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This is not a death fic. It's a bit heavy, a bit angsty, and hasn't got much of a plot, but nobody's dying in it. Just so ya know! I set out to finish writing some way overdue light and fluff stuff (which IS on it's way, too) but this thing just happened instead. Many thanks to Judy. And Diana, for everything! And Deb M., because she always wants that much more!

I done all I can.

Vin hated those words. Hated hearing them. Hated Nathan saying them. Hated the look in the healer's eyes that said so much more than Vin was ready to face, that said Chris was...that Chris was going to...

No, Nathan hadn't come right out and said it, but Vin knew he was thinking it. Had to be thinking it. They were all thinking it.

I done all I can.

Nathan had said it and the others had nodded, accepting it, and then no one said a word. Not one word. Nathan's words just hung there like a smothering weight, and no one said anything at all. Not a protest, not a doubt. Not an argument. Because they couldn't. Because they knew. Because what was there to say?

Chris was going to die.

And they all knew it.

Vin winced, the hot blade lodged in his heart twisting a deep path.

I done all I can.

God, he didn't want to think about this.

He looked up from where he sat near the door to see Josiah brace a long arm around Nathan's back, Nathan nodding and looking grateful for that offered support. He watched the healer lean into that hold and pause for a moment as if gathering strength, then a moment later pull himself upright and turn back to the unconscious man in the bed. He placed his hand along Chris's cheek and looked up, his eyes catching Josiah's in a glance, and Vin's breath caught as he saw that brief exchange.

Pain. Regret.

God, he didn't want to see this. Didn't want to know. Didn't want to hear Nathan let go that slow, soft exhale like the release of so much despair. Like the release of hope best left unsought.

He shuddered.

"Well, then..." Ezra then said, his voice soft and thick and almost silent against the silence of the room. He cleared his throat and looked at no one. Vin watched him stand, tip his hat with one sidelong glance to the man in the bed, and then slip away through the door.

Just like that.

As though it was just any other day. As though everything was just fine and dandy. As though one of them wasn't bleeding out his life in the hot, little room.

As though Chris wasn't...

Vin closed his eyes against the sharp stab in his heart, opening them only to find Josiah watching him. Vin flinched from the silent question so evident there in the light of Josiah's pale blues, and he found he couldn't hold that penetrating gaze, could no way offer an answer and so looked away, grateful Josiah backed off.

He didn't want to talk about it.

He couldn't talk about it.

He didn't want to think about any of it, didn't want to talk about any of it, and so looked away instead of answering those searching eyes because he knew what Josiah wanted and no, dammit, he wasn't all right. Nothing was all right. Would never be all right again.

Vin swallowed the dry sand in his throat and ignored Josiah's continued gaze, choosing instead to glance over at JD standing next to the door where he'd been perched for the better part of the past hour; not moving, not speaking. So strange for JD.

The kid was just standing there, staring, but then, Vin couldn't blame him. He'd been staring. He'd been screaming, too. Silently, anyway. Inwardly screaming at the sight of all that blood spilled. Chris's blood. There was so much.

And it was everywhere.

And it was all his fault.

The knife drove a bit deeper.

He wanted to puke.

"Nathan?" the kid asked suddenly, his wavering voice shattering the thick of the heavy silence. Vin looked away, trying to tune him out as well. He wanted the silence. He didn't want to hear what Nathan had to say. Didn't want to hear Nathan say those words again.

Nathan shook his head as he slowly and ineffectively wiped at the blood still liberally coating his hands, his face haggard and lined and filled with sorrow. He looked exhausted and he answered JD with hushed words. "Up to Chris now. And God, I s'pose..."

Vin closed his eyes. He didn't want to look at that blood. He didn't want to hear what words Nathan was offering as comfort. He wanted him to shut up...

"I done all I can, JD."

Just shut the fuck up, Nathan, just shut the fuck up, because there has to be more than that. More that can be done.

JD nodded though, not seeming to even question the utter hopelessness of those words. "Buck?" JD whispered then, his eyes fixed on the man kneeling next to the pale form lying so lifelessly in the bed. "Buck? You stayin'?"

Vin followed JD's eyes to Buck, watching as the stooped man nodded his head, and found himself hoping Buck would just up and leave with JD. Hoped they would all leave, just for a minute. Just one minute so he could tell Chris...

But Buck was staying as Vin knew he would. As Vin knew he had to. He was kneeling next to the bed, his hand resting lightly at Chris's side, his head bent toward the unmoving man, and Vin watched as he held onto Chris's hand. Watched Buck's fingers curl around Chris's lax ones, such an innocent and comforting gesture. His eyes drifted to his own hands, surprised to find both curled into tight fists. He opened them and stared absently at the small crescents from his fingernails imprinted on the skin.

He looked back toward the bed. Strange to see Buck remain so utterly still. Strange for the man to be so still, really. So quiet. Silent. And then Buck shifted and looked at him, and Vin knew. Not so still. Underneath, Buck was raging. A tornado on the verge of breaking free, wanting to destroy something... someone...

Waiting to destroy him, most like.

Vin quelled the choking rise of guilt and fear and his own rage at things out of his control, and he tore his eyes away from Buck to find JD watching them both. The kid's eyes shone bright with what looked like pools of unshed tears, his face questioning and unnervingly open, and Vin found himself quickly looking away from him, too, because no way in hell did he have any answers. No way in hell could he pull any words together that wouldn't expose every thought and feeling churning under his skin.

And then he didn't have to because JD left. The kid fixed on Buck a brief minute more, then turned his too young eyes to the too much blood one last time and turned away from the man in the bed, Josiah's arm draped protectively around his shoulders as he steered them both from the stifling room without another word.

Vin had never felt so cold.

A minute later, and Nathan followed the others toward the door, his dark eyes skating over Vin as he passed, and Vin shuttered away from that gaze, relieved that Nathan hadn't said anything out right to him, though the healer had spoken to Buck. Something about he'd be right back. Something about needing fresh water. Something about needing fresh air.

Fresh air. Not the air inside the clinic. It wasn't anywhere near fresh. It was hot, thick, fetid...teeming with the sickening metallic odor of spilled blood. Chris's blood. Vin could smell it. Taste it. It invaded him, enveloped him, slowly strangled his senses, but he didn't care. He wasn't moving. He couldn't move. And so he was left in the small, hot little room. Just him. And Buck. And Chris.

I done all I can.

He shivered and the knife twisted a hard turn.

How could anyone lose that much blood and still be alive?

I done all I can.


Buck looked over at him right then like he'd voiced that last out loud, and maybe he had, though he didn't think he'd really said anything at all. Couldn't say anything. Hadn't said anything for the past hour, though he was oblivious to that fact.

"Vin?" Buck asked then, his voice holding enough edge of concern that Vin had the sudden urge to laugh out loud. Buck being concerned about him...was he okay. Sure, he was okay. Why wouldn't he be okay? He wasn't the one had a bullet dug out of his chest. He wasn't the one whose blood was pooled all over the fucking floor. He wasn't the one lying in a bed looking whiter than the whitest of dead.

He wasn't the one...but he should've been. Lord God, he should have been.

Buck was looking at him. Staring at him. Reading him. Chris was lying there near dead and now Buck was searching for truth on his face. He couldn't return the gaze.

He hadn't lied, though. He'd told them all what had happened. But he didn't want to talk about it, anymore. Didn't want to think about it.

Didn't want to think about the ambush meant for him.

Didn't want to think about the gunshot meant for him.

Didn't want to think of the blossoming wet stain saturating Chris's shirt.

If only Chris hadn't turned...if only Chris hadn't pushed him out of the way...

Don't think about it.

If only...

Don't think about the blood...don't think about...

I done all I can.

Don't think about Chris dying.

Just one minute.

God, Buck, please leave!

His life was in that bed, slipping away with every drop of precious blood lost, and he could do nothing but sit and watch and watch and sit and keep on doing not a goddamn thing but sit some more and watch and watch and watch...

And the knife drove in to the hilt.

He wished he was out in the wilds somewhere. Alone. Alone to rage...alone with his fear. He needed to be alone...he needed...he needed...


He needed to touch him. Ached to touch with him...lie down with him and hold him. Caress him...wrap around him, protect him...

I done all I can.

He couldn't even hold his hand. He wanted to...but he couldn't do it. He loved him, but he couldn't say it. Not with the others around. Not with anyone around.

He just needed one minute to tell him...

I done all I can.

Don't think about it.

Don't think about just hours ago, Chris's body bucking with pleasure underneath him. Don't think about the heat of that flesh, fit of that body, tightness of that channel. The rhythm of their pace as they rocked together, hot flesh grinding, muscles taut and strained, that flash of intense pleasure like he'd never known in his life...and after, the slow, lingering kiss as seeking lips met, and tongues delved, and warm fluids coated their flesh...


Buck. He couldn't tell him. Could never tell him. Buck wouldn't understand. No one would understand. He couldn't tell any of them. Couldn't even tell Chris because they would hear, they would know. He loved Chris and Chris was dying and it was killing him.

"What's going on, Vin?"

He could barely hear Buck's whispered words, tinged, he thought, with anger, yet pleading for something, too -- probably answers -- but he didn't answer. Couldn't. He'd already told Buck, told all of them, what had happened. And once was enough. He had killed the bounty hunter who'd shot Chris, though, and now the sonuvabitch was rotting out there somewhere under the setting sun, dead.

And Chris was lying in a bed--dying--and he couldn't say one word.


Shut up, Buck, just shut the fuckin' hell up.

Details filled his brain. Over and over he watched Chris push him away, watched the bullet tearing into Chris's body, blood covering everything and Chris falling hard to the ground...then the horrific race back to town and Chris waking and screaming in agony before falling frighteningly limp in his arms as they braced around him, Vin sure right then and there that he'd killed him...that he'd arrived in town too late.

Oh God, he was too late.

I done all I can.

I done all I can.

Chris was dying and it was his fault...God, all his fault.

I done all I can.

A hand brushed his shoulder and he stood fast, eyes blazing. Thunder filled his ears, sudden rage barely tempered threatened to erupt...and oh God, how hadn't he noticed Buck even approaching?

Get the hell away.


"I didn't...Jesus, Buck, I didn't..." he choked out and Buck was right there, broad hands pressing onto his shoulders and Vin knew Buck was going to tear him to pieces because he'd killed Chris, but it didn't matter as the room spun wildly around him and the floor began to tilt and he suddenly felt unbearably hot in his own skin where minutes before he'd been icy cold and then he was falling hard...

A hand was tapping against his cheek again and again, and he thought he heard someone calling his name.


He lurched forward but hands caught him, shifting him back into the chair. A cup pressed his lips and he drank deeply, finally pushing it away and wiping a hand across his mouth as his senses struggled to regain some semblance of order. Buck's hand wrapped the back of his neck and Vin looked up into blue eyes holding more concern than he ever would've guessed would be there.

"Jesus, Vin. You okay? Y' faded out there a minute. Scared the shit outta me."

"My fault, Buck." And it was, it was. His fault the hunter had tracked them, his fault...his fault...he wanted to lash out...he wanted to explode, could feel the rise of uncontrolled anguish and heated fury bubbling inside him, choking him, and he had to leave before he suffocated. Had to get out right then.

The hand on his neck squeezed harder, Buck shaking him back to the here and now, but he couldn't meet those eyes. Didn't want to see the comfort or pity or accusation or hate that was sure to be expressed there, and so he turned instead to the figure mostly hidden underneath the heaped blankets in the bed.

And Oh, God, he couldn't look there, either.

Don't think about it.

Don't think about Chris dying.

Chris dying.

"Look at me."

A warm hand cupped his cheek and he shook free only to find his chin gripped in a firm vice and Buck's features filling his vision.

"Vin. Look at me."

He batted the hand down and Buck let go. With a grunt, he pushed his way to standing, stumbling more than walking toward the door, but determined to go...somewhere...anywhere but here. A hand caught his jacket, pulling him back and he spun hard, more than ready to strike out.

"Where the hell you goin'?" Buck was demanding.

What difference did that make? Again, Vin felt the urge to laugh. "Nowhere," he muttered and moved again to grab for the door's latch.

"You ain't leavin'," Buck all but growled.

Vin's eyes narrowed. He couldn't stay here right now. Not now. "Watch me," he growled back and moved to push past the restraining hand fisted in his coat when a Buck wall shifted to block his way.

"You ain't leavin', Vin," Buck repeated, practically on top of Vin now, and not about to leave Vin to his own guilt and anguish. His one hand tightening around the leather coat. "I know it. You know it, and most importantly, he needs to know it."

Buck nodded toward the bed and Vin's eyes followed to again touch upon the too still form there, and he knew Buck was right. He couldn't leave. But he couldn't stay, either, and damn Buck for making this even harder than it was already. He yanked his arm free. "Get the fuck out of my way."

Buck hadn't felt so much like tearing someone's head off more in that moment than he could remember. He stared at Vin like he'd been doing most of the past hour since the young man had ridden so frantically into town, an unconscious and wounded Chris cradled in his arms, and wondered just what was going on inside his brain. He'd listened to Vin's telling of the ambush, watched Josiah and Nathan having to prod and pull and coerce virtually every word and detail from the seemingly dazed tracker, and then Vin fell into an eerie silence, not uttering word or sound since. Just sat staring at the man in the bed.

Until now. Now he wanted to run off. Leave. And there was no telling how long he'd be gone or where he'd go or if he'd even return. If Vin wanted to disappear, he could. They'd never find him. And he knew what pain Vin was feeling. He could see it. Was feeling it himself. He shook his head. Not what Chris would want. Certainly not what Chris needed. He was about to tell just that to Vin when the tensed young man suddenly relaxed under his hands.

Vin felt abruptly drained. As though his anger just sapped whatever strength to stand he had left. He closed his eyes and leaned the back of his head against the closed door and in his mind's eye watched Chris fall again and again. "I killed him."

"What in hell you talkin' about?"

Vin startled, not realizing he'd spoken those words out loud.

"First off, Vin, case y' ain't noticed. He ain't dead."

"He's dyin'."

"You don't know that." Buck snapped.

Vin tilted his head and opened his eyes, his gaze deepening as he searched Buck's features. "Tell me you don't think that," he said softly, and half-hoped the answer he got would be something more optimistic than he was allowing himself to think. For a brief second he held Buck's eyes, then again, had to look away. The fear there too greatly mirrored his own and it unnerved him that Buck was riding on as much anguish as he was. He shivered again, finding he couldn't say another word. Not about Chris. Not about any of it.

"Vin, Chris ain't--" Buck began, cutting himself short and hating the desperation he heard in his own voice. "Anyway, wasn't by your hand."

Vin raised his hand and stared at it, his words barely a whisper on a breath. "Might well 'a been. Weren't for me, he wouldn't be there," he nodded toward the bed. "Weren't for me, he'd be standin' here glarin' at the both of us, 'stead a layin' there...dyin'." He felt suddenly trapped by the closeness of the small clinic room, by Buck's presence, by the fact Chris was not more than three feet from him and he wasn't able to go to him, talk to him, be with him, tell him what he needed to tell him before it was too damned late.

Couldn't even hold his hand.

God, he was such a coward.

He turned toward the door and pulled the latch open. A hand over his head slammed it shut.

"Back off, Buck," Vin warned without turning this time.

"You ain't goin' nowhere."

"I can't stay here." And he couldn't.

Buck's hand came to rest on his shoulder. "You can't leave here."

Vin turned, and in that split second Buck clearly saw the intense pain held in those wide eyes. In the next, it was gone, replaced by a restoked fury.

"Don't tell me what I can and can't do."

It was all so absurd. Buck choked back a laugh. Would have let it go if he thought for a minute Vin wouldn't strike him dead. Chris was dying. Vin was practically snarling. And here he was on the verge of laughter. Lord, pain did strange things to a man.

"Get your hand offa me."

"What's goin' on with you?"

Vin laughed, but there was no humor behind it. "You fuckin' deaf? Weren't y' listenin' t' Nathan?"

"I heard what he said, Vin, and--"

Vin cut him off with a shove. If he heard the words spoken one more time he knew he'd go out of his mind right then and there. He turned again for the door, and again found a restraining arm holding him back. This time, he spun with an elbow to Buck's ribs.

Buck immediately let go. "You gone loco or something? What the hell's the matter with you?" He stood rubbing the tender area on his chest, knowing and thankful that Vin pulled the punch or he'd be sprawled on the floor with most likely cracked instead of mildly bruised ribs. Vin was standing away from him, turned back to the door. Away from Chris.

"I can't" -- I done all I can -- "I can't do this," Vin whispered to the walls.

Buck strained to hear him, even in the quiet of the small room. With a glance to Chris who hadn't moved even one iota since Nathan had cleaned him up and tucked him under a small mountain of blankets, he approached Vin's back, careful to not move too suddenly. Anger simmered in his veins, and all he wanted to do was shake some sense into Vin, scream that Chris needed him, that Chris would be fine, but how could you convince someone else when you couldn't convince yourself? "Can't do what, Vin? What the fuck can't you do?"

Can't touch him, Can't tell him. Can't fuckin' watch him die. "I don't gotta answer to you."

"No, I guess you don't," Buck said, never letting his eyes stray from Vin, even as he edged back toward the chair by the bed. He rubbed his ribs and sat down, tired of it all. "Go, then. Hell, Chris won't know. Go ahead. Leave."

"I ain't runnin' off."

Buck loosed a thin laugh. "Hell, Vin. You're the animal ready to gnaw off its leg caught in a trap." He glanced over his shoulder, Vin still standing at the door. "What happened?"

"Jesus, Buck. I told y' once. Bounty hunter happened. Came t' c'llect on a sure five hunnerd dollars. An' Chris...he..." Vin frowned at the swell of emotions riding feverishly over him. His heart raced and tiny beads of sweat ran rivers down his back. "Chris pushed me out th' way, an' now he's there..." he rubbed a hand across his chest and swallowed the thick lump of desperation stuck in his throat, "an' I'm here. Alive an' fuckin' well."

I done all I can.

He felt on the verge of imploding.

Buck stared at him, then shook his head and turned away. Wasn't what he was asking. He knew the story, but wanted to know what was going on with Vin that he wanted to leave Chris now. He sighed. Tired. Drained. "Ain't your fault, Vin." Behind him he heard Vin's faint exhale and he knew Vin didn't believe those words. Truth was, he was having a hard time convincing his brain of the same, even though his heart knew that truth. If Vin didn't have that bounty over his head... If Vin wasn't a wanted man, then Chris wouldn't...

Buck shifted forward in the chair, peering through the darkening room at the form of his friend lying so quietly still in the bed, and felt instantly guilty for having such thoughts. Chris wouldn't blame Vin for this, so how could he?

He stared at the pale features. Chris hadn't moved an inch, though Buck liked to think his color was improved, a hope he'd been clinging to for the past half hour, rather than thinking the fading light in the room was playing tricks with his eyes. "He ain't dyin'," he said for the umpteenth time, his voice soft and blending into the deepening shadows of the room, and maybe if he told himself over and over enough that Chris would be all right, he might just end up believing it to be true.

Fuck it.

Chris wasn't going to die, he was too damned ornery and too damned mean spirited to just up and slip away without so much as a dull roar. No way Buck was about to let Larabee fade from life that easily, not after having ridden with the man to Hell and back so many times in their years together. No, he refused to give up on him.

And he wouldn't let Vin do so either.

"What the hell's going on with you, Tanner?" He asked again, turning and studying Vin as he leaned by the door. The man looked worn to the bone. And unsettled. Lost...and...oh! Oh, Christ! He should've known! It made so much sense!

Vin drifted a step or two closer, seemingly drawn toward the bed, and Buck wasn't sure he knew he'd moved at all. "Tell me, Vin," Buck asked almost silently, wondering how much of what he now saw written so clearly on Vin's face did Vin know he was showing, "what most about this are you afraid of?"

Vin shook himself, Buck's voice shattering like glass inside his head. He'd been so absorbed in watching each shallow breath faintly move Chris's chest that for a split second, he'd forgotten his anger, his guilt. Forgot, too, that Buck was even in the room. Watching him.

What was he afraid of? "All of it", he whispered, wanting to shout out how afraid he was Chris might die, how afraid he was to have Chris leave him forever, how afraid he was that he might never have the chance to tell Chris...tell Chris... "All of it," he repeated faintly.

Buck heard him though, and nodded. "I know."

Vin turned quickly, staring and scowling. "You don't know shit, Buck."

"I know you're hurting."

"And you ain't?"

"Hell. He's gonna be okay. Chris is tougher 'n' he looks." He looked frankly at Vin. "But then, you know that good as me, don't you?"

Vin turned away from him and crept again toward the still figure in the bed.

"Maybe even better," Buck continued, deeper realization dawning on him, and how the truly hell had he not seen this before? How had he missed this between them? He watched Vin watching Chris. "You know Chris like none of us."

Vin's head whipped around and found Buck's eyes, and in them he thought he saw a certain understanding. The knife through his heart eased a fraction, letting him exhale. He stepped next to the bed, looking down at the pale form struggling to breathe, and brushed his hand over a fevered cheek, letting it finally rest over Chris's curled fingers, just as he'd seen Buck do earlier. "I'm afraid of...losing him, because..." Again, he looked over his shoulder at Buck, knowing his emotions were raw and clear and written all over his face, and finding he hadn't the energy to reel them all back anymore. "Buck, I'm afraid--"

And Buck nodded. "I know, Vin. I know."

He was floating. Numb. His head thick with cotton, his throat filled with sand. His skin flamed, hot and dry and burning...his body on fire...

A petal soft tongue drifted over his neck, lapping and sucking lightly and he moaned from the pleasure...and the pain...a voice calling...


Hands brushed his hair, and the soft lips returned near his own, brushing lightly and then were gone. His parted, wanting those others. He panted.


Voice again...calling him... A hand swept against his chest, mapping across a nipple then tracing down his abdomen. He shuddered and it


He wanted those hands again. Those lips. But he couldn't ask, couldn't speak...water...

And there it was. Sweet, wet, cool. He swallowed with greed, warmth cradling his neck, lifting his head. A finger brushed along his cheek, through his hair. He parted his eyelids...and was then blinded by a piercing white fire...then that voice again...

"Easy, Larabee...always were demanding." The words drifted over him and were gone...No...wait...

Hands returned, holding him firm, stroking him, and he remembered warm flesh...tender lips...silken hair...

Then warm breath at his ear and he moaned again, softly, a sweet ache building...

And pain, sharp and burning, filling his senses, spiraling him out of control...he couldn't breathe...couldn't speak...couldn't move...remembered...

"Shot." A pale blur floating above him and he blinked slowly in amazement. "Angel?"

Laughter, soft and raspy, filled his ears. "Not hardly."

Words shushing him then, breath tickling his neck and he inhaled a familiar scent, wanting more of it...wanting...but he was tired and couldn't hold on to that voice... Blissful dark surrounded him and he slipped fast into its warm embrace.

"Chris?" Vin asked, turning with relief to the man coming in through the clinic door, alarm evident in his voice as he hovered over the bed. "Nathan?"

"Let me in there," Nathan said with a sigh, gently easing Vin out of the way and checking his patient. He laid a practiced hand over the now cool skin. "He's just asleep," Nathan assured Vin for not the first time that day, and tucked another blanket over the now quiet form. It had been a long two days, with him preparing all of them for the possibility of Chris not making it. And he hadn't thought the man would make it as he steeled himself as well for that outcome. It had been hard days and even worse nights, Vin and Buck maintaining a constant presence the entire time, and Nathan barely able to look either of them in the eye, afraid they'd read the whole truth.

He didn't know enough to save Chris.

And then, in the early hours of that second morning, Chris's fever did break, and he had awakened long enough to drink a fair amount of water, much to Nathan's relief. He had turned the corner. They could now all relax...

If only they all would.

The others had come and gone, offering support, bringing fresh water and linens, bandages, each taking turns sitting with Chris and spelling Nathan for brief periods while he tried, unsuccessfully, to grab some sleep. But he couldn't. And Buck and Vin wouldn't, and so the three of them would end up back in the clinic, doing what could be done to make the end comfortable for Chris.

But Chris had made it through the worst, and it had taken repeated assurances and Josiah actually threatening Buck with bodily harm to finally get him to leave to eat and rest.

Vin hadn't left yet.

Vin had yet to really listen, either, doubt clearly written over his worried features as he hovered nearby. "But Nathan, he's--"

"Fine, Vin. He's gonna be just fine. Fine." Nathan assured him as he stood away from the bed, pleased when Vin finally nodded his head and looked like he actually believed what he'd heard.

Vin let the words sink slowly into his heart and begin to mend the pain there. After a quick glance over his shoulder to Nathan working studiously at his table, his back toward the bed, he turned and bent close to his Chris's ear. He knew he was taking a chance Nathan would turn, but he was feeling so much relief he couldn't resist. He let his lips sweep around Chris's ear before letting go words that barely parted the air, "I'll be here when you wake here always."

Nathan smiled at those hushed words, and then offered up some poor excuse to leave the small room, giving Vin and Chris some well-overdue privacy. He knew the lay of that land. Vin hadn't realized, and Nathan would never let on, but it hadn't been hard to see there was something more than deep friendship twining those two together.

He stretched the small of his back as he stood near the rail outside the small clinic, surveying the town and inhaling the night air into his lungs. Buck gave a quick wave from across the street, heading over to sit with Chris again. Nathan returned the gesture with a grin.

I done all I can...and it was enough.

He woke again, panicked.

Something was wrong.

He thought for a minute, staring up with wide eyes, the rafters of the ceiling come into murky view, and slowly remembered where he was. Clinic. And why. Shot. Not that the pain through his chest would likely let him forget.

But now, something else was wrong.

He remembered Buck sitting with him. Remembered talking to Buck, then realized he must've dozed off for a bit...and now had awakened to a new hurt.

The pain in his chest had lessened and he could breathe easier, but there was something seriously wrong with his arm. It was dead weight. Heavy, thick pressure squeezed his forearm, numbing and filling it with pins and needles coarsing from fingers to shoulder. And no matter how hard he tried to move it, he couldn't. With an inhale and agonizing heave that left him wishing he hadn't, he tried to sit. Bright shooting stars soared before him and his head reeled from the small effort.


A warm voice and reassuring hand helped shift him back against the pillows. His eyes blinked repeatedly as made the adjustment to the dark of the room, just enough candlelight to faintly make out familiar objects. The bed. Nathan's bookshelves.

A floating head.


"In the flesh. Y' okay there, pard?" Buck leaned in from where he crouched on the floor, head level with Chris's.

He shook his head. "My arm. Something--"

Buck grinned and gestured with his chin. "Something all right."

Chris followed his line of sight and half-grinned himself at the mass of hair covering the better part of his forearm. "How long's he been there?"

Not long enough, Buck thought. "By the way you're hurtin', I'm guessin' too long," he said and moved around the bed to move Vin but Chris held up a staying hand.

"Don't. It's okay. You'll wake him up."

"He's up." The hair moved and the head groggily lifted to reveal Vin's face, looking not just a little bleary. He sat back quickly, embarrassed to find he'd been sleeping using Chris's arm as a pillow. "Sorry."

"You look like hell, Tanner."

Vin smirked. "Aw, hell. And here I was thinkin' how downright purty you looked." His eyes took in the pale form of Chris. As ass-draggin' awful as the man appeared, Vin couldn't tear his eyes away. "You feelin' better?"

Chris studied Vin's face through the shadows: the heavy growth of whiskers, the tired features clearly showing a measurable lack of sleep, the exact clothes he remembered Vin wearing some days ago, though with Vin that wasn't always out of the ordinary. Still, the man looked worn out. Because of him. "Hurt some. Not as bad. Guess I'll live."

Vin's eyes closed briefly, then he nodded once and smiled into Chris's sleepy eyes. "Yep. Guess you will."

Buck shook his head at the words, wondering if Chris even realized how close a call it had been. How worried they had all been. He watched the two of them for a minute, still somewhat amazed he hadn't picked up earlier on their...whatever it was. Then again, it wasn't a surprise he hadn't figured it out before, considering they were two of the most private and silent men he'd ever known. Must be a shit-boat load of quiet when they were together.

With that thought he made his exit, figuring it better not to dwell on things weren't any of his business. Better to not dwell at all, really, 'specially when two of the best looking men he'd ever known were involved. Together...

Chris's eyes opened and swept the room as a small gust of air ruffled the bedclothes and knew he'd drifted off again. "Buck just leave?"

Vin nodded. "Yeah. Was sayin' something 'bout needin' a cold drink an' rushed out." He studied Chris and wondered if he should mention his thoughts. "Buck, I think he..."

Chris was feeling tired, hadn't been able to keep his eyes open for any amount of time and he was about to lose that battle once again. His eyes lingered over Vin's face. In the dark of the room, Vin's eyes were round, dark and wide open, their blue turning midnight. He found himself staring and realized Vin had been speaking to him. He nodded in return, his head grinding into the back of the pillow. "Buck knows. He told me."

That got Vin sitting up straight. "He told you?"

Chris blinked hard. Tired. "He's okay with it, Vin. With us." He watched Vin, knowing they'd never really talked about what was happening the last few weeks between them. As if talking was ever on their minds when they found themselves alone, together. "You okay with that?"

Vin thought about it. "Surprised, is all." He studied the thread weaving in and out of the quilt's fabric. Tiny little stitches. With a sudden thought he snapped eyes up to Chris. "You okay with Buck knowin'? You okay with that?" It hadn't occurred to him what Chris might think of Buck finding out about this thing between them.

Chris laughed, then coughed hard when the movement pulled at his chest. Vin was at his side in an instant, hands soothing and not as hesitant and unsure as Buck had told him Vin had been earlier. He offered him water and Chris drank deeply. "I'm okay."

Vin sat back, thoughts running through his head. Buck told Chris, which meant he'd seen something. Which could only have come from him. He shook his head. "I'm sorry, Chris. Guess I must 'a' let on somehow 'bout us and all when we thought you was -- shit. I'm real sorry."

Chris reached for him, fingers just brushing at Vin's sleeve. "Don't gotta worry 'bout it, Vin. He's okay with it. I'm okay with it. Buck ain't gonna say nothin' to anyone, anyway. Hell, you know how he was raised and what his mama did for a livin'. Guarantee he's seen a whole lot stranger than you 'n' me." He eyed the tired, dirt-smudged, sorely in need of a shave even for Vin face before him and chuckled. "That is, whole lot stranger than me, anyway." He cocked his head and grinned. "Not so sure 'bout the likes of you."

Vin's eyes narrowed. "Hell. Just back from the dead and yer insultin' me already."

"Only 'cause I love ya," Chris mumbled softly, fading fast. He cracked open an eye. "Y' okay with that?" His eyes closed as his body pulled him into a healing sleep.

Vin sat back in his chair, suprised as all hell, the unexpected words warmly filling the recently vacated hole in his heart. His hand drifted over the quilt and gently held onto Chris's. "Yeah, Larabee. I'm okay with that."