The Way Of Things:

by US

Disclaimer: Someone else owns them. The ATF universe was created by mog.

Warnings: language

Author's Notes: I wasn't planning to write a sequel but I was bitten by a rabid plot bunny. Blame him.

The second of The Way of Things story collection.

Incident Counselor (IC): Agent Tanner, can you tell me what happened?

Agent Tanner (VT): (Bewildered) I'm…not really sure.

IC: Can you tell me what you were doing before the shooting?

VT: (Nodding) We had just left the saloon, that's the bar we go to. Buck…Agent Wilmington…and I were heading to the parking lot, the rest of the team was lagging behind, still arguing over what they were going to bring the next day and joking whether Ez…Agent Standish…could get up early enough or not. Then…(shaking head)

IC: (Encouraging) Go on.

VT: Then Buck was running into me and I heard the shots…and felt the bullets hitting him. Then I was falling. (Desperate) Why didn't he just yell a warning? If he could get in the way, I could get out of it. He didn't need to do that. I never wanted him to. (Gets up and starts to pace)

IC: Do you remember anything else?

VT: (Runs hand through hair and winces when he hits sore spot) I musta hit my head when I fell cause I was out for a coupla minutes. When I woke up and tried to get up, Nathan held me down. That's when I noticed everyone was by me and I asked them how Buck was. I turned my head to find him and met his eyes right before he passed out. (Suspicious glint at corner of his eye) Oh, god, I'm going to have nightmares about the look in his eyes.

IC: (Incredulous) Agent Wilmington was conscious?

VT: (Nods) Yeah. He saw them all gathered around me and he knew I wasn't hurt. (Pause) I wasn't hurt and he was bleeding to death. They hadn't checked him yet, none of them, not until I screamed his name. (Meets IC's eyes in desperation) How could they do that? (Frantic) Why did they do that?


IC: Agent Larabee, can you tell me what happened?

Agent Larabee (CL): (Pacing, hostile) Some bastard shot one of my men, that's what happened!

IC: (Calmly) Agent Larabee, I'm not the enemy. I'm just here to help.

CL: (Glares at IC for a moment, then closes eyes and takes deep breath. Opens eyes and nods) Yeah, I know. I'm sorry. It's just…(Waves hand helplessly)

IC: It's just that one of your men was shot. (Pauses) Let's start before the shooting. What were you doing?

CL: (Stands by window and looks out) We had just left the saloon, heading for the parking lot. Buck and Vin had pulled ahead of the rest of us, probably to get away from Josiah and Nathan's bickering about what to bring the next day. JD wasn't helping. They'd just about have it settled and he'd throw out another suggestion then go back to teasing Ezra about whether or not he could get up on time. Josiah and Nathan had to add their two cents to that as well and, of course, Ezra had to retaliate. Hell, I didn't blame those two for getting away. After half an hour, it was getting old. I was getting ready to either join them or call them back, after all, why should I suffer alone, when I got sucked into the discussion. (Stops and just stares out window)

IC: (After a pause) And then?

CL: (Deep breath) Then there were shots coming from the left. We dove for cover and fired back. I realized as he was falling that he wasn't shooting at us but at Buck and Vin. I grabbed JD and was a step behind Nathan heading to them. They were both on the ground, not moving. We reached Vin first and Nathan stopped to check him. I stopped there, too. He was unconscious but looked all right. So I started watching Buck, hoping to see him move, and kept telling Nate to hurry up.

IC: Where were the others?

CL: (Turns to face at IC with puzzled look) I'm not real sure. I think Josiah and Ezra went to check the shooter.

IC: And Agent Dunne?

CL: He was…beside me? (Helpless shrug)

IC: Why didn't you go check on Agent Wilmington yourself, instead of telling Agent Jackson to hurry?

CL: (Stricken look in eyes) I…couldn't. (Shakes head) I just couldn't. He was lying so still; he's never that still. I was afraid he was dead. I couldn't be the one to go over there and find out. Buck's my last link to my wife and son, my last link to me. I just couldn't…


IC: Agent Jackson, can you tell me what happened?

Agent Jackson (NJ): (Defeated) I fucked up.

IC: And how did you 'fuck up'?

NJ: I wasted time on Vin when Buck needed me.

IC: While you were with Agent Tanner, did you think you were wasting your time?

NJ: No, I hadn't seen what happened, so I didn't know how bad either one might be hurt. I was grateful there didn't seem to be anything major wrong and he had somehow managed to avoid getting shot.

IC: So then what?

NJ: I was just getting ready to go to Buck when Vin woke up. He asked how Buck was. That's when I realized everyone was with me and no one was with Buck. Then Vin was screaming Buck's name and trying to get up. That's when I knew how bad he was. (Angry now) Why didn't any of the others tell me? I'm just one man; I can't be in two places at once!


IC: Agent Sanchez, can you tell me what happened?

Agent Sanchez (JS): Hubris.

IC: I'm not sure I understand.

JS: I was starting to believe in our own legend. We all were.

IC: Why do you say that?

JS: Because none of us bothered to check on Buck. He never gets hurt. He's always there watching our backs and we never check to see if he isn't. I should know better. I do know better.

IC: So why didn't you check on him?

JS: At first, I had to report to Chris on the shooter. I don't believe he heard a word I said. Then when I looked towards Buck, his eyes were closed. The light was bad and I couldn't see anything else. I just assumed he hit his head and was unconscious. God forgive me, but I thought JD and Chris needed me more, they both looked ready to pass out.

IC: And when you found out it was more then that?

JS: I thought this was God's way of opening our eyes to the precious gift in our possession that we had all been taking for granted and what we all stood to lose. People like Buck Wilmington are extremely rare. And the way we sometimes treat him is inexcusable.


IC: Agent Standish, can you tell me what happened?

Agent Standish (ES): (Distant, poker face firmly in place) We had just vacated the saloon. Mr. Tanner and Mr. Wilmington quickly outdistanced us on the way to the parking area, in all likelihood, trying to get away from Mr. Jackson and Mr. Sanchez's animated discussion on the nutritional value of certain foods and drinks plus Mr. Dunne's occasional bad joke. Though why they should have been allowed to escape eludes me considering they instigated it. (Pause) Then there was gunfire coming from our left, aimed at Mr. Tanner and Mr. Wilmington. We returned fire. When the gunman fell, Mr. Sanchez and I proceeded to make sure he was no longer a threat while the others went to check on our fallen comrades.

IC: And what shape was the gunman in?

ES: I believe 'Swiss cheese' would be an apt description. I'm sure AD Travis will be having words with us about our 'unbridled enthusiasm'.

IC: (Trying to hide unprofessional grin at description) I see. Then what happened?

ES: While Mr. Sanchez called for police and medical assistance, some members of Team 8 came out of the saloon having heard the gunfire. They offered to secure the scene so we could check on our teammates. Mr. Sanchez tried to report to Mr. Larabee but I don't believe he registered anything he was told. He just kept telling Mr. Jackson to hurry. Looking at Mr. Wilmington, I could see why. Even though the light was appalling, I could tell the back of his clothing was soaked.

IC: Did you go to check Agent Wilmington?

ES: (Shakes head) No.

IC: Why not?

ES: (Poker face cracking) I did not want to be the one to announce the end of our team.

IC: I don't understand.

ES: (Poker face gone, eyes shining with sadness) It's quite simple. While the team may be able to survive anyone else's loss, it won't survive Buck's. He is the glue that holds us together. There was only ever the slightest chance that we could cope but none at all under these circumstances.

IC: Explain.

ES: First and foremost will be everyone's guilt that they didn't check to make sure he was all right. I do not believe Chris could ever survive Buck's loss but the fact that he was with Vin will be one more nail in his coffin. Vin will not be able to help him because his own guilt will be consuming him. At a guess, I will say Buck was shot protecting him, which is why he escaped, relatively unscathed. Nathan will be guilty that he checked Vin first. JD will become old and embittered at the senseless death of his big brother. And Josiah will see it as some sort of punishment.

IC: And you?

ES: I…I will be alone again. (Suddenly uncomfortable, checks watch for time) May we have a short recess? The doctor will be finishing his rounds now and I would like to hear his report.


IC: Agent Dunne, can you tell me what happened?

Agent Dunne (JDD): (Sullen) Do we have to do this now? I need…

IC: (Interrupting) Agent Dunne, they know where you are. If something happens, they'll come get you.

JDD: Yeah, I know, but still…

IC: Agent Dunne, we go through this every time. Would you rather wait until Agent Wilmington is conscious so I can drag you away then? This is a requirement before you can return to duty, as you well know. It's better to get it out of the way now.

JDD: (Embarrassed) I know, I'm sorry. You're only doing your job. (Pause) It just seems so stupid and pointless, you know.

IC: No, I don't. Why don't you tell me?

JDD: We were leaving the saloon. Buck and Vin had started a fight between Nathan and Josiah then practically ran to get away from us. I think they wanted to see how long it would take to annoy Chris. I decided to help by teasing Ezra. (Small grin) It worked. We weren't far from the door when Chris was threatening to shoot Ezra. (Suddenly sober) It's not funny anymore.

IC: Then what happened?

JDD: Someone started shooting at Buck and Vin. We shot back and got him. Then Chris grabbed me and pulled me along to Vin. He stopped and knelt beside him…and so did I. (Embarrassed again) I couldn't stand up anymore.

IC: Go on.

JDD: You'll just think I'm a dumb kid like everyone else.

IC: No, I won't. Agent Dunne, what you feel is what you feel. There is no right or wrong.

JDD: It's stupid. I know cops and agents get ambushed off duty. But all I could think right then was that this shouldn't have happened. We're Team 7, this doesn't happen to us. (Pause) It shouldn't have happened.

The End

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