Backbreaking physical labor was only to be expected even on a ranch as small as Chris Larabee's. Yet both men relished it. Threw themselves wholeheartedly into what other men might balk at. Both wanting, needing, the exhaustion that such toil bestowed on them. The overwhelming tiredness that would leave them barely able to speak. Backs stiff and joints aching. Eyes closing against their will. Dark arms of sleep grasping at them, dragging them down and away from the harsh memory filled daylight.
Vin Tanner left ranch owner, Chris Larabee, to lock-up the barn and spend a few minutes assuring himself that all was well with the stock. As befits a "guest", especially one that did more than his share of the hard work, Tanner was claiming first dibs on hot water for the shower.
Opening the back door Vin halted on the threshold. The feeling of wrongness overpowered him. Nothing was right. Something was missing. A great gaping hole where emptiness didn't belong. A silence never heard before.
And he could hear it. Nothing lived. Nothing breathed. Except the silent emptiness.
Frowning, Vin reached out and flicked on the light switch. Light filled the kitchen. The ice-box suddenly gurgled once as if to remind him that they both existed in the same dimension.
Realization hitting him like a cold slap in the face. He hurried to the family room. There it was dark and still. As he had never seen it before in all the time he'd spent here. It had been a constant. A connection. A signal.
Turning he headed to the door back the way he had come. Chris had to be warned. Vin needed to stop the other man, his best friend, from seeing this.
He wasn't quick enough. Chris Larabee stood in the doorway. Seeing it all. Witnessing that last heartbreaking day all over again.
His beloved wife, Sarah Larabee, grabbing the keys to his truck in her right fist and his adored son's wrist in her left hand.
Running late for Adam's school.
Late for her work.
The clock ticking.
Counting down the last moments of his wife and child's lives.
When Larabee had returned home that first night he had unlocked the door and stepped into the all consuming darkness of the ranch house.
Standing there with no idea what to do next.
How to breathe.
How to go on living with his heart ripped out by a blast of orange flame.
Then a flicker of light.
His feet moving of their own volition down the hallway to the family room.
The late Sarah. His Sarah, too late and in too much of a hurry to turn off the TV set.
He had stared at the screen. Not seeing the images moving across it. Not hearing its endless chatter.
He had left it switched on.
Never in the years since his world had vaporized at the turn of a key had he turned it off. TV stations had been changed. Life changing news events witnessed, all the big games watched, even things thrown at the screen but it had been continuous.
Now it was dead.
The last thread that connected him to them, severed.
Tanner raised his hand and then let it fall. There was nothing he could say or do to make this moment less painful. Less earth-shattering for his friend.
The brief movement caught Larabee's eye. He looked across the room at his friend standing in front of the TV. Shielding the screen from his view. Trying to protect him from the heartbreaking sight of its silent blankness. He looked deep into his soul-mate's eyes, saw the love and concern there, knew that Vin understood it was so much more than just a broken TV.
His heart continued to beat.
At last he knew how to go on without them.
"It's okay, Vin," he said.