DISCLAIMER: Well we all know who really owns them and it ain't me.

RATING: NC-17 (language, sexual situations)


NOTES: Old West, not beta'd. Chris' POV. Feedback always welcome. Spoilers for Wagon Train 1 & 2.

SUMMARY: Chris wonders when Vin's B-day is.

by Heart Quest

One year.

One solid year ago today I met the man who changed my life. From darkness to light in a blink of an eye, hope loomed alive before me again. Sounds a bit melodramatic...probably...sure what the heck. I can live with that. But it's the truth, and I'm a man who can look truth in the eye and not blink...well...most of the time. This time however, the truth might make me go blind.

My feelings for Vin have grown over this last year. We started out as comrades, ended up friends, pards, what have you. Then a few months ago, things started taking on a more comfortable air between us. We shared patrols, perimeter watches, card games, even meals. The times Vin would come to my shack to help me build, or repair. He'd bring me supplies, cover my back when trouble threatened. But even with all those moments of connection, the most notable times were when there was just silence. Alone together, but not alone. No words spoken, no need for them...just a silence, as easy going as the breeze. Never felt anything like this with anyone in my life. Not even my wife, Sarah. A look between us, and the thoughts tumble out from our eyes. It's scary sometimes to read his mind without even hearing a word from his lips. Keep wondering when we'll stop talking all together. Who am I kidding though? Friends talk. We'd talked...that first day...when Vin confided in me the price on his head. Offering it to me in case he got killed. I had smiled at his reasons. "If a friend collects, then I have the last laugh." He is young, so much younger than his wisdom lets on, but he is old as well. A life of being on the run constantly, seven days a week, twenty-four hours a day...it's worn him down and that weariness shows in his haggard features and his grim set mouth, which hardly smiles. I think the last time I heard him laugh was in the Seminole village, after Buck and JD had that argument over the kids' 'damn, stupid hat!' to use Buck's words. It was a good laugh, a solid laugh, but it's been missin' since then.

And I do miss it. Heard it only once and it caused me to grin. Vin rarely laughs anymore. His life here in Four Corners has been good; at least as good as a man hiding out from the law can have a good life. He's got six friends who'd take a bullet for him. Six friends who'd stand up for him and he's returned the loyalty in spades. Never once have I seen him do anything dishonorable. Well, Charlotte is a subject best left in the deepest recesses of the mind, buried under the 'We-don't-talk-about-that' corner. Vin had come to his senses and really that's all I was worried about. I understood his reasons, though, for taking her with him that day almost a year ago. Damn tracker was so lonely, I never realized how lonely until Charlotte's advances on him twisted him around so bad, he couldn't tell which way was right or wrong. And she didn't help matters either, unable to decide between her husband or Vin. Stringing him along. She had been just as confused, but Vin had realized where the confusion would lead and he had walked away. His choice. I admired him for that. It hurt him like hell, though. He was left lonely once again.

It was then that I started realizing what was happening with me...with what I was feeling. Seeing him leave, finding out later Charlotte had gone with him, and that he had allowed her to go with him, I had felt a pang of jealousy. Curse me for a fool, but there I was missing him, wondering what the hell he was doing with his life, where he would go with it. I wanted him on the straight and narrow again. But, what I wanted was not what Vin needed at that time. When he had come back to help us fight against those claim jumpers, it had been a relief to my soul, but he had not committed to staying. Then when I saw him fight off the claim jumpers and the explosives they were going to use to blow up the wagon train, I almost felt my life crush out of me as I watched him tumble down that hillside after the dynamite had gone off so near him. I thought he was a dead man and I was just seeing his body rolling. Thought he was all ready gone. I hurried to where he landed and saw him move. I remember jumping from my horse and running to his side. "Are you all right?" I shouted as I put my arms under him. He was tense, his muscles tightening with the shock. But he had winced and with that dry humor of his he had replied, "Most of me."

I knew he was suffering more than he was letting on, but he had kept any injuries to himself. Though I kept a good watch over him later on, I could see he was mending fine and he never once complained or showed any pain. Not around me or even the others. If he had suffered he had done so in silence. His way. I took my cue from him and remained silent in my own suffering. I realized as I watched him fall down that hill, just how much I loved Vin. How much a part of me he had become and how much it would hurt like hell to lose him. But, being that we were 'pards', 'friends', I couldn't bring myself to speak of my feelings. It was not something I could share with anyone, let alone Vin. So I remained silent, building up a wall around my heart, content just to be in his presence as a friend if nothing more.

Then a few weeks ago, I had seen him looking at me. Just looking as if thinking on something profound and confusing. He turned away when he realized I was catching his many stares. Figured he needed to tell me something, but was uncertain how to come right out and say it. Could I have misread his looks? Possibly. Could he have misread mine? Had I looked at him with longing? Had I allowed my walls down enough for him to see my soul through my eyes? Had he read my mind? In the silence all things are possible.

And tonight I realize there's been one more thing that's been kept silent from me. From all of us. A year has passed since meeting Vin and I still have no idea when his birthday is. It's a small pondering, certainly, but it's got my curiosity going. Wondering if Vin even knows when he was born?

This is what I've been thinking on today, the anniversary of meeting Vin for the first time. I figure even if he doesn't know his birthday we can establish one. Today is just as good as any.

I stand up from the jailhouse porch and watch as Vin rides back into town from the perimeter check this evening. The sun's starting to sink low into the horizon and the weary frame, clad in that suede brown leather jacket, dismounts. Vin takes the canteen from his saddle and guzzles a few swallows. I watch as he removes his hat and pours some over his dusty face. He shakes his head and sends droplets flying from his hair. I bring up an arm to deflect them. "Pissed off at me, are ya', Tanner?" I ask, a joking tone to my voice and, I hope, a gleam in my eye.

He grins back as he places the stopper back into the canteen. "Didn't ask ya' to stand up and meet me at the porch, Larabee," he responds in that low, raspy drawl of his.

"How's things look?"

"Fine as frog's hair," he replies and places the canteen back on the saddle horn. "Gonna bed down Peso then get somethin' to eat at the saloon. Ya' wanna join me?"

I smile.

He nods at my unspoken answer and tips his hat as he puts it back on that curly mane of his. "See ya' there, cowboy."

I watch him head down the street leading his horse behind him. He looks so damn tired. Wonder if he knows it's been a year of this all ready? Wonder if he even realizes when the days and months go by? Wonder if he even cares when Christmas is, or Thanksgiving. When he hears those holidays are coming up he high tails it out of town and stays gone for days on end. Can't say as I blame him. I usually head for my shack during the festivities. Hate crowds. Always have. I suppose, though, I could make room for someone else to spend those days with. The problem is...would he agree?

I follow after him.

He's at the livery about to bed Peso down when I step up to his side and put my hand on his shoulder. He doesn't jump or turn; knowing it's me. "Somethin' up?"

When I don't respond, that's when he turns. I look into those deep blue eyes and wonder if I can find a way for him to follow me out to my shack. I just look at him; unable to find the right words to form the invitation.

"Chris?" he looks at me with concern and I know I have to say something to ease his mind. "Want to do somethin' for ya, Vin, but I don't want ya' to take it the wrong way."

"Speak your mind," he offers and I know he'll understand no matter what I say. He's just that comfortable with me. I reckon I could search the world over and never find another such as him, the kind that can read me like a book and understand every damn word written across the page. I smile at that allegory, knowing he's been learning to read in the very literal sense. Pun intended. "When's your birthday, Vin?" I boldly take my stand, wondering what his reaction will be.

He gives one and it's as if he wasn't expecting that question. Those eyes of his take on a thoughtful stare, the kind I've seen in him countless times before. When he's so lost in thought, his mind seeing something other than what's physically around him. "I reckon I never gave it much thought," he answers. "Why the sudden int'rest?"

I lean against the stall wall and shrug. "Like I said, I just want to do something for ya'."

"Don't need nothin', cowboy," he grins, softening the rebuttal with that smile. "I ain't askin' anythin'."

"I know," I assure. "Reckon that's why I want to do this for ya' all the more."

"Do what?"

"Give you one night of peace."

He looks at me strangely. "Ya' deliberately goin' mystic on me, Larabee?"

I snicker. He's been hanging around Josiah too long. I step closer to him and reach out my hand to rub Peso's neck. "Naw," I reply with a smile, nervous though it is, lifting the corners of my mouth. "Every man needs a day off from the harsh world, Vin. I figure today would be just as good as any to celebrate when you were born."

I'm closer to him now but he doesn't back off. I sense his calmness, his quiet acceptance of my being in his space. The brims of our hats are almost touching and that only tells me how much trust he has in me. He gazes at me as if contemplating the offer, seriously wanting to take me up on it, but a bit apprehensive all the same. "I promise, Vin, I won't let anything happen to you if you let your guard down for one night."

He snickers. "Hell, Larabee, if I can trust anyone to watch my back, it's you. I just...never pondered the question before." He reaches up a hand and puts it on my chest, over my heart, and he's watching that area with interest. Like he wants to see if his hand will move with my heartbeat.

Damn, Vin, you gonna be the kind who jumps to the end of the book to find out what happens? "So...will you let me celebrate your birthday, Vin?" I ask in a whisper, almost dreading the answer...that he'll pull away and bury this moment in his mind, never to speak of it again. But he doesn't. He lifts those blue eyes of his and I can see them clearly in the light of the lantern that hangs over us. He's so damn beautiful. Those eyes are such a deep blue, like the ocean and like the ocean ripples with current I can see ripples of feelings in those eyes. I reach up and brush his brow with my fingertips. "Ocean depths," I whisper.

He swallows and I know he knows what I'm talking about. "Ain't never seen the ocean before, cowboy," he whispers. "Not even when I's in Texas."

We gaze at each other and we both know what this moment means. What it will mean for us tomorrow as well as right now. What it will mean for us in the days to come. "I'll take you, Vin. I'll take you anywhere you want to go."

He looks at me and I feel him lean closer. "Is that so?" he asks, almost as a challenge. I feel his hand rest on my groin and he squeezes, causing an intake of air so powerful that I fear I've been heard outside the livery. I for sure as hell know Tanner heard me, with that shit-eating grin plastering his face. "Ya' think you're up to it?" he asks again, the challenge never leaving his voice.

"You don't have to set boundaries with me, Vin. I know what I'm askin' of ya'. I know what I'm tellin' ya'. I don't speak what I don't mean."

"I roam, cowboy. Ya' either roam with me or we put an end to this right here and now and walk away, like nothin' happened."

And that's the only boundary he's setting. We ride together, or I stop what I've planned here and now. He's asking for the long haul. Reckon he's been thinkin' about this a mite some himself. The thought warms me. Here I'd been thinkin' I was gonna have to give chase. I should'a known with Vin it would be different.

I reach up and flip his hat off, and it dangles over his back. His hair is long with slight curls that nestle against his shoulders. I reach up and remove the bandana from around his neck, resting it on Peso's saddle. I don't want my answer hindered by items that symbolize protection. Grabbing him by the shoulders I pull him to me and soon find my lips covering his. At first he tries to pull away, but my hold remains firm and I let him know he's not getting away that easily. I can sense his desire as he slowly opens his mouth giving my tongue permission to enter. He's heard my answer and is willing to let me enter completely. I feel the moistness of his mouth and the feel of those lips on mine and he returns the passion. It's not all give from one and take from another. It's both, from both. I soon find myself wrapping my arms around him, pulling him closer and he claws at my shoulders and back and waist, telling me with his searching hands that he wants me as much as I want him. That's when the question hits. Suddenly I freeze and I pull away, but I still hold him. Don't want to let go, don't want him thinkin' I want to let go. He looks up at me, concerned. "Changed your mind, Chris?"

I keep my eyes locked on his and shake my head slowly. "No. I want you, Vin, but it's more than that. I feel more than just passion for you. You asked for the long haul. I'm asking for it, too."

He smiles that shit-eating grin of his once more. Sometimes I wish I could wipe it away, but it's so damn like him that if I tried I'd erase a part of who he is. And I want everything about Vin...shit-eating grin and all. "Larabee, are ya' tryin' to tell me ya' love me?"

I don't respond with a smile or with words. I let down my walls just a few inches more and soon that grin of his fades and he sees how seriously I mean what I say. He pulls from me and stares; shock etching over his face. "I was askin' thinkin' ya'd walk away, Chris," he whispers hoarsely. "I wern't expectin' this."

I release him and my heart feels like it's been clobbered. "Cowboy?" I ask.

He rakes a hand through his hair and I can see, even in the dim light of the lantern, that his face has gone pale. "Ya'...ya'...really..." the question is left hanging, and now I know what's wrong. He's never had this before. Never allowed anything to get so serious before. "Yes," I answer him with a firmness that surprises even me. I don't have to say the words to Vin. He can see it in my eyes just as sure as he felt it in my embrace. "I'm sorry, Vin. I pushed too hard and too fast." I turn and start to leave when he grabs my arm and turns me back around. "Don't," he pleads and I see the fear and yet the joy that desires to seep out. "I..." he starts then he ducks his head. "Reckon I don't know what to say. Never had this happen before."

"Not with anyone?" I ask. "Not even with Charlotte?"

He shakes his head. "Charlotte didn't know what the hell she wanted. She used me as far as I'm concerned, just as I used her. It was us both needin' that tore my head apart, Chris. If'n what ya' need is a good fuck, then ya' best look somewhere else. I ain't gonna get twisted up like that again."

I grab his upper arms and tightly hold on. "It ain't gonna be like that, Vin," I whisper, but there's an urgent tone of need in my voice...a need for him to understand exactly what I'm asking. I won't let his eyes leave mine. He starts to look away when I release one arm and put that hand to his jaw. I force his attention back to me. "You think I'm jokin' around with somethin' like this? You think I would risk our friendship over somethin' idiotic as a quick fuck in the sheets? Think again, tracker. I've been wild about you for months now. Trying to hide it, trying to ignore it, not sure if you would deck me for even approaching you like this. But I've done it, and I ain't sorry. I've tasted your lips, Vin. I want more. I've had your soul in mine for a damn long time now. I want the body now, too. But I ain't gonna force ya'. You say the word and I walk away. It's forgotten. Friendship stays, I promise you that. Can't let that go no matter what the consequences of my actions tonight. We forget and walk away...just like you said. At least then I will have known I tried...even if I failed."

He gazes into my eyes and I feel myself falling into his ocean depths. He's searching, reaching out, in such pain it hurts me to see it. "Ya' really...want me that bad?" he asks, his voice low and guarded. He'll let me in so far and no farther, not until he knows he can trust what I'm saying is true.

"The important thing is," I grip both his shoulders once more. "Do you want this, Vin?"

He stares at me. "Hell, Larabee, I ain't thought of nothin' else since I met ya'. I just never thought ya' would hanker to that kind of..."

I shut his mouth with another kiss. When I pull away, I smile down at him. Vin ain't the only one who can smile like that. "Does that answer your question, Tanner?"

He grins again. Something tells me I'll be seeing a lot of that grin in my lifetime. I hope to God that's true. "So, cowboy, what'd ya' have in mind fer my birthday?"

"Come out with me to my shack and I'll show you."

He grins once more and pulls away. "Best go get your horse then," he tells me as he turns and mounts Peso. "I'll meet you there." And before I know it he's riding off. Damn, he's not going to let me do this my way. I wanted to ride out with him, but then I hear the sound of shuffling feet and Buck's face comes into view. "Chris, things all right?"

I understand now why Vin took off alone. He's all ready thinking about what this will do to the others should what we've just promised come into the open. He's giving me a chance to ride out separately to avoid suspicion. 'Tanner, thy name is Wisdom,' I think to myself, thanking God for Vin's sensitive ears. "Fine, Buck," I reply and start to head out past him. Buck doesn't try to stop me and I can feel his eyes on my back. I don't turn to acknowledge the look. "Going to my shack if anyone needs me."

"Where's Vin headed?" he asks.

"You know Vin," I reply and nothing more is said.

The shack is couched in darkness, but I can see by the light of the full moon that Peso is in the coral, all ready unsaddled. The saddle hanging over a section of the coral wall. I find myself letting out a breath of relief. For a moment there I thought Vin would change his mind, after having some time to think about it. The thought of him being in my arms that night stirs me with a hunger I haven't felt in a long time. I ride up to the coral and dismount. I decide I better let myself be known in case Vin might be thinking I'm a stranger riding in. "Vin?" I call out.

"Here," his voice responds from the porch. I turn and see him leaning against the porch pillar on the top step; his hands nestled in his customary position on top of his gun belt. "Where'd you come from?" I ask as I begin to unsaddle my horse. "Didn't see you there when I rode up."

He shrugs. "Kept to the shadows. Didn't know if it was you or not."

I hate it when he has to do that. Makes me realize all the more how much his life is in constant danger. I finish taking care of Pony and put him into the corral with Peso. I walk up to Vin and pull my hat off. He doesn't move. "We in the clear?" I ask, knowing he's all ready run a perimeter check. I tend to get uninvited guests. He nods once and then he turns his face to me as I take my place at his side. "What now?"

I look at him and see that the hat is still off as well as the bandana. "I say we take it a step at a time."

He grins, and even in the pale light of the moon, I can see the amusement in his eyes. "Ya' didn't plan this far ahead did ya'?"

I grin and chuckle. "I seriously didn't think it would happen, Vin."

He reaches out and runs a finger down the front of my shirt, letting it rest on top of my gun belt. "It's happenin', cowboy."

I look at the position of his hand and then look up at his eyes. "You can still back out if you want to, Vin. No strings."

He pulls his hand away and eases it back on top of his gun belt. "Ya' want me to back out?" he asks as calm as you please, giving me a way out as well.

"No," I reply. My heart lurching at the thought of his leaving my side.

He smiles. "Guess we're stuck with each other, then."

I stand there and gaze at him, reaching out to touch his hair. It's soft, I never thought it would be so soft on my fingers. He stays perfectly still, letting me explore at my own pace, to touch him as the mood strikes. He remains leaning, but his gaze is focused on me. I comment on his hair and he just stands there, saying nothing, letting me do what I want. I step closer and put my hand to his face. He leans into the touch, giving me permission to caress at will. His stubble is grown enough to where it doesn't scratch. "You ever done this before, Vin?"

He nods. "Once or twice. It gets lonely on the trail, cowboy, but that was just release. What's happenin' now, I get the feelin' this is more."

I gently brush my fingers over his chin, his nose and his lips. His lips. He closes his eyes and his lips part just enough for me to trace them more fully. I run my finger over them, memorizing every turn and curve, then Vin takes my finger into his mouth and begins to swirl his tongue over it. And I close my eyes reveling in the feel of his tongue's dance. I ease my finger out of his mouth and lower my face to his. He turns to where his back is against the porch pillar and our mouths meet in a slow passionate kiss, where our tongues continue the dance. He moans and the sound is music to me. I pull him into my arms, wrapping myself around him and he reciprocates the action. I kiss his neck, nuzzling him close to me, breathing in the scent of the trail and the suede he wears. He arches his neck back and his adam's apple is exposed. I begin to suck on it and he moans with pleasure. "God, Chris," he whispers and I know I'm pleasing him. I run my mouth up along his jaw line, nibbling him, reaching for his ear lobe and sucking on it. My breath fills his ear and he gasps. "Sweet spot?" I ask, lowly.

"Oh, yeah, I'd say so," he gasps. I can feel his body tense with the sensation and I decide not to torture him mercilessly. I run my lips over his throat to the other side of his face and attack that earlobe. He gasps and clutches me tighter to him. I feel him trembling with each breath I release into his ear and I hold him tight, not wanting him to tumble off the porch onto the ground. Although, ravaging him right then and there is highly exciting to me at that moment. But this is his night and I want to pleasure him slowly. Besides, I'm enjoying this too much to make a quick end of it. I find myself wondering if the words will actually be spoken between us tonight. I know I feel them, and from Vin's response I know he feels the same way, but will the words be said? Something tells me they don't need to be said, but I'm left wondering who will be the first to say them, if they are going to be said at all? How can I voice what Vin all ready knows? How can I say the words 'I love you'?

Even as I think those words I pull him close, wanting to drink him in, unable to let him go, needing him, wanting him...loving him. If Vin doesn't know what he does for me at that exact moment, he will before the night is done. Let my actions speak louder. To hell with voicing the words, the meaning is all that needs to be expressed.

He places his hands to my chest and pushes me away just enough to gaze into my eyes. "It's no turning back, Chris," he says and it's the final attempt to end this before it gets too far.

I put my hands to his face, running my thumbs over his beautiful lips once more. "The day I met you, Vin, I knew there was no turning back."

"What made us wait so damn long?" he asks and there's a mournful sound.

"Some things are worth waiting for," I reply and slowly begin to strip his jacket off his shoulders. He holds his arms down and the jacket slips to the porch. I begin to undo the lacing on his shirt and he stands there just looking at my face. I kiss him again and again as the lacing falls to the front of his chest. I take his hands and raise his arms over his head, kissing him some more. He leaves his arms there as I pull his shirt off over his head. I toss the blue garment aside and gaze at his exposed chest and stomach with admiration. His muscles are tight and his chest is more beautiful than I had ever imagined. I trace my hands over his muscled shoulders and arms, running my fingers down his stomach. I undo the gun belt and toss it on top of his shirt. I start to undo the top of his pants when he stops me by grabbing my shirt and pulling me close. "Your turn," he growls and he begins to work the buttons on my black shirt. His fingers fumble and I grin. He never wears anything with too many buttons and I can see why. His hands can control a rifle or a gun, they can hit without mercy, they can control a rebellious horse, but when it comes to buttons, Vin is all fingers. I reach up and cover his hands with my own. "Let me," I offer and he smiles with relief. "You can take it off of me," I promise him. "Want to see ya', Chris. All of ya'."

I kiss him. "You will." And the buttons are undone one at a time. He pushes my arms out and pulls the garment from under my pants. Slowly he leans forward and starts kissing my chest, running his tongue over my skin as he peels away my shirt and lets it fall to the porch. His hands begin to trace a path up and down my chest and stomach, and his tongue and lips follow them. I feel the heat growing in my groin as his fingers touch spots that cause me to gasp. "Sweet spots?" he asks with a grin to his voice.

"Oh, yeah, I'd say so," I reply. He wraps his arms around my waist and pulls me closer and I can feel his hardness pressing into my own. We both suck in air at the pressure. His kisses thrill me and he doesn't stop. "You're so beautiful, Chris," he whispers.

I push against him, harder and gaze down into his eyes with desire and love. "So are you." I reach down and begin to undo his pants. He does the same for mine. "Boots," I inform.

"Bed," he replies.

Without another word we are in each other's arms and walking into my shack. Vin shuts the door. "Clothes," he warns, meaning we left traces of our intentions on the porch. One of the others could ride out to find me if the need arose.

"Let them see. It's only a matter of time before they suspect anyway," I tell him. "When they do, if it gets too rough, we'll ride off." We keep kissing and caressing each other as we move to the bed. I made it larger just for this possibility. "Just don't leave me, cowboy," he says and the desire and fear is in his request. I lift his face to lock eyes with him. "I told you, Vin. No turning back. We ride together from here on."

He pushes me onto the bed and stands there looking down on me. "Light," he says. "I want to see your face."

"Lantern on fireplace," I reply. He turns and heads over to the mantle where he proceeds to light the lantern. The shack is filled with its glow and I can see Vin's body clearly now. Sculpted, magnificent and he's willing to give it to me. Damn, I am one lucky man. He brings the lantern over and sets it on the table next to the bed. He moves the table over just enough to keep it out of harms way. I get the feeling we're in for a wild ride tonight. "Don't want to knock it over and start a..." he stops, realizing what he's about to say. "Shit," he mutters and turns away.

I sit up and reach out for him. "Vin, don't. You told me there's no turning back. I meant that, too. I'll always miss my family, I won't deny that, but right now, I'm looking toward the future, not the past."

He turns to look at me and sees my hands reaching out. He takes them in his own and I pull him to me, wrapping my arms around his waist as he stands there. I bury my face into his stomach and begin to kiss him. "The only fire I want to think about is the one we're starting between us right now," I whisper.

"Oh, God, Chris," Vin's voice chokes and I feel him wrap his arms around my head, pulling me closer to him. "I never thought I'd forget, Vin, but you're helping me forget with each day we're together."

I feel him kneel and I ease my hold to let him. He kneels and gets eye level to me and he reaches up to brush my face with his hands. "I don't ever wanna bring ya' pain, Chris."

"You don't, cowboy. For the longest time I was dead inside. I saw you, felt your soul and knew I could live again."

He continues to caress my cheek and he searches my eyes. "I believe ya' mean that," he says in a whisper.

I comb my fingers through his hair and pull him into a deep and passionate kiss. "More than words could ever say," I tell him.

He pushes me back and reaches for my boots. Smiling with love he removes them one at a time. As he does so I reach and caress the top of his head, running my hand through that soft sandy blond hair. He leans into my touch and kisses the palm of my hand. He sets the boots aside and sits back on the floor. I reach down and remove his boots and set them next to mine. He crawls over to me, resting on his knees and caresses my shoulders. "Oil?" he asks. I reach under the pillow and pull out a vial. He smiles. "Guess ya' did plan ahead after all," he chuckles. I grin. "Call it being optimistic," I reply.

He stands and turns away, beginning to undo his pants. I stand and undo mine. We've never seen each other naked before. It's a bit awkward for both of us. I ease out of my pants and toss them to the floor. Vin does the same and my first sight is his ass, round and firm. He stands there, and I sense the nervousness emit from his body. I carefully step closer to him from behind and wrap my arms around his torso. "We'll take it slow, Vin," I whisper, not wanting him to fear my touch. He leans his head back against my shoulder. "Scared shitless," he says with a nervous laugh and I hold him gently, resting my temple against his. "I know. Me, too. It doesn't have to be all the way tonight, Vin. I can wait until you're sure you're ready."

"Ain't sure, yet, Chris. Just know I'm likin' what you're doin' now."

He's just become the most vulnerable he's been in a long time. Naked, ready to make love to his best friend and wondering just how in the hell he got into this situation. It's all hit him at once and he's freezing up. I kiss his cheek, his neck and his temple. I run my hands over his chest and arms and want so badly to ease his nervousness. Not just for my sake. I feel my shaft grow hard and I let it rub against Vin's backside. He gasps and I fear he'll bolt then and there, but he doesn't. He forces himself to calm down and then, ever so slightly he pushes back against me. I ease my hand down the front of him and to the area just above his own hardness. "Yes, Chris," he urges. "It's all right." He turns his face into my neck and rests his head there, allowing me permission to continue. I gently wrap my fingers around his shaft and begin to stroke it. He moans as it hardens even more. We stand there, just exploring for the moment what we're doing and then he reaches up with his right arm and wraps it around my head, kissing my cheek "I'm all right," he assures. "I want this."

I kiss his collarbone and he leans his head back. I don't have to look at him to know his eyes are closing. The moaning tells me. "I want to see your face, too," I tell him, indicating if either of us are going to be on the bottom, then neither of us will be on our stomachs. "I want ya' to take me, Chris. I want ya' to be the first. Then I'll take ya'."

"It's your night, Vin. You sure you want to be the first one taken?"

"I want ya' inside me, Chris. I want ya' now."

I ease him back onto the bed and he spreads his legs for me. I smile and climb onto the bed, kneeling between his legs. He hands me the vial and when I take it, he closes his eyes and settles his head deeper into the pillow.

"I won't hurt you, Vin. I swear it. The moment it hurts too much, I'll stop. You tell me, all right?"

He only nods and we proceed.

Vin's nervousness soon disappears and I find myself in the arms of a passionate man who refuses to get more than what he can give. I've never had lovemaking mean so much to me as at this moment. Yes, I loved making love to Sarah, and the memories of when we conceived Adam will never leave my mind, but Vin's love fills me each time the pleasure increases...fills that aching need that's been too long ignored. Who is this young man who has stolen my heart and fills me with passion and love? Who is he that I should take him to my bed and pleasure him as much as he pleasures me? Who am I that I should deserve what I'm being offered? I am just a man who has lost himself in the reality of the present. Vin's soul has become mine and mine has become his. And we are complete in each other.

Hours pass and we are both exhausted, but satiated and content. Vin is lying in my arms now, his head resting on my chest and he is asleep. The sun is beginning to rise and the streaks of sunlight filter in covering the bed with stripes of gold. I caress Vin's arm as he lies here against me. His breath is soft and even, and he's made me alive once more. I lean down and kiss the top of his head. He moans and stirs and I curse myself for waking him, but he turns to look up at me and there's a smile seeping out of his bleary eyes. "Mornin'," he speaks in that voice that says he hasn't spoken in awhile. "Morning, cowboy. Didn't mean to wake you."

"It's all right. I's coming out of sleep anyway. Been thinkin' about what ya' asked me last night."

"What's that?"

"About when my birthday is."


"Can't remember exactly when I was born, but I know when my birthday is."

I grin at him, wondering where he's going with this train of thought. "Go on."

"The day I met ya' was the day I was born."

I smile. "And do you know what day that was?" I ask.

He shakes his head. "Nope."

"A year ago yesterday."

His eyes widen and he lifts his head to stare at me with disbelief. "Are ya' shittin' me?"

"Nope," I chuckle as I reach out and brush my finger over his cheek. "Happy Birthday, Vin."

He grins at me and lowers his head to kiss me full on the lips. "Best damn present I ever got, Larabee."

"There's more where that came from, Tanner."

"The lovemaking ain't what I'm talkin' about," he says and his face takes on a serious look. He stares at me, deeply, as if searching every corner and cavern of my soul. Suddenly I realize what he's telling me and I raise myself on an elbow and put my hand to his neck, pulling him down into a knowing kiss. Then the salt touches my sense of taste and I open my eyes to see tears streaming down Vin's face. "First time in a very long time anyone's ever given a damn about me, cowboy," he says. "I always figured ya'd watch my back, that we shared a friendship and I reckon I let myself enjoy it. But I always kept my saddlebags packed. Never knowin' when we'd go our sep'rate ways. Now, I have this wonderful gift you've given me...and I can't tell ya' what it means to me."

"You don't have to say anything, Vin. I know." I cup his face in my hands and gaze at him long and hard. "I know," I emphasize. "Cause in many ways it's the same thing for me."

Vin is in my arms again, wrapping his around my waist and resting his cheek against my chest. "Do I really need to say it?" he asks.

"Not unless you want to, Vin. I all ready know without the words."

"Then...let that be enough, cowboy. Fer both of us."

I sigh with contentment as I hold him close.

We never really need to speak with words anyway.


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