DISCLAIMER: I don't own 'em. No money. You know the drill.


WARNINGS: Sexual situations, foul language.

NOTES/COMMENTS: Not beta'd. Vin's POV.

SUMMARY: Didn't really know where I was going with this. Wanted a struggle with Vin over who exactly has the control in his relationship with Chris. May be a bit 'wanderin' in the self analysis, but I just went with it.

Power Struggle
by Heart Quest

What the hell is Larabee thinkin'? He keeps lookin' at me with that squinty-eyed look, like he's tryin' to think somethin' through. Been like this fer the last hour or so. Shit! Cowboy don't know what he does to me every time he looks like that. This is his game. Like heads or tails, but with cards. Only this time the high card loses and I have to do anything he wants. We've played five times this week all ready and every damn time, I end up being his love slave, for lack of a better term. He's been good about it. Gives me assurance and he never hurts me. Never abuses the power I give over, but I'm getting' to thinkin' he's cheatin'. Can't prove it, but it galls me just the same. I cut the cards as I've done the past five nights in a row. He's pulled out a five of clubs. I know I'm a goner once more, but I play along. Don't want him thinkin' I'm losin' interest. Hell, why'd he have to come up with this game anyway? I roll my eyes. "Give it to me," I tell him. He grins and somethin' tells me it ain't the card he's thinkin' of. "You sure, Tanner?" he asks with a hint of laughter behind the words.

"Throw down, Cowboy, or walk away. Your option."

"Ain't givin' up that easy, Tracker." He throws a card my way and I look at it, paling. King of Hearts. Shit! This is too dang weird fer me. "Whatcha got?" he asks, smokin' that cheroot of his and lookin' at me with slyness. I set the card down and he starts chucklin'. "That's about right."

"Y'all think so?" I challenge. "Takes more than a card to turn my head, Cowboy." I get up and head over to the bar. "Gut warmer," I order and a shot of heavy whiskey is placed in front of me. I drink it in one gulp, letting the burn travel down my throat into my stomach. Shit, my crotch is burnin' like hell. Damn that cowboy! Getting' me all hot and bothered, just to prove he can read me like those damn cards. Stupid game is all it is. Stupid, stupid, stupid! How could I be so stupid? Hold on a second. Didn't I say those words before? Reckon I did...a lifetime ago. But then it was my life at stake...now it's just my will. I'm feelin' the anger boilin' inside. I love the man, but there's just somethin' about this that's got my guts in knots. And him sittin' there so smug, thinkin' he knows me. What's pissin' me off is that I realize just how much he *does* knows me. Maybe it's not anger...maybe it's fear. Maybe I'm losin' myself in him too much. Maybe it's time to rein back and slow this horse down. But I agreed and I have to keep my word.

He's standin' next to me now, so close I can feel his body heat drift off o' him like steam from a skillet. "Your call, Tanner," he offers as he buys a bottle of whiskey and turns to head upstairs.

My call? Where the hell did that come from? Maybe he senses my...what's that word Ezra taught me the other day...my 'demeanor'? I snicker, staring at the empty shot glass in front of me. My call. Fine. Should just march outta here and show him what fer. That'd teach him who's king around here. In fact that's what I'm startin' to do when I see that card on the bar counter. He left it there. I pick it up and my shoulders slump. He knows me. He knows me so damn well, and that's the fricken point, ain't it? How's a man supposed to be alone when a person comes in and stakes claim to your heart? The one person who can reach inside and rip your heart out with a gentle tug? 'Larabee, thy name is my soul'. He knows that just as much as I know I'm his soul. What the hell am I runnin' from? What the hell am I tryin' to prove? That I don't need him? I don't. But damn if I don't love him. I look upstairs and pocket the card. Let Ezra think what he wants when he finds it missin'. The King of Hearts is mine and I ain't tossin' him aside. But I don't want him thinkin' this is his doin'. I've got a few tricks up my sleeve as well. He'll know that just as soon as that door closes behind us.

I head up the stairs.

Somethin' stops me. I think it through one more time. Hell. Give him some time. Don't go to him too soon. Bend the rules. His rules, my rules, our rules. Bend the rules and let it be a draw. I turn and head back down the stairs. Too much, too soon and the power is lost. He's got my heart, but he ain't got my will. He's gonna have to fight just a bit harder fer that part of my soul. In the bed I turn my will over, out of it, he knows he ain't got no power. He's just gonna have to live with that. Him and that damn smug face o' his. I head out of the saloon, wondering what he's thinkin'. Keep him guessin', Tanner. I sense his eyes on me from his bedroom window. He's watchin' me leave. I turn and look right at him. I can see the glare. That ever predictable glare and he turns from the window. I see him put his hat and coat back on. "Come and get me, Larabee. The chase is on." I head into an alley.

Sure enough he storms out of the saloon and down the street. He passes me and stops. I'm leanin' against the building, "Lookin' fer somethin', Cowboy?"

He walks up to me, anger in his step. "You like to live dangerously, don't ya', Tanner?" he grumbles.

"I love *you*, don't I?" I answer, a grin on my face. This is a dangerous game, but he set the ground rules. I'm buckin' the odds. Let him figure it out. He's had me one too many times this week. It's my turn to turn the tables.

I reach into my coat pocket and draw out the card. I hold it up to him so's he can see it. The glare slowly disappears. "Message received, Cowboy, but you gotta give me my space. I want y'all in it, but not when you think ya' can control me. That's not what I'm about."

The silence looms between us as he paces in front of me. I've changed the rules and he don't know what to do about that. Then he stops and looks at me. His stony face slowly changes and a grin spreads over his lips. I could swear he's got a look of relief in his eyes. "I knew that, Vin," he whispers. "That's what I've loved about you from the start. That's why I put this game into play. Whatever the outcome I knew you'd end up calling the shots this night."

What the hell? I glare at him now. Just what in tarnation is he 'insinuatin''? "You tested me?" I ask, a bit angry, but more curious than anythin'.

He shakes his head. "Nope, least ways not for me to know what you'd do. I wanted *you* to realize where you stand. If you had come to me tonight I would have loved you no less, but I feared you were losing something about you I love. Your self. I wanted you to see you haven't lost your edge...especially with me."

I pull him into the darkened alley where no one can see and I push him against the wall. "We'll see who's got the edge and how sharp it is. Your place. One hour." I pull him toward me and crush my lips to his, forcing my tongue between that doorway. He opens and invites me in with a hunger I feel as strongly as I do my own. He tries to put his arms around me but I push them down. "Stand still," I order and I wrap my arms around him. He obeys. It's my hands that knead and grasp. My lips that stake claim. My body that presses against his. When Vin Tanner turns the tables, he does it in a mighty way. I decide when we're finished and I push away from him. He straightens his shirt, that smile never leavin' his lips. "Now that's the tracker I know and love," he says and walks off down the alley, tryin' to look stoic, but I can see the shaky steps he's takin'. Score one for trackers. The man's in love.

I make a point of ridin' out long after he leaves town. I know what I want and how I want to take it. He's folded his hand. It's time for me to rake in the pot. I ride out, keepin' an eye on the ground for his trail. Knowin' him he could turn the tables on me once more. Sure enough, he's taken off the road, judging from his horse's shoe print. I look up ahead and I see a shadow in the distance. He don't know how good at trackin' I am. Poor bastard. Trees ain't that good a hidin place, Cowboy. You should'a learned that by now. Ain't I taught ya' anythin'? I pass him and make sure I'm out of eyeshot when I turn off the road myself and hide. Let's see how well he picks up my trail. There he goes. If this weren't so dang fun I'd fall on my face laughin'.

I give him ten minutes and then head on out again, keepin' my eyes on the ground. Yup, there's his horse's tracks and he ain't turned off the road again. I near his shack about ten minutes later and he's callin' out my name. "Vin! Where the hell are ya'! Don't do this to me, Cowboy!" Damn! He's thinkin' somethin's happened to me. Shit! He's gonna shoot me dead for scarin' him like this. I can sense his fear, even though he's tryin' so hard to control it. Damn! I shoulda' just let him overtake me, but I hate bein' controlled. I could have done what he wanted and just not let him surprise me. That would have blown the wind out of him. I went too far, I reckon. Guess I best face the fury that is Chris Larabee. But...if I play my cards right, I might just give him a lesson or two about power as well. "Larabee!" I call out.

He turns and sees me ridin' into his view. "Shit! Tanner! Where the hell were you? I thought somethin' happened to ya!"

"Calm down, Cowboy, I'm fine!" I dismount and start leadin' Peso to the coral fence where I can tie him up. "I saw your tracks headin' off into the trees and I didn't want ya' thinkin' ya' had the upper hand, so I headed off into the trees and waited fer ya' to pass. That's all, Chris. I was just foolin' with ya'."

He storms up and grabs me by the jacket hauling me up. "Don't you EVER do that again! You know that bounty hunter passed through last week! For all we know he could still be in the area!"

He's plum scared shitless! Ain't never seen him so scared before. No, I take that back. I have seen him scared, but never so scared that he's almost hysterical. I gaze at him with worry. "I'm sorry, Chris." He pushes me away and storms off a few steps. "Fun is fun, Vin, but I'm puttin' an end to the game."

Like hell he is! I tie up Peso to the coral and lean to my left. I let the anger fuel up inside o' me, like a volcano. Oh, yeah, he needs to learn a few things about power, that's fer dang sure. "Ya' think it's over just like that?"

"Hell yes!"

"Well that's just fuckin' dandy!" I yell. "I came out here to show you what fer and you have the gall to stand there and get shook up because I'm just a few minutes late and I pulled a trick on ya'? I told ya' back in town y'all don't have control over me! Ain't that what this is all about?"

He turns to me and I see the pain in his face. "That bastard almost got you last week, Vin."

"Well he didn't, did he? I'm right here, ain't I?"

Suddenly I realize what the hell's got him so frenzied. I sigh and walk up to him slowly. "Cowboy, listen to me now. I know you're scared fer me. I love that about ya'. I know you worry, but damn it! You can't let that worry control who we are, what we have! Or have you lost *your* edge? Have you lost what I love so much about *you*? The fact that ya' let me be who I am. That you don't hover over me, that ya' don't keep me in a cage. Love me, hell yeah, but don't take away from me what ya' told me ya' thought I was losin'! I think Josiah would call that a double standard."

That did it. He turns on me and suddenly I'm in his arms and his lips are on mine and he's pulling me tight against him. The anger is ebbing, the fear...he's reaching fer the balance. He's reaching fer me. My will is mine, but I'm turnin' it over to him this time. I got to let him know he's still got me in his soul. The difference this time is he's not takin', I'm givin'. He pushes himself against me and I know he's got to connect soon or all we have is gonna be lost on the breeze that's whippin' around us. "I'm right here, Chris. Hold on tight if ya' need to, Cowboy, but don't crush my spirit."

"I ain't gonna take from ya', Vin," he assures. "I ain't gonna let you lose your control. Just know you got someone now who cares what happens to ya'. Don't lose sight of that in your freedom."

I let him hold me tight. He feels good. I return that hold with one as equal as his. "Chris, y'all remember that day ya' called me an eagle? How I could see beyond what others could even without my spyglass?"

"Yes," he whispers into my neck.

"Well, eagles fly high and they can spot game from miles up in the air. I know if I fly so high, I won't lose track of ya'. I got ya' in my sights. Trust me." His kisses swarm over me like bees and I feel his passion burnin' against me. "I'm sorry," he whispers as he pulls me close to him and buries his face into my neck. "Every damn minute with you is a gift to me, Vin, and I'll take anything you give me."

"You got me right now, Chris. Take me."

"No. You take me first." And then I realize he's giving back to me. The power struggle is over. We are equal.

I take out the card from my pocket and put it in his. He don't see me do it, but when he reaches into his pocket sometime tomorrow he'll get my message. Two can play at this game.


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