Disclaimer: Ooh, this hurts... They're <gag> not mine. Instead, they belong to Mirisch, Trilogy, MGM, CBS, TNN, EIEIO. The song belongs to Kenny O'Dell, who wrote it, and whoever owns the rights to it.
Notes:Let's see... I heard this song for the first time in a long time the other day, and it's been stuck in my head ever since. Naturally, I assumed that meant it wanted to be a story. Oh, it also makes reference to a story that hasn't been written yet, but will be (just ask Judy; it's already planned out!), so just hold yer horses.
Vin Tanner slipped silently from the wide bed and stood for long, measureless moments, staring in rapt, near-breathless fascination down at the soundly sleeping man revealed to him by the first rays of the early morning sun. Bright light glinted off tousled dark blond hair, setting it to gleaming like new-minted gold, and that same light spilled over the lean, chiseled face, seeming to caress the high forehead and level golden brows, the long, straight nose and wide, full mouth, and the strong, slightly cleft chin. In sleep, the face was completely relaxed, peaceful; gone were the lines care, worry and world-weariness scored into it daily. Vin tilted his head slowly to one side and intently studied the face he already knew by heart, only barely able to resist leaning over the slumbering man and running worshipful hands through the thick hair and over the sun-bronzed and weathered skin.
Lord God, he's beautiful!
Vin's heart filled his chest and his soul rose sharply at the thought that this man, this strong and beautiful man of lights and darks, had somehow come to be his. As the sheer wonder of it again washed through him, bringing sharp tears to his eyes, he felt again the gentle tug at his mind and remembered why he had chosen to wake so early, why he had forced himself to leave the warmth of this man's strong and loving arms to go out into the cold.
Don't worry, I'm comin'.
He let his gaze linger a moment more upon his sleeping lover, gave him a slight, boyish smile, then went on silent feet to the bathroom to dress for the trek he had to make. He chose not to shower just yet, not wanting to wake Chris, stripped off the long-sleeved t-shirt and sweatpants that served as his pajamas, and pulled on his longjohns, two pairs of socks, a faded pair of jeans, flannel shirt and heavy roll-necked sweater, smiling and shaking his head as he finished dressing. Chris teased him about the layers of clothing he wore, swore that trying to undress him was like peeling an onion. But for some reason, whether it was the frequent hunger or the many frigid nights he'd spent on the streets in his youth, he felt the cold far more keenly than most, and, once chilled, took forever to get warm again. So let Chris bitch and growl about it; Vin Tanner was going to do whatever it took to stay warm.
'Sides, Larabee, ain't like you let all these clothes stop ya!
He pulled on his boots, brushed his teeth, ran a comb through his long brown hair, and silently exited the bathroom, creeping cat-like past the man in the bed and going downstairs. He paused only long enough to write a quick note for Chris, scowling and cursing softly when he realized he'd gotten some of the letters backwards and out of order, but hoping Chris would understand it anyway. He left it by the coffeepot, where he knew Chris would be sure to see it, then headed to the rack in the den where his heavy buckskin coat and slouch-brimmed hat hung. Quickly donning coat, hat and gloves, he unlocked the door, glanced once more about the room he loved above all others in the world and smiled, then slipped out into the frozen, glistening, snow-encrusted morning.
+ + + + + + +
Vin rode Peso at a comfortable, unhurried pace along the trail they could not see but both knew so well, feeding his soul upon the beauty of the world around him. The earth lay under a blanket of pristine white, its purity broken only by the tracks of various animals, and that same blanket draped the limbs of trees, whether the bare ones of aspens, maples and such, or the still green and shaggy ones of firs, cedars and the like. Icicles hung prism-like from those branches, catching the brilliant, undiluted sunshine and sending it back in refracted showers of light. Vin drank it all in, pondered deeply upon it, marveled unashamedly at it, and gave thanks instinctively for it. He'd not had so much beauty in his life that he ever let a single scrap go by unappreciated, never failed to mark it, or let it mark him.
You went through an awful lotta trouble ta make this. Reckon it's time again ta tell You how grateful I am.
He said not a word as he rode, merely became part of the deep stillness about him. It was not silence, though, for sound abounded all around him. He could hear the soft crunching of Peso's hooves through the deep snow, could hear the musical calls of countless birds, somewhere the frantic barking of an irate squirrel, the rustle in frozen bushes of some small animal seeking either shelter or food. Every sound carried plainly in the clear, knife-sharp air, easily reaching keen ears trained since childhood to take in and make sense of all the noises in a busy world, to be alert to any sign of danger. Now, though, all those ears heard, all the blue eyes saw, was a world at peace.
After a good two hours of riding, he finally came to the place he had been seeking, the place that had been calling to him. He turned Peso off the snow-covered trail and kneed him forward to the small steam ahead, smiling slightly as the big gelding blew impatiently into the frigid air and quickened his pace at the sound and smell of water.
"Thirsty already?" he teased, leaning forward to pat the glossy black neck with a gloved hand. "And here I been braggin' to Chris that you're part camel 'n can outlast any'a those other sissy horses he's got back there. Y'ain't gettin' soft on me, are ya?"
Peso snorted again and shook his shapely head so hard the metal pieces of his tack rang in the still air, then pawed sharply at the frozen ground beneath him. Vin chuckled at the big horse's seeming show of disgust at the insult done him, and patted that black neck again.
"Yeah, I know," he soothed, "y'ain't got a soft spot in ya. You're tough as sun-dried leather 'n mean as a sore-tailed cougar, but, hell, I wouldn't have ya any other way."
The gelding nickered softly and settled, his temper appeased. Vin chuckled again, and kneed him forward.
When they reached the stream, he dismounted with an easy grace and opened one saddlebag, bringing out the small camp-shovel he'd packed into it. Snapping the head into place, he found a likely spot and began shoveling away snow, clearing a small patch of frozen brown grass for Peso. When that was done, and when he was certain no ice blocked the horse's access to water, he folded the shovel again, slipped it back into the saddlebag, and left the gelding to eat and drink at his leisure.
"Now," he cautioned, reaching for the bridle and turning the blazed face to his own, frowning sternly into the dark, intelligent eyes, "no wanderin', y'hear? I don't aim ta be chasin' your ass through the snow, and I sure as hell ain't walkin' back on my own. You'd best know I'm packin', so don't make me have ta shoot ya. It's Thanksgivin', and while that likely don't mean much ta you, I don't aim ta ruin my holiday by havin' ta plug a contrary horse who's got him a hankerin' ta see what's over the next hill. You understand me?"
Peso merely flicked an ear, having heard all the threats before and by now realizing he had as much chance of being shot by this man as he did of growing wings and flying away. The gelding, much like his rider, was stubborn; he wasn't stupid.
"Behave," Vin ordered softly, giving the soft muzzle an absently tender caress. "I got somethin' ta do."
Confident, despite his gruff warning, that not even Peso would wander in snow like this, he untied the tarp-wrapped bedroll from behind the saddle, then turned away and trudged through the almost knee-high stuff to the rocky outcrop at the stream's edge, and to the large, flat rock that extended like a shelf over the sun-dappled water. Climbing nimbly atop the rock, he swept away as much snow as he could, then unrolled the tarp and blankets and spread them out, and finally settled himself atop them, sitting cross-legged. He raised his head slightly, lifted his face to the sun and closed his eyes, breathing slowly, deeply, and willing himself to relax.
Mama, you here?
A light, gentle wind played about him, whispering through the trees and ruffling the strands of his long hair, then brushing like gentle fingers against his cheek. He smiled slightly, softly, and felt again sighing through him the sweet, familiar presence that was never far from him.
Figgered you would be. Heard ya callin' me in that song on the radio, knew ya wanted me ta come visit with ya. Reckon ya wanted ta know how I'm doin'. He opened his eyes and glanced about, at the tall, snow-laden trees, the white ground, the glistening water and the intense blue sky above him. You sure picked a nice place. Reckon ya knew it's my fav'rite, huh?
Again, that light caress slipped through his hair, against his cheek, and, for just a moment, he could have sworn he caught the faintest scent of wildflowers, like that which had marked the first five springs of his life. The scent that had only ever meant one thing to him. And though he knew it was impossible, knew the wildflowers here had long since died and any seeds lay dormant under the crush of snow, still there was no denying that ghost of a fragrance, or the presence it always accompanied.
Mama, I'm glad you're here. I got so much ta tell ya.
He closed his eyes again and let his thoughts, his feelings, rise and flow as they would, let his heart and soul lead him. And, as ever, where his heart and soul were, there, also, was Chris Larabee.
Mama, I've found someone Like you said would come along Well he's a sight, and so unlike Any man I've known
I know I've talked to ya before about Chris, told ya all he's done for me, all he means to me. I ain't ever known anybody like him, Mama, didn't even know such a man could exist. Oh, he ain't perfect, I know that. But, hell -- oh, sorry about that -- who is? He's got his weaknesses, same as any man, and Lord knows he's got his demons. I told ya 'bout his wife and little boy, didn't I? He nearly lost his soul when he lost them. But he says it's better now, says he can think on 'em without it tearin' him up inside. He says it's because'a me, that I've helped him heal, but, hell -- I mean, shoot -- I know I ain't helped him nearly as much as he's helped me. And I couldn't possibly mean near as much ta him as he does ta me. Because I swear, Mama, that man's the very air I need ta breathe ta live.
He thought again of Chris, saw the man in all his aspects -- fierce warrior, gentle lover; strong one moment, broken the next; green eyes glaring, wide mouth smiling; hands gripping a gun, long fingers cupping Vin's face; wrath and mirth, darkness and light, all these and none of them -- and felt the tears fill his eyes and slide down his cheeks.
"Oh, Mama," he whispered to the breeze, never knowing when he made the transition from thought to speech, "I wish so much that you c'd know him! I know you'd like him, just like I know he'd like you. Y'all're the most important people in my life. It don't seem right that y'all cain't know each other."
For a moment, the breeze seemed to flag, grow sluggish, and Vin felt a shadow cross his heart. A sadness welled up within him, but he knew it was not his own.
"I know," he sighed, his blue eyes wide and dark, "you still feel bad about leavin' me. I know you didn't want to, know you fought it long and hard, but I also know you didn't have no choice." He lifted his gaze to the sky, searched its blue depths with his gaze, and shrugged slightly. "It was your time. Don't rightly know why, don't reckon I'll ever understand it, but you was called away from me, even though I still needed ya." He swallowed hard as a sudden lump knotted in his throat. "Reckon I c'd use ya some still, even though I'm grown. Sure would be nice ta have ya with me."
He swallowed again, then bowed his head and wiped at his eyes with a gloved hand. "But I don't wantcha ta worry none about me," he said more strongly. "I ain't alone no more, Mama, I ain't been alone for more'n a year now." Light shone in his eyes, and a small, crooked grin curved about his full mouth. "Got me a fam'ly. There's Nettie and Casey... You'd like Nettie, Mama, I know it. She calls me 'her boy' and takes real good care'a me when I need it. And Casey's just about the sweetest girl there ever was. And then..." His soft, raspy voice grew rougher with the powerful tide of emotion that welled sharply through him, and his blue eyes filled again. "And then there's the boys," he whispered, the words squeezing through his tight throat. "Oh, Mama, if only you c'd meet 'em, I know you'd love 'em like I do! They took me in when didn't nobody else seem ta want me, gimme a place among 'em and made me feel like I's part'a somethin' special, somethin' bigger'n life. I'm their sharpshooter," he said proudly, lifting his head. "I keep 'em safe, watch their backs. They call me their 'guardian angel'... Hell, I know I ain't no angel..." He winced abruptly and bowed his head. "Sorry I keep cussin'," he murmured ashamedly. "It just keeps poppin' out. I'll try ta do better, I promise."I was afraid to let him in
'Cause I'm not the trusting kind
But now I'm convinced
That he's heaven sent
And must be out of his mind
The wind tickled his cheek he smiled shyly, knowing he was forgiven. "I love you, too, Mama," he whispered. "I know you worry about me, but I wish you wouldn't. Like I said, I ain't alone no more. I got the boys, and I got... Oh, God, Mama, I got Chris!" He stared up to the sky, and smiled to see an eagle soaring high above him. "Yeah, that's him," he breathed. "Ain't he beautiful? Reckon I shoulda known you'd know."
He swallowed hard and watched the bird glide across the sky. "I've loved him for so long now, Mama, I guess ever since I first saw him. But I wasted so much time not tellin' him... I reckon I's scared, figgered since he was married before he couldn't feel about me the way I felt about him. So I just kept it all inside. Told myself that if all I c'd have from him would be his friendship, then I'd take it and be happy with it. Because there cain't ever have been another friendship like the kind between me and him. From that first moment, it's like we knew each other inside and out; a lotta times, we c'n even tell what each other's thinkin'. So I figgered that, with Chris, even just his friendship'd be more'n I could ever hope for in this life."
The eagle seemed to soar right into the sun, and the splendor of that vision nearly blinded Vin, was so powerful he had to look away. But the image remained emblazoned upon his mind.
"But he loves me, too, Mama," he whispered, still awed by the truth of it. "I cain't for the life'a me figger out why, 'cause, Lord knows, I don't deserve him, but he does. I's so afraid that, when I finally told him how I felt, I'd lose him, that he wouldn't want nothin' more ta do with me..." He chuckled softly. "Hell, Mama, I half expected him ta shoot me! But he didn't." He stared into the distance, in the direction where the ranch -- and Chris -- lay, where his heart and soul lay. "Turns out he'd been tryin' ta figger out how ta tell me he loves me, too!" he breathed in wonder. "When he said that, ever' bad thing that ever happened in my life was suddenly made right, and ever' hurt I'd ever known was healed. I've thought on it some, and it finally dawned on me -- sometimes I'm a little slow, Mama -- that I had ta travel all them long, dark roads, go through all them hard and hurtful times, just so's I'd know and appreciate the good I was gettin' in Chris. I still ain't sure why he loves me, what such a smart man like him could ever see in a scruffy, no-account somebody like me, but I thank God ever' day that he does."Mama he's crazy
Crazy over me
And in my life is where he says
He always wants to be
I've never been so loved
He beats all I've ever seen
And Mama he's crazy
Crazy over me
He saw the eagle again, watched the powerful bird dive suddenly lower, and knew it was hunting.
"Most folks are afraid'a Chris," he said quietly, frowning slightly. "And I reckon he can be a mite intimidatin'. Got him this glare that, I swear, could fry ice. But I ain't scared of him. Ain't ever been." He grinned, laughed softly, and shook his head. "Poor Chris, he don't quite know how ta take that! He ain't real used ta folks talkin' back to him, goin' toe ta toe with him, and says the fact that I do it just proves I ain't got no sense at all. Well, ain't nobody ever said I's the smartest man in the world. But I tell ya what, Mama. Smart or not, I'm loved like I ain't ever been loved before, by a man I ain't got no right lovin' and who ain't got no reason ta love me, and I don't know if that makes the two of us stupid or crazy or both, but I don't care. 'Cause as long as I love him and he loves me, then if I never get another good thing outta this life, I've already gotten more'n I ever dreamed I would. And even if I die tomorrow, I'll die knowin' that, for a short while, I had the best life any man could ever hope ta have."And Mama, you've always said
Better look before you leap
Well maybe so, but here I go
Lettin' my heart lead me
He bowed his head and frowned thoughtfully, clasping his gloved fingers lightly together. "I know it prob'ly ain't the smartest thing I've ever done ta fall in love with my boss, but, well, I just couldn't help it. And wouldn't change it if'n I could." He sighed heavily and shook his head. "And, Lord knows, it caused a few problems when the boys found out me'n Chris was lovers. That was a hard time for us all. But we came through it, and now I reckon we're all stronger'n ever. 'Specially me'n Chris. I ain't ever had anybody fight for me like that... Ya shoulda seen him, Mama!" he whispered, his eyes filling again, his heart aching from the force of his love for the man. "Anybody else woulda found it easier just to walk away, to let me go, to say it wasn't worth it... But he didn't. Never even considered it. Just held onto me and said we'd all get through it somehow. He said he'd buried his heart and soul once already, and wasn't about to do it again..." His voice broke and he raised his face to the sky, again searching for that eagle.
When he found it, he found the strength -- and voice -- to continue. "I's so scared'a what was gonna happen, figgered I'd ruined ever'thing for ever'body, thought mebbe if'n I'd never told him how I feel, or never even met him to begin with, that none of it ever woulda happened. I didn't wanta lose him, and it woulda killed me ta let him go, but I figgered I'd rather die than see him hurt because'a me."
He drew a deep, steadying breath and let it out slowly, refusing to let the pain of those dark days overwhelm him. Finally, a tremulous smile curved about his mouth, even as a tear slipped down his cheek. "But he told me that if what we have is worth havin', then it's worth fightin' for. He told me he'd had ta fight for Sarah, that her father had done all he could ta keep them apart, and that I'm ever' bit as much worth fightin' for as she'd been. He said I deserve more'n just somebody who'd give up as soon as things got tough, said I deserve somebody who'd stand by me no matter how hard others tried ta pull us apart... You got any idea what that feels like, Mama, ta know there's somebody in your life who loves ya so much he's willin' ta take on anybody, sacrifice anything, just ta hold on to you? I hope ta God you had it at least once, 'cause I got it now, and I gotta tell ya, Mama, it just takes my breath away, knowin' I'm that important to a man like Chris Larabee. No matter how bad things got, all's I had ta do was reach for him, and he was right there, ready ta hold on ta me with all he had. Oh, God, Mama," he whispered fervently, "I wish't I had the words ta tell you what that's like!"He thinks I hung the moon and stars
And I think he's a livin' dream
Well there are men
But ones like him
Are few and far between
He sniffed and wiped impatiently at his wet eyes and cheeks, laughing wryly at himself. "Fine federal agent I am!" he said mockingly. "Sittin' here cryin' like a baby at the thought'a bein' loved... But it's all right now, Mama," he assured the worried presence in his soul. "The boys come around, just like Chris said they would. Wasn't easy on any of us, and it sure as hell caused a lotta pain, but we got through it. And now I reckon we're all closer'n ever." He shrugged. "I reckon we all finally realized just how much all of us have ta lose, not just me'n Chris, but all seven of us. We're a fam'ly again, Mama, just like we were meant ta be. I couldn't be lonely now if I tried! I got five'a the best men God ever made lookin' out for me, showin' me what it means to belong, and I got Chris, who's so much a part'a me now that I ain't sure no more where he stops and I begin."
He frowned at that, at how his words might have sounded. "I don't wantcha ta worry that I'm gettin' lost in him, Mama," he said quickly, soothingly. "I'm still the same man I've ever been..." He grinned suddenly, his blue eyes gleaming wickedly. "Fact is, Chris says I'm the most independent, stubborn cuss he's ever met, says I c'd drive a Quaker ta murder. But he ain't no Sunday picnic, either! He's got more ways ta piss off folks than a chicken coop's got feathers. But I cain't imagine bein' without him... I don't ever wanta go back to that. I could prob'ly live without him, like I done without so many other things, but it wouldn't be a life worth livin'. I reckon I done been spoil't."
He looked up at the sky again, gauged the position of the sun, and sighed. "I prob'ly oughtta be gettin' back soon, Mama. Today's Thanksgivin', y'know, and ever'body's comin' out to the ranch. Gonna eat ourselves stupid and watch football... Lord, Mama, I wish you c'd do somethin' about the Cowboys," he groaned. "They stink worse'n a two-day-old corpse! Just, y'know, if'n you could put in a good word for 'em with whoever up there handles such things, I'd appreciate it. 'Cause Chris is comin' awful close ta tellin' me I cain't watch 'em no more. He's already got me drinkin' beer outta cans instead'a bottles just 'cause I threw one at his TV. Didn't hit the screen, just sorta put a nick in the corner. Ain't hardly noticeable, but the way he was carryin' on, you'da thought I'd split it in half." He smirked. "Did I tell ya he gets a mite tense at times? He's got this vein in his forehead that throbs whenever he gets really mad. He says it never did any such thing before he met me, but Buck says otherwise. Anyways, one'a these days, that vein's just gonna bust wide open, and then where's he gonna be? Anger management ain't one'a his strong suits! But I reckon that's all right, 'cause calmin' him down can be awful entertainin'," he said with a wink and a grin.
He laughed aloud, and the breeze seemed to dance about him. "See, Mama?" he whispered into the wind. "I told ya I'm happy!" He looked up at the sky, and frowned slightly as the eagle disappeared over the horizon. At just that moment, though, he heard the crunch of a horse's hooves through the snow, and turned to see the familiar black gelding and black-coated rider approaching. A brilliant light flared in his blue eyes, and a broad smile spread across his face. "I shoulda known he'd come!" he whispered happily. "Reckon he c'd read that note after all."
He turned back into the breeze. "The wirin' in my head's screwed up, Mama," he said matter-of-factly. "I got dyslexia. Have trouble readin' and writin' and such. Chris and the boys say it don't make me stupid, though sometimes I sure feel like I am." He shrugged. "But it's just somethin' else to be reckoned with, I guess." He turned back to the horse and rider. "Oh, Mama, look at him!" he whispered fervently, his whole heart shining in his eyes. "Ain't he somethin'? Y'know, I's lost for a long time after you went away, but I don't ever have to worry about bein' lost again. Because I know -- I know, Mama -- that he'll always come after me, always come lookin' for me, just like he's doin' right now. I'm his, Mama, and he's mine, and we're joined in so many ways we won't ever be apart again. And I'll never be lost again."
The light breeze brushed against his cheek, lingered a moment, and then began to fade. He nodded in understanding, though his eyes darkened and a twinge of pain bit into his heart. "I know, it's time for you ta go. I reckon Chris is gonna tell me I need ta be gettin' back, too. But I needed ta come out and talk ta you again. It's been a while, hasn't it? I miss ya, y'know. I miss hearin' you sing ta me at night..."
A soft, melancholy sighing rippled through the trees, and he frowned. "Please, Mama, don't be sad for me no more, or scared for me, okay? I'm happy now. I got Chris, I got the boys and Nettie, I got a job where I c'n do some good... I got more'n I ever dreamed was possible! I just wanted you ta know that. Goodbye, Mama," he whispered as a single tear slid down his face. "I love you."
The breeze died away, and he wiped at the tear and waited for Chris. In a few minutes, his lover reached him, dismounted, and climbed up onto the rock to sit at his side. Instinctively, Vin leaned into him, and Chris circled a strong arm about him, pulling him closer still.
"Time we headed back, cowboy," Chris said quietly, seeing the peace written on that beautiful face, in those sapphire eyes, and knowing at once why Vin had come here. "You stay out much longer, you're gonna catch your death of cold."
"I'm plenty warm with you here," Vin breathed contentedly.
Chris bent his head and pressed a soft, loving kiss to those full lips. "Be a lot warmer back at the house. We can build a fire, have some breakfast before the horde descends." He raised his head and glanced about. "Sure is pretty here. You know how ta pick your spots, pard."
Vin smiled slightly. "Sorta picked itself, cowboy."
"Have a nice visit with your mama?" Chris asked softly.
Vin stared at him and frowned slightly, half-afraid he was being teased. "Guess you think it sounds pretty stupid, huh?"
Larabee regarded him seriously. "Not at all, Vin. I talk to Sarah and Adam when I visit their graves. Hell, I talk to Sarah when I try to weed that overgrown flower garden of hers. And I'd sure as hell rather you talk to your mama here than go all the way back to Texas to do it!"
Vin smiled contentedly. "Don't need ta go back there," he breathed, his eyes taking in the beautiful spot. "She's here, all around me. I c'n feel her." He blushed suddenly and bowed his head. "I's tellin' her about you. About us."
"Good things, I hope," Chris said with a slight smile, absently brushing a stray curl out of Vin's face with a gloved finger. "Tellin' her I'm takin' good care of you, and that you're takin' good care of me."
"She knows that," Vin whispered, gazing into those bottomless green eyes. "She could see it. She knows I ain't alone no more." His blush darkened, but his eyes remained locked with Larabee's. "I told her how much I love you," he said huskily, "and how much you love me."
Chris kissed him again. "I'm crazy about you, Tanner," he whispered against those lips. "And after everything I've been through to get you, I don't plan on ever lettin' you go."
"That's what I told her," Vin sighed as Chris nuzzled lightly at his jawline. "Damn, cowboy, you do beat all I've ever seen!"
"Then come back with me, Vin," Chris growled softly. "You can see some more."
Vin grinned and winked. "Reckon I got a thing or two ta show you, too, cowboy." He stood up and stared down at Chris through dark blue eyes swimming with countless emotions. "Ya comin', old man, or ya gonna sit here all damn day?"
Chris chuckled and stood, shaking his head at his young partner. "You know, Tanner, most folks are too afraid I'll take 'em apart to be so mouthy with me."
Vin snorted. "I ain't 'most folks,' Larabee," he said scornfully. "'Sides," he tilted his head to one side and scowled truculently up at the older man, "I c'n take you any day'a the week, an' we both know it."
Chris reached out abruptly and grabbed Tanner's coat, pulling him close and grinning wolfishly down at him as the blue eyes widened and darkened. "I'm countin' on it, Vin!" he growled, green eyes glittering.
Vin shivered and licked his lips as those eyes seared through him. "Shame it's so cold here," he whispered shakily. "Don't s'pose--"
"You'd have pneumonia in five minutes, and you know it," Chris said, reluctantly releasing his hold on his lover. "So get your bedroll together, get your scrawny ass on your horse, and let's get back before you start turnin' blue on me."
"Ass ain't scrawny," Vin grumbled, crouching down to re-roll his tarp and blankets.
"You can prove it back up at the house," Chris teased. "Buck and the others aren't comin' 'til about one, so we got all mornin' to play."
Vin finished with his bedroll, then stood up slowly, his gaze searching Chris's handsome face intently. "I's tellin' Mama how much I got ta give thanks for today. Hell, I got more now'n I ever had in my life. But out of ever'thing I got," he rasped softly, almost shyly, "you're what I'm most thankful for. Ever'day, not just today. I wanted her ta know she ain't gotta worry about me anymore, and ain't gotta feel sad for leavin' me. I wanted her ta know all about you, so she'd be as happy and thankful as I am."
Touched to his soul, Chris reached out and laid a gloved hand gently against Vin's cheek. "You're a damn marvel, Tanner, you know that?" he murmured. "I still can't quite believe you're mine, but I thank God you are."
"Me, too," Vin whispered, blushing again and bowing his head as Larabee chuckled at the sight. "Aw, hell, Chris! Ya always do this to me!"
"That's because you're so pretty when you blush."
"Ain't purty," Vin protested, raising an affronted stare to Chris.
"Yeah, you are," Larabee insisted softly, passionately, his green eyes dark and deep. "You're a beautiful man, Tanner, inside and out." He leaned forward and kissed Vin tenderly, then laughed quietly. "Goddamn, Vin, your lips are like ice! C'mon, let's get you back and thaw you out."
Vin's blue eyes danced. "You got anything specific in mind, cowboy?" he drawled mischievously.
Chris winked. "I got one or two ideas."
The two men got carefully down from the rock and went to their horses, swinging gracefully into the saddles. Chris let Vin take the lead, content as ever to watch the easy way the sharpshooter sat a horse. As he started after Vin, a light breeze swept his cheek, seeming almost to caress it, and, for an instant, he caught the faintest trace of an impossible scent.
"Wildflowers?" he whispered. The breeze tickled him again, the ghostly scent grew stronger, and he smiled, understanding. "You're welcome, ma'am," he breathed. "And don't worry, I'll take good care of him for you. Your boy's a hell of a man."Oh Mama he's crazy
Crazy over me
And in my life is where he says
He always wants to be
I've never been so loved
He beats all I've ever seen
And Mama he's crazy
Crazy over me
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