Absence of Shadows


Rating: M14

Disclaimer:  I  do not own or profit from the use of the Magnificent Seven characters. Thank you to MOG for the creation of the ATF.

Comments:  This story was inspired by Tiffany's fic Oblivion, the discussion I had with MOG concerning Oblivion, a Boston Globe article, Robert Whiting's Tokyo Underworld, and David Kaplan's extensive information. I would not be able to write this story if it wasn't for the assistance of MOG as my beta and friend.  Another round of thanks goes out to the patience of Shay and Kim for allowing me to bounce ideas off of them.  THeir opinions are highly valued. Lastly I wish to thank all who take the time out to write feedback (especially Darla and Teresa) it is greatly welcomed.

Archivist's Note:   This fic was previously hosted on another website and was moved to Blackraptor in September 2006.

Part 3

It is no patience which you can bear patiently;
Patience is to bear what is unbearable

Federal Building
Denver, Colorado

From the glass through Chris's office door he saw Ezra and Vin come into the bullpen.  He saw the effect the two men had on their team members; suddenly a hush had come over the room.  Buck and Josiah recovered quickly and went to greet the wayward agents.  Nathan and JD sat at their desks, heads down, typing away.  Larabee saw how the lines had been drawn.

Vin looked into the leader's office and gave Chris a nod before returning his attention back to Sanchez and Wilmington.  Larabee scrutinized his friend.  From all appearances he looked fine, but Chris knew the sharpshooter was in turmoil over wondering what was going to happen next.

The team leader pushed his chair back; one wheel squeaking slightly as the seat rolled over the carpet.  Chris opened the door, and without looking at the other agents said, "Conference room, now."  Larabee heard the scuffling movements behind him.  As he passed Lorna, the secretary, he paused, "I don't want any interruptions."

The receptionist nodded.

The men filed in behind him, each taking their seats.  Warily, Vin sat beside Chris.  The team leader noticed how the sharpshooter rested his neck back, dealing with a multitude of emotions.

Nathan sat down and did not make eye contact with anyone.  JD was staring intently at Vin, who tried not to notice. Buck reclined back on his chair with a relaxed demeanor that was in direct contradiction to Wilmington's tone last night when he explained how Dunne had left their apartment very upset.

"Damn Chris, I hate to see the kid this way.  All eaten up over something he had nothing to do with." Buck had told him.

Larabee had just listened, knowing exactly how the young agent felt.  Chris still was in disbelief about Vin and the cocaine.

"But the boy just didn't want to see that we take care of our own and it's not as if Vin's a drug addict."  Wilmington then sighed,  "Man, he has to toughen up or else he'll never make it in this business."

"Don't know Buck, JD has a point." Chris replied into the receiver after a long pause. "Tanner screwed up, big time."  Every time Larabee closed his eyes he saw the sharpshooter and the cocaine and a pall of darkness.  According to every law enforcement code what Vin had done was plainly wrong, and had ramifications for not only him, but for the team.

"Look Chris, I hope you think this all through." Buck said exasperated. "I'm going to look for the kid.  I'll see you tomorrow."  Then the line went dead.

Chris held the phone to his ear for a long time until eventually the pre-recorded operator message broke his reverie.  As he replaced the phone he prayed that he would make the right decision. First thing he had to do was professional and then he hoped he could sort out his personal feelings.

Now he was in the conference room ready to pass judgement on his best friend and holding the fate of the team in the balance.  They were giving him their full attention.  Usually the first few minutes in the conference room were filed with playful banter, but now the room was filled with a sense of seriousness. "I don’t like being stuck between a f***in' rock and hard place.  They all know, Vin." He gave the sharpshooter a quick glance,  "and some of you have been more vocal on your positions than others." Chris's green eyes flickered in the direction of Josiah and then Buck.  Larabee shook his head at the aggravation those two had caused him.  On the other hand the two silent team members equally miffed him.  Chris saw JD open his mouth than quickly close it and start fidgeting with his hands. Nathan kept his gaze averted.

"I know your intentions were not to make a f***in' mess, but that's what happened." The leader was addressing Tanner, who moved restlessly in his chair.

Vin's blue eyes flared as he replied, "I was thinkin' about not blowin' our covers and getting a chance for bustin' a bigger deal."

Standish cleared his throat to get the room's attention. "I assure you, Agent Tanner.  I am grateful."

Chris, standing at the head of the table, leaned over  so his hands were resting on the wooden surface and he was close to the undercover agent. "Ezra, shut up." Standish smirked and crossed his arms.  Larabee just shook his head at the irreverent agent.

Chris licked his lips before continuing. "I have 2 choices. I decide.  I'm the one in charge of this team."  Larabee narrowed his eyes. "You all got that? You all agree that it's my call?"

Buck looked around the table.  Everyone was nodding. "Get on with it, Chris."  Wilmington was curious about the leader's decision.

Larabee paused before continuing. "I can fire Vin."  Tanner sat up straighter in his chair as if he waiting for a physical blow.  "The higher ups then come down here and investigate everyone.  We won't be able to take a piss without someone questioning how long it took us to go to the bathroom.  Everything we've accomplished will be tarnished by innuendo."

Ezra shifted uneasily in his chair. Chris understood why, the man's career had been almost prematurely ended by rumors.  Standish didn't want to have a cloud following him again.

Josiah rich timbre resonated through the silent room. "Don't expect Judge Travis will look too kindly on us either."

Larabee heard some under breath mumbling as the team thought of the fall out.  Chris sat down in his chair, and then added, "On the other hand. . .maybe it never happened."

The leader heard the sharp intake of breath from one section of the table and sighs from others; they knew what he was saying.  Chris closed his eyes as he finished.  "In case word leaks out, like from Ikeda, then the sh** will fall on me.  None of you will be implicated. I'll take full responsibility-one of the perks of being the supervisor." He added wryly with a twisted smile.

Vin stood up. "Chris," The sharpshooter said to get the Chris's attention, "Larabee".

The leader ignored the pleas of the sharpshooter.  Chris had considered the scenario and knew Vin would protest.  If Ikeda decided to implicate Tanner then Larabee would say the sharpshooter had the permission of his supervisor. JD was standing up to protest too, but Buck pulled him back down. "My way or the team gets disbanded."

Josiah clasped his hands in front of him as if he was praying.  Nathan kept on shaking his head. Buck and Ezra gave Chris a nod, and JD stared at Vin who had sat back down. Chris knew he was asking them to make a tough decision.  When the team covered for each other it was over inconsequential matters like pranks and women. They all began to look at their fellow teammates, weighing their consciences, careers and friendships all on one scale.  No one voiced a grievance or disagreed.

Chris relaxed in his chair and sighed,  "That's the decision you all have to live with."

The men looked liked they were still wrestling, but everyone's attention got diverted to Lorna yelling out, "You can't go in there!"

Myriads of things past
Are brought to my mind -
These cherry blossoms!
Matsuo Basho

Chris was up and out of his chair taking long strides to the conference room door.  The rest of the team was still too muddleheaded to react.  Vin brushed some hair that had fallen forward.  The sharpshooter felt like sh**.  He was putting the career of his best friend on the line all with one foolish action.  Tanner didn't want someone helping him, since he was the one who had done the deed.  Vin was prepared to take any punishment Larabee seemed fitting to dole out even if that meant leaving a job he loved. The sharpshooter had decided that at Kojay's place.

Vin hadn't been prepared though for the reaction of his teammates.  Josiah and Buck had treated him warmly.  JD and Nathan, however, had given the sharpshooter a noticeably chilly reception.  Chris had closed himself off to Vin.  Tanner had no idea what the leader was thinking.

"Who the hell are you?" Larabee barked at the 2 men brusquely entering the confines of the private room.

"Agent Mike Sullivan," a short, older man with sparse hair raised an FBI badge.  The agent  pointed to the tall, silken-haired man with slanted almond shaped eyes, "and Agent James Kotsu."

"Hey, Tanner, heard you were part of this motley group." Vin jerked his head when he heard the familiar voice.  The sharpshooter turned and was surprised to see a friendly face.

"Jimmy!" Vin stood up and stretched out his hand to Kotsu. "Why the hell are you here?" Tanner asked suspiciously, wondering if the FBI were here to arrest him for one line of cocaine.

James came forward with a smile and accepted the handshake. "Hear you guys have a large deal going on with the Yakuza." The FBI agent said, still keeping the joviality in his voice.

Tanner stopped smiling, and the rest of the team adopted a poker face, feigning any knowledge of the crime syndicate.

"Unfortunately, you have been misinformed."  Ezra drawled, relaxing back into his leather chair nonchalantly.

Sullivan stepped away from a fuming Larabee, and sat down in a spare seat." Agent Jackson didn't realize that the information would get to me in the Asian Criminal Enterprises Department."

All eyes fell on Nathan who met their intense glare.  Chris shook his head and went back to his place at the table. Vin had stayed standing.  He never would have expected that the medic would contact the FBI, neither had the rest of the team.  Neither had he ever expected to see James Kotsu again.

"Why is this so important?" Larabee growled at the 2 interlopers.

"Don't judge Agent Jackson too harshly,"  Kotsu gestured to a seat near Josiah.  Vin nodded and went back to his spot. "The Yakuza are not a group your team can take on without some support and further information." Once ensconced Jimmy continued. " Let me give you some background. I've been undercover with the Yakuza in the Yamaguchi Gumi clan for 3 years.  I started off as a sokaiya," James smiled as he explained the foreign terms. "A sokaiya blackmails companies by unearthing scandals involving management."  The agent cleared his throat, and reached for the glass and pitcher of water in front of him.  As he poured a drink, Vin could see a tattoo of a flower with a vine encircling Jimmy's right wrist.  Tanner knew the tattoo symbolized that the federal agent was part of a gang.

Kotsu continued, "I came to the attention of Saizo Kishimoto, who controls six gangs in Kobe.  Soon after I met Yoshinori Watanabe, the oyabun. . .um. . .the leader. . . I was initiated into  the clan."

"The oyabun-kobun relationship," Josiah remarked.

James nodded, "You know about Japanese culture?"

Sanchez smiled, "Anthropologist's call it the parent-child relationship.  The oyabun provides protection while the kobun reciprocates with loyalty and service."

"Damn, Josiah, I'm glad you know your sh**." Buck said, trying to make sense out of the information.  Vin saw that the rest of the team was nodding appreciatively at Sanchez, who blushed in embarrassment.

"Their structure is admired by major corporations."  Sullivan commented from the other end of the table. "That's the problem though, they are recognized as legit businesses in Japan since they don't have anything like a RICO act."

Kotsu took a sip of water. "I am currently a fuku-honbucho, an assistant. I am part of the contingent making the amphetamines for guns deal with Ikeda. My boss Saizo and some other senior bosses will be here for the deal."

"Their paperwork is currently being held up by the American Embassy in Japan." Sullivan opened his briefcase, which he had placed under the table and slid a folder down to Larabee.  "They have criminal records and therefore need to apply to the embassy for a visa."

Vin watched as Chris flipped through the folder.  The team leader then passed it to Buck who was sitting on Larabee's left side.  Vin noticed the slight.

Mike continued. "I'm James's liaison in the Embassy. We thought with some major Yakuza players on American soil, we might as well take the opportunity to do some damage to the largest clan."

"The largest?" JD gulped as he saw the pictures of the men they would be up against. Vin figured the photos must have been of some fierce-looking individuals.

"Travis has approved and assured us you'll co-operate." Sullivan stated and the team grumbled.  They did not like being backed into a corner or ordered.  Nonplussed by the reaction, Mike continued.  "The Yakuza are expanding into the US.  They operate through shell corporations and have channeled nearly 10 billion dollars into legitimate investments."

"You wouldn't perhaps have a list of those corporations so I can contact my stockbroker."  Ezra grinned and winked at Vin. Tanner rolled his eyes.  The undercover agent always pushed the envelope.

The FBI agent ignored the southerner.  "They have a beachhead in Hawaii and are traveling up the coast to San Francisco, Portland and Seattle.  They are also cultivating ties  with other organized crime groups in the US.  If you don't deal with them now, you'll be dealing with them later."

Jimmy cleared his throat, and gave a crooked grin. "It won't be bad to work with us. Have you gotten a phone call from Ikeda?"

"Not yet," Standish clasped his hands in front of him. "I hope the FBI is not wasting their time." The undercover agent added, goading the G-men.

"Cool it, Ezra." Chris said, as he gave the southerner a glare.

"Your team has an excellent reputation.  I'm sure with your full co-operation we'll be able to get our men." Sullivan replied as he stood up, clutched his briefcase and headed to the door. "I'll be in touch."

With the briefing ending, the team gathered their papers and began to file out. Ezra gave Vin a nod, which Tanner returned.  Buck gave the sharpshooter a grin.  JD had gone ahead with Josiah asking him questions about Japan.  Momentarily, Vin believed things would go back to normal, and the coke incident would be forgotten.

James stayed seated. "Agent Larabee,"  Chris looked up.  "Can I speak to Vin privately for a moment?"

The leader glanced at Tanner and shrugged his shoulders, "Sure."

The sharpshooter kept silent as Chris exited the room. Larabee stopped at where Nathan was sitting, writing some notes.  Larabee put a hand on Jackson's  shoulder.  "We need to talk for a minute."

Nathan took his time in writing out some notes.  Vin was in the corner talking in low tones with his friend.  Jackson took a minute to watch the sharpshooter during this unguarded moment. The medic hadn't made any contact with Tanner since he had arrived; in fact, Nathan had avoided looking in Vin's direction while Chris was informing the team of his decision.

Jackson was confused. On the one hand the team stayed intact, and they were good men.  Nathan knew that, but he still felt conflicted.  What Vin had done was plainly wrong, and the medic may have respected the man, but not the action. Did this all mean that Tanner was not deserving of Nathan's admiration?  The medic had admired the sharpshooter not only for his abilities as an ATF agent, but also for his perseverance in surpassing his rough childhood. The cocaine incident gnawed at Nathan because he felt that Vin was taking a step back, reverting to the easier way to do things instead of the legal way.  It was easier to fight than walk away, easier to kill the perp than deal with him in court.

In the same line of thought, Nathan wondered if he had taken the easier way out by calling his friend at the Bureau. Perhaps deep down inside Jackson wanted the source of the trouble, Ikeda and the Yakuza, to go away. Yet he was being called to task for his actions. The medic gathered up his papers.  Chris wanted Nathan in his office, and Jackson did not want to keep the leader waiting.

Unlike the others on the team, Nathan knocked on Larabee's door and waited for the leader to say,

"Come in," before he entered.  Jackson's father had told him some people were worthy of respect, and Nathan figured Chris was one of those men.

Nathan stayed standing and waited for Larabee to look up and acknowledge him.  Finally after a pregnant pause Chris stopped writing. "Why did you call in the FBI?" The leader asked as he reclined back in his chair.

Jackson took a seat and explained. "I contacted a friend at the Bureau and asked him for some information about the Yakuza." The medic licked his lips as he noted his mouth becoming dry and gummy over the nervousness of facing Chris.  As the words left his mouth Nate came to the realization Larabee was just as disappointed with Nathan as the leader was with Vin.  When the medic had a problem with the case, he didn't talk to Chris. Instead he called in someone outside the team before he talked to Larabee.

Chris raised an eyebrow. "Some friend you got there," he scoffed.

"Chris, I felt we were over our heads." Steadily, Nathan met the leader's gaze.  "He probably sensed it too and told his superiors."  Jackson thought back to the meeting with Fred.  The FBI agent hadn't been able to give him much information, just the name of some players and their reputation.  Perdy must have felt that Nathan needed help and informed the Asian Criminal Enterprise section of the Bureau of a possible problem concerning the ATF and Team Seven.

"We may have been, but I would have liked to discover that myself." Chris came forward on his chair, crossed his arms and rested them against his desk.  "Look, I'm tired of everyone going off half-cocked." Larabee sighed, and looked up to the ceiling at frustration.

Nathan nodded his head.  He had learned his lesson, the medic would think twice before getting outside advice on a matter that was team related. Chris was genuinely hurt that Nate would *betray * him. Jackson felt his stomach knot, as he heard the disappointment in Larabee's voice. "I understand, Chris." Jackson gulped and looked away, not wanting to see displeasure in the blond-haired man's eyes.

Larabee shook his head. "I hope so." Chris stated as he pulled a pen out of the penholder on his desk. "I hope so," he repeated again, making Nathan feel guilty at his hasty actions.

"Are we done?" The medic asked, looking at the door.  He wanted to leave the office and go back to his desk, to hide out for awhile.  He wondered what the team's reaction would be. Nathan had noticed their surprise.  They had never expected the medic to be the one to talk. Because of his skill at patching them up, the team held him in high esteem.  What would they do now, especially in light of the fact that he wasn't being supportive towards Vin?

"Yeah," Chris interrupted Nathan's thoughts and dismissed him.  Jackson left and quietly made his way to his desk, going around the others to avoid them.

Nate was at his desk about five minutes when Buck came over and sat on the edge of Jackson's desk.  Wilmington picked up a paperweight and moved it back and forth between his hands. "So do you feel like a teenager who has just been on the tail end of a guilt trip?"

The medic nodded, and began to shuffle papers on his desk.  Nathan hadn't expected that the mustached agent would come and talk to him.

Buck whistled and grinned. "I figured that's the tactic he'd take with you."

"Yeah, it worked."  Nathan said, as he removed the paperweight from Buck's hand and set it back on the desk. "He pointed out that I was wrong."  Jackson furrowed his brow in worry over the team's reaction to his lapse in judgment.

Wilmington gave the medic a slap on the back as he stood up. "Hell, Nate, no matter what you do, you're still the only one who can patch us up. We need ya around." Buck began to walk away and then turned and gave Nathan a wink before adding,  "Just don't do it again and we're meeting at the saloon tonight."

Nathan grinned at how easily he had been forgiven.  Jackson began to wonder if he could be that merciful to Vin.

Vin and Jimmy kept their conversation to pleasantries.  Nathan was still in the room.  Tanner gave the medic a glance every few moments until Jackson shuffled out.  The sharpshooter knew that Jackson was unhappy with him.  Hell, who really was thrilled over the whole situation?  But for now Vin let himself forget and allowed himself to be distracted by his old friend.

"Damn, so this is what you've been up to." Jimmy kept his arms crossed and craned his neck around.  They stood looking out the conference room windows admiring the Denver skyline.

Vin chuckled, thinking about the last time he had seen Kotsu. Tanner had decided to get on with life and not re-up with the Army. He and Jimmy had been teamed on many black op missions.  Both were quiet and effective, and they had more in common-a loneliness at knowing they were all that remained of their families.

Jimmy had been orphaned at fifteen, when his parents were killed in an auto accident on their way to pick him up from a baseball game. He went to live in a foster home for three years and then joined the Army. Unlike Tanner, Kotsu had stayed with one family that he said hadn't treated him badly.  Like Vin, he was haunted and took solace in being a loner with a tough armor.  "You too. I thought you were military all the way." Vin had decided to move on as he grew up and became disenchanted with the military bureaucracy.

"Things change," Jimmy shrugged the shoulders of his dark suit. "Then the FBI recruited me, and I ended up in Japan."  He added a smile at the end, which made Vin tilt his head, questioning his friend's sincerity.

Before Tanner could ask Kotsu to explain Buck entered the conference room.

"Hey, Vin, sorry to interrupt," Wilmington announced as he strode in. He joined the two friends at the window and nodded to Jimmy. Buck winked at the sharpshooter. "We're meeting at the saloon later."

Vin nodded and hitched his thumbs on the belt loop of his jeans.  Tanner felt uneasy, he hadn't expected to be socializing with the boys so soon.  The glint in Buck's eyes told the sharpshooter he had arranged the after work get together.

 "You're welcomed to come." Wilmington added.

"Thanks,"  James gave a quick smile. "But, I have to get ready for Saizo." The FBI agent buttoned up the three buttons of his suit jacket.

Vin cleared his voice, "Understood." Tanner said as he put out his hand.  James accepted the handshake, and with his left hand gave the sharpshooter a pat on the back.

"You seem to work with some good men." James chuckled as he and the other two men began to walk to the door.

"Don't say that too loud." Vin drawled, and gestured to Wilmington.  "It's liable to go to Bucklin's head."

The mustached agent guffawed and punched Vin in the arm. "Hell, Junior's just jealous, cause of my reputation with the ladies."

"Didn't I tell you they were all full of sh**."  Tanner grinned.

James reached out and pressed the elevator call button, his tattoo flashed momentarily. "I'll be talking to you."  The FBI agent said as he entered the vacant elevator.

Vin watched the elevator door close.  The silver doors mirrored the coldness emanating from inside the office.  Tanner felt Buck's warm hand squeeze his shoulder, reminding the sharpshooter he needed to get back to work.

Part 4

Now and again
it turns to hail;
the wind is strong.

J Watson's (The Saloon)
Denver, Colorado

Ezra and Vin stepped into the saloon. They had gone to check on some snitches, but came up empty handed.  They would have to wait for Ikeda's phone call and allow the FBI to take the lead.  Ezra was glad that Buck suggested they meet at the saloon, since only a drink would help soften the blow- he was working with the Bureau again. It made the undercover agent's skin itch when he heard the acronym FBI, even the Keihls skincare products his personal shopper from Niemans had given him, couldn't help.

Team Seven's table was still vacant.  Standish heard Tanner's audible sigh over the cacophony of the after work crowd gathered. Ezra couldn't blame the sharpshooter for his nervousness.  They had both seen how the lines had been drawn, Buck, Josiah and himself supported Vin, while JD and Nathan were against.  Chris, had the southerner stumped.  Suddenly, Larabee had become a dictator. The noticeable turn in personality aggravated Ezra.

Standish cleared his throat, so he would not take the frustration out on Inez, the proprietress.  She was busy fielding bar orders. Ezra and Vin waited by the bar until Inez gave them a nod.

"Brandy and a pitcher of beer," Standish ordered. "On Agent Wilmington's tab, darling." Buck had requested Ezra's presence and therefore etiquette dictated that he pay for the libations.  Inez laughed.  Standish winked. The undercover agent knew the Mexican woman liked to irritate the affable agent.  Buck had mercilessly flirted with Inez.  She had had a soft spot for the team, but did not want to get involved with them on a personal basis.  Wilmington had been trying to change her mind. He said he relished the challenge.

Vin and Ezra sat at the table, across from each other. The sharpshooter pulled a basket of free peanuts that languished on each table,  he began to peel the peanuts. "I think the Jag's timing is off." Tanner drawled. "I thought I heard somethin.' I can take a look if you want."

An offending peanut shell skidded, landing in Ezra's lap.  Standish picked up the dried legume and tossed it back, hitting Vin's chest. "Agent Tanner, I have seen you fix your vehicle with a hammer." Standish remembered the distinct clanging noise that rumbled through the garage at the Federal Building.  Vin was hitting some part in the engine of the junk pile he referred to as a vehicle.  Nonchalantly, he had closed the hood, put the toolbox in the back seat.  He had given Ezra the two-fingered salute before starting the Jeep.

Vin shrugged his shoulders. "It worked, didn't it."  The sharpshooter grinned as he reached for the pitcher of beer,  as Inez quietly deposited it on  the table.

Ezra shook his head, bringing the brandy snifter to his nose to inhale the spicy scent.  Tanner was using his subterfuge techniques so he could drive the Jag. When they were undercover, Standish had to let Vin drive the car on occasion.  But, the southerner would never let Tanner drive Ezra's pride and joy on a recreational basis. His mind flashed to Snowball and Twinkie wrappers littering the leather interior. "No, you can not drive my car."

"Can't blame a guy for tryin.'" Vin chuckled and Ezra joined in.  They continued to laugh even though their bantering hadn't been that humorous.  Standish knew it was a devil-may-care laugh, but  one of relief of having survived.  They continued to laugh until their eyes glistened and JD interrupted them.

The young agent was holding his helmet, which was glistening with fine drops of water. "Buck's gonna be awhile." Dunne announced and  tucked the helmet under the table.  JD remained standing, glancing at Vin and Ezra and deciding where to sit. Normally, there would be no hesitation.  JD would have sat next to Tanner.

It was as if Vin suddenly had a case of leprosy though, Ezra mused, and Dunne took the seat next to Standish.  The young man's wet leather coat brushed against the southerner's Zegna suit jacket, dampening the sleeve.  The undercover agent brushed his arm, and looked at the sharpshooter.  Vin shrugged at the slight.

"What detains our host?" Ezra asked, unbuttoning his suit jacket to try to make himself comfortable in the nerving silence.

Josiah answered, coming up behind Standish and moving into the vacant chair next to Vin without hesitation. "A woman of course, Brother."  Sanchez pushed the peanut shells out of his way. "Anyone notice when Brother Wilmington is on the phone with a woman his voice suddenly goes down a few octaves and he starts whispering."
"You would think he would realize the total lack of privacy in the office." Standish snickered as he sipped his brandy, letting it warm the rawness of the evening from his bones.

Nathan filed in to the back area of the saloon, his hair glistening with the outdoor dampness. "Chris has to do some paperwork.  He'll be here soon." Jackson said, as he pulled a chair from another table and brought it to the head of the table.

Ezra marveled at how the dampness not only clung to the medic's hair, but to his personality.  Standish noticed Tanner nursing his beer, probably to prevent from choking on the depressing attitude of two of the team members.

Josiah poured himself a beer, stood and picked up the full glass. "I'm going to try my luck at the dart board, while we wait."

Ezra watched the large agent leave and go to the other side of the bar.  Standish curled his toes, encased in the soft leather loafer, giving him a sense of digging in.  With Josiah away from the table, responsibility fell onto to the undercover agent to make sure everyone played nice.

Nathan closed his eyes and placed his elbows on the table, and brought his hand up so he could rest his head. "JD, being from Boston, do you remember Len Bias?" Jackson asked, ignoring the other two occupants of the table.

"Damn, Nathan, of course I do." JD nodded, wiping the beer foam that had adjoined itself to his upper lip.  "The Celts would have been great if only—well, you know." Dunne said let his voice trail off quietly.

Standish kept glancing at the two men.  He had no idea what they were discussing.  It had something to do with basketball, but Ezra didn't see the connection until it was too late.

"Yeah, if only." Nathan replied, sitting up straighter and folding his arms in front of him.  "I knew the Terps team doctor.  He couldn't believe that Lenny, of all people." Jackson shook his head. "Stupid kid, did coke once and he died."

"Yeah, I remember." Dunne nodded, and gave a flickering glance to Vin.

Ezra swirled the brandy in its snifter and watched the flexibility of the amber liquid reflecting the stagnancy of the men before him with their one-dimensional line of thought.  Standish had enough, as he watched Vin fidget and sink lower in his rattan chair, figuring he deserved the admonishment.  The undercover agent hadn't watched over all night, sitting in an uncomfortable lawn chair, while Tanner was in the sweat lodge only to see everything fall apart.

Ezra's voice was laced with a deadly edginess. "Gentlemen, I suggest you cease and desist." Standish set the glass on the table, and cupped his hands around the snifter.

Standish heard the chair across from him grate against the floor. "Forget about it, Ez." Vin said as he stood up. "I'm leaving." The sharpshooter added just as Buck and Chris had entered.  Vin brushed against Larabee forcibly enough so he had to take a step back.  Then the sharpshooter was gone.

"What happened?" Buck asked as he watched the back of Tanner go through the crowd towards the exit.

Ezra didn't have to look at Chris.  The leader knew the undercover agent was talking to him.  Standish continued to stare into the brandy. "You fed him to the wolves."

Larabee remained standing stiffly. "He should have expected this." Chris answered quietly.

Standish saw the amber colored liquid change to a fiery red.  He stood up and snarled to his boss. "You sanctimonious bastard."

For a tense moment, Ezra held his breath and returned the icy glare Chris gave him.  Suddenly, Larabee turned and went after Vin.  Standish exhaled, and smiled as he sat down, glad his gamble had paid off. The undercover agent immediately wiped the smile from his visage.  Buck was looking grimly at his roommate, and Ezra narrowed his eyes and bore down on the young agent.

"What?!" JD said, trying to look puzzled and innocent at the same time. "Nate and I were talking about Len Bias." Dunne pointed at Jackson. "We were just trying to help."

Ezra brought the glass to his lips and savored the taste. "Deplorable way to show your concern." Standish commented over the rim of the snifter. "There must be some past imperfection of yours somewhere." The undercover agent asked the medic.

"Ezra," Nathan said, enunciating the southerner's name. "You don't want to go there."  Jackson's chair scraped back, and he quietly left the table and joined Josiah by the dartboard.

"Due to your past medical assistance, I will allow some leniency." Ezra mumbled under his breath. He knew Nathan would come around eventually. Jackson liked to save lives not ruin them.  Standish closed his eyes and turned his attention to his next target.  "I am disappointed in you JD."

"Me? What did I do?" Dunne said, as he popped another peanut in his mouth.

Ezra stretched out, and placed his arms behind his neck. "You are always trying to prove your manhood, yet you have failed miserably."

JD stopped chewing, and swallowed. "You take that back, Ezra."

Standish shook his head, knowing he was making the young agent uncomfortable.  "Ahh, acknowledging the truth is always difficult."

JD gripped the edge of the table. "Buck, are you going to help me out?" He asked in a strained voice.

"Nope," he crossed his arms and signaled for another pitcher. "Truth is, Vin's a good man.  Truth is, your acting like an ass.  You know what?" Wilmington waited to finish his comment as Inez came by and took away the empty beer container and replaced it. Buck gave the bar owner a wink as she left. Wilmington tossed a peanut at his roommate to get his attention again. "He's your friend and if the case was reversed he'd stand by you."

Dunne let go of the table, and began to concentrate on the condensation ring left behind by his glass. Ezra wasn't satisfied though at the young agent's change of behavior. JD was partially responsible for making Vin suffer and although the sharpshooter would never exact revenge, it was not beneath Standish to.

"Have you forgotten Annie?" Ezra said softly, bringing up the name of the woman JD had accidentally killed.  "If I recollect correctly, Vin stood by you, Agent Dunne."

Dunne snapped his head up. "Don't bring that up." JD said softly.

Buck nodded, agreeing with Standish. "Vin didn't throw it in your face."

Ezra finished off the remaining brandy. "I still recall the sensational headlines-'ATF Agent Shoots Innocent Bystander.'"

Wilmington sighed; he was putting the mug to his lips and placed it back down. "They did want your head on a platter." Wilmington brought the glass back up again. "Hell, you had to hide out at Vin's place for awhile."

JD looked up to the ceiling his eyes following the rotation of the fan above.  He blinked rapidly. In the meantime Buck and Ezra gave each other a nod knowing they had finally made the young agent understand.

Dunne cleared his throat. "Geez, you guys don't pull any punches."

Buck had taken the seat Nathan had vacated. Wilmington reached out and gave the young agent a pat on the back. "Damn, JD, you've had so many concussions that it takes you a little longer to figure it out."

"Luckily, Agent Wilmington and myself have proven to be excellent examples and teachers and we are able to show you the error of your ways." Ezra sagely said, feeling proud that he was able to steer JD to the correct conclusion. Standish could only hope that Chris and Nathan's stubbornness was short lived.  He raised his hand to order another brandy, and thought that it was a nice to delusion to believe.

Nathan watched as Josiah carefully weighed the red metal dart in his hand.  Jackson felt calmer just being in Sanchez's presence.  The large man was contemplative, concerning all his actions, whether it was making a cup of coffee, repairing a roof or bringing down a criminal. On occasion, Nathan found himself emulating the older man, which is why they were teamed up so much, especially during stakes outs.  The medic wanted to attain a level of peacefulness after the turmoil of his younger days of growing up bearing a yoke of discrimination. Josiah helped raise the bar of humanity that the medic wanted to achieve.

The large man ran his hand down the dart before firmly holding it with his index finger and thumb. With a flick of Sanchez's wrist he let the mini-projectile free, with a soft thud it entered into the red section of the corkboard. Josiah took a sip of his beer before he went forward and pulled the three darts out.

"You want to give it a try?" Sanchez asked Jackson, who shook his head. "It quiets the mind."

Nathan grinned. "I don't think anything can stop what's going through my head." The medic rested against the edge of a vacant pool table.  "You know I was only trying to point out some health hazards."  Jackson gestured with his head back to the team's table.

"That's mighty admirable of you." Sanchez commented as he placed his feet against the line drawn on the saloon's floor.

Nathan shrugged his shoulders. "Maybe." He looked down at the older agent's feet so firmly planted on the ground, so secure that supporting the sharpshooter was the correct decision.

"You don't sound sure, thought you were all hellfire against Vin." Josiah said as he threw the dart.

The medic chuckled. "Hellfire is your area, son of a preacher." The boys were constantly ribbing the large agent about his father.  It didn't help that JD had downloaded the midi file of Son of a Preacher Man onto Josiah's computer.

Sanchez laughed too. "Just like you save lives."

Nathan stopped laughing and snorted, "I'm an EMT, Josiah, not a doctor." Back in college he was just able to get by monetarily.  He couldn't afford med school, hell; he was still paying his undergrad loans off. Nathan had decided to go to the army instead, that decision had eventually led him to law enforcement.

Sanchez got into a secure stance in preparation to toss the next dart. "Doesn't matter. You like to save souls and bodies." Josiah gave a peripheral glance to the target. "All the times you get after Ezra, trying to show him the error of his greedy ways."

"I only want him to be better. . ." Just like Nathan tried everyday to be a better person.  He reflected back on his incident with amphetamines. If he had been a stronger person then, he would have never resorted to drugs.

"We're the best we can be, Nathan."  Sanchez tossed the dart, and turned to face Jackson. "We make mistakes. We make decisions.  We live with everything 'cause we know we did our best and that's all anybody can ask."

The medic licked his lips and cleared his voice.  In a low, monotone voice he replied, "So you're saying I've been a jerk concerning Vin?" Nathan knitted his soft brows together.  He hated to fail, and he had failed to be a friend and teammate.

"If that's what you think fits you best." Josiah threw the last dart haphazardly. "Let's see if we can help our Brothers with that pitcher of beer."

They headed back to the table.  Nathan followed behind Josiah, allowing the older man to lead while he did some thinking.  He had to apologize to Vin.  But an 'I'm sorry' just didn't seem to be right.