DISCLAIMER: The usual statement. I do not own these characters. No money changed hands during the writing of this story.

NOTES: This story was made possible by The Best Beta Reader in the World.


By Rita Clark

Chris Larabee reined his lathered horse down slowly to a fast trot, then a walk, in respite from the furious gallop he had put him into as soon as he flung himself into the saddle. Luckily the black had been tied up just outside the saloon and after the furious brawl and its aftermath; all Chris could think about was getting away from there.

As he came out of the dark rage he had spiraled into, he realized that he had ridden close to a small shaded stream and angled towards it. It was mid-afternoon with the merciless August sun blazing down on his bare head. His dark blonde hair hung across his forehead as he wiped the sweat away from his eyes. His hat had fallen off during the melee and he hadn't even paused to retrieve it. The black was just about worn out. The fight in the saloon had broken out moments after Chris had ridden from his cabin into town. He'd been working there most of the day, trying to finish the seemingly never-ending list of chores required to make the place livable. He had left the animal outside thinking that he would only be in the saloon for a few minutes to check in with his men before he headed for the livery to turn his mount over to Tiny for the night.

But he had pushed back the bat wing doors and walked straight into the beginnings of a fistfight. J. D. and Buck were in the process of removing two very drunk cowhands and probably would have been able to get them out of the saloon and into a cell to sober up if five of their compadres hadn't started to object. When Chris saw that Buck and J. D. weren't going to be able to get the two out quietly he had stepped in to help get the situation under control. J.D. had resented the older man's abrupt interference and told him in no uncertain terms and in a very loud voice that he could handle it. And when Chris had bristled and pointed out J.D.'s inexperience he was met by Buck's heated insistence that he back off, the friends of the two in custody started swinging. J.D. had gone down fast and hard from a lucky punch by one of the drunks, crashing backward into a heavy card table and leaving him and Buck fighting the other drunk and the remainder of his friends. The miscreants were winning easily and he and Buck were both badly battered when Josiah and Vin rushed in to back them up. A single shot from Vin's mare's leg into the ceiling had frozen the combatants and brought the fracas to a dead halt.

In response to Josiah's quick questions to Buck and Chris while Buck checked on J.D. and Vin covered the prisoners, Buck had spit out that the fiasco was Chris's fault. He had added that, if J.D. was badly hurt, he would take it out of Chris's hide himself.

Enraged by the black mood he had been in for weeks and further maddened by what had just transpired, Chris had turned on his heel, pushing Vin roughly aside, and ridden out of town as fast as he could.

Now he dismounted near the rapid, shaded stream and almost fell to the ground from exhaustion and the beating from the rowdies. His horse drank deeply from the cool water and then after Chris had pulled off the saddle, blanket and bridle, began to browse through the thick grass. Chris rummaged through his saddlebags and found a worn bandanna. He sat down on a large rock near the water and wearily pulled off his dusty boots and sweaty socks. Standing up he loosened the leather-tie down and unbuckled his rig. He laid the gunbelt aside and unbuttoned the top buttons on his pants. Pulling the shirt out of his waistband, he yanked it over his head and threw it down across the rock. The cloth of the shirt and one leg of his pants were spattered with blood. He knelt down slowly and painfully next to the stream and wet the bandanna. He wiped his face first and then, rinsing the blood from the cuts on his cheek and forehead, used the cool wet cloth to press against the bruises that were also beginning to darken on his abdomen, chest and arms. Damm, he was a mess!

Behind him, his horse threw his head up from the sweet grass and whickered a greeting. He hadn't even heard the other horse approaching and he tensed when he realized he was too far from his gun to even make a try for it. But he relaxed when he saw that his horse had recognized Vin Tanner and Peso coming in slow. Vin had dismounted and was leading Peso in, cooling him off as well. He must have ridden out after Chris almost immediately. Vin began to follow Chris's lead and Peso was soon stripped of his gear and grazing companionably with the black gelding, nudging him occasionally to get to new pasture.

The same comfortable companionship did not exist between the two men. Chris hardly looked at Vin as he half squatted with his weight on one heel, Indian style, and watched him continue to clean up from a few feet away. The silence stretched between the quiet tracker and the taciturn gunfighter until Chris gave in first.

"Thanks for checkin' on me."

Vin Tanner snorted sharply in disgust. "I ain't checkin' on you."

"Then why did you come after me?"

"For the last few weeks you've done your damnedest to piss every one of us off, especially me, and now you're the cause of J.D. and Buck gettin' hurt for no reason."

"The fight wasn't my fault, I . . ."

"Shut up, Larabee. You need to be taken down a notch or two. I'm goin' to teach you a lesson."

Chris stood up awkwardly, his face contorting with the movement. He had been punched in the ribs several times during the fight in the saloon by one of the men while two others held him from behind and he was beginning to feel the pain from the bruises. Hell, he must be busted up pretty good. But his rage surged to the fore again at Vin's words.

"And you think you're the man to do it?"

Without another word, Vin stood slowly and took off his hat. He untied his gunbelt, unbuckled it and laid it carefully beside the hat on the ground behind him. His fringed coat followed, then his hunting knife and the leather sheath.

"Reckon we're about to find out."

"Tanner, you son of a . . ."

Vin moved first and he moved fast. He tackled Chris, coming in low and hitting him on his already bruised ribs with his shoulder. Vin knew that Chris had a small edge on him in a stand-up exchange of blows because of the taller man's longer reach. But he also knew that Chris hadn't done the same type of fighting that he had learned. Vin had lived in Indian camps on and off over the years and taken part in contests with the warriors. He took Chris down where he would have the advantage.

Vin's forceful charge against his midsection took Chris's breath away and he went down hard underneath the younger man. His anger kicked in again and he got in a couple of punches. Vin had wrestled with even the most experienced braves and, although he hadn't always won the match, he had always come away with a new trick. He was not as heavily muscled as Chris but he was young, he was strong and he was as agile as a cat. The fight was over as quickly as it had begun. Vin straddled Chris using his whole weight to hold his friend's body immobile while pinning his arms above his head on the hard ground. The violence of the last few minutes, mixed with the after-effects of the earlier fight and the fact that he could hardly breathe with Vin more or less sitting on him, made him demand a grudging surrender.

"All right, Tanner. You win. Now - let - me - up!"

Chris gasped out the words through clenched teeth.

Vin continued to hold his friend and the acknowledged leader of their group in his iron grip. He leaned down closer to Chris's face and spoke again in his soft drawl.

"I've seen you lookin' at me all these weeks. And if you weren't so damm arrogant you would'a seen me lookin' back."

Chris's green eyes widened in surprise and sudden understanding. He had been looking at Vin in a completely different way for a long time. Weeks, maybe even months. And he had been wrestling with the knowledge that he was beginning to think of Vin as even closer than a friend. Vin was right. He had been so consumed with his own thoughts that he hadn't noticed Vin's reaction to his furtive glances. The things he had been turning over and over in his mind each sleepless night had left him even more short tempered than usual. And he had been taking it out on everyone around him. He knew now what he wanted but he was ashamed to admit it, even to himself, much less to Vin.

"I'm gonna let go of your arms, Larabee. Then I'm gonna show you that you ain't always the boss."

Vin released his grip on one arm but, still holding the other, slipped his free hand behind Chris's neck and slowly, never breaking eye contact, brought their mouths together. He forced Chris's lips open and began to use his tongue to explore his mouth. Chris was too shocked at first to even respond, but he soon began to return Vin's kiss and without realizing it, softly moaned.

That was all the encouragement Vin needed. He let go of Chris's other arm and, still holding the heated kiss, unbuttoned his own shirt and pulled it out of his buckskin pants. When Vin broke the kiss and sat up to push down his leather suspenders and discard the shirt, Chris reached out and removed it for him. His hands continued up Vin's arms, moving over the smooth muscles, and began to tangle in his long hair. After adjusting his position astride Chris and moving lower against his hips, he bent to cover Chris's mouth again. Gentle at first, he was soon using his tongue to wrest more moans from Chris. He began to suck on his tongue, take his lower lip in his mouth and suck on it, use his teeth to bite Chris's lip gently. All the while, Vin was also moving his lower body against Chris in a sensual rhythm. And to his surprise, Chris realized that he was getting hard and so was Vin.

After several minutes of the exquisite torture, Vin shifted his position again, this time to loosen the first few buttons of his pants. Then he moved his weight off Chris and pulled the dazed man to his feet. The movement made the intense pain in Chris's ribs flare again, but his focus was on Vin and what was happening between them. He had no idea what Vin would do next and he was so hard and excited that he didn't much care.

Vin attacked Chris's mouth once more, using his hands to explore his friend's upper body. He caressed his muscular back and then pulled his firm buttocks forward, pressing against him, testing the extent of Chris's arousal. Dropping his head, he wet his lips and flicked his tongue lightly over Chris's nipples, first one then the other. Chris gasped at the sensation, throwing his head back and stood it as long as he could before raising Vin's head to suck on his mouth again, their tongues playing at the back and forth, the give and take of pleasure.

Vin finally broke the contact and pushed Chris towards the rock where he had stripped off most of his clothing. He reached between them and loosened the last two buttons of Chris's pants and began to pull the material down. Chris gave him a bewildered look.

"Vin, what . . ."

Vin stopped the questions with another lingering kiss, then turned him to face the rock. He bent him face down over the stone using Chris's shirt and his own to cushion the rough surface then, reaching around him, pulled Chris's pants down far enough to free his straining erection. When Chris realized what Vin meant to do, he started to resist but Vin was prepared for him and he kicked Chris's legs even farther apart then lay fully against him, using his weight and the awkward position Chris was in to keep him from moving.

"Lay still, Larabee. I'm in charge now."

Vin whispered the order harshly into Chris's ear and the older man realized that if he continued to struggle he wasn't going to accomplish anything except injuring himself further. And, God help him, he wasn't sure he didn't want this anyway. To give in, to surrender, to let someone else be in control. He felt two different emotions very strongly: fear and excitement. And he was enjoying both of them equally.

He nodded his understanding to Vin, not trusting himself to speak. Vin stepped back far enough to finish working his pants down and expose his own hard cock but he kept one hand against Chris's lower back. Just to let him know he wasn't going anywhere. That he was making the decisions now. Vin laid his upper body across Chris again, letting his hand slide to the front of his body, and grasped his erection. He began to stroke him slowly and leisurely, taking his time, all the while he was testing the entrance to Chris' body with his own hardness, using the other hand to guide his cock.

Chris gasped as Vin gained a tentative entry into his body. The intrusion wasn't so much painful as it was exciting. Vin continued stroking Chris and, as his excitement grew, Chris began to push back a little against Vin. Within a few minutes, Vin had gained complete access to Chris by using slow, gentle thrusts of his own. The path was made easier by the moisture seeping from Vin's complete arousal. He knew he had won when Chris began gasping in surprised pleasure with each thrust of Vin's cock against the small spot he had been seeking.

Vin continued with strong, steady stokes of his cock into Chris's body, going all the way in and pausing before withdrawing. And with each thrust from behind he moved his hand steadily along Chris's hard length, feeling his breathing becoming irregular, even pausing for a moment, before gasping for another breath. Both men were covered with sweat. Vin's long hair lay in wet waves against his neck and shoulders and Chris' shorter locks were plastered to his forehead.


Vin almost didn't hear the whispered plea from within the rhythmic trance he had entered.


"Faster, Vin. I'm gonna come."

Vin increased the rhythm of his strokes against Chris and leaning further forward with each movement, pumped Chris's erection relentlessly. In a few moments, he felt his hand fill with Chris's wetness and heard the deep moan of his release. Then it was Vin's turn as Chris's orgasm caused intense contractions around his cock and sent him over the edge as well. He cried out once in pleasure and then both men were still.

They lay that way for several minutes, neither had the strength to move nor the will to ask it of the other. Finally, Vin realized he had to lift his weight off Chris, that he must be hurting his injured side. He stood up slowly, withdrawing his cock and saw that there was a little blood. He pulled his pants up over his lean hips and reached for Chris to help him rise. Now that the anger and passion were spent, he was a little worried that he had hurt him.


With Vin's help, Chris pushed himself up from his prone position and hitched his pants up to his waist. He reached behind him for Vin's shirt and handed it to him, then retrieved his own. Both men dressed quickly and in silence. Then, without asking Chris, Vin caught up both horses and saddled them while Chris repacked his saddlebags. He led the black over to Chris, Peso trailing obediently behind.

"We'd best get back to town. Get you looked at and both of us cleaned up."

Chris nodded and started to mount up, but he hesitated, then turned back to Vin, pausing with the reins in one hand and his other on the pommel of his saddle.

"Vin, what just happened . . . "

"Yeah, Chris?"

"I don't know what to say."

"Not much to say. Reckon we both wanted it. Maybe not just that way. I was a little rough with you."

"Vin, you . . . you knew what you were doin'. Reckon I had it comin'."

Vin simply nodded and gave Chris a slight smile in acknowledgment then waited till Chris mounted before he swung up easily onto Peso. He knew that Chris was hurting bad from the beating at the saloon and he also knew he wouldn't admit it. Not even to him. Not even after this afternoon when they had finally joined physically. Now they were bound together in a way that was different from the friendship they'd had before. It was a bond that was even stronger.

They pointed the horses toward town but at a much more leisurely pace then either had taken before. And after a few miles, they began to talk. It wasn't a long ride back, but it turned into a different one than either man had anticipated.

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