyeuristic bent. Did have, though that was hardly news.

But bathing in the town’s bathhouse once a week or so wasn’t something he’d ever seen Vin do anyway, though he did seem to appear clean as a whistle and freshly bathed at times, and so, as he looked around, he figured this place among others like it were more Vin’s style. And what the hell was wrong with that?

He relaxed back into the water, floating somewhat onto his back, watching Vin through half-closed eyes and thinking having bath time out here wasn’t half bad, not half bad an idea at all.

Ripples formed rings around Vin as he waded in a little deeper, Chris watching with some disappointment when he stopped short of where he was out floating. Maybe shy after all?

“It’s pretty nice out here,” he prompted, hoping Vin would move a bit further out, closer to where he was.”Warm.”

“I’m okay.”

“Suit yourself,” he answered, disappointment racing through his head. Damned tickle.

The water did feel good against his bare skin. He’d forgotten how warm this small pond was, heated like a kettle, almost. Must be fed from a hot, underground spring.

Floating on his back a bit more, the sun warming those parts exposed to the air, he let his eyes close, water lapping at his face. And okay, swimming was one thing and it was relaxing and all…but not the reason he’d come out here.

Cracking open an eye found Vin still in the same spot, back facing him. Not moving much, and maybe just enjoying the feel of the warm water as well, but he was still way over there. And there wasn’t here.

“You do this a lot?” he asked.

Vin turned to look at him. “Do what?”

“This. Swim.”

Vin laughed then. “No, least not like this.”

Naked, Chris figured. “Me, neither.”

“I know.”

Chris shifted to stand, toes just brushing the soft bottom of the pond. He let his arms tread water. “You know, what?”


What? “No, I mean, you know I don’t what?”

Vin seemed to sober then, saying nothing as his expression closed just that much and Chris wondered what happened. Vin turned, looking like he was aiming to head back to the bank and then out of the water and while Chris wouldn’t mind having another look at what all was hidden below the surface, he sure as hell didn’t want Vin to leave.

“Come swim with me,” he called out, his voice suddenly fainter and sounding much more tentative than he’d intended and even as Vin stopped, he felt more than a little uncertain about what to do next. It was a harmless thing, the two of them out here like this, but really so uncharacteristic, he was sure Vin was vacillating between staying here with him and thinking he might just have lost his mind.

Vin was looking at him, hesitation clearly evident and Chris began a slow stroke toward him.

Within arms’ reach he stopped, standing in less than waist-deep water and trying not to watch the small waves he’d generated gently lick Vin’s pale skin. Every now and again as the water dipped, he could see the tip of the line of fine hair leading southward down Vin’s lower abdomen.

He’d love to have that hair tickle his fingers.

For a long beat they stared at one another, then Vin dropped his eyes, lids shuttering away his expression as he squatted further down in the water until it was about mid-chest.

Hiding, Chris thought.

“Sure is nice out,” Chris began again, thinking he ought to get them back on some kind of track and they were doing just fine until a moment ago. “Can see why you come out here.”

“Quiet,” Vin replied, gaze now somewhere out over the pond. His fingers were threading through the water, causing ripples to tickle over the surface.

“We’ve needed that, especially after the past couple days.” Back to the subject of that night, the question of that kiss, if he could direct the flow that way without outright having to ask.

Vin laughed. “They were some rowdy bunch.” He rubbed at the back of his neck. “Still got a few aches I could ’a done without.”

“Hurtin’?” Not that he wasn’t feeling a few extra aches and pains as well. Whoever had sent him flying under that table had got in a few good licks while doing it.

“Some,” Vin answered, then cocked his head. “You ain’t?”

And then some, he thought, and answered, “Yeah.” He squatted down at eye level to Vin, enjoying the feel of the water tickling against his skin. “Landed a few solid punches of my own, though.”

Vin’s smile held him. “Had me a few good moments in there, m’self.”

That was for sure. The image of that brief, good moment when Vin had bent down, full lips drawing toward his…

It was a kiss, damnit.

He whispered, “Vin.”

There was a shift then of something almost tangible, a new connection happening between them he hadn’t ever felt before, and there Vin was, eyes wide and open and looking so damned receptive and so damned close, he only had to move a few inches before being able to touch.

And he did.

Nothing yet spoken about that first questionable kiss, but as he shifted closer, not able to resist and who knew if they’d ever really get to talking about that first fleeting brush of intimacy, he was sure Vin wouldn’t pull away.

“Vin,” he almost sighed, bringing up a dripping hand to lightly cup Vin’s jaw, the prickly feel of not quite shorn whiskers tickling like grains of sand over his fingers.

He moved close, slowly, hesitantly, inching that much more until the heat emanating from Vin began to warm his own skin.

This wasn’t hard or awkward or uncomfortable, this was easy.

He kissed him, not long, not deep, but more than just the flutter of air that had been that first time. Soft lips melted under his, and he dared let his other hand gently skim over the damp surface of Vin’s bare chest.

Vin didn’t pull away, and he barely parted from him, both of them just easing a hair’s breadth away to catch one another’s eyes in question.

No words, but no confused look, either, just that reassurance he’d hoped to find, and Chris leaned forward again, wanting more than just that single brief taste.

This time he planted his feet best he could and raised both hands to frame Vin’s face, water trickling sparkles down both arms and he pulled him forward at the same time he leaned in to meet those lips, those half-parted, moist, full lips. He took his time, faintly at first then pressing more firmly against Vin, tongue seeking delicious entry, and Vin complied, mouth opening and gently sucking him in.

It couldn’t have been any more breathtaking, he’d had no idea. That passing flash of intimacy there under the table amid the fighting had nothing on the deep-seated heat now warming the center of his body.

No mere tickle, this.

Inhaling and tasting and letting himself feel so much more than he’d done in such a very, long time. He’d forgotten what this was like--warmth and surety, like finding a haven he’d not been aware he’d needed. Just a flex of his arms had Vin more firmly ensconced in them, and he found he never wanted to let go.

They did part though, the heat of Vin falling away as they both took audible breaths. Hands still secure around Vin’s arms, he slowly let them drift down to the man’s hands, briefly interlacing fingers and then taking the chance and moving to encircle Vin’s waist.

Nose to nose and still no words, he met those blue eyes watching him with interest laced with a touch of bewilderment. Hell, he was feeling a bit bewildered as well. “This okay?”

“I wasn’t expecting…”

“No,” he agreed, thinking this wasn’t exactly what he’d been expecting, either--more than just a purely physical want. “I wasn’t so sure.”

Vin pulled back some, though hadn’t made a move to dislodge the arms holding him, which Chris took as an encouraging sign.

“I’m sure,” Vin said. “Been sure for awhile, just wasn’t sure about you.”

“That was a kiss in the saloon?”

Vin nodded. “Yeah. I wasn’t tryin’ t’…just seemed like…Hell. Figured with so much goin’ on, if you punched me one, it wouldn’t matter none.”

“Josiah said you were a poet.”


Now he was grinning. “Nothing.”

Vin was smiling, clearly not understanding, but not seeming to care all that much he didn’t. “I’m glad you came out here, Chris—t’ talk ‘bout the weather an’ all.”

“And all,” he repeated, glad, too, he’d followed that tickle. “Was afraid for a minute you were leaving. I was tryin’ to get you out there swimming with me.”

“Yeah, I know. Swimmin’. I just—“

“Water’s pretty nice, and not too much longer this pond will be ice covered. Just thought it’d help heat things up some…”

“Ain’t too much problem with anythin’ lackin’ heat,” Vin said grinning, but then a shadow of uncertainty seemed to flash in his eyes, quick, but definitely there. Then he was ducking his head, mumbling…

“What was that?” Chris asked with some dread that Vin was going to announce this was all just a huge misunderstanding. A mistake.

“Don’t—I don’t… I don’t swim.”

Can’t, he meant. “Oh, well…okay. You know it’s not hard to…I could, maybe I could—“

The look on Vin’s face clearly said no way in hell and Chris let it go, figuring if Vin had survived what all he’d survived all these years, swimming just wasn’t all that important a thing to know. Besides, they weren’t really out here to swim—no.

Vin was shifting his shoulders, hand again reaching to rub against the back of his neck.

“That hurt?”

“Yeah,” he admitted, “did something when I hit that table.” He looked up, a sly grin of amusement there. “Or when I hit you.”

Chris slipped behind him, hands kneading into the knotted flesh hidden underneath all that hair, taking in the warmth of bared skin. “This okay?” Vin was making some sort of noise Chris hadn’t heard before--a soft purr. “Guess that’d be a yes.”

“Sure ain’t a no,” Vin added.

“To any of it?” He had to ask, just to make sure what was tickling him was tickling Vin as well. To make sure this really hadn’t been a mistake.

“Well I ain’t goin’ swimmin’, if that’s what you mean.”

A flash of momentary panic then he chuckled. “No, no swimming.”

And Vin was chuckling, too. “Don’t mind the thought of testin’ out some new waters, though.”

“Wouldn’t mind learnin’ a few new strokes, myself.” He couldn’t resist leaning in to take a swift lick of that tender flesh then let his fingers blaze an easy trail down the center of Vin’s back.

Vin shivered, half turning, “That’s just--”

“Yeah, just a…” Chris interrupted, the warmth of the sun and the heat of Vin doing a lot to soothe his own... “tickle.”