I've Got Your Back

by Kathy Teresa

ATF Universe

Chapter 27

Chris looked over at his oldest friend, Buck Wilmington and waited patiently. Buck chewed on his lower lip and then turned to face Chris. "Johnson has some kind of scam going on with a bunch of the bounty hunters. He told me once. You know about four years ago when I broke my ankle and you were taking that sabbatical to work on your Masters degree?"

Chris nodded his head at the memory. Remembering with a sad smile the master's thesis that was abandoned when Sarah and Adam died in the firebomb. "Yeah, course I remember. What's that got to do with Johnson?"

Standing and stretching his back, Buck went back to the kitchen and started a fresh cup of coffee. Chris walked in to join him. Buck finished with the coffee and turned to face Chris. "Well, I was assigned to work in Intelligence. Taking statements, working the phone and filing. Johnson was seldom in his office but got a ton of phone calls. I took a lot of messages for him. A lot of them were from bounty hunters asking for information about the status of certain 'most wanted' clients." Turning back to the coffee maker Buck poured a cup for Chris and himself.

Moving back to the living room, Buck slumped back into the couch and Chris pulled a chair up to face him. "Bounty hunters? What did Johnson have to do with bounty hunters?"

Running his hand through his hair, Buck sighed. "During that time period the bounty hunters' payoffs and files were being handled by Intelligence. It was pretty loosely structured. The Bounty Hunter was to fill out paper work giving details regarding the capture of the wanted man and the sources that he used.

I got the feeling that he had some kind of 'deal' worked out with a few of the bounty hunters."

"What kind of deal, didn't you ever figure it out?" Chris watched Buck's hand still shaking slightly as he held the coffee cup.

"Well there was nothing I could ever put my hands on. Johnson had a good production record and the 'bosses' allowed him a fair amount of leeway in handling the bounties given out." Setting his coffee down, Buck smiled. "Never saw anything myself, but I heard talk that he had a certain group of the bounty men that he 'helped out' with tips. You know, alerted them to where a certain person might be at a place or time."

Buck paused to sip his coffee.

Chris watched him, he own mind working on his plan. "He ever mention Vin?"

Buck laughed slightly. "The only thing I ever heard was stuff in passing. I think Johnson was trying to get Vin to join his "ring" and I guess Junior didn't want to join up, 'cause all Johnson ever said was how a certain long haired hunter should learn to play 'the game'." Pausing Buck looked up suddenly at Chris. "Hey, I'm pretty sure he kept files. He'd have the bounty hunters fill out lengthy forms about their capture of each criminal. I wonder?"

"The same thing I'm wondering?" Chris stood and stretched. "Always thought he drove a pretty fancy car for a man on a federal salary."

"He's taking a cut, isn't he? Perhaps giving out information in return for a percentage of the bounty?" Buck picked up a pillow and tossed it across the room. "And those who decide not to cooperate get 'rumors' sent out about them. No wonder they never gave Tanner a permanent slot. There was too much about him in the gossip pool? Man I sure played into his hand, didn't I?"

Buck turned to face Chris. Buck's face was alive and purposeful for the first time in twenty-four hours. "So what's your plan?"

Chris just smiled and flipped open his cell phone.

+ + + + + + +

The phone rang. Ezra Standish could hear it in the next room. Groaning he buried his head under his pillows well aware that the next sound he heard would probably be his beeper. It was.

Sighing heavily, he reached over and lifted the beeper. Reading the message in the darkness of the room, Ezra groaned again and looked at the clock on his bedside table. Eight o'clock. In the morning or night? Standing to lift the shades of his window Ezra was faced with darkness and shadow. Night. He felt heavy and weary. Craving a return to his soft mattress and pillow, Ezra picked up his cell phone and dialed Chris Larabee's number.

Chris and Buck were in sitting quietly together. The silence between them was familiar and healing. Chris heard his phone chirp and picked it up. "Larabee."

"Mr. Larabee, Standish here. To what do I owe the sudden interruption of my deeply desired sleep?" Sitting down on the sofa in his bedroom, Ezra waited for the news he knew was coming.

"Buck and I are on our way to run a small scam. I need your skills to help us out. Interested?" Chris waited knowing that Ezra would never pass up the chance to be involved in a game of subterfuge.

There was a long pause as Chris waited patiently. Finally Ezra asked softly, but with an eagerness in his voice that couldn't be covered up, "May I inquire as to the object of said scam?"

Chris chuckled softly knowing Ezra had taken the bait. "Sam Johnson."

"Sam Johnson as in 'I know everything' Sam Johnson? Works in Intelligence?" Ezra laughed into the phone. "To obtain a little 'revenge'?"

"Something like that. Meet us in the prop room at the office. Don't wear any fancy shoes." Chris saw Buck's face light up as imagined the look on Ezra's face.

"I don't own anything BUT fancy shoes, Mr. Larabee." Ezra clicked the phone off and went to his closet in search of something that would work.

Chris put his own phone in his pocket and walked to the kitchen to wash out his cup. Buck followed and stood in the doorway.

"So. You gonna fill me in?" Buck handed Chris his coat that he had gathered with his own.

"In the car, while we drive to the hospital. I want to see Vin before we get started. Promised him I would be back. Doubt if he remembers, they've got him so doped up with painkillers." Chris regretted his statement before he said it.

Buck saw the look on Chris's face and bowed his head. "I don't know how to tell you how sorry I am. Should have trusted your judgment about Vin." Buck slammed his hand down on the armrest.

Chris pretended not to notice and started laying out the plan he had formatted to Buck. "So what I want is for you to get on the phone and find out where Johnson is. I'm pretty sure he's acting supervisor for the evening shift while Mosby is out with his back surgery." Buck nodded pulling out his palm pilot looking up Johnson's phone.

"Get a hold of him and find out his schedule for tonight. I need him out of his office for at least a half-hour ...an hour would be better. Invite him out to dinner. Tell him you have more 'gossip' about Tanner. Make up whatever you think he'll believe. Get him drunk. Whatever. Ezra and I are going to need the time to find those files."

They pulled into the hospital parking lot. Chris parked the Ram and turned off the engine. Looking sideways at Buck, Chris pocketed his keys. "You gonna come inside?"

Buck raised his head, looking up at the hospital complex in front of him. "Maybe I should wait till he's feeling better. You know. I don't want to upset him."

Chris put his hand on Buck's shoulder. "Well, I think Vin doesn't know exactly what happened or why. But I do know it would mean a lot to him if you were there. He needs all of us together to help him. What do ya say?"

Buck looked over at Chris and sighed heavily. "Okay, okay, but I'm gonna stay in the background so I don't upset him." Seeing Chris nod, Buck grabbed his coat and headed with his best friend upstairs.

+ + + + + + +

Vin Tanner turned his head on his pillow. It was sweaty and warm. His back hurt him constantly and he was convinced that if he could just turn on his side the pain would go away. He knew that was 'against the rules' but he was tired and he hurt and he hated being helpless. He knew he should feel grateful for the help, but he couldn't help but feel trapped and afraid.

Josiah sensed that Vin was awake. The young sharpshooter had been sleeping on and off since late afternoon. Vin had taken a small amount of juice but it was hard with him flat on his back. Josiah could see him struggling through small moments of panic and had gotten the doctors to give him something to help him relax.

Josiah stood and walked to Vin's bedside. "Hey there. That pillow looks a mite bit uncomfortable. Let me get you a fresh cover for it?" Josiah watched Vin nod slowly. He was paler than earlier in the day with dark shadows under his eyes. His high cheekbones and blue eyes stood out against his transparent skin. There was a flushed look to Vin's skin and Josiah moved again to wipe away the accumulated sweat. Hearing footsteps at the doorway, Josiah reached over and pushed the button on Vin's pain medication pump.

JD stood in the doorway. From his view all he could see was a bed with an overhead skeleton system attached to it and Josiah leaning over a slight form covered by a light sheet. Knocking on the doorway, JD stood until Josiah came to greet him.

Shaking Josiah's hand, JD raised a questioning eyebrow. "How's Vin doing? He's so still." Josiah lead the way toward Vin's bedside and JD saw for himself the pale fevered man who replaced the quiet patient friend he had grow to really like the last few days.

"How come he's so pale?" JD couldn't get over the translucent appearance of Vin's skin.

Placing his arm around JD's shoulder, Josiah gave him a squeeze and spoke quietly. "Just a little temperature and the loss of a bunch of blood. He'll be okay in a couple days. I just gave him some pain medication. He's restricted to lying on his back for the next few days and it's already driving him crazy."

"What's driving him crazy?" JD and Josiah turned as they heard Chris's voice at the doorway.

"Not being able to turn on his side or help himself do any thing for himself." Josiah stood aside as Chris walked to the bedside and Buck stood outside the door to the cubicle.

"Buck!" JD shout brought a 'shoosh' of silence from Josiah and a glare from Chris. Ducking his head in an apology, JD walked to the doorway to see his roommate. "You okay?"

Trying to peek in the room, Buck smiled down at his junior partner. "Getting better, JD. And thanks for all your help. I know how hard it was for you to put up with me." Nodding his head toward Vin, Buck asked, "How's Vin doing?"

"Josiah says he's got a fever and they started him on some new drugs for it. He's awful weak and in pain. And frustrated that he can't turn or sit up or nothing."

"For how long?" Buck frowned.

"Couple weeks is what Josiah said." Looking over at Chris talking to Vin, JD shook his head. "I don't think I could do that. Lay flat like that." Buck reached out and grabbed JD in a bear hug.

Chris brushed a few wet stray hairs off Vin's forehead. It was a natural act. Something he remembered doing when Adam had been sick. That horrible out of control feeling you get when someone close to you is hurt or sick and their recovery is out of your hands.

Seeing Vin's eyelids flutter, Chris called softly. "Hey cowboy? You awake?"

A small smile form on Vin's lips rewarded Chris. Keeping his eyes closed, Vin spoke softly. "Is this a bad dream, or am I really flat on my back in a hospital bed?"

"Sorry Vin. No bad dream. You got shot. Stood up and drew the bad guy's bullet before it could get one of us. Something I might add we'll have to change about your tactics." Chris grinned hugely at the young man.

Vin frowned remembering some of the details of this morning's shooting. "Buck! Chris! He was moving across the ground and their man was taking a bead on him." Vin started to try and sit up. Chris firmly placed his arms on Vin's shoulders. Turning to look at Buck, Chris motioned with his head. "Relax Vin. See, here's Buck. Safe and sound. You're the only one who got hurt."

Chris stepped back and forced Buck up next to Vin's bed so Vin could see Buck. "Buck? You okay?" Buck noticed how much more pronounced the Texas accent was. He knew it was due to the drugs, fatigue and pain.

"I'm okay, Vin. Really. I'm sorry I made that stupid move. Hell I'm sorry about a whole lot of things. If I could trade places with you I would in a second."

Vin reached up with his hand. Buck took the warm long fingered hand in his own and felt the slight squeeze Vin gave him.

"Nah, Buck. You'd stay here too long. The insurance would run out just so you could get a daily bed bath by a pretty nurse."

Buck smiled and returned Vin's squeeze. "Think I'll take a rain check this time, Vin. Something tells me when you're feeling better you're gonna be a handful to keep in that hospital bed."

"Got that right, Buck." Vin said softly his voice drifting off as his grip relaxed inside Buck's hand. Within seconds Vin was sleeping quietly. Buck put Vin's hand down gently and looked up at Chris. Seeing the expression in Chris's eyes, Buck knew a change had taken place in the team. There were seven now. No replacements; no substitutions. One of the youngest lay injured because of a stupid act on his part. Buck made a silent pledge to Vin to set things straight.

"Buck?" Buck looked up as Chris spoke. "We gotta meet Ezra, remember?"

"Yeah, sure, okay. Right behind ya." Looking at Josiah and JD, Buck said softly. "You guys take care of our newest, you hear?"

Josiah nodded his head and JD pushed Buck toward the door.

"Go on, Buck. Chris is waiting. From the look on his face, you guys are gonna have some fun at someone else's expense." Seeing the mock look of surprise on Buck's face, JD laughed and watched as Chris and Buck moved purposefully down the hall.

Chapter 28

Chris and Buck headed across the parking lot toward Chris's truck. Buck had his cell phone out and was dialing Sam Johnson's cell phone number. Settling in the passenger seat of Chris's truck, Buck waited patiently for an answer.

Frowning when he got a 'voice mail' message, Buck dialed again. "This number had better get an answer. If it doesn't, I know the person who belongs to this number." Turning to look at Chris as the truck moved into traffic, Buck continued. "And Sam isn't gonna like it if his wife finds out about her." Chris caught Buck's contagious smile and laughed with him.

"Knew there had to be a woman in there someplace, Buck." Chris shook his head waiting with Buck to see if anyone answered the phone.

Buck suddenly raised an eyebrow and spoke into the phone. "Kelly? Kelly, this is Buck Wilmington." Listening to the woman Buck waited patiently. "Well, Kelly, I'm a little busy at the moment, but I think we could work something out for later."

Ignoring a glare from Chris, Buck continued. "So, Kelly, the reason I called was, I am trying to get a hold of Sam Johnson. His cell phone doesn't answer. He's not at his office number and I thought you might know where he was." Buck listened a moment and then spoke. "Sam! Imagine you being at Kelly's!" Buck grinned when he saw Chris throw his head back in laughter. Chris parked the truck in his space as Buck continued to talk.

"Haven't seen you in a long time either, Sam. But I've got a little information on that ex-bounty hunter that headquarter's unloaded on us." Smiling hugely at Chris, Buck continued. "See, I was hoping we could meet. You know. Say later this evening?"

"Well, sure, McGill's is fine." Buck grinned at Chris. "Eight o'clock?" Looking at Chris for confirmation and getting a nod finished his phone call. "Okay, then I'll see you there around eight. Yeah, I'm buying, I know. Oh, and Sam? Say "bye bye" to Kelly." Buck clicked off his phone and clapped Chris on the back.

"All right, now what?" Buck opened his passenger door and joined Chris walking to the elevators.

"Inside to pick up Ezra and the props we need. Think you can keep Johnson busy for at least an hour?" Chris said as he pushed the button for the elevator.

"Easy. It will take that long for me to tell him all my "information" about Tanner. By the way, what do I have on Vin?" Stepping into the elevator both men discussed several suspicious things that Buck could use.

Chris stepped out before Buck and saw Ezra standing drinking coffee while staring out the window.

"So Ezra, you ready to go?" Chris moved to his office to pick up the keys he needed.

Walking slowly to Chris's office door, Ezra wearing jeans and a denim shirt stood waiting. Chris grabbed the keys he wanted and smiled at Ezra.

"I like it Ezra. The Calvin Kline look suits you." Chris moved past Ezra toward the elevators.

Ezra shook his head in despair and followed without comment.

Standing together in the elevator Chris got his first look at Ezra's shoes. Looking at them and then at Ezra's face, he frowned. "Please tell me those aren't the most workman like shoes you own?"

Staring down at the brown leather loafers Ezra looked up at Chris, his voice one of innocence. "Why Mr. Larabee these ARE the most workman like shoes I own. They are you will notice slightly scuffed on the toes. I'm afraid I do not have an extensive wardrobe when it comes to menial labor type roles." Rubbing the toes of one shoe on the back of his pant leg.

"Ezra? Someday," Chris began.

"I know Mr. Larabee. You're going to have to shoot me." Ezra sipped his coffee just as the elevator bumped to a halt. The coffee sloshed up into Ezra's nose and spilled over onto his shirt. "Ackk!" Ezra jumped back and started to wipe the coffee off his shirt.

"No, now Ezra. Don't do that. It adds character to the shirt." Chris stepped out into a basement area leaving Ezra with coffee covered hands and face.

Stepping out to follow Chris, Ezra tossed the cup of coffee into a trash bin and moved off to overtake his boss. He had a very bad feeling about what lay in store. This was the area where the vans and trucks used for undercover work were kept. He thought lovingly of his silver Jag parked upstairs and rounded the corner to stare at the vehicle Chris was unlocking.

+ + + + + + +

Vin could hear voices talking in whispers at the foot of his bed. Reluctant to open his eyes and see yet another bunch of doctors and nurses, Vin kept his eyes closed while his mind took a survey of his body. He could still feel the tightness and sore areas located around his left groin and across to the other hip. The nurses changed the dressing twice a day and the area around his groin incision was becoming tender from the constant removal of tape. The last nurse had used "a new tape" that she promised wouldn't tear the skin apart.

Vin's deepest desire was to turn. Turn right on his side or left on his side. It didn't matter. He just wanted to move. And he was bored. After the first thirty hours or so of feeling really bad, he was now mostly very sore and his back was really hurting. The painkillers helped but he longed to sit up and eat a meal and look out the window. Something bumped against his bed and rocked it heavily. Feeling his body twist in response he felt the stabbing pain that reminded him he had been shot less than two days ago. A groan escaped his lips before he could stop it.

"See I told you not to try and put it up there!" JD looked anxiously over at Vin. Giving Josiah a frown, he stepped quietly to Vin's side. "Hey, Vin. We're sorry. Are you okay? Do I need to get the nurse?"

Vin kept his eyes closed as he bit his lip against the painful tears that wanted to form. Taking a deep breath, he let his eyes open slowly, blinking at the bright light coming through the window.

"JD," Vin acknowledged the younger agent with a grunt and nodded toward the window. "Mind shutting the blinds a bit?" Vin slowly placed his forearm across his eyes until JD had lower the shades. "Didn't know you guys would still be here."

Josiah's voice arose from the foot of the bed. "Sorry, Vin. We're just trying to get this monitor situated so you can see it." JD turned back to Vin and raised the playstation he was holding higher.

"I brought you the playstation from the apartment. And we're gonna get it up on the shelving so you can see it. You do play games, right?" The eagerness in JD's voice made Vin restrain from telling the truth.

"Yeah, I've played a little bit. But you guys don't..." Vin didn't get to finish as JD and Josiah settled the monitor high above the foot of Vin's bed.

"See? Now...I've got these extensions on the cables so you can get to the game controllers. And we're all set." Bouncing around to Vin's side, JD started showing Vin the different control buttons. "Wanna play a game now?" JD asked excitedly.

Josiah came around to the other side of the bed and placed the back of his hand against Vin's forehead. "You sleep well, Vin? Nurse earlier said your fever broke a few hours ago. Think your color's better." Looking up at JD, Josiah continued quietly, "Perhaps you should try and eat some of this soup and drink some juice before you take on 'JD, The Exterminator'." Seeing JD blush, Josiah chuckled softly. "You both could use some food. JD, why don't you go to the cafe and bring us something edible and I'll help Vin get started with his dinner."

"I'm not really hungry, Josiah." Vin spoke trying to make his voice sound stronger than it felt.

"Maybe, but let's try, all right? I'd feel a might better if I could tell that pretty nurse you took in at least one tablespoon of this delicious looking soup." Without waiting for Vin to say 'no' Josiah settled a second pillow behind Vin's head and started arranging the food tray.

Vin felt guilty taking up the time of his two new teammates, but he enjoyed their company. 'No,' Vin said to himself, 'I enjoy most not being alone.' Smiling shyly, Vin let Josiah hold the cup of apple juice as he drank it slowly.

Chapter 29

Ezra Standish continued to brush any remains of the coffee that he could off his shirt. It may have been a 'denim' shirt but it was and expensive denim shirt. 'Appearances are everything,' his mother would say. And in the world of undercover work, it had been his lifeline many a time.

Rounding a corner of a basement wall, Ezra looked around searching for Chris. It always spooked him a little when Chris was around and he couldn't see him. Kind of like Tanner. Both men moved quickly and efficiently when needed. Hearing a van door slammed shut, Ezra ventured toward the sound. "Mr. Larabee? Is that you Mr. Larabee?" Ezra moved slowly toward the sounds at the end of the large room.

Chris searched quickly through the number of magnetic signs stacked in the corner. The one he was looking for was of course the last one he located. Lifting it up, he brushed it off and admired the colorful lettering. It had been one the team had used on several different stakeouts. But this time it took on a special meaning. Walking with it toward the van, he called out. "Ezra, stop messing around and get over here. Time's a wasting."

Dreading what he would find on the other side of the van, Ezra squared his shoulders and moved to join Chris. Chris was just going through some clothing hanging on racks along a wall next to the van.

"Mr. Larabee? What are we..." Ezra got no further. He words caught in his throat when he saw the sign on the side of the van. Fear and dread filled his chest and he stepped back trembling. He knew there was no escape.

Printed on the side of the old beat up van was a large and garrulously painted sign saying, "Bugs Are Ours Exterminators". Gathering a deep breath, Ezra was about to speak when something clammy and smelly hit him in the back of the head. Looking around he saw a pair of old dirty overalls lying at his feet. Chris was standing holding another set.

"Found them." Chris said proudly. "They're perfect. Put it on. Buck should be picking up Johnson just about now."

Chris tried not to laugh at the expression on Ezra's face. Holding the offending article of clothing at arm's length, the con man was trying to brush off some 'unknown' substance from the sleeve. Despite his efforts the brownish greasy substance persisted in remaining fully attached to the fabric. Holding it out to Chris, Ezra approached ready to argue for a new set of clothing.

Chris hid a laugh as he raised an eyebrow. "Ezra. Just think of it as a challenge. The chance to achieve your greatest undercover feat in the face of stressful and uncompromising circumstances."

Daring to bring the piece of clothing closer, Ezra tentatively sniffed at it. The noxious smell it carried made his eyes water instantly. Seeing Chris pulling tanks from the corner of the room already dressed in his overalls, Ezra shook his head in defeat. With as much dignity as he could muster, Ezra eased himself into the wretched piece of clothing. "Never let it be said that clothes make the man."

Walking awkwardly toward Chris, Ezra tried to keep the edges of the overalls pant legs from brushing against his loafers. Chris heard him coming and tried to keep a straight face.

"Oh, good you're just in time. We've got to get these tanks, goggles and respirators loaded. Grab that group over there, would you?" Chris pointed to a collection of assorted 'exterminator' equipment in the other corner. "Oh and Ez? The footwear that goes with that set of overalls is inside the van. Don't be long. We've got a time schedule to keep." Moving off quickly before he laughed out loud, Chris hurried off to phone Buck. A high-pitched scream reached him before he got the office door closed.


Buck was driving to McGill's when he got Chris's phone call. Clicking on the 'hands off' connection, Buck turned the radio down. Listening for a moment he smiled as Chris's voice was heard. "Hey, Chris. I'm on my way to meet Johnson now. Got a pretty good story...." Buck stopped talking as he heard screaming and moaning coming through Chris's phone line. "Chris? What's going on there? Sounds like somebody's hurt."

Chris raised his voice and laughed. "That's Ezra. He's just seen the shoes that go with his disguise." Listening to Buck's question, Chris turned to open the door. "I'm using the exterminator gig. Don't think Ezra has done that one before."

Buck could visualize the scene with Ezra and started laughing again. "You better be taking pictures. No one will believe it." Pulling into the parking lot next to McGill's Bar and Grill, Buck continued. "Listen I remembered something that might help your search. Check underneath the keyboard pull out shelf in Johnson's office. I caught him shoving papers in there one day when I stepped in unannounced." Listening to Chris above the background noise Buck checked out the front of the bar. "Okay then you all beep me when you've got what you want. I'll stick around a little while after to make sure Johnson doesn't pop in unannounced." Flipping the phone off, Buck noticed Sam Johnson just getting out of his car. Taking his time, Buck let Johnson enter the bar before him.

Chris slipped his phone inside his overalls and crossed to open the door from the office. The sight that greeted him was one that almost brought him to his knees. Ezra Standish, a proud well-educated intelligent federal agent, was sitting on the floor of the basement area attempting to pull on dirty crusty rubber boots over his 'work loafers'. Wiping tears from his face Chris Larabee walked across to Ezra and stood looking down.

"Ezra? What are you doing?" Chris coughed to hide his smile.

Pulling the rubber boot off and flinging it against the side of the van, Ezra sat back and stared unflinching at Chris. In a voice that began low but gained volume as he continued, Ezra pointed to the filthy boots. "Mr. Larabee! I have been asked to jump out of cars. I've been shot at. I've been shot! All in the line of duty. But THIS! THIS is asking too much. Those are not shoes! They are...are a haven for bacterial growth. Who knows where those things have been?"

Chris stood and gathered the boots. He tossed them in Ezra's lap as the Southern agent squirmed away. "They'll be easier to wear if you take off you 'work shoes'. I think Josiah last used them to collect manure for his home garden." Getting serious, Chris moved to the driver's side of the van. "Let's get moving. Buck is with Sam Johnson at the bar now."

Ezra stood and grabbing the boots with his fingertips slid into the passenger side seat. "I'm assuming we are using the 'old we've come to kill the bugs didn't you get the email routine'?" Seeing Chris nod, Ezra reached back into a jump bag and pulled out a book of blank work orders. He began filling in the needed information as Chris drove around the block and entered the main parking garage.

Chapter 30

Buck peered into the smoke filled room looking for Sam Johnson. He knew the back booths were always reserved for off-duty police and agents. He was hoping it was too late for many working the evening shift to stop by for dinner and too early for a drink. Walking toward the back of the bar he heard his name being called. Turning toward the voice, Buck spied Johnson sitting in a booth by the restroom doors.

Approaching the table Buck gestured toward the back of the bar. "You not sitting in the back these days?"

Sam Johnson smiled and stood taking Buck's hand. "Nah, just want to talk in private. If what you say pans out then I'll have stuff I need on Tanner to get him tossed out the Agency without ceremony." Johnson sat down and gestured to Buck to a seat.

A waitress approached their booth and both men ordered beers. Buck didn't say anything knowing that Johnson was not above breaking rules especially one as 'small' as drinking while on duty. Pulling out a scratch pad, Johnson sat back and stared at Buck.

"So. To what do I owe this gesture? Giving up information on one of your own. That isn't like you Buck. So why suddenly do you become so magnanimous and offer Tanner up as a sacrificial lamb?" Johnson accepted his beer from the waitress with a nod. Buck took a sip from his beer while considering his answer.

"Well, Sam," Buck paused screwing his face up in a frown, "one day I'm Larabee's best friend. We hang out. He cuts me some slack. Late nights and such." Johnson smiled. "The next thing I know this long haired kid is buddy buddy and Larabee's fussing over him like a long lost brother."

Johnson laughed. "Now there is a picture. Larabee caring about anyone." Leaning forward across the table, Johnson whispered. "Truth is I always believed he was pretending about his wife and kid. Ya know, got married so that he would look the part of an Agency man." Slapping the table, Johnson sat back and took a long drink from his beer. His eyes never left Buck's face.

Buck knew that Johnson was trying to get a rise out of him. He could feel anger rising in his chest but kept it in check. Reaching out Buck wrapped his fingers around the cool wet beer glass. Taking another drink, Buck let the silence hang in the air. Keeping a smile on his face, Buck reached inside his jacket and pulled out a piece of paper.

"So are we gonna sit and play games with each other? Or do you want what I have on this paper?" Buck placed the folded paper on the table and spread it out carefully.

Setting his beer down, Johnson waved his hand giving his permission for Buck to 'carry on'.


Josiah had promised to call if he heard anything from Buck or Chris. The 'preacher' was heading out to the office to monitor the radio Chris was carrying. JD returned with the rented movies so he and Vin could enjoy some quiet time together. Since he didn't know Vin's taste in entertainment, JD picked out one action movie and a couple westerns.

Watching Josiah leave, JD reached for his bag and showed Vin the movies. Vin picked out Terminator immediately. "I've always wanted to see that."

JD looked at him with surprise as he crossed the room to put the tape in the player. "Vin! Everybody has seen Terminator. It's a classic! Where have you been?" Getting no reply from Vin, JD turned his head in time to see Vin put down the movie box cover on the bed sheet and close his eyes. Turning the tape player off JD moved back toward the bed.

Vin sensed JD presence and brought his right arm up covering his eyes. He was trying very hard not to cry. He did not want JD to see him break down. He knew it was stupid to let JD's enthusiastic statement make him feel bad. But it did. Another jab at his self-esteem. Another person to let him know what he already knew - that Vin Tanner was uneducated and a loner with no real friends and that he was just pretending to be tough. Feeling the tears filter into the corner of his mouth, he coughed trying to block the tears that were starting to fall.

JD saw Vin cover his eyes and cursed himself for not watching what he said. He just felt so at home with Vin. However he knew very little of Vin's past except their conversation on the tower.

Looking at Vin now, JD could see that Buck had been right when he had said that Vin wasn't much older than JD "I'll be back in a second, okay?"

Vin heard JD step out of the room and brought his arm down. Trying to reach for the ice water on his side table, Vin ended up knocking the glass off on the floor. His body twisted as he reached for it and suddenly he felt something pull across his middle and a sharp pain turn his insides into fire.

"Oh...augh…." Vin grabbed his stomach with his left arm and pushed himself back on the bed with his right. Letting his head fall back on his pillow he held his breath willing the pain to stop. It didn't. Reaching for his call light, he pressed the button. As his vision tunneled to a small thread, Vin felt the light fall from his hand.

JD was walking back to Vin's room. Carrying two Cokes, he figured he had given Vin enough time to get himself under control. As he approached the door, he heard Vin cry out and something hit the floor. The call light started ringing and JD pushed the door aside. Vin was pushing with his arms trying to get himself back onto the bed. JD called for help and ran to the bedside.

"Vin? Vin, what are you doing?" JD caught the call light as it rolled from Vin's hand. Getting no response from the sharpshooter, JD ran to the door getting there just as the nurse arrived. "He was…he must have…" JD began but the nurse rushed past him and checked Vin's breathing and pulse.

Sighing when the pulse under her fingers was rapid but strong, she finished her survey by letting her eyes fall to Vin's incision site. Blood was oozing from under the dressing. She reached for a thick dressing and applied pressure. "Young man? Go down to the nursing station and tell the secretary to page the resident covering this floor. And see if there is another nurse available?" Watching JD take off out the door, she looked back at Vin's face. "This is going to make a few friends of yours upset not to mention your nurses and doctors." Shaking her head, she continued. "If you weren't so adorable I'd give you my nurse Ratchet routine." She continued to watch Vin carefully as JD returned with additional help.


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