Main Characters: Seven, OFC
Disclaimer: They are not mine. I don't make profit from this. Thoughts in italics.
ATF universe belongs to Mog. There are references to Heather F.'s Story Replaced, also borrowing her team 8 guys.
Thanks to my beta Laura, to Angela B., and to IceHunter for all their help. (hope I got everything all right)
Feedback is welcome. (be kind Im still learning English)
Everything was ready for the bust. Chris Larabee, leader of Team 7 and main player at the event, promptly dismissed the teams from the conference room from where they had been coordinating the meetings with a gun supplier.
Team 7 had been working non stop for the past couple of weeks, gathering the information about this new player. The fact was that this man had no criminal background that they could find, but since being in Denver he had run off a few small crooks and established a prolific illegal business. One that the ATF planned to end today.
Team 8 quickly left the room and went to do their own last checking of equipment. Team seven, already prepared with theirs was letting off steam in the usual way. Buck and J.D. wrestling for the posession of the rubber chicken, goofing around Nathan and Josiah chattering about trivial matters Ezra doing... whatever he always did What caught the blond's attention was his sharpshooter. He had a pensive look in his eyes. Chris knew that he was worried; he had been having a bad feeling the last few days.
Vin was startled at the sound of his cell phone. He fished the small device from his jacket's pocket and studied the frontal panel a second. He eased his posture as he recognized the caller. Chris finally closed the door of his office and tried to relax a little before, hopefully, the closure of this case.
After Vin jumped at the sudden noise and recognized the number, he answered. His tone was serious but his eyes twinkled.
-Yes- the smile in his face was carefree. -No...-
He almost fell from his chair at whatever the caller said. -Jack! Stop that.-
Old Jack always had playful sketches prepared to begin their phone conversations.
-Yeah, I'm not fun since I got this job, must be Larabee's fault. Speacking of old and bitter, how is your father doing?- Vin laughed at the response.
-Nah, I know you'll never tell, so I'm safe-
He got settled in his chair but his shoulders tensed a little. -You sure?- His face lost the smile. -I knew something was wrong.- There was a pause while Vin paid close attention to the caller's words.
-Yes, a couple of days.- This time Vin had to take the phone away of his ear.
-I'm not going to call you every time I feel uneasy.- He paused again.
-If you are going after the bounty you are going to need help.- The last commentary was an afirmation, this bounty was dangerous and Vin didn't want Jack to be alone while hunting him.
-I'll be free in a couple of days-
-Yeah, like old times.-
-Sure, you too- Vin let out a deep breath as he set his phone on the desk.
He blinked a few times while processing all that Jack had said. He shuddered, he needed to concentrate on the bust. He would get the paper work done ASAP then convince Chris that he needed free time, a week or so.
They were going to catch Eli-Joe. With Jack at Vin's side there was no place he could hide that they wouldn't find.
+ + + + + + +
The meeting with the mysterious dealer was going smoothly; Ezra had introduced Chris as a crucial buyer. They were talking and planning future sales.
In a nearby building, Vin, felt bad vibes like somebody was watching him. In his high position that was almost impossible but still, his spider sense, as J.D. had called it, was informing him of imminent danger.
The sound of a couple of shots startled the men doing business at the old warehouse and to the ATF teams' consternation, the dealer bolted without finishing the transaction.
They saw the expensive car driving rapidly away.
"What was that?' Larabee shouted at the hidden men.
Agent Kelly, leader of team 8, and the only one, other than a member of team 7 brave enough to get close to Chris in a bad mood, tossed him the mic set with a shrug of his shoulders. Larabee barked in the mic. "Ears, report!"
"Nothing to report," was Buck's answer from the communications' van. "Everything went as planned until the shots."
"Maybe they weren't related to the case," informed Josiah attempting to calm Chris. He only got a hard stare for his trouble.
At the device's silence, the rest of the backup came out from hiding, carefully trying to pinpoint Vin's location.
The blond leader went white at the lack of response. He dashed to the building that had been Vin's position. Nathan went to the survillance van to get his bag and shouted to Buck, who was already on the phone, "Call an ambulance!" At Buck's nod he ran after Chris.
Larabee's heart went to his throat when he got to the building's roof and didn't see Vin.
Searching the sides he finally localized the Texan on a cornice. Carefully lowering himself to the sharpshooter's side, his trembling hand went to Vin's throat looking for a pulse.
Nathan's Don't move him! went unnoticed by Chris who was too relieved at feeling his friend heart beating to notice anything else.
"My God!" exclaimed Nathan, seeing the pool of blood at the Texan's head.
He was still trying to stop the bleeding without moving Vin when the paramedics reached the roof.
Somebody from team 8 had directed them there as all of team seven was frozen at the side of the building watching over their injured friend.
"Team 8, we'll do the clean work," agent Kelly stated. He knew team seven would not leave Tanner's side until he was disdharged from the hospital, hopefully alive and without lasting effects. He directed his men to secure the area, ordered a sweep of the place with a crime scene team and to fill the forms for the equipment and reports.
Later he dismissed his team for a highly deserved rest, and went to the hospital to report to Larabee's team. He found the men, minus Chris, in the ICU waiting room. Everybody was pale and nervous, even J.D. who was already asleep in a chair. Buck was pacing the small room, Josiah sounded like he was praying while Nathan murmured indistinctly at his side and Ezra was looking unblinking at a spot in the wall.
Kelly Ryan got close to Wilmington. When Buck recognized him, he hugged him. Startled, Kelly pushed off the big mustached man.
With a small smile Buck informed him, "He's alive but was shot twice before he fell to the cornice. Thank God he stayed there and didn't fall the full six stories."
"How bad?" asked the concerned agent.
"Bad," said Nathan. "Shoulder bullet shattered the bone, same side he fell on. They had to immobilize the entire arm." taking a deep breath he went on relating, "the other bullet creased his head with enough force to fracture the skull, then he must have hit his head again as he fell."
Agent Ryan was speechless at the news.
"His brain is swelling; the doctors had a hard time stabilizing him before surgery," finished Nathan.
Kelly's voice was visibly shaken when he asked. "Where is Larabee?"
"He has not left our friend's side since the disturbing scene on the roof," Ezra's soft voice enlightened the fellow agent. "Chris already scared the nurse that tried to get him out of the room."
"Vin is in coma, and Chris will not leave him until he wakes," stated J.D. who had awakened at the noise of his team mates.
Agent Ryan nodded his head. He already knew that Larabee would stay at any of his men's sides until they were out of danger, and Tanner was still in danger and not only because of his injuries.
"We got a preliminary of the scene," he notified. "Tanner must have been low, maybe still in position. You are right Buck, the impacts were what threw him from the building to the cornice. He was lucky that way." A slight smile touched his lips at the thought; the magnificent seven seemed to have as many lives as cats.
Clearing his throat he went on with the information. "It must have been a sniper, not very good or maybe too far away."
Josiah's, Thank God interrupted him for a second.
"But he was professional enough to clean up real good after himself; we are not entirely sure where the shot came from. By the angle forensics was able to give us an approximated location and went with us to search those buildings though we couldn't find proof of a sniper being there. So we don't have a clue who did it. Maybe J.D. can help with the data-base search of Vin's old cases. I think that it could have been somebody from before he joined the ATF, from his bounty hunter days or before, but we can't confirm it."
"I assure you that we all would be more than glad to help," said Ezra vehemently.
After Buck passed the news to Chris, the men left the hospital planning to relieve Chris in the morning. Even if Chris stayed close to the Texan, those small chances to eat and rest were necessary.
+ + + + + + +
The next day at the bullpen, J.D. and Ezra started their seach. There was a long list of suspects.
The other three men were in charge of Vin and Chris.
The day vanished without news from the team. They weren't close to finding the man responsible and Vin was still in coma, though he was stable.
Unfortunately, the doctors restrained him. He was experiencing unconscious movements that could dislodge the tubes and IV's and Chris had exploded against the hospital personnel. He didnt want Vin tied when he awoke.
Chris was threatened by his own friends that if he didn't calm down they wouldn't let him stay with Vin anymore. The hospital's staff was aware of the threat, nevertheless they stayed away from the tense man. The most experienced nurses took charge of the comatose patient.
+ + + + + + +
The third day another bomb hit the distressed men. Judge Travis informed them that a replacement had been sent to the team. Apparently one very well connected Senator had found the results of the bust insufficient and had promptly recommended a young relative of his to the temporarily vacant position in team seven.
As Chris' obligation was with his team, he left Nathan looking over Vin and went to Travis' office. There, the secretary informed him that the Judge was talking with some important people and to take a seat to wait.
Chris ignored the suggestion and started pacing the waiting room in exasperation.
How could the Judge expect the team to work with a substitute after what happened the last time?
That last replacement nearly got Ezra, Buck and Vin killed. He almost destroyed the team. Ezra's place at the ATF was affected by the rumors and accusations so much that he had been physically attacked by fellow agents.
It had been just because of Ezra's stubbornness and resolve that they were still alive and whole. That last time had been a close call for all of them.
Chris couldn't let that happen again. No matter what the Judge said, the team was not ready to replace Vin.
Finally, the secretary motioned him to go in the office, there Chris found that the Judge hadnt been talking by phone. There were people seated by the Judge's desk.
"Chris Larabee, this is Senator Vandernooth, you already know the Governor and this here is your new sharpshooter: J.T. Vandernooth," introduced the Judge.
The men just nodded politely to the team leader, who was fuming. It was the young woman who stood and offered her hand to Chris. As he was shaking her hand he studied her. She was as tall as he was, wearing heels, had an expensive-looking tailor-made suit, the color of her eyes was hidden by light smoked sunglasses and her black hair was carefully restrained in a French braid.
"Captain Vandernooth is a highly recognized sharpshooter, her performance and accuracy practically a legend despite her younger age," the Governor said proudly.
It was the Senator who continued, to the distress of the young woman and the men present. "Unfortunately she always has been considered second best, she had lived in the shadow of a Texan myth. My niece had apparently never sought perfection and let an unknown boy, an orphan with no background, beat her over and over at competitions and promotions."
The disgusted tone of the Senator's voice reminded Chris of Maude, Ezra's mother, who enjoyed pointing to the people's weaknesses no matter who was listening or that the one being put down was a blood relative.
Looking at the Captain, Chris recognized the blank stare that Ezra often wore. Only the tight set of her jaw betrayed her feelings at her Uncle's speech.
"I thought you had realized that she is the best option for us. Justin believes that," said the Judge with a scolding tone.
With a sarcastic smile that made Chris' gut twist, the Senator said, "My beloved brother has that impression, Yes, he's so naïve. Even if I think this would be the only chance my dear niece will have to prove her abilities without the shadow of that Lieutenant, I don't think this kind of work is the place for a woman. I'm sure the agent would agree with me, as he has a male squad with a serious reputation to protect."
The brief silence was broken by a clear and strong female voice, "I'm prepared for the challenge, The General " she empathized , "requested your help in obtaining this position as he believes that I'm the best alternative since it would be Lt. Tanner's place I'll be covering." She indulged herself in a smile at her Uncle's reaction to the name. "I have enough experience in the field to fit into your team," she said looking at Larabee. "And I have always worked well with male units."
+ + + + + + +
Later Chris found himself in the conference room preparing his team to meet their temporary sharpshooter, remembering the satisfaction he felt at the Senator's expense when Chris accepted the Captain in his team and the Judge and the Governor congratulated her for being part, at least for the moment, of the best ATF team. Now he was feeling tricked, no doubt the Judge had called him in to meet the man with the certainty of Chris reaction. He had accepted the woman without fighting the Judge just to annoy the pompous man.
It wasn't until he was standing in this room facing his team that the weight of his decision hit him full force.
"A replacement?" inquired a pale Ezra. Not again he thought.
"What were you thinking?" challenged Buck.
"What about Vin?" J.D's soft question and Josiah's silence were what forced the explanation.
Letting himself fall into the chair at the head of the table Chris related what had happened at Travis' office. "Look, I'm not happy with this but we had no option," he finished.
"I'm sure you hadn't," said Ezra leaving the room.
"I'll talk with him," Josiah said already going in pursuit of his surrogate son.
Buck and J.D. were extraordinarily quiet.
Chris left the room and went to his office. As he was closing the door, Buck let himself in.
"Are you ok. Pard?" he asked concerned. He had known Chris for a long time and was sure all this was affecting him more than he had let show.
"No, I'm not," said Chris rudely. Fortunately for Buck, he was used to his friend's temper.
Taking a chair he looked directly at Chris' eyes.
"Talk to me Chris, please," was the gentle request.
"Vin's doctor had been talking about options for him, like boots or anti-embolic stockings and physical therapy to prevent the damage that being unconscious for long time could do to his body. He mentioned brain damage and Vin's probabilities to recover full mental function, at those numbers not even Ezra would risk a bet, it could take months or years if he ever wakes. Then Travis places this girl with us I'm not sure all of this is worth the pain and suffering. I don't think I could stand to see him awake and trapped in a shell of a body And the Judge pretends that I should dismiss my team's feelings and force us to work with a spoiled brat whose daddy got her the job."
"Do you really think that? That shes just a spoiled brat? After all you tell us about her kin?"
"No, yes I don't know Buck but I'm thinking about resigning." The despair was too evident in his voice, his eyes bright with unshed tears.
"What about justice, Chris?" Buck would not let his friend sink again and the best tactic to make Chris react was anger.
"Are you going to let the man who shot Vin walk out free? Are you going to let Vin lay unprotected at the hospital so that man could finish him there? Or wait until Vin gets better so he can look after himself like he has been doing since he was a child. Are you giving up on Vin's chance to live? Because he is going to recover, you'll see."
"Damn Buck, I'm not "
"Yes, you were pard, but don't worry, that's why you have friends that will beat some sense in that thick head of yours. You are not alone, nor is Vin."
After a moment, Chris said a soft, Thank you.
"You are welcome." Buck left the office deep in thought. Under other circumstances he would have being happy to have a female on the team, to offer her his understanding and support. Right now he was alternating between feeling hate and pity for her.
+ + + + + + +
Outside Chris' office, at the break room, Josiah was waiting for Ezra to calm down before talking to him. When he finally dropped his head in his hands and became still, Josiah asked, "Have you made your mind about this?"
At Ezra's surprised look Josiah answered innocently, "I was gauging your reactions to Chris news. Ezra. It's ok to feel uncomfortable with the situation. I suppose that talking about replacements would bring on disagreeable memories and that you'd try to spare Vin an experience like yours."
"That's just the beginning, Josiah," hesitated the undercover agent.
"Want to talk about it?" The big man's words were a gentle whisper, so much like Buck's was when he had been talking to Chris.
"It's not only those memories but the way she had to fight her relatives. She'll have to prove to the team that she is capable enough, to a group who would not accept her due to prejudices or assumptions." Ezra stopped only for the lack of oxygen as he had been talking non stop.
"Does this strike too close to home?" asked Josiah. Ezra was starting to feel irritated at his friend's soft voice, it was too condescending.
"Mr. Sanchez, I don't think it is that simple. I have contradictory feelings, as this background would make me sympathize with our new associate and paradoxically, experience would make me distrust this Captain's well timed appearance and possible grudge against 'Lt Tanner.' I know what it is like to be distrusted by your teammates and how dangerous it can be, but I can't make myself overlook my instincts."
"That is quite a conflict, my friend. Maybe you should hold this decision until you get more facts," said the preacher's son.
"Great, thanks Josiah." With a hint of sarcasm Ezra went out leaving a pensive profiler behind.
They were in the middle of a case and they needed the position covered but Ezra was right, the lack of trust at this moment could mean death.
+ + + + + + +
Captain Vandernooth reached team's seven work place half an hour later, after filling out an ample amount of forms. This was going to be harder than she thought. Now that she was in, she could get to the information on Tanner's accident and redirect the investigation, but thanks to her Uncle's big mouth the team now would question her motives. It was so convenient for her that this team was used to the best, and right now she was it. They need me, she thought.
She nodded politely to the men as she passed them. From the other side of the room, J.D., self-appointed Larabee's secretary shouted, "Chris, she's here!" making a couple of his teammates jump.
The door was thrown open by the ATF leader but instead of letting her in, he went out.
"J.D., Buck continue the shoot-out investigation. Ezra, try to locate our friendly dealer and schedule another meeting with him ASAP, we don't want to lose him. Josiah you get Captain Vandernooth up to date."
"Please, call me J.T.," said the Captain from behind Chris.
"No, we already have a J.D. and we can't afford a confusion," Chris spoke firmly, almost threatening. Unfortunately, the Captain didn't back off.
"You cant call me Captain Vandernooth all the time," stated the dark haired woman.
"Right," grumbled the blond. "Josiah, you get the 'girl' up to date." He surveyed the room to stifle the laughter of his subordinates. "This way we'll prevent any mistakes as nobody here is called that."
He headed to the elevator, "Buck, you are also in charge. Whatever you find call me to the nurses' station. Play safe kids."
As Chris disappeared a couple of snorts were heard, as was the Captain's tirade. As she was still looking in the direction that Chris had gone, it was obvious to whom her words were directed if not the meaning. Clenching her fists she stormed out.
"What did she say?" asked J.D. timidly.
"Well, it was an interesting collage of languages, I recognized a word that sounded like 'anmassend', I think that's German for presumptuous or arrogant," a smiling Ezra informed.
"Seems our ragazza is angry at Chris for her new nickname," Josiah answered delightedly.
Ezra went back to his desk with a chuckle. "My, my, our girl has a temper."
Buck and J.D. were already planning. "Chris did warn us to play safe, but didn't forbid a couple of pranks."
+ + + + + + +
The next couple of days teams 7 and 8 were busy arranging a new meeting, both teams were sticking to the girl nickname, to J.T.'s displeasure.
When she tried to intrude in Buck and J.D.'s research she was ungraciously turned down. She found that those men were immune to short skirts, low neck lines and sad, puppy eyes.
Unknown to her, the color of her eyes was so similar to Vin's that it reminded them of their missing friend at every look.
+ + + + + + +
Ezra had used his free time and every resource he had to check her background, but had learned little from her military records as most of her missions were security sealed.
He noticed her interest in Vin's attack though he couldn't find previous attempts on her part to take over other snipers' jobs. By the word of his contacts, she was known as a professional, her team so good that, for the important missions, they were always the first option. It had been a surprise to her superiors, her request for leave time, but with General Vandernooth's approval, the Governor and the Senator Vandernooth's support she got it without delay.
+ + + + + + +
Frustrated at their inhability to capture the shooter, the teams' tempers started to boil. The tension escalated as Chris came back to be ready for the trade and team seven had to spare J.D., Nathan and Josiah who would be guarding Vin at the hospital.
In a quick date at a busy bar the dealer, identified as Mr. Black, agreed to sell some of his stock. He also promised to get some special merchandise but they would have to wait for it.
Those days, maintaining a balance between guarding the hospital and covering ATF duties was hard. Vin didn't show any improvement. The team's morale was so low. Until they found a great source of entertainment, the only amusement of the team was to rile the Captain, which wasn't so hard. They recorded her tirades and then tried to translate her words. They discovered that she used at least six different languages.
+ + + + + + +
In the middle of the third week Chris was awakened at Vin's hospital room by a knock. Expecting Josiah he looked at his watch and was surprised at the hour. J.T.'s presence at the door worried him. "Sir, Mr. Black contacted Ezra last night, they will have everything ready by the time you'll get to the office." At Chris' incredulous look she let out an exasperated sigh. "Buck sent you a bag with clothes and things so you'll be ready when Nathan relieves you."
Chris took the sports bag to inspect its contents. Looking back to the Captain he noticed she looked pale. The team must have been working all night. She was glaring toward Vin with a vacant look. Feeling uneasy, Chris shoved her out. "You stay by the window until Nathan comes, you hear?"
"Yes, Sir," was her only response.
The nurses let Chris use the facilities. After he was ready, he thanked them on his way back to Vin's room. There, by the window, was the Captain. She was looking inside where there appeared to be a lot of movement. Running the rest of the distance, his path was blocked by the young woman. Instinctively he threw a punch that she deflected. She tried to grab his arm and they struggled a moment until her words penetrated Chris rage.
"He's ok. He's awake. He's ok." Chris went limp and she eased his way to the floor until he was sitting.
"A... a..awake?" asked Chris.
She gestured to her side. "I was talking to Nathan when Vin blinked and moaned, I went to find a doctor and Nathan went inside, then the nurse threw Nathan from the room and he went to make phone calls." She was kneeling at his side supporting him.
"Here comes Azara," she said making room for the nurse to check Chris' vitals.
"I hope you didn't hit him, J.T. or his team is going to eat you alive," the redheaded nurse said to her with a smile. Then her attention went back to Chris. "Mr. Larabee, the doctor will talk to you in a minute. Your friend did wake momentarily and now is asleep."
With the help of both females Chris was eased to a chair. At least his color is improving, thought the dark haired woman.
The doctor and Nathan reached Chris at the same time; it was the doctor who explained,
"Mr. Tanner is very fortunate, however in the next days he is not going to believe it. This time he wasn't totally awake, was confused and in some pain. All of this is completely understandable. Gradually he should stay conscious for longer periods. We'll need to do more tests to evaluate his brain's condition, right now we're giving him antiseizure medication and keeping a close watch on his blood chemistry. We also will have to evaluate his physical condition but it is a great step in his recovery that he is out of the coma. Do you have questions, Chris?"
Chris didn't say anything, he just stared at Nathan. "Good news is that he woke, not so good news is that they would need time and tests to really know his condition," explained Nathan.
"And I thought I had said that simply enough," apologized the doctor. "Nathan, can we talk now about what to watch out for, what to expect, the tests and therapies?" The doctor rose from the chair and motioned to the hallway.
"Chris?" hesitated Nathan.
"I'm ok. I'll just stay a moment with Vin and I'll go to the office."
"You don't have a lot of time," said J.T.
Damn Chris had forgotten she was here.
"I'll wait until Nathan is back before I go," stated Chris.
"Sir, you will need to talk with your team and prepare yourself. I'll stay until Nathan comes back. Outside the room," she clarified. "The staff knows your team enough to be careful and will keep a watchful eye on Tanner."
"I can stay for a while with him Chris," the redheaded nurse said. "I need to check his vitals and monitors for the evaluations," she concluded .
"She would stay in, I'd stay out here, and we'll wait for Nathan, then I'll join the meetings." Her voice dropped to a soft murmur. "I have everything ready but I'd want a last check before the operation."
Nathan nodded, Chris agreed and left so Nathan went to talk with the doctor.
"Would you want to go in?" the nurse asked J.T. "I'm sure Vin would like to hear your voice."
"No, I'm staying here," replied the Captain.
As Nathan was waiting for the elevator, a commotion was heard from the ICU's direction. Going back he saw the Captain kneeling by nurse Azara, seeing him she stood up and shouted,
"Stay with Vin!" And she ran to the stairs.
Nathan looked through the window, Vin was calm and sleep. "What happened, are you all right?" he asked the shaken but otherwise uninjured nurse.
"It was a man, he was wearing hospital garments but J.T. stopped him when he tried to go in Vin's room. He had a knife hidden and the next thing I know is that I was down, the man ran to the stair doors and J.T. went after him."
"I called security down stairs," said another nurse.
"Mr. Jackson, the knife is over there," said Azara pointing to a corner, her voice trembling. "I think there is blood on it."
+ + + + + + +
Chris had just dismissed teams 3 and 8 from the conference room, having passed on the good news about Vin and scrutinized every detail of the operation. They were gathering their papers and notes when a limping, dark haired Captain came out of the elevator. Her left sleeve had been cut, there were bruises running from her shoulder to the bandages that covered from her elbow to her wrist.
"What the hell happened to you?" growled Chris. All the men present flinched.
Oh God, another match, too bad Ezra is not around or he would be doing gauges at how long before they shoot each other, thought Buck.
"How are you going to provide cover for us if your arm is now useless?" Chris said, then continued with in feral roar. "What happened to Vin?"
Ezra ran out of the break room at the commotion. All the people attending the meetings got desks and chairs between them and the two angry people.
"Tanner is safe, still sleeping. Nathan is with him and he's ok, also. This," she said gesturing to her arm. "Is just a superficial cut, my arm is not useless. The doctor bandaged it at Nathan's instructions. He got too much pleasure ripping my sleeve, die Höhlenmenssh,"
Feeling the stares of his co workers, Ezra translated, "I think she means 'caveman.'"
"I " yelled the young woman, "twisted my leg when I was pushed down the stairs. Trying to recover my balance with heels instead of combat boots is not easy. But don't you worry, I don't think you are going to need my services as the bust has a high probability of being cancelled."
"She's right," Ezra's voice informed, as he got closer to her he inquired, "What I would like to know is how she knew? Mr. Black has just cancelled the appointment."
She tried to maintain a poker face but her shining blue eyes betrayed her rage. Chris was taken aback at the resemblance. They were the same color as Vin's.
"Almost four weeks ago, the General and I received the information that an old adversary of Tanner had escaped. After the initial attack, we thought that he could be the man responsible. We suspected he would have had an accomplice to escape. As the second attempt on Tanner's life coincided exactly with the reunion you had with Mr. Black at the bar the week after the shoot-out we confirmed it."
"Second attempt?" Chris asked turning to Josiah. "Why didn't you said anything?"
"Nothing happened that night, I never left Vin's side and nothing out of the ordinary occurred," the profiler said forcefully.
"Do you remember the man who went critical and had to be run to surgery?" Captain Vandernooth strong voice asked him.
"Yes," said Josiah.
"He's one of my men, we almost lost him that night but later he identified his and Tanner's attacker. We also got possession of the man's rifle, a M24 used by military and ex-military snipers." She paused and took a deep breath, "I didn't think Eli-Joe would attempt a direct attack at day light. My team was ready to back up Nathan this afternoon when the rest of us were at the bust."
"The meetings were a diversion to kill Vin?" J.D. was astonished.
"Eli-Joe knew that Vin would go after him. He tried to eliminate him before he was hunted down by the best." The Captain's voice was losing force.
"You put my men in danger," Chris said coldly .
"None of you were in more danger than usual. And Tanner didnt wanted you involved."
"How can you confirm that?" Ezra questioned .
"Because I have known him longer than any of you and I'm sure he didn't mention Eli-Joe or his intention of going after him." She took another deep breath, "Now if you can wait for a moment, I'd like to sit before my leg decides to give out." She limped to Vins/her desk.
"You think this Eli-Joe would seek to kill Vin again?" Josiah was trying to process all the information, but he needed more facts.
"Don't really know, he's been altering his behavior patterns. André, my second in command, would help you with a profile. He'll be here in..." She looked at her watch. "20 minutes."
Looking at his men, Chris snapped, "O.k. teams 3 and 8 we'll call you if we need it. J.D. and Buck research all you can on this Eli-Joe. Josiah, as soon as André arrives start to work with him. But stay close. I'll call Travis, then the 'girl' can call her daddy so they explain this masquerade."
Letting out a victorious yell Buck exclaimed, "Beware guys, Chris is back!" Grabbing J.D. by the neck he guided him to their workstation . "We'll have to get out of the way kid, things are going to get ugly aroud here."
"What about myself, Chris?" asked Ezra feeling left out.
"You go to the hospital and stick to Vin's side." Chris then spoke to the Captain. "To my office, now!"
Oh, yes! Things certainly are turning ugly, thought Ezra.
"Why all this secrecy?" Chris was ready to throttle her.
"What do you expect? We couldn't afford to lose our front. If you knew, the meetings with Mr. Black would have turned different. And I couldn't say anything about me or my squad. After what my uncle said, you would have been suspicious, would have trusted me less than before."
"Maybe," accepted Chris. "What about your arm? We'll probably need you. Can you shoot?"
"Don't worry, it's just bruised," then she snorted, "you have a strong grip Mr. Larabee."
At Chris blank face, she explained, "You really wanted to go in Vin's room. If you had gone in like that, the doctor would have banned you from the hospital. I'm just glad you heard me before anything worse happened to me."
He looked at her in a new way. "Sorry," he grumbled and took the phone to call Travis.
They still had a lot to discuss but right now, with Vin's life still in danger, they needed to focus on catching Eli-Joe.
Later, girl, later well talk.
+ + + + + + +
At noon, team seven arrived at the hospital with their new military attachment. They united with Vandernooth's squad close to Vin's room, to keep an eye on him. They were under the close watch of the chief nurse so they didn't bring havoc to her floor. The Captain went in search of a doctor who could change her bandages.
As they settled they noticed Ezra's good mood and Nathan's grin.
"Vin has been waking," informed the field medic. "At first he was confused but lately he asked Ezra for food.-"
At the men's chuckles Ezra announced, "And he specified his need of real food and not the hospital tasteless, boring kind."
"Thank God!" Josiah had to restrain himself from shouting, but the relief his voice showed was noted by the other men.
"Should try baby food," said André. "The Captain always gave it to her brother when he was at the hospital, the fruit kind, wasn't it?"
"Yep, healthy, yummy and soft," barged-in another of the military men.
A surprised Ezra affirmed. "Your Captain has no brothers."
He had searched her family tree and had not find brothers or sisters.
"Well, she had a brother but he is not with us anymore," said André, at those words all his team inclined their heads and faked sob noises.
"Squad, stop that," demanded J.T. taking a sit near her team. She had in the same bandages but had a roll of new gauze in her right hand. "They are making fun of you guys."
"Captain, that's what we need!" exclaimed André with enthusiasm.
"Make fun of us?" asked a confused J.D.
"No, kid, we need a T.T.O., a Tanners' Twins Operation." André 's grin was annoying J.D. who still couldn't understand.
"Tanner can't do it and Eli-Joe wouldn't be fooled that easy Lieutenant." J.T. was fighting with the gauze, trying to bandage her cut with her right hand wasn't easy for a left-hander. Her team was enjoying the show, until Nathan took the soft material and covered the injury in a couple of seconds.
"You mean using a lookalike to bring the miscreant out of his hole, don't you?" guessed Ezra managing to take his gaze from the bloodied discarded bandage.
"Exactly! Come on Captain, you have done it a lot of times and it always worked." André was pleading with her, he even did an attempt of puppy eyes, that looked funny in a heavy man as tall as Nathan. That was a sight to remember.
"Those times I had the best sharpshooter covering my back Lieutenant. It's not that I don't trust you, it's just that..."
"That you don't trust us," interrupted Ezra. "Team seven has shown you nothing more than mistrust, so you now don't feel confident that we'll watch your back." It had been a familiar feeling to Ezra; he could understand what the Captain was going through. "You have known Vin for a long time, haven't you? He has covered you in critical operations. Do you trust him?" Ezra asked setting a background that both teams would understand.
"Yes," was her response.
"Trust him with your life and those on your team. Would you trust his faith in us? We'll be doing it for him, just like you." Ezra's words hit home in both teams, this was for Vin and to catch Eli-Joe.
+ + + + + + +
They had carefully planned the operation, the rumor was that Tanner, after having wakened, would leave the hospital and go to recover at Larabee's ranch, an usual occurrence if any of the seven was hurt. Team seven would cover their injured friend while in the hospital, and then leave him alone with Chris in the parking lot.
Vandernooth's squad would be covering them from the ground and an adjacent building while the seven would prevent the unaware civilians from leaving the hospital through that path.
Team 8 would survey the parking zone from undercover. Vandernooth's wounded man, not wanting to be left out, was going to stay with Vin.
They called the Judge and the General and both give them clearance. Each one of them trusted their team to behave professionally and to not risk inocent lives.
Team seven felt unnerved at the Captain's disguise. Wearing Vin's clothes and with the help of a wig, the resemblance was remarkable, even the manner she sat in the wheelchair extremely alike.
Chris and Vin left the hospital and went straight to the parked Ram. André's warning shout made them run for cover a second before bullets rained on them.
"Objective located," was heard through the comunications sistem. A moment later, "Objective destroyed."
J.T. and Chris looked at each other, green meet blue and both were started to a realization. Chris got to his feet, "I'll be with Vin," he said in a whisper.
She slowly tried to stand but the pain in her leg had increased with their quick run for cover.
"André, help me out, I need to go with Chris, this was too easy," she said with clenched teeth.
Chris was going to shut down his mic when he heard Ezra's report.
"The man down is not Eli-Joe, it is Mr. Black. Did you all hear? It's not Eli-Joe."
Chris didn't waste time. Racing by the corridor, he saw one of the Captains soldiers fighting with a stranger. Unfortunately the soldier was hurt; the stranger got the upper hand and sent him flying through the glass window of Vin's room.
Without hesitating Chris pulled out his gun with a speed that any gunfighter of the old west would envy. Seeing a man with a knife overcoming Vin, he shot him. Eli-Joe didn't have a chance against Chris. The man was instantaneously killed by the blond's bullet.
+ + + + + + +
Days later, after Vin had been transfered to a normal room, Captain Vandernooth found him surrounded by his team mates. Vin was having some coordination problems due to the time of his brain swelling but the doctors were optimistic about his recovery. With therapy and time he would be like new. She hesitated at the door, not wanting to crowd her friend.
"Sunshine!" Vin's voice, clear and strong wiped out her doubts.
Manipulating her crutches she went to his side. Leaning over, she gave him a chaste kiss on the lips.
"Yuck," André said from the door, his voice made everyone turn to the arriving men.
Vandernooth's men started to do kissing sounds as greetings.
"You would say they are little kids, they conduct themselves like eight-year-olds," said their Captain as she sat on the bed, close to Vin who embraced her loosely with his good arm.
"Brothers don't behave like that, you know?" teased André getting close to the bed but far out of the crutches' range.
At team seven's stricken faces, André extended, "What do you think the T did stand for?"
"Jack Tanner-Vandernooth surely has a ring, don't you think?" Vin's soft drawl could have been heard in the entire hospital as his friends had gone mute. "But she's not my sister, she's my wife, aren't you, honey?" Vin smiled sweetly at her, then he gazed at the men from both teams as their jaws were hanging open.
A rain of, "What?", "Wife?", "When?", "How?" And "You wouldn't!" was heard and J.T. and Vin couldn't hold their laughter any more. Wincing at the pain it caused them, they calmed down to state, "Gotcha!" The comment caused disapproving groans.
"We have no legal strings to each other," announced the Captain. "We are not blood related nor did we share blood relatives as we already searched. It would have been funny if you were related to my uncle," she pondered to a frightened Vin.
"Don't ever joke about that," he said with a shudder. "That man is nefarious."
"Nefarious, Mr. Tanner? You surprise me. Your vocabulary seems to be improving." J.T.'s faked southern drawl made the men chuckle.
"By the way, you owe me fifty bucks," declared the dark-haired woman.
"Fifty?" squeaked Vin. Turning to his friends he asked in a disbelieving voice, "How could you?"
"Don't blame them... ok. Do it, but then pay me."
"Wait a minute," interrupted Chris. "What are you two talking about?"
"It's like this " explained J.T.,
"I spent a full day close to Buck and wasn't asked for a date, I spend a week with Larabee without us shooting each other, I managed to teach at least one word to Ezra and one to Josiah. I'm sure J.D. did a close scrutiny of my background but still didn't know my middle name. And I was with Nathan when I got hurt. He did look at my injuries and didn't have me admitted to the hospital."
"He didn't?" This Vin wouldn't believe.
"Nope, because we were already here."
"That's unfair," whined Vin. "But are you telling me Buck, our Buck, didn't ask?-"
"Didn't ever paid attention to my shortest skirt."
"Uh, what about Ezra?"
"Well, I saw him looking at a dictionary a few times, they were foreign words, but you didnt specify a language."
Their weird conversation was finished as a nurse knocked on the door. "All right gentlemen, visiting time is over. Mr. Tanner needs his rest before his therapy," she said, evicting them.
J.T. was the last to stand, grabbing her crutches she said, "You were right about Ezra, Vin. But it would never work." She kissed him again before leaving.
"Jack, I'm sorry for all you had to suffer, but it means a lot that you did it for me. Thank you," said Vin looking straight at her eyes so she knew he was sincere.
"You are welcome Vin."
+ + + + + + +
Outside of the hospital the teams were saying good byes.
"We have to go back to the base but the Captain has to stay a little longer," laughed André.
"What about your injured man?" asked Nathan. He knew that the man's life was not in danger as the vest had protected him from serious damage, but he was going to be in pain for weeks with those bruises.
"I'll come back for him in two days to take him to his family. He's going to spend the rest of his leave with them." André turned his head at the sound of a pair of crutches.
"She is going to be fine but be careful, she knows how to use those things and not only to walk," he said with a laugh.
"Don't worry, we already survived a blue-eyed sharpshooter with a wicked sense of humor," declared Chris.
"Really, and what are you going to do with two of them?" It was a second later that team seven got André's point.
"Maybe Kelly Ryan would want her in his team," considered Josiah.
"We could extend her sick leave," said Nathan.
"Or we all could get vacations," guessed J.D.
"I think I would stay and get to know her better." Everyone would have expected this from Buck, but being Ezra who said it, they were watching him closely.
"She has a good reputation in the military, an exemplary career and the most important part is that she is a very good friend of Vin's, for that alone I think she is worth the effort," explained the Southern agent.
"That she is," said André, leaving. He saluted his Captain as he passed her.
"See you later, boss."