“No!” Chris snapped, stamping dirty grey snow and plant matter from the soles of his boots as he pushed through the doorway.
“How 'bout you just listen?” Said Vin from behind him.
Vin's voice was quiet and smooth, as smooth as Tennessee whiskey, and that alone was a portent if ever there was one.
Because this was Vin.
So, no need to look over his shoulder, because he could see Vin in his disgruntled mind's eye.
He knew that Vin would have on that expression.
The one he kept by for this type of occasion.
It was almost a foregone conclusion.
“There's no point in listenin',” he muttered, shouldering forward. He made to slam the door behind him but was a second too late. Vin was right on his heels and had closed it already.
Of course he had. Damn him.
He shrugged off his thick woollen coat as he marched across the room, flung his gun belt on the table and tossed his hat at the hook on the wall.
And then he rounded on Vin, nearly taking a spill as the heel of his boot slipped on a long patchy trail of slimy green and white sludge.
“No gifts...” he said, brusquely, and kicked the mess to one side, his mouth set in a hard stubborn line. “Damn it! you know how I feel abou ---”
“Sure...” Vin blinked as he took in the sight. “Sure, I know how you feel.” He unwound his scarf and watched as it coiled in a heap on the seat of the chair. He dropped his gloves down beside it and blew on his fingers. Then he took off his battered old stetson and regarded his friend with a steady blue gaze.
“But by rights, this ain't really a gift...” He tipped his head to one side and paused to scratch at his scalp. “Well, it is and it isn't.”
“What the hell does that mean?” Chris demanded. He frowned down at his cuffs as he spoke – his soaking wet cuffs - unbuttoning each one in turn with abrupt, jerky movements.
Then he rolled up his sleeves.
“What it means..” Vin took a prudent step back. “Is it's a little of both.”
At Chris's fierce upward glance he gave a lopsided smile and went on, but more earnestly now. “See, friend, this is different...” He waved his fingers between them. “...This is for us. Somethin' both of us need.” His voice took on a more intimate note as he warmed to his subject. “For Summer and Springtime, Winter and Fall...”
What the hell was Vin doing?
Chris did not understand what his partner was saying.
And he hated surprises.
So this had to end. And it had to end now.
“Vin,” he started, coldly intent, but once again he was seconds too late. Because now, with a low, sweeping bow, Vin was opening the door to their bedroom.
Chris speared him with a grim, speaking glance and stepped over the threshold.
And stopped dead in his tracks.
There wasn't one single thing he could say. Not to something like this.
Because the damned thing was perfect.
He turned back, open-mouthed to find Vin at his shoulder, and the grin Vin wore now was so wide it looked set to leap right off his face.
“So,” said Chris slowly as he recovered his voice. “That 'meeting' of mine, back in town with the Sheriff...” He let the sentence trail off and he glared.
“Diversion,” Vin said and he shrugged. He might have colored a little, but his smile didn't waver at all. “Needed time to make it out to the railhead and high-tail it back here.”
“I see,” pronounced Chris, his tone devoid of emotion. “So I rode all that way just to find he'd been called out of town.”
Not a single muscle moved on his face.
“Sorry,” smirked Vin, but he was clearly unrepentant. He looked Chris up and down, his eyes twinkling. “Must've been dirty work out there, friend, chasin' all those wild geese.”
But when he leaned in to pat at a smear on his friend's windburnt cheek he sobered a little. “Tirin' too,” he allowed, close to contrite, as he took stock of his partner's fatigue.
Chris tried to sustain his forbidding demeanor, he really did try, but in the end he simply couldn't hold back. “Look at you,” he growled, roughly, mouth twitching in a fond little smile. He tugged at Vin's soiled bandana. Ran a finger down his muddy shirt front. “Reckon you need a wash.” And his dark molten gaze fixed itself on Vin's full lower lip.
Vin's brow instantly cleared.
“Reckon we both do,” he said, softly now. “Among other things.”
His thumb traveled down to Chris's unshaven jaw and as if of one mind, they turned back to admire their new treasure.
It was a beautiful thing, sitting there by the window, gleaming dully in the flickering light from the crackling fire. Their brand new, free-standing, hand-beaten, full-sized copper bathtub.
Vin's chuckle was warm now. Indulgent. “Good thing it's big enough for two.”
Chris's answering smile said it all. He ran a hand down Vin's arm. “Good thing we put in that windmill.”
“We've got some haulin' to do.”