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When he first road into this town he hadn't expected to still be here at Christmas but the first sign came when Mrs. Potter set up a small tree in her store, covered in strung popcorn and red ribbon in loops and bows. Chris had found no cause to celebrate since losing Sarah and Adam, finding it harder than usual round this time of year as he recalled days of frantic baking and preparation, of a house filled with the aroma of roasted pecans, cooked apple, and spices.

Mrs. Potter nodded to him. "Good day, Mr. Larabee."

Chris touched the brim of his hat respectfully, recalling he wasn't the only one who had lost a loved one. Mr. Potter had been killed in the Spring, and if she could be strong for her children at this time of year then he had no cause to dampen her spirits with his brooding nature.

As he waited for her to finish serving her other customer, Chris glanced around and paused when he spotted a blue bandanna that matched exactly the color of Vin's eyes. It was a strange thought but once it took hold of him Chris could not shake it, recalling the ratty red bandanna that had seen better days. He knew Vin wasn't the kind to accept charity or replace something he considered still fit for purpose, but he likely wouldn't refuse a small gift at Christmas time, so Chris picked up the bandanna. Mrs Potter raised her eyes slightly as she added up his purchases, casting her glance at his normal dark attire before smiling. He could tell she was curious, wanting to know if it was a gift for someone special but Chris figured she'd find out soon enough come Christmas.

Wanting to avoid any uncomfortable overtures from the well-meaning, feisty and admittedly beautiful Mary Travis, Chris rode out of town on Christmas Eve, not surprised when Vin turned up at his shack several hours later. He smoked on his cheroot thoughtfully as he watched Vin dismount and see to his horse before taking off his slouch hat and using it to slap the trail dust from his clothing.

"Figured you ain't one for celebrating," Vin murmured as he followed Chris inside, hanging up his hat and coat next to Chris's.

Chris snorted softly as Vin straddled one of the two chairs set around a small table. He poured two bowls of the meat broth he'd prepared earlier and left on the potbelly stove to cook, offering Vin a thick chunk of the bread he'd picked up on his way out of town. They didn't talk much and yet it was a comfortable silence as if they'd known each other all their lives rather than under a year. Everything seemed easy with Vin, and had been since the day their eyes met across a dusty street.

They sat out on the porch until it grew too cold then retired for the night, stripping and climbing into the bed like it was nothing unusual for two men to be so intimate. Maybe that wasn't the case with most men but this wasn't the first time for them - hurried and needy out on the bluff the night before Colonel Anderson attacked Seminole village - and if their luck held out, maybe it wouldn't be the last time either.

Vin was a heavy sleeper when he was alone with Chris, and Chris took that as a compliment because Vin seemed to sleep with one eye open the rest of the time. It was a good hour passed dawn before he heard movement from inside the shack and Chris appreciated the freshly brewed coffee Vin brought out onto the porch and handed across to him. Once Vin had settled down on the top step next to him, Chris picked up a plainly wrapped package and dropped it into Vin's lap. He stared out across the dust to where both horses were standing pressed together, watching them from over the corral fence, standing shoulder to shoulder as if trying to mirror him and Vin.

The rustling of paper stopped and Chris cast a glance, catching a smile twisting Vin's lips in pleasure.

"Thanks, Cowboy."

Chris shook his head, letting Vin get away with calling him a cowboy once more... but no one else had that right.

"Happy Christmas," Vin added, and Chris was pleasantly startled when a small package was dropped into his lap, opening it to find two fat, expensive cheroots.

Vin was still smiling as he tied the bandanna round his neck... and it was the only item of clothing he was still wearing after Chris took him back to their warm bed just a few minutes later.

END