Alone Again, Naturally
by Ice Bear
Disclaimer: Wish they were mine, but since they aren't, I simply borrowed them and will put them back.
And thanks to SJ for her very good advice!
He was tired, simply worn out. The last few months had been grueling ones. The man shook himself wearily as he tried to get rid of the dull, heavy feeling. The worst part of it was the fact that his boss had been so unhappy. He had become hard, closed and distant over the last month. He nodded has head in agreement with his thoughts; yeah that had been the worst part. His boss, his best friend had turned into a stranger, and it seemed to the AFT agent that he was being pushed away.
"A penny for your thoughts Mr. Tanner?" Ezra asked as he entered his office. The blue eyes flashed open and Ezra took note of the bewilderment and loss that swept them before the warrior mask was firmly in place. "I didn't mean to startle you Vin," he drawled softly.
"Sorry Ez," Vin put a small smile on his lips. "I guess I didn't hear you." He noted to himself that the agent called him by his first name, something he only did when truly worried. "What's wrong?"
"That's what I wanted to know," the carefully groomed man responded as he perched on Vin's desk.
Vin's long hair swung in its pony tail. "Nothing."
"Conference room now!" a deep voice bellowed causing both men to cringe. They exchanged a knowing glance, and headed toward the voice.
"We have a lead on a new dealer in town. We'll set up a stake out, and figure out the best way to hit him." The blonde man finished outlining his plan, his eyes lifted in challenge at the six men around the table.
"We'll work out a schedule," the sharpshooter said quietly. "It'll be on your desk in 15 minutes." Twelve minutes later Vin stood before his boss's office. He raised a hand to knock, hesitating slightly.
"Yeah," came the harsh growl from behind the door.
"I have the stakeout schedule Chris."
Vin steeled himself. Buck saw his shoulders come back, and his head came up, before he entered.
He handed the schedule to Chris who grunted his acknowledgement and after a quick review said, "Okay start tomorrow. We need to nail this guy quick before he establishes himself."
"Vin, everything okay?" the blonde asked gently after the sharpshooter had his hand on the door to walk out.
"Fine," he uttered before jerking the door open and leaving.
The hardness in the green eyes was gone for a moment replaced with sorrow. "Sorry cowboy," he whispered after the retreating figure.
After 48 hours of stakeout, the agents were able to put together enough information to set up the bust. Along with three other ATF teams, who would provide backup, they went over the plan the night before. The sharpshooter laid out the building plan, divided up the teams and sat at the conference table after the meeting with his head in his hands. His own teammate had offered support; Ezra's quick tap on his shoulder; Nate's smile across the table; Josiah's approving nod; Buck's clap on the back and JD's soft "good briefing Vin," on his way out.
But all Vin wanted, no all he needed was a word, a look, some acknowledgement from his team leader, who sat impassively through the briefing, and left the room without ever having met the younger agent's eyes.
"Not now Buck," Chris growled as the big man entered his office.
"It has to be now Chris. If you don't put an end to this, we aren't going to have a team left."
"What the hell?" the blond bellowed as he pushed himself up from the desk, his fists resting on the top.
"That's what I want to know. Hell what we all want to know. Whatever is going on Chris, tell us or make it stop. We can't function this way anymore." Larabee glared at his oldest friend but didn't interrupt. "If you're trying to drive Vin out, you're doing a damn good job of it." Buck felt a glimmer of hope when he saw a flash of pain before the glare returned.
"It's none of your business Buck."
"You're wrong. I work with these guys everyday. I've let you play this game long enough. It stops now." He glared right back.
"Get out!" Larabee lowered himself into his chair and returned to his computer.
Everything ran like clockwork the next day, and they kept a truckload of guns from hitting the streets. Team 7's second in command ran the show quickly and efficiently. He was so absorbed in his task, that he did not see his boss gazing at him with eyes full of pride.
Vin wanted to join the others at the Saloon to celebrate, but knew if the report wasn't done by 9 a.m. there would be hell to pay. Chris sat in his office unable to take his eyes off the lone light in the bullpen.
"Judge," he said as his call went through, "I can't go through with this. I have to tell them."
"Chris we've been through this before."
"It's breaking up my team Orrin..."
"One more week Chris, and it will be over."
As Chris left the office, he made his way by Vin's desk. The sharpshooter was asleep, his head on his desk. Seventy-two hours with little sleep had finally caught him.
Chris' heart tugged at the sight, and a heavy sigh escaped him. "Go home cowboy," he said quietly. The young man bolted awake, his eyes wide with panic. "Easy Vin," Chris said putting a hand on his friend's shoulder, which he quickly removed when he felt Vin flinch violently. "Go home Tanner," he said again, before turning and heading out.
Three days later they were backing up Team 3 on a raid that went bad. The gun fire raged in the narrow warehouse for 15 minutes, the noise and smoke making it nearly impossible to keep track of the action. Chris was knocked off his feet as three distinct shots rang out. He struggled to regain his breath. When he got sight of the body next to him, he screamed: "Vin!"
He scrambled to pull the sharpshooter on his back, only to pull 2 bloody hands away. "Agent down, I need a medic now," he screamed into his headset. "Oh God, cowboy stay with me," he murmured as he held the unconscious man to his chest, rocking him.
Vin was so cold, but when he felt Chris' arms around him, when he heard the voice, he knew he was safe. He weakly moved a hand up and grabbed hold of Chris' arm.
Chris didn't realize the fighting had stopped until he felt a hand on his shoulder. "Let him go Chris. I'll take care of it." Mike Russell, Team 3's leader said.
"Go to hell," Larabee responded fiercely as he pulled Vin closer.
"Chris, you don't have a choice, remember?" Mike said gently as the two men conducted a war of words with their eyes. "Come on," Russell said pulling him up.
Vin felt the cold return, as he was placed gently on the floor, and with it, the darkness. Ezra watched in horror as Chris put his fallen teammate back on the floor. He shook himself and rushed to the bleeding figure. His eyes caught Chris' for a brief second and Chris flinched at the hatred directed at him.
"Vin, Vin can you hear me? It's alright, I've go you." Ezra pulled his fallen comrade into his arms. "Nathan! Hurry," he yelled as he sought a pulse.
At the hospital, Vin was rushed into surgery, and the agents moved quietly upstairs to the familiar waiting room. It was a scene they had played out many times before, yet now they were down two friends.
Mike Russell looked over the five men in the waiting room two hours later before approaching. "Buck, how's Vin?"
"We don't know," Buck responded - his shoulders falling as his eyes failed to find anyone beside or behind Russell.
"You'll let me know as soon as you hear?" Buck nodded, and the team leader left.
As he entered his car, Chris sprang on him. "How is he?" he demanded.
"He's still in surgery. Buck will call me as soon as they hear anything."
"I'm going in, I just..."
Russell stopped the blonde's forward movement. "I'm sorry, Chris, you can't."
Back in the waiting room, JD finally verbalized what everyone else was thinking. "Where the hell is Chris? He should be here....Buck?" The doctor stepped into the room ending the conversation.
"Agent Tanner is in recovery. We'll be moving him to ICU in an hour or so. He took two bullets and both did significant damage. How he handles the next 48 hours will determine the outcome."
In ICU they took turns watching over their injured teammate. Ezra took the first watch, reciting poetry to the pale figure nearly hidden by tubes and machinery. JD read from an old western. Josiah told stories from his time overseas. Nathan explained his condition and what all the tubes and wires were for.
Buck took a cold hand in his. "Junior, you have to listen to me. I know things haven't been so great lately, but we need you. JD - you still have so much to teach him. You're the only one who really understands Ez...Come on Vin, Chris'll be mad...Damn you Chris Larabee," he finished in a whisper.
Judge Travis thought the Team Leader looked like a caged animal. "Orrin, that boy needs me," he pleaded. "He pushed me out of the way. I need to be there." Anger, frustration and fear played across his features.
"Chris, IA has one more day to go. You promised to give them that time."
"Orrin he could die!" Larabee thundered. "I could give a damn about IA. They aren't going to find anything. I need to be with him."
"I'm sorry Chris. I can't let you." The judge watched as a clearly defeated Chris Larabee sank into his chair.
"God Vin, I'm so sorry," he half sobbed as his head dropped to the desk after the Judge left.
Thirty-six hours after surgery there had been no change in the patient's condition. The doctor had hoped that being surrounded by his friends would bring Vin awake, but despite their best efforts, they couldn't reach the injured man.
"Are you happy now?" Ezra snarled as he burst into Larabee's office. "Vin is going to die - after saving your sorry ass - and you can't even be bothered to stop by!"
"Back off Standish," Chris warned.
"He isn't responding you know." The conman's eyes were glued to Larabee's. "We can't reach him. He needs you. He's waiting for you. The doctor says if he doesn't wake up soon, he never will."
"No! He's going to die. You can't let him!" Ezra was pleading. "After all he has done, all he once meant to you. All he means to the rest of us. You owe him. You owe the rest of us. Please Chris, he needs you."
"I can't," Chris responded quietly. His eyes on the floor.
Ezra's badge landed loudly on the desk, followed by his gun. "You lousy coward," he hissed before leaving.
Back at the hospital things weren't going well either. "Buck you need to get Chris," JD said, his heart breaking as he looked at his injured friend.
"I tried," Ezra said as he joined his teammates in the room. "He isn't coming." His drooping shoulders and shaky voice conveyed what he could not.
"Vin Tanner you listen to me," Buck commanded as he took hold of the small, cold hand. "We are not leaving here til you talk to us. The nurses are getting really tired of us. Come on pard, we need you to wake up." The others drew close to the bed and reached their hands out to touch their friend.
At 11 a.m. the next day, Judge Travis entered Team 7's office, which was deserted except for Chris. Travis looked at the man in front of him and flinched.
"Is it over?"
"Did they find what they were looking for?"
"No Chris, they didn't find a thing."
The green eyes finally looked at his boss. "So I lost my team for no reason."
Travis didn't answer. "I have a car waiting to take you to Four Corners. Vin is still alive." Chris bolted from the room.
He walked into the small ICU room and the five men, still clustered around the bed, froze. Five pairs of eyes watched the blonde as he walked up to the head of the bed, where he placed his left hand gently on the pale cheek, bent over and whispered "I'm sorry for taking so long cowboy, but I'm here now, and I really need to talk with ya. So please wake up. I need to know you're okay."
He kept a hand on the sharpshooter when he finished, but turned to face the others. The tension in the room was palpable. Chris saw anger, pain, sorry and bewilderment in the five pairs of eyes. "The IA just completed a review of the team. Travis called for it after some nasty rumors surfaced. He wouldn't let me tell you, any of you. He said we couldn't be cleared if you knew...they closed the case this morning. They found exactly what I told Travis they would -- nothing. I thought I was doing the right thing by agreeing to go along. I was wrong."
During the silence that followed, he put a hand on Vin's chest. "Cowboy, I'm sorry. I didn't mean for it to turn out this way." The others left the room, and Chris sank into the vacated chair. "God Vin, I didn't think it through. I had to clear the team or they were going to split us up. And I lost it anyway. I'm so sorry cowboy." Chris buried his head on the bed.
He didn't know how much time had passed, when he realized someone was patting him on the head. He looked up to find deep blue eyes staring at him. "Vin," he smiled and was rewarded with a small grin around the tubes. "I've got to get the others," he whispered before patting the arm and running out into the waiting room.
"Buck, JD, Ezra! Come quick. He's awake!"
Six pairs of smiling eyes met the tired blue ones as Vin slowly scanned the room to make sure they were all here, and that they were all okay. Once he had completed this job, he fell asleep.
"That's my boy Junior," Buck half whispered, "that's my boy."
"Buck?" Chris asked.
"Not now Chris, not here. We're going home. We'll talk tomorrow at the office."
Vin had a nightmare -- Chris was pushing him away as he lay bleeding on the floor of the warehouse. When he opened his eyes and found Chris looming over him, he freaked. The nurses forced Chris from the room and it wasn't until two hours later he was allowed back in.
"Vin you need to listen to me, just for a minute," he started as he saw the fear return to those huge blue eyes. He felt his heart break. "There was an IA investigation into the team. I fought it, but there were some pretty nasty allegations...Travis said we had to...I was given orders to step back, to not interfere," he paused and looked again into the blue eyes. "I couldn't come near you. You know what I'm thinking before I do. You would have figured it out. Judge said that the IA investigation was the only way to save the team. They didn't find anything Vin. I knew they wouldn't, but it doesn't matter now...at least I didn't lose you."
"Ezra saw me leave you in the warehouse. Russell was under orders to move me out. My God Vin," he choked out, "I left you lying in your own blood. I'm so sorry. Please forgive me," he dissolved into tears as all the fear of the last three days caught up with him. He felt a hand on his, and a small squeeze from his injured friend quieted him.
In the morning Chris ushered the five healthy members of his team into the conference room. He noted that Ezra was fingering the badge he had left back on the con man's desk. "I'm sorry," he said. "I was told the IA investigation was the only way to keep the team together, so I went along with it. I talked to Vin about it last night. I won't ask for your forgiveness, because I don't deserve it." He left them with a copy of the IA report on the table.
Chris and Vin where deep in conversation when the rest of the team entered the small room. Ezra squeezed the sharpshooter's hand.
"Hey guys, it's good to see ya. I really appreciate ya'll keeping me company the last couple of days." Vin said in a hoarse whisper.
"You knew we were here?" JD asked.
"Yeah. Its' the only reason I stuck around. Didn't want to break up the team," he finished looking at Chris.
"Neither did I," Larabee responded.
"Glad that's settled," Buck said, "now who is buying the first round?"
"Chris's buying." Vin responded with a fleeting smile before going back to sleep.
Vin was released after a two week hospital stay and went with Chris to the ranch to recover. For four days he slept and ate, watched TV and slept some more. Chris kept watching for sign of anger, mood swings - the normal signs that Vin was on the mend. He wasn't seeing them, and he began to worry.
The team came out for an early dinner on Saturday night. Vin was pleased to see his friends and was happier then Chris had seen him in months.
"Ezra, any idea what is going on with Vin?" he asked, catching him alone in the kitchen.
"Something wrong Mr. Larabee? He appears to be on the mend to me."
"He has followed every request, suggestion and thought for four days Ez..."the two pairs of green eyes locked.
"Have you considered that fact that he might be afraid?" Ezra asked carefully.
"Afraid of what?" Chris was truly puzzled.
"Of losing you." Chris shook his head so Ezra continued. "For four weeks you pushed him as far away as possible. Now that he has you back, he may be afraid that any sign of bad behavior will put him back where he has always found himself - alone."
"But I explained."
Ezra stopped him. "Intellectually, Vin knows what happened. That doesn't mean his emotions are going to accept or follow that logic. Chris, he has been abandoned so many times...I'm not sure he'll ever lose that fear."
"Thanks Ez," Chris said placing a warm hand on his shoulder, "I know that I have to do now."
"Guess I'll turn in cowboy, see you in the morning," Vin said as they put away the last of the mess left by the team.
"Could you wait a few minutes, we need to talk." The green eyes locked on the blue, and Chris could feel the sharpshooter stiffen. "Let's go in the living room."
"What's wrong Chris?" Vin asked haltingly, not sure he wanted to know the answer.
"Nothing Vin, I just wanted to make a few things clear." He winced at the harshness of his own voice.
"I'm sorry cowboy," the blue eyes dimmed.
"What exactly are you sorry for?" Chris asked as his eyes followed the smaller man's path to the window.
"I've done something to upset you. I didn't mean to," Vin said his back to his boss as he started out into the darkness, his arms wrapped protectively around his chest.
"No you haven't done anything wrong. I wanted to talk about what I have done to upset you and to apologize. Vin, during the IA investigation I hated myself for pushing you away, but I didn't know how else to handle it. You know me too well. I didn't think it through to be honest. I just thought I had to do it to protect the team. I was wrong. It almost destroyed us all. And it almost cost me you..."
"Please let me finish. I didn't stop to consider how you would feel if I kept you at arm's length. Didn't think it would matter much, but I realize now that it cost me your trust, and I am going to do whatever it takes to get it back."
Vin shook his head. "Ya never lost my trust cowboy."
"Not true. Howe else do you explain your exemplary behavior the last few days"
"I...I," Vin's eyes sought the floor.
Vin, I need you to know that no matter what happens, I will be here for you. Always."
"Chris...except for my mother, all my life people have pushed me away. I stopped trusting people a long time ago. But you, you and the guys changed things. When you started pushing me away, I was sure I had done something wrong. I tried to go back over everything I'd done, but I couldn't figure it out. So I just tried harder, figuring if maybe I was a better agent, things would be okay.
Then at the warehouse, I must have dreamt you were holding me - cause you weren't there. I couldn't feel ya Chris. Always knew before when you were with me." A lone tear slipped down the still pale cheek. "I felt like...I was afraid I'd lost you until I heard your voice, felt your hand on my face at the hospital. I need ya cowboy, plain and simple, and I'm scared you're going to walk away."
Chris' right hand gently grasped a shoulder as he walked to stand beside his friend. "I need you too. Have since that first day. I have no plans on letting you out of my life. You are stuck with me cowboy so you might as well get used to the idea."
Vin turned slightly and their hands were clasped in their unique handshake as the two men shared a smile.