by Hombre

Disclaimer: Boys belong to others, but who's to know what I dream? The medical book I consulted was Mosby's Paramedic Textbook. Thanks to Ennio Morricone for writing all the wonderful film music that keeps me company while I write. This story is for Sandy, Judy and Clara. Thanks for all those emails. I really hope you enjoy this.

Vin nestled the rifle butt against his shoulder and shifted uncomfortably on the hard surface beneath him. He lowered his eye to the sight and made whatever adjustments he thought necessary. There was quite a stiff breeze blowing and he wanted to make sure he took that into account. Once he was ready, he curled his finger round the trigger and waited for the right time to shoot.

His target was holding several hostages in the building opposite, but Vin had a good view of him from his position on top of the apartment block. He could see into the room where the man was standing in full view by the window. Vin laughed at his stupidity, but why should Vin complain, it made his job easier.

He decided the time was right to act and pulled the trigger at exactly the same time as he heard an order through his earpiece to stand down. It was too late. There was nothing he could do. He looked up to see what was happening below and saw a policeman had broken ranks before being given the signal to go in. Vin swore and put his eye back to the rifle sight to look over at the building again. His target had moved away from his previous position, drawn by the commotion outside and now an innocent hostage was standing in the bullet's path instead. Vin shouted frantically into his mike.

Time stood still.

All the above had happened in seconds but it felt like hours to the sharpshooter. As he looked through his rifle sight the hostage turned and looked directly at him as if he knew what was coming. Vin gasped loudly as the figure materialized into Chris.

"No! Chris!" he shouted desperately, watching in horror as the bullet struck his friend in the forehead and blew the back of his head out.

+ + + + + + +

Vin woke screaming in terror, his body bathed in sweat. His breath came in short gasps and he put a fist to his chest to try and take away the tightness there.

"Not again," he muttered to himself, as he wiped the tears from his face with the back of his hand. He'd been having the same nightmare since he had shot an innocent hostage the day before. Every time he closed his eyes it started. The only difference in his dream from the true events was that the hostage kept appearing as Chris.

Vin ran his fingers through his hair and got out of bed to wash his face. He leant over the sink until his breathing had recovered and then he set about changing the sheets on his bed. They were damp and creased from where his body had tossed and turned in turmoil all night. He couldn't face going back to sleep so he took a quick shower and got dressed. He walked into the lounge and flopped down in a comfy chair, drawing his legs up onto the seat after him. He rested his head on his knees and sighed deeply. How the hell am I going to get over this dreadful feeling of guilt?

He looked at his watch and saw that it was still only 3am. He decided he might as well go into work. He had been taken off active duty after the shooting and was confined to the office, but anything was better than sitting at home. Perhaps if he found something to get his teeth into at work it would help take his mind off things for a short while. He rose and went out to his jeep and climbed in the front seat.

He was still there at 7am when Chris drove by to see how the sharpshooter was. Chris nearly walked past the jeep but stopped as he caught sight of Vin's image out the corner of his eye. He stooped down and looked through the side window and saw his friend just sitting staring into space. He reached out and opened the door.


The sharpshooter showed no sign of hearing. Chris reached out and touched his shoulder softly and Vin nearly jumped through the roof. He gasped loudly and swung his head round to see what had touched him.

"Jesus Christ. Give me heart failure will ya?" he said angrily.

"Sorry. How long, exactly, have you been sitting there?" Chris looked at his agent closely taking in the tired eyes, pale complexion and generally exhausted demeanor.

"What's the time?"


"What!?" Vin cried in disbelief. He lifted a shaking hand to his face and rubbed it wearily.

"Vin? How long?"

"Since 3. I was gonna go to work. Guess I wasn't that eager."

Chris reached in and put a gentle hand on his friend's arm. "Come on. We'll go back inside for a bit. I don't think you should be back at work yet."

"Leave go Larabee. Just butt out, will ya?" Vin pulled his arm out of Chris's grasp furiously.

"Look Vin. You're no good to me or yourself in this state. I don't want you in at work at the moment. Is that clear enough for you?" Chris stood up straight after he had spoken. Vin could be exasperating at times.

"Yeah. I'm a liability, I read ya loud and clear," Vin said. He quickly pulled the jeep's door closed now that Chris was clear and started the motor. He drove off before Chris could do anything to stop him.

"Shit! Well, you handled that brilliantly Larabee," he chastised himself. He turned and got back in his own car. What should I do? If I give chase I'll probably cause an accident but I don't like the thought of Vin being off on his own. Okay, no one had stayed with him overnight but that was only because Vin literally pushed me out the apartment door and slammed it in my face. Chris sighed and started the motor, deciding to head into work.

When he arrived he looked around hopefully in case Vin had disobeyed him and turned up at the office. This would have been one time that Chris would've welcomed a bit of insubordination. The sharpshooter was not there however and Chris continued on through to his own office. He found Josiah inside waiting for his arrival.

"Josiah? What can I do for you?"

"Have you seen Vin today? I just wondered how he was," the big man asked.

"I saw him alright. I handled it pretty badly and he drove off. I've no idea where he is now. He was a mite upset and I could kick myself for the way I acted. Have you any idea how we can handle this whole situation? I just don't know what to do."

"Well until Vin is willing to accept help there's not a lot we can do. I'm sure he'll realize he can't handle it alone."

"I hope you're right. The sooner the better as far as I'm concerned. He can't carry on the way he is. I'll go back to his apartment later and see if he's returned. I'll let you know how he is then. He doesn't seem to want any company but I don't like the thought of him being on his own. He told me he feels claustrophobic with other people so I don't want to push him," Chris informed the other agent.

Josiah nodded and rose, leaving Chris to take his own seat behind the desk. Chris let his mind drift back to the events surrounding the shooting.

Vin, meanwhile, had driven out of town and parked up along side the road. His mind also went back to the hostage situation and the tears ran down his cheeks as he remembered every last detail.

The day before

Chris gathered his men together in the conference room. He looked at each man before sitting down at the head of the table.

"We've got a hostage situation and Travis wants us to lend a hand. A drug dealer has taken several people hostage in a building down town. He was under surveillance but recognized an undercover agent who was part of the bust. He's currently on the third floor of this building." He paused while he pointed out the building concerned on a map. "Vin, I want you to be on the apartment block opposite and take the man out when the opportunity arises. The rest of us will be spread around where the person in charge wants us. Okay, let's get moving."

The men collected weapons and equipment and made their way downstairs to the parking lot. They drove to the building concerned and parked outside the cordoned off area. Chris found out who was in charge and introduced himself. The man, Towner, made it clear that he wasn't happy about having Chris and his men there.

"Right. I don't want you getting in the way. We've got it under control. I don't know why Travis wanted you all here anyway. We only needed your sharpshooter. If you're gonna stay you can go to either end of the street and watch from there," the man said irritably.

Chris turned away angrily. He wasn't going to be drawn into an argument with the man. Travis had probably wanted Chris and his team there precisely because of the man's attitude. Chris deployed his men with instructions to intervene if they saw fit. Vin had already gone up to his position and Chris filled him in via his earpiece. He gave the sharpshooter a description of his target that Chris had obtained from a more willing cop.

Vin looked down from his position at the scene below him without showing himself to the hostage taker. Vin could see the police spread around the entire area and he made a note of where Chris and the others were.

The sharpshooter nestled the rifle butt against his shoulder and shifted uncomfortably on the hard surface beneath him. He lowered his eye to the sight and made whatever adjustments he thought necessary. There was quite a stiff breeze blowing and he wanted to make sure he took that into account. Once he was ready, he curled his finger round the trigger and waited for the right time to shoot.

Chris was standing on the opposite side of the street from where the hostages were being held. He had a good view and could see their target through the window. He knew Vin would fire when he was ready so he didn't say anything.

Vin decided the time was right to act and pulled the trigger at exactly the same time as he heard an order through his earpiece to stand down. It was too late. There was nothing he could do. Vin glanced up to see what was happening below and saw a policeman had broken ranks before being given the signal to go in.

Chris was watching events unfold from his position and he looked up when he heard Vin's gunshot at the same time as the order was given to stand down. His attention was then redirected to the street and chaos took over. Chris saw a young policeman running down the road toward the building's entrance. "Shit. The bloody fool."

Back up on the roof, Vin swore and put his eye back to the rifle sight to look over at the building again. His target had moved away from his previous position, drawn by the commotion outside. Vin saw him go to an open window and fire a gun at the approaching policeman, who fell in a heap in the road. He looked back to where the hostage taker had been standing before and saw an innocent hostage was now directly in the bullet's path instead.

Meanwhile, Chris also turned his gaze back to the target building after seeing the policeman shot. He quickly lifted his binoculars and saw a hostage fall as he listened to his sharpshooter's frantic cries. Chris had heard the earlier order to stand down and he knew he was going to have to override it.

He radioed to Vin, hoping the man was in a fit state to carry out his orders, "Get the target, Vin. Take him out now!"

Although Vin was shocked at the turn of events he managed to adjust his aim quickly and took another shot which killed the hostage taker. Vin laid his rifle down on the ground not wanting to touch the weapon again. He rolled over so he was sitting up with his back against the parapet. He was shaking and felt sick. He took a deep breath to calm himself but the image of what had just happened wouldn't leave his mind.

Chris, meanwhile, was racing up to the top of the apartment block. He took the stairs two at a time in his haste to get to his sharpshooter. He cannoned through the door to the roof and slowed his pace when he saw where his friend was sitting. He walked over and sat down beside him.

"Vin? Are you alright?" Chris asked in concern.

"He moved. I shot a hostage." Vin's voice was strained and Chris reached out an arm and put it round his shoulders.

"I know." What else could he say? Chris looked up as he saw Josiah approaching him. The big man squatted down in front of Vin and put a hand on his knee. Vin looked up quickly before dropping his gaze again.

"What's going on down there now?" Chris asked, while still watching Vin closely.

"The hostages have been brought out and Towner is spitting blood. I came to warn you that he's on his way up."

"Thanks." Even as he answered, Chris saw the man in question storming across the roof toward him. He rose to meet him, standing slightly in front of Vin so he took the brunt of the man's anger instead of the sharpshooter. Josiah stood and flanked his boss.

"I thought he was the best, he killed an innocent hostage. I'm gonna make sure he never works again. The cop who was killed was my partner. Why didn't Tanner take the target out earlier?" Towner shouted furiously.

Chris put a hand out to the man's chest and fended him off. "If your man hadn't broken ranks none of this would have happened. You told Vin to stand down. Good job I overrode the order or more innocent people would be dead. Just back off, Towner, I'm not in the mood to discuss this now. I'm likely to do something we'll both regret. No, now I think about it maybe I won't regret it, but you certainly will. I'm taking my man outta here and you can go stuff yourself." Chris stooped and pulled Vin gently to his feet. Josiah collected the rifle and they made their way downstairs, leaving a furious and vengeful man behind.

"That was pretty restrained Chris, even for you," Josiah said in admiration.

"I wasn't gonna give him the satisfaction of seeing me lose it, but if he pushes this he'll get to see the whole Larabee repertoire. Anyway, Vin's my first priority. I just wanted to get him away from that fool." The three men reached ground level as he finished talking and were met by the rest of their team.

"Buck, Josiah? Take Vin back to the office, will ya? I'll meet you there." Chris took his hand from Vin's arm and Josiah took hold instead. Vin's two companions led him to one of their cars and headed back to the office. Chris turned after watching them leave and went to see if there was anything he could do at the crime scene.

+ + + + + + +

When they arrived at work, Buck took Vin and sat him down in Chris's office while Josiah made a drink. Buck sat down next to the sharpshooter on the couch and asked, "Vin? Are you okay?"

"I killed an innocent man, Bucklin. I took away his most precious possession, his life. I've denied him all his hopes and dreams. What right did I have to do that?"

Buck didn't know how to answer. He didn't think Vin really expected one but he felt he ought to say something, but what? Josiah saved him by returning with a drink that he put in front of the sharpshooter.

"There you are, Vin. Drink that down. How do you feel?"

Vin picked up the mug and held it, cupped in his hands as if he was cold. "I feel sick. How am I gonna live with the guilt, Josiah? I know I shoot people for a living but I'm beginning to think my job is just legalized murder."

"I know you feel bad, but you can't start looking at it like that. You need to concentrate on the lives you've saved by taking out criminals who've been threatening innocent people's lives. Vin, you weren't aiming to kill that hostage. If the hostage taker hadn't moved, the right person would be dead. You did everything right. You just can't buck fate, I'm afraid, son."

Chris had arrived back at work after deciding he didn't need to stay at the crime scene. He had been standing outside his office door listening to the conversation inside. He knew Vin was going to torture himself about the shooting and he didn't know how to help him. He peeled himself off the wall where he had been waiting until Josiah had finished talking and he entered the office. He squatted down in front of Vin.

"I've just been to see Travis. He wants you taken off active duty until it's all sorted. I'm sorry Vin, but you know the procedure. Come on, I don't think you need to be here now. I'll take you home." Chris reached out a hand and helped Vin to his feet. They went down to the parking lot and Chris took him home. Once inside his apartment, Vin sat down on the couch and ran his fingers through his hair.

"I'll stay tonight," Chris offered.

"No thanks. I need some time alone."

"I don't think that's a good idea, Vin."

"Good idea or not, that's what I want." Vin stood and walked to the door. He opened it and then stood waiting for Chris to leave. The blond walked over to his friend and stopped in front of him. He looked into Vin's eyes uncertainly, hoping he would change his mind. Chris didn't want to force Vin into anything, but he knew the man must be close to breaking point. Vin held human life highly despite the nature of his job and every killing affected him deeply. This accidental killing must be four times worse for him.

"Are you sure you want me to go?"

"Yeah. I'm sure." Vin nodded vigorously and helped Chris outside before closing the door quickly behind him. Chris turned round in surprise. That was not like Vin at all.

"Call me if you need anything," Chris shouted, hoping Vin could hear him. He walked slowly downstairs to his car. What should I do? Should I insist on staying or would that only make matters worse? Perhaps I'll leave well alone for the time being and return early tomorrow to check on him. I just don't like the thought of leaving him alone though.

Back to the present

Chris got up from his desk after going back over events and made himself a drink. He started writing his report about the shooting now that he had things straight in his mind. Travis was pushing him for it but Chris wasn't going to rush something so important. It involved one of his men and he wanted to get all the facts right. After working for a couple of hours he made up his mind to check on Vin again. After this morning's fiasco he wanted to set things straight but he'd just put his coat on when Travis called him for an urgent meeting.

"Dammit. Ezra? Can you go and see if Vin's back at his apartment? Can you make sure he's alright? I didn't handle things too well this morning when I saw him."

"Certainly Mr. Larabee. I'll leave now."

+ + + + + + +

Vin walked back up to his apartment. He opened the door and put his keys on the table in the hall. He wiped a hand over his face and sat down at the kitchen table. He heard a knock at the door and he got up angrily to answer it.

"Larabee. Can't you leave me alone?" He stopped when he saw it was Towner and not Chris who was on the doorstep. "What do you want?"

"Just a chat. Can I come in?"

Vin stood back and let the man in, unsure whether he was doing the right thing. He left the door open hoping the man wouldn't stay long and he indicated for Towner to go into the kitchen.

"I just wanted to give you something to make up for yesterday," Towner said turning swiftly and sending a punch into Vin's face. The sharpshooter fell backwards caught totally by surprise. He stayed where he fell, stunned.

"That's for killing two innocent people." Towner followed up with a couple of kicks and Vin curled up to try and protect himself.

+ + + + + + +

Ezra drew up outside Vin's apartment block and made his way upstairs. When he reached Vin's floor he heard raised voices. He hurried toward Vin's apartment and saw the door standing open. He heard an angry voice inside and he drew his weapon before going inside quietly. He walked slowly and checked the kitchen first. He saw Towner standing over Vin with a foot drawn back ready to send another kick to the fallen man.

"Back away, Towner. Mr. Larabee is going to be apoplectic with rage when he hears about this. You're going to wish your parents had never met," the undercover agent said loudly.

Towner swung round in surprise. He hadn't heard Ezra come in. He'd been more intent on hurting Vin. Ezra squatted down next to his colleague and felt for a pulse while keeping Towner covered. Vin moved as soon as he was touched and Ezra said, "Stay where you are, Mr. Tanner."

Ezra pulled out his handcuffs and secured Towner before reaching for his mobile phone. He punched in Chris's number and waited while it rang.


"Chris. I'm sorry to interrupt your meeting but I thought you ought to be told. I arrived at Vin's apartment to find Towner using him for target practice. I've told him the error of his ways. Can you get over here? I can't deal with both him and Vin."

"Is Vin alright?" the blond asked worriedly.

"He's awake, but I think Mr. Jackson should examine him to make sure he hasn't suffered any ill effects."

"Okay. We'll be right there. Thanks for taking care of things, Ez. I appreciate it."

"My pleasure." Ezra disconnected and helped Vin to his feet gently. He led him through to the lounge and sat him on the couch.

He squatted in front of his friend but Vin wouldn't meet his gaze. "Can I get you anything, Vin?"

"No thanks."

Ezra went back to the kitchen to speak to Towner. "You're likely to see the Mr. Hyde side of Mr. Larabee's character. If you thought his Dr. Jekyll was bad you're in for a shock."

Chris happened to arrive then with Nathan and the two men entered the kitchen as that was where they heard voices.

"Where's Vin?" Nathan demanded.

"In the lounge."

Chris and Nathan went on through. Vin was still sitting on the couch and he looked to be dozing. Nathan reached out a hand and touched his shoulder gently. Vin jumped and opened his eyes.

"Jesus. First Chris and now you. Are you trying to kill me?" Vin asked. Nathan had no idea what Vin was referring to but Chris just shook his head at the sharpshooter. Vin had a developing black eye and his nose had been bleeding. Chris turned angrily and made his way back to the kitchen.

"You're gonna regret doing that to him. I'll make sure you get thrown off the Force. I've a good mind to give you a taste of yer own medicine," Chris threatened as he advanced on Towner. Ezra put out a hand and restrained his boss.

"Mr. Larabee. I wouldn't take retaliatory action if I were you. He'll get what's coming to him without you sacrificing your employment as well. I don't think Vin would take too kindly to any fighting on his behalf."

Chris knew Ezra was right so he satisfied himself by telling Towner exactly what he thought of him. He wandered back to check on Vin when he was sure that Towner had got the message loud and clear. Ezra had cringed on more than one occasion through the tirade at the language used but he knew that Chris needed to get it off his chest.

Chris squatted down beside Nathan. "How is he?"

Nathan shrugged. He was still examining the sharpshooter and couldn't really find much wrong with him except numerous cuts and bruises. Vin sat and suffered the prodding with barely concealed anger.

"Did you pass out?" Nathan asked.

"No," Vin snapped.

Nathan turned to Ezra who had also come into the room leading Towner. The medic raised an eyebrow in question but Ezra shook his head in reply.

"I really don't know. I only heard Towner's voice when I came in but that doesn't mean anything. Vin moved when I touched him."

"He wasn't moving when you first saw him?" Nathan persisted.

"No. He was curled up in a protective ball. He could have thought that staying still would stop the attack."

Nathan turned back to Vin. "I'd rather you were checked out at the hospital."

"Well, I'd rather I wasn't. I'm alright. Just leave me alone."

Nathan scrutinized the man closely. He didn't look concussed so he gave in. "Alright, but I'm staying tonight and no arguments."

Chris agreed and said, "I'll stay too."

Vin sighed loudly. He knew that if he fell asleep the two men would find out about the nightmares. He would just have to stay awake. Nathan turned to look at Towner and saw that he hadn't got any injuries at all.

"Didn't you defend yourself?" he asked as he turned back to Vin.

"No. Figured I deserved it," Vin answered quietly.

Chris stared at him in astonishment. Vin really was taking the whole situation very badly. He admonished himself again for the way he had spoken to the sharpshooter that morning. He should have known how Vin would react in the circumstances.

"I'll take Towner to the local police precinct," Ezra said, interrupting Chris's thoughts.

"Yeah. Thanks Ez. Get him charged with assault, will ya?"

The undercover agent led the man out of the room as Chris and Nathan headed to the kitchen to clear up from the fight. There hadn't been much damage done and it wasn't long before the room was tidy again. Chris went back to the lounge and sat beside Vin and tried to get him talking. Vin only gave monosyllabic answers and in the end Chris gave up. Nathan had stayed in the kitchen to rustle up some food and he returned with a plate of sandwiches. Vin picked one up and ate slowly, but at least he did eat, Chris was pleased to see.

After about an hour Vin disappeared into his bedroom even though it was early. He sat on the floor rather than getting into bed. He hoped the hard surface and uncomfortable position would keep him awake. It didn't work. He woke screaming a couple of hours later and found himself lying on the floor. Nathan and Chris burst into the room to see what had happened. They looked toward the bed and saw that it hadn't been slept in. Chris turned his gaze to study the room. He saw Vin sitting in the corner of the room with his legs drawn up and his head resting on his knees. Chris could see him shaking and he walked over and sat down beside him. Nathan followed and squatted down in front of the trembling man.


Vin looked up and then dropped his gaze quickly while wiping his eyes.

"Nightmare?" Nathan asked.

Vin nodded unhappily. Why couldn't I have stayed awake? I don't know how long I'm gonna be able to cope with this situation. What can I do to stop feeling so guilty? Vin wiped his face on his sleeve and then laid his head back against the wall while staring at the ceiling.

"Do you wanna talk about it?" Chris asked quietly.

"What's there to say? I just keep seeing it over and over. A nightmare's a nightmare."

Something in Vin's demeanor made Chris think he wasn't being told the whole truth. "Is that all you see?" he persisted.

"I see you alright!" Vin shouted tearfully. "I shoot you every time!"

Chris put an arm round his friend's shoulder. "Tell me what you see," he insisted.

"Everything's the same as the real thing until I see the hostage's face. It's you. You look straight at me as if you know what's coming. The bullet....." Vin's voice cracked and Chris gave his back a pat.

"Go on."

"The bullet hits you in the forehead and blows the back of your head out. It's so clear." Vin started crying and Chris pulled him toward him. Vin sank down until he was lying in Chris's lap. The blond rubbed his back and held him tight until the crying stopped.

"Jeez Vin. Why didn't you say anything," Nathan asked. Vin just shrugged in reply.

"Don't suppose you wanna go back to bed?" Chris asked.


"Come on out with us," Nathan suggested. "It's no good sitting in here on yer own." Chris helped him to his feet and led him outside. Vin sat down in a chair and ran his fingers through his hair and wiped his cheeks again.

"Can I get you anything?" Nathan asked.

"No thanks."

Nathan and Chris sat down and kept Vin company. Not that they spoke, but Chris hoped that just their presence would be of some comfort. Chris looked across at his friend and saw his eyes closing. He wasn't sure whether to wake him or leave him to catch up on the sleep he so obviously needed. He looked at Nathan questioningly.

"Leave him be. We're here if he has another nightmare. He can't stop sleeping. We'll wake him if he gets upset."

The two men watched over their friend and he slept peacefully for about an hour before starting to get distressed. Nathan called his name and then shook his shoulder when that didn't wake him. Vin woke with a start and looked at Nathan when he saw the medic leaning over him.

"Are you alright?" Nathan asked.

"Been better."

"Come and sit next to me," Chris said. Vin did as he was told and Chris put his arm around his friend's shoulders and gave him a hug. Vin leant against him and in time his eyes closed and he fell asleep on Chris's shoulder. Chris moved him gently so he ended up lying with his head in Chris's lap again. The black clad man kept an arm over him and it seemed to have the desired effect. Vin slept soundly for four hours with only a hint of distress.

"Well, he's either so tired that he's past dreaming or he gets comfort from the feel of a human hand," Nathan said as he watched Vin sleep.

"You could be right. He certainly needs the rest."

Vin woke and sat up rubbing his eyes. "How long have I slept?"

"Four hours. Do ya feel better? Are you hungry?"

"Yeah." The three men rose and went to the kitchen. Vin sat dejectedly at the table while his two friends searched the cupboards and fridge for food. Chris ended up making omelettes and the three men ate ravenously.

"Didn't realize how hungry I was. Haven't eaten I 'spose since yesterday, now I think about it," Vin said.

"You need to eat Vin. It's no good making yerself sick because of what happened," Nathan ordered. He saw the sharpshooter nod automatically in reply.

"I have to get to work. I've got a meeting with Travis first thing. Can you stay with Vin and I'll send someone else to take over from you later, Nate?" Chris asked as he put the dirty plates in the sink.

"Sure," Nathan said.

"I'll be alright on my own, Chris. I don't wanna be smothered," Vin objected vehemently.

"Humor me, will ya?"

"Okay, but don't expect me to be nice," Vin replied sourly. He knew when to obey Chris and when to argue. This was definitely an obeying moment. He could see a glint in Chris's eye that brooked no argument on the subject.

"You can rant all you like to Nate but don't rile me okay? You'll likely regret it," Chris said smiling, knowing he had won.

"Yeah, yeah. You're one tough hombre. I get the picture," Vin laughed.

"Don't you forget it, cowboy." Chris patted Vin's shoulder before leaving the two men to cope on their own for a while.

+ + + + + + +

The two men sat together quietly for an hour before Vin said, "I'll go to my room for a while, if you don't mind?"

"Whatever Vin, but are you sure you wanna be on yer own?" Nathan asked.

"Yeah. I'll be alright. I won't be trying to sleep."

Vin rose and disappeared into his room and changed his clothes. He decided he was going to try and get rid of his babysitter as soon as possible. He really needed some space at the moment to think things through. As he dressed, he saw his tent packed away on top of the cupboard. Just the thing, he thought to himself. He walked over to the window and opened it wide and he looked out to see if the way was clear.

"You okay, Vin?" Nate called from outside the bedroom door.

"Fine. I'll be there in a minute. I'm just getting changed." Vin listened intently and heard Nathan walk away. The sharpshooter quickly stood on a chair and pulled down his camping equipment as quietly as he could. He pulled some clothes out of the closet, packed them in his backpack and then climbed through the window and out onto the fire escape staircase. He hurried down to street level and looked out the end of the alley just in time to see Buck making his way into the apartment block. When the man was out of sight Vin ran to his jeep and threw the backpack over onto the passenger seat. He climbed in and started the motor and drove away as quickly as possible. He was in such a hurry he failed to notice Towner watching him from the shadows. The policeman stubbed out his cigarette and walked to a car parked nearby. He had been released from custody after being charged with assault and he had also been suspended from his job because of his behavior. The man was angry ! and looking for somebody to blame for the death of his partner. As Vin had been the sharpshooter and had also charged him with assault, Towner saw him as the main culprit and targeted him for retribution. Towner watched as Vin drove away and decided to bide his time until the sharpshooter returned to the apartment and was alone.

Buck, meanwhile, knocked on Vin's apartment door and smiled at Nathan when he opened it to let him in. "Everything okay, Nate?"

"Yeah. I'm just gonna check on Vin. He went to his bedroom and said he wouldn't be long but that was a few minutes ago." Nathan left Buck and walked along the hallway to the bedroom and knocked on the door. When he got no reply he opened it and looked inside.

"Vin?" he called. He saw the open window and empty room and cursed heartily. "Buck? He's done a runner."

Buck appeared in the doorway. "Has he taken anything in the way of clothes with him? If he hasn't, he's hopefully just gone out for a while. Look, he's left his phone here but I s'pose that could mean anything. Jeez, he never does as he's told, does he?"

Nathan looked in the closet but couldn't tell if anything was missing. Vin wasn't the world's tidiest person anyway. He looked around the room and saw the camping equipment was missing.

"Shit. He's taken his tent. It was definitely there when I came in last night. I'd better let Chris know. God, he's gonna be pissed with me."

"He knows what Vin's like when he's antsy. He won't blame you, Nate," Buck reassured the medic.

Nathan pulled out his phone and rang his boss. "Chris? Vin's done a bunk. He's taken all his camping stuff and snuck down the fire escape. I'm really sorry."

"Jesus. That man's gonna be the death of me. It's alright, Nate. Don't sweat it. I shouldn't have pushed him to have some company. Once he gets the urge to leave there's nothing anyone can do. It's like trying to keep a will-o'-the-wisp caged," Chris said.

"What do ya want us to do?"

"Nothin' you can do, Nate. Just hope he comes back in one piece. I've no idea where he coulda gone. He's got so many secret haunts, I can't keep track of them," Chris sighed.

"We'll come back into work then," Nathan said as he hung up.

"He didn't chew yer ears off then?" Buck smiled.

"Na. He was okay about it. I just hope Vin doesn't do anything stupid. He's been having nightmares about the shooting and I just worry about his state of mind. It only needs one small thing to tip him over the edge."

"Vin's sensible. He'll realize there was nothing he coulda done to prevent what happened," Buck said, hoping he was speaking the truth. He rubbed Nathan's back and herded him out of the apartment.


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