by Aramis

English spelling has been used in this story

I wonder if a team leader would get into trouble for spanking his sharpshooter.

Well, I suppose the powers-that-be might object, in the unlikely event that they found out about it, but how could any reasonable person really complain? They couldn't, not if they knew the provocation I've been suffering since the day a scruffy, long-haired Texan called Vin Tanner sauntered into my life and proceeded to take it over.

I suppose my team isn't exactly the most conventional ATF team around. Any one of them is willing to speak his mind to me ..... unless I'm really on the warpath and then, I'm pleased to say, they are more circumspect, but not Tanner. No, not him! The insubordinate little bastard seems to deliberately pick those times when any sensible man is quaking in his boots to tell me exactly where to stick my orders. And that 'pleasant' expression is actually one of his less colourful efforts. I can feel that vein in my forehead throbbing just thinking about that smart mouth. Hell, that damned Tanner can go without saying a word for hours and then pipe up just when his input is least required.

If the trigger-happy bad guys have got the drop on us and things are looking dicey, I guarantee that's when he'll come up with a string of insults guaranteed to set their blood boiling. I said 'guaranteed', but I probably should have said 'calculated' because he does it deliberately. JD might speak without thought at times, but that damned Texan never. No, he says exactly what he wants to say exactly when he wants to say it and is expert at selecting the moment that will create maximum annoyance.

Then there's his penchant for practical jokes. It's hard enough to get everyone settled down to routine stuff like writing reports at the best of times. Indeed, it usually takes a few very barbed words on my part. Then I'll just be retiring to my office to get on with my own damned paperwork, when all hell breaks loose. I don't really need to ask what's happened. Some 90% of the time that contumacious little troublemaker has pulled some stunt that has the office in an uproar.

And he's always so blasted innocent! Those big blue eyes go wide and you've never seen such an angelic look as that young devil puts on that pretty face of his. As I storm back to restore order, I know that the first thing I will see is Tanner virtuously tapping away at his computer with his one typing finger, while everyone else is in disarray.

Speaking of his computer, it constantly amazes me how he can't remember his computer log-in from one day to the next, but he seems to have instant recall for anything he wants to remember. He seems to have photographic recall of every damn word I've ever uttered and can throw my words back in my face at will. Actually that's not quite right. He can't recall any order I've given him relating to his health and/or safety within 30 seconds of its issue ... unless of course it suits his purposes to do so. Simple forgetfulness he calls it. Fuckin' selective amnesia more like.

Just like he chooses to forget that I don't like his nickname for me. Cowboy! That's what he dares to call me. Nobody else would dare stick me with a nickname. Well, that's not quite true. Buck does call me 'Stud' at times, but that comes from the ease of long friendship. And in any case it has better connotations. But Cowboy! No way!

Another thing that annoys me is his eating habits. He's the proverbial human garbage guts. It drives Nate and me bananas to watch him. Stuff a product full of sugar and other unhealthy ingredients and he'll gulp it down. The only thing he draws the line at is green vegetables. He argues he gets these automatically because he eats beef and mutton and cows and sheep eat grass. His teeth should have rotted away, but the damned things lack a single filing. He should be seriously overweight and have dangerously high cholesterol with his constant snacking on junk food, but our yearly physicals show him to be the fittest member of Team 7 and he seems to have got damned hollow legs ... never puts on a pound no matter how much he scoffs. Damned scrawny arsed Texan!

Even his place of residence annoys me. He chooses to live in a tatty apartment in Purgatorio, the toughest part of town. Hell, our job's dangerous enough without having to go home to an area like that. And the damned young fool doesn't even lock his door. Leaves it open so the local kids have access to his TV and computer. He reckons none of his things are worth stealing and he's probably right about that.

Certainly no one in his right mind would want that death-trap of a jeep or that oil-burning monstrosity of a motorcycle he rides.

Rides! That reminds me of another major thing about him that annoys me ... his damned horse! Well, technically Peso is my horse in that I purchased him in a weak moment, but I'd have on-sold him to any handy glue factory long ago if that blasted Tanner hadn't stepped in. I'd only had the monster a couple of days when he first took a bite out of me and he's been nothing but trouble ever since. Needless to say, Vin loves him. No doubt he recognises a fellow Larabee-tormenter in the beast. He spoils the nag rotten, filling him up with apples and sugar-lumps and other treats. There'd be hell to pay if I ever laid a finger on the beast, but the thing can bite and kick me, Pony and the other horses to its heart's content. It's even bitten Tanner on occasion, but that doesn't seem to worry him ... he actually seems proud of Peso's ornery nature.

No, the odd bite by a man-eating horse isn't likely to worry someone who doesn't seem to give a toss for his health or safety.

Today, for instance, he simply strolled out on a narrow beam high above a warehouse's floor to get a better shot at a gunrunner. Not a safety harness or a flak jacket in sight. I nearly had a heart attack when Josiah pointed him out to me. Under fire myself, there was not a damned thing I could do about it at the time.

When it was all over and we had successfully arrested the gunrunners, he simply swung his way down some flimsy looking scaffolding, holding his rifle casually in one hand.

Then, to cap it all off, he had the nerve to grin cheekily when I somewhat forcibly pointed out the error of his ways. "No worries, Cowboy, I'm fine," he said jauntily. If he knew how close he came to getting my fist in his teeth ... but that's the problem. He did know and he didn't care.

The incorrigible little bastard actually enjoys baiting me. I'm sure he does.

Actually, if the truth be known, he likes baiting all of us.

For example, I'm sure he goes out of his way to annoy Ezra. Our undercover man is a snappy dresser and clearly finds Tanner's unshaven face, tangled curls and tattered jeans inappropriate for a man in a professional occupation. Indeed, I'd have to agree with him there, but Armani suits are also open to question, especially when they suffer a mishap during a bust and I have to justify Ezra's typically exorbitant expense accounts. But I digress.

Anyway, Tanner will be his usual scruffy self and Ezra will make some caustic comments about it.

In response, Tanner's Texas drawl will immediately become more pronounced and his speech will become even more fractured than usual. "I's sorry, Ez, I don't unnerstand 'xactly what yer sayin'," he'll say apologetically, eyes wide with innocent inquiry, clearly seeking elucidation.

Well, if there's one thing that really annoys Ezra it is being addressed as 'Ez' and, of course, Tanner knows that. "It is Ez-ra, Mr Tanner," he will say with careful emphasis.

"That's what I said, ain't it, Ez?"

From there the whole conversation will go to hell, with Tanner deliberately twisting or misinterpreting Standish's words. I'm sure it's deliberate. Although we all are confused, at times, by the latter's poly-syllabic vocabulary, I am certain that the one member of the team most likely to understand exactly what Ezra has said is Vin. He plays dumb, but he's anything but and frequently manages to tangle up Ezra into a trap sprung by Standish's own verbosity.

Having said that, if there is any member of the team who is especially close to Ezra, a man who is inordinately wary of emotional ties, it is Vin. At first glance that seems ridiculous as in many ways they are complete opposites, but they actually hit it off well. Too well at times for my sanity. Once Vin has drawn Standish into one of his elaborate practical jokes, there is no stopping the pair that Buck has dubbed 'the terrible two'.

He might well call them that as he is often their intended target. Not that he minds, as he gives as good as he gets.

I know when Vin first joined the team, Buck was rather dubious about it. Hell, I reckon a lot of people looked at the long-haired, pretty boy and wondered why the hell I'd picked a kid like that to take a place in Team 7 that heaps of experienced agents would have given their eye-teeth for. Of course, they didn't know the kid was a phenomenal sharpshooter.

Actually, if I'm honest, it wasn't even that that was the key factor in my choice. No, the moment when I first locked eyes with the young bounty-hunter, who had been after the same man that the ATF were seeking, I just knew I had to have him on my team. I could not have said why. It was odd. I just knew he belonged at my side.

Buck was not so sure. As my oldest friend, at first he was scared the kid would let the team down and it would reflect on me. He watched askance as I manoeuvred to get Vin accepted in spite of his lack of a college degree, in spite of his dyslexia, in spite of his somewhat chequered past ... the list goes on and on. There were so many reasons not to employ Vin Tanner, but I pushed them all aside with single-minded determination. At times, like now, I wonder if I was mad. Think of all the aggravation I could so easily have avoided.

However, I was talking about Buck. Well, at first, he watched the kid's every move and if anything his hostility towards Vin increased as he thought he was being pushed aside by my new 'best friend'. I'd have to admit Vin was careful there. Recognising, but not resenting, Buck's wariness, he made a point of keeping his distance, not putting himself forward and usurping Buck's privileges earned by long friendship. That, combined with the fact that it's not really in Wilmington's nature to hold a grudge gradually improved things. Finally, the day came when Tanner really did shove him aside, but that was to take a bullet meant for him. Then when Buck took him to task over it, Vin drawled, "I couldn't let old Lar'bee lose his best friend, could I?"

From then on things changed. That's not to say there were no more problems. Buck loves to tease and 'Slick", as he renamed Vin, is never short of a cheeky reply. Often words lead on to rough-housing and chaos reigns.

Chaos! That's exactly what Vin Tanner has brought to my peaceful and ordered existence. In a mere six months and with no apparent effort on his part, he's changed me and my life forever.

I mean, if anyone had told me six months ago that I'd put up with a cocky, insubordinate, stubborn, trouble-maker on my team I'd have laughed at them. Nobody crossed Chris Larabee, biggest bad-arse in the ATF. Nobody.

Hell, any bastard stepping out of line would be right out the door .... after he picked himself up off the floor of course. There'd have been no mucking around and there still won't be. Today's misbehaviour is the final straw.

No, I'm sure Travis and co can't reasonably complain if, by remote chance, they hear a rumour that I've turned Vin Tanner over my knee and blistered his arse for him ..... It's what I'm going to do to that arse after that that they might object to, but that's between me and my sharpshooter. He's been asking for it after all.

The End