Disclaimer: No money is being made from this story. No one could live on the wages I'd get from one story a year anyway!
I literally dreamed up this idea. All mistakes are mine. And I've heard you should never write 'phonetic speech', but it's just so much fun with Vin that I can't help myself. Oh, and there's an OFC, too, but I tried to keep her basically harmless. Hope you enjoy!
Vin Tanner strolled along the sidewalk. Well, maybe strolled wasn't the best description of his uneven hobble. But after being cooped up for two weeks after being shot in the leg, and four more weeks after that in a cast because of the broken bone, and now being free of the crutches for the first time since he'd started physical therapy three weeks ago - it felt like strolling, even with the cane he sported.
He whistled some original tune, difficult with the smile on his face. The spring air wasn't truly warm yet - but it held that promise. And he was headed in to work for the first time in all those weeks. He shook his head, grinning to himself. It was sad when heading in for a day of being chained to the desk typing reports and painstaking research looked so good.
He was waiting at the corner for the light when he heard a young boy shout from across the street. "Aunt Jolie! Aunt Jolie! That's my 'at-eff' man!"
A red-headed boy of no more than four or five darted out into the street just as a little green sedan rounded the corner.
Vin's mind registered the woman's shout as he threw himself forward, heedless of his wounded leg. Launching himself from his cane, he swept the boy into his arms and twisted sharply back into the curb. He heard a disturbing crunch and a child's cry, and then his head connected with something solid and rough, and everything went dim.
"Are you okay?"
The voice faded in and out a bit, like his vision. The boy! He struggled to pull himself up.
"Hold on there. You just lay back and take it easy. Everyone's okay, but you took a pretty hard hit to the head," the woman said. Her long auburn hair swooped over one shoulder as she leaned over him. She kept him still with one hand on his chest and one on his shoulder.
"The boy? He alright?" Vin looked up into the woman's deep brown eyes, blinking as she became twins for a moment.
"Yes, Dalton's shook up, but he's fine."
He closed his eyes for a moment to stop the spinning. "I heard a crunch. I thought -"
"Well, I think you can forget about using that cane anymore. But if that's the worst of it, we've been very lucky." It sounded like the scare had knocked the air out of her.
He let his shoulders ease back with relief, then opened his eyes and waved her off. "I'm fine now, you can let me up."
"Are you sure? Can you tell me your name?"
"Vin Tanner, ma'am."
She stared blankly a moment before responding. "Good. And who is the President?"
"George Bush - W."
"What's the date?"
"April 15, 2003. You a doctor or something?"
She smiled and helped him sit up carefully. "Or something. I'm a nurse at Denver General." She held a hand out to him. "My name is Jolie Martin, and I can't thank you enough for saving my nephew like you did. Are you sure you feel okay? You really should be checked out by a doctor."
Vin started to shake his head, then thought better of it. "Nah, I'll have our team medic check me out, but I'm sure I'm okay."
"Wait. Team medic? What is it you do?" Jolie asked, her slim brows furrowed.
"'m a ATF agent, work in the office just up the street here," he said with a wave of his hand.
He glanced up and saw a peculiar expression dawn on her face just before the light from the mid-morning sun sliced into his vision. He hoped Nathan didn't ask about that. Or about the buzzing in his head.
"Somethin' I said, ma'am?" he grinned, leaning forward. At least the crowd had pretty much cleared out. He hated being gawked at.
"Dalton. Dalton, come here, honey," she said, reaching out beside her but never taking her eyes from Vin's face. "It's alright. Everything's okay."
He smiled at the little boy who sidled into her embrace, looking shyly at him. The boy's blue eyes went wide, too, and Vin swiped at his face, wondering if he were cut somewhere and bleeding.
"You wearlly are my at-eff man!" the boy whispered.
Vin rubbed the side of his head. A knot had already started to form, and all the more he could make out of this conversation, he wondered if a doctor's visit might not be warranted after all. "Yer what?"
Dalton looked at his aunt and began to chew on his thumbnail. Jolie rubbed the boy's back. "His 'at-eff' man, you know - A-T-F? You really are an ATF agent!"
Something still wasn't connecting. "Thes' right, ma'am, but -"
"Here," the woman said, twisting to bring the boy's other hand from behind her. She pulled a doll from his hand. "See, you're the spitting image of Dalton's Agent Tanner action figure!"
She held the doll forward and he took it from her to examine. Sure enough, though the physique was more like one of those WWF wrestlers, the face was like his own. Right down to the slight bump on his nose from when he'd broken it in a street fight when he was 15, and the scar under his eye from a perp that got too close with a knife in his bounty-hunting days. It even had real hair. Well, that Barbie-doll stuff, not the plastic kind like the Ken-doll. Oh, and there were even some waves in the hair by his neck. He hated those. It was part of the reason he wore his hair longer - the shorter he cut it, the curlier it was.
Vin scrambled to his feet, ignoring Jolie's protests. He swayed a little until he gained his balance, and headed down the street with an unbalanced, lurching gait.
The coincidence was too much.
"Whoa, there, Junior!"
Vin turned with a raised fist as Buck grabbed his shoulder. "Where's Chris?"
Buck backed off with his hands raised. "In a meeting with Orrin. What's put a burr in your saddle?"
"THIS!" he said, thrusting his likeness into Buck's face. "I want answers!"
Buck smoothed his mustache. "Well, ya ain't hardly asked the question yet. Now - VIN!"
Everything swam and tilted and Vin felt himself slide to the left as his body tried to right itself. Then a strong arm across his shoulders held him steady. A chair appeared and he was eased down into it.
Vin felt Buck move the hair above his ear and winced as his fingers brushed the bump there. Slowly his fading vision returned, and he found himself staring at his shoes with Buck's hand on his back. He pushed himself upright.
"You just hold on there, now. You dang near fainted on me and believe me, you're not as scrawny as ya look. Keep your head down until it passes," Buck ordered.
He thought about arguing that he didn't "faint" but Buck was pushing his head down again. He heard Nathan come in and soon felt an ice pack where his head had cracked the pavement. Vin evened his breathing and soon felt back on solid ground.
"Now what is it that has you so riled up, Junior?"
Vin handed Buck the doll he still held in his fist. "This. The Agent Tanner doll. You guys must've thought this'd be some big joke. But some little kid 'bout got run over this morning -"
"What?" Nathan pulled the ice pack away to look down at him.
"Nah, he's okay, Nathan. I just - well, he's okay."
The cold pressed against the welt again. "Right. You just ran out on that leg a' yours that ain't hardly started to heal and saved the day. Where is your cane, anyway? Don't you even tell me you don't have that cane with you," Nathan said.
Vin glared up at him. Or tried his best, given his aching head. "'Course I did. It jes' landed under a tire when I's grabbin' the boy. But ya'all are missing the point - "
"Which would be what, Mr. Tanner?" Ezra waltzed in, files in one hand and a mug of coffee in the other.
Vin jumped to his feet, breaking away from the hands that tried their best to stay him. "You! This all has Ezra 'P is for Parsimonious' Standish written all over it," he said, pointing at the undercover agent.
JD had wandered in behind. "Parsimonious? Geez, Vin, you been hanging out with Ezra again?"
Ezra moved to his desk and sat, resting his heels on a small cabinet. He sipped his coffee, furiously unruffled. "I do prefer 'prudent'. But I still have no earthly idea of what you're referring to."
Buck cleared his throat and Vin turned, seeing him run a hand over his hair and down his face. "Guess the jig is up, Ezra. He knows about the dolls."
"It wasn't that we were trying to keep anything from ya, Vin," JD protested. "It's not a joke."
"Good, 'cause it ain't funny," Vin said.
Buck moved over to lean on Ezra's desk within arm's reach of Vin. "It all came around about what, a year ago? Maybe a year and a half. Anyway, Ezra was just getting things pulled together on this deal, and then we were gonna tell ya."
"See?" JD interrupted.
Buck quieted him with a 'let me handle this' look. "But then we had that big bust just downtown and you took a hit, remember? You were so bad off, Vin, that - " His mustache twitched a bit and he wouldn't meet Vin's gaze. "Well, we weren't sure for awhile you were even gonna pull through, and we kind of forgot about everything. By the time you were in recovery, things were in production and it just never really came up."
"But how kin ya get that far without m' own say-so?" Vin's voice sounded funny, even to his own ears. Where was that chair?
"Maybe I can explain the business angle of it," Ezra said, waving him into the chair Nathan pulled forward. "But you really should be seated first. I declare you look as pale as paste."
Vin nodded his thanks and sat down. Yes, being lower to the ground felt much better. He held the ice pack against his head to ease the throbbing.
Ezra moved his feet and leaned forward over his desk, fingertips together as in one conducting a business transaction. "You see, Mr. Travis came to me looking for suggestions for fundraising to benefit the children of ATF agents who are killed or wounded in the line of duty. It seems donations have been low and he's aware of my notable business acumen, so naturally -"
"Git on with it, Ez," Vin said, rubbing his head.
"Yes, well, I suggested that with all the rage over real-life heroes, that we could present ourselves as such."
"Action-figures, Mr. Tanner. Action figures." Ezra tapped his fingers on the blotter.
"We stand for truth and justice and brotherhood and teamwork," JD explained. "I remember playing with GI Joes when I was a kid, growin' up without no pa. Hey, that reminds me - "
"Heard it!" The guys spoke as one voice.
"Well, anyway," he continued. "I think it's great for boys to have someone like us to look up to, so if this does that for even one kid, it's worth it."
Vin huffed and held the doll up to examine it again. Just a little freaky, like looking at some voodoo doll. "Can't imagine Chris goin' on with it," he said.
Buck cleared his throat and again looked at the floor, speaking quietly. "I couldn't either. But once Ezra and Orrin met with us and had the sketches and everything laid out, he just said, 'Sarah would have loved it' and got up and left."
A silent pause left each man to his own thoughts for a moment before Vin continued.
"I kin understand ol' Ez having his angle - no offense - but the rest a' ya'all I jes can't figure."
Buck stretched out to slap him on the leg. "Who else is gonna fill the nights for poor, lonesome Barbie when Ken's ignoring her with all the time he spends at the office? Who's gonna provide the comfort she'll need when he runs off with PJ, his new secretary?"
Vin looked at him and grinned. "Dang, Bucklin - who'd ya grow up playin' Barbies with?"
"I wasn't crazy about the idea myself when Ezra first brought it up," Nathan said. "But I have to admit, seeing the sales reports on your doll and mine alone, Vin - it's given a huge boost to the widows' and orphans' fund."
"Of course it did," Ezra said. "Do you think I would associate my name with anything less than great success?" He grinned, his gold tooth catching the light from the window.
"Right," Josiah deadpanned. He turned to Vin. "I agree with Nathan, but it was wrong that you haven't been told before this." He took the figure from Vin's grasp. "You have to admit, though, it is a great likeness. Hope mine turns out so well."
Buck pulled the doll from Josiah's hand. "Least you got nice, purty hair for the little gals to comb. The rest of us, 'cept the Kid get the Ken-head plastic hair."
Vin thrummed his fingers against his knee, which had started to ache with the workout he'd given it earlier. "So, Ez...it ain't too late to cut a little cut of my own on this deal is there?"
Ezra leaned forward even further, surprise in his widened eyes. "Vin, I assure you, there's no profit being made. You surely can't believe that I'd - "
"Nah, I know that, Ez. I's jest wonderin' if I kin get five 'r ten of the complete sets? Like t' send 'em down t' the Our Lady of Hope - Texas Home for Orphaned Boys. They's good t' me there," he said.
Then his voice dropped a little as he took the doll back, flipping its curls. He smiled, remembering that as the only place he'd lived as a kid that hadn't even suggested he cut his hair beyond the ordinary trim. "Let 'em see I turned out alright, give the boys still there a little somethin' t' pin their dreams on."
He watched Ezra swallow hard and nod. "Sure." He cleared his throat. "Surely, Mr. Tanner. I can arrange to have that happen. And if there is anywhere else you can think of that might benefit from the toys, you let me know. I'll take care of everything."
"So, you're okay with this, Vin?" Josiah asked.
Vin nodded and handed the ice pack to Nathan. His head still felt a little foggy, but at least the dull throb had stopped.
"Agent Tanner?" Mrs. Allen, the front office secretary, said, rapping lightly on the doorframe. "There's a young woman and a little boy here to see you?"
Buck's face broke into a huge grin. "Woohoo, Junior! What's this all about?"
"The boy's aunt. Reckon she's here fer the doll - this here 'action figure'." Vin emphasized with a shake and a wave of his hand. "Send 'er in, ma'am."
He turned his chair and stood uneasily as Jolie walked in with Dalton. He could have sworn he heard Bucklin's jaw drop. The woman slid into the office, dark auburn hair cascading around her and over a purple blouse with those wide ruffles at the v-shaped neckline and cuffs. She wore a lavender skirt than defined her long, slender legs, tapering down to the slimmest ankles Vin believed he'd ever seen.
Was that Ezra who'd just gulped?
He'd always been a "leg man" himself, but he felt his face grow warm as he caught himself gawking. He must've been hit harder than he'd thought not to notice her charms out at the sidewalk.
"M-Ma'am," he stammered, holding the chair for her and nodding with a smile. "Sorry fer runnin' out on ya that way."
Buck slipped in front of him. "Introduce us to your friend, Vin." He took the woman's hand. "You'll pardon his manners, ma'am. Now is there anything I can get you?"
She laughed, and Vin knew she saw straight through Bucklin. Most women did. But somehow that only made them like him more. "No, no, we're fine," she said, tugging the little boy's hand. "Dalton and I just wanted to be sure you were okay, Agent Tanner." She stepped closer to Vin and gingerly touched the bruise that had started to purple in spite of the ice. "You really did take a nasty hit to that sidewalk. Did you have your team medic check it?"
"Yes, ma'am, he did." Nathan stepped forward to shake her hand. "I'm Nathan Jackson."
"Really? I suppose of 'Team Medic Jackson' fame? I bought that one for Dalton last month for his birthday. I think this is such a great idea," she said.
Ezra cleared his throat lightly. "Then let me introduce myself, my dear, as the -"
Vin rolled his eyes in Ezra's direction. "I 'magine the lady's here fer the doll, Ez, not to 'parlay' with all us."
At this Dalton stepped forward and lost some of his shyness. "I don't play wif dolls," he said, his voice quiet but his gaze direct.
"Of course you don't, my good man," Ezra said, stepping around his desk. He grabbed the doll from Vin's hand and held it out to the boy. "THIS is an action figure!"
Vin caught the double glare from his teammate and the boy. He held up his hands in mock surrender. "I stand corrected."
"Hey, I'll bet you wouldn't want to see a real fingerprint kit, now, would you?" JD asked.
"Yes-huh!" Dalton whispered, looking to his aunt.
Jolie nodded. "Just for a minute. I'll meet you downstairs. You be good."
"I will, Aunt Jolie," Dalton said, anxious to be gone with JD. "Thanks 'At-eff' Agent Tanner Man. See 'ou later!"
"Sure thing, buddy," Vin said, tousling his red hair. "You tell Agent Dunn to get you one of those special junior agent badges, too, okay?" He looked up at JD, who nodded.
Jolie turned to watch them walk out the door and waved to Dalton.
"He's a great li'l guy," Vin commented.
"Thank you," she said, facing him. "I think so, too, but then, I'm the adoring aunt - what else am I supposed to think? When I think of what could have happened, and then you throwing yourself out there like you did. I don't know what I'd do without him."
Vin felt his face color again at her gratitude. "Least I could do, ma'am, seein' as how it was kinda m'own fault t' begin with. 'M jest glad he's okay."
"Thanks to you," she said. Before he knew it, she had slipped forward and turned his cheek to her with a warm palm, and kissed him near the corner of his lips. "You really are a real-life hero in my book." She smiled, and he felt sure it was because of the heat on his face. "And the name's Jolie."
Vin tried to breathe, but he could only draw in the scent of her - fresh like the wind and warm like the sun. Maybe a hint of vanilla in her hair.
She pulled away smoothly, but he detected a little heat on her cheeks, too. She looked straight into his eyes, and her voice lowered. "I'd like to repay your kindness in some small way, if I could. Maybe I could cook dinner for you some evening?" She faltered a little. "I mean, well, if you're not - "
Vin leaned closer, smiling widely - partly at his own good fortune, partly at Bucklin's sudden case of lockjaw. "Sounds right lovely, Miss Jolie. It'd be a particular honor." He winked at her sudden awkwardness, understanding that she felt herself overly bold for the offer. Of course, Bucklin's groan didn't help.
With a chuckle, she stepped away. "Well, then, can I call you tomorrow and see when would be a good time for you? Maybe Friday evening would suit?"
"Sure, and ya kin give me directions then, too. That is, iffen yer sure..."
She nodded with a smile, squeezing his arm. "I'll call."
Buck cleared his throat noisily, drawing their attention.
"Well, I think I'd better catch up with Dalton," Jolie said. "He'll be so excited. Thank you all, for everything."
They watched her walk from the office and close the door before Buck let loose a low whistle.
"That, my friends, is a living, breathing doll," Josiah said.
"Oh!" Buck wailed, as only Bucklin could do. "But she picked the WRONG 'action figure'! Dang, Ezra, tell me mine is comin' out next!"