Dead Man Walking

by Winter

Chapter 7

Chris led Vin back to the recliner and made him sit. Buck looked pointedly at JD then jerked his head in Vin's direction. JD looked down at his feet and didn't know what to say.

"I'm sorry, Vin," he finally blurted.

"Me too," Vin said and JD looked at him.

"For what?" JD asked. "I was the one being a jerk. I know you were only following orders, but it's hard knowing your friend can just kill somebody."

"I know," Vin said. "Guess that's why ain't good with people."

"Mr. Tanner do you know our shooter?" Ezra asked.

"Yeah I know him," Vin sighed. "But he's supposed to be dead."

"Maybe you better start at the beginning," Josiah suggested.

"He's names Eli Joe," Vin stared. "His code name was Dragon."

"How do you know he's the shooter?" Nathan asked.

"From the shell casing," Vin answered. "Along the edge is an etching of a dragon. He puts it on all of them."

"I thought that was a mark from the manufacturer," JD said.

"So he left the casing to be found knowing that you would recognize them," Buck said.

"Vin is he after you?" Chris asked.

"If he had been I would have been dead at the ball park," Vin stated grimly.

"Do you know who he's after?" Josiah asked.

"Yeah," Vin said reaching inside his sling and pulling out a CD.

"Where did you get this?" Chris asked taking it from him.

"Called the only person who would know anything about him," Vin said.

"Your old commanding officer," Josiah guessed.

"Never thought I would have to call him again," Vin said as he leaned back with a grimace.

"Need your pain killers?" Nathan asked when he saw Vin's expression.

"No," Vin said. "They just put me to sleep and there's some things I gottta tell ya."

"You don't' have to tell us anything," Josiah said. "I think we get the picture."

"You don't know the half of it," Vin snorted. "Hope y'all didn't have plans tonight."

"I sure didn't," Buck smiled.

"Well we both went to sniper school together," Vin began. "Was the only schooling I was good at and graduated number one. Eli was second and I never realized he resented that I was first. We went our separate ways. Heard rumors that some of Eli's kills weren't clean. That he shot innocents by standers also. Didn't think much of it, happens sometimes. We were brought back together for a mission. It had been three since I'd seen him."

Vin stopped talking and they waited for him to gather his thoughts. The others knew Vin wasn't much of a talker especially him the subject was him. Chris could tell from Vin's eyes that he wasn't comfortable talking about this.

"Go on Vin," Chris prompted him knowing it had to be said.

"Or target was a Russian laborer who was stirring up trouble for the Russian government," Vin said. "The brass really wanted this guy because they sent me and Eli to get him. Finding the target was easy. I was lead and on my mark we fired. Only problem was Eli took out someone else. I hot who we were sent after and later found out the guy Eli shot was a high official in the Russian government."

"So Eli was a spy?" JD asked.

"More like an assassin," Vin said. "He'd kill anybody if the price was tight. Anyway he killed someone real important and left me to take the blame."

"How the hell did he do that?" Buck asked.

"Stupidity on my part," Vin laughed.

"Let em guess," Ezra said. "Since you thought he was a friend you turned your back on him and he knocked you out."

"You got it," Vin said squirming to get comfortable. "Woke up in a room no bigger than four feet by ten. It was cold, no windows and a single light bulb hanging from the ceiling."

"Gulag," Josiah said.

"I reckon," Vin shrugged and regretted it as the stitches pulled.

"I'm getting your pills," Nathan said.

"No!" Vin said. "I'm almost done."

"You don't have to finish tonight," Chris said.

"Yeah I do," Vin sighed. "Anyway the Russian government knew I wasn't the killer. See Eli took his gun with him and left me mine."

"Yeah, so?" JD asked.

"Snipers tend to use the same weapons over and over," Vin explained. "Back then Eli favored a Barrett while I liked the Remington 700."

"So if he had been smart he would have taken your gun and left his," Ezra said.

"But he didn't," Vin agreed. "The Russians were in a dilemma. They held me for three weeks while they negotiated with the US on how to handle it."

"They kept you in that small room for three weeks?" JD asked surprised.

"No you know why I don't like small places," Vin smiled. "It was decided I would be released if I went after Eli. The US agreed but the Russians needed to save face. They made it look like I escaped and a price was put on my head."

"Jesus, Vin!" Buck exclaimed. "It's not still active is it?"

"Only if I go to Russia," Vin said. "I don't plan on ever going back."

"What happened with Eli?" Chris asked.

"They let me go," Vin replied. "Except I wasn't alone. Their top sniper was sent with me. They wanted to make sure I got him. TO make a long story short we found Eli. I thought the Russian sniper killed him. I was wrong."

"Do you mean the Russian was working for someone else?" Nathan asked.

"I don't know," Vin said rubbing a hand across his eyes.

"That's it you're done," Nathan said when he saw how tired Vin was.

"No I have to see what's on that CD," Vin protested.

"It can wait until tomorrow," Chris said.

"The Colonel said all the information about who Eli was after was on that CD," Vin protested.

"It'll keep Vin," Chris said. "Let's go."

Chris helped Vin to his feet and brought him to JD's room. Nathan followed with Vin's meds and they got the sharpshooter settled. Nathan handed Vin some water and the pills and wouldn't take them. Chris just glared and Vin relented. Once he drank his fill Nathan left and Chris watched to make sure Vin didn't get up. He knew Vin was hurting more than he let on as he quickly fell asleep. When Chris was satisfied he wasn't going to wake he joined the others. Buck was on the couch looking worse for wear.

"Why don't you go to bed, Buck," Chris said.

"Think I will," he said. "Gonna come tuck me in to?"

"I'm not your type," Chris smiled. "Now Ezra on the other hand."

"Please, Mr. Larabee, I have better taste that that," Ezra said.

"Some friends you are," Buck smiled. "I'll see ya in the morning."

Nathan ended up helping Buck upstairs and into bed. He came back a few minutes later to find JD typing away at his computer. Nathan walked over and they got their first look at Eli Joe. He wasn't very attractive. He was a small man with lank brown hair. Eli had small beady eyes and a hawk nose.

"JD see if you can find out who his target is," Chris said.

"Right," JD said and typed in a commanded. "Here it is Chris."

JD opened the file and a picture of handsome young man appeared on the screen. His black hair was short and he sported a well-trimmed goatee. He tanned skin and eyes complimented his dark hair. JD typed some more and a name came up.

"Holy shit," JD exclaimed.

"Damn," Chris cursed.

"He's after Prince Mustafa," Nathan said in shock.

"What are we going to do, Chris?" Josiah asked. "We can't keep this information to ourselves."

"Mr. Sanchez is right," Ezra said. "We can't do this alone."

"We'll take all the information into Travis," Chris said. "He'll know what to do."

Chapter 8

Vin woke the next morning disoriented. He lay in bed and looked around the room in confusion. Vin blinked a few times as his muddled brain realized he was in JD's room. He sat up and cursed as the stitches pulled.

"Damnit all to hell!" Vin growled as he ran his fingers through his hair.

It was in desperate need of washing and Vin listened carefully to see if anyone was awake. The doctor said not to get the stitches wet but Vin didn't care he was taking a shower. Vin eased his arm out of the sling then pulled it off. He grabbed clean clothes out of a bag Chris brought for him and went into the bathroom. Vin closed the door and locked it. Vin walked over and turned on the shower and adjusted the water temperature. After a few minutes of struggle Vin was able to get the bandage and tape off. Vin stepped into the shower and sighed as the hot water hit his aching back. He knew he couldn't linger or he'd get caught. He grabbed the soap and began to wash his hair. Vin was just rinsing out the soap when the curtain was pulled back.

"What the hell do you think you're doing!" Chris bellowed.

"Shit!" Vin jumped and grabbed for the wall. "God damn it Chris, now I have soap in my eyes."

"Serves you right," Chris said standing there. "Out!"

"Can I at least get the rest of the soap out of my hair," Vin demanded. "And maybe get a little privacy."

"Make it quick," Chris said and closed the curtain.

Vin grumbled but quickly did as Chris said. When he was done he shut off the water and pulled back the curtain. Vin wasn't surprised that Chris was still standing there. He picked up a towel and tried to dry his hair but it was tough one handed.

"Give me that," Chris said taking the towel and wrapping it around Vin's waist.

"Ya could at least buy me a drink first," Vin growled as Chris tucked the towel in at Vin's waist.

"Sit!" Chris said pointing to the closed toilet.

Vin knew better than to argue and sat down. Chris draped another towel over his head and angrily began to dry it.

"Damn it Chris that hurts!" Vin protested. "What the hell are you doing here anyway."

"And if you'd known I was here would you still have gotten in the shower?" Chris asked. "Even though you were told not to."

"Hell ya!" Vin argued.

"You sure know how to push him don't you Junior," Buck commented from the door.

"Least I got a shower," Vin said then flinched as Chris patted dry the stitches on his back.

Chris showed no mercy as he finished then helped Vin get into his pants. Vin complained the whole time while Buck stood by and laughed. Chris left off the bandages so the incision could dry so Vin walked around without a shirt. Buck got out of the way as Chris led the way out to the living room with Vin following. JD concentrated on the computer as Chris made Vin sit on the couch while he went to the kitchen for Vin's pills.

"What's he doing here!" Vin demanded.

"Last night we went through the CD you gave us," JD explained. "It was late when we finished so Chris crashed here."

"You could have warned me," Vin grumbled. "Anything we can use to find Eli?"

"Not sure," JD admitted. "Chris wanted you to take a look."

"Alright," Vin said and went to stand up.

"Sit!" Chris shouted as he came back in carrying a glass of water.

"Ain't a damned dog!" Vin shouted back.

"Children, play nice," Buck smiled. "Now Chris there's no harm done."

"Still want Nathan to check him out when he gets here," Chris said as he handed Vin the pills.

"Why's Nathan coming?" Vin asked as he popped the pills in his mouth and took a drink.

"We're all meeting here than going over to the office," Buck replied.

"Have to let Travis know about all of this," Chris said.

"Damn it, Chris, they'll only turn it over to the FBI!" Vin protested. "They won't be able to find him."

"You don't know that," Chris reasoned.

"Yes I do," Vin argued. "If Dragon doesn't want to be found he won't be."

Chris was about to say something when the bell rang. JD jumped up and ran over to the door to open it. Nathan walked in followed by Josiah carrying a bag of bagels. Chris had Nathan check Vin's wound. Vin endured a lecture from Nathan about following doctor's orders. Nathan declared the stitches dry enough to bandage and Nathan dragged Vin back to JD's bedroom. Ezra showed up a few minutes later as a fully dressed Vin and Nathan walked back into the living room. Josiah handed out bagels and coffee. Vin went to take one of the coffees and Chris just glared. Josiah laughed and handed Vin an orange juice. When they were done all the papers and the CD were gathered up to take to the office. Chris went to the kitchen and got Buck and Vin's pills. Vin rode with Ezra since he wasn't up to climbing into Chris's truck or Nathan's Jeep.

"Any ideas how to find Mr. Joe?" Ezra asked as he weaved his way through the traffic.

"Honestly, I have no idea," Vin sighed.

They pulled into the parking garage and Ezra backed into the space next to the wall. Nathan pulled in along side him. Ezra only trusted Nathan to park next to his beloved Jag. They exited the vehicles and headed for the elevator. Chris was worried that neither Buck nor Vin was up to this. The ladies man had a pinched look around his lips and knew the bullet wound had to be hurting. Vin looked worse. He had dark circles under his eyes and he seemed shrunken in the coat Nathan insisted he wear. The elevator opened on the eleventh floor and they headed for the bullpen. Chris headed for his office to call Travis while the others went to their desks. Vin gratefully sunk into his chair.

"Can I get you anything?" Ezra asked from his adjoining desk.

"Yeah a cup of coffee," Vin whispered.

"I heard that!" Nathan said raising his voice.

"Why don't I see what's in the break room," Ezra smiled.

"Make sure it has no caffeine," Nathan said.

"Mr. Wilmington would you like anything?" Ezra asked.

"No caffeine what's the point," Buck said.

Ezra left and returned with one of Nathan's gourmet fruit drinks and a cup of coffee. Ezra handed the drink to Vin and smiled as Vin looked longingly at his mug. Ezra was about to move away when Vin stopped him.

"Just a second, Ez," Vin said and took a deep breath. "Okay."

"Better than nothing," Josiah teased.

"Says who?" Vin scowled and took a sip of the juice.

Chris walked out of his office and hitched his right hip onto the edge on Nathan's desk. "I talked to Travis," he said. "He wants to know everything. I'm going to show him the CD and all the printouts. He might want to talk to you."

"Alright," Vin said. "What do we do in the mean time?"

"Not much we can do," Chris said. "Not sure how long I'll be. Try to stay out of trouble."

JD turned on his computer and logged on to see who sold ammunition that could be used in Dragon's weapon.

"What ya looking at JD?" Vin asked.

"Thought maybe I could find who sold ammo for the gun Eli used."

"Do you now what he is using now?" Vin asked.

"Yeah," JD said as he scanned through a copy of the CD. "A Brown Precision Tactical Elite."

"Damn," Vin cursed. "Looking up the ammo ain't gonna help much. It takes standard rounds."

"Figures," Buck said. "He covers his tracks good."

Vin nodded and leaned his good arm on his desk. He racked his brain trying to figure out what Eli was up to. It was as if he was bating Vin to come find him but not leaving anything for him to follow. Vin sat staring at his desk when he noticed something wrong. The antique spur sitting on his desk was in the wrong spot. Vin studied his desk and noticed other things out of place. Ezra watched as Vin started to become alarmed.

"What is it Vin?" he asked.

"Y'all touch anything on my desk?" Vin asked. He knew they respected his space and wouldn't have touched anything but he had to ask.

"No, Vin, why?" Josiah asked as he walked over.

"Everything on my desk has been moved."

"You sure?" Buck asked.

"Yup," Vin said sliding his chair back.

"Maybe the cleaners moved stuff," JD suggested.

"Maybe," Vin said as he cautiously opened his middle drawer.

Vin pulled out the draw and found a picture of him and Eli dressed in class A's and standing in front of a night club. Vin recognized the picture from their visit here to Denver after they graduated sniper school. Vin stared at the picture and it brought back a lot of memories.

"Vin," Josiah called.

"He's been here," Vin announced.

"What!" JD said in surprise.

"How'd he get past security?" Buck asked.

"Are you sure?" Ezra asked.

"Yeah I'm sure," Vin said handing the picture to Josiah. "He's taunting me."

"Why?" Nathan asked.

"To show he has the upper hand," Vin explained. As he took the picture back from Josiah.

The team watched as Vin leaned back in his chair and stared at the picture. It was a sobering feeling knowing an assassin could get them at anytime. It also made them take another look at Vin. If Eli could do this that meant Vin could also. They were all just glad Vin had never used his gifts as a sniper for evil. It took Chris about two hours to go over everything with Travis. Vin had been right. Travis called in the FBI. This was more their jurisdiction but he made sure they would be working as a team and not as opposite sides. The FBI agent assigned as the head of the team was Carlos Sandoval. He was an expert in hostage situations and kidnappings. The second in command was Franklin Marcus. He was an older agent that was an expert on security. They all got together and spent the rest of the day going over all the information. Carlos would go meet Prince Mustafa and try to get him to back out of the appearance the day after tomorrow. Chris sent Ezra along since he was good at convincing people. They both doubted they would be able to change his mind but they had to try. Marcus would be in charge of securing the area with Team 7's help. Josiah and Nathan agreed to work with Marcus and they left to head over to where the speech would be given. Chris noticed Buck and Vin were starting to feel the strain. Buck wasn't as bad as Vin. The sharpshooter looked like he was about to collapse.

"JD I want you to take Buck and Vin home," Chris said.

"But Chris," JD protested.

"We might need to ask him some more questions," Carlos said.

"If you do you'll know where they are," Chris said as he walked over to Vin. "Come on cowboy."

Chris knew Vin was hurting when he stood up and didn't argue about Chris helping him. Buck stood stiffly and followed Chris. JD followed all of them reluctantly. They got down to the parking garage and went over to Chris's truck. Chris helped Vin into the back seat of the king cab as Buck rode shotgun. Chris walked around to the driver's side and handed JD the keys.

"I know this isn't what you want to do," Chris said. "But I need someone I can trust watching those two."

"Nathan would be good," JD said hopefully.

"You know Vin will fight Nathan tooth and nail about everything," Chris said. "He won't argue with you."

"I guess you're right," JD said. "Once I get them back to the condo can I come back here?"

"They're both pretty worn out," Chris said. "I'd feel better if someone was there. I'm trusting you to take care of them."

"Alright, Chris," JD said reluctantly. "I won't let you down."

"I know you won't," Chris said and moved away from the truck.

JD climbed in and started the engine. Chris could see Vin leaning against the window with his eyes closed. Chris knew JD didn't want to baby sit the two injured men but someone had to. They were less likely to argue with JD. JD had Buck wrapped around his little finger. Chris watched as they pulled away then went back up to his office. He just hoped they could catch Eli before it was too late.

Chapter 9

Buck sat next to JD as he drove through the dark streets. He hadn't realized how late it was until they pulled out of the garage. Buck glanced back at Vin and saw he was already asleep leaning against the door. JD saw him look back to check on Vin.

"He okay?" JD asked as he glanced at Buck.

"I guess," Buck said. "Can't tell from here."

"How're you holding up?" JD asked his roommate.

"Shoulders killing me," Buck admitted. "I'll be glad to get home."

"Yeah," JD said gloomily.

"Look, JD, I know this isn't what you wanted to do," Buck began.

"No it's alright," JD lied.

"Never were good at lying kid," Buck laughed.

"Alright I'll admit this isn't what I wanted," JD revealed. "I thought I could be more help but then I realized that Chris was right."

"Right about what?"

"That Vin wouldn't argue with me," JD smiled.

"That's because Vin knows you won't mother hen him to death," Buck laughed. "Not like some other people do."

"So when I realized I would be helping, sorta, I didn't mind having to baby sit," JD said.

Buck smiled at JD as they continued to drive. A few minutes later JD pulled up in front of the condo and parked on the street. Buck climbed out as JD walked around to the passenger side. Vin was still asleep against the door and they couldn't open it. JD climbed in the front and leaned over the seat and gently shook Vin's shoulder.

"Hey, Vin, wake up," JD said.

"Aw hell," Vin said as he opened his eyes and slowly sat up.

"You look like shit," Buck said as he opened the door.

"I feel worse," Vin said as he slid out of the car.

Buck didn't think Vin would be able to walk the short distance to the apartment. After JD locked the doors on the truck he took Vin's left arm and draped it over his shoulder. Vin didn't protest as JD led him to the apartment. Buck followed behind and smiled at the odd duo in front of him. They were like night and day. JD was dark haired and boisterous while Vin was light haired and quiet as a church mouse but yet they were fast friends. Buck guessed his mother was right, opposites did attract. They got to the door and JD unlocked it. They stepped inside and Vin headed for the bedroom.

"Where ya going?" JD asked.

"I'm gonna crawl into bed and die," Vin announced.

"Here's you're pain meds," JD said walked over to him as he pulled a bottle out of his pocket.

"Thanks JD," Vin said as he went into the room.

"What are you going to do Buck?" JD asked.

"I'm kind of hungry," Buck said. "Think I'll grab a bite to eat then do exactly what Vin's doing."

"I think there's left over pizza in the freezer," JD said as they walked to the kitchen.

"Perfect," Buck smiled.

JD threw the pizzas in the microwave and got two cokes out of the fridge. Once the pizzas were done JD carried them into the living room. Buck took two slices and leaned back on the couch. JD handed him his pills and Buck popped them into his mouth. Buck chewed on a slice as JD flipped through the channels. He finally stopped on a rerun of the A-Team. Buck finished his dinner then headed up stairs for bed. When JD was done he took the plates into the kitchen. He added the plates to the growing pile in the sink then went to check on Vin. He walked in the door to find Vin sprawled on the bed lying on his back. The sharpshooter hadn't even taken his boots off. JD walked over and pulled the well-worn cowboy boots off Vin then threw a cover over him. JD walked out and turned off the lights. He plopped on the couch and flipped through the channels.

Outside the condo someone moved along the wall towards the back of the building. When he was at the fire escape he wanted he began to climb up. He moved silently up the metal stairs to the window he wanted. Peering in he saw someone lying in the bed. He waited a few minutes to make sure the person in the bed was truly asleep. When he was satisfied he jimmied the lock on the window and carefully opened it. He walked over to the bed as he pulled something out of his pocket. Leaned over the bed he clasped something over the nose and mouth of the person lying in the bed.

Buck was instantly awake as he felt something cover his face. He tried struggling against his attacker but his bum shoulder and the pain meds were making it tough. Also whatever was on the rag covering his mouth was making him sleepy. The last thing Buck saw as he passed out was a dark clad person wearing a sky mask.

JD decided he might as well wash the dishes since there was nothing on. He had his hands deep in soapy water when he heard someone walking down the stairs. JD figured Buck was having trouble falling asleep and came down for a drink. JD turned when he heard someone stepped into the kitchen.

"Having trouble sleep...." JD began and was shocked to see someone dressed all in black wearing a sky mask.

JD wasn't prepared for the fist that slammed into his jaw splitting his lip. He grabbed for the nearest thing at hand and picked up one of the knives he had just cleaned. The prowler landed a viscous kick into JD's stomach. The air was pushed from JD's lungs and he leaned over gasping. The man in black began to beat JD repeatedly kicking him in the chest and stomach, as he lay curled on the floor.

"Hey, JD, what the hell are you doing?" Vin called from the living room.

Vin walked into the kitchen and was surprised to find a bloody JD lying on the floor. Vin's groggy mind didn't have time to react as someone brought a heavy object crashing down on his bad shoulder. Vin cried in pain as he dropped to the floor. He was roughly grabbed by his bad arm and dragged into the living room. Vin almost passed out from the pain as he was let go next to the couch. His attacker causally sat on the couch and pulled off the mask.

"Eli," Vin groaned.

"I see you remember me," Eli mocked.

"How could I forget such an ugly face," Vin sneered and braced himself for the kick Eli aimed at his ribs.

"Is that anyway to talk to an old friend."

"What do you want?"

"You," Eli smiled.

"So you were after me," Vin said in surprise.

"Would have had you at the ball game but that damned big gorilla upstairs ruined my shot," Eli growled.

"Buck," Vin said glancing to the stairs. "If you killed him I swear..."

"What? That you'll kill me?" Eli laughed as he stood up and walked around Vin. "You won't be around to find out if I did or not."

"Can I just ask why?"

"You're worth a lot of money in Russia," Eli smiled.

"Shit," Vin cursed. He never thought that bounty would haunt him.

"No I prefer to take you alive," Eli said as he turned to Vin with his back to the kitchen. "Dragging a corpse out of here could be awkward."

Vin dragged himself up so he was sitting against the couch. Eli was watching him and never expected an attack from the kitchen. JD jumped on Eli's back with a scream and they both tumbled to the floor. Vin knew JD didn't stand a chance against Eli and tried to get to his feet. Eli easily squirmed out of JD's grasp pulling a silenced 9mm out of his pocket.

"Damn trouble maker," Eli said.

Vin was about to jump Eli when he pulled the trigger. JD wasn't fast enough to get out of his way and Vin watched as JD crumpled to the floor. Vin screamed in rage and hurled himself at Eli. Eli easily over powered Vin punching him repeatedly in the ribs then slamming his fist down hard on his injured shoulder. Vin lay on the ground trying to breathe.

"Well I think you as a corpse would be easier to handle," Eli said panting as he pointed the gun at Vin.

Vin jumped at the sound of a gun but never felt a bullet. He looked up and watched as Eli slowly slid towards the floor. Vin had no idea what was going on until Chris moved into his line of vision.

"Chris," Vin said in relief. "Buck, JD hurt."

"I know," Chris said as he pulled out his cell phone. "You just hang in there."

Vin was having trouble catching his breath and he slowly began to black out.

+ + + + + + +

Vin tried fighting against Eli but it was no use. He watched in horror as Eli shot JD in the head then did the same to Buck.

"NO!" Vin screamed.

"Easy, Vin," Chris said grabbing his shoulder.

"JD! Buck!" Vin called looking frantically around.

"I'm here," Buck said as he moved over to Vin's bed.

"Oh God, Buck, JD," Vin said.

"He'll be okay," Buck said pointing to another bed. "He's right there."

Vin turned he head and saw JD sleeping in the bed next to him. Vin noticed for the first time that they were in the hospital. He took a deep breath to relaxed and regretted it.

"Shit," Vin grimaced.

"I wouldn't recommend that," Buck smiled.

"How bad?" Vin asked.

"Well he really knew where to hit you," Chris said. "Broke a few of your ribs and collapsed that right lung again."

"No wonder I can't breathe," Vin sighed. "How bad is JD?"

"Bullet passed through his left shoulder," Buck said. "A few broken ribs and lacerations."

"I'm sorry," Vin apologized.

"For what?" Buck asked confused.

"For my past catching up with me and putting everyone in danger," Vin sighed.

"Nothing to apologized for," Chris said. "We all have skeletons in the closet."

"Even JD?" Vin asked with a smile.

"Nah," Buck smiled back. "Only thing in JD's closest is a life size blow up female doll."

"Buck you're full of crap," JD said from the other bed.

"Ain't that the truth," Buck laughed.

Vin smiled and realized his friends would stand by him no matter what.

Epilogue: 2 weeks later

"Come on Buck!" JD yelled from the living room. "They'll be here soon."

"I'm coming, hold your horses," Buck yelled as he came down the stairs.

"I need some help here," JD said. "It's tough doing things with only one hand."

"Tell me something I don't know," Buck, said as he pointed to the sling on his right arm.

"Yeah well together we have two good arms," JD said pointing to the sling on his left arm. "Now help me with the table."

Chris walked in to find the two of them struggling with the poker table. Vin smiled as his two friends tried to put up the table and failing miserably.

"Need a hand?" Vin asked.

"Ha Ha very funny," JD said. "You wouldn't be much help anyway."

"Guess I wouldn't," Vin agreed.

Vin watched Chris as he walked over and helped set up the table. They made quite a team. Buck's left arm was still in a sling even though the doctor said he could take it off now if he wanted. Except he didn't want to. Seems the women in the office kept giving Buck their phone number and wanted to be his personal nurse. If JD had been allowed he would ditch his sling altogether but the doctor said another two weeks which didn't make the young agent happy. Vin looked at JD's face and was glad to see the dark purple bruise was beginning to fade. Vin touched his own cheek and knew the one on his face was horrendous shade of greenish purple. I guess Vin should feel lucky they could all walk away from what Eli had planned. He still felt guilty for bringing this trouble on his friends but they didn't seem to mind.

"Earth to Vin," Josiah called.

"What?" Vin asked as he came out of his musings.

"You going to stand in the doorway all night?" Nathan asked.

"Sorry," Vin said and stepped inside.

"You feeling okay?" Nathan asked.

"Yeah," Vin smiled. "I can bend over and get my own shoes on now."

"It's about damned time," Chris said. "Was getting tired of doing it."

Chris smiled at Vin as he took his customary seat next to Chris at the poker table. Vin had been spending his time recuperating at the ranch. Ezra finally showed up and the weekly poker game got under way. They played a few hands when Vin decided he wanted some food. He got up and went into the kitchen. JD followed saying he'd lend a hand. They all laughed and JD decided that joke was getting old fast.

"Wonder what's taking those two?" Buck asked.

"I better go help them," Nathan said.

Just as Nathan went to help they came out carrying a tray of goodies between them. Nathan continued into the kitchen and got beers for everyone who could drink. Buck was happy he was finally able to have a beer. Vin, on the hand, was still on antibiotics and an occasional painkiller when he did too much. JD was in the same boat but the kid preferred Coke to beer. Nathan came back and Ezra dealt the cards. They all bet and looked at their cards.

"Cards, gentlemen?" Ezra asked.

"Two," Buck said throwing down his cards as Ezra dealt two more.

They each discarded a variety of cards and the beating began. It was finally down to Ezra, JD and Vin. The betting was going pretty strong when Ezra finally called.

"Fully house, gentleman, Kings over queens," Ezra announced.

Vin and JD laid down their hands and between them they had six aces.

"Damn it, JD," Vin exclaimed. "I told you I'd take the aces first time 'round."

"No you said you'd take the kings on the next round," JD argued.

"Kings?" Josiah asked arching his brow.

"What all do you have in them slings?" Buck asked grabbing JD's.

Buck looked in JD's sling while Chris raided Vin's. The team leader scowled as he pulled out a couple of chocolate bars and other things Vin wasn't supposed to be eating. The same items were pulled out of JD's sling. An argument between Nathan, Buck, Vin and Chris ensued. Ezra gathered up the cards and began to shuffle them.

"Ain't it nice?" Josiah asked.

"What the arguing?" Ezra asked.


"If I wanted arguing I would have joined mother on the French Rivera as she tried to hook me up with yet another heiress," Ezra scowled.

"Yeah but this is different," Josiah said.

"Oh?" Ezra asked giving Josiah a look.

"This is family."