Vin woke with the worst hangover he’d had in years.
Something foul had saw fit to die in his mouth and he smacked his lips, running his tongue along the roof of his mouth in a futile attempt to alleviate the worst of it. He told himself to lay completely still in the hope that the throbbing at his temples and behind his eyes would abate within a reasonable amount of time, but it was a frustrated patience when he couldn’t even be certain he and the others weren’t riding out today or whether he was meant to be on patrol.
Vin sighed and regretted even that, wincing and burrowing deeper into the sheets. The pillows had disappeared at some point and like hell he was gonna move around to look for them, so he clenched the sheets in his dry, blistered hands and swallowed repeatedly, cursing when he realized just how thirsty he was.
The creak of the door opening and Vin’s only thought was oh hell no, but apparently he wasn’t the only disgruntled one.
“Vin? What the hell ya doing in here?”
And then… A surprised Chris.
And then it hit him. Wait a minute… ‘m I in Chris’ room?
Vin jerked at the realization and immediately tried to maneuver himself upright. It was a miserable attempt and his unprepared body wasn’t having it, sending him right back down to the warm sheets and causing him to moan in protest. The drum beat in his head picked up too, from slow but hard to faster and harder. The most he could manage was to keep his eyes squeezed securely shut and to tell himself repeatedly: don’t puke on Chris’ sheets do not puke on Chris’ sheets or he will surely lose it.
A hand settled on his back, fingers curled a bit as if to pull him closer, and Vin had plenty of warning as he had managed to hear Chris’ boots move closer until they were right under his ear. That and he felt the dip in the bed to the right of him. “I’m gonna take your jacket off, that okay?”
Vin tipped his head up, not trusting himself to speak and not knowing what the hell would come out if he tried. Chris didn’t seem to mind, and Vin lifted his arms as best he could as the jacket was worked off him. Chris worked on his boots next, which Vin hadn’t realized he’d left on last night. The tracker just laid there, supposed he was waiting for Chris to kick him out of his bed, but here Larabee was doing everything possible to make him more comfortable.
Long minutes passed during which Vin’s headache seemed to abate some, but as soon as he could start thinking clearer he started thinking about things he really didn’t want to be thinking about. Like how the hell he’d managed to stumble into Chris’ room last night, and where Chris had been while Vin had been too busy drinking to watch where he was heading. That last one was accompanied by a sinking heart, because the only answer to that question was drinking.
Well before Vin had picked up a bottle of his own, he’d known the melancholic and solitary mood Chris had been in. Regardless, he still should have hung around the saloon to keep an eye on him. The reason why he hadn’t was that when Chris was in a heavy drinking mood he always left him be, figuring it was for the best if he stayed away.
“Quit thinkin,’ Vin,” Chris scolded, smoothing a thumb over the space between the tracker’s brows. Vin flinched at the unexpected touch but Chris didn’t pull away; he knew it had been an involuntary response and not his way of saying he didn’t want Chris touching him.
He had been thinking of Chris last night, even more so when he had found him in the saloon getting an early start on drinking, and even more than that when he picked up a bottle, headed off and went to work on it. With every pull from the bottle he had hoped his thoughts would veer away from the topic of Chris Larabee, but if anything they got pervasive and painful. Chris was no doubt thinking about Sarah and his boy, and Vin was elsewhere and leaving Chris be, but thinking of nothing else but him.
What a sad, sorry man he had become.
Chris rejected that, thumb smoothing over that space again and then resting there, calming Vin’s headache down from raging waves to gentle laps onto a chilled shore. He exhaled contentedly and cracked open his eyes, realizing within the space of a moment that this definitely wasn’t his room. He sighed in frustration at himself and Chris smiled down at him, and not once had it occurred to Vin before that this whole situation might actually amuse Chris instead of making him furious.
The man was blocking the light streaming in from the window too, and Vin saw him as heaven sent for that small relief alone. “Should thank you for keepin’ my bed warm for me.”
Well, it certainly was warm.
“Crawled in here las’ night jus’ ta keep it warm fer ya,” Vin agreed, almost blushing under Chris’ good mood.
Chris chuckled and moved his thumb in small circles, the alteration a touch more soothing than the prior vertical motion. Vin relaxed further, no longer feeling the urgency to man the hell up and get out of his friend’s bed as soon as possible. He just hoped Chris wasn’t expecting answers, ‘cause he wasn’t getting any.
“I ever told you Sarah would do this for me when I came home drunk?”
Vin just stared up at him, Chris’ gaze averted and locked on something behind Vin’s head. He wondered if it would piss the man off if he moved into a position where he could better talk out of common courtesy, though Chris had never needed him to step out of his comfort zone and make forced conversation before. Maybe that’s what drew Vin so easily to him, like being with Chris was the most natural thing in the world.
He was always interested in Chris’ stories though, especially ‘cause he never tended to share them. “It wasn’t often after Adam was born, but every once in a while it’d happen, and she would just sit next to me in bed and give me that look, that one look that could shut me up in half a second. But she always did this, it was her own way of telling me she still loved me no matter what form I came back in.”
“Sounds like a mighty forgivin’ woman.”
Chris nodded, eyes misting. “She sure was. I’ll never forget that, never forget how soft her fingers were. How cold they were too. You know, after she… well, Buck would never leave me be, especially when I started drinking. He’d always try to pull me out of the bottle, get me thinkin’ about something else, but it got to be too much after a while and I started cracking ‘till I ran him off with a shotgun. That was when I really hit bottom, when Buck wasn’t there anymore. And everyone after that always wanted in on my business, but they backed off soon enough, that’s the way it has to be. Except you, Vin. You’re the only one I met that doesn’t want to pry. Hell, you ain’t never even around when I start thinking about them. I hope that ain’t me pushing you away, Vin. ‘Cause that’s the last thing I want, alright?”
There were plenty of things Vin could probably say, explanations that might put Chris’ heavy heart at ease, but the two of them didn’t really need to say anything at all when one boiled right down to it. They had already felt it in the heat-soaked air encasing them, in how they held themselves and all the words their gazes conveyed. Despite knowing Chris for such a relatively short period of time, Vin could see the world etched on his features and he knew the man.
Their rivers ran the same course, hearts beat in tandem, souls clicked into place whenever they were in the same space. Gravity pushed them together and kept them tied and aching, but it was a comfortable ache, the ache for more.
Chris knew he wasn’t pushing Vin away, knew he never could because Vin might as well have been stitched to him, and those stitches weren’t never coming out. And Vin could no sooner tear Chris out of him either. Chris just had to say it, had to say it because some words were meant to be preached and preached until they were never forgotten.
He laid down next to Vin on the bed, arm settled over the tracker’s with what felt like familiar ease. With the window no longer blocked, Vin shut his eyes before more damage could be done, but after a minute he experimentally opened them and found he could adjust to the rising sun more easily than before.
Chris Larabee seemed a pretty forgiving man too.