Chris Larabee slapped the folder in his hand down on the desk and turned his chair to face the window. Staring at the Rocky Mountains in the distance, he tried to will away the headache that had been forming since early this morning. Running his hands through his hair, he massaged his temples seeking relief from the tension that had set in last night.
"Chris? Help ya?" Josiah Sanchez stood in the doorway a questioning look on his face. He had watched the team leader all morning. Both men were members of an Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms Team working gun dealing and trading out of the Denver office. After working two months on setting up meetings with a suspected dealer of illegal automatics, the sharpshooter assigned to the team had broken his elbow in a car accident. The man was going to recover, but not in time for the planned "take down" in two days.
Larabee, the team 7 leader for three years now turned around and faced his second in command. "Well, hell, Josiah! We can write off two months of hard work on Ezra and JD's part if we don't do this meeting Thursday night. Or we can try and bring in a new high man two days before a major bust. Wanna tell me what you think?" Larabee nodded to the chair in front of his desk. Josiah took a seat and reached for the folder on Chris' desk.
Several miles outside of Denver at the official ATF firearms range, a lean figure with long reddish brown hair trapped under his ATF baseball cap stood carefully watching his recruits. "Vin?" Jack Baker, the range officer called from the safety bunker. He added an overhead wave of his arm and yelled again at the man. Vin Tanner wearing protective ear guards looked up at that moment to see the range boss waving at him. Turning from the man he was instructing, Vin nodded as Baker made the sign of "phone call" with his hand. Walking back toward the safety shack, Vin sighed to himself.
Since completing his time with the Army Rangers, Vin had done some traveling, worked as a bounty hunter and done a lot of thinking before taking the position with the branch of the Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms. He had tried for a position as a Federal Marshal but found out his special skills honed by the Army made him more suited to the ATF. Since Vin knew about firearms and how to use them efficiently that's where he had found himself. After seven months in Denver he was still waiting an assignment to a team and doing only occasion sniper work as an extra "high man."
Assigned to the armory he had been spending his days teaching gun safety and special tactics and checking out new weapons. He enjoyed Baker's company and the work with the firearms but after completing the Academy with decent grades in the "book learning" and finishing first in his class in firearms, Vin hadn't been assigned to a team or any "undercover" work. The excuse was that since he had scored the highest marksmanship scores ever in Academy history, he should be used as an instructor to pass on his skills. He had only received two phone calls on his "agency" cell phone in six months so most of the time while at the range he didn't bother to wear it opting to leave it in the safety shack. He felt like his "career" as a federal agent had stalled before it had started. Pulling his cap down to shade his eyes, Vin walked slowly to where Jack Baker stood with the cell phone held out to him. "Headquarters. Better take it."
Vin raised his eyebrow at Jack's serious expression, and clicked on the phone. "Tanner."
Chris Larabee was pissed at having to wait for this Tanner to come to the phone. If this was the way the sharpshooter conducted his professional business, then maybe Chris had made the wrong decision. When the voice answered however, Chris was taken back by the soft drawl he heard. Trying to put the voice with the picture in front of him, Chris smiled slightly. Wasn't what he expected? Not at all.
"Yeah, Tanner? Listen this is Chris Larabee. I'm head of." Chris got no further before Vin cut him off.
"I know who you are Agent Larabee. What do you need? Kind of busy here." Vin spoke off-handedly carefully watching the men on the firing line. He didn't like his attention being drawn away while new agents with live rounds in their guns were under his supervision.
"Kind of busy?" Chris snapped. "Well, Agent Tanner, I'm KIND of busy here too. But I took the time to call so if it's not to much trouble" Chris let his temper cool a bit before he went on " I'd like to meet with you tonight to discuss an assignment."
Vin slipped his hip off the table and stood up straight. An assignment! Shit! He'd been waiting for this for over six months and how he had probably blow it. Chris Larabee and his teams were a legend at the Academy and now he had probably blown the only chance he would ever have to work with them. "Uh, I'm sorry Agent Larabee. Sir. Got all these new academy guys down here with guns in their hands for the first time." Vin was stumbling for words. He could FEEL the famous Larabee glare over the phone line. Before Chris could change his mind, Vin said. "No problem. Where and when?"
Josiah started at the expression on Chris' face and tried to hide his smile. This Tanner kid had managed to piss Chris off in less than three sentences. Even J D hadn't managed that yet. Shaking his head, Josiah got up and started walking to the lounge area. This could be very interesting. Very interesting indeed.
Chris clicked off his phone and laid his head back in the chair for a second before joining Josiah in the lounge. Reaching for the coffee Josiah had waiting, Chris grinned. "Cocky little bastard." Seeing Josiah's smile, Chris tossed off his coffee. "He's meeting us here at six. Let's go get some dinner."
"So what? He wasn't properly impressed, Chris?" Josiah wrapped his big arm around Chris's shoulder as they made for the door. A sideways "mini-glare" came his way.
"Shut up, Sanchez. You're buying." Opening the door for his boss, Josiah felt relaxed for the first time in months but couldn't explain why.
Tanner brushed the dust off the buckskin leather jacket he pulled off the back seat of his Jeep. He'd taken to wearing "fatigues" at the range after getting gun oil over his only two "good pair" of Dockers. At first he had carried a change of "office clothes" in his Jeep, but had quit the habit two months ago. "Damn! Wouldn't you know it?" Looking down at the strange combination of black cargo pants and buckskin jacket, Vin took off the jacket and pulled on an ATF windbreaker. Locking the Jeep he headed up to the forth floor suite of rooms assigned to Team 7.
Josiah heard the elevator doors open and close. Watching carefully, he saw a young slim man dressed in ATF combat fatigues scanning the door numbers. Knowing this had to be Tanner, Josiah watched him a moment longer as Vin pulled off his cap letting his long reddish brown hair flow to his shoulders. Shaking his head, Josiah grinned with delight and went to welcome the sharpshooter. "Great. Chris is gonna love that long hair."
Vin Tanner stood and scanned the numbers above the door. Before he could continue in the wrong direction, Josiah leaned out the doorway and spoke softly.
"Vin Tanner?" Josiah showed himself fully in the doorframe. Something about the cat like way the young man moved made him think twice about any sudden moves. Seeing the nervousness in the sharpshooter, Josiah stayed waiting for Vin to approach him.
Taking in the tall broad man, Vin wandered over. "Reckon I'd better be." Studying Josiah carefully, Vin knew this wasn't Larabee. Despite the difference in voice, the man didn't 'look' like Larabee. No black. No shiny gun.
Tensing at a sound behind Josiah, Vin reached back for his weapon in his belt holster. Josiah saw his move and put out a hand to stop Chris's approach. "Easy, son just our infamous leader." Josiah stepped out of Chris' s way and swept his arm in Vin's direction. "Chris Larabee...meet Vin Tanner."
Chris stepped boldly through the door and saw Vin letting his hand drop away from his back. "Tanner?" Shaking Vin's hand briefly, Chris turned and walked back into the office. "Let's get to work."
Vin felt the strong grip fall from his hand and watched the broad muscular back disappear in the doorway. Although his hand was empty it felt as if Larabee's grip lingered there. Shaking off the feeling, Vin slipped past Josiah into Team 7's work area. Looking around, Vin saw shadowed desks and chairs, computer, monitors and coffee maker, but no Chris Larabee.
Josiah noticed the sharpshooter had stopped taking in the area before moving. Leaving space around him, Josiah was in front of Vin when he spoke. He noticed the agent's blue eyes taking in the office...searching everything all the time. Josiah liked the professional way the man moved. Nodding his head, Josiah pointed to Chris's office. "This way Vin."
Chris had been watching Vin too. The stranger moved so silently and quickly that he seemed to almost disappear. Chris thought he had him marked over by the copier, but had to hide his surprise when the man materialized in his doorway instead.
Motioning to the two chairs in front of his desk, Chris slapped a folder down in front of Vin's chair. "Here. Look through this while I bring up the layout."
Vin studied the thick folder in front of him. Chris's back was to him and Josiah was thumbing through a number of photographs. Reaching out with a calm he didn't feel, Vin lifted the file and opened it. Fanning through all the papers, Vin felt the old panic starting in his stomach. The sour taste formed at the back of his mouth as Vin felt the sweat slip down his neckline and soak his undershirt. Damn! His first chance at a real assignment and what he needed to know was locked in small type on bright white paper.
Vin had made progress with his dyslexia, but the tools he needed to read were in his jeep. Even with his rose-colored transparency as an aid, Vin knew he couldn't read all the material before tomorrow. At the Academy he had learned his own shorthand for notes and used the other aids to help him read assignments. He had developed the ability to memorize quickly, but he still needed time and hard work to read. Time that wasn't available here. Sighing, Vin stood and stared at the file he had placed back on the desk. Josiah looked up and caught Chris's eye as he turned around.
"Going some where?"' Chris turned back to the computer. "Can's in the back. Hurry back I don't want to spend all night going over this." Chris nodded his head toward the back of the office. He watched as Vin swallowed quickly and turned to leave.
"Nice move, Chris." Josiah's deep voice caught Chris's attention.
"What? If a man's gotta..." Chris stopped as he watched Vin standing at the main door to the elevators not moving. Turning back to Josiah, he questioned. "Josiah? What's going on?"
Keeping his eyes on Vin, Josiah reached to Vin's personal profile and flipped it open. "Kid's got a reading disability. Dyslexia. He knows he can't get through that case file tonight. He's too proud to admit it to you. Did you skip that part?" Josiah had an edge to his voice that Chris didn't miss.
Collapsing back in his chair, Chris let his eyes fall on Vin still standing in the office. "Ah, hell! Josiah?" Josiah smiled and motioned to Chris.
"He's not gonna come back without an invitation. Give the youngster a break. We can tell him everything he needs. Jack Baker over at the firing range says he has a quick memory." Looking down at his photos, Josiah mumbled. "Probably has to memorize everything. Army liked him a lot though. Several commendations."
Rising, Chris groused at Josiah. "Hope you're right. Right now we don't have any alternatives." Crossing to the door, Chris called out to Vin.
Vin stood silently trying to hear what the two men were saying. Probably trying to figure out how to get rid of him, nicely. Just like the welfare people. Get rid of him. He's not fit for good people. Vin closed his eyes trying to force the words from his brain.
"Vin? You finished?" Vin turned to see Chris standing in his office doorway. "Josiah and I have made a change in plans." Chris slowly walked to the man still standing quietly in the dark. "Geez, Tanner. You're giving me the willies standing here so quiet." Chris tried to make a small joke to ease the tension.
"That's what I do." The voice coming from Vin was quiet and resigned.
"What?" Chris thought he had missed what Vin had said.
"Army taught me to stand, sit, or lay quietly. Disappear and kill your target." Vin turned to face Chris. "They taught me well."
Chris couldn't believe the words coming from the young man looking up at him. He seemed so young. Personnel file said twenty-six. He looked younger. But the Army didn't lie. This man had been one of their best "target men". One of their best killers and Chris needed his "talents'' to protect his men.
"Look, Josiah and I've decided it's too late for you to learn about the entire setup. You're going to be the high man. So as we ride out to the ranch, I'll fill you in." Turning Chris headed back to his office to gather his printouts. Looking back at Vin, he said. "You got an overnight bag?" Vin nodded. "Okay, what if the three of us bunk down at my ranch tonight. That way we can work late. We'll grab your bag when we get to the garage."
Vin watched Josiah lift a tote bag from under his desk and head toward the door. Opening the door, Josiah motioned to Vin. "You coming?" Turning back to see Chris locking his office door, Vin shrugged his shoulders and followed.
Locking his jeep, Vin picked up his overnight bag and headed toward Chris's black Ram truck. A small smile corned his mouth as he approached.
Chris took in the smirk that appeared on Tanner's mouth as Vin covered the space between vehicles. "What's so funny?"
Grinning widely, Vin stopped in front of the Ram looking it over. "Knew you'd have a truck. Black. With a lot of flash." Vin continued running his hand over the highly polished chrome. Looking up, Vin raised an eyebrow. "You trying to look like it? Or is it the other way around?"
Josiah's laughter could be heard as he watched Chris stare at Vin with "the glare." Vin was staring right back, still running his hand over the chrome work.
Josiah continued watching the two men as he opened the passenger side door.
"You two gonna stand there all night? Get in the back Junior. Us old guys get to ride up front."
Vin broke off the stare first giving Chris his due as senior agent. Watching Chris turn the glare in his direction, Josiah shut the passenger side door as he spoke. "Lord? Looks like you've given the boss someone made from the same grit. This could get right interesting." Looking skyward, Josiah raised a hand. "Thanks."
The ride out to the Ranch was a litany of the "facts" involving the "meet" on Thursday night. Chris explained how he wanted Vin to see the "ops" layout and go over a short history of the operation. Vin and Josiah would spend the night at the ranch and all three would drive by the area of the meeting tomorrow on their way into work. Vin let his head back as he listened carefully to Chris and Josiah fill him in on the details of the operation.
It was dark by the time they arrived at Chris's ranch. Vin could make out a two-story frame house with a stone chimney. Fenced in corrals ran along the driveway. Sitting up expectantly, Vin scanned the area for horses.
Chris saw Vin's change in attitude in the rear view mirror. Knowing immediately what Vin was thinking, Chris smiled. "They're in the barn, Vin. I have a young student from the college vet school that comes by and feeds and beds them down unless I call him. Two quarter horses. A black and a bay with a white blaze. You ride?"
Vin's voice was wistful as he answered. "Yeah, I'm from Texas, ain't I?" Seeing the sour expression on Chris's face at his answer. "I'm sorry. I lived at a couple places were the people had horses. I spent a lot more time talking to them than actually riding. But, yes sir. I can ride."
Chris accepted Vin's off hand apology and stopped the truck next to a Jeep Cherokee. Getting out he headed toward the back door carrying a box full of files. Seeing Vin look longingly toward the barn, Chris spoke. "What say we eat this take out and get down to work. I always check them before I go to bed. You can meet them then, all right?"
Vin nodded but kept looking at the barn out of the corner of his eye. Horses! Vin could smell the hay and hear the soft sighing of animals content in their stalls.
Entering the kitchen through the back door, Josiah dropped their dinner on the kitchen table and went toward the stairs with his bag. "I'll take the bed upstairs. Vin there's a small bedroom off the den downstairs. Bed's made for men with young backs." Vin took in the beautifully decorated house. All stone, hardwood and decorated in western furniture and pictures. Talking a deep breath he turned and dropped his bag at the top of the basement stairs.
Chris put out the Chinese they had ordered and stacked three beers on the table. Vin came to the table and took a chair. Josiah and Chris grabbed a beer but Vin sat leaving his on the table.
"Vin? You don't drink?" Josiah questioned the younger man.
"Not this close to a operation. Like to keep a stead hand. I'll take a rain check though. Got any water?" Vin caught the water bottle Chris tossed him from the refrigerator door.
All three men sat at the dinner table. Josiah opened containers of food while Vin helped Chris roll out the building location plans for the assignment. Chris sat next to Josiah both men ate while watching Vin stand looking over the plans. Josiah nudged Vin with a plate of food and the sharpshooter ate without looking. His entire focus now on his assignment.
Chris watched Vin eat without tasting as he walked around the table still studying the layout. Occasionally Vin would lean over and look closer, then move on to study the plans from another direction.
"Agent Larabee? Do you have pictures of this layout? Especially from all angles of the rooftop?" Vin mumbled swallowing quickly the food he had been given. Vin was still hungry but didn't want to ask for seconds. Old habits were hard to change. Hungry kids didn't stay in foster homes for long periods.
Josiah watched Vin eyeing the containers of food. While Chris went in the den, Josiah held up the rest of the sweat and sour chicken. When Vin shook his head, Josiah said. "Just gonna go to waste. I'm full and so is Chris. Go on eat it. Unless you put on some pounds, we're gonna have to put lead weights in your pants to keep ya from blowing off the rooftops." Josiah smiled hugely and watched with satisfaction as Vin polished off the remaining food.
Chris saw Josiah artfully force the remaining food on the young agent. Kid could use a few pounds, Chris thought. Placing the pictures on the table, he asked. "This what you wanted?"
Vin finished the last of the food nodded "yes" as he placed the paper plate in the trash. Quickly sorting through them, he pulled out all that showed angles from the rooftop. The spot their injured sharpshooter had chosen. Frowning Vin looked back and forth from the pictures to the layout. Vin knew he was treading on thin ice, but he decided to risk it.
"Agent Larabee?" Vin kept his eyes on the photos hoping to be able to avoid actually looking Larabee in the eyes. "Huh? This spot that's marked for the sharpshooter?" Vin looked at Josiah quickly for reassurance. He got a bemused smile from the large man but no encouragement. Drawing a deep breath, Vin blurted out his words. "This spot's no good. I mean you can't cover all the positions your got marked here. There are two..."
"Tanner? You been out to this place? Do you have some knowledge that Phil didn't have?" Larabee's voice had an edge to it that booked no arguing. "He spent a complete day scouting the place. If he said that is the spot for the high man... then that's where you'll be."
Vin listened with his head still down. Taking his time, he spoke softly. "With respect, Sir. I've spent four years of my life looking at photos to fix a working plan for a target. The targets the Army choice for me didn't always afford me a chance to do an up front inspection." Vin started to continue but Chris slapped a folder on top of the photos Vin was studying.
"I get your point Tanner. But we're doing this the way it was set up. You don't think you can do your job?" Chris paused then continued his voice a low growl. "Then there's the door. Use it."
Chris turned and walked to the other side of the table not looking at Vin or Josiah. Vin followed Chris with his eyes. Slowly standing, Vin licked his eyes to Josiah. "I'm taking a walk."
Josiah saw the troubled look on the young agent's face and started to reach out to stop him. "Son? Just take..."
Vin stopped. Turning slightly back at Josiah. "I'm not your son. I'm no one's son." Vin stepped into the hall and out the front door closing it quietly.
Josiah turned back to Chris and started to speak.
"Don't say it Josiah. Just don't say it." Placing his hand against the doorframe he leaned against it, sighing heavily.
"Damn." Chris Larabee shook his head as he lifted his head and looked at Josiah. Standing up he leaned back and stretched his long lean body trying to work out the tension that invaded his back and neck. "Need a good workout."
Pressing both hands against the wall, Chris stretched his body again, trying to work the muscles loose. Looking at Josiah, Chris raised an eyebrow. "Interested?"
Josiah laughed gently and stood. "Nope. I'm still recovering from the last workout' you gave me two months ago." Watching as Vin crossed toward the barn, Josiah gestured in that direction. "But I'll bet the kid could one right now too. I'll referee."
Chris stood and watched out the window as Vin peeked in the barn door but didn't go inside. Rubbing his hand at the back of his neck, Chris said. "You think I was too hard on him, right?"
Josiah shifted his weight on the chair. "I think you have a lot of pressure on you about this job. I think you are two days away from sending two of your men into a dangerous situation and you don't know the one man who is responsible for watching everyone's back." Stepping around Chris, Josiah pushed open the back porch door. "Why don't you try and at least get him inside where it's warm. He'll stay healthier that way."
Smiling despite himself, Chris mumbled, "We've been working together too long. You know me too well."
Josiah looked Chris in the face. "Not as well as that young man knows you right now. He knows you Chris. He just doesn't know what to do about it." Josiah studied the awareness in Chris's eyes. "I'm right and you know it. Well, I'm gonna hit that sauna you got and study some files." Placing a hand on Chris' shoulder, Josiah held back a grin. "Don't be too hard on him."
Chris growled and reached out to punch Josiah as the large man moved away. Chris listened quietly to Josiah's hardy laugh before opening going out to the barn.
Vin had known Chris was watching him. He was more sad than upset about their argument. He thought he had sensed something in this man. A feeling that he could almost anticipate what Larabee was going to do or say but with the man's recent reaction, he was confused. Watching the horses eating in their stalls, Vin waited until Chris stood beside him. He stood absolutely still.
If anything was going to be said it would have to be from Chris Larabee.
Chris cleared his throat and stepped in front of Vin pushing open the barn door. "I'm gonna close the barn up for the night. It's always cooler out here at night. Wanna help?" Chris left the door open behind him and headed for the small office inside the barn.
Vin's desire to be near the horses was too much to resist. He decided to see where Chris would take the conversation. Maybe there was still a way to remain part of the team. Closing the barn door, Vin turned back to see a big bay staring him in the face.
Chris laughed at Vin's surprised expression. "That's Peso. He's a bit more aggressive than Pony here. If you value your arm you'd better grab an apple for him." Peso nickered and reached out with his head to snap the apple from Vin's hand. The animal allowed Vin the privilege of petting his neck as he worked on the apple. He felt the anger and confusion leave him as he continued to stroke the bay's neck and shoulder.
Chris watched Vin with Peso. Peso was always a good judge of character. Most people got snapped at before they were able to pick out an apple. Some got as far as having Peso take it safely from their hand. Chris was the only other person who Peso allowed inside his stall. And even Chris wasn't always able to get Peso to pet him. And here was Peso letting this complete stranger run his hands all over his coat.
"Peso usually doesn't let anyone inside his stall but me." Vin's head jerked up in surprise. So taken was he with stroking the big bay, he had forgotten about Chris.
Stepping away from the horse, Vin stammered. "I'm sorry Mr. Larabee. I...he...he's beautiful. I couldn't resist." Peso turned his head back toward Vin and pushed it at Vin's chest.
"Looks like he's hunting for more attention. Why don't you give him a good brushing while I do Pony? " Chris reached around the stall door and tossed Vin a soft brush. Taking it, Vin nodded and began to work the dust off the bay's coat.
Both men finished the horses and closed up the barn. As they entered the back door to the ranch house, Chris turned to Vin. "I need you to ride with me on this Tanner. We're too far into this to make changes. Make small adjustments as you need but stay with the spot already picked out. The guys need to know you're there for them." Vin nodded shortly and headed back down the stairs to the basement bedroom.
Josiah climbed in the front seat of the RAM still half asleep. The youngster, Vin had been up since dawn and had breakfast ready for all of them. Except for the coffee, which Josiah suspected could pass for paint remover, the food had been simple but well prepared. Clutching the fresh coffee made by Chris, Josiah fastened his safety belt as Chris back out of the driveway.
Chris and Josiah discussed the various things that still had to be accomplished before tomorrow evening. They drove by the area of the "buy" giving Vin a quick look at the buildings involved. It wasn't the close look that Vin had wanted but he understood the need for none of them to be seen in the area.
"Chris?" Vin leaned over the front seat.
"Yeah?" Chris had avoided direct conversation with Vin all morning. Keeping his remarks general in nature. He still didn't understand the familiar feeling he felt with Vin around. It spooked him almost as much as it fascinated him. But he had a busy day and was in a hurry to get to it.
"Do you think I can get some range time today to work on distance and angles?" Vin saw Chris flash a look at Josiah and nodded his head.
"Should be fine. Take some time after lunch. I want the other guys to meet you this morning. Sides we've got a lot of final details to work out." Chris saw Vin nod his head and sit back staring out the window. Chris pulled into the truck into the garage and parked it in his space.
JD Dunne, who served as a computer specialist with the team, spotted Chris' truck as he locked the truck he shared with Buck Wilmington, the team's social director and self-named lady's man'. Calling out as he jogged up to the Josiah, JD said. "Hey Josiah! Buck heard we're getting a new shooter. Some guy who was a spook' with the seals' or something. Buck went upstairs to find out the skinny."
Josiah looked heaven ward as Chris slammed his door hard. Vin stepped quietly from behind the back of the truck. "It was the Rangers. Not the Seals".
JD looked from Vin, with his long hair and leather jacket, and back to Josiah and Chris. Seeing the look on Chris's face, JD stepped forward and put out his hand to Vin. "Hi! Uh... I'm JD Dunne. I sure know how to open my mouth at the wrong time, don't I?"
"That, son, would be an understatement. JD Dunne? Meet Vin Tanner. He's our new sharpshooter." Pointing to JD, Josiah continued. "That's our resident computer genius. He's still needs classes in rumor control."
Vin looked at JD's hand and up at the young agent's face. There was a trusting puppy dog look' that Vin couldn't resist. Reaching out he tapped JD's hand slightly with his own. Reaching down he picked up his overnight bag and headed toward his jeep. "I'm gonna put this in my jeep. I'll catch up in a minute."
All three team members watched as Vin walked with long strides toward his jeep. Catching the elevator they watched as Vin finished and started across the aisle.
Ezra Standish was late. Driving his jag quickly up the garage ramp, he hoped against hope that Chris had been caught in traffic like yesterday. With his attention on his watch, Ezra failed to see the slightly built man crossing quickly toward the elevators.
Vin still had his mind on JD's statement, when the squealing of high power tires caught his attention. A silver jag sprang up the ramp side swiping Vin as it whipped around the corner. Vin was caught on the left hip as he tried to turn away from the path of the car. Spinning from the impact, Vin was tossed against the concrete wall beside the elevators. Knocked out of breath with his hip throbbing, Vin lay still trying to orient himself.
Nathan saw the flash of Ezra's silver jag climbing the ramp as he locked his car and headed toward the set of elevators. Shaking his head with laughter, Nathan caught a glimpse of buckskin leather and jeans just before he heard the thud of flesh hitting metal. Ezra was already out of the car and leaning over the fallen man as Nathan trotted up.
"Sir? Uh...young man? Have you sustained any injuries? I assure you I am properly insured and..." Ezra was anxiously speaking to the back of the man as Nathan knelt down.
"Ezra ...shut up! Call 911!" Nathan barked at Ezra who slid aside and flipped out his cell phone. Reaching over to touch the injured man's shoulder, Nathan could see blood on the man's face and the quick irregular breathing underneath the buckskin jacket. A small moan escaped as the man tried to turn himself off his left side. Nathan reached out to stop his movement.
"No... Don't ...I'm okay. Please. Don't call them...I'm okay." Nathan heard the young man say as he helped him ease over on his back. Putting out his hand, Nathan motioned for Ezra's jacket.
Vin staggered for breath as he fought the stabbing pain in his hip. Hearing voices behind him, he tried to turn but didn't have the energy to do it alone. He felt a pair of strong soft hands easing him over and heard the voice connected to them speak sharply to someone. He tried to protest the help but the suddenness of the event left him disoriented.
Sliding the blue Brooks Brothers' jacket under the injured man's head, Nathan studied it carefully. The face was pale as the man struggled for breath; the long auburn hair covered an unusually handsome face with large blue eyes. Nathan could see an abrasion on his cheek as he watched the man's breathing become more regular. "Hey, you okay? I'm Agent Jackson but I'm also a paramedic. Where do you hurt? " Nathan carefully ran his hands over Vin's arms and legs. He saw the jeans were ripped and bloody at he left knee and hip. The palms of the man's hands had abrasions but were not bleeding.
Vin opened his eyes and focused on the concerned face of Nathan Jackson. The face was gentle and concerned as the black agent searched Vin's face for an answer. Finding his voice, Vin grunted. "Think I landed on my hip. Hurts ...feels like I scrapped my hands and knees too." Reaching up Vin touched the cheekbone that wore the bloody scrape. Wincing he finished his statement. "Just knocked the breathe out of me. Some jerk driving too fast."
Ezra had flipped his phone closed after hearing the young man speak. Taking a deep breath, he slipped around to check out the jag's fender. He saw Nathan scowl at him and returned to kneel by the victim'. "Look I'm sorry. I'm an ATF agent here, so is Mr. Jackson... You're on Government property so the medical insurance should be adequate to compensate for your injuries.
Your movements caught me completely off guard. This is a secure area. Why are you wandering about?"
Another dirty look from Nathan silenced Ezra as both men heard Vin speak. "Name's Vin Tanner. I'm an agent too. Just assigned to the ATF team 7. That's where I was headed." Vin started to sit up as Nathan tried to restrain him.
"No, now you stay put. I'm not finished checking you out. Ezra, call security and have them bring a wheelchair out here. And call Chris." Nathan began a systematic exam of Vin's body. Nothing appeared broken, but the man hissed with pain as Nathan probed his pelvic area.
Vin finally regained his breath and began to feel stupid flat on his back on a government garage ramp. Sitting up quickly while Nathan checked his ankles, Vin groaned deeply as all the areas of his body protested at once. "Man! Shit!" Sitting forward with his elbows on his good knee, Vin waited for the room to stop spinning.
"See now. Look, I'd be much more comfortable if we went to the hospital to have you checked out." Nathan made Vin look him in the eyes. The fuzziness was gone but Nathan wasn't happy with Vin moving around without a complete evaluation.
"He's over here. An unfortunate victim of a careless move on both our parts." Ezra had two large security officers pushing a wheel chair out the elevator. Clicking on his cell phone, Ezra spoke when it was answered. "Mr. Larabee? Standish here. Do we have a member on our team by the name of Tanner, now?" Pausing to listen, Ezra frowned as he approached Vin and Nathan. "Oh...well, it was just a small accident. Mr. Tanner and my car accidentally embraced each other." Pulling his phone away from his ear, Ezra listened and then went on. "Well, Agent Jackson is attending him at the moment. He has Mr. Tanner sitting in a wheel chair but I believe the new sharpshooter?" Another pause while Ezra frowned at Chris's statement. "Just a moment. Nathan, Agent Larabee would like a moment with you." Holding out his cell phone, Ezra quickly picked up his jacket desperately trying to brush dust and oil from its fabric.
Nathan nodded quietly and walked back to Ezra. Handing the phone to the "unit con-man", Nathan bent down to stoop before Vin. "Agent Tanner? I talked to Chris. He's insisting you be checked out before coming up stairs. Let me run you over to my girlfriend's clinic. We'll avoid the ER that way, okay?"
Vin was tempted to refuse the offer, but something told him Larabee wouldn't let him step foot into the office unless he had a clean bill of health. Nodding his head, Vin started to ease himself out of the wheelchair, but was stopped by Nathan.
"Whoa there. Just stay put while I bring my car around." Nathan started to walk away but turned back when he heard the injured man speak.
"Don't suppose you drive something slow and not so flashy? I'm planning on staying clear of anything that resembles a silver bullet." Nathan laughed and smiled at the show of humor at the expense of Ezra.
"It's okay Mr. Tanner. I've got a much safer form of transportation. Be right back. And don't move." Nathan trotted off to his car.
Vin shifted his weight trying to ease the throbbing in his left hip. Cursing his bad luck, Vin began figuring out what to do with the rest of the day. It was clear that Larabee wouldn't let him work this bust if he couldn't even stand without pain. He stared at the tenderness on his hands. Sighing he leaned back in the chair and closed his eyes. Seconds later he heard Nathan's Toyota pull up and the paramedic made to help Vin get into the car.
Vin started to stand on his own as Nathan grabbed his arm. "I'm fine. Agent Jackson. Fine, but I appreciate your help. A please call me Vin."
"Name's Nathan. And it's not a problem. You're a team member after all." Nathan closed the door on Vin's side, moving to the driver's seat.
Settling carefully into the seat, Vin thought about Nathan's words. "A team member. Yeah, well, he was sure making a good start. A really good start."
Nathan started the door and eased the car down the ramp. "Okay let's get you fixed up so we can get back to work, Vin. Close your eyes and rest, I'll have you there in no time."
Ezra checked the outer office through the glass window before he slipped inside. Josiah and JD were in the conference room setting up for the meeting that was to take place in two hours. Buck was pacing in an animated fashion in front of Chris's desk. Ezra couldn't make out the conversation but the loudness of Buck's voice was never a good sign. Shaking his head, Ezra hid behind his computer monitor staring sadly at his ruined jacket. How could all their carefully made plans have gotten in such disarray?
"Yeah well the word around the office is this kid is a "spook". Ya know... an CIA sniper/killer or something." Buck watched Chris' face as he mounted his attack. After arriving at work, Buck had gone to his "sources" to find out about the new "sharpshooter" assigned to Team 7. All the information Buck could collect spelled trouble. " The guy's a loner. My friend on the range says he comes to work before time and stays after. Doesn't drink with anyone. No parties. No girlfriends...I mean that ain't human. You just met him and you're gonna throw him up on a building to back us up? I think you ought to put one of us up there. Least we know one of us won't cut and run."
Chris let Buck rattle on trying to concentrate on the file in front of him. He allowed Buck some slack. Chris and Buck had been together on Denver P.D. and Chris trusted his instincts. But what Buck was proposing wouldn't work this time. Holding up his hands Chris cut Buck off. "Buck. Sit down a minute. Let me finish this and then we'll talk."
"Yeah I know your talk." Buck circled again. "Chris it's JD down there in the spot light. If you think I'm trusting his care to a "wild card sniper with a mysterious past" to take care of the kid...you are sadly mistaken Chris Larabee." Buck sat ...stood up and then seeing Chris's expression sat again.
Chris put down his file and looked carefully at his friend. " Look Buck. It's a bad situation for all of us. But Jack Baker says this guy can quick site the wings off a gnat at a mile. Says he handles weapons as if he was born with them in his hands. We NEED a back up on the building. I'm no good at long distances and neither are you. JD and Ezra are the front men. Do you want Josiah and Nathan as your sniper?" Chris took a drink of his coffee and grimaced at the cold liquid touched his tongue. "I saw him work over the plans and layouts last night. He wasn't afraid to take me on about the spot Paul chose."
Buck stood. "You didn't let him make changes! Chris this kid is only a couple years older than JD...You can't just..."
"Buck shut up and sit down! Right now!" Coming from behind his desk he sat on the edge of his desk with his hip. "Now. I got a feeling about the guy last night. He's quiet yeah and probably a loner, but he stood his ground about the sniper position." Buck started to speak again but Chris held up his hands. "But I told him Paul had been over there when we first picked the area and we were going to go with his advice."
"And what did he say about that?" Buck walked to the window and looked out.
"He didn't say anything. He shut up and listened to orders. He understands I'm in charge and that's it. I'm the bottom line. If he doesn't work out with the bust, we'll find someone else for the next job." Looking out and seeing Ezra trying to hide, Chris finished. "Besides, Ezra hit him with the Jag coming up the ramp about an hour ago. Nathan was there. He says the guy's banged up but refused the ER. Nathan's taking him over to Rain's clinic to get him checked out. For Ezra's sake he better be able to climb stairs and shoot straight. Now, will you please go out there and stop making noise about stuff that may or may not be true? Let's not let JD get any more nervous than he is, okay?"
Buck turned back to Chris and nodded his head. "Okay, but he makes one wrong move; tries to suggest changes...or...hell, you know what I mean!" Buck gave Chris a long look and left he office quietly closing the door.
Chris followed Buck's gaze and sat quietly for a few minutes. Finally composed he made his way to the lounge for some fresh coffee. Passing Ezra's desk, he turned his head. "Ezra. In my office. Five minutes."
Ezra started to say something but was stopped short by the 'glare'. "Ah, yes, Mr. Larabee. No problem." Tossing the damaged jacket on his desk, Ezra wondered if the day was going to get worse.
Vin eased himself off the examination table and peeked out looking for a back door. Nathan spied him first and pointed him back into the room. Arriving at the University Ambulatory Clinic where Rain worked as a nurse practitioner she had directed Vin to an exam room after seeing the scrap and bruise on his cheekbone. When Nathan told her how the accident happened she had insisted Vin take off his clothes and put on a gown.
Vin didn't like hospitals and he sure didn't like sitting in cold sterile exam rooms wearing open backed gowns. Deciding on an escape plan had seemed like a good idea until he tried standing up. Pain shot through his hip and down his leg. "Damn!" Vin cursed quietly. Picking up his pants he was about to slip them on when Rain and Nathan entered the room.
Rain smiled as she got a quick look at a pink bottom and turned her back until Vin had stepped back out of his pants. Nathan hid a smile and took Vin's elbow. "Look Vin it will only take a minute for Rain to check you out and get you cleaned up. Then we can head back to the office, okay?"
Seeing he was outnumbered, Vin dropped his jeans and turned his bare back against the wall. "Can I stand right here?" He really wanted to avoid getting up on the table again. He didn't think he could do it without making it hurt. His hip throbbed so much that he didn't think he could fake his usual "I'm fine" statement.
"Well, fine then prove it to me Agent Tanner. Feet together. Okay...hands out to your sides? Fine. Now lift your right knee and bend it and bring it up so it is at waist height." Rain watched Vin try to do what she asked while trying to mask the pain it caused. "Okay Mr. Tanner. Why don't we stop playing games? Your hip has to hurt. Nathan told me you took a nasty fall against concrete. Now if you're going to be part of the team that protects my man, I want to know you are well."
Vin looked at the beautiful but firm expression on her face. Shaking his head, he pointed to the edge of his hip and his cheekbone. "Here and here, but it's just stiff. It'll work itself out, really." Watching Nathan and Rain's faces, Vin sat down stiffly. "It really will."
Rain completed a full inspection of his injured parts. She was discrete with him; noting he blushed anytime her hands touched his hip or legs. "Does this hurt?" Probing Vin's bruised and angry looking cheekbone, she felt him flinch with the pressure. "Okay, Vin. I want an x-ray of your cheekbone and one of your hip then you can change clothes. Nathan, want to show him the way?"
Returning to his room, Vin walked stiffly and eased himself back into his clothes. Rain returned soon with ointment and a dressing for his cheek and hands. "Your hip x-rays look fine so does the cheekbone but both are going to be very sore and bruised over the next few days. I'm gonna give you some pain medication and Doctor Biggs has written you a prescription for you to take later. Nathan, here. Make sure he gets this filled." Turning from the room, Rain arranged for his paper work. Bringing back two white tablets, she handed them to Vin with a glass of water.
Vin eyed the pills with suspicion. "I'm fine I don't need anything."
"It's Motrin, Vin. It'll help you move better. You're only gonna get stiffer over the next 24 hours." Nathan held them out to Vin again.
"No, Miss Rain...Nathan I appreciate it, but I don't take medications when there is a job. I can't let anything cloud my concentration." Vin stood and eased on his jacket.
"Well the pain's gonna take away from your concentration, Vin. Now..." Nathan tried again but saw the look of quiet determination on Vin's face.
"Pain helps. It can make you more focused. More controlled." Nodding to Rain again, Vin eased past Nathan and moved slowly to the exit. "Thanks again, Miss Rain. I'll watch Nathan's back carefully."
Nathan threw up his hands and gave Rain a quick kiss. "Thanks, babe."
"Nathan?" Rain caught his arm as he turned to follow Vin. "He's very sweet. And he's been trained well by someone. I saw that same mental attitude toward pain when I did part of my residency at Veteran's Hospital. But someplace along the line, he's been ...he's very alone. Don't you feel it?"
"He was an Army ranger sniper...'special ops', Rain. I've heard stuff about their training. Seems to know what he thinks he needs too. I'll keep this script for tomorrow when he can't move." Laughing Nathan hurried to find Vin.
Vin leaned carefully against Nathan's car door and waited. The walk across the parking lot had hurt but Vin was determined not to let it show. The pills Rain had offered were tempting. But taking medications might mean making a mistake because his reflexes would be slow. It might make a difference. He just hoped a morning worth of conferences sitting at a table wouldn't make him too stiff to move.
"Ready to go? " Nathan opened the door for Vin and went around to the other side. Vin eased himself down and looked at Nathan.
"Thanks Nathan. Your lady is a wonderful person. And beautiful. All those curls..." Nathan smiled and laughed with Vin as they started back to the office. Nathan decided he would drop the matter of the medications and just watch Vin.
"Okay. You know if you want something, you ask me. No need to hurt and not be able to get around. If you're gonna be part of this team, you're gonna have to get used to my nagging. Nobody on this team has any sense about when they ought to call in sick...or...well, just get used to it." Nathan headed into traffic while Vin closed his eyes and rested his aching head. It felt nice to have someone take care of him for a while.
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