Misperceptions of Justice and Vindication

by Silvia and Laurel

Chapter 1-3 | Chapter 4-6 | Chapter 7-9 | Chapter 10-12


The next time Vin opened his eyes he took notice of the fact that, although the blinds were closed on his window, he could see sunlight filtering through. He lay still for a moment contemplating the fact that it was daylight and he was lying in bed, then he remembered he was in the hospital. That little nugget of information unlocked a little of his sore brain and he remembered talking with Chris this morning, or was it last night, or ----- didn't matter

Gradually he became aware of a soft muttering sound in his room. Not wanting to move too quickly as his various injuries were also eager to remind him or their presence he carefully cast his eyes around the room and quickly settled on the slightly out of focus, but easily recognizable form of Buck Wilmington. As Vin watched Buck was absorbed by some little object in his hands finally, exasperated Buck set the item down and then rose and paced to the window.

Vin silently watched, keeping himself quiet. He had liked the jovial man from the first time he'd met him and had been surprised as the initially amiable greeting had given way steadily to cool distance and then open misgivings about his and JD's friendship and finally to outright hostility. Vin could hear Buck's words echoing in his brain...

"If anyone is going to be taking Tanner in, it's going to be me. He's been getting between me and my friend Chris for way too long now, and he's been rubbing me the wrong way ever since he joined the team."

Forgetting his injuries for the moment Vin shook his head against that painful memory and then slammed his eyes shut as not only the venom in those words resounded in his brain but the dull thud in his skull exploded into a sharp hammer and a small gasp of pain, not entirely physical, slipped past his tightly pressed lips.

Buck turned from the window where he had been peeking through the slats of the blinds. He saw Vin, eyes tightly closed, face pinched with pain and white from the strain. Stepping quickly to the injured man's bed he pressed the button for the nurse call. While he waited he dipped a washcloth in the shallow bowl of water by Vin's bed, wrung it out and gently laid it over Vin's eyes. He remembered his mom doing that for him when he had headaches and it always seemed to help.

"Thank you." Vin's whispered words reached Buck's ears and he rested his hand gently on Vin's shoulder.

"You're welcome." Instantly he felt Vin tense; damn, kid probably thought it was the nurse, not him. Buck was going to try to apologize but the nurse arrived at that moment and he stepped back to let her examine Vin. He returned to the window and alternately watched the nurse check Vin and peered out between the blinds. He listened as she asked Vin questions like name, date, where he was and then he listened as she asked about the pain and he said, after several moments of silence, that it was a little painful but tolerable.

Buck watched the nurse as she stared at her patient thoughtfully and then her eyes came up and met Buck's, she winked at him conspiratorially and then reassured Vin that if he didn't mind, she had orders to follow and those orders included keeping him resting and as close to pain free as possible and that please would he allow her to medicate him so that the pain was better than 'mostly tolerable.'

Buck didn't hear Vin's whispered response but he did see the nurse give Vin a wide and beautiful smile and then pick up the syringe she had brought into the room with her and empty it into the port in his IV line near his hand.

Buck stayed still and watched as the nurse placed the cool cloth back over Vin's forehead and took a second one and gently wiped his face and throat and even the exposed parts of his arms before returning it to the basin. She checked Vin's pulse again, checked all his monitors, jotted down her notes and then stepped to the door beckoning Buck to follow her.

"He just needs some rest, sir. He should sleep the better part of the day away after that shot."

"Thanks, ma'am." The nurse was very pretty and normally Buck would have tried his best charms on her but he was at a loss for once in his life to do more than just give a small smile. She patted his arm lightly and went out of the room.

Buck took his position in the chair, stared thoughtfully at the young man lying asleep in the bed and wondered for not the first time how he was going to make this right.

(Team 7 Office: Same Day: 8:00 a.m.:)

Frainier knocked on the door to Chris Larabee's office and waited until Larabee looked up and waved him in.

"Dave Frainier I'm assuming." Chris asked as he shook the man's hand and indicated to the chair across from his desk.

"That's correct, sir." Frainier replied as he settled into the chair and watched as Chris resumed his seat. Flicking his gaze rapidly over Chris' desk, he realized that Larabee had his file and was reviewing it.

"I was just reading your file, quite impressive. Your marksman scores are excellent. You're up to date on all your qualifications, and I see there are several letters of commendation from other teams here in Denver as well as Phoneix and Las Vegas. You've been assigned to several teams over the past two years." Larabee looked up at Frainier and assessed the man before him, polite, obviously disciplined judging by the erect position he maintained in the chair, hell, he'd noticed the man's boots had shone when he first walked in the door.

He didn't dress fancy like Ezra but nor was he as casual as some of the other men, he dressed more like Nathan except that Frainier's khakis had a neatly pressed crease in the front, his shirt was a good quality business shirt with button down collar and he wore a muted color but likely expensive tie that was tacked neatly to his shirt front. All in all the impression was professional, organized, understated but had a slight edge to it. There weren't many men that tried to pull off the combination of expensive ties and combat boots, still on Frainier, it worked.

"Yes, sir. I've been on temporary assignment now for about two years and have had the opportunity to work with a number of excellent teams. I'm looking forward to joining a team of my own, this is a great opportunity."

"Well, we appreciate your help; of course, this is still only a temporary assignment as we already have a sharpshooter, but he's been injured and we have a bust going down in less than a week, so we need the help."

Chris was looking down at the file in front of him while he was speaking and missed the dark shadow that flitted across Frainier's face as he was reminded this was only temporary, still it was early, he had time to prove his worth and replace Tanner on the team.

"Yes, sir. Well, one never knows when a temporary assignment is going to become a permanent one, and you will get my very best."

Chris half expected the man to click his heels and salute as he spoke. He gave Frainier a brief smile and then reached to the side of his desk and picked up a stack of folders and some files, standing up he moved to the side to hand them to Frainier. Frainier continued to sit for another beat, not wanting the meeting to end so quickly but decided to bide his time. Standing up he took the stack from Larabee and cocked his head quizzically.

"It's some basic procedures on this particular team and information on each team member and their general position on the team. You'll meet them tomorrow, they're all out in the field right now and I've got some meetings to attend today making sure we've got everything aligned for next week.

Why don't you take all of that information as well as the other files which is everything we have put together on the arms dealer organization we're looking to bust next week, take it all and familiarize yourself. That's going to take you the better part of the day. Come back tomorrow, around 9:00 a.m. and you'll meet the rest of the team."

Chris turned back to his desk and picked up another folder to review and Frainier recognized that he had been dismissed. Turning he left the office and gazed out at the bullpen that was the rest of Team 7's office and noted all the desks, the space of each member of the team. He spotted a desk a little off to the side and figured that was probably Tanner's since what he knew about the man was that he was a loner. Well, when he joined the team he would see that that desk was brought closer in to the rest of the team's desks.

Yep, this was a good start. Carrying his armload of material he departed the office looking forward to Larabee's introduction of him to the team tomorrow.

+ + + + + + +

The nurse's assessment on how long Vin would sleep was fairly accurate. The next time he awoke it was early evening; at least that's what he figured judging from the grayish tint to the sky. At some point during the day someone had opened the blinds a bit and he could see the onset of dusk through the window.

Gingerly he shifted in the bed and was pleased to note that the throbbing in his skull did little more than increase in tempo but not in intensity. However, the pain in his chest was as temperamental as before and he knew from past experience that the best thing for his ribs was to try to move as little as possible.

He sighed with frustration. He hated having to stay still, even if it was the best thing for him. The sound of a chair creaking and footsteps approaching surprised him. He was getting careless; he hadn't known anyone was in the room.

Josiah stepped up to the bed. He had been sitting in a chair out of Vin's line of sight quietly reading a book. Vin's softly uttered sigh made him aware that his charge was, in fact, awake. It had been decided that someone would stay with Vin round the clock while he was in the hospital for the minimum and likely for a period of time after that since no one knew who had orchestrated Vin's kidnapping as well as planting evidence and taking advantage of certain circumstances so that the blame rested on the young agent.

Buck had been relieved by JD around mid-morning, Ezra had taken over in the early afternoon and Josiah had taken over only about an hour prior. Each man had been relieved to see their colleague, even if he wasn't aware of their presence. Josiah was glad he was going to get a chance to talk to Vin even if for only a short time. Chris had made sure they all knew that Vin didn't seem to know what had happened but Josiah hoped that now that he had had some solid rest and his fluid and electrolyte levels were stabilizing his memory might be a bit more clear.

"Welcome back, Vin." Josiah's rich baritone was pitched softly so as not to add to the discomfort he knew his colleague was feeling.

Vin's eyes showed that he was startled to see Josiah, but that expression faded from surprise to uncertainty. "Hi, Josiah. What are you doing here?"

Josiah smiled gently, "Up until about 30 seconds ago I was reading and occasionally watching you sleep. Now that you're awake, I get to chat a bit."

He was pleased to see that the uncertainty that had flickered in Vin's eyes disappeared but they remained dull, lacking their usual sparkle. Josiah wasn't surprised by that, he'd read Vin's chart and while he was no Nathan, and especially not a doctor, he knew enough to know that Vin's injuries while not life-threatening had taken their toll on the young man's strength and between the concussion and the pain medication, Vin would be feeling fairly listless for a few days at a minimum.

"Ezra and JD are going to be sorry they were here earlier since you slept through their time periods. I'm lucky; I get to chat with you a bit." Josiah moved away to pick up the chair he had been sitting in and set it down so he and Vin could see each other without either one of them straining their neck.

"Ezra and JD were here? Why?" Vin was confused by this, he also had a vague recollection of talking to Chris and an even vaguer recollection of Buck having been in the room. Buck, the thought of the big jovial man being so angry with him confused him.

"Well, they were here for a couple of reasons, although, I figure none of us have ever had a chance to explain and thankfully, we haven't had a reason to explore those reasons until now." Josiah laced his fingers together and leaned back a bit.

"First of all, you know that Chris and Buck go way back, partners in the PD, roommates in the academy. Buck was Chris' best man, godfather and uncle to little Adam and big brother/protector to Sarah. He and Chris have seen each other through a lot. Chris always made sure Buck had a cover story if he needed it when some little lady wasn't quite as unattached as she let him think she was and someone came after Buck. Those two appear as opposites, one always laughing, the other barely cracking a smile, but they know each other and are always there for one another.

Now Nathan and I are similar in that I know if I needed to call him in the middle of the night, he'd come running without question. I know that if he was on his honeymoon, Lord help him one of these days he'll get the courage to ask Rain properly like she's been waiting - but that's another story, but if I were to call him and say, "I need you." Before I could even get to saying his name, he'd be on his way back; Rain in tow, she's cut from the same cloth.

Of course he knows the same is true of me, he forgets to ask for help, just thinks I turn up in the right places when he needs me but that's 'cause he's got a good woman minding his back as well and she's not shy about sending a distress call out. We've worked out a little communication code between us, Rain and I, which Nathan knows nothing about.

Anyway, what I'm trying to say is that the four of us, in our own little way have been on the alert for the needs of the other for years now and, when our paths joined up and we became a team, everyone just blended together and from the start there was never a question that any of the four of us could call out and one of the others would show up, usually all since we never specifically called anyone by name.

Now that you and JD and Ezra have joined the fold, we've just widened our radar so that you three are included. You've been missing, now you're found. You've been accused of doing some pretty terrible things; now you're vindicated of those deeds. You are however still in danger as whoever has set this whole situation into motion is still at large.

So, until you are feeling a bit better one of the team will be watching your back at all times, of course, judging from Chris' expression when I saw him at the office this afternoon, even after you're feeling better, one of us will be watching you. In fact, I don't think you're going to be on your own until we find whoever is behind this."

Josiah watched as Vin processed this information. He knew the young man was used to working on his own and also that Vin never spoke of any family or anyone from his past well, with the exception of Nettie Wells whom Josiah had met once and seen her deep love for Vin. It was the only time he saw Vin, former Ranger, former bounty hunter, ATF sharpshooter - Number 1 ATF sharpshooter, transform into a young boy eager to soak up the love of someone he loves.

He wasn't surprised that this was a new experience for Vin and his hope was that Vin would accept the strength that comes from being part of something whose sum is, to use the cliché greater than its parts.

Josiah remained silent allowing Vin to absorb and process all that he had said. A small turn upwards of the corner of his mouth told him that Vin understood but, just like someone who was used to being alone, would need time to fully understand all that it meant.

"Thanks, Josiah. Guess I'll have to think on that a bit." Vin yawned and Josiah figured he'd better work quickly before Vin succumbed to the rest he so desperately needed.

"You're welcome, son. Now, before you go back to sleep and leave me to my book, I need you to help me out a bit." As Vin's eyebrows drew together questioningly Josiah continued. "Something happened after Chris dropped you home around 2:30 a.m. Monday morning that was the last anyone saw you until Buck got home after 1:30 a.m. Tuesday morning. What do you remember?"

Josiah purposefully kept it vague so that none of Vin's recollections would be tainted by any information other than his own. He watched as Vin concentrated; saw the frustration building as the moments turned to minutes. As Vin's hands clenched and his features started to pinch with pain Josiah decided it was time to try a different tact.

"All right. Vin, I want you to try a little something with me. You're hurt, you're tired, you've been through a lot and it's obvious you weren't conscious for all of it but our subconscious works amazingly well even when we're not at our best or don't think we're fully cognizant of our surroundings. So, I want you to just listen to my voice and close your eyes."

Josiah had slowly begun drumming his index finger in a steady beat on the arm of the chair while he had been speaking. As Vin closed his eyes Josiah kept the steady beat with his finger and continued speaking.

"I want you to just allow your mind to be clear, don't try to think of anything, just concentrate on my voice. I want you to listen beyond my words is there anything else that you hear?"

"A tapping sound." Vin murmured.

"Good, good, now I want you to focus on that and let my voice drift into the background. While that tapping sound is heard I want you to focus on Buck's apartment and how you got there. I want you to tell me everything you remember about how you got to Buck's apartment without thinking about it. If you see an image in your mind, describe it, same with a sound a smell anything, don't process it, don't think about it, just say it."

Josiah stopped talking but kept the steady tapping with his finger. He watched as Vin's heart rate had adjusted to the beat he was keeping with his finger. In a moment Vin spoke his words soft but sure.

"A laughing cat."

Tap, tap, tap.

"Good, what else?"

Tap, tap, tap.


Tap, tap, tap.

"The ocean"

Tap, tap, tap.

"Christmas lights."

Tap, tap, tap.

"Hot dogs."

Tap, tap, tap.

Josiah waited and continued his steady tapping but Vin didn't say anything more. "Good, Vin, you did great. Now I want you to keep your eyes closed and go to sleep. I'll be right here while you rest."

Josiah kept his finger tapping softly as he watched Vin's breathing even out and it became obvious he was deeply asleep, then he pulled his pen and notepad from his pocket and quickly jotted down the clues Vin had given him, this was going to be very interesting.

+ + + + + + +

"Go over this plan of yours with me again, Mr. Sanchez, if you would." Ezra completed parking his Jag in the parking area at Buck and JD's apartment complex and stepped nimbly from the car, closed the door and started to set the vehicle alarm when he realized Josiah was still trying to extract himself from the interior.

Amused he choose to look away and work out a few knots in his neck and then slowly moved around the vehicle, taking note of any dust or particles of debris on the surface of the vehicle as best he could in the lighting of the parking lot giving Josiah time to lever his tall and solid frame from the efficiently designed interior of the car.

Once Josiah was standing and had managed to close the door, Ezra hit the security button and listened as the car sounded that its security was engaged.

"As I asked, why is that we must be here in the late hours of the evening, not that I mind the time mind you, I would just prefer to be somewhere else rather than 'hitting the bricks' as Mr. Dunne so eloquently phrased it when you explained your intention." Ezra stared at Josiah who was silently rubbing his lower back and trying to shake out each of his legs, one after the other.

"Vin is the only one, save whoever took him, who knows where he was prior to showing up at Buck's place. It's a good bet he didn't take a cab or a bus to get there as JD and Nathan have contacted all such companies earlier today and none of them report picking up an injured, bleeding, semi-conscious person and dropping him off here.

So, I spoke with him when he awoke briefly this afternoon, and he agreed to a little experiment where he just let go of his control over his words and just said whatever came to his mind."

"I'm aware of all of that, but what does a hot dog, laughing cats, coconuts and Christmas lights have to do with here?"

"My friend, you and I are going to plum the depths of our injured colleague's mind and ascertain what those clues denote."

"Enter his mind? Don't you think perhaps, Mr. Larabee would be a better choice to enter his mind? Or what about Mr. Dunne, they are of similar ages -"

"Nope, Ezra, it's you and me, let's go."

"And precisely in which direction do you suggest we embark?"

"Well, now, Ezra, that's all the fun; pick one."

The two agents started walking down the sidewalk; the late hour meant that there were not too many people on the street but the various streetlights kept it bright. Carefully they read street signs and storefront signs looking for anything that fit the description of Vin's memories. After walking about a block and a half without finding any clues both men saw movement ahead of them in a small little grassy area.

As they walked closer they saw a man walking two miniature Dachshunds for their potty break. Looking at the short but extremely long dogs both men immediately had a word picture. Josiah silently mouthed "hot dog" to Ezra who nodded back and then approached the man, while Josiah followed pulling his ATF identification out.

"Excuse me, sir. My colleague and I," Ezra turned to indicate Josiah who held his badge clearly for the man to scan it, "are hoping you would be able to assist us."

"I'll try, what do you need?" The man was suspicious but curious as he sized up the two men in front of him; the badge looked legitimate so he was willing to listen.

"Do you walk your dogs here every night?"

"Yes, it's the neighborhood spot for dogs as long as the owners police the area."

"Were you by any chance walking your dogs here last night for their, ah, evening relief, at about this same time?"

"Probably, I take them out for one final 'relief' as you said before I go to bed for the night."

"I see, sir, when you were here with them last evening, did you notice any strange person in the area; he would have appeared inebriated perhaps?"

"Yeah, there was a guy, he was staggering down the street, went right by us, Bruiser here didn't like him very much and started barking and lunging at him. Startled the guy really good, he almost fell down in the street. He was pretty drunk all right, probably had been in a fight at a local bar, his face was pretty bruised up, too."

"Thank you, sir, you've been most accommodating, oh, one last question, did you happen to see which direction he came from?"

The man pointed down the street and Josiah and Ezra nodded their thanks before heading in that direction.

"Hot dogs, indeed. Does that man think of nothing but sustenance, not that anyone could possible consider such fare to be nourishing, Mr. Sanchez, please tell me you have a more epicurean palette."

"Ezra, do you know what is in a hot dog?" Josiah asked soberly.

"To be exact, no, but I'm sure it is not duck pate."

"No, it isn't. Trust me, you don't want to know, I didn't want to know and now that I do know, I'm sorry I know."

"And how did you acquire this familiarity with the contents of a hot dog?"


"I see."

The two continued their slow walk trying to interpret the clues they had been given. It wasn't long before Ezra spoke up again.

"Josiah, would that be a laughing cat ahead of us?"

Josiah followed the direction that Ezra was pointing to and there about three storefronts ahead of them was a sign hanging over an antique shop. The sign said, "The Cheshire Cat."

"Well, now Brother Ezra, I do believe that little kitty is laughing. I'd say we're definitely in the right neighborhood."

The men continued another block before the street they were on ended and they had a choice of left or right.

"Now which way."

"I'd say we go to the right." Josiah headed in that direction without waiting for Ezra's response. Ezra came after him.

"What causes you to determine this is the proper direction?"

"Look ahead, Ezra, what do you see?"

"I see a neon sign of a palm tree...ah, coconuts."

When they reached the three-way intersection where the neon sign advertising the Coconut Bar and Grill was located -- neither of them could understand why such a place would bear that name in Denver, Colorado, but it was a sign post and that's all they needed at that time - they paused to look at their options.

Ezra took a look at the street sign that was illuminated from the light of the neon coconut sign as well as the street light. He smiled as he read it, not caring in the least for the foolishness of those that chose the names for the streets; the sign said Pacifica Drive.

"Josiah, I believe all signs say we should follow this road." He pointed up and smiled.

Josiah nodded and they followed that street which intersected at a "T" with the street they were already on. It didn't take them long before they both stopped and stared, ahead of them; on their right was their destination. The blinking sign glaringly announcing "MOTEL" in red flashing lights and "VACANCY" in green flashing lights told them they had reached the end of their trail.

Somewhere in this little strip motel was a room where their colleague had been held captive.


"Thanks, Josiah, you and Ezra did excellent work."

Chris hung up his cell phone, leaned back against the hospital exterior and breathed in the crisp night air.

At last a lead, following Vin's vague yet wholly recognizable and accurate memory flashes Josiah and Ezra had backtracked the path from Buck and JD's apartment to where Vin had been held captive. Ezra's deft maneuvering of the obtuse motel manager allowed them to narrow the possible suspects at the motel and at just after 1:00 a.m., with the consent of the night manager they had gained access to the now empty motel room, empty except for one precious item, Vin's Ranger rifle.

The CSI's were processing the room now and Vin's rifle was already tagged as evidence and being transported to the lab for processing and safe keeping. Chris knew Vin would want it back immediately but at least he'd be able to tell him it was found and being held under lock and key and would be returned eventually.

Chris glanced at his watch and then rubbed his hand over his tired eyes, 2:00 a.m. These late nights and early days were wearing thin. Upstairs Nathan had the night watch and Chris was supposed to be home at his ranch by now. In the morning Buck was going to pick Vin up and take him out to the ranch where Chris would help get him settled and Josiah would have the day watch.

Chris gave one last contemplative look at the hospital door and then decided it best to head out to his ranch. Ezra would be able to fill JD and Nathan in on the latest developments tomorrow at the office and Chris would fill Buck and Vin in when they reached his place tomorrow - make that today Chris thought ruefully as he climbing in his truck, started the engine and headed out to his ranch.

It was going to be a busy day with getting Vin settled in at the ranch and under the protective watch of the team, Frainier meeting the team and then all of them planning the next week's action. Chris shook his head slightly as he recalled Josiah's account of Vin's confusion over having someone stay with him at the hospital. Vin had been alone too long. He'd need some time to adjust to having people watching his back. Fortunately the fact that Vin had reached out instinctively in his confused state and sought the assistance of his teammates at Buck and JD's gave Chris hope that the transition for the loner wouldn't take too long.

JD, Ezra, Josiah and Nathan would get to meet their temporary sharpshooter in the morning, Chris was a little sorry that he wasn't going to be there to introduce Frainier to the team but decided that making sure Vin was settled and that Buck had started building bridges with Vin was more important, this was his team. Frainier was temporary and had been the new man on several teams; no doubt he'd be able to handle his own introduction in the morning.

The miles slipped away under the steady hum of the Ram's engine and before Chris knew it he was turning into his driveway. A quick but reassuring glance in the barn to ensure his horses were all happy and safe had him softening a bit and giving the sleepy but insistent horses a middle of the night carrot for a treat. He even gave the ornery Peso a pat on the neck along with his carrot, a gesture the horse didn't appreciate as much as he did the carrot. Grinning Chris turned out the light, closed up the barn and went up to the house to bed.

(Team 7 Office: 9:00 a.m.:)

His heart was beating fast and it was getting difficult to cover the feeling of nervousness he was having right now. He'd wished for this day so much --- easy up there, Dave, he'd need to calm down and calm down fast. He spotted the men coming his way --- now, breathe, Dave, slow it down and take a deep breath. --- there you go.

He remained sitting on the couch while looking at them and at the last moment, he stood up and extended his hand to meet the one in the front. He was surprised Chris Larabee wasn't in the office as it was 9:00 a.m.; he wondered why Larabee wasn't coming with his men.

Ezra extended his hand to the man in front of him and said, "Greetings and salutations to you, Mr. Frainier."

"Thanks, Mr. --- "

"Ezra Standish" he answered and moving his head towards the rest of the team at his side. "Mr. Dunne here will enlighten you about the technology we use. Mr. Jackson is our resident medic. Mr. Sanchez, is our profiler. Mr. Wilmington our explosives expert and all around strategist is currently engaged in an activity this morning as is Messrs. Tanner and Larabee."

The three other men briefly shook his hand and then moved quickly to their desks.

"I thought Christopher Larabee would be here to introduce me to the team."

"Oh, he sends his regrets but he had an important matter to attend to this morning and asked me to conduct the introductions. Now, I'll leave you to the very capable attention of our Mr. Dunne."

With that Ezra walked briskly past him and settled in at a desk that was near to the one that Frainier had guessed was Tanner's. All the other desks save the one next to Standish and another one near JD's were occupied. Frainier figured he'd been right and decided to stamp his presence by taking the desk he figured was Tanner's, however, in order to do that he had to walk past JD and as soon as he got near him JD stood up and indicated to him.

"Come on, Buck won't be in for a few hours anyway, you can use his desk until he gets in." JD pulled out the chair at the empty desk next to him. "Besides, I've got to work with you and show you what we're using right now for communications."

Frainier was left with little choice but to take the seat that Dunne indicated. This wasn't working out like he'd expected. Not only was Larabee not here to introduce him, he was assigned to work with the youngest member of the team, he'd hoped at least if he wasn't going to work with Larabee he'd at least be assigned to work with Wilmington but Dunne --- he was the least experienced of the team. Frainier realized he needed to focus as JD was talking next to him and working with a hand held device.

"Chris wanted me to configure one specifically for you so you'll be connected to us and have a code that gets you any member of the team."

"Oh, Dunne, why's that?" Frainier answered surprised at the different devices the team was using.

"No, no, no; it's JD. Just call me JD, everyone on the team does. As to why these blackberries and not the standard cell phones, well, you can use your cell phone of course, it's just that we've had a little security issue with our communications lately and Vin, he's our sharpshooter you'll get to meet him later on, he's under protective guard with the team, one of us is always with him and he's getting his own blackberry this morning that I keyed in for him, so you need one as well."

Frainier couldn't believe the access the team seemed to have; how was it that they rated the freedom to have whatever technology they wanted as well as to be able to secure it however they wanted. This was the team he needed to be on, such freedom. He concentrated intently on JD's explanation of how to use the blackberry, set up the VPN, how to work the GPS software that was built into the device.

"Can I try this on some of us, to make sure I know how to use it and locate everybody in the team?" he asked innocently.

"Yes, but it would be wise to test with the ones that aren't here, so....why don't you try with Vin and tell me where he is?" JD answered; amazed by the interest this man was showing in the technical equipment. JD lived and breathed this stuff and wasn't able to get any of the intense interest from his own team members that the temp was showing. He was happy to spend as much time with Frainier as he wanted.

"So, where is Vin?"

Frainier pressed some of the buttons and looked for Vin's Blackberry and code name, then looked at the map that showed on the screen and smiled at it, trying to hide his real feelings "He's northbound on Route 52?"

"That's right. Buck's driving him out to Chris' ranch, that's why Chris and Buck aren't here this morning, well, Chris could have just brought Vin out and had Buck here, but Buck needed some time to talk to Vin, kinda repair things - so, well - anyway -- Buck picked Vin up from the hospital and is taking him to Chris'.

'Course we could have settled Vin at our place or maybe Josiah's but Chris insisted the ranch was the best place to keep Vin safe and he wanted to be there as much as possible and since Chris lives there - well, so anyway, Chris is there waiting to help get him settled. You'll get a chance to go out to the ranch probably over the weekend. We'll be working straight through, going over everything for the action next week and you and Vin will want to talk strategy and stuff."

"What did you mean 'repair things'?"


"You said Buck needed to talk to Vin to repair things?"

"Oh, that, yeah, well, there's been some tension but don't worry about it, it's got nothing to do with what you're here for."

As JD bent his head to his task and finished a final tweak on Frainier's blackberry, Frainier's mind was working overtime trying to figure out his place in the team, maybe the tension within the team was the reason they had called him, maybe Chris was looking for a new man, one not so conflictive with the other members of the team, maybe Tanner wasn't the marvel in the world as everybody had told him he was, maybe---

He was about to ask for more information when Josiah, unaware of the conversation, came to the desk to get Frainier to show him the team's locker room and arsenal section. As they were leaving JD gave him his blackberry which Frainier clipped to his belt.

"I'll show you where we secure our weapons and all our gear as well as get you a security pass so you can access the area when you need. Chris expects us all to work at the range at least two to three times per week to keep our skills up - Vin spends a couple hours there every day, I expect you do as well."

Frainier managed to nod in the affirmative, a response that seemed to be exactly what Josiah was looking for as he gave the smaller man a small smile and continued his lecture.

"We also work out on the various obstacle courses and the equipment in the gym. Of course, I'm sure you already know all that and have your own routine."

"Do you spar with each other from time to time? I'd like to have a chance to work out with some of you if that's how you usually do it so I get used to your moves and how you think and act as a unit, make sure I'm effective and all." Frainier kept his voice neutral as he pressed for information on the team.

"Yeah, no problem. Course, if you're anything like Vin, you'll want your own time on the rifle range. We've only done one operation as a team but Vin kinda went into a zone a bit right before it, kept to himself, really focused at the range. Went to the site several times, poured over the drawings of the site we got and made his own. He's very careful and professional, extremely professional about his job."

"Yes, I know, and is he any good at hitting the target?"

"Oh yeah, very good, very careful too, doesn't take the risky shot or the spectacular ones, just cool and collected under pressure."

"Oh, I see, yeah, that gives you a lot of confidence in him" he answered

Josiah's blackberry beeped and he excused himself to talk while they were walking. "Oh, yeah, Chris, he's with me --- okay. I'll let him know. Tell Vin I hope he's feeling better and I'll see him in an hour or so.---- Yep, no problem. ----- No, I'm sure he'll be fine. I'm on my way."

"Okay, Dave, here's the arsenal and our area is through that door and on the left, it says Team 7. Listen, I gotta run, Chris is expecting me at the ranch to take over protection. So I've already got it set up with Milton to get you security access, show him your ID and he'll set you up."

"All right."

With that Josiah hurried away and Frainier watched him go not happy at all with how the morning had started, although he had found out some interesting points about the relationships within the team and been given full access. Turning around he headed inside where he found Milton and as his security access was being completed he thought that maybe things hadn't gone all that bad after all.

+ + + + + + +

Buck kept the car pointed north letting the road slip away under the tires. Next to him securely fashioned in the passenger seat sat Vin, sleepy and sore but safe. In the back seat was a duffel bag with some more things from his apartment as well as his medications and discharge instructions and a gift from JD, his own blackberry. Buck hoped Vin had better luck working his blackberry than he did, darn thing still drove him nuts and he figured Vin had enough of a headache, hope this new contraption didn't add to it.

The trip had been fairly silent as Vin was processing why he was headed to Chris' ranch instead of his own apartment. He didn't understand this team he was now a part of when it came to taking care of each other but he found he didn't dislike it either. His mind processed what Josiah had told him yesterday at the hospital and every now and then he cast side long glances at Buck trying to figure out the man next to him.

Buck for his part was struggling with how to approach the subject of his behavior towards Vin. He knew Vin didn't know about all his assumptions since the beginning of the week but he also knew that if he was truly going to mend the rift he had created he needed to be the one to tell him and apologize. Buck knew that it would be just as easy to start out by saying, "I'm sorry," but somehow, after having had a glimpse into Vin's personal life "I'm sorry" just seemed so pathetic.

Still, they were about halfway to the ranch and, if he didn't say something soon, he'd miss the best chance he was going to have, after this it was back to work planning the upcoming raid and tracking down Vin's attacker and quiet moments with the sharpshooter were going to be hard to come by, so taking a deep breath he readied himself to speak -

"Buck, something on your mind?"

Buck chuckled at the softly drawled words. Taking his eyes of the road he looked over at the figure in the passenger seat and saw Vin staring steadily at him, blue eyes pale with pain and fatigue but not lacking in their intensity. He realized with a start what Chris had seen all along. Those eyes were intense, even when pale, and the intensity was born of the fact that there was no deception in those orbs, they shone with honesty. Buck took a deep breath and then chuckled at the delaying tactic.

"I'm trying to think of a way to apologize for being an ass."

"Seems to me a man should just say what's on his mind straight out."

"I'm sorry for being an ass."

"Was that so hard?"

"I haven't been real nice to you since you joined the team."

Vin snorted softly then grimaced at the jar to his ribs, "Hell, Buck, I already knew that. Work is work as long as we get the job done I figured it's no big deal. I'm used to being alone. It's no big deal." With that Vin gazed out the window keeping silent but Buck could see the pain etched in his profile and he knew the pain wasn't all physical.

Buck looked at him and then thought back on the sad little photo album. It was a big deal. Vin had made a point of putting photos in there of the BBQ. What wasn't in the album told almost as heartbreaking a story as what was, why were there no photos after his mother? Vin didn't have anything that Buck could see that spoke of the years since her death - he knew she had died when he was very young, he remembered JD mentioning something about it - no pictures of his time in the Rangers, only the hand carved box with the medal and the sealed envelope, nothing.

Buck swallowed hard and then dove in; it would either help fix things or break them permanently. He decided it was best to know now and he owed Vin nothing but the truth.

"Well, that's not all; it's more that I jumped to conclusions without the facts. See, when you came up missing on Monday and word reached us of the killing that had occurred during the night and that you were a suspect, I believed that you had actually done it." Buck let the words out in a rush not daring to look at Vin.

"Hell, Vin, I went to Chris and got in his face and accused you of being this rogue agent out there playing the part of vigilante. We were getting word that your blood had been found at the scene where the shooter had set up his latest kill and all I felt was vindicated that I had been right all along and that you were dirty. Well, I felt bad a bit but it wasn't on your behalf, it was because of the faith that the rest of the team had shown you, mostly Chris and the damage that was to be inflicted upon all of them, especially Chris for his faith in you.

Then when we were at The Saloon that night and that poor kid, Samuel we found out his name was, when Samuel came in beaten and stabbed and - and then he died there right in front of us and right before he died he said your name when we asked who did this to him - I - I just ---"

Buck stopped at the sharp intake of breath next to him. He looked to the right and saw Vin's eyes tightly closed, his hand clutched to his ribs his face ashen and tight with pain. Buck reached over and placed a gentle but steadying hand on Vin's arm.

"Hey, take it easy, you need me to stop, need some medicine, is it time for ---"

"He died?"

Buck would have missed the softly whispered words if his concentration hadn't been on his injured team mate. Vin's eyes opened and Buck saw the pain that was more than physical in that gaze.

"Hell, Vin, I'm sorry, I didn't mean to --- yeah, the kid died. I'm so sorry."

Vin closed his eyes again and leaned back against the seat and the door frame. Buck could almost see the slight form closing inward. Slowly he pulled off the road at a little turn off and shut down the engine. After they had sat there silently for a few minutes he started again.

"Look Vin, I said some horrible things and I'll admit, I thought you had hurt that kid and I'm ashamed, real ashamed. That boy didn't die in vain though, I know it seems trite to say but that boy was trying to get help to you. I was so blinded by my mistaken perceptions of you that I hated you right then and there but then later when I got home and saw that you were at my place and - and I saw how hurt you were but I also realized at that moment that somehow you had come to me for help and then, when those cops came to my place and they hurt you, I just started to see red - and then - then Purgatorio, another place that I had formed opinions of that were wrong and I met some people who helped you and I saw your place and - " Buck stopped as he didn't want to reveal all that he had found out about Vin.

He realized how private of a person Vin really was and figured that he wouldn't be real comfortable knowing all that Buck had found out about him and Buck vowed to himself he'd never tell what he did or did not know about the quiet young man from Texas. Buck turned to look at Vin surprised to see Vin staring straight at him. Buck hadn't been willing or able to look at the Texan while he had spoken but apparently Vin had been staring at him. Buck wasn't exactly sure what he saw in Vin's eyes but he didn't see anger, he saw what he believed to be sorrow and confusion and something he couldn't fully identify but it seemed to be resignation.

"That boy was real brave, Vin, I don't know all that he did but I know now he was trying to help you and I'm sorry, more sorry than I've ever been that I doubted you, maybe if I hadn't been so blind that boy wouldn't be -"

"Not your fault Buck, not mine either. I remember seeing Samuel, thought it was just a dream or something from the medicine but now - I guess it was real. Samuel worked as a delivery kid for a pizza place. I have these flashes of seeing Samuel with a pizza and he sees me and then there's this man, don't know who, anyway he realizes Samuel has seen me and Samuel says my name and then the man goes after him ----- then I'm alone but when he comes back I remember seeing a knife and it was covered in blood ---"

Buck watched as Vin closed his eyes tight against the pain of the memory. He wanted to comfort but didn't know that anything he said would. Vin said it was no big deal that Buck had been hurtful but he knew now that it really was. In Vin's apartment there weren't any photos of the people around him in Purgatorio, strange too as they all seemed so connected in their lives and willing to help but the team - the team was Vin's --- and then it dawned on Buck how much he had hurt this man, the team was Vin's family.

Wanting to give Vin some time to process his thoughts he started the car again and pulled back onto the road. They drove in silence a bit longer and just when Buck turned into the entrance to Chris' ranch he stopped under the shade of a tall oak tree. He turned to Vin again and saw the piercing gaze of those blue eyes seeming to look right through him. He gulped again at the memory of all the hateful things he had said and thought.

"Vin, I was an ----"

"An, ass, I heard you the first time, Buck." Vin had struggled with his thoughts and emotions for the 20 more minutes of driving it had taken to reach Chris' place. He was hurt by what Buck had said and while he tried to pretend it didn't matter that there were five other men on the team that didn't think that way about him, the fact was it did hurt. Still Buck was here now, driving him out to Chris', Buck had been there keeping watch over him at the hospital, Buck had protected him back at his apartment, it was Nathan during his second visit to Vin in the hospital who had explained to him that Buck saying those words: "If anyone is going to be taking Tanner in, it's going to be me. He's been getting between me and my friend Chris for way too long now, and he's been rubbing me the wrong way ever since he joined the team" was just to delay the officers so that Nathan could get Vin out of the apartment.

Josiah had made it clear how protective Buck was of Chris and all that their friendship meant and Vin knew that Buck felt very much like a big brother to JD and would protect JD no matter what. Vin was good at sizing up people and he knew that Josiah and Nathan and JD were the talkers in the group. They would tell you how they felt, what they thought and that was how you knew where you stood with them. The others were a lot like him, they would show by doing.

Sure Ezra was a big talker but that was a way of masking what was really going on since most of his talk was either so flowery or it was full of complaints, to understand Ezra one had to watch him, watch what he did. It was Ezra's actions that defined the man. Buck was the same way, he was loud, he was charismatic but behind all that it was his actions that spoke volumes about who he was and what he was thinking.

Vin realized during that little drive the rest of the way to Chris' ranch that Buck was taking a big risk in actually talking to Vin about what he had said and done. Buck would know that Chris would never speak of it to Vin and that Josiah and Nathan and JD were more likely to try to help patch over the wounds rather than to keep the differences raw and festering and Ezra would likely sit back and observe the two men and allow them the space to define their relationship so Buck had no reason to be so straight with him other than he was truly sorry.

Also, Buck likely didn't know that Nathan had imparted another piece of information to Vin about the three of them being together escaping the cops who were intent on injuring Vin; Buck had cleaned up Vin's apartment. Vin initially had cringed at the thought that Buck had seen his meager belongings and worried that the man had seen his photo album and other more private affairs but he realized that this whole trip with Buck bringing him out to Chris' ranch was a planned event. It was planned to give Buck the chance to apologize and not once in his apology had he even hinted to Vin about the things he had seen in his apartment, nor had even spoken of his actions in protecting Vin. Buck had laid his transgressions square at Vin's feet and asked for nothing in return. Vin decided he was going to give something to Buck even though he hadn't asked for it.

Turning to Buck as he said that Buck had been an ass Vin couldn't help but let his mouth twitch slightly in a smile.

Buck looked and saw the slight twitch to Vin's mouth and knew he was being teased.

"So you forgive me?"

"You're family Buck, yeah I forgive you. I don't remember much about what happened but Josiah told me that I made it to your place. I knew you'd be there for me. Hell, I've seen how you take care of JD and if Chris keeps ya around well, ----"

Buck reached out his hand tentatively and was relieved when Vin grasped it in a firm handshake, yeah, family forgives, and Buck vowed that family would protect from here on forward. He'd learned an important lesson about prejudging others; he wouldn't get caught doing it again.

"All right then, family it is. Something else you might need to know about this family you're a part of now, Vin, and that is that one of us is always going to be with you at least until you're better and we catch whoever it is ---"

Buck's sentence was interrupted by the buzzing of his Blackberry at his waist. Grabbing it from his belt he punched in his code, nothing; it kept ringing.

"Come on, you worked before." Again he punched in his code 9696 speaking it out loud as he punched the numbers, again it kept right on ringing.

Vin was watching in mild amusement as Buck angled the device out away from him so as to get a wider view of it and then punched in his code again. After the third try and seeing the blush of red build at Buck's neck and go clear up to his scalp he decided it was time for a little friendly intervention.

"Ah, Buck, why don't you let me give it a try."

Buck looked at the injured man next to him and noticed the twinkle in those blue eyes, wordlessly he handed it over expecting to see Vin similarly rejected by the technological demon.

Instead Vin took the device, looked Buck straight in the eye as he turned the thing right side up and then he dialed in Buck's code while simultaneously voicing the numbers out loud and dang if the ringing didn't stop and he didn't hear Chris' voice coming through the little speaker.

Snatching the communication device back from the smirking sharpshooter he put it to his ear,

"Buck Wilmington here."

"Buck, you and Vin going to sit at the entrance to my place all day or are you going to come up here? Is everything all right?"

"Everything is fine, stud, keeping your saddle on. Me and Vin was just reviewing some things is all."

"Uh-huh, any reason it took you six rings to pick up?"

"Uh, no, did it take six rings - seemed like only two to me."

"Well get up here, Josiah is on his way and I got some news for both of you I want to cover first."

With that Chris disconnected and Buck turned off the mechanism and clipped it back to his belt. Not daring to look at Vin he put the car back in drive and proceeded up the driveway. He could 'feel' Vin's amusement at his inability to punch in the correct code and try as he might to keep a stern expression on his face when he turned to look at Vin just once he saw the grin and the twinkle in those eyes and couldn't contain himself.

As soon as he put the car in park next to Chris' truck he burst out laughing much to Chris' confusion who had come out to wait for them. Looking from Buck who was shaking with laughter to Vin who was grinning from ear to ear but holding his ribs tight against the pain of laughing Chris knew that at least the ride to his place from the hospital had achieved its purpose, the two men had patched up their differences.

"Let's get you inside, Vin. Josiah is on his way out and should be here in about 30 minutes or less."

Vin snorted and realized that Buck was right, he was going to have to learn that family came with some not so comfortable details as well...constant babysitters. Stifling a yawn he shuffled inside and headed for the den, he'd been at Chris' enough times to know that that's where the most comfortable furniture was. Settling into the deep sofa he felt the fatigue hit him and he longed for some rest - actually he was irritated that he longed for the rest so maybe he'd just take a short nap.

After bringing in Vin's few belongings and stashing them in the guest room Buck and Chris found Vin comfortably sprawled on the couch. Buck took a chair at a nod from Chris and then Chris sat on the coffee table so he could look Vin square in the eyes.

"Last night Josiah and Ezra followed the trail of clues you gave him yesterday afternoon. A little after midnight they found the motel room where you had been kept prisoner, seems Ezra's smooth talking and Josiah's ATF badge assisted the night manager in opening up several rooms until they found the room that you had been kept in. At first no one knew that was the room you had been kept in for certain but forensics has been crawling over the room all night and processing everything they could find; there wasn't much. Whoever cleaned the room and vacated it knew what they were doing, no fingerprints, no hairs, no footprints, nothing except two critical items one of which was intentionally left, the other had been missed.

It seems you did a little bleeding while you were in the room. Forensics found traces of blood and matched it to your rare type, so while it's not conclusive because a DNA profile hasn't been established, it is enough to link you to that room along with your memory trail that led Josiah and Ezra to it and the one item that was intentionally left in the room."

Here Chris paused allowing Vin and Buck a moment to process what he had shared so far.

"And, what was that item, Chris," Buck prodded from his chair next to the couch while Vin just kept his eyes locked on Chris'.

"Vin's rifle."

Vin's eyes widened in confusion and he kept his gaze locked on Chris' waiting for the explanation.

"Someone had used your rifle, Vin - I'm not talking about your ATF issue rifle that you keep locked in the arsenal, but your Ranger rifle - whoever it is that abducted you used your Ranger rifle from your apartment.

"No one has touched that ---" Vin's voice trailed off. He watched as Chris and Buck exchanged meaningful glances.

"What - what else ain't you telling me?"

"The only thing I'm leaving out is that Buck and I are headed to the office and you are officially remaining here under the watchful and heavy handed if need be protection of Josiah. We aren't leaving until he gets here. Vin, we've got a raid coming early next week, just want you to know that we're bringing in a little temporary assistance while you're recovering. You'll meet him over the weekend when we conference this out here - well, actually you've already met him."

In answer to Vin's quizzical expression Chris gave a small smile, "David Frainier is temporarily on assignment to our team while you're recovering and he'll be out here this weekend to review all the procedures and set up with you and the rest of us, so relax."

"Hmmm, not likely I'll relax, Larabee, you don't know much if you think a team's sharpshooter relaxes when another man is doing his job."

"Just remember, pard, I told you it's temporary and you'll get to review every set up and detail prior to the action."

Vin shrunk down into the soft couch not liking this development at all, sure he remembered what he'd seen of Frainier's shoot, the guy was good, still, it didn't set too well with him knowing his team wasn't under his protection.

Chris and Buck moved off to give Vin some space to process this news and stood at the edge of the room talking.

"So, Chris, when do you think is the right time to tell him that whoever used his rifle killed not only a dealer but Moses Landy?"

"Hell if I know, Buck, there's never a good time to tell a friend that someone they respect and knew has died, especially not in such a violent way, but to know that his own rifle was the deliverer of the fatal bullet? It would be bad enough if it had been Vin's finger on the trigger and Moses had accidentally stepped in front of the bullet, but to know that someone else touched his rifle? I don't know a lot about Rangers and snipers, they're a breed apart, but I've met enough arsenal chiefs to know that snipers are mighty touchy about who handles their rifles."

"Yeah, just don't like having to heap more bad news on him."

"Me either, let's just let him rest for now, later on will be soon enough."

The two men stood guard as Vin slowly succumbed to the exhaustion that discharge from the hospital and the drive to the ranch had induced. After Josiah arrived and had been brought up to speed on what Vin and did not know Buck and Chris headed to town, there was a bust to prep for.

As they drove down the highway Chris had a moment to reflect, when he'd been tapped to head up this team by Judge Travis and had started assembling his men he had no idea they would be this busy this fast. They were on track for two busts in less than two weeks, had managed to have their sharpshooter abducted, set up for vigilante killings, cleared him, found him and now had him under protective cover while his abductor remained on the loose, Chris didn't want to guess at what could be around the corner.


Somehow it fell to him, somehow it always seemed to fall to him, not that he minded but in all the years and all the teams he had been a part of these difficult moments always seemed to fall to him and it never, no never got any easier. He knew that he'd have to do it the moment he checked on the sleeping form just before lunch and found that the form wasn't sleeping but rather was wide awake and concentrating on a problem; it didn't take a genius to figure out what that problem likely was.

So he had made his presence known and Vin had fixed him with those piercing blue eyes and began lobbing question after question: Buck said there was a killing the Monday I disappeared, where, who? Buck said he suspected me as the rogue agent who had gone vigilante, are there more deaths besides Samuel? Samuel wasn't killed by my rifle yet someone took it and I already figured it was used in the failed attempt on Judge Travis, were there others?

Josiah had had little choice but to fill Vin in on the whole back story, how the dealer had been shot in the head in Purgatorio in the middle of the night that Vin had been taken, that Denver PD had searched Vin's apartment looking for his Ranger rifle as ballistics had matched up the bullet to one of three rifles registered in the Denver area and two were accounted for, to the prior killings by a different rifle but similar in scenario -- criminals who had gotten off on technicalities or who the ATF just couldn't quite finger with enough evidence to demand a warrant.

Vin had guessed there was more to the story, the cops wouldn't like vigilante justice and after Samuel's death there might have been some kind of an outcry but it was unlikely as Purgatorio was not well regarded by the uppity ups in the city and while the neighborhood itself would mourn and possibly give an outcry for justice there wouldn't be much of a reaction, besides the attempt on Judge Travis - an event that would push the PD and the city's government into high gear didn't happen until after the PD had searched his apartment and linked him as the possible vigilante, so what was the triggering event that caused the police to leap into high gear and get a ballistics check in under eight hours after a middle of the night murder in Purgatorio of a known criminal.

Josiah was a strong man, physically, mentally, emotionally, heck yes, even spiritually even if his spiritual strength was a might dinged and dented, but he was no match for the unflinching stare of Vin Tanner. He didn't even hesitate save to draw in a deep and mournful breath and then he laid the last detail bare for Vin, Moses Landy.

At that moment any color or healing that had begun for the sharpshooter took an immediate back seat to the pain, grief and yes, Josiah saw it clearly, the guilt, as if the fact that his very own Ranger rifle had been the instrument of death somehow meant that Vin had pulled the trigger. Josiah was experienced with grief and experienced enough to know that it was best to leave Vin to his own company for a while, so he stood, passed near to Vin and rested his hand gently yet solidly on Vin's shoulder for a moment feeling the anger, pain, rage, confusion and sorrow in the trembling frame, then squeezing gently he moved past and took up a seat just outside the den, far enough away to give Vin space, near enough to give him comfort.

+ + + + + + +

The table in the conference room was covered with files and copies of the warehouse's blueprints. The prints had circles in the places Vin thought to be possible places for Frainier to hide himself and best protect the team.

Over the past few days Vin had marked three possible spots for it was difficult to pick one as not being able to go to the warehouse and see for himself. Despite his pleading, begging and almost groveling to Nathan to take him for just one hour to view the warehouse, Nathan held firm knowing perfectly well that even such a seemingly innocent trip would make Vin's recovery slower and Nathan was strict with Vin's rest to the point of trying to slip him a sleeping pill once to ensure the man got the necessary rest but quickly decided to not try that again as both Vin and Chris caught him in the act and Nathan wasn't sure which glare was more dangerous.

So Vin worked hard making special drawings, imagining the scene that would unfold below the spots and making certain that any of them would be as good as the others. Despite all of Nathan's and the rest of the team's best efforts to keep tabs on the recovering sharpshooter he managed to work very late with the drawings and had finally imagined what the warehouse looked like through the schematics and the photographs JD had taken the day before from the different places Vin had indicated as acceptable locations for Frainier. JD stayed and worked alongside Vin explaining in detail over and over again what he had scene, heard, how the boards creaked, the strength of the railings everything until both of them were sound asleep at the table in Chris' kitchen.

Luckily for them and for Nathan - who probably would have had a near stroke at finding Vin sleeping upright at the kitchen table in the middle of the night - it was Chris who found them having come out to the kitchen for some orange juice in the middle of the night. Chuckling quietly he roused first Vin who sleepily yet willingly allowed himself to be helped to his bed and eased under the covers and then returned to the kitchen and roused an equally sleepy and willing JD whom he managed to get onto the couch in the den and covered with a blanket before shuffling back to bed forgetting all about his wish for some orange juice.

Now, it was Monday morning and the team was gathered around the conference table in the office and Chris was talking to them while Vin, who was still in the ranch with Nathan, listened by speaker phone.

"So this is what Mr. Crawford will be waiting to see" explained Ezra while showing them the fire arms they'd baited Crawford's men with "and he and his right-hand man, Mr. Lancing, along with two more people, will be joining us in the first floor of that warehouse." And as he placed his finger in the place where they'd put the containers he said "here is where we will be standing and waiting for them, Mr. Wilmington and I here with the crates and Mr. Sanchez in here with the van, so I think the spot Mr. Tanner indicated is perfect for Mr. Frainier." he looked now to Chris to allow him to continue.

Dave couldn't waste his opportunity as this concerned him as much as the others, so he spoke up "The spot that Tanner and I indicated is perfect."

Dave couldn't help himself. To think that they all seemed to believe that Tanner was this - this - he didn't know what they thought and didn't care. He had gone to the location and drawn detailed diagrams of the layout, he had worked out firing angles at the range and in simulation, he had sighted his rifle to within a micro millimeter of its capabilities, and here they were, a little over 30 hours away from the take down and he was getting none of the recognition for his work and Tanner, the laid up invalid over 40 miles away was getting all the credit. Well, come tomorrow night we'll see who they credit and who they ignore.

"Thanks Ezra; now, all of you have a copy of the files with pictures of the people connected to Crawford, their names and what links them to him. You also have the positions everyone will be in on Tuesday night in that warehouse. Read them if you didn't do it by now. We'll have a final meeting in the morning." He dismissed them but kept Nathan and Vin on the line.

"Nathan, we need to make sure Vin will be safe tomorrow night, what do you suppose is the best thing to do?"

"You could just ask the 'him' you's referring to seeing as I can hear you jist fine."

"Thanks for that update, Tanner, I believe I was talking to Nathan, however, I'll take your suggestion under advisement." Chris grinned as he could imagine the gestures that Vin was making for his benefit and then cleared his throat, "Nathan?"

"I'm thinking the best thing is to have him at the office; he won't get any rest at your place and at least with him patched into our conversations we can sort of keep an eye on him. I'm sure Judge Travis will secure our floor with some agents."

"I would say so, Nathan. Okay. So I'll have JD set Vin up so that he can monitor everything from here, did you hear that, Vin?"

"Yeah..." came the reply "it's not like I'm helpless ya know, I can hear, 'n talk, 'n even walk mostly upright. I can toilet m'self 'n feed m'self 'n --Ya know I hate this!"Vin was obviously having a hard time not being able to be on his own, though he was grateful everybody cared about him, but he wasn't used to all the family ties, he liked it, but he longed also being free.

"Be patient Vin, everything will return to normal when you get better and we get the man that framed you" said Chris "until then, you are under our protection and we'll make sure you comply to the rules, like it or not, got it?"

"Yeah, yeah, yeah, you know you sound like a broken record, Cowboy"

"What part of 'don't call me Cowboy' do you not get Vin?" he answered with a smile on his face, figuring Vin couldn't see it. Still his voice betrayed him."I kin see you're smiling from the sound of your voice, so... m'be the whole part wasn't clear enough... Cowboy" and before Chris could say something in reply, he cut the call.

Chris looked at the phone with surprise "He cut me off, that's a new one... where are we gonna go after this!"

(Tuesday night at the warehouse:)

His heart pounded in his ribcage, his skin tingled with sensations from the air, he could feel the adrenaline flowing through his veins, warming his whole body and making his senses sharper. He started to hear the noises he couldn't normally hear, he started to see inside the shadows, he started to smell the different scents of the air; he felt aware.

The feeling that he always felt at times like this seeped into his physical being and heightened all his senses. He felt, like he always felt in the same circumstances; he felt like God. He had the power to decide who would live and who would die tonight, and the only thing he needed to do was press his finger and, just like God, he'd signal the destiny of the souls in that warehouse. They where under his will....life was good...

He hit the send button on his blackberry and waited, after some seconds a message came back "Ok, got it, keep still, remember, don't kill unless necessary", he sent an "Ok" to answer and kept still, enjoying the increase to his senses.

(Outside the warehouse:)

"I can see them now Nathan, can you?" asked JD as he saw the black van approaching the corner.

"Ok, I'll send the setup message to the boys in there" answered Nathan and sent the message

The van entered the warehouse and two men descended from the front seats while four others got out from the back and closed the door.

"I don't like that," Nathan muttered, "We didn't think there would be that many; now, they're on their own."

"Don't worry, I have the heat detector, will see through it if something happens, hopefully everything will be alright" JD tried to cool Nathan's feelings a bit

(Back at Team 7's office:)

Vin was receiving all the messages the team was exchanging through their new devices, and had a fair idea of what was going on in the warehouse. He had the blueprints with him, and a set of chess pawns, black and white, to signal the positions of the team and Crawford's men. He placed the white pawns and waited to know when the others come into play anxiously he kept watching the messages on his Blackberry waiting to update his board.

Message from JD to Dave: "I don't like it, too many people there, we expected three; there are six"

At this last message, Vin started to write, he needed to advise Frainier before everything went downhill from now.

Message from Vin to Dave: "where's their van?"

Message from Dave to Vin: "close to door, four + Crawford, 3 close back door, 1 by Crawford"

Message from Vin to Dave: "focus on 3, arms there, possible grenades"

Message from Dave to Vin: "got it"

He smiled, it was all set then, hopefully he'd follow the advice.

(Inside the warehouse:)

"Well, well, well, what do we have here?" asked the big muscled man on the right side of Crawford

"Just take a deep breath and cool yourself a bit Swanson, go and see what you can find to entertain yourself while I do my duty here" asked Crawford in annoyance "I'm sorry for his behavior Mr. Stanton, but he's a bit... how can I say this?... he doesn't like strangers..." said Crawford with a sigh

"Don't feel so dreadful, we will not be strangers for too long Mr. Crawford, I believe our future to be bright with many business ventures and your associate will warm to our presence. Now, shall we proceed with our transaction?" Ezra nodded to Buck and Josiah who approached the back of their van and produced two boxes and removing from them a pair of bags containing the drugs they were supposed to trade for the fire arms.

"You will find this to be of the highest quality, now what do you have for us?" asked Ezra, still conducting the meeting in his usual way

Crawford nodded to his goons in the back of the van and they brought a long box from which they took out one of the long range rifles they were supposed to trade tonight, after that they approached Ezra and handed him the rifle. Ezra looked Chris' way and he walked to his side, took the rifle and inspected it with an accurate touch. He then took the box with the bullets and filled the cartridge, and with fast movements he took position, looked through the crosshairs and fired the rifle. A smile appeared on his face, he nodded to Ezra and handed him the rifle that was the signal everybody was waiting for.

From up above Dave caught sight of movement that was not part of the signal the team had been waiting for. Unnoticed by the others, two of the perps were slowly easing guns out from under their jackets. With little thought Dave knew exactly what he needed to and now it was time. He looked through the site of his rifle, and found the exact spot he needed. He fired once, twice, three times. And as soon as it had started, it was finished. He closed his eyes, now was the time, he wanted to know, what was like to be a part of this team, his team. His ears registered the shouts from down there, he was confused for a moment, he'd been so sure...

"What the hell!" it was Buck's voice, mixed with surprise and joy "Never seen something like that in my whole life!"

"Yeah... oh boy! Come down Dave you did it alright! What a shot!" it was Buck's greeting of Frainier that took him out of his trance.

Chris was surprised to see Buck's reaction to Frainier's shots; he never reacted this way to Vin's. But he had to recognize that Frainier did an amazing show, shooting the two perps as they were producting guns and then Swanson in the hand as he reacted to the first shot. They were on the floor wounded in their legs, Crawford and his other bodyguard just held their hands in the air, not wanting to be the next ones, five seconds after the first shot it ended. You could say it rested all on Frainier's shoulders, a perfect job, and all the men alive and willing to talk.

Josiah got them cuffed and as the paramedics and the other police officers that were on hand as backup and the members of Team 3 came into the warehouse they were on their way back to the office or to the hospital for care under heavy guard.

Frainier descended the stairs calmly, deep breaths coming and going through his nose, he'd have to face Chris. He hadn't heard Chris comment on anything, and he felt like a third grade student the day the teacher was handing back the first test's results. "Deep breaths, everything's gonna be fine"

He reached the first floor and faced Buck, Josiah and JD each greeting him enthusiastically "You did it Dave! Real good!"

"When I saw there were six of them, and just you up there... I thought we were lost, called backup and all, talked to Vin..." JD usual barrage of talk continued as the men rounded up the evidence, tagged and secured it and signed off on Team 3's leader taking it back to headquarters.

Before long they were all inside the van heading back to the office, Josiah driving with Chris up front in the passenger seat reviewing the nights efforts with Judge Travis.

Buck reached across and clapped Dave on the shoulder, "you really did a great job tonight, Dave. I mean, we expect this from Vin, he's our team's sharpshooter, but for a guy on temporary assignment, you did real well."

Dave preened a bit as Buck added some more praise to his earlier enthusiastic response, however, his face darkened briefly when reminded he was only there 'on temporary assignment.' Realizing his mistake he quickly slipped his 'mask' back into place and glanced quickly around to see if any of the others had noticed but since it was late at night and the interior of the van was dark he was safe; no one had seen him slip.

Before long Josiah was parking the van in the ATF garage and all the men climbed out, they were silent now, gone was the post action need for chatter, the adrenaline having drained away from their systems, now they were faced with the task of writing up a preliminary summary of the evening's action. Chris believed that each individual needed to write their own preliminary report encompassing all that they had seen, heard and participated in while it was still fresh in their mind.

After that was done they could go home. Tomorrow would begin the individual debriefs and finally the team after action report where everyone gathered and reviewed all the points that were raised in their preliminary reports and individual debriefs. Once all that was completed the final report would be drafted, reviewed and finally submitted.

Still, one look at Vin's exhausted form greeting them at the office caused Chris to rethink his plan slightly. He needed everyone to write their preliminary reports but he figured it best to get Vin back to the ranch and as he looked around the office he realized he only had one option. Josiah and JD were busy returning the van they had used to transport back and forth to the scene as well as ensuring the surveillance van as well as the confiscated van from Crawford were properly logged in and then would need to bring up the team's surveillance gear, Nathan and Buck were busy returning the teams weapons to the arsenal and logging in any unused ammunition and Ezra was busy coordinating the logging and storage of all the evidence that left only Chris and Frainier to return to Team 7's office where an exhausted Vin met them, Chris switched to plan B.

"Frainier, I know you're tired, and I need your preliminary report to be written tonight but I also need someone to take Vin back out to the ranch. Why don't you drive him out there and take your ready bag you can stay over night on my couch in the den. After you get Vin settled in type up your prelim on the lap top I keep there, Vin will show you where it is Also, if you have any questions on the preliminary report regarding how to format it or anything, ask Vin and he'll show you where everything is."

With that Vin found himself handed off once more to yet another baby sitter but at this point he was so tired he didn't care. For his part Frainier didn't know whether to be thrilled or insulted; thrilled to be given such trust, insulted because one again he was being isolated from the team. Realizing he wasn't paying attention and that Chris was still talking he focused once more.

"... and Vin knows the alarm code to get in so he'll take care of that and if you're hungry, there's stuff in the fridge, also Vin needs his meds and don't let him fool you into thinking he doesn't and I'll be there in a few hours and like I said, I'll need your report so just leave it on the kitchen table for me."

Frainier took in all the information and watched as Tanner and Larabee gave each other tired but meaningful grins and then gripped each other's forearms in a firm grasp before parting ways. Chris didn't even give him a backward glance so he was left with Vin already shuffling towards the elevator and he found himself having to hurry slightly to catch up.

+ + + + + + +

Outside Chris' ranch the wind lashed the side of the house causing the rain to fall in sheets and pound the windows. Frequently a flash of lightning would crackle through the sky illuminating the night sky as if it were daylight and casting eerie shadows across the open area between the house and the barn.

A loud boom filled the air and the rumble of thunder was so profound it could be felt within one's chest. Vin peered out the window, seeking a clear view of the barn. The doors were closed securely against the elements, weren't they? He'd feel better if he could just get a clear view that the door to the hayloft was secure and that Peso's window was latched tightly, darn mule headed horse hated the banging of the window and he'd be spooked enough with all the thunder and lightning - what -

[creak ---- bang ---- creak ---- bang]

Damn, the back door has gotten loose again, and he'd secured that himself, not like the barn, now, dang it if he hadn't been ordered - hmph, ordered - well, anyway, the barn had been secured for him. At least he hoped so.

Levering himself up from his vigil at the window Vin slowly padded across the room and headed down the narrow hall to the back mud room door to secure it, he'd have to replace that troublesome latch for sure. After securing the door tight for the second time in under 30 minutes, Vin paused to rest, he couldn't believe how tired he was and was frustrated by how achy he felt and almost winded by just walking these few yards.

Hey, replacing the latch, that would be a great idea, Chris would appreciate having that little chore accomplished and Vin would feel better about contributing something after having been cooped up at Chris' ranch, not that he didn't enjoy the open space, fresh air and fantastic view, still there was something about not being able to come and go as one pleased that had him frustrated.

Here it was almost 2 a.m. and while Vin had dozed off for a little while in the guest room he was awakened by the storm and had come out to watch the weather from the large window in the great room. In trek to the great room had taken him right past Frainier who had been finishing his report at the kitchen table and he had agreed to go outside and secure the barn once Vin announced he was going to do it, that left Vin to hold vigil in the house. Frainier had shortly after and had since disappeared leaving Vin to continue watchin Mother Nature's fury.

Ever since a small boy Vin had loved nature in all her manifestations, calm, peaceful, threatening, teasing, and all out fury. The raw onslaught of the wind, water, lightning all untamed and yet harnessed by their own unique laws constantly amazed him and he never tired of watching

Slowly, wearily Vin started making his way back down the hallway after having secured the mud room door once again. He stumbled slightly and had to grab onto the wall to stop from pitching to the floor. Dang, when did Larabee get a bump in his floor? As he steadied himself against the wall he looked down the hallway, damn, the hallway seemed to stretch unendingly in front of him and appeared to be spinning as well as getting darker by the moment. He shook his head and felt a wave of nausea roll over him maybe having Frainier fix him up a bowl of Nettie's homemade soup wasn't such a good idea ...

+ + + + + + +

Close to an hour later a drenched and exhausted Chris Larabee returned to his home. He'd driven home in the pouring rain and the rumbling thunder and flashing lightning. Upon arriving home he'd parked his truck close to the house and was about to dash for the door when a banging sound caught his attention. Reopening the truck and grabbing the spotlight he kept handy in the front he shone the light toward the sound, sure enough one of the stall windows had broken free from its latch and was swinging in the breeze, it was a breeze now since most of Mother Nature's fury had passed by leaving only a steady and soaking rain.

Scowling slightly Chris jogged across the lawn tried to secure the window from the outside. Finding that impossible he entered the barn grabbed some baling twine and fashioned a loop around the inner handle and tied it off on the rail to the side. Patting the quiet but relieved Pony reassuringly on the neck he turned off the light, closed up the barn and jogged back across the yard finally squishing to a halt at his front door.

Deactivating the alarm he entered the dark and quiet house and then reactivated the alarm hearing the confirming beep. Slipping through the darkened interior he shucked off his wet clothes, hopped in the shower and steamed away the evening activity as well as the resulting chill from Nature's soaking. Ten minutes later, dressed in sweats a t-shirt and socks he padded through his house and prepped coffee for the morning, checked his answering machine, still empty thankfully, and saw Frainier's typed report on the kitchen table.

Too tired to read it he opted for a quick glass of orange juice and, sipping that as he walked, he check first on Vin in the guest room. Opening the door he saw the sharpshooter on the bed in the light from the hall. Stepping into the room further he listened and heard the even breathing of the deeply sleeping man. Exiting that room he headed back down the hall and turned down the short hall to the den and cracked that door open a little letting in some light from the hall behind him, as his eyes adjusted he saw the sleeping form of Frainier stretched out on the couch and heard the telltale sound of regular breathing indicating deep sleep.

Satisfied Chris headed back to the kitchen, finished his juice, rinsed the glass and stuck it in the dishwasher and then with a yawn and a back cracking stretch he softly walked to his own room turning out any lights as he went and slipped into bed falling asleep almost instantly.


Silvia and Laurel