Vin stared out at the sun as it began to set, the colors mixed in beautiful shades of pink, purple, and orange that nearly stole his breath away. Drinking in the chilled night air as dusk settled on the countryside around him, he felt a sense of sadness mixed with thankfulness. He was alive and could breathe without pain. That alone was something he was beyond grateful for. Not more than a week and a half ago, just walking outside left him tired and panting, but he was healing well. At least in body. These weeks he had spent out at Chris’s ranch had given him a lot of time to think and reflect. Ezra had done what he had asked and delivered the metal box to him a few days ago.

Dr. David Knight had been very insistent on Vin’s need to rest and relax in order to recover. It had been good to see his old friend again, but also painful. Memories of the past were assaulting him full force these days. From a visit by Marissa Carter while he was in the hospital to reuniting with ‘Doc Knight’ as he had affectionately called him, the memories he had fought and held at arm’s length for so long were impossible to deny. And truth be told he didn’t want to. At least, not anymore.

Despite what the general populous thought, he did intend to follow doctor’s orders. Well, of course, with the dogs of war on his tail night and day, it wasn’t like he was going to forget what any of those instructions were. Between Chris’s glare, Nathan’s insistent hovering, and the other’s nagging, he had no choice but to get better. It was the only way he was going to get any peace and quiet. And their concern warmed his heart and soothed his soul.

Vin’s body was healing and growing stronger every day. His last trip to physical therapy and a quick checkup just two days earlier had shown him making remarkable progress and his need for any type of pain medication had dwindled to nearly nothing. But there was something else he needed to do. He needed desperately to heal his soul.

When he had thought that everyone knew his secret, it had been painful, but he hadn’t expected the feeling of regret that washed over him when Ezra had informed him that no one except he himself knew. There had been a sense of reprieve for sure, but he hadn’t realized how much he had been relieved when he thought the truth was out. That alone made his decision for him.

The others were all due out in a little while for a night of pizza and movies. Vin was on his own during the days now and soon the peaceful quiet would be broken. It was no longer an unwelcome sound as the ring of friendship could be heard within the banter that always accompanied the rowdy bunch of men. But tonight would be different. Tonight he needed to introduce them to Julie.

Looking back up at the sunrise he remembered a similar evening deep in the mountains sitting on the front porch of a little cabin nestled on a hill. Swaying gently in the front porch swing they had cuddled together and made their plans as the sun set before them.

Julie Reynolds had been a teacher at one of the local middle schools. Vin had met the fiery brunette one afternoon when he had inadvertently dinged her car while fighting with a local bully and gang recruiter. Of course it had been his own head that made the tiny dent and she had witnessed the whole thing. With a mixture of outrage, humor, and concern she had won his heart without him even realizing it until a few months later. They had practically danced around each other as Vin had begun to help out some around the youth center that she volunteered her afternoons at. But even when they had begun dating, they had kept it quiet.

Mostly because she, like Vin, desired to keep her personal life just that, personal. Plus the added conflict of them working together at the center and not wanting to confuse the kids or themselves. But nothing stayed secret for long and Vin had begun to escort her to some of the fundraisers for the center, which was where he had met Dr. Knight. Strangely enough, Julie and the doctor’s wife already knew each other and had renewed their own friendship even as Vin and David had gotten to know each other better.

Vin had been taking a few classes at the local community college and Julie had been instrumental in helping him study. Their love had taken on a life of its own, growing into a deep abiding friendship full of mutual respect and support. They had taken a weekend away to a cabin deep in the mountains and then and there Vin had taken the most frightening step of his life. He had asked Julie to marry him.

She had cried and then smacked his arm asking ‘what took you so long?’ It had been the happiest day of his life and that had led to the session on the porch when they talked about their dreams and plans for the future. Vin would graduate from the community college in the spring and was planning to then enter the police academy. Despite his struggles in high school, Julie had been instrumental in showing him that not only was he not stupid, but that there were better ways for him to learn and study. She had given him confidence in himself and his abilities and with her by his side he knew he could do just about anything.

Julie herself had confessed her own desire to finish her masters and they had laid out a timetable where Vin finished the academy and then she would go back to school, then on to kids, at least three, and then happily ever after. It had been the perfect sunset, the perfect plan, and the perfect myth.

Less than two months later it all died right alongside Julie on that cold Denver sidewalk. Vin had been working with some of the younger teens in Purgatorio, trying to give them an alternative to drugs and gangs. One of his first wins had been a kid wanting to get out of the gangs and truly make a life for himself. Vin had talked him into joining the army, just as he had. It would give the youth a chance to get out of the gang, away from the streets, and give him the discipline and drive to make a new life for himself. It had been a proud moment for both of them. But like all plans, it wasn’t perfect and like life always did, it threw in a curve. The youth had been killed in a training accident less than a year later.

That had been the catalyst to a long line of pain, suffering, and death. The youth’s best friend had been Ricky Torres and he had sworn revenge on Vin, blaming him for his friend’s death. That had been why Julie had been killed. Torres had shot her right outside of the youth center as she stood waiting for Vin to pick her up for dinner. Marissa Carter had been watching out of the doorway and had witnessed the whole thing.

It had been his fault, even though in his head he knew better. Life sucks, fate is fickle, shit happens. Deep in his heart, the one that had been ripped into little pieces that day, he felt responsible. He had talked that boy into joining the service, Torres had shot Julie because of him, and he had been running late to pick her up. Not minutes before, he had called her to say he was on his way and she said she would wait for him outside. He had arrived less than a minute after the shooting and felt his stomach twist as the sight of her lying bleeding on the cement had greeted him. In his arms she had died, her eyes looking up at him with pain, love, and forgiveness. And even as he had watched the life drain from her and the light in her dark brown eyes fade, he had felt his own life seep right along with it and a coldness unlike anything he had ever felt before had settled deep within his soul.

Vin Tanner had brought in Ricky Torres to face justice, but he had been a little worse for wear. The bounty money had been given to him, though he hadn’t really wanted it. He had used it to buy a proper granite headstone for Julie’s grave and pay off her remaining debts. Her own parents had died a few years before and she had had no living relatives other than a sister who lived in the east. Vin had met her at the funeral, but barely spoken two words to her. He had spoken little to anyone, still numb and totally lost.

The lure of easy money and the thrill of the hunt for the same justice he still felt he hadn’t achieved had led him into the world of bounty hunting. He had been good at it. Finding Torres had been easy and his skills had served him well. Plus, he didn’t really have a place in life anymore. All of his plans, all of his hopes and dreams had been buried right alongside his love. What happened to him now was inconsequential, but at least he could seek out those criminals who sought to escape justice. The unquenchable desire drove him to seek out the worst offenders and as each one was retuned to the legal system his prowess and reputation had grown, making him one of the best and most sought after bounty hunters in the country.

That had been a lifetime ago. And it seemed like almost a dream now. His life was so different now. He was different. The beautiful sunset had nearly dipped below the horizon and the chill had turned to freezing cold as a few snow flurries drifted on the wind. Thanksgiving was coming up soon and he realized now that he really had something to be thankful for this year. He had a life, a future, and a family now.

Julie had been one of the best things to ever happen to him and even though their time together had been all too short and the end excruciatingly painful, he couldn’t lie to himself. He was a better man for ever having known her. And it was time to lay her to rest and the only way to do that was to share her and to share his pain with another one of the best things that had ever happened to him. Team Seven.

He heard the vehicles coming down the driveway and quickly swiped his shirtsleeve across his eyes. It was going to be a rough night, but worth it. Of course it wouldn’t do to start things off being yelled at for being outside in the cold. Slipping back into the house with speed he was now most thankful for, he washed his face in the kitchen sink, grabbed a drink, and planted himself quickly in one of the recliners in front of the TV. He had wisely tuned it to a basketball game earlier and left it on. Just as the key turned in the lock of the front door he reclined back, looking all at ease.

With a flourish of activity, voices, and movement, the entourage moved into the house. The sights and sounds filled him with dread as he thought of the task ahead. But as Chris passed, headed for the kitchen, he nearly laughed out loud. Without even breaking stride or making eye contact, he discovered he had been revealed.

"Next time you decide to stay outside in the cold and then sneak back in here you might want to wrap up those cheeks of yours. Got a nice pretty wind burn going there, cowboy." Chris saw Nathan reverse track as he started for the back rooms and grinned wickedly at his desired reaction.

"What the hell, Vin. You been wandering around outside in this cold. It’s snowing out there. You’d think a man who’s still recovering…"

Vin couldn’t help himself. He began to smile like a fool as the nagging washed over him like a healing balm. The friendship and concern behind it and Chris’s own words were so real it warmed him inside and gave him courage for the night’s task ahead.

Nathan stopped mid-tirade as he noted the smile on Vin’s face. "What are you smiling at?"

"Thanks, Nathan." Vin just grinned more as Nathan’s brows drew together in confusion.

"Thanks? Did you freeze your brain out there, boy? You may be feeling better, but you’ve still got to be careful."

"I know. I’m fine, really. Better than I have been in a very long time. When’s the pizza due out?" He quickly changed the subject and Nathan let it go, this time.

Buck plopped his large frame down on the couch with a whoosh and eyed the game on the television. "Might be an hour or more, what with the flurries, but shouldn’t be too long. You know it cost old Buck to get that stuff delivered out here in the middle of nowhere like that."

"Ah, Buck," JD exclaimed as he came in from the kitchen with a beer for both of them and sat down beside him on the couch. "You know good and well that you just wanted an excuse to go out with Beverly again. She’s now the manager of that pizza place on the highway and she’s got the biggest…"

"Son, please," Josiah quickly interrupted as he too came in with a drink for himself and Nathan. "I think we’re all aware of the lady’s attributes."

Buck had dragged them all into the pizza place a few times, just to flirt with the woman. The pizza wasn’t bad either.

Chris came back, along with Ezra, from the kitchen and gave Vin a ginger ale as he slid into the second recliner with his own beer. And Ezra settled on the other side of the room with a glass of wine.

"Hey." Vin protested the choice of beverage, but only because he could. He knew better. Despite the fact that his medicines had decreased they weren’t gone all together and he still needed to be careful.

Chris just gave Vin a quick glare and then turned his attention to the game. "Who’s winning?"

"From what I can tell, the Hornets are getting slaughtered," JD announced.

Vin looked around the room at the men gathered. Chris had bought some extra chairs and a sectional sofa for the den to accommodate just such gatherings and they all looked so relaxed. He hated to be the one to interrupt that, but it was now or never. He might not have the courage to do this again. Reaching down for the metal box he had slipped into the oversized pocket of the recliner he took a deep breath and began.

"JD, ya mind turnin’ that TV down fer a minute or two. I need to talk to you fellas." Vin’s voice was firm and drew more than a few quick looks. A man of few words the others knew that with that declaration, something big was up.

Chancing a look at Ezra, Vin gave him a tight nod, acknowledging the look of concern and the unasked question. The undercover man already knew most of the story, but it was time to tell them all and he only wanted to do this once. Vin had considered just talking to Chris. That would have been a hell of a lot easier, but not fair. They all deserved to know after the hell he had put them through over the past month and a half. And more than that, he wanted them to know. He wanted to talk about Julie.

The TV was quickly muted and the men’s attention was riveted to Vin. "I need to tell you guys what happened. Ya deserve to know why I was shot."

"But we already know about that," JD interjected, receiving a quick jab in the ribs from Buck. The others had suspected that there was more to the story than they had been told, but hadn’t pushed Ezra or Vin.

"You don’t owe us any explanations." Chris wanted Vin to understand that he didn’t have to tell them anything if he didn’t want to, but he also wanted to leave it open in case the sharpshooter needed to. But before he could think of the right thing to say, Vin beat him to the punch.

"I appreciate that, but I still want you guys to know about it." Then, taking a deep breath, he began.

"Julie Reynolds was who Ricky Torres killed six years ago. She was a great teacher, always listened to her kids and tried to help them out. Spent a lot of her free time helping out at the youth center and even helped raise money to keep it going. Everybody loved her and when Ricky killed her, I went after him. It was my first time trackin’ down a man. Sort of how I got started in the bounty huntin’ business to begin with."

Vin could tell he was getting off track and getting things out of order, but he was nervous and to tell the truth it was hard to say what he really needed to. The memories of that time were so strong and he knew he had to keep it together and just get it told.

"See, Ricky’s best friend had died. He’d joined up with the army and ended up gettin’ killed in some stupid accident. All he’d ever known in his life was the projects and the gangs. The kid just wanted out and I’s the one talked him inta joinin’ up. Ricky blamed me for his death and wanted revenge."

While he talked Vin had taken a few of the pictures out of the box and slowly began passing them around for the others to see.

"He killed her cause of me. Not a lot of people even knew we’s datin’ cause we didn’t ‘xactly advertise, but he must of found out. Wanted to make me pay, so he shot her." Vin’s voice wavered slightly, but he swallowed hard and continued.

"I’s supposed to be pickin’ her up for a night out on the town." Vin was rambling now, without real thought to what he was saying, the memories and emotions just pouring from him as he stared down at a picture of the two of them together.

"But I’s runnin’ late. Damnit, if I’d only been there a few minutes earlier." Feeling a hand grip his forearm, he looked over at Chris, raw pain in his blue eyes. He had never talked to anyone about this. Never shared his pain or how he had felt. That late afternoon, as she died in his arms, he gathered it all up, stuffed it way down deep inside, and closed himself off. But he needed to talk about her and he needed them to understand.

"We’d only been engaged for about a month. I had dinner all planned at this nice restaurant downtown she wanted to go to. Not too fancy, but nice. Gonna pick a date for the weddin’, she always wanted to do it in the summer since school was out then. I was gonna tell her that I’d been accepted to the police academy." Vin felt the pain as strong as he had on that day. All of the lost hopes and dreams and he couldn’t hang on. Try as he might the pain and loss was just too overwhelming.

The tears began to fall and his fist pounded into the arm of the chair, angry at his lack of control and just plain angry. Vin’s drawl had begun to thicken as the emotions overtook him.

"Tain’t fair. Jist wanted to do somethin’ good for that kid. Thought I’s savin’ ‘em by gettin’ ‘em out of Purgatorio. Now he’s dead, Ricky’s dead, Danny’s facin’ prison and got so much hate bottled up inside of ‘em he’ll probably just end up dead, too. And, Julie…"

Balling up his fists and squeezing his eyes shut Vin worked to slow down his breathing and get himself under control. This had not been the way he had wanted to tell the others. It wasn’t supposed to be like this. His body shuddered as he tried to bottle it all away again, but when he felt a warm hand reach around to gently squeeze the back of his neck he lost it. Hunched doubled over in the recliner he cried like he couldn’t some six years ago, that warm hand on his neck his only anchor to the present and his guide through the pain of Julie’s loss to the other side and the new future that awaited him.

It couldn’t have been more than a minute or two when Vin was finally able to gain control and turn off ‘the waterworks’ as Buck liked to call them. How embarrassing to break down in front of all of these men he respected. He was supposed to be their tough as nails sharpshooter. Now he was just a nose running, eyes leaking, head aching mess. Despite the fact he was no longer crying he hadn’t chanced to look up, not wanting to see the looks on the other’s faces. Josiah would likely spout some scripture, Nathan would want to see if he was alright, Buck would make some joke to try to cheer him up, and Ezra and JD would just look uncomfortable. And he couldn’t blame them, he felt pretty damn uncomfortable at the moment. Tuning his ears into his surroundings as he wiped at his eyes and nose with the sleeve of his sweatshirt he noted how quiet it was. Great, now they all were too uncomfortable to speak, let alone move.

Chris’s voice almost startled him, which it shouldn’t have. That hand on his neck was still there and he knew instinctively who it belonged to. And he was grateful beyond words for it.

Chris had sat silently listening to Vin as he told about the woman he was going to marry. This woman who was killed when some insane ingrate decided he wanted to hurt Vin. Geez, did that sound familiar. It was just another piece to explain just why he and Vin understood each other so well. Why Vin knew how to just be there without interfering when the ghosts of his past reared up to try and drag him down. Vin knew because he had been there and felt similar pain.

Thinking on it Chris thanked God once again for Buck Wilmington. Despite the drinking, the depression, the anger, his oldest friend had stuck by him through it all. Picking up his sorry ass when he got himself totally messed up, dragging him home to sleep it off, or decking him when he got just a wee bit out of hand. Though at times he had been angry with the man, told him in no uncertain terms to just leave him the hell alone, and gone out of his way to push him away, he had stayed, at least until he was sure Chris wasn’t going to do something totally self-destructive.

And he would have never made it without the man. Had he ever even told Buck that? Had he ever thanked him for putting up with all of the shit he had thrown at him? Well, that was one thing he had to do before the night was out. But right now, right now he had to be that rock for someone else.

Sure, Julie’s death had been years ago, even a little longer than the death of his own family, but something told him that it wasn’t really something Vin had dealt with. When his wife and son had been killed he had had Buck, but who had been there for Vin and would he have even let them help him anyway? Stubborn took on a whole new meaning when it came to the team’s sharpshooter.

Chris already knew the answer. The fact that Vin had kept all of this to himself for over a year, never mentioning Julie or the loss he had suffered, not even a hint, spoke volumes. He knew all about trying to hide the pain and hurt, though he had sought to drink it away, while Vin had simply buried it. Well, not any more. Festering wounds could kill and this was definitely one that needed to be lanced.

When Vin had first started to tell them, Chris had known something was wrong. Had known it from the time he realized that Ezra had kept something from them. The part with the kid Vin had tried to help and the other part about Torres wanting revenge was no big surprise. But he had to admit he actually hadn’t seen the part about Vin being involved with the teacher that was shot. Not that he couldn’t picture it. Sure Vin dated, some. But now he had a better idea of why the man with eyes and a smile that made all of the ladies of the federal building swoon didn’t go out more often. Gun shy. That’s what they called it and he guessed he knew all about that himself. Probably was a big reason he seemed to still be dancing around the advances of a certain blond reporter.

And he sure as hell hadn’t expected Vin to say that they had been engaged. Those words and the pain in his best friend’s voice had been like a kick in the gut. All of the times he had sat nearly drunk and spilled his own guts about the hand life had dealt to him came back to him. Vin had always listened and consoled with his mere presence, but not once had there been a word said or any indication given of the similar hell he had suffered.

The story continued and the pain in his own chest intensified with each word and when it seemed to begin to wear Vin down to the breaking point he offered his own show of support without thought, reaching out to wrap his hand around the back of the younger man’s neck. Vin had crumbled at that point and he almost felt guilty until he remembered a night when it had been Buck offering the support and him crying like a baby. As much as the pain medication and antibiotics helped to heal Vin’s body, his friend needed this cleansing to heal his heart.

With a quick glance up at the others and a jerk of his head, he had cleared the room. Even if Vin had wanted to share the story with all of them, Chris knew how uncomfortable he would be breaking down in front of them like this. He wasn’t sure where they had gone, the kitchen or one of the back rooms maybe, but he didn’t really care. His focus right now was on Vin.

Waiting patiently for the tide to turn and Vin to regain some composure he kept his hand firmly on the man’s neck. Vin wasn’t on his own anymore. He didn’t have to face this alone and he wanted to make sure the younger man was aware of that. As the man’s nearly silent sobs abated, he chanced to speak, hoping his own voice didn’t betray his own swirling emotions.

"I’m sorry, Vin." Chris knew it wasn’t much to say, but he needed Vin to know that he truly was. That silent connection thing they supposedly had worked a lot better when Vin would look at him. Still, he had a pretty good idea of what the younger man was thinking and tried to put him more at ease. "You’ve got nothing to be ashamed of."

Vin looked up and glanced sideways at Chris. "Sorry bout that."

Chris squeezed a little harder. "I know it’s hard, but I’m glad you told us. I’m glad you told us about Julie."

Crying like some damn baby. God this was embarrassing, but with a look and a squeeze of his hand, Chris had made him see that it was okay and that he didn’t think any less of him. Turning his head back the other way he was surprised to see the room empty.

"They’re…" Chris answered before Vin could think the worst. "Well, they’re somewhere. I didn’t figure you wanted an audience. But they don’t think any less of you either."

"Just feel stupid ’s all." Vin began fiddling once again with the photo from the box. He wasn’t ashamed of crying; times were that was all that was left a man, but to break down right in front of the men he respected most... And over something that happened over six years ago.

The connection seemed to be working again. "You know, I did the same thing to Buck. Late night, too much whiskey, and our first anniversary after they died. Felt pretty stupid myself, but it helped."

"But you lost yer wife and son. Had yer whole life ripped from ya. You got every right…" Vin began and saw a glint of anger in Chris’s eyes.

"Don’t." Chris knew what Vin was doing. "Did you love her?"

"What?" Vin didn’t understand. What had he said to make Chris mad?

"Did you love Julie?"

"With every part of my bein’." Vin still didn’t quite understand why Chris was asking him this, but he felt like he needed to defend himself.

"She was everything to me. She’s the first one in a damn long time that was able to make me believe that love didn’t come packaged with a whole bunch a conditions. I never met anyone with as much compassion and grit. Made the impossible seem possible. Her very breath gave me life and it felt like someone had ripped out every ounce of humanity I had when she was killed."

Chris looked into those blue eyes so full of conviction and pain and tried to swallow down the huge lump in his throat. "Yeah, me, too."

Vin felt his eyes tear up again with those simple words. He had never spoken with Chris about this for a lot of reasons, but a big one was that he didn’t feel he had a right to complain, especially to Chris. How could he compare Julie’s loss to what Chris had suffered? But that was what had made his friend so angry. In Chris’s eyes it was not about who had suffered the most. Pain was pain and loss was loss. It wasn’t about comparisons. Both of them had loved with all that they had and both of them had felt the mind numbing pain at its loss.

Vin met his best friend’s gaze for a few minutes as both men sat silently. Then he looked back down at the photo and handed it over to Chris.

"She’s one of the prettiest little things I’d ever seen. Only stood a little over five feet tall, but boy if you got that one’s dander up." A sad smile played on Vin’s lips as he remembered. "Never did figure out what she saw in some…" He almost said reject but thought better of it. She’d a punched him in the arm for it and gave him a real bawling out and something told him Chris might do the same thing. "Well, in somebody like me."

Chris could see the new glint in Vin’s eyes as he spoke more about Julie. Removing his hand now that Vin seemed to be okay, he sat back into the chair and listened. Right now the best thing for Vin was to talk it out and he was more than willing to sit back and listen for however long it took.

"She was real smart and could teach any kid, even the ones like me that had so much trouble with their school work. I’d a never made it through my classes without her." With a wistful look on his face Vin continued to tell Chris all about Julie and eventually the others moved back into the room to share in the memories.

It had taken Chris years to get to the point where he could talk about Sarah and Adam without the intense pain beating at him. But he knew that the men gathered here had helped. In fact the first time he ever really talked at length about them was with Vin about two months after he had joined the team. Now it was Vin’s turn to share his memories and to heal.


Ezra had lain perfectly still for nearly forty minutes, probably a record, but he was listening for something. He was certain that he had heard someone outside in the hallway before and from the fact that he only barely heard that, he knew it had to have been Vin. Then again it was nearly two in the morning and he could have just been imagining things. Of course, Ezra Standish was not prone to imagining anything. He survived on gut instinct and a clear perception of everything that was going on around him. Even in the middle of the night.

All of the others were likely fast asleep. They had decided that all would stay the night rather than drive back into town. Maybe it was a need to just be close together not so long after they had faced the reality of nearly losing a big part of what made them a family. Vin’s near death experience had definitely left its mark on them all.

Slipping from the torture device Chris promised actually doubled as a guest bed, he donned his robe and headed in search of the missing sharpshooter.

If the man had returned to bed then he would have likely just been up to answer the call of nature, but something niggling in the back of Ezra’s mind told him that such was not the case. So instead of staying under the warmth of the covers he went in search of his friend.

It almost seemed ridiculous. Him going to check on one of the most self-sufficient and deadliest men he had ever known. But then again after what had transpired just a little over a month ago, he had a right. Vin Tanner had scared the life out of him and from the way the others had reacted, everyone else too. Funny how you could become close to other people and not even be aware of it. He guessed the old adage was true, you don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone, or almost ripped away from you.

Fear. A strange word and yet with so many different meanings. He was not about to lie and say he had never been afraid. No, his entire life had been molded with fear. Fear that he wasn’t quite good enough or smart enough. Fear that his mother might never come back for him. Fear that someone would betray him. Each operation he worked on had its own level of fear and reasons for them, but when Vin had lay near death in that hospital fear had taken on a whole new meaning. And it was a feeling he had yet to completely shake.

So now here he was, in the middle of the night, traipsing through his boss’s home looking for Vin. And when he found him he was caught on what exactly he should do. Truthfully it wasn’t Vin’s physical health at the moment that was of the utmost concern, but his mental wellbeing. Ezra still felt somewhat responsible for it. The past evening had been one of great revelation and though he was certain that all of the others had been just as saddened and shocked by their friend’s sudden decision to share such an intimate side of his life, he couldn’t help but wonder just at what cost such disclosures had come.

Now, as he stood silently at the kitchen sink window that looked out over the back deck, he was unsure how to proceed. Vin’s silhouette could be seen stretched out in one of the Adirondack chairs. What if the younger man had fallen asleep out there in the moonlight? It had to be freezing cold out there. And speaking of freezing cold, did he really want to go out there? Hell no, but then again…


He was freezing to death, but he didn’t care. Even with three layers of clothes on, he was shivering, but a part of him wasn’t so sure it was just from the night air. How long he had even been out here he wasn’t completely sure, but it couldn’t have been long. He had checked everything out online and had set his clock, just so he wouldn’t miss this opportunity. The bright white orb lit the night sky and the back yard leading to the barn. Staring up at the new moon, he felt tears prick his eyes.

The pain in his chest was familiar enough, but there was something different about it this time. Even if only minutely it seemed a little easier to bear and deep down Vin knew the reason was that he was no longer bearing the heavy burden alone. It had felt strange last night, talking so freely about Julie. Little memories that he hadn’t recalled before kept popping into his head as he told the guys about his lost love. Well, not really lost, not anymore. With sharing his memories of her he had recaptured the feelings she had instilled in him. Her love of life and nature, and her strong belief in living each day to its fullest. Wasn’t always easy, but by all that was good, he was certainly going to take her advice and give it a try again.

Hearing someone in the kitchen, trying to be quiet, he quickly wiped at his moist eyes and waited. He should have known someone would come looking, just hadn’t expected it quite so soon. Might be Chris or Nathan, having awoken in the night and slipped to check in on him only to find him gone from his bed. Or maybe Ezra, the man could hear a mouse walking across the carpet, in a dead sleep. Funny how they shared that particular ability. Actually they had a lot in common. Things that people who didn’t know them wouldn’t understand or believe, but they had both survived less than perfect childhoods to become cautious and independent natured men. How either of them had allowed themselves to start caring about anyone, let alone six someones was a miracle in itself.

Vin hadn’t really believed in miracles, at least not until he had met Julie Reynolds. Then, after her death, he had stopped once again, but recently he had come to understand that there were miracles all around if you just looked hard enough. It was a miracle he was still alive. It was a miracle that seven so different men could work together so efficiently. And it was definitely a miracle that these men blessed his life without even trying.

Thankful. That was how he felt. He had had plenty of time to reflect on just that fact as he had spent so much time resting and healing. That’s a part of what had brought him outside on this night into the freezing cold. That, and Julie.

The sound of the kitchen door alerted him that his privacy was gone and a touch of annoyance flooded through him before he remembered to be grateful once again that someone cared enough to even come outside in this temperature. He didn’t move, just sat and waited. Whoever it was would give himself away soon enough.

Quiet slippered footsteps could be heard shuffling along and a startled intake of breath resounded in the otherwise quiet night.


He saw the undercover agent shuffle over to the other chair positioned just to the right of his own. Out of the corner of his eye he nearly chuckled out loud as he watched Ezra swipe at the seat of the chair with his coat sleeve before sitting down. Strange though, that definitely wasn’t his own coat he was wearing, in fact it looked amusingly like Buck’s dark plaid overcoat.

Relaxing back into the chair, he stared up again at the very thing that had brought him out here in the first place. And for some unknown reason, his mouth started moving and the words came out before he could stop them.

"She loved the moon."

Vin was a man of few words and for so long he had kept so much inside. It had taken nearly dying for him to realize just how much these men meant to him and how much a part of his life they had become. It seemed so natural now to share the life he had once had and what almost was with those he now called friends.

"It was our first date and there was a big full moon that night. She just kept staring up at it and smiling. Weren’t until a few months later I figured out why. She told me that when she’s a kid all of the other kids would wish upon a star, but living in the city often times them stars was too hard to see, but the moon… Well, she said she just figured since the moon was so much bigger that it had to be a lot better to wish on anyway. And any time the moon was full she’d make an extra special wish. Said that first night we went out she wished we’d hit it off. Guess it worked cause I sure was hooked."

Ezra still couldn’t believe he was sitting outside in the freezing cold. He had reluctantly grabbed Buck’s coat off of the hook by the door, since it was the closest one and the thought of journeying into the living room where the walls shook with the force of Buck and JD’s combined snores, was more than he could currently endure. Just the frost on the window was an indication of just how cold it was outside, but his worry for Vin and what might have caused the younger man to be braving the elements overrode his common sense.

Vin hadn’t moved as Ezra had ambled out onto the deck, the undercover agent biting back a curse but not the sharp intake of breath as the icy air assaulted him. Surely Vin had heard him, the man would wake from a dead sleep if someone dropped a feather. Maybe he was intruding. Still, he wanted Vin to understand that he wasn’t alone anymore and that he wanted to help. What would his mother think? When had he started to worry more about the welfare of others and putting his own needs aside so readily? The thought warmed his insides and he wondered about that, too. But it was a mystery he would have to investigate at another time. Right now he needed to be here for his friend.

Having moved toward the other deck chair that sat adjacent to Vin’s he had swiped at the seat, knowing full well how ineffectual the action would be. Still, somehow he just couldn’t help himself. Besides, it was Buck’s coat anyway so it wasn’t like it could get any filthier. The very thought made him shudder, but he sat down anyway.

For once in his life Ezra Standish found himself at a loss for words. The others joked that he could strike up a conversation with a stump, but right now he had no idea what he should say. Vin was a man who valued solitude and he wasn’t sure if he should interrupt that or just try and mimic their leader. Chris Larabee had a way of offering his support without ever saying a word as his domineering presence held its own force. Vin and Chris seemed so comfortable around each other. Sometimes Ezra envied the ease with which the two friends seemed to just know what the other needed without a word being spoken. Right now he would pay a great deal of money just to know what he should say or do. The silence stretched out and Vin’s voice startled him from his deliberations.

As Vin spoke Ezra listened intently, wanting to soak it all in, his own discomfort all but forgotten, because he knew that Vin was sharing a bit of his soul with him and he was honored.

"I jist couldn’t quite get in the habit myself. I learned long ago that wishes were just foolishness. But when me and her was together and the full moon would be out, well, things just seemed different, you know, like anything was possible. So, whilst she was wishin’ I was givin’ thanks fer all my blessin’s."

Swallowing at the lump in his throat Vin worked his jaw and tried to finish his thoughts. He wanted to share something with Ezra. There had been so much Julie had taught him about life and how to live it to its fullest. So many doors within himself that he had never opened up until she knocked down his barriers and allowed the sun and the moon to shine on his soul. Then all of those pieces of himself that he had come to cherish had been locked away after she died. These were things he had never shared with anyone else.

Steeling up his courage and never taking his eyes off of the big moon he spoke the words that came from his heart on this chilly fall morning.

By the light of the moon you gave me strength
Lit my path with possibilities
With gentleness you eased my way
Your touch it healed my soul
Then darkness came your warmth was gone
To carry on seemed pointless
Upon your lessons I turned my back
Your love I left behind

But now your light shines bright again
As upon the past I look
The memories of the times we shared
Shall carry me through the shadows
Now every time I see the glow that shines upon the night
I’ll lift my eyes toward the sky as I feel your spirit brush mine
Your love forever guides me through forever in me dwells
And with a very thankful heart I’ll be wishing on the moon."

Ezra was once again speechless. Had the situation been different he was appalled at the thought that he might have even laughed at the thought of Vin spouting poetry. But this… This moved him. The words Vin had spoken had touched him deeply to the point that even if he had known what to say he wasn’t sure he could even get them out. His throat felt too tight for any air to pass, let alone words. But he had to say something. He had to assure Vin that what he had just shared was…

"Beautiful." Okay, that was something though not nearly adequate.

Vin hadn’t been sure what type of reaction he would get or even what he wanted. Like so much else that he had left behind, he hadn’t written any poetry since Julie’s death.

It was something he had always loved. One of his few childhood memories of the times before he had lost his mother were of her reading poetry to him. Still, it had never occurred to him to write his own verses. Having such a hard time in school had quelled most creative impulses he had felt and somewhere along the lines the thought of being tough and surviving like he had seemed at odds with the beauty and tranquility he found in poetry.

But Julie had brought back not only his love of poetry but even given him the strength to try his own hand at it. Her reaction the first time he surprised her with one out of the blue had scared him. She had cried and it had taken a good thirty minutes for her to get him to believe that that was a good thing. That was the night she had told him that he had a beautiful soul. Ezra’s comment touched him more than the man could ever know.

"Ya really think so?"

"Mr. Tanner, Vin, you have a remarkable talent that you’ve been hiding from us."

"Jist been awhile."

Ezra understood completely. Vin was finally beginning to heal.

"I’m honored that you shared this with me. Feel free to share your prose with me any time."

Vin was overwhelmed with emotions. It was like a light had been turned on in a darkened room, chasing away the shadows. A place deep within him that had lived among the shadows for far too long, but not anymore. By telling his new family about Julie he had allowed the light of her love to once again live within him. That, combined with the love of his new family made life worth living and the future brighter than it had been in a very long time.

"I wanted to thank ya for everything."

"Whatever do you mean?" Ezra could not understand for what reason Vin would be thanking him. What had he done other than peer into the man’s personal life?

"Yer a good friend."

Vin’s words echoed what Chris had said that night in the hospital and it still left Ezra flabbergasted. What did these men see in him? Then somehow he, too, felt a sort of silent communication. Vin was thanking him for not sharing his secrets and for giving him the chance to do it himself. And he couldn’t stop the smile that graced his face.

"I learned from the best, Mr. Tanner."

Vin heard the smile in Ezra’s voice and felt one of his own born. Looking back up at the moon he imagined Julie smiling down at him. If nothing else, he knew that her wish now would be for his happiness. The future had looked so grim for many years, but these new friends had given him a purpose and the strength to truly live once again. And he realized that he was happy.

Nodding his head toward the glowing moon Vin sent up his silent thanks for love, life, and family.



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