Chris Larabee scowled as he glanced around the saloon. The place left much to be desired, and it was almost guaranteed that the whiskey would be watered down. Still, if that was all that was available, it would have to do. He made his way over to the bar, not even noticing when some of the other patrons moved to get out of his way. An aura of menace seemed to hang about the man dressed all in black, and no one wanted to get too close. Of course, Chris preferred it that way. He'd no more than paid for his bottle when a stray shot from outside smashed it to bits. With just a glare, Chris demanded another one, and the bartender decided not to argue. His life was worth more than a cheap bottle of whiskey.

This time, Chris snatched the bottle up and strode for the exit, ignoring the bullets still flying around him. Leaning back against the building, he watched without interest as a gang of unruly men, miners from Haven most likely, judging by their clothes and manner, caused a ruckus at the opposite end of the street. Figuring it was none of his concern, he took a swig of whiskey and glanced around. And that's when he saw him. For the first time in too many years, Chris felt something stir deep in his chest. There was no reason for it he could see. Hell, the other man wasn't even looking his way, he was staring at the commotion down the street. And then he turned and looked directly at Chris, and Chris felt like he'd been punched in the gut. Dark blue eyes stared right through him, and it was all Chris could do not to glance away from the searching gaze. And then the man tilted his head down the street, and Chris nodded. Guess it was his business after all.

Vin felt a shiver of awareness spread through him, and he shifted his attention from the miners to the man standing outside the saloon. Sharp green eyes were studying him intently, and Vin returned the regard. This man was not from around here. Vin could feel the intense emotions that radiated from the man, but he didn't detect any malice... not directed toward him, anyway. He could have stood there all day staring at the mysterious man in black, but the increasingly frightened and frantic feelings from the man the miners had caught prompted him into action. With a tilt of his head, he silently asked if the man in black would help and received an affirmative answer. His lips quirked in a half smile. It had been some time since he'd had anyone at his side during a fight. It would be a welcome change.

The two met in the street, falling into step as though they'd known each other all their lives. And in some ways, it certainly felt as if they had. For Vin, the other man's presence almost seemed to work as a shield around his battered psyche. Rather than the discordant, and often times painful, thoughts and feelings he received from other people, this man's mind seemed to flow in synch with his own. He felt himself relax a bit as they made their way down the street. With this man at his side, he felt that things were definitely looking up.

As they got closer, Chris could see that the man the miners were stringing up was none other than his own ship's doctor, Nathan Jackson. Raising his voice just enough to be heard, he ground out, "You're going to be wanting to let that man go."

Vin caught the subtle change in the man and flashed him a quick look out of the corner of his eye. Suddenly, this fight had become personal for the other man. Rapid images of the man in black and the man currently being dragged over to a handy tree flashed through his mind, and he understood that they knew each other. Yep. Personal all right. He gripped his gun a little tighter. He could feel the tension rising in the air. Just a few more seconds and all hell was going to break loose...

"He killed one of our men, and now he's gotta pay," one of the miners called out as he hauled on the rope and jerked Nathan up into the air.

That was all it took. In an instant, the air was once more filled with flying bullets. Without thought, Vin allowed himself to slip into the empty space that existed within his mind...

Afterwards, Chris would never be able to recall exactly what had happened. To him, it seemed that one moment he was drawing and firing against a much larger number of enemies... seemed like old times... and the next, all the miners were dead, and Nathan was on the ground, struggling to breathe. He spared just a moment to check on the man who had accompanied him and, seeing that he was still standing, moved quickly to aid Nathan. Taking out his knive, he quickly cut through the noose around the other man's neck. "You all right?" he asked.

Nathan wheezed a bit, but nodded. "Think so," he managed to gasp out. "Who's your friend?" he asked, looking past Chris shoulder at the man who'd managed to shoot the rope hanging him from the tree... as well as most of the miners. Then, he saw one of the remaining miners sneaking up on the silent man. Before he could shout a warning, however, the man's gun had risen and fired and returned without him even turning around.

At the sound of the shot, Chris whipped around, but it didn't even appear as if the man had moved. Shaking his head as he helped Nathan to his feet, he finally responded, "Don't know, but I aim to find out."

Striding over with Nathan right behind him, Chris held out his hand. "Chris Larabee," he stated.

Vin blinked as the words entered his consciousness and then looked up to find the man in black... Chris... standing right in front of him. After the briefest of pauses, he said, "Vin. Tanner." and reached out to take the proffered hand. As soon as their hands clasped, Vin found himself lost in thoughts and emotions not his own. Memories surged through him, and he was swept away with the tide.

His father beamed down at him with pride. 'Good job, Chris.'

'Ha, ol' barebacked Larabee strikes again!' a tall, dark haired young man with sparkling blue eyes crowed, and then laughed heartily, thumping him on the back.

A young woman with dark auburn curls smiled at him and he felt himself become a better man.

He held the small, precious life in his hands... His son... he had a son!

The memories came faster and faster, images of battles during the war, the rage and grief when he returned home to find his land razed and his wife and child dead, the finding of a Firefly ship... It was too much too fast--a man's whole life in just a few seconds, and Vin's mind simply shut down.

Nathan swore as Vin's eyes rolled up into his head and the man collapsed. Before he could move, however, Chris had already grabbed him and eased him carefully down to the ground. "He hit?" he asked, knealing down beside them.

"Don't think so," Chris stated quietly. He shook his head. For just an instant, he'd felt as if he'd been inside the other man's soul. He'd felt the loneliness and bone-deep weariness, but there was more... he'd also felt a connection. Removing Vin's hat, he carefully brushed away the soft brown curls so he could get a better look at the man's face.

Next to him, Nathan snorted. "Hell, he can't hardly be old enough to shave!" he exclaimed. He muttered under his breath as he checked for injuries, breathing out a sigh of relief when he didn't find any.

"Well?" Chris asked.

Nathan shrugged. "No wounds, but he looks like he ain't eaten in days."

Looking back down at the too young face, Chris made a decision that he was almost certain he was going to regret. "Let's take him back to the ship. I'm sure someone'll be coming 'round here before too long, and I don't want us to be here when they do."

Nodding, Nathan easily lifted the younger man in his arms. At Chris' questioning look, he responded, "Better if you have your hands free. Don't know if those miners had friends."

Chris couldn't argue with that, but couldn't help but feel a stab of disappointment that he wasn't the one holding Vin in his arms. Changing the subject, he asked, "So, just what was it those boys had against you, anyway?"

"I couldn't save a friend of theirs. It was just too late. The man was barely breathing by the time I looked at him, and his wound was badly infected. Best guess is that he had left it too long before seeking help, and his friends were too drunk to find it for him," Nathan explained. "Did all I could... but it wasn't much."

Chris nodded. "Can't save 'em all."

Thinking about the carnage they'd left behind them, Nathan commented, "Think you boys did more killin' than savin'"

"They had it comin'. Would you rather still be swingin'?" Chris asked.

"Nope." Nathan glanced down at the unconscious form in his arms. "I ain't never seen anything like it before... and that last one--he didn't even turn around and managed to nail the miner right between the eyes."

"Yeah..." Chris sighed wearily, rubbing the bridge of his nose.

"You sure you want to bring him aboard Deliverance? I've heard rumors about... people like him," Nathan said.

Chris snorted at that. During the war, they'd all heard the rumors. People disappearing so that the Alliance could run experiments on them, prisoners of war never returned, youngsters sold by desperate parents... Rumors of Alliance assassins who could a kill man before he even knew they were there, murder with a thought, or... able to kill quickly and cleanly without even looking. "Seems to me, it was him that saved your life," Chris stated. "And if he'd wanted us dead, I think we would be already."

"I didn't mean it that way... but if he is one of those... projects, then there's no tellin' how stable he is. There's whispers that reavers are a result of an Alliance experiment gone wrong," Nathan explained.

Chris stopped. "Nathan, are you telling me you don't trust my judgment? You want to stay here rather than travel with Vin?"

"No, no, just making sure you've considered the possible consequences," Nathan reassured him. "'Sides, I ain't never seen no reaver save someone's life before."

Staring hard at the healer, Chris finally nodded. "I'm sure I'll hear it from Buck, too. 'Specially since I get the feeling Vin here won't be a paying passenger."

At that, Nathan grinned. "Ha! It's Ezra that'll complain about that, even though it shouldn't concern him, in any case."

"If he knows what's good for him, he'll mind his own business," Chris growled.

Nathan gave him a knowing look and smirked.

Chris sighed. "Yeah..."


"Captain!" JD exclaimed as they walked up the ramp into the ship. "I got us a passenger!" JD was practically vibrating with excitement.

Chris raised an eyebrow. "Well, I hope he's on board. We're lifting off. Buck here?"

JD blinked. "Uhh... yeah, I think so... but Ezra's in that high stakes game..."

"Ezra has his shuttle. He can meet us in orbit or we'll come back for him later," Chris stated, never breaking stride.

"Who's that?" JD asked as he finally noticed that Nathan was carrying someone inside.

"Vin Tanner."

The two men then separated, Nathan continuing on to the infirmary while Chris headed up to the bridge. JD stood there for a moment, undecided, then belatedly ran up the stairs. He knew he'd get nothing more from the captain, but if Buck was on the bridge, he might still find out what was going on.


Nathan placed Vin on the examination bed with a relieved sigh. "You might not look like much, but after awhile, you sure do get heavy," he muttered. He removed the dusty cavalry style hat first, revealing brown curls that fell about to Vin's shoulders. Next came the long browncoat, and he tched to see it in such threadbare condition. Keeping an eye on Vin's face, he finally removed the gun belt. He'd seen what the younger man could do with that gun and would rather not have such skill set against him. When he was done, he carefully folded up the coat, piled the gun belt and hat on top, and placed them in a corner. They were out of Vin's immediate reach, but still in sight. "Now let's just see what the problem is..." he murmured as he began his examination.

Chris hadn't wasted any time getting them into orbit and had just set the autopilot to keep them hidden behind one of {name of planet}'s moons when Buck wandered onto the bridge. JD, who had been watching silently, immediately perked up.

"Hey, Buck," he exclaimed.

"JD. Chris. What's goin' on? Thought we were gonna be on planet 'til Ezra finished his game?" Buck asked.

"Change of plans. Nathan ran into some trouble with the locals," Chris said, eyeing the readout screen carefully to be sure no one seemed to be coming after them.

"Nathan?" Buck whistled. "Never woulda guessed he'd cause any trouble."

"He didn't. Some drunk miners decided he was to blame for the death of one of their friends--Nathan said there wasn't anything he could do."

"Nate OK?" Buck asked.

"Yeah, some rope burn around his neck, but that's all. I..." Chris cut off as he suddenly had the feeling that he needed to be somewhere.

"Chris?" Buck asked, looking at his friend in concern.

"Captain, I need you in the infirmary," Nathan's voice came over the intercom. His tone wasn't panicky, but it was clear he was making an effort to keep his voice low and calm.

"Tell him I'm on my way," Chris said as he ran for the stairs.

Buck stared after him in confusion. "Why would Nate need Chris?"

"Maybe Vin is hurt worse than they thought," JD offered.

"Vin? Who's Vin?"

"Vin Tanner. Nathan carried him in when he and Chris got back," JD said.

Buck raised his eyebrows. "Why don't you stay here and keep an eye on the readout screen. I'm going to go see what's going on," he said and headed out after Chris.


Vin stared about him in horror. Somehow, they had captured him again. That was the only explanation he could come up with that accounted for why he was naked in an examination room. Someone was speaking to him, and he caught a few flashes that didn't mesh with the scenario he was envisioning, but he couldn't get past his fear to figure it out. Instead, he kept finding himself back in the past when they had been experimenting on him. Whimpering, he whipped his head back and forth, seeking the exit. There was only the one, and there was someone blocking it. He had just about decided to go for it anyway when he felt it. A strong presence that resonated deep within him, and he looked up to find another person standing in the doorway. 'Chris!'

Noticing Vin's attention had become focused behind him, Nate risked a quick look back and was relieved to see Chris standing there, his eyes directed toward Vin. "He came to and just freaked out. I'm not sure he remembers who I am," Nathan explained.

"It's not you, it's the room," Chris said, frowning. "Move to the side so he has a clear path out."

Nathan's brows drew together, but he did as requested. Immediately, Vin made a beeline for the door... and Chris.

Not even stopping to think about it, Chris opened his arms and caught the young man, automatically soothing him. "Shhh... It's all right now. You're safe. No one's going to hurt you," he murmured in a low, calming voice. He could feel Vin trembling and was grateful when Nathan approached with a blanket.

Vin jerked a bit when he felt the contact, but didn't look up from where he had buried his head in Chris' shoulder. Here, he had found safety and comfort. And, as Chris' arms wrapped around him, he felt protected in a way that he hadn't since the death of his mother when he was just five years old.

"What the hell is going on?" a loud voice boomed, and Vin froze. He was about to extricate himself from Chris in order to face the new threat when Chris' arms tightened.

"No, it's OK. No danger. It's just Buck," Chris said quietly.

Raising his head slightly, Vin peeked up at Chris. Warm green eyes looked back down at him, and Chris smiled slightly.

"What do you mean, 'It's just Buck?'" Buck exclaimed. "There's no 'just' about me," he protested.

Ignoring his old friend, Chris kept his attention on Vin. "What say we go to my cabin. Would that be all right?" he asked. For some reason, the infirmary was starting to make him feel a tad bit nervous, and he frowned. Immediately, Vin looked down, staring at Chris' chest rather than his face.

"Sorry," Vin whispered.

Chris stared down at the bent head, not understanding why Vin had apologized. And then he felt a warmth inside that he hadn't even realized was there start to pull away, and he instinctively reached for it. And that's when he knew. "It's you," he whispered.

Vin nodded.

"C'mon, let's get out of the corridor. Nate, is he OK?" Chris asked.

"Pretty much. Mostly needs food and rest. I didn't find any wounds..." Nathan trailed off as it became clear that Chris had stopped listening and was already leading Vin away. "I'll just get his things," he muttered.

Buck stared after the slowly moving pair, his brow furrowed in confusion. He hadn't seen Chris be that demonstrative with anyone since...

"Here, make yourself useful," Nathan said, thrusting Vin's clothes and gunbelt into Buck's arms.

"Who is he, Nathan?" Buck asked.

"Said he was Vin Tanner. All I know is that he took out the majority of those miners that were lookin' to string me up... and shot the rope that was killin' me. Never seen anything like it," Nathan said, shaking his head. "But from the scars I saw on that boy's body, I'd say he's had a time of it. Not sure I want to know all the particulars."

Chewing on his mustache thoughtfully, Buck started after his friend and the newcomer. He'd hoped Chris would put the other man to bed and come out, but no such luck. Instead, after he knocked on the door, Chris snatched the bundle out of his hands with a brief 'thanks' and shut the door in his face. "Hnnh..." Buck vocalized his frustration and then made himself turn around. He knew Chris well enough to know that he wouldn't get anything out of the man until he was ready to talk--and that obviously wasn't right now.


Chris placed Vin's things on the floor next to his bunk. Already slumped into one corner against the wall, Vin blinked up at him sleepily, and he was relieved to see that the younger man's color had already improved. "Feelin' better?" he asked quietly.

Vin nodded. "Sorry. Bad memories," he rasped and then shivered a bit, clutching the blanket tighter around him.

"Yeah, I know all about those," Chris said.

"Chris... you shouldna brought me here. Dangerous," Vin said, moving as if to get up.

"Uh uh, Tanner. You stay right there. Way you look now, I don't think you'd even make it off the ship. And if you did, there's nothing but cold, airless space," Chris said.

Vin's eyes widened at that, but now that he wasn't lost in the terror of his past, he could sense it. He shook his head, looking down at his lap. "You need to dump me somewhere... sooner the better."

Chris sat down on the bed. Using his finger, he pulled Vin's chin up so he could look him in the eyes. "No. I'm not sure what exactly's going on here, but I do know one thing--I'm not letting you go," he stated firmly.

Staring into fierce green eyes, Vin knew Chris meant what he said, and he felt a pleasant warmth run through him as he flushed. "You don't know..."

Before he could finish the sentence, Chris leaned closer and pressed his lips against Vin's. At first, Vin froze and didn't respond, but then his lips softened and he pressed back urgently. Finally, needing breath, Chris sat back, staring at Vin as if mesmerized. "Damn," he whispered.

Vin offered a lopsided grin and nodded. "'Bout right, cowboy."

Chris scowled. "Don't call me cowboy."

Vin's grin widened and a mischievous twinkle appeared in his eye. "Well, it's not as bad as some things you've been called... Bareback Larabee," he drawled.

Stunned, Chris could only gape at the other man for a minute and then he lunged, pressing Vin down onto the bed. "Now where did you hear that?" he asked as he straddled Vin's legs and held down Vin's arms, not forcefully, but with just enough pressure to keep the younger man in place.

"Are you sure you really want to know?" Vin asked, turning suddenly serious. His blue eyes were dark, appearing almost black as he gazed up at Chris.

Almost losing himself in that gaze, Chris slowly nodded. He already had a pretty good idea, but he wanted to hear what Vin had to say.

Vin looked down, breaking the connection. "I always had... feelings... I guess you could call 'em. Helped keep me alive during the war. But now..." Vin shivered. "They did something to me... to my brain... and I can't always control it."

Chris had no doubt about who "they" were, but he still wanted confirmation. "The Alliance?" He received a sharp nod in reply.

"Picked me up on ??Planet?? after the Battle on Serenity. Supposedly, all the prisoners were released." Vin shook his head. "Not true. Some of us, those with no one looking for us, and especially those that did well on their... tests... They kept us. Did stuff to us..." He trailed off and then finally glanced back up at Chris. 'They want me back.'

It took a moment for Chris to realize that Vin hadn't actually spoken the last few words. The other man's mouth hadn't moved, but he had heard the words clearly.

'That's right. It ain't never been this way before. You're the first to hear me... and the first I ever got so close to. When you touched me, I... I got lost in you... for a little while, anyway. Can't really expain...' Vin dropped his eyes again.

"Hey," Chris said, releasing one of Vin's arms so he could raise the other man's chin again. "It's OK. We'll figure it out." 'And they won't get you back,' he promised silently.

Vin smiled up at him shyly.

"Right now, though, maybe you want to clean up a bit? I hate to mention it, but you're a bit ripe," Chris teased gently.

Vin blushed, ducking his head, but he nodded. He wasn't exactly sure when the last time he'd been clean had been. His stomach chose that moment to growl noisily and his blush deepened. Or when his last meal had been, either.

Cocking an eyebrow, Chris grinned. "Guess I know what we're doing after that."


Chris had been happily surprised to find fresh fruit in the galley once he and Vin had managed to wash off the grime. Currently, Vin was dressed in some of Chris' spare clothes, and they only accentuated how thin the younger man was. Tossing an apple over his shoulder, he advised, "Start with this while I find something a bit more filling."

Easily catching the fruit, Vin wasted no time in sinking his teeth into it, smiling as the tart taste made his tongue tingle. 'Good!'

Chuckling, Chris turned to catch a glimpse of the bliss on the other man's face. At that moment, Vin looked about twelve years old.

"So, what sounds good? Meat in a can or... meat in a can," he asked as he perused the cupboards, frowning. Other than the fruit, it appeared that no one had bothered to get supplies while planet-side. Of course, now that he thought about it, Nathan had insisted upon doing it this time, as the medic thought the others didn't choose food with enough nutrition in it. And, as Nathan had been unavoidably detained, there had been no time for food shopping.

"Not picky," Vin stated.

"Wouldn't know it from looking at you," Chris teased, but he grabbed one of the cans and then went in search of the opener.

"Ooh, Chris, are you makin' some grub?" Buck boomed as he entered the galley, rubbing his hands together. "Gonna make enough for the rest of us, too? I know I could eat."

At the appearance of the large, dark-haired man, Vin moved silently back into the shadows. He didn't sense any maliciousness, but it was best to be careful. 'Buck,' the name came to him from Chris' memories. He was Chris' friend, but that didn't mean he was going to be Vin's, as well.

"You can make your own, not that there's much here. We need supplies," Chris stated, not even looking up as he rummaged for the can opener.

"Least you could do is introduce me to your new friend," Buck prompted, his eyebrows hopping as he glanced over at Vin.

"Buck, Vin. Vin, Buck," Chris said, and then pulled out the can opener. "Found it!"

"So... Vin... from around here?" Buck asked, when no other information was forthcoming.

Vin shook his head, his eyes darting toward the door.

"No need for that, Buck's harmless. He's just going to sit over there at the table until our food's done, aren't you, Buck?" Chris stated, his voice the velvet over steel it became when he was determined things were going to go his way.

"Uh... sure, I'll just be sitting over here," Buck said, moving to the table. He wasn't sure what exactly was going on between Chris and this Vin character, but he knew better than to argue when Chris sounded like that.

Buck had no more than sat down when another man appeared in the doorway--a very large, unkown man. Chris' head came up and he scowled, eyes narrowing. He was just about to demand to know who the hell the guy was and what he was doing on his ship when Buck spoke up.

"Oh, hey, Josiah. Chris, this is our passenger, Josiah Sanchez. Josiah, the mean looking one is Chris Larabee, the captain of Deliverance, and his shadow back there is Vin. Chris, Josiah brought the fresh fruit."

Chris continued his study of Josiah for a few more seconds and then nodded. "Obliged. Hope you enjoy your stay." He dumped the warmed up stew like substance into a bowl and headed for the door, Vin right behind him.

Josiah, an excellent judge of character, moved out of the way. "Thank you, Captain," he murmured, watching the two men proceed down the hall with interest.


JD's eyes widened as he read the reward offered for one Vin Tanner. None of the crew of the Deliverance had much use for the Alliance, but JD wasn't sure how felt that such a wanted and, from the description, dangerous fugitive being on board. He was sure the captain couldn't know, and he was determined to warn Chris. He'd just got up and headed off the bridge when he almost ran into Buck.

"Hold up, there, JD. Where you going in such an all-fired hurry?" Buck asked. Damn, but everyone seemed to have taken leave of their senses on the ship today.

"Vin! I gotta tell the captain... Buck, he's dangerous!" JD stammered.

Buck's eyebrow's rose. Dangerous? "Why don't you back up a bit and tell me what's got you so spooked?"

Gesturing behind him at the comm, JD said, "I wanted to know who Vin was, so I did some investigating.. Buck, he's wanted by the Alliance. And they want him bad! The reward is $500,000 (??). And... and... it says he 'extremely dangerous' and 'not to be approached.' We gotta warn the captain."

JD moved as if to leave again, and Buck grabbed his arm. "I'm not sure that's such a good idea there, pard. Chris don't take kindly to being disturbed, and especially not with bad news about someone he's feeling a mite protective about..."


"Just let me think a bit... Sure, Chris needs to know, but you have to soften the blow a bit, not just blurt it out," Buck said.



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