by mcat

Chris woke to the ringing of the phone. He cursed mildly as he caught sight of the alarm clock and the time on it. Four seventeen. A.M.

“This better be good,” he groused tiredly, reaching for the offending device. “Larabee.”

“Chris?” he heard in the background, before another voice interrupted. “Will you accept a collect call from Vin?”

“Yes!” Chris answered quickly. He’d already heard the desperate tone of Vin’s voice. When the operator left the line, Chris called out to his friend. “Vin? You alright?”

“Chris, you there?” Vin called.

“I’m right here, Vin. Where are you?”

“Motel. Need ya.”

“Vin? What’s wrong, Vin? What’s going on?” Chris heard the tremors in Vin’s voice. He was worried. “Vin, tell me where you are.”

“Motel. Chris?”

“Vin? Read the number on the phone to me. Can you do that? Or how about the name on the stationery on the nightstand?” he coaxed.

“Everything’s all mixed up. I don’t feel good, Chris. I’ll talk to ya later.”

“Vin! Listen to me, Cowboy,” Chris urged. But then the line went dead. “Fuck!” he shouted, hanging up the phone.

He immediately picked it back up, dialing the operator.

+ + + + + + +

Vin groaned aloud and rolled over in the bed. The sirens he heard outside on the road were like knives piercing his eardrums. He put a pillow over his head and crushed it to his skull, trying to keep the noise out. Oh, for cryin’ out loud, go away already! Shit! He had no idea that the ambulance and police car emitting the sirens were coming for him. He burrowed even deeper underneath the pillow, adding a second one on top. And then the banging started. Vin screamed as the noises continued to assault his senses.

“Go away!!” he shouted.

“Mr. Tanner? Mr. Tanner, can you hear me?” a voice called.

“Leave me alone!” Vin shouted back.

“Mr. Tanner, we got a call that you weren’t feeling well,” the voice explained. “Can you let us in to check?”

“I was fine until you started making all this racket. Now leave me alone!”

“Mr. Tanner, we need to make sure. And if you’re fine, we have no problem, but you’ll have to let us see for ourselves. Legal stuff, you know.”

Vin let out a deep sigh. He knew all about that legal stuff. But he had no energy and no desire to go open the door to let these people in.

“Just go away, please?” he cried to himself.

“Vin?! Vin, open the door, Cowboy!”

“Chris?” Vin tried to understand how Chris had found him, he hadn’t told anyone where he was. Then he remembered the phone call he’d made. Or part of it, anyway. “Chris, tell them to go away,” he called.

He heard the doorknob jiggle and then, the next thing he knew, someone was lifting the pillows off his head.

“Vin? You with me?” Chris whispered.

“Chris, I don’t feel too good. It hurts. Take me home, please, Chris?”

“I’m right here, Vin,” he replied, gently rolling Vin onto his back, pushing the tangled hair out of his face. “And I’m gonna take you home. Just let the paramedics here take a look at you first, okay?”

Chris hadn’t missed the sight of the beer and medicine bottles mingled together on the floor next to the bed. Nor did he miss the smell and sight of vomit on and around his best friend. He thought Vin was smarter than that. He knew Vin was smarter than that. When Vin nodded his head, to assent to the attention of the paramedics, Chris stepped back.

“Agent Larabee?”

Chris met the sheriff’s deputy by the doorway.

“I know you said Agent Tanner was sick,” the deputy began. “But looking at the beer and the pills, I gotta ask if this is going to be a mental health arrest.”

Chris had asked himself the same thing. But the fact that Vin had called him, and now said that he needed a ride home, told him that no matter what Vin’s reasoning for mixing the alcohol and meds were before, he was not feeling that way now.

No, it’s just a case of temporary stupidity, Chris wanted to reply. “He’s got some heavy health problems to deal with. It’s been a bit much. But he called me for help. We don’t have to go that other route,” he replied instead.

He looked back at Vin on the bed and the paramedics tending him. They were trying to get him to agree to go to the hospital. Vin did not look agreeable.

“Vin, let them take you. You’re supposed to go in tomorrow morning anyway,” Chris said as he approached the bed. “You are going in tomorrow, right?”

Vin looked at Chris. Saw the worry lines on his friend’s face. Knew that he’d put them there. He nodded his head. “Just no fuckin’ siren,” he said to the paramedics. “My head feels like it’s gonna explode already.”

The paramedic laughed and said, “No problem,” before pulling the stretcher up next to the bed.

Vin let out a loud groan as he was transferred from the bed to the stretcher.

“You comin’, pard’?” he asked Chris.

“Wouldn’t miss it for the world,” Chris replied.

+ + + + + + +

“Yeah, Buck, we’re at the hospital now. No, no seizures or anything. To be honest, I think it’s just the world’s worst hangover. Yeah, they’re probably going to admit him, seeing as he’s due to be here tomorrow anyway. Yeah, he agreed. Look, I gotta go. I’ll talk to you later.”

“Chris?” Dr. Peritz called. “He’s going to be just fine,” he replied to Chris’s unasked question. “We’re going to admit him, just to keep an eye on things. He’s still not feeling too good, he’s nauseous, dizzy and has a hell of a headache.”

“Your basic hangover, right?” Chris asked with a wry smile. When the doctor nodded his head, Chris asked, “Will this affect his surgery?”

“As long as he’s feeling better and the effects have worn off, I don’t think so,” the doctor replied. “That’s another reason for admitting him. We can make sure his system gets cleaned out and control what’s going to get into his system afterwards.”

“Okay, thanks, Doc,” Chris said, shaking the man’s hand. “Mind if I go see him?”

“Why don’t you wait until he gets to his room,” Dr. Peritz replied. “They’re cleaning him up a bit. He’ll be more comfortable then.”

+ + + + + + +

“Hey, Cowboy,” Vin greeted his friend from the hospital bed.

“How ya feeling, pard’?” Chris replied, walking into the room.

“I’m feelin’ stupid,” Vin finally answered.

“No, this wasn’t one of your finer moments, Tanner,” Chris agreed with a smirk. “But I’m glad you called me. Glad you’re here.”

“I’d just gotten so damn frustrated, Chris. So closed in,” Vin began. “I couldn’t turn around without one of you guys bein’ there, pityin’ me, nursemaidin’ me, remindin’ me of what I was losin’.”

“What you were losing?” Chris asked, confused.

“What can I say, I was bein’ the ultimate pessimist, Chris,” he clarified. “I believed that my life was over, not just on the job, but every part of it. I wouldn’t even be myself anymore. I’d be Vin, the guy with the brain tumor, Tanner.” He sat silently for a moment, his hands toying with the blankets.

“So what changed your mind about the surgery?”


“What?!!” Chris asked, incredulous. He couldn’t help but laugh out loud. “Scooby-Doo?!”

“Okay, so not Scooby-Doo, exactly,” Vin ceded, rolling his eyes. “But the concept. He and the gang just don’t give up. And neither do Tanners. I found myself givin’ up the fight before it even began, Chris. I realized that I didn’t like that. So now I aim to see this thing to the end.”

“Good for you,” Chris replied with a smile. “And we’ll be with you every step of the way.”

+ + + + + + +

JD watched as his fellow teammates readied their weapons. It was a routine bust - nothing out of the ordinary. They’d gotten information from Denver PD that one of the local liquor warehouses, Liquor Barn, was producing mass quantities of grain alcohol and selling it to minors. JD himself had gone undercover a few days ago to check things out, and posing as a local high school kid, bought some of the stuff without being proofed. The lack of proofing was actually a minor infraction, considering that grain alcohol was illegal to manufacture to begin with. That was what the ATF wanted to stop.

JD was nervous, though. Buck was in charge of the bust. Not that that was a bad thing. Buck had lots of experience in planning and executing raids. And all the team members involved had full confidence in his abilities. What JD, and the rest of the team, for that matter, was nervous about was the reason why Buck was in charge.

Vin’s surgery was scheduled for today and Chris had taken some time off to be with him. It wasn’t a difficult decision, despite Chris’s desire to be there for the Liquor Barn bust. AD Travis didn’t even have to remind Chris about the amount of unused vacation and personal time he’d had accumulated - enough that he’d already lost some earned hours because he’d reached his maximum limits. No, Chris had made Vin a promise to be there for him, and he aimed to carry it out.

“Alright, Team Three, move in!” Buck ordered and watched closely as the four-member team in black tactical uniforms made their way towards the Liquor Barn’s south entrance. “Team Seven, as soon as Team Three is in position, head to the main entrance,” he added.

+ + + + + + +

Chris stood in the doorway and watched as Vin’s head dropped in defeat.

“You know, the nurses around here get paid to do that, Vin,” he finally said.

“I know,” Vin replied. “Just thought it might be easier if I did it myself.”

Chris walked into the bathroom then and put his hand over Vin’s as it rested on the sink, calming the shakes in it. “Want me to do it?” he asked.

Vin looked up and met Chris’s concerned gaze in the mirror’s reflection. After a moment’s hesitation, he nodded his head and relinquished his hold on the scissors in his hand.

“Come on over here and sit down,” Chris suggested, taking hold of the IV pole and leading Vin, and it, over to the hospital room’s bedside chair.

“Appreciate this, Cowboy,” Vin whispered. “Never thought it would be this hard.”

“It’s part of who you are, Vin. Completely understandable.”

After giving Vin a supportive and gentle squeeze on his shoulder, Chris began his task and grabbed a small handful of hair. Not wanting to make a mess, he took small bunches of the soft brown locks and held onto them as he cut. He then placed each cut bunch on the floor next to the chair in a neat pile before reaching for another handful. Before long, there was a large pile next to that chair. He hadn’t missed the winces and flinches from Vin as the scissors had made their snipping sounds. Nor the fact that Vin had kept his eyes closed during the entire ordeal.

“I’ve done as much as I could, pard’,” Chris said, rubbing his hand lightly over the spiky brown tufts. “The nurse’ll have to finish with a razor.” After getting a nod from Vin, he added, “You want me to save any of this?” while pointing to the floor.

Vin didn’t look at the pile, just replied, “Naw, ain’t like I’m a baby gettin’ his first haircut,” and rolled his eyes.

Chris laughed at the reference, though, glad that Vin still had his sense of humor, but he still heard the frightened tremble in his voice.

“Guess it’s too late to change my mind, huh?” Vin asked, finally meeting Chris’s gaze again.

“You and Scooby quitting on me?” he asked, coming around to squat in front of Vin, resting his hands on Vin’s knees.

“No. Guess I’m just gettin’ cold feet, is all,” Vin replied.

“And that’s completely understandable, Vin,” Dr. Peritz spoke up.

Chris stood up and Vin turned to watch the doctor enter the room, followed by a nurse.

“I’d think there was something wrong if you didn’t have a little fear going into this, Vin,” the neurosurgeon remarked, sitting on the bed, opposite Vin.

“Now he tells me this,” Vin muttered.

“Everything still a go, Doc?” Chris asked.

“Better be, after I got my haircut and all,” Vin responded, running a shaky hand over his head while he looked at the doctor.

“Yes, everything’s still a go, Vin,” Dr. Peritz replied. “I just wanted to stop in first, see how you were doing and let you know what was going to happen.” When he was sure he still had Vin’s attention, he continued. “We’re going to give you a sedative to begin with, Vin. It’ll calm you down a bit; make you feel a little drowsy. Then Suzy here will finish giving you that haircut.”

“Hell, wish I’d known that before, coulda used that sedative when Chris was cuttin’ my hair,” Vin cut in.

Dr. Peritz laughed before continuing, “All in all, we should be in surgery in about forty-five minutes or so, Vin.”

“How long will the surgery last?” Chris asked.

“I’d say at least four hours or so, Chris,” the doctor replied. “While we’ve gotten some good images from the CAT scans and all, we still won’t know the exact location - and how involved or connected it may be - until we get inside.”

Vin looked quickly at Chris then, and the older man saw the fear in his eyes. He moved to stand next to him and put his hand on Vin’s shoulder, giving it a squeeze as he did.

“We’ve talked about this before, Vin,” he whispered. “All part of the territory. Dr. Peritz says he can do this, you gotta have faith in him.”

“I know Chris,” he replied as he met Dr. Peritz’s gaze. “I ain’t backin’ out.”

“Alright then, Vin,” the doctor said, standing up. “I’ll see you upstairs.”

“Thanks, Doc,” Vin replied before giving himself up to the nurse’s ministrations.

+ + + + + + +

“Buck! Look out!” JD shouted into his microphone.

He then watched as his friend turned around and blocked a punch from Gordy Weatherly, the Liquor Barn’s principle owner. The bust had been going smoothly, with Teams Three and Seven working cohesively. They’d covered the entrances to the warehouse, gotten some of the warehouse employees quietly out of the building and into the hands of Team Five, who were handling the arrest-processing portion of the bust. But then Gordy Weatherly Junior had decided to resist arrest and began kicking and screaming, which only incited some of his buddies and coworkers into doing the same. The next thing the ATF teams knew was that they were embroiled in a bitter brawl with the Liquor Barn workers and there was grain alcohol covering just about everyone there.

Buck followed up his block with a punch to Weatherly Senior’s jaw, knocking the man to the ground. He cursed and groaned as he looked at the mayhem around him. “Man, Chris ain’t gonna let me hear the end of this one,” he muttered before putting one set of flex-cuffs around Weatherly’s wrists and another around his ankles.

He was just about to move on over to help Ezra contain Weatherly Junior, when he saw the flicker of light dancing near the still. SHIT! Shouting out loud and into his microphone, “Everybody get out! We’ve got a fire starting! Communications, get the fire department down here NOW!” Buck returned to his prisoner.

He pulled out his pocketknife and cut the flex-cuffs around Weatherly Senior’s ankles and hauled the man to his feet. He pulled him by the arms toward the south exit and shoved him into one of Team Five’s men’s arms before returning to help get some more of the brawlers out of the building.

+ + + + + + +

Chris sat in the surgical waiting room, swirling the remains of his cold coffee in the bottom of the Styrofoam cup. Vin had been in for just about an hour already and Chris didn’t think he could wait any longer. He’s going to be fine. Dr. Peritz is the best. You’ve seen the data. You’ve heard other opinions. He’s going to be fine. Ninety-nine percent success rate. He’s going to be fine... He kept repeating the thoughts in his mind, almost as a mantra, willing them to be true. Knowing that the results of the surgery Vin was undergoing were going to set the precedence for Vin’s future.

He stood up and stretched, walked over to the coffee maker and poured himself another cup of the hot liquid. He shook his head as he reread the small metal plate on top of the machine. Donated by the family of Dr. Jack O’Neill, it said. Whoever the hell that was. Must have been a doctor that spent a hell of a lot of time here. Or died here. No, don’t go there, Larabee. He still had to chuckle at the absurdity of it though, a Mister Coffee machine with a dedication plaque. Wonder if they had a ribbon cutting ceremony?

He paced some more around the room, taking quick sips of the coffee, fresh and hot from the official Dr. Jack O’Neill coffee machine. Instead of worrying over Vin, he turned his thoughts towards the rest of the team. He knew the Liquor Barn bust was going down as he paced around the waiting room. And he knew that Buck and the rest of the Team were good at what they did, that the bust was legit, that Buck had a good plan and that the teams they were working with were reliable and had worked cohesively with his team before. But he still couldn’t help but miss being there, in charge. He’d been tempted a few times this morning to call Buck and check up on things.

But he knew better. Hell, Buck’s probably got things perfectly in hand. The bust was a simple one. His call would only intrude, interrupt and annoy. So he held off. Grabbing his paperback copy of John Grisham’s latest thriller off the end table, Chris sat down on the couch and began reading Chapter Two. Again. Hopefully, I’ll actually remember what I read this time, he thought.

+ + + + + + +

“JD, will you get him out of here, already?!” Josiah yelled.

“I’m fine, I tell ya!” Buck groused, typing up his arrest report using what appeared to be the hunt and peck method on his computer.

“Buck, the bandages on your hands are unraveling and you’re going to get that sticky shit you put on them all over the keyboard,” JD argued, grabbing the computer’s mouse and saving the information before Buck could stop him. “Besides, we’ll get to check on Vin while we’re there,” he added in a low voice, forcing Buck to meet his gaze.

“Alright,” he conceded, shoving his chair back from the desk. “But not one word to Chris about this, you hear?”

“I think it’s going to be quite obvious to our esteemed leader that something went wrong in today’s operations,” Ezra put in, looking directly at Buck’s burned hands.

“It wasn’t my fault!” Buck proclaimed, and not for the first time. “That snot-nosed Weatherly punk is the one that kicked over the can and hit the heater on the still. He’s the one to blame!”

“Of course, Buck. You’re absolutely right,” Josiah intoned. “Now get the hell out of here and JD, you call us as soon as you talk to Chris,” he added.

+ + + + + + +

Chris looked at his watch. It was three twenty-three in the afternoon. Vin had been in surgery for over five hours already and still he’d gotten no word. I guess I’m gonna have to go with the “No News is Good News” rule and hope for the best, he thought with a sigh. He put his book down onto the table, nodding with satisfaction that he’d read and comprehended five chapters, and stood up. Stretching his hands overhead as he arched his back, he let out another sigh.


He turned to see Dr. Peritz walk into the waiting room. He was happy to see a smile on the neurosurgeon’s face.

“He’s okay?” Chris asked.

“Vin is just fine,” the doctor announced. “The surgery was a complete success,” he added.

“It worked? You got it out?” Buck and JD called from the other entrance to the waiting room.

After getting a nod from the doctor, Buck let out a loud whoop, pulled JD into his arms and twirled him around in a circle, heedless of the pain it caused his hands.

Damn! That’s the best news we’ve heard in too long!” he exclaimed, finally letting JD go.

“So he’s gonna be alright.” Chris tried to sound confident, saying the words as a statement, willing the doctor to agree with him.

“Like I said,” Dr. Peritz began, “The operation was a success. We were able to remove about ninety-nine percent of the tumor.”

“Only ninety-nine percent? What about what’s left?” Buck interrupted.

“The last part was attached to his optic nerve,” the doctor replied. “We didn’t want to risk damaging it. And I think we can irradiate the rest of it, without further risk,” he added.

“But Vin’s okay?” This from JD.

“He’s going to have a hell of a headache for a while, and he’ll have to take things slow and easy while he recovers, but yes, Vin’s okay.”

“When can we see him?” Chris asked.

“He’ll be in recovery a little while longer, he wasn’t quite oriented yet, still quite groggy from the anesthesia, then he’ll be set up in the surgical ICU for a bit,” Dr. Peritz replied, then quickly added, “just as a precaution,” when he saw the concerned looks on the three men. “I’m sure in a day or so, we’ll be able to settle him back to a regular room.”

When he got no more questions from the men, the doctor headed back into the surgical area, leaving them in the waiting room.

“Boy, that sure is a relief,” Buck said with a sigh as he sat down.

“I better give Josiah a call with the good news,” JD announced. “I’m gonna get something to eat, so I’ll use the payphone downstairs.”

After JD left the waiting room, Buck turned to Chris. “How you holdin’ up, pard’? You’re still lookin’ a might shaky.”

“Better than this morning,” Chris conceded, sitting down next to Buck.

“I bet,” Buck replied. “How was Vin goin’ in this morning? I wanted to stop by, Hell, we all did, to wish him luck and all,” he added.

“A little nervous,” he answered. He paused then and met Buck’s gaze. “Hell, we were both scared shitless, Buck,” he admitted, shaking his head.

“You’d be fools not to be. Weren’t a one of us not thinkin’ about Vin and feelin’ just as scared this mornin’. Haven’t heard Josiah pray so much since I don’t know when.”

“He must have been praying a lot for Vin, ‘cause it looks like he forgot all about you,” Chris remarked, focusing his gaze on Buck’s bandaged hands. “What the hell happened?”

“Ah, shit, that little Weatherly punk went and started fightin’ with us and knocked over the still’s heater and caused a fire,” Buck replied. “Ain’t nothin’ to worry about, though. Doc said they’re just minor burns. Look worse than they feel,” he downplayed.

“But everything else went down as planned? You got both Weatherly Senior and Junior?”

“Yup, all nice and tidy. Well, except that some of the evidence got burned,” Buck answered. “But we got enough to keep them boys from producing any Grain for a while.”


“You gonna stick it out here? Wait for Vin to wake up?”

“Yeah, I think so,” Chris replied. “How about you buy me some dinner first and I’ll make up some heroic story about how you got burned saving the lives of your fellow agents to tell the waitresses?”

“Make up? Who needs to make up that story?! Why that’s exactly what happened, Chris!”

“Buck, you are so full of crap!” JD retorted, meeting the two men in the hallway.

+ + + + + + +

Chris found himself in the familiar position of sitting next to a hospital bed, watching his best friend sleep. Only this time his thoughts weren’t completely clouded by fears, wondering if Vin would wake up, recover, survive. Dr. Peritz had assured him that Vin would do all three. And he believed the good doctor. He had no reason to doubt the man. But until I see those blue eyes of yours open up and focus on me, I’m not going to believe it, am I, Tanner?

Taking another look at the thick white bandaging wrapped around Vin’s head and the various tubes supplying Vin with oxygen and fluids, he had to again remind himself of the doctor’s reassurances. It was just too hard to believe that someone could come out of a surgical procedure like Vin had and be unchanged by it. Shaking away his negative thoughts, he sat back in the chair and propped his feet up onto the bed’s frame. Grabbing his paperback, he opened it up to chapter seven.

+ + + + + + +

“Is it me or the book that’s borin’?”

Chris startled awake at the raspy whisper and almost lost his seat as his feet hit the floor.

“Vin?” he called, finally gaining his balance and looking at the man in the bed.

“Who the hell else is here?” Vin replied tiredly.

Chris smiled and laughed at the sarcasm, glad that Vin did indeed seem alright. “Thought it might’ve been Scooby over there,” he answered, pointing to the stuffed Scooby-Doo character sitting on the bedside table.

Vin tried to turn his head to see what Chris was pointing to, but stopped, biting back a groan of pain.

“Sorry about that, pard’,” Chris said, wincing in sympathy. He reached over and grabbed the stuffed toy and put it into Vin’s line of sight. “Found it in the gift shop downstairs. Couldn’t resist.”

Vin smiled and reached out for the toy. “Gonna ruin my reputation, Larabee. Bein’ seen with a kid’s stuffed animal.”

“I thought I heard voices in here!” Dr. Peritz exclaimed entering the room. He glanced quickly at the chart he carried as he approached the bed. “How are you feeling?”

“Like I got a hole cut in my head?”

“Good, good, that’s exactly how you should be feeling.”

“I got a comedian for a doctor,” Vin muttered. “Did it work? Was it worth it?” he asked, serious now.

“Yes, Vin, it worked.”

Chris listened in as the doctor filled Vin in on the surgery’s success and what was in store for him in the future.

“So I gotta stay on the meds, get some radiation...” Vin began to reiterate.

“And hopefully, a few months from now, we’ll be able to give you a clean bill of health,” Dr. Peritz finished. “But one thing at a time. Right now, you need to rest and relax and give yourself a chance to recover from the surgery.”

Vin nodded his head slightly, wary of any movements and bid the doctor farewell for the night.

Chris noticed that Vin was still holding onto the stuffed toy. “You want me to take it back? I don’t want to ruin your reputation, you know,” he chided, reaching to grab the toy back.

“Not on your life,” Vin replied, tightening his hold on the toy. “Me and Scooby been through a lot together. Ain’t gonna give up on him, now.”

+ + + + + + +

The following afternoon, Chris met the rest of the team in the hallway outside Vin’s room.

“What’s goin’ on, Chris?” Buck asked, motioning to the activity inside Vin’s room.

“They’re just cleaning up,” Chris replied. “The headaches and dizziness are making Vin nauseous. He can’t keep anything down,” he explained, wiping a napkin over his sleeve.

“Aren’t they giving him anything for it?” Nathan asked.

“Doctor Peritz is making up the orders now,” Chris answered.

He was going to say more, but was interrupted by one of the nurses exiting the room.

“You can go back in now, but I wouldn’t stay too long,” she said. “He’s not feeling too well.”

The group replied in the affirmative all at once before quietly entering the room.

“Hey,” Vin called from his bed. “‘Bout time y’all came and visited me. Figured y’all screwed up that Liquor Barn bust and couldn’t face me.”

“Nah, Buck’s the only one that screwed up,” JD spoke up, taking the cue from Vin that despite how lousy he was feeling, he was glad to see his friends.

“I did not!” Buck retorted, raising a bandaged hand and shaking it in front of JD’s face.

“No, of course not, Mr. Wilmington,” Ezra intoned. “You just happened to burn your hands on white-hot metal auto parts instead of exiting the building because...?”

“They weren’t just any parts, Ez,” the injured man argued.

“What, the Weatherly family had the market on fake ID’s, Grain alcohol and seventy-eight Trans Am parts?” Vin laughed.

“Listen, Yul Vinner,” Buck responded, now shaking his bandaged hand at Vin, winking at his friend when Vin playfully glared at him for the remark, “I was only looking for more evidence against them guys. Those parts had to be stolen!”

“Why, because you can’t find any to fix that old heap you drive?” Chris put in, seeing that Vin was enjoying the show.

The men continued to insult Buck’s car and regale tales of the Liquor Barn raid for another half an hour, until Vin, claiming exhaustion, had asked them to come back another time. Chris hung back as the others left the room.

“Thanks, Cowboy,” Vin said. “I needed that.”

“Well, I think we needed that, too,” Chris replied. “We’ve all been kinda strung out and worried about you. And even though you’re still feeling like shit, at least we know you’re on the mend,” he continued.

Vin nodded his agreement. “See you later?” he asked.

“Count on it, Cowboy,” Chris replied.

+ + + + + + +


“Yeah, Vin?” he replied, taking his eyes off the road for a moment to meet Vin’s gaze.

“Mind if we head out to the ranch, instead of the apartment? Mind if I stay with you for a bit?”

Chris heard the uneasiness in Vin’s voice.

“Sure, we can go there. You can stay with me - you know you don’t even have to ask,” he replied.

Vin just nodded his head and looked out the window. Chris wondered at the change in plans. Up until then, Vin had insisted on staying at his apartment. On his own turf, he’d said. And Chris understood. When his life was in turmoil, when things couldn’t look worse, familiar surroundings grounded him. Gave him a foundation to build on. He figured it was the same for Vin, just like when he’d left the hospital the first time, before the surgery.

“Why the change, Vin?” he asked.

“Don’t know. Just something different, I guess. Been cooped up too long in the city. Need to get away from people for a while, maybe,” Vin rambled, unconsciously rubbing the top of his bandana covered head.

It was the unconscious gesture that gave Chris his answer.

“Sounds fine to me, Vin,” he replied. “Good thing I stocked up on Scooby-Doo fruit chews last time I went to the grocery store,” he added with a smile.

That brought a smile to Vin’s face as well.

“You really know how to take care of a guy, Cowboy.”

+ + + + + + +

“Oh, fuck…shit!”

“Easy, Vin, easy,” Chris soothed, grabbing onto his arm to prevent him from falling.

“Yeah, walking used to be easy,” Vin muttered, putting his hand out to the wall for balance.

“Doc said that this fatigue is just one of the side effects of the radiation. That as soon as your treatments are done, you’ll get your strength back,” Chris reminded him.

“I know, Chris,” he replied, sullenly, getting into the truck. “Just feels like I haven’t been stronger’n a kitten since before this all began. I’m tired of bein’ sick. I’m tired of bein’ tired. I’m tired-”

“-of being sick and tired” Chris finished. Not for the first time.


Chris leaned into the truck and gently shoved Vin into the middle of the seat. Then he sat on the edge, facing him. He took Vin’s chin into his hand and made Vin look at him. After a few minutes of silence, words of understanding unspoken, Vin nodded.

“How much longer?”

“One more week, Vin,” Chris replied. “Five more days of radiation.”

“And another couple of weeks to get back in shape…”

“And then we’ll see about getting your lazy ass back to work!”

+ + + + + + +

“Well looky what the cat dragged in!”

Four men lifted their heads at Buck’s exclamation and looked towards the office door.

“Hey! Vin!”

“Mr. Tanner!”


Vin smiled and shook the outstretched hands of his coworkers. It had been over three long months since his surgery and though he’d been to the office many times during those months, this day was different.

“So? How’d it go?” Josiah asked first.

“Clean bill of health,” Vin announced with a grin. “Doc says the last CAT scan was clear. I am officially cancer free.”

“Woo hoo!!” Buck shouted with glee, grabbing Vin up in a bear hug. “Well if that isn’t the best news we’ve heard all day!”

The others were just as happy as Buck and as soon as the big man released his hold on him, they converged on Vin to give him pats on the back, handshakes and congratulatory hugs, too.

They’d each taken turns helping Vin out during the past few months. Driving him to doctor appointments, the grocery store, or wherever he’d needed to go. They’d been with him during his radiation treatments, giving him the moral support he needed to get through the treatments and their side effects.

Each had been affected by Vin’s illness, having to face and come to terms with their own fragile mortalities. It was one thing to sign up for a law enforcement job such as theirs - to knowingly face danger, to take the offensive. But when Kevlar can’t protect you, when no amount of back up can prevent your body’s betrayal... none of the Seven had been prepared.

But Vin had won his battle. With them and for them.

“When can you come back to work?” JD asked, excitedly.

“He’s on desk duty this week. And as soon as he requalifies at the range, he can start active duty,” Chris answered.

“And since I’ve got an appointment with Agent Smith down at the range Monday, that means I’ll be back on the job Tuesday,” Vin added.

“Just in time, too,” Buck put in. “We just hit a snag on the Corrigan case.”

“That guy accused of torchin’ the churches in Boulder?” Vin asked.

“Yeah, that’s him,” Nathan replied. “Somehow he came up with an alibi.”

“Well, have no fear, Vin is here! I’ll be solvin’ that case for ya, boys,” Vin announced, taking a seat at his desk, propping his feet up.

“Uppity little bastard you’ve turned into,” Chris chided, leaning against Vin’s desk. “What makes you think you can do better than us?”

“Because I’m the one with the brains on this here team, that’s what.”

“Excuse me, Mr. Tanner?” Ezra balked.

“I think that that’s a little uncalled for,” Buck added.

“What makes you so smart?” Nathan put in.

“Like I said, I’m the one with the brains,” Vin repeated. “Can any of you prove to me that you’ve got a brain? Hmmm? I can,” he added, holding up a videotape cassette.

“What the hell is that?” Nathan asked.

Chris grabbed the tape out of Vin’s hand and read the label. “It’s a tape of his surgery,” he said with a laugh.

“And here I thought it was because you didn’t have all that purty, long hair weighing down your thoughts anymore,” Buck put in with a wink.

“See, I got proof,” Vin said loftily, before sticking his tongue out at Buck.

“How long have you been waiting to spring that one on us?” Chris asked with a smirk.

“Since the day after my surgery,” he replied quickly, before succumbing to laughter.

The rest of the men started laughing along with him.

After a few minutes, Ezra spoke up. “Any other amazing feats, other than your newly acquired intellect, resulting from your illness, Mr. Tanner?”

“I can read better,” Vin replied matter-of-factly.

“How’s that?” Josiah asked.

“Doc said that the pressure the tumor put on my optic nerve affected my reading comprehension,” Vin began. “Before, I had to read one word at a time in a sentence and then go over it again, to understand it. Like I couldn’t string ‘em together the first time. Now I can look at an entire sentence and read it. I don’t know how to explain it better than that. Doc figures that I may have had the tumor since I was a kid, considerin’ I’d always had a problem with my reading.”

“But the tumor hadn’t been big enough to cause other, more noticeable problems until now,” Nathan interjected.


“That’s pretty amazing, Vin,” JD remarked, awed.

“Well, Vin,” Chris said, clapping his friend on the shoulder, “Since you’re all fired up about solving this case, you might as well get a head start then. Buck?”

Responding to the call with a smile on his face, Buck dumped a pile of case folders two feet high onto Vin’s desk.

“Start reading!”


“Don’t worry, Vin, Scooby’ll help you,” Buck added, tossing one of the many Scooby-Doo figurines and toys that had begun invading Team Seven’s office his way.

The End

Dedicated to Mikey.

Thanks go to Suzy for beta reading. To Nancy for Yul Vinner. And to Diana for the Scooby-Doo fruit chews.