Stuck in the Middle with You

by Gray

This story is just a short snippet to hopefully move me past a little writer’s block, and as such promises to be nothing great, yet hopefully will move me on to great things. It assumes you are already familiar with the Magnificent Seven and its characters. Also, the story is carried through by a lot of dialogue, which isn’t entirely usual for me, so if that’s the weak point of the story, sorry.

To those who have e-mailed asking about Punta de Lobos…thank you, and yes it will be posted eventually.

The boy’s aren’t mine.

Vin was claustrophobic for a reason. And sometimes, he reasoned, fears and phobias were a good thing. They kept you from getting into situations like the one in which he currently found himself. Like an internal warning system saying, "don’t go in there, it will be bad if you do." His palpable fear and internal warning system unfortunately hadn’t taken into account Chris Larabee. Although, when Vin had said he’d follow the man anywhere, he hadn’t really thought that meant…well…this.

The details of how he’d gotten into this situation were still fuzzy to him, and he struggled to recollect them as he groped for stability in the darkness.

He felt a yank on his collar. Chris. He wished he could see Chris. The yank came again, harder this time. Taking a deep breath, as deep as he dared, he finally answered the third insistent yank. "Stop it." It came out as a whisper.

Chris did stop yanking but his fist remained locked in the collar of Vin’s shirt. "Talk to me," he insisted.

"Can’t," Vin denied the command.

Chris yanked the collar again. "Why not?"

Vin remained silent. Chris gave another yank.

"We’ll use up the air," Vin admitted, feeling stupid. How could anyone run out of air in an air duct? At least, that’s what he thought it was. He hadn’t really thought about it until now. It could be a pipe, Vin thought. Or one of those old laundry shoots that used to be built in big laundries such as the abandoned factory they were in. Either way, Vin knew they wouldn’t run out of air, but that didn’t change the fact that he felt they would. Vin never claimed his claustrophobia was a rational fear, so that is the only answer he had to give himself or anyone else who asked, which in this case happened to be Chris Larabee.

"We won’t run out of air," Chris returned patiently.

"So you say." Vin tried to hide the small tremor in his voice.

Chris gave the collar yet another yank. Partially to remind Vin he wasn’t in this alone and partially trying to bring him closer.

"Stop yanking," the man insisted again, still in a throaty whisper.

"I don’t want you to fall any farther, pard," admitted Chris.

Taking another shaky breath, Vin responded, "You mean you don’t want to fall any farther."

"That too," admitted the older man. The hint of a smile could be heard in his voice.

Unbeknownst to himself, Vin relaxed slightly at hearing the touch of affectionate sarcasm from his cell-mate. If they could make light of the situation, perhaps it wasn’t so bad. The young sharpshooter wasn’t sure if his reasoning was sound but he tried to go with it.

Closing his eyes, he attempted to calm his nerves while coming up with a response to his leader’s command to "talk." "It’s not my fault we’re in this stupid situation," was what he eventually came up with, figuring Chris would relax if he made the effort to complain good naturedly. He expected Chris to defend himself, naturally picking up on the insinuation that it was his fault.

"You’re right," stated Chris in growling seriousness, and Vin worried for a moment that the man was really blaming himself. He started to wish he could take back his teasing comment until Chris growled out, "It’s Ezra and Nathan’s."

Vin huffed out the breath he’d been holding in an easy laugh. "Yeah it is."

There was silence for several minutes. The only sound in the darkness was of Vin’s labored breaths.

Ten Minutes Later

Chris listened intently as Vin tried to calm himself. The sounds were becoming more labored. Re-adjusting his stance, he tried to balance his feet better so he could grab his partner a little tighter.

Pulling on his collar he was able to brace his foot against the side enough to let go of the wall with his left hand and loop it under Vin’s arm and around his chest. Thankfully, Vin worked with him, not protesting the movement, the change in position, or Larabee’s closeness.

The silence returned, and though Vin couldn’t see it in the darkness, Chris’s brow was creased with concern, listening to Vin’s uneasy breathing, and now feeling it under his hand. "You need to relax, Tanner."

"Shut up…Lara…bee."

"Talk to me."

"…already…told ya, no."

"We won’t run out of air."

Vin released a puff of a breath, closed his eyes and attempted to regulate his air intake, if for nothing else, then to get Larabee off his back. Unconsciously he leaned his head back, finding he was now situated high enough that he could rest it on Chris’s shoulder. The older man seemed to relax as he did so, giving him both a light squeeze with the arm around his chest and another yank on his collar.

"Are you hurt?" The darkness made it difficult for Larabee to see.

"You already asked." Vin let annoyance color his voice.

"Nope," denied Chris. "That was a new one."

He was met with silence and then finally an, "I’m fine."

"That wasn’t a ‘no,’" Chris gritted through his teeth.

Vin was again silent. Chris tried to hold back his groan. "Bleeding?...or just bruised?"

"Chris, I’m fine," came the dubious insistence.

The older agent dropped the subject for now. There was nothing he could do about it anyway. They were stuck. They were well and truly stuck.

+ + + + + + +

Nathan Jackson was an ATF agent for a reason, although at the moment he was struggling hard to remember what that reason was. Previous to this job he’d been the leader of a Search and Rescue team. He’d loved the job, loved helping people, but in his heart he’d always leaned toward law enforcement. So, when he’d grown tired of pulling lost people off of cliff ledges and out of hidden holes he’d joined the ATF. Chris Larabee had told him that he had the perfect qualifications for his team when he’d been transferred to Larabee’s unit…he just hadn’t thought Chris meant he’d be back to pulling people out of hidden holes. Why hadn’t he just stayed with the job he had? The only difference would be that then he’d been dealing with people who were grateful for his help—and much less stubbornly aggravating.

"How far do you estimate they fell?" asked Ezra.

"Not a clue," responded Jackson. "Where are the others?"

"Working clean up," was the mumbled answer. And then came the louder admission of, "I haven’t told them yet. I felt it would be better to wait until one of them asked."

Nathan snorted, though he didn’t want to face the rest of the team yet either. They couldn’t avoid it forever and he wryly pointed this out to his fellow agent, "When the paramedics show up, they’re probably going to ask."

"Yes, Mr. Jackson, but we now have a few precious minutes to get our stories straight."

Nathan chuckled, despite the seriousness of the situation, "Hey, I didn’t tell Chris to go up there."

"No, but you told Vin to follow him."

"All I said was, ‘are you going to let him go alone?’ And you know he would have gone anyway."

Ezra just cocked an eyebrow at him. Nathan conceded the point, but not without spreading whatever portion of the blame he could to his friend, "And what was it you said to Chris? Something about not wanting to go up where he saw that thing tossed because your suit would get dirty?"

It was Ezra’s turn to concede the point, and he did. Then, slowly inching his way back to the spot where the two men had disappeared, dirtying his suit in the process, he shouted into the darkness, "CHRIS?" The call reverberated loudly in the echoing empty space.

+ + + + + + +

"Vin?" Again with the yanking on the collar.

Vin was getting kind of sick of that. He was going to have to tell Chris to cut that out in a subtle way. "You trying to strangle me?" was all he came up with.

"Just making sure you’re still awake."

"…like I could sleep like this," he muttered back.



"How did you get so claustrophobic?"

"Larabee, you pick the best times to ask questions like that." Vin’s breath hitched involuntarily as he said it.

"You’re right. Sorry." Chris muttered. It had been a stupid thing to ask. He patted his friend’s chest with his hand, hoping to calm him, and suddenly he felt Vin attempt to shift. They were no longer vertical, but neither were they horizontal and Chris didn’t want to take a chance of them slipping into the unknown destination of the vent or pipe they were in.

He attempted to be calm as he voiced his concern to the young man, "Whoa, easy…where do you think your going?" He attempted to brace his feet better as he said it, tightening his grip on the other man at the same time. Vin’s breathing was getting worse. Coughing now accompanied the occasional gasping pants for air.

The young sharpshooter picked his head up off of Chris’s shoulder, leaning his forehead against the other wall of their tiny tiny prison.

Trying once again to steady them both, and deal with the movements at the same time, the older man finally released his fist from Vin’s collar so he could wrap both arms around him. The other agent seemed oblivious to Larabee’s struggle and continued to squirm.

"Vin." It was said with no small amount of urgency. Larabee’s right foot was slipping. The young man stilled for an instant and the struggle was stayed as Chris’s foot found ground on what he believed was a chunky bolt. Whatever it was, he was grateful it was there. And just in time—Vin was squirming again.

Cursing, Chris again adjusted his hold. As he did so, something moist hit his hand. Was Vin crying?

"Vin?" he said desperately. "Vin, its okay, its okay." The older agent was starting to panic somewhat. He knew Vin’s claustrophobia was bad but he’d been gearing himself up to deal with a panic attack—not tears.

"Vin. Take it easy" he tried to calm once more, rubbing circles on the heaving chest with one of his hands.

"You too, Chris," Vin seemed to gasp out, but the amusement in his voice was not lost.

Chris furrowed his brow. Besides the still occasional coughs, Vin didn’t sound upset—didn’t sound like he was crying. On a sudden hunch Larabee lifted one of his hands to touch Vin’s face. The younger man tried to turn his head way, but Chris caught it, feeling the moisture, thick, under Vin’s nose. He suddenly realized that the copper scent in the air wasn’t from the metal shoot they were stuck in—it was from the blood coming out of Vin’s nose.

"Tanner," Chris barked sharply, as the shootist attempted once again to turn away. His voice was full of concern and anger—what Vin referred to as his ‘angry that he can’t control the universe’ voice.

"It ain’t like I’m stabbed or shot, Cowboy," Vin muttered, and quite possibly could have said more but was cut off by another sputtering cough.

"It’s going down your throat," Chris stated. He felt the other man’s head nod against him. "Here, take it easy, can you shift?"

"Which way?"

"Maybe onto your side?" And just as fast they were shifting, moving together until Vin was on his side, more next to Larabee now than on him. He leaned his head forward in the darkness till it rested on the metal wall, his free hand clamping on the bridge of his nose while Chris braced both of them.

Vin wouldn’t tell the older man, but he was grateful for the support. He was feeling dizzy—knew his nose had been bleeding for a while and wasn’t likely to stop. He’d always gotten bad ones. Nathan insisted that the partial cause was dehydration. Tanner wondered in the silence how long it had been since he and Chris had heard the healer’s voice, or anyone’s voice. Nathan and Ezra both had made quite a racket yelling at them after they’d fallen, and then nothing. And even as he thought it a yell echoed through their prison, hollering Larabee’s name, just as it had before.

"Why are they always yelling for you?" Vin complained. "I’m down here too, ya know."

Chris chuckled before taking a deep breath to holler back. Vin wished he had been able to cover his ears before he did—though it likely wouldn’t have helped—the echo was terrible.

Nathan yelled back again—or was it Ezra this time? With the echo they couldn’t quite distinguish what was being said but from it they figured out all they needed to know. Help was coming and Vin hoped it was coming soon. He couldn’t keep the memories at bay forever.

+ + + + + + +

"They’re WHERE?" Even Buck Wilmington’s whispers were loud, so when he bellowed, it got people’s attention.

Ezra backed away from the big man’s voice, stepping on Nathan’s foot accidentally, unavoidably, since the other man was staying staunchly behind him and out of the big man’s reach.

Ezra once again tried to explain what had occurred.

"But we got the ‘all clear’ from Chris…how could this have happened?" Buck was no longer focusing his question on the two agents in their group they’d taken to calling ‘the odd couple,’ rather, he was waving his hands around as though expecting the cosmos to present a reason rational enough to calm him.

Josiah, who was standing at the edge of the roof with JD rolled his eyes heavenward and gave the only answer he could, "Whatever can will, brothers. Whatever can will…."

As though to prove the truthfulness of his statement, an echo of thunder crackled across the gray afternoon sky, accompanied by a thick volley of rain.


Ezra and Nathan had been working undercover together for the last three months—working from different angles in order to track and trap yet another weapons dealer—who of course didn’t deal in just weapons. None of them ever did. All the work had gone smoothly, unlike most of their cases, and it would end that night in a grand climax as all the evidence collected would lead to the long-awaited ‘bust’ and the arrests of several criminals.

The behind-the-scene agents had waited patiently to hear the location and were pleasantly surprised to discover that for once their months of work wouldn’t cumulate and end in a half-abandoned, seedy warehouse or closed factory. "It was about time," JD had stated, "that the criminals came up with locations a little bit less obvious and more original."

With fifteen floors, a fountain on each one, the New Brickside Hotel was no warehouse, and definitely not an abandoned factory. The building across the street, however, was. It was the building across the street where Vin would be positioned. He griped good naturedly, "Our one chance to shake things up in someplace fancy and I’m still stuck in the warehouse."

What Vin had said was true. Certainly no one could say exchanging weapons in such a location was un-original. With doormen and bellhops, the last thing the location could be accused of being was abandoned and things would most definitely get shaken up.

Despite the complaints, ribbing, and strange location, everything had gone as planned. No exchange of fire had been necessary and no innocent bystanders had been involved…until Nathan realized one of the most important arrestees hadn’t been caught in the round-up. Just as he thought it, Vin called over the radio to inform them that the man was out of the building and running toward his position.

"They all come crawling back to the shadows." Vin commented of the man’s retreat into the abandoned building.

Buck, JD, and Josiah were left to direct back-up and contain the situation in the hotel. Upon hearing Vin, Chris had started booking his way to his position, Nathan and Ezra hot on his heels—both unwilling to not see this through to the end.

The sharpshooter was yelling through the radio, appraising the approaching pursuers of both his location and that of the criminals. It was apparent to all involved that they were heading to the roof. Vin almost caught up with him before they got all the way to the top but was booted backwards by a well placed kick. He tucked and rolled with the fall, till he was able to stop himself. By then his three fellow agents had almost caught up with him.

The four of them burst onto the giant split level roof in one simultaneous motion—Chris and Vin going high, Ezra and Nathan going low. Their target was spotted reaching the ladder that would take him to the roof’s upper level. In fluid symmetry the agents spread out—so smoothly it echoed the choreography of a dance.

Seeing that he was surrounded the escaper abandoned the ladder, but not before Chris thought he threw something—had he thrown something? He shook his head—darting behind a chimney of some sort in time to effectively cut off the man’s escape.

The criminal stopped dead at seeing himself face to face with Chris Larabee, and then turned to run and ran straight into Ezra, who was flanked by Nathan and Vin. Chris smirked at the man’s dark expression while the others placed him in handcuffs. With a sigh the team leader spoke into his headset, first requesting that a couple of uniforms come collect the captured man, and then ordering his remaining team members to check in. Once all of them did he gave the all clear and promptly rid his head of the annoying headset. Now it was time for clean up.

Larabee turned to see that the three agents with him all had expectant looks on their faces. He shook his head in a gesture of ‘wait’ as two uniformed officers appeared on the roof, and quickly left with the prisoner.

"What’s up Chris?" asked Vin.

"I’m not certain but I think I saw him throw something while he was on that ladder. Did any of you see it?"

One by one they all shook their heads.

"I think it ended up up there." Chris jerked his chin in the direction of the higher roof.

"What was it?" Asked Vin.

"It could have been a trick of the light?" supplied Ezra.

"It could have been," Larabee admitted to the undercover man. "But if he did throw something, it was something small…a small gun maybe?"

"We have more than enough guns as evidence to bring down their whole operation, and damage a few others…why would he be throwing just one gun?"

"Good point, Nathan. That’s why we have to find it," announced Chris. The others gave a small groan. Cleanup was never anyone’s favorite part of a bust, but it would be dragged out even longer if they spent their time combing the roof of a warehouse for something that "might" have been thrown.

"I think Nathan and I, after understandably putting in our long hours of undercover work, would be better suited overseeing cleanup at the hotel. Besides, if our suit’s get dirty, our expense report won’t look good."

Nathan simply stayed silent, going along with Ezra easily for once. He was tired, he hadn’t seen his own bed or his girlfriend in weeks and now that the adrenalin was dropping he had to admit that he didn’t want to be doing this either.

"Fine," Chris sighed, knowing he could order them but not really caring. He quirked an eyebrow at Vin who was looking a little tired himself, and probably bruised from his fall down the stairs.

Vin smirked back, "let me know how the view is from up there, Cowboy."

Chris couldn’t help but smile, he didn’t mind that they were all ducking out…it was a long-shot anyway, and had been a long day for all of them. Just one look and maybe his mind would be settled. He started off towards the ladder leaving the others behind.

"You really gonna let him go alone?" Nathan teased, knowing Vin would probably go anyway.

Tanner rolled his eyes. ‘Dang it, why can’t I just sit for once,’ he thought silently. Then, shaking his head at the other two as they started toward the stairs, he turned to follow his friend up the ladder.

Vin nearly bumped into Chris at the top, the man was squatting looking out over the gravel covered roof. The sharpshooter joined him. "See anything?"

Chris shook his head, but it was obvious to Vin that he appeared to be looking at something. "What is it?"

"That, over there…next to that chimney…" It looks like it could be something, Larabee than shifted his view from the glinting object on the ground to another spot, "Or that." He pointed this time. From this angle the sparkling objects could be gum wrappers…the sun was making everything hazy, though with the clouds moving in, that wouldn’t be a problem soon. Though even the clouds could not solve the problem of the various chimney’s and air intake pipes that stuck out all over.

"Well, you dragged me up here…let’s get looking."

Chris nodded and they spread out, walking carefully so they wouldn’t miss anything. They hadn’t walked three steps when Vin spotted the small silver hand gun. "Chris," he called. "I think I got it."

They both approached the gun from opposite sides. Chris grinned momentarily, triumphantly. He crouched by the gun, wishing he had an evidence bag. His friend surprised him by pulling one out of his jacket pocket as he shed it and laid it on the ground as Chris had done. "Looking for this?" It was stated as he joined Chris, leaning to look at the gun before he picked it up.

It was then that they heard the ominous creek. Their concerned eyes met only for a moment before they were plummeting through the ceiling, being swallowed by a large metal shoot that got smaller the further down they went. Vin grimaced as they banged past a particularly hard angle in the pipe and then it was more like sliding in a really steep tube slide.

Both men were trying to slow their descent, and were more or less on top of each other as they slid. At one point Vin felt Chris fist his hand in his collar, and moments after that they had both come to a slow halting stop, sliding and bracing in the darkness, Vin a few feet down from Larabee. For several minutes after their precarious stop the only sound heard was their gasping breaths and the echoing sounds of the gravel…and no doubt the gun…that had fallen with them and was continuing on to wherever this thing stopped.

The whole event had probably taken seconds but had felt like an eternity. How far had they fallen? Had Ezra and Nathan been close enough to hear them shout? How long would they be able to brace themselves? Just as their breath began to calm, and as Vin had time to begin considering his claustrophobia, Ezra and Nathan’s shouting let them know that someone else knew they were there, and knew they were stuck.


The yell that next split the silence was the distinguishable voice of Buck Wilmington. "You boys need some help?" At least that is what the shout sounded like once they filtered it through the echo.

"Hey Vin, I think that one was for both of us, not just me. You happy now?"

"No." Vin’s voice was slightly nasal, so Chris knew he was still holding his nose, and knew by his halting speech that he was still battling claustrophobia. "Buck’s trying to be… funny and I’m not…I’m not laughing. If they’re going to try to be funny they….they should just talk to you."

Chris laughed a little, "beggars can’t be choosers, Tanner."

"Now you’re trying…to be…funny. Give it up…it ain’t you."

"Well, brace yourself, if I don’t answer him he’s going to come up with something worse."

"Go ahead," Vin allowed, preparing for the echo of Chris promptly telling Buck where he could go. "Yeah, like that will get us out of here faster," he muttered. He couldn’t see it, but he could picture Chris’s face—picture his shrug.

"Hey Chris?" Vin said once silence had returned.

"Yeah." Chris was trying to hide the pain in his voice that was seeping through.




"I’m fine."

"Now…here is what I don’t get," gasped out Vin, his voice gaining strength as his worry changed focus from the walls closing in to his partner’s pain. "You get all mad at me for answers like that and you give the exact same ones. That’s what I call…hypo…hypocritical."

"Shut up, Tanner."


Larabee sighed defeatedly, feeling like a wimp as he admitted, "My leg muscles have been cramping from bracing on the wall."

And even though Vin also had his feet braced he knew Chris was taking most of their weight. "Can I help?"


And Vin knew it was probably an honest answer. He couldn’t help Chris’s leg anymore than Chris could help his claustrophobia problem, or his bloody nose.

"Hey Chris?"


"Know why I’m claustrophobic?"

"Thought you said this was a bad time to talk about it."

"I’m claustrophobic," Vin cut him off. "Because the smart part of my brain knew it would help me stay out of situations like this."

"Didn’t work too good," the other man answered wryly.

Silence again returned, accompanied by the occasional bangs of whatever was going on above them.

And even knowing it was a bad time—Chris couldn’t help but ask again, "Sarah used to say that if you talk about a fear, it doesn’t seem so bad anymore."

All he could hear in response was Vin’s breathing, so he continued, "Adam was afraid of the dark. He slept with a nightlight. Then Sarah started to sit with him at night. They would let their eyes adjust to the dark and identify objects in his room, play with the shadows—that sort of thing. And Adam came to me all excited one day and said, ‘Did you know that if you look for it, you can find light in the darkness?’ I knew it must have been something Sarah said to him."

Suddenly Chris didn’t know where he was going with this, he stopped talking and felt his throat tighten. "Sorry," he muttered, not used to talking about his lost family and not expecting the emotions that still came with it.

Vin didn’t respond. Chris wondered what he was thinking, wanted to ask, but wasn’t willing to risk it. Silence had always been both his and Vin’s strongest connection, and it was all he had to give at the moment.

"When I was seven," Vin suddenly spoke, cautious, into the darkness.

Chris held his breath unconsciously.

"My foster father, when he got mad. He would…lock me in the trunk of his car."

Chris gritted his teeth.

"He never hit me or anything. He would just…lock me in the trunk of the car. And…it wasn’t…it wasn’t so bad at first. Especially since he used to tell me that if I made him really mad, he’d lock me in the old refrigerator…till I had no more air. And he never did. But it was the threat of it, you know? And I thought whenever he locked me in the car that…at least it wasn’t the refrigerator."

Vin stopped talking and for a moment, Chris thought he was done, until the raspy voice started again.

"I think I left his house when I was around eight and a half or so. I went to stay with this family. And they…they let me watch T.V."

Chris almost chuckled at that statement, but knew something more serious was probably coming.

"And one night I heard this story on the news about a couple kids that were playing hide and go seek. Two of them hid in the car’s trunk…got stuck and died. I started thinking of all those times I’d been in the trunk, so…so confident that I had enough air, but really didn’t. That night I started having nightmares…and just, ever since…I just…I can’t…I hate…"

Chris shifted his right hand to fist in Vin’s collar again. Vin stopped speaking, concentrated on his breathing and his friend’s fist in his shirt, and nothing more needed to be said.

+ + + + + + +

"Let’s do this, boys," called Buck. He was in a climbing harness, anchored to the roof, ready to feed Nathan into the hole. Next to him, also anchored and in harnesses were the rescue workers that would be pulling the other two up. Unsure of the stability of the remaining roof, the rest of the team, the firefighters and other rescue workers were staying back, yet still prepared to help.

Nathan gave a nod, and slowly he was lowered into the hole. As he got further and further down he could hear Chris and Vin’s muffled voices, they didn’t sound like they’d gone too far. He worked himself through an odd angle in the metal shoot. Finding himself without light, he turned on his head lamp.

"And there was light," he heard Vin mutter.

Looking ahead he realized they weren’t more than ten feet from his location.

"Hey, boys," he called lightly, frowning when he saw the blood on Vin’s face. "Chris, how you guys doing?"

"…and they’re still talking to just you," complained Vin. "What did I do, sign an anonymity clause? I can just see the headlines tomorrow. ‘Top ATF Agent Chris Larabee Trapped in Abandoned Building—one other reportedly involved."

Chris and Nathan both laughed, knowing that even though the sarcasm was usual for Vin, he was rarely this chatty—he was ready to get out.

"He banged his nose up, Nate," explained Chris as the medic carefully secured the additional ropes around them, maneuvering cautiously in the tight space.

"Broken, or just bloody?"

"Just bloody," answered Chris. Then realizing Vin was getting annoyed prompted, "right Vin?"

"Yeah. Can we go now?"

"What? You’re not gonna give me the grand tour?" teased Nathan.

"Now he’s trying to be funny. Tell him he’s not funny, Chris. Since they only like to talk to you and all."

"You’re not funny, Nathan," relayed Chris—but Nathan still laughed.

Once secured, Chris cautiously relaxed his legs from their positions on the wall, feeling his calf muscles scream in protest. Carefully releasing Vin, he gave Nathan a nod. "Let’s blow this joint."

"Pull us up," ordered Nathan into his headset while bracing an arm around Vin. They were on three different ropes. None of them would have to wait long. Vin could probably maneuver himself back up, but the healer didn’t want him banging his nose again.

Bit by bit, they started their assent. Gradually their prison widened and in seconds they were emerging into the fresh air of the wet rainy day, the sensation of freedom almost dizzying.

Both men slipped out of their harnesses and pushing the paramedics back started to struggle to their feet. Chris’s cramped legs promptly gave out and he found himself on his knees once more. Nathan stubbornly guided Vin to the ground next to him. The paramedics again descended.

A short time later, Vin’s nose had been packed with gauze, and he and Chris were sitting on the lower roof under a high tarp that had been set up. They were once again wearing jackets, were drinking Gatorade, and wondering how long it would take them to get the energy to walk down the stairs by themselves. But at least for the time being they were being left alone.

They watched the rest of the team as they pretended to help with the rescue clean up. In reality they weren’t much help. Buck had just stolen JD’s cap off his head and was playing a form of ‘keep away’ obviously threatening to throw it off the building. Ezra and Nathan were arguing the finer points of their undercover operation, disagreeing just to disagree. Josiah had caught the cap Buck tossed him and seemed to become less preachy as he avoided JD’s grab and tossed the hat back to Buck. The hat didn’t make it, getting caught by the wind and blowing over the side. JD’s horrified face causing the others to burst into laughter.

Under one of the other tarps one of the policemen had turned on a radio, tuning it to the oldies station. Chris and Vin could just make out the words to the song they heard playing.

"Clowns to the left of me…" muttered Chris.

"Jokers to the right," joined Vin.

"Here I am."

"Stuck in the middle with you," they wryly chanted the last line of the song together.

"How do we get ourselves into these fixes, Chris?" Vin asked with a shake of his head.

"Don’t know," answered Larabee. "But one thing’s for sure, it won’t be the last."

"Yeah," Vin chuckled lightly. "Let’s just make sure that next time it’s two of the others stuck in a pipe and me and you making the smart remarks at the top."

"Don’t worry. They get to comb the warehouse for the gun…you and I get to go home and rest."

"Deal," said Vin, and they shook on it, a full arm shake that affirmed to the other that they had, indeed, made it through another day.


"Special ATF team leader Chris Larabee was trapped in the old Brickside factory yesterday with one of his agents. They reportedly fell through the roof of the faulty building while looking for evidence seen discarded by a criminal they had been pursuing."

The gun was found later that evening—ballistic evidence amazingly revealed the gun to be the same one used in the unsolved murder of Judge Montgomery Cash some thirteen years earlier."

Vin clicked off Larabee’s T.V. "I can’t believe they didn’t say my name."

"Jealous, Vin? You know they only ever mention the leader’s name," teased the aforementioned leader.

Vin’s comeback was cut off as Nathan, Ezra, and JD came walking through the front door.

"Hey Chris," JD greeted, "You guys feeling better?"

Giving up the fight, Vin just shook his head at Chris’s smirk, "Clowns to the left of me, jokers to the right. Here I am…stuck in the middle with you." But, all things considered, he could think of worse places to be.

The End

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