Tragic Miscommunication

by Deavon

Disclaimer: Not mine, never will be.


Close your eyes, and imagine your dreaming.

See the blood, the terror, the endless screaming.

Mark yourself; a symbol of shame

Of pain, of guilt, of selfish blame

Hate to hate, yet love too late

Ignorant victim of fortune and fate

Give yourself room to breathe

Before suffocating with mindless ease

And when you're gone; just a distant thought

No one will remember how hard you fought.

The machine beeped a steady staccato in the background, comforting only in that it broke the stifling silence of the whitewashed hospital room. It was a familiar environment, one met with contrasting thoughts and feelings. It may be a place of pain, suffering and death, but the hospital also meant healing and safety, a haven, that once reached, usually meant it's over and we're all still here.


Sometimes however, it was just a place of sorrow and remorse, and today, sitting in the intentionally uncomfortable plastic lined chair, large tanned hand gripping the smaller, completely lax, colourless hand, he knew without a doubt that today's urgent dash to the hospital, however routine they had started to become, would forever rest in his mind as one of the worst days of his entire life.

His other hand, curled against a slim, blanket covered waist, convulsively tightened around the thin, crumpled sheet of paper, the white parchment showed creases and lines, indicative of having been scrunched up and then smoothed out repeatedly over the last several hours.

And when you're gone; just a distant thought

No one will remember how hard you fought.

Didn't he realise; hadn't they made it clear enough. Surely he knew that should anything ever happen to him, if they lost him, that nothing would ever be the same again.

No one will remember.... more like, no one would ever forget, even for a second, days filled with reminders and memories and night with dreams and nightmares. What ifs, maybe's and if only's clouding the mind and actions, until finally, one by one, they joined him in the beyond.

“I want a full report, for the disciplinary hearing tomorrow, describing the entire incident, from the point you disobeyed my direct order, up to you nearly getting Ezra, not at your desk, get the hell out of my sight, before I do something I don't think I'll regret. ”

Without argument or disagreement, the younger man went into the interrogation room, head down; shoulders slumped in abject misery. As furious and disappointed as he was, the green eyes didn't leave his agents retreating back, until he was sure that the stupid idiot was safely ensconced within the secure room, still subconsciously ensuring the safety of those he cared about more than anything else in this world.

“Why he bothered I don't know, but Chris sent me in to check on you, and to tell you to get that report finished, we want to go see Ez at the hospital and we need to lock up, so you need to go home.....did you hear a word I said? For god's sake, sit up when I'm tal.....what the hell.....Oh shit, Jesus Christ...hold on, hold on....oh god...CHRIS!! CHRIS....NATHAN...I NEED SOME HELP...HURRY....OH FU...JD GET NATHAN!! AND CALL AN AMBULANCE!! Stay with me Vin, hold is god, how the hell.....stay with us....Don't die, Don't you dare hear me you stubborn Texan son of a bitch? Stay...”

Blood spread across the table and soaked into the carpet, paper strewn about, with several attempts to write that godforsaken report, each more guilty and self accusing than the last, and one piece of prose, scrawled messily from a sad, hurt and confused heart.

Close your eyes, and imagine your dreaming.

See the blood, the terror, the endless screaming.

Mark yourself; a symbol of shame

Of pain, of guilt, of selfish blame

Hate to hate, yet love too late

Ignorant victim of fortune and fate

Give yourself room to breathe

Before suffocating with mindless ease

And when you're gone; just a distant thought

No one will remember how hard you fought

Chapter 1: The Build Up

“Guys...its 3:10, hurry it up...”The blond leader called to his men, wanting to get the weekly meeting out of the way so they could all go home.

Josiah and Nathan, always the most prompt, entered the conference room shortly after Chris's reminder, with JD dragging Buck in his wake as the older agent continued to send flirtatious winks and charming grins to the newest secretary.

“That means you too Agent Standish....” Chris added when he noticed the undercover agent throwing covert glances at the elevator doors. Scowling, Ezra joined his team in the meeting room.

“Vin?”Chris questioned, unable to see his tracker.

“Yup Cowboy?” came the drawled answer from behind him, Chris spun to see Agent Tanner sitting two seats up from him, Cheshire grin on his face matching the mischievous spark lighting his eyes.

“Jesus Tanner! Don't Do That! Make some noise when you move why don't you?” he chided the sharpshooter.

Vin just grinned “Wouldn't be much of a tracker then, would I?” he asked, as serious as anything, except for the telling fidget he was not bothering to hide in the company of family.

Chris shook his head in mock exasperation, and was glad for the light hearted banter that was indicative of the relationship he shared with the younger man, he knew that what he was going to say in their afternoon staff meeting was probably not going to go down very well, in fact he would be surprised if Vin didn't leave with a less than sunny disposition, but Chris was sure that the strength of their relationship could weather the rigours of Authority and subordinate, it always had in the past.

“Sit down, Sit down......come on boys, today would be nice.....”he waited, somewhat patiently, whilst the six took their seats around him before speaking again “Okay, I understand that its Friday afternoon, you're all tired and ready to go home, but the topic of this meeting is important, and should have been officially addressed once it became clear that casual reminders were not having the desired impact”

Chris could tell that the serious tone of his voice had their complete attention, Buck had stopped making eyes at the secretary through the glass wall, JD had stopped elbowing Buck, Ezra was no longer fidgeting and Vin had put his chair back down on all four legs and was listening intently.

Chris continued “We are the best that ATF has to offer, the high ups know it, the other teams know it, even the donut girl and the janitor know it....” he could see the proud knowing grins, and he didn't blame them, but he could see the wariness in their eyes that said they knew he was gearing up to reprimand them, and right they were.

“We are the best, and more importantly, you lot know it too......” Chris met the eyes of each man, most confused and some a little wary, “We have the best bust rate, the highest annual rake in, and the most successful overall outcomes of any team in the country, but what has the higher ups concerned, and quite frankly, me concerned as well, is the fact that we also have the highest insurance coverage, most trips to the hospital and more work related injuries than any other ATF team on record.”

The previously proud shoulders slumped a little and certain sets of eyes, some more so than others, refused to meet his, “The records set and held by this team are not adequate reason to risk your lives, in the future, there will be official reprimands and consequences for needlessly reckless behaviour and maverick attention to safety protocols...understood?”

Chris fell silent, sighing internally as an outraged drawl from his left answered his question.

“What the hell ya'll looking at me for?!”Vin rocked the seat back on its heels, and glared at his team members, who had all turned to stare accusingly at him during Chris's lecture.

Buck snorted in response, “Well Junior, it could be those beautiful baby blues...” the ladies man trailed off at Vin's angry one fingered retort, just as Josiah chimed in “You do have a penchant for the risky...”.

Vin opened his mouth to retort but the preacher was quick to add, “We're not having a go at you brother.....”

Vin seemed to settle, until Ezra added his two dollars worth “We may not be, but our estimable leader most certainly is....”

Chris almost flinched as the accusing blue eyes met his own green, and he turned to face the rest of his team in Vin's defence, determined that they shouldn't gang up on his sniper, despite how true their accusations may be, “Guys leave off; I'm talking to all of you...every single one of you, myself included has been known, to needlessly and recklessly fail to follow standard safety protocols on more than one occasion,”

Buck, JD and Ezra went to interrupt him at this point, but Chris knew what they were going to ask and was happy to comply, “The Montgomery case; Ezra you went into the buy unwired, unarmed and without back-up, Buck, you broke cover to save Ezra's ass, JD; you left the surveillance van halfway through the shootout without a vest....The Kansana child trafficking ring; Buck gave his vest to a child, Ezra gave himself as a hostage so two children could get out, Josiah failed to check in afterwards, because he was busy with the children...” he could see that his word were having an impact on the desired parties, JD was refusing to meet his eyes, Buck was nodding his head in rueful agreement, and Ezra was a shade pinker than he normally was.

Chris drove the point home “The only reason head office has over looked it this long is because we get results...which we can't continue to do if we're dead.”

Chris was happy to see that the point had been understood and accepted by the majority of the team, Buck nodded apologetically at the sharpshooter and Ezra smiled in apology, realizing that Chris was right; Vin wasn't the only one to needlessly risk his life.

Chris had been glad to step in and point out the error in the teams allegation that Vin was the only one to ever break protocol, especially knowing how strongly Vin reacted to criticism and blame from those he cared about, the Texan couldn't give a flying rats ass what anyone else thought of him, but his teams opinion did matter.

However when he turned and saw the shit-eating grin on Tanner's face, directed at the rest of his team, Chris let loose, “And you!” wide blue eyes snapped to his “The rest of the guys are right, you are the worst of the lot...” Vin started to protest, but Chris cut him off “The rest of us have averaged 12 injuries since last on the other hand have amassed 128!” Chris watched as Vin rocked his seat back further, obviously intent on arguing.

The leader reached out, and with a firm hand to Tanner's knee, yanked the chair back onto all four legs “Just behave recklessly, with absolutely no regard for safety protocols 99% of the time, I have it on record that you were told to wear a vest in the Montgomery case, and didn't, you weren't harnessed at all, despite being 20 feet off the ground, and you didn't wait for the all clear before turning off your radio”

“You just said that JD, Buck and Ez didn't follow....” Vin tried to get a word of defence in, but Chris was gesturing rather pointedly by this stage as he once again, spoke right over the top of his tracker.

“I've already spoken to them, and I won't tolerate any more dangerous stunts, you on the other hand, pull this shit on a regular basis, you're only human Vin, you're going to get yourself...or one of us Killed!” Chris spoke heatedly, and knew the instant that he said them, that perhaps his last words had been going a little too far.

“I'd never...I wouldn't...I ain't ever gonna ...” Vin seemed at a loss for words, unable to comprehend the thought that Chris felt he was a danger to not only himself but the rest of the team as well, he would never endanger his team mates, he wouldn't!

Wounded blue eyes looked to a different set of green, belonging to one who always had the words when he needed them “ know I'm not, I don't.....” he trailed off as Ezra shook his head.

“Vin, I agree with Mr Larabee on this one, we often note you for your willingness to sacrifice your life needlessly, perhaps a little more care would see that fragile life not snuffed out due to some ill conceived action”, Vin didn't really hear beyond Ezra agree with Chris, eyes already beseechingly turned to Nathan.

“Nate, surely you understand! I's just doing my job...” Vin's voice was soft, almost broken, as if Nathan was his last port of call, and he was sure he was t be turned away into the stormy black sea again. Nathan didn't like the pallor of Vin' skin, knowing that the tracker could be in a mild state of shock, knowing how high Vin held his friends opinions, and how insecure and self doubting he could be, Nathan actually hated the fact that he though Chris was right, but in truth, he'd rather hurt Vin's feelings than let the reckless behaviour go unchecked and end up with Vin dead because of it.

“Vin, I've had to patch you for the most unnecessary reasons over the past few months, accidents that would never have happened had you followed safety protocol, you endanger your life needlessly on almost a daily basis, and you may not care for to live, but I won't see you dead because of some stupid inability to follow direction” Nathan finished as Vin slumped back in his seat, head down, refusing to meet anyone's eyes.

Chris continued, speaking to Tanners downturned head “If you don't start following orders and taking some care with your life Vin, I will officially reprimand you, or suspend you if I have to, I will not have someone who irresponsibly endangers himself or others on my team, is that understood? ” Chris stopped, clearly expecting an answer.

Vin was silently fuming, unable to believe that they would all gang up on him this way, upset that they though he would deliberately allow one of them to get hurt on his watch. It was a betrayal, pure and simple, he didn't act recklessly, and he only did what he deemed necessary to safe guard their lives! Not try to get them killed! How dare they, he thought they trusted him, like he trusted them, he would never doubt the fact that they had his back, like they obviously doubted him!

Chris's voice broke through his silent tirade “Agent Tanner...Do You Understand?” Vin's head snapped up and he got to his feet, slamming the chair into the wall behind him, angry and upset that they could possibly believe he would allow himself to endanger their lives.

“Yes agent Larabee, I UNDERSTAND perfectly...” Vin turned and stormed out of the conference room, slamming the door behind him.

The rest of the team looked after him in surprise, but no-one spoke until the outer door leading to the staircase also slammed shut behind the irate tracker.

Ezra turned to Chris, “Well that went down well...”

Chris sighed as he got to his feet “The salon in 20” he invited the group to their usual watering hole, as he left the conference room and returned to his office to shut down for the day, his eyes lingering on his best friends desk as he passed, unable to forget the spark of betrayal in the upset, angry blue eyes.

The rifle was solid in his hands, as again and again he shot at the paper target at the other end of the field.

Over and over in his head ‘one of us of us of us killed’

The rain pouring down as the team made their way from the car park into the saloon seemed to match their feelings that afternoon, thankfully the saloon was rather quite so early in the evening, Chris and the team were seated at their usual corner table, half isolated from the rest of the room.

Chris placed his beer on the table, sighing at the empty seat to his right, turning to Buck he asked “You don't think I was too hard on him?”

Buck shook his head reassuringly “Junior isn't stupid, he knows about him, you were right Chris, he does put himself at risk too often, we all do it, I know, but Vin seems to be constantly endangering himself...” Buck trailed off as Josiah pitched in.

“Chris, Vin has been on his own, reliant on only his self for a long time, a life time I'd bet, and it's going to take him a while, if he ever does, to get used to the fact that we've all got his back, whether he likes it or not” the big man palmed his own bottle between his club like hands, easily able to snuff life, yet so gentle in the ministration of his

“He was the last to join our misbegotten crew of misfits, and is still realising where he stands, he may always doubt that a little, but you know as well as I do, that in agreeing to join the team, Vin was agreeing to let us in, to become one of us, and all the trust, loyalty and friendship that entails... I think our young brother just finds the reality a little hard to accept after such a long time of having no-one in this world he could rely on.”

Chris relaxed, assured of the correctness of his actions, by those whose opinions were the only ones he truly cared about, “You're right, he's just going to get used to having people around who care about the fact that he seems to have a death wish, and would like to see that wish remain ungranted. He'll learn, hell, just think back to what he was like those first few weeks after he joined us, I don't think he said two words to anyone, he wouldn't even look me in the eye most of the time...then we stood by him during that IA shit about the Jefferson kid shooting and I think he started to realise that trust and loyalty are a two way street...If I have to upset him to keep him alive, then I suppose I was only too glad to do it.”

Chris, looking much happier than he had five minutes ago, settled back into his chair, swallowing the last dregs of his beer, indicating to Inez, the pretty Mexican owner, for another round.

Nathan, feeling guilty in his part of the whole debacle, spoke up “ I hated having to side with Chris, however right he is, just the look on Vin's face, it's enough o break your heart, he's just so insecure and shy in some ways, but like Chris said, I'd rather upset him than see him dead..., that boy has the thickest head I have ever seen, stubborn and self reliant to fault, but he's going to have to realise that those two things don't work on me, ” Nathan noted the indulgent smiles around the group, knowing of the ‘momma bear' and other such thoughts running through their minds, and was half glad for it, it was his job to take care of the team, and when Tanner finally learned to accept that, and his help, it would be none too soon.

The medic continued “Just last week he walked around for four hours after the bust with a dislocated shoulder after Wilkes pushed him off that ladder, I thought I was going to have to corner him myself, but I really wanted him to come to me” Nathan smiled as he remembered “he did though, it took him long enough and I couldn't get him to tell me what was wrong, but he did come to me and let me put it back in...boy didn't even flinch, which actually pisses me off, to be so used to pain that a dislocated shoulder doesn't even register, it makes me want to find the person or people responsible and rip their fucking hearts out” Nathan fell silent for a second as he glared at the bottle in his dark hands.

The others would have been shocked at the usually mild manner Nathan Jackson's outburst except that they felt the same way and knew how protective Nathan got when his family was involved.

With a brighter face Nathan continued “I think we forget sometimes exactly how young he is, he acts so much older and has such wisdom and age ingrained in him... ” he stopped when he felt the confused, questioning looks.

Chris interrupted “You know how old he is?'s not in his records, I asked him one day and he said he didn't know...couldn't remember...” he looked at Nathan, waiting for an answer.

Nathan winced “I didn't know it wasn't in his records, I just assumed...imagine not knowing how old you are.....” seeing the impatient looks he got to the point “I don't know his birthdate or anything, but the hospital has pretty accurate methods for age determination and they've got him down as being between 21 and 23” Nathan almost smiled at the stunned looks he was receiving, understanding how they felt he added “Shocking, I know.. I would have said 27 or 28 at least...boys been through so much....”

Josiah was perhaps the least stunned, being the oldest, anything under 30 was young, but 21, that was just a boy, however, there was no way anyone could conceivably call Vin ‘just a boy' age wise or not.

Buck was stunned at the differences between their own 22 year old prodigy and Vin, to be of roughly the same age, yet so, so different...he wondered what Vin's life must have been like for him to be so much older than JD, in some ways and yet the same age.

JD's only though was ‘I'm not the only “Kid” on the team’, Vin may actually be younger; he also noted that Vin was the only one of the team who had never called him KID, and actually always listened when he spoke.

Ezra had a particularly close relationship with the young, younger, tracker, for being so different the two seemed to have formed a special bond, and the fact that Vin was younger than he had though made absolutely no difference to the con man, except for perhaps a little increase in his protectiveness drive...but no, that had always been there.

Chris was stunned, at 39 he had assumed that Vin was maybe 10 years his junior and had always felt that he had a relationship with the tracker as one would have with a younger brother, now to find out that Vin was perhaps almost 20 years younger made him so angry, not at Vin, heavens no, his feelings concerning that boy were still the same, but life in general, Vin had shared certain facts with Chris, like the fact that he had been an army ranger until three years ago, and had been active for three years prior to that.

Who lets a 15 or 16 year old go to war, no matter how good they were with a gun, it was almost inconceivable, but if others in Vin's life, recruitment officers and commanders and the like, had been as assuming about Vin's age as he had, it wasn't inconceivable for the boy to pass as 18 or 19.

Vin was the little brother he had never had, and nothing would ever change that, he was still wise beyond his years, only that gap had widened a little bit.

Chris smiled as the barmaid placed the tray of drinks on the table before departing, grabbing his own, Chris took a swig before speaking “Vin is the same person we thought he was 5 minutes ago, nothing has changed, except that he's a little younger than we, or he probably, thought, I will speak to him about it and see if we can't get it cleared up and added to his records, that's if he shows for work on Monday...he was in a right snoot when he left this afternoon, I just don't want to lose him because of some stupid act. And if one of us got hurt, his fault or would just about kill him” he sighed as he remembered the unusual display of temper as Vin slammed doors as he left.

Buck, seeing the unsure, worried look on his friends face was quick to lay his fears to rest “Chris you know Vin...he'll go away, angry at you, me, us, the world, and mostly himself” he saw the others nodding in agreement as he continued “He'll fume and bitch and moan about how unfair and disloyal we were being... Chris winced in almost physical pain at the thought of Vin believing they would deliberately hurt him, but Buck was quick to go on “Probably shoot the shit out of some targets at the range, beat all our records and his own, scare the shit out of some new recruits.....and then actually get to thinking about what we said, and why we said it” Chris was almost smiling at the visual.

Nathan finished “And then that boy will come back to us, full of guilt and shame for acting like a brat and not believing that we had his best interests at heart, and either admit we were right, or that at least we may not be completely wrong and that he would think on what we said and take it into account.”

Chris was already nodding in agreement as Josiah finished the prediction “and then it will be up to us to soothe the hurt conscience, make sure he understands that he has no reason to feel guilty that he let his temper get the better of him and that his consideration of the subject is all that you expect Chris,”

Chris nodded Ezra added the final line “and all will be calm chaos in paradise again”.

JD snorted into his milk.

IT had taken the shredding of all of three targets for Vin to realise that he had been wrong to storm out, he owed them at least the consideration to think on what had been said, and he entered the office to apologise and tell them just that.

Only to find it empty.

He was sure that they wouldn't have left, not knowing that he at least needed a ride home, having come in with Chris that morning. Or at least he was sure until he found out from the office girl at the lobby that the team had headed to the saloon for their usual Friday evening wind down, were they chatted, and laughed and forgot the crap at work and were just a family.

Without him.

Sighing, pushing the hurt and betrayal away, as he always did when his heart got broken, it happened often enough, although none had seemed to ache as much as this betrayal. Vin pulled the collar of his coat up and stuffed his hands deep in his pockets, he decided to forgo calling a taxi or any such transport and set out into the night, glad for the 2 hour walk to Purgatorio and home, in the freezing rain. It matched his mood, and perhaps the cold would numb the pain he denied he could still feel.

Chapter 2: The Conflict

It was Saturday morning, and despite the fact that the sun had not yet brightened the sky, the team 7 office was buzzing with energy, phone calls were made and answered, voices abnormally loud to be heard over the general clanks and thuds as equipment was requisitioned, checked and packed or donned. The atmosphere was heavy, tinged with anxiety and anticipation, as team 7 geared up for their latest, (hopefully) successful bust.

They had performed this ritual so many times that it really had become instinct, something that they could do correctly in their sleep, and right now, Chris took comfort in the solidarity and mindlessness of it. The Johansson case was huge; a career maker for some agents, yet routine for this particular group of men.

A smuggling syndicate; guns, drugs, name it, the Johansson's had a finger in it. A crime mob family, dozens of intricately placed strands of evil, headed by king pin Johan Johansson himself, a crooked, twisted man, sitting in his white office tower, surrounded by his dirty money, enslaved girls and filthy family, completely untouchable...until now.

Team 7 was set to topple the tower, and capture the king.

It wasn't really any wonder that Chris should be slightly nervous on the day of the bust, after all, getting to Johansson entailed going through his four sons and personal body guards, each as cut throat and dangerous as their father.

It must be remember though, that Chris Larabee laughed in the face of danger and gave the devil the finger. He had no fear of these men and was positive that they would achieve a desirable outcome, as long as his team was behind him and they stayed alive.

Hence the actual of his misbegotten ‘children' had yet to arrive. Over an hour late and leaving them completely bereft of their necessary sky high reassurance, Vin was the cause behind Chris's unusual anxiety.

It wasn't so much that one of his men was late, Ezra was always late, and traffic could be a bitch on the freeway. No, it was more the fact that Vin was late that had Chris teeth on edge. The younger man was as punctual as any Chris had known and if he had somewhere to be, he'd get there come hell or high water. He was so punctual that you could set your watch by him and be right every time.

And he was late on the morning of their biggest bust in months, something that had been on the books for several weeks, planned and detailed to the smallest element, allowing no room for error.

Vin not being there was a big error.

Chris could feel the others eyes on him now and then as he paced the office like a caged panther, and knew what they were thinking. If he didn't know better, and he did, or at least he had thought he did, he would assume that Vin was being petulant, after the argument yesterday, it seemed an unlikely coincidence that the sniper would be late, but that didn't match any of his previous conceptions of the boy.

Vin knew what it meant to catch this guy, it was probably a once in a life time opportunity, and team 7 had been all over it for months, how many more lives would be lost to Johansson's cruelty and greed if they didn't succeed, and to fail because of a boys sulking....

He had tried calling twice, and twice had gotten the voicemail service, he knew that they didn't have time to go over to Vin's place before the bust, but he was starting to get genuinely concerned, if anything were wrong, he was sure that Vin would ring if he were able to. He turned to Buck, about to let them know to pack it up, and call the bust off, after all, the sniper was a show stopper.

“Buck” Chris called, garnering the man's attention from where he and JD were wiring Ezra with an audio pack, “Call it in...We're a man down...Vin's not...” he was cut off as the staircase door opened and the subject of the discussion entered the office.

The lithe form slunk across the floor, not meeting Chris's gaze, muttering to the floor “Sorry...sorry Chris...I got held up...but I'm right to go......” he hefted the rifle bag in his right hand to indicate his readiness.

Chris followed Vin across to the trackers desk, where Vin was storing his back pack; voice low and deadly he growled “Ever heard of a cell phone....I thought you would call if something was wrong...” the others heard what Chris was really saying ‘I was worried when you didn't call', but Vin only heard the accusation in his friends voice.

Fishing the phone out of his bag he waved it in the air, saying “Flat...” he might have been going to say something else but Chris cut him off. The blond grabbed the cell phone and angrily plugged it into Vin's desk charger saying “How many times have I said it, you keep your phone charged and on you at all times...for god sake Vin...I was about to pull the plug on the bust, where the hell where you?”

Chris leaned back against the desk, crossing his arms across his chest, succeeding in looking casually intimidating. Vin's breath hitched, although the emotion causing it was unclear, perhaps anger or distress, he spoke, his voice remained as flat and monotone as it had all morning “I said I'se sorry about bein' late...let's just go, the window on Johansson is closing...” the lean haired man was obviously employing typical conflict avoidance, behaviour completely atypical to Vin's usual ‘grab it by the horns' temperament.

Chris wasn't quite as ready to let it go as his sniper was, saying with just enough spite to push the tracker “And exactly whose fault is it if Johansson gets away.....” normally Vin would have bitten, and cussed Chris out good, knowing that the leader didn't really mean the words said in the heat of the moment. He and Chris didn't often fight, but when they did it was quite a doozy, but blew over quickly.

This time however, something was different, as the stinging words landed Vin stiffened, and shrank back from Chris, still refusing to meet any one of the six other gazes in the room.

At Vin's obvious refusal to even contemplate hashing the issue out at the present, Chris huffed an angry breath and turned back to the rest of his team, saying “Okay, now that we are all here, we are a go, final checks and then meet in the SUV” he turned and grabbed his own gear off the desk behind him watching as Ezra tugged on the Armani jacket he was wearing, making sure that the expensive cloth wasn't being crumpled by his Bullet proof vest. The southerner sighed in exasperation as he was pushed out the door ahead of Nathan, valiantly trying to ignore the medics mockingly fussing gestures.

Buck and Josiah grabbed either end of JD's tech kit and carried it out the door for him, with JD following along behind, whimpering at every fake drop and wobble the two older men taunted him with.

Vin went to follow the rest of the team, but Chris's volatile glare and angry snort stopped him short. The sniper stilled, and then asked in a voice layered with more sarcasm and biting spite than Chris would allow from anyone snarled “What now?!

Chris felt himself swamped with fury, the downright rudeness; the audacity of the boy! Chris had know that Vin wouldn't cope well with yesterdays reprimand, but he had honestly believed that if the sniper had some time to cool off and actually consider what he was saying, Vin would realise he was in the was right.

It was becoming abundantly clear though, that this was not the case, Vin was too busy sulking like a scolded child to even remember the conversation matter of yesterdays discussions. Chris grabbed his arm and frog marched him over into the supply room.

You obviously paid absolutely no mind to what you were told yesterday!” the blond snarled as he opened the mesh grated cupboard, voice rough and harsh he continued “Vin...Agent Tanner, I have half a mind to remove you from active duty...” this threat finally garnered a strong reaction from the sullen figure.

“What...No...You can't! You need me!”His voice was panicked and rushed, trying to get the words out too fast. Chris was too angry and frustrated to hear the underlying message and just took the argument at face value as he replied with force “I know regulations and we cannot go into the field without a sniper...and your all we've got......but if I had any other choice you'd be out!”

Yanking the black fabric off the shelf he thrust it at Vin, “” the blond ordered, while he pulled the lone vest over his snipers head, clipping the straps and buckles tight, the flinch and groan told him that Vin had finally realised what Chris meant about his remembrance of yesterdays orders safety protocol...or rather his lack of ability to follow them.

He kept his head down, and avoided Chris's gaze as his boss checked the garment again, “Have you got your safety harness....?” Larabee asked with vinegar as he pulled Vin along to the door with him, sighing when all he got was a disgruntled nod indicating the positive.

Fine, if the boy wanted to sulk, he'd let him....

Vin hastened down the stairs towards the garage, trying to keep a decent pace without making Chris think he was trying to get away. He's spent the night with no heat in his apartment due to a power outage, the cold had kept him awake to the early hours of the morning and then he had somehow over slept something that his body clock usually prevented. He‘d been late to the Johansson preparation and everything had gone downhill from there.

He didn't have an excuse for his late arrival, or at least, not one that would float with Chris and not get Nathan all worked up over his lack of sleep. The fast pace he had set in the sprint from the car park to the office seemed to have exhausted him, he felt wiped, his chest felt tight from the exertion, and come to think of it, he never really had gotten warm after his trek through the rain last night.

Although that cold empty feeling could be what was left over from his torn and tattered heart.

He knew it was overdramatic and equally pathetic, but he had hoped that the team and Chris, particularly Chris, had begun to accept him as family.

Then to have been deliberately excluded last night, after the argument that had gone down in the afternoon....

He had come to rely on the fact that Chris was more than Just his boss, and the others his colleagues, and now in hindsight he couldn't believe how deluded a few kind words had made him.

They didn't' trust him to guard their lives, they thought he would endanger family would ever extend to include one that garnered such feelings...a fact that he knew well, but had chosen, in hope, yet to his own detriment , to ignore.

If only it didn't' hurt so much.

Sighing deeply, he pulled on the black vest he wore, hating the uncomfortable restriction, yet unable to believe that he had forgotten to put it on, especially after yesterday. He had just proved Chris's point for him...he couldn't be relied on

The SUV was packed and idling by the time he and Chris got there, so he stowed the rifle in the back and got in, relieved that they had left him a window seat, yet noticing that both Ezra and JD, his usual car companions had opted to sit in the back, leaving him next to Nathan, which he normally wouldn't mind, but the kind protective medic hadn't even run his cursory head to toe glance.

Something was very wrong...and Vin had a feeling that it was him.

The half hour car ride was tense, with no one speaking unless absolutely necessary. The tension bled out between Chris and Vin, affecting the rest of the team dynamic as well. They pulled up outside the old derelict warehouse, unsure of what they would find inside, knowing only that this building was the financial and operational hub of the entire Johansson empire, and that the man himself was inside manning the helm of himself, right at this very instant.

The original plan had been straightforward and simple, basically, storm the building from different entry points, working in teams, take down anyone who gets in the way and capture and sit on Johansson until the correct custody arrangements could be made.

Of course, being that it was team 7 on the case, the whole thing went to shit, right from the very start.

As per the plan, the three security guards were taken with ease by Vin, Nathan and Josiah, then Vin had crawled through the small gap near the apex of the building roof, scaling across the shadow engulfed rafters, until he was able to pinpoint the target below him, he then gave the signal to move in.

The building had been converted to a glorified war room come casual office building, usually manned by grunts and lesser relatives, who crunched numbers, ran statistics, laundered money and negotiated business contracts. However, a heavily intoxicated worker had let slip to the wrong snitch a titbit of useful information, that today, was the one day of the year that Johan himself, came to the hub to overlook and inspect his expanding empire, and it was now that team 7 was going to strike, 7 well trained effortlessly cohesive men against several inept white collar workers and one dangerous, but effectually lone man.

Except that the intoxicated worker had neglected to mention that it would be a family affair and as such, Johan's four sons were also to be in attendance.

His four evil, cruel, torturous devils spawn.

Hell in a hand basket wasn't an apt description, and it was only the previously mentioned training and cohesiveness, as well as the cleverly placed angel of death on high, that Kept the 7 men alive and well during the ensuing gunfight.

The Johan's were not so lucky.

When the dust and bullets settled, only one remained standing, Johan JR, the eldest.

And the only reason he remained on his feet was due to the arm he had wrapped around Ezra throat and the gun he had to the curly chestnut haired head.

For the longest moment no one moved, each waiting as they sized up the situation and took in the circumstances. Johan Sr was out cold some 20 meters away, sprawled on the ground unconscious but alive, blood spreading from a wound to the shoulder from one of his own kin's guns. The other three brothers were all most definitely dead, if the grey matter covering the floor and walls was to be any indicator.

Chris took charge.

Calling out in a steady voice, one that screamed ‘obey me' he said “Johan, let him's over... there is no other way out...” the blonds words were directed at the gun wielder but his eyes were only for his hostage agent.

Johan snarled and tightened his grip on the southerner, whose wince could have been from the unwanted embrace, or the crushing of his suit pants. His green eyes were calmly following Chris's, ready for any move his boss made, confident in Chris's ability to get him out of this Neanderthals grasp alive.

Chris could see that Johan wasn't going to be talked down, the man had been a psychopath before watching as his family was shot down. The only reason Ezra was still breathing was because Johan knew that a dead agent was no escape route. Chris gave Buck permission with his eyes as the ladies man inched towards the focal pair, careful to stay in Johan's blind spot.

He was almost in position, close enough to grab the gun, and shield Ezra at the same time, when the decision of timeliness was taken from him by a sudden blur that knocked him off his feet and sent him flying.

Another spate of gunshots was heard and everyone dove for cover.

Then all was silent.

Chris cautiously got to his feet, checking that Johan was down, and easily able to see that his own bullet made it unnecessary to cuff the criminal.

Josiah was already securing the original target, Johan Sr, and Chris counted the heads that belonged to him, assessing the situation.

Buck was climbing awkwardly to his feet from where he had been thrown, allowing JD to help him, more for the kid than any need of his own.

He turned to look for the rest of his team when Nathans panicked voice snapped his attention to the floor near the body of Johan Jr.

Ezra!!” Nathan hollered as his hand staunched a stream of red spreading across the undercover agents shoulder and upper chest.

The blood was all that was needed to spur Chris into action, dropping to his knees beside the downed agent he called to Buck and JD, “Buck, ambulance!! JD get Nate's Kit!” yanking of his vest and coat, balling the fabric up into a makeshift pad, he helped apply pressure to the wound, steadily ignoring a fact that his peripheral vision was focusing on.

The slight form of his sniper, physically fine; although mentally....Vin was still harnessed, three feet off the ground, swinging to and fro gently, struggling to free himself from the safety ropes...staring horror struck and guilty at the result of his needless and foolish Tarzan swing from the over head rafters.

Chris started when Buck's hand covered his own, the man speaking as he pressed against the bloody hole in Ezra's chest “The ambulance is on rout, ETA 4 minutes, I've got Ez, Chris...see to that idiot...” Buck inclined his head towards Vin, the venom in the usually affectionate voice revealing that he too was aware that Ezra getting shot and himself being sent flying had been the result of an incredible show of stupidity on Vin's behalf.

Seeing that Buck was settling in for the long haul and that Nathan had the unconscious and steadily bleeding Ezra seemingly well in hand, Chris got to his feet, fury, disbelief, concern and confusion that he had been suppressing in favour of helping Ezra, now rushing to the forefront.

Chris turned towards Vin just at the moment that the sniper managed to reach the buckle and unclip himself, landing with catlike grace on the cement floor, already halfway over to wear the result of his idiotic action was bleeding out.

“Oh God....EZ?!” the boy rushed towards his friend, coming to an abrupt stop when Chris's vice like hand grabbed his shoulder as he passed and dragged him back in front of the leader. Chris's eyes were like flint, shaking Vin like a ragdoll when he wouldn't stop trying to move towards Ezra.

The physical jolt seemed to have broken through to Vin, and he became aware of the situation, finally noticing the irate boss who had a hold on the collar of his shirt and was shaking him like a puppy, it w“. Vin's eyes widened at the look on Chris's face, never before had he had such anger directed at him, he had known that Chris wouldn't be impressed, but he felt that he'd had no choice, he had to prove to Chris that they needed him, that he could be trusted.

He'd done his best to avoid Buck, Ezra and the big thug when he leapt, so sure that he had no other options, but perhaps he hadn't done the right thing after all. It wasn't until Chris finally spoke that Vin started to realise the full extent of his brave jump.

Chris leaned in close, eyes flashing, and voice hard “You stay the hell away from him! You've done more than enough...You almost got him killed!! ” he shook Vin again, not noticing that the smaller form was once again lifted off the ground by his own anger.

Vin tried to explain, give an excuse “C-Chris! I was just trying to help...I knew I could get him!”if anything the explanation made Chris even angrier and he flung Vin away from him, seemingly too angry to care when the sniper lost his footing and fell to the hard cement.

Bearing down on the fallen man the blond yelled “You just had to act the hero!! If you had waited another second you would have seen that the situation was under control! ” he gestured wildly towards Ezra “I told you yesterday that your irresponsible, unthinking behaviour would get one of us killed!! Well it might just be Ezra!!!” he breathed deeply, almost foaming at the mouth, about to tear another strip off Vin, who was finally back on his feet, when he realised that he couldn't deal with this here.

Not correctly, legally or officially.

Not before he had formally surveyed the scene, taken in the whole situation.

Not while Ezra was bleeding, and he was so furious with Vin.

Breathing shallowly through his nose Chris spoke to the down turned head, “Get yourself back to the office and sign your rifle into storage, you won't be needing it anytime soon.” Vin's head snapped up, pale face and distraught blue eyes meeting his, but Chris ploughed on “Your officially out of the field and dependant on Ezra and the disciplinary review, perhaps off the team ” he snarled, turning his back on his stunned sniper, ignoring the shattered gasp.

Moving back to Ezra's side, glad for the muted sound of sirens in the distance Chris ignored the shell shocked form of his young team member as Vin made his way to where he had dropped his rifle and bagged it, all the while staring at the downed form of Ezra.

Head down, shame palpable Vin headed for the exit, feeling more and more bereft with each of his team that he walked past.

Josiah, who was guarding Johan Sr, so as to avoid any more stuff ups refused to meet Vin's eyes, turning back to the unconscious criminal. Vin felt as though he'd been sucker punched. Josiah had always been there for him, through anything and everything that he had been through, with a steady shoulder, a strong arm and a warm voice.

He missed the sad look of concern that wreathed the old weathered face, and didn't hear the softly spoken prayer, intended for him.

Nathan had only met his gaze for an instant, the medic busy with Ezra, but the hard look that had replaced the usual caring, if somewhat exasperated gaze had his own eyes return to the ground. He missed the quick head to toe glance that the brown eyes did, just to be sure.

He didn't need to see Buck to feel the glare directed at him as he walked past. He knew that Buck wouldn't forgive him for getting Ezra shot, not when he himself had been so close to diffusing the situation.

JD plain ignored him. Of all the guys on team 7 he knew that JD looked up to him the most, so this total lack of aw or respect almost broke him, JD refused to acknowledge that he was even present.

He felt Chris gaze on his back as he slipped out the door, but didn't turn to meet it, not thinking he could stand any more anger or disappointment from Chris.

Larabee breathed a sigh of relief, feeling the pent up tension drain out of him as Vin got into the Taxi he had called. He could hardly believe what had happened. Despite having said as much in the heat of the moment yesterday, he had never actually believed that Vin would ever actually endanger one of them; then to have this happen! He wasn't actually going to let Vin go completely, the boy was the most talented sniper and tracker he had ever come across...and he was his best friend. But Chris wasn't going to wait until Vin actually did do something that lead to the death of one of his team mates, he wouldn't see the boy break like that.

Ezra was going to be fine, a little sore for a few weeks, but a full recovery was to be expected. The bullet had entered his upper back and exited the top of his shoulder, leading to a lot of blood and pain, but avoiding anything vital. The southerner was still unconscious, but much more comfortable, clean and warm in a hospital bed, if all went okay he would be released in the morning, probably to a bed at Chris's ranch.

Josiah had agreed to stay with the invalid agent, saying that he would get his report to Chris in the morning. Judge Travers had demanded full reports on his desk that evening so Chris, JD, Nathan and Buck had all headed back to the office to debrief.

And Chris had to deal with Vin.

The elevator buzzed and the doors slid open, Chris led the way into the office, he was not overly surprised to see Vin sitting at his desk, vest still on, staring at the bagged rifle in front of him.

When Vin didn't even seem to register their arrival Chris heard Nathan begin muttering about shock and delayed reaction, looking at his medic he could see the barely retrained urge in the brown eyes.

Stalking over to Vin, he pulled the tracker to his feet, startled at the force of Vin's surprise at being touched, the kid rarely paid so little attention to his surroundings.

Unclipping the buckles on the bullet proof vest, he almost saw Vin relax a little as the tightness of the garment was eased,. Chris was not willing to let his anger go, his fury still almost blinding in its height, but seeing that Vin was not really processing Chris gave him a harsh and venomous, yet simple to follow order.

“I want a full report, for the disciplinary hearing tomorrow, describing the entire incident, from the point you disobeyed my direct order, up to you nearly getting Ezra, not at your desk, get the hell out of my sight, before I do something I don't think I'll regret. ”ca

He pushed Vin towards the interrogation room, unable to deal with the conflict of emotions that this was causing. Without argument or disagreement, the younger man went into the room, head down; shoulders slumped in abject misery. As furious and disappointed as he was, the green eyes didn't leave his agents retreating back, until he was sure that the stupid idiot was safely ensconced within the secure room, still subconsciously ensuring the safety of those he cared about more than anything else in this world.

20 minutes later and Chris felt calm enough in the familiar environment to try and actually get some work done. Bucks report was already on his desk and he knew that the ladies man was itching to have a word with Vin almost as much as he was to get back to the downed member of their team, knowing better than to delay where his team was concerned, Chris decided to let this run its course. Knowing that the sniper wouldn't be having much luck writing his report this worked up Chris sent Buck into the interrogation room to prompt him into hurrying up.

Buck knocked, but there was no answer, not concerned with manners anymore, too angry with the boy behind the door to care, he barged in, razor filled voice already berating before he even set eyes on the younger agent.

“Why he bothered I don't know, but Chris sent me in to check on you, and to tell you to get that report finished, we want to go see Ez at the hospital and we need to lock up, so you need to go home.....did you hear a word I said? For god's sake, sit up when I'm tal.....what the hell.....Oh shit, Jesus Christ...hold on, hold on....oh god...CHRIS!! CHRIS....NATHAN...I NEED SOME HELP...HURRY....OH FU...JD GET NATHAN!! AND CALL AN AMBULANCE!! Stay with me Vin, hold is god, how the hell.....stay with us....Don't die, Don't you dare hear me you stubborn Texan son of a bitch? Stay...” his voice was panicky, angry and firm all at the same time.

Buck could hear the other rushing across the office as he tackled and tugged to get the vest of his small friend, gasping in dismay at the sight of the torrents of red saturating the originally blue shirt. Nathan, dropped to his knees besides the pair, all professional care and procedure, pulling the shirt off trying to find the wound.

Nathan pulled the destroyed shirt right off, using it to wipe away the blood, so much life liquid seeping away, until finally he found the ragged bullet hole in Vin's front, entering his stomach just below the rib cage.

It had nicked an artery.

Nathan pressed as hard to the small waist as he could, trying to stanch the torrent of blood.

Chris heard JD on the phone to the ambulance, knowing that help was coming, unable to fathom how this had happened, how they...he had missed it. One of his agents...Vin, his little brother....had been yelled at, scorned and scolded, before being sent away with a bullet lodged in his side.

How had it happened, had Vin been shot off the rafters? Had the whole thing been an accident.....had he accused Vin of almost killing Ezra, when the boy had been shot...did Vin believe that they all though his life was worth less than any of theirs.

The paramedics came, and rather than risk the bleeding get any heavier they had instructed Nathan to keep up the pressure and then moved the both Nathan and Vin to the ambulance below, sirens wailing as they rushed for the hospital.

Chris stood in the doorway of the room, the previously beige décor offset grotesquely by the red sea. Blood spread across the table and soaked into the carpet, paper strewn about, with several attempts to write that godforsaken report, each more guilty and self accusing than the last, and one piece of prose, scrawled messily from a sad, hurt and confused heart.

Buck grabbed his arm and led him to the SUV, helping the shocked and dismayed man into the vehicle before climbing into the driver's side, JD pale and shaky in the back. He followed the ambulances path, own light and siren blaring.

Chris stared at the paper clutched in his fist.

Close your eyes, and imagine your dreaming.

See the blood, the terror, the endless screaming.

Mark yourself; a symbol of shame

Of pain, of guilt, of selfish blame

Hate to hate, yet love too late

Ignorant victim of fortune and fate

Give yourself room to breathe

Before suffocating with mindless ease

And when you're gone; just a distant thought

No one will remember how hard you fought

What on earth had he done?

Chapter 3: The Turmoil

Room 412 was part of the Intensive Care Unit, or ICU, a hall darkened by depression and fading hope, carried by silence and whispers. Death was rumoured to have a vacation home in this particular wing of the hospital and all the patients were labelled as critical.

You just hoped that your particular loved one had the added ‘but stable' moniker.

The hall stank of illness and death, an atmosphere heavy and morose...and too lonely to bear.

The particular room in question was the exception to the rule, the light was on, bright and cheery, rather than dim and sombre, and people were constantly coming and going.

The room had been occupied by the same patient for the past four days, and although being a double housing only one patient, the room was never inhabited by less than two.

Sometimes the ‘brothers' were there, loud, vivacious and full of life. Laughing, joking and cavorting around the room, tormenting each other and any other helpless victim that happened to enter the vicinity.

The oldest; tall, broad shouldered, with a lothario smile, bright eyes and wicked charm was both the bane of the floor nurses existence, and the spark that kept their lust for love alive. The younger was a breath of fresh naiveté, yet maturing fast. Still young, and happy to be so, enthusiasm not yet tempered by experience, and a complete darling to boot.

Despite being of no blood relation, they were similar enough in looks that the assumption was made by most observers. The genuine affection and love between the two, despite the constant bantering and rough housing made it clear that the popular theory was not an unwelcome mistake.

The care and consideration they showed the patient, keeping their voices down to a dull roar and only using the soft football, made it clear that the fondness they shared also included their bedridden friend.

As often as they visited, and as daunting as the ward could be, their spirits were never low, the good-humoured repartee filled the room with care and fondness, soothing in its regularity. Yet despite the continuous good cheer and happiness, there was an underlying sadness and guilt that was clearly displayed for an instant as they said their goodbyes and departed.

The other, no more than a boy himself, always turned back at the door, hands clenched together in a white knuckle grip, gaze on one of those he had looked up to above all others, held apart by awe and inspiration. One, who in his own stupid, blind emotion, he had helped tear down, not giving the benefit of the doubt, when he had previously hung on every sparse word. He had been blinded by emotion and adrenaline, and stumbled around with all the grace and finesse of a bull in a china shop. And now, with sight restored, he looked on in horror at the damage he had helped inflict.

The larger man would always grip a slim, blanket covered ankle in farewell, strong, firm and dependable, his dark blue eyes painfully sorrowful in their unwavering loyalty, silently promising to hold that loyalty above all else, as he so recently did not. Buck would turn and join the JD at the door, a comforting hand on a smaller shoulder as he guided the equally upset and guilty man from the room.

Please Vin

The largest of the visitors was also the oldest; a bear of a man, greying hair by no means and indicator that age was beginning to catch up. The old preacher's intimidation factor was quite daunting, until he opened his mouth. A kinder and gentler shepherd you would not find anywhere, unless you had intent to harm one of his ‘flock', and then those club like fists, would go ‘old testament' on your ass.

Josiah would enter the hospital, smiling kindly at the nurses, doctors and hospital staff as he passed, his size easily cutting a swather through any groups gathered in the hall. Gingerly taking a seat in one of the soft plastic chairs, Josiah would lean forward and brush the tangled curls back from the too pale face. At the first visit he had settled the sparse white blankets more securely; knowing of the patient's intense hatred and sensitivity to the cold, the next time he had come, a soft mink blanket in shades of gold and blue had been added to the bed, which he'd also smooth and tuck in. Then he'd lean back and begin to recite prayers from the good book, voice soothing and warm in the bland atmosphere.

Although calm on the outside, Internally he was kicking himself, unable to believe that he had treated this particular lamb with such insensitivity, he knew only a little the background that led to the insecurities that this young one harboured, but still he had failed to listen to his instincts. If he had, they would have told him to offer what comfort and reassurance that he could, a cracked heart is more easily shattered by friend than foe.

Yet even with all his knowledge and experience he had still turned away from the child, unable to fathom that he would do something so stupid, so dangerous. Except, of course he hadn't. Josiah, should have known...or rather did know, but was incredibly was a never ending circle of blame, hate and he alone could not stop.

The only way to break the chain was to earn back his right to offer guidance to one he had failed so badly. Decided, and single minded in his determination, Josiah would run an hand over the blanket covered chest and shoulder, adding silent prayer, just for his ears, before turning and leaving, hoping that the flock would be whole again soon.

Please Vin

The black man was well known by the hospital staff. Along with Josiah, he was the only level headed one among the seven and he spoke fluent Doctorese, a fact that both the friends and the medical professionals were thankful for.

Having a girlfriend who worked in the hospital, and a ‘brother' as a patient, meant that Nathan was a frequent visitor to room 412, often just sticking his head in as he passed.

Just checking.

However, every few hours he would enter the room and it beside the silent bed, eyes watching and gauging the equipment, and hands often doing a quick check of the wound and vitals. He took his job as team medic very seriously.

Hence the reason why the fact that he didn't even notice the injury was tearing him up. Self disgust and abhorrence ate at his soul.

He should have known...

He knew what this particular boy was like, injury wise, and knew what he was like job related. The fact that he had even considered the ludicrous assumption, let alone believed it was abysmal. They relied on Nathan, he relied on Nathan, to keep them all alive and well, to know when to say ‘sit down before you fall down, you bloody idiot' and when they was being to self sacrificing to come out and say ‘I've just dislocated my shoulder.....can you fix it' rather than walk around for the next week with a damaged arm.

It was his job...his duty...his calling....and he had failed.... personally.

Never again, he promised himself...'If somehow I can fix this, and regain his trust......never again’

Getting to his feet, knowing that Rain would be waiting for him, Nathan ran a hand across the smooth forehead, and he wasn't just checking the patient's temperature.

Please Vin

All these men came and went, pleading and hoping and guilty. However one man never left. The white chair to the beds right was constantly occupied by a lone, solitary figure, dressed head to toe in black. Silent and deadly, he played the waiting part of the ‘wait and see' game.

The nurses didn't bother with visiting hours for this man, as they doubted that he would leave even if they did. Occasionally he would move to the other bed, usually when exhaustion left him no choice, and he'd collapse for a few short hours, before he would be back in the white seat, hand holding a smaller, limp one.

The only times he completely left the room, where when his other team member woke after surgery and twice more after that to visit him.

The rest of the time he sat in the seat holding on and not letting go. Never letting go.

When the other men visited they brought him food, although they remained mostly untouched. Caffeine was this man's friend, and he relied on it to stay with his best friend.

After all he had said and done, he wasn't leaving this room without the man in the bed.

Not when he had a million shards of a broken heart to find and put back together, and as much as he hated puzzles, this was not one he would leave unfinished. In all his years, through every moment in his life, every experience, he had never been so ashamed with himself, so utterly horror struck with his own behaviour.

His actions may have cost his little brother his life.

It wasn't an outcome Chris was willing to accept, and he'd do anything he had to, to prove to the other half of his soul exactly how wrong he had been, how misguided.

And how entirely sorry he was. He'd prove that he was there for the long hail and no matter what happened he'd come through. Chris wasn't willing to let the boy go, not when it had been his own appalling behaviour that had caused the massive rift.

Squeezing the small hand tightly, Chris lay his head down on the side of the bed, glad for the warm presence of his, thankfully alive, best friend.

‘Please Vin’

The nurses in particular, loved this patient, for all that he complained, about the food, the bed, the temperature, the atmosphere, and most things else. He was charming, a little exotic, and his accent was just dreamy. And as disagreeable and argumentative as he was, the way he lit up whenever his friends were in the room was beautiful.

He had woken the morning after the shooting, doped to the gills on the good stuff, and as loopy and chatty as they had ever seen. He wasn't impressed about the whole ‘being shot' thing and even less by the ‘In hospital' thing, but was much too impressed by the dust mites shining in the sun rays to really care.

Buck, Josiah and JD had had a difficult time keeping him in the bed, although not for his usual reason of wanting to escape, but rather because he wanted to find out where the brown lines in the carpet led to after they ‘escaped' out the door, into the hall. Finally they convinced him that the lines in the carpet were all over the hospital, much to his disgust, and he turned his attention to the dots in the white ceiling, trying to count them, but use a different language for every number, finally falling asleep at ‘dos-cents dotze’ leaving a befuddled JD and amused Josiah to watch over him, glad that he hadn't been ‘with it' enough to ask about Vin, knowing that Ezra was just slightly protective of the boy he had formed a close bond to. They had no doubt that when he did find out what they had done, there was going to be hell to pay...and they would deserve it.

Hopefully having one that hadn't betrayed Vins trust would help the situation, and if any of them could, Ezra was sure to succeed.

The undercover agent slept the majority of the morning, warm under the green and silver mink blanket that Josiah had supplied. The doctors thought they would probably be able to release him into one of his friend's care either that afternoon or the next morning, depending on how well he weaned from the pain killers.

Chris left Vins room for half an hour that evening, sitting next to the clearly bemused Ezra, who had thankfully, stopped trying to get out of the bed. The leader was morose and despite being happy beyond belief that Ezra was going to be okay and glad to be visiting him, Chris had this feeling that something would happen to Vin while he was gone. He was speaking softly to Ezra, letting him know what had happened to the Johansson's, careful not to mention Vin when the obviously drowsy southerner started to bat clumsily at his shirt. Chris tried to grab the hands that were fluttering at him, but Ezra was not in the least coordinated while drugged, making it difficult for Chris to judge where he should be grabbing.

Chris was about to call for a doctor, starting to fear that this was some sort of fit, when the southerner allowed his hands to be captured.

Holding the slightly clammy hands Chris gazed at the surprisingly clear green eyes and was about to ask what Ezra was doing when the man told him anyway.

‘I was endeavouring to expel a great black storm cloud from this domicile, it is impeding on my capability to recover comfortably.....’

Chris stared at Ezra, unsure whether to be offended or confused, when the man continued.

‘Chris...I'm going to be fine.....go sit with Vin.......'

Chris had no idea how Ezra knew Vin was in the hospital, but assumed one of the others had told him, he smiled and thanked the southerner, who had fallen asleep again anyway, before doing as he was bid, and heading back to Vin's room.

Nathan checked in with Ezra late that night, having come to pick Rain up, who was on the later shift. Ezra was asleep when he entered the room, but it took the medic mere moments to realise that he was not comfortable at all. Reaching out, the back of his hand to the creased forehead told Nathan what he had already suspected, Ezra had a fever, relatively mild at the moment, but something was causing it, and if they didn't replicate the problem, it may not remain mild, and the last thing they needed was two of their brothers in medical distress.

Nathan called the doctor and had already started uncovering the gunshot wound when he arrived. It didn't take long to establish that the wound had become infected. The doctor increased Ezra's antibiotics and told Nathan that he would have a nurse look in on him throughout the night. Nathan told him not to worry, that he himself, intended to stay.

He gave Rain his car keys and told her he'd get a lift around tomorrow to pick his car up, and then like in another room a few floors up, he sat vigil at the bedside for the night.

Nathan had hoped that by catching the infection early, they might avoid it getting much worse, but it seemed to be well established, as the fever increased during the night, becoming moderately high, although not dangerously so.

It was obvious that Ezra wasn't going home the next morning after all.

It was another two day before the fever broke, much of which Ezra spent asleep, or hot and clammy, befuddled by the pain meds they had him on, and any mention of Vin went unnoticed by the ill southerner. Like with Vin, one of the team members sat at Ezra's bedside, so he wasn't alone when he woke, knowing that he hated hospitals at the best of time, which this definitely wasn't.

The fever finally broke and the infection began to lose hold mid morning three days after having been shot. It was just before lunch when Ezra woke up, clear and on full thrusters for the first time in days.

And contrary to those who thought Ezra was no more than a selfish conceited jerk, the first thing out of his mouth was, “How is Vin?” green eyes flicked between Nathan and Josiah, who had been quietly speaking as the television ran muted in the back ground.

Nathan turned at the sound of the clear voice, “Ezra! You're do you feel...?” he ignored the question of Vin for a moment, intent on getting a straight answer out of the con man first.

Ezra brushed him off “Fine, I'm fine......” Nathan gaze turned piercing and Ezra capitulated wanting to hear about his team mate as soon as possible “ shoulder is throbbing, I have a headache, I'm hungry, and thirsty, the beds to hard, the pillows too soft, the blankets are scratchy, and I'm Vin?” the southerner stared at the two men, who stared back, before Nathan huffed an exasperated but happy breath, and Josiah a let out a deep chuckle.

‘Ezra was going to be okay.

Nathan sighed, thinking of Vin, and Ezra's reaction. “First things first...” he said, wanting to make the southerner more comfortable and not just delay the conversation. He pulled all the blankets and sheets off the bed, to Ezra's dismay, if the southerners enraged screech was any indicator, before he began putting them back one at a time, the mink first.

“There no more scratchy blankets...lunch is in 20 minutes and here.....” he handed the glass of water than Josiah had poured to the gambler, waiting until he had drank all of before taking the cup back.

Josiah started “Not much we can do about the bed or the pillows brother, they're all the do you know about Vin getting shot?” Ezra stared at them for a second, unsure of the questions intent.

Nathan explained “Did one of the others tell were pretty out of it......I don't know if you heard everything correctly... ” Nathan stopped because Ezra was shaking his head.

He allowed the younger man to speak, “No...No one's told me anything....I don't think....... Not anything I can recall clearly if they did......” seeing that he was getting off topic, Ezra took a breath and continued “I saw the events that transpired which led to Mr Tanner being shot....”

The machine beeped a steady staccato in the background, comforting only in that it broke the stifling silence of the whitewashed hospital room. It was a familiar environment, one met with contrasting thoughts and feelings. It may be a place of pain, suffering and death, but the hospital also meant healing and safety, a haven, that once reached, usually meant it's over and we're all still here.


Sometimes however, it was just a place of sorrow and remorse, and today, sitting in the intentionally uncomfortable plastic lined chair, large tanned hand gripping the smaller, completely lax, colourless hand, he knew without a doubt that this urgent dash to the hospital, however routine they had started to become, would forever rest in his mind as one of the worst of his entire life.

Chris had sent the others home nearly an hour ago, although Ezra had point blank refused to go. After finding out what they had done to Vin, the undercover agent had been furious, and not in his overdramatic drama queen manner of norm, but instead an intense, quite burn that wouldn't go out.

And rightfully so, if after hearing what had transpired after he had been shot had left Ezra that angry on the boys behalf, then Chris's guilt had easily tripled at hearing the exact story to the shooting.

The reason why Vin had been flying through the air, a bullet tearing through his soft flesh, agony twisting his body, yet not being given a chance to say a word.

Putting what they had done in words for Ezra had made it all too real for Chris.

And hearing what Ezra had to say was worse than telling him what they had done.


‘We blamed him for you getting shot’

...You did what?!! if he wasn't already going to blame himself... Why on earth would any of you say such a thing to him?

‘I thought he had jumped out of the rafters....showboating...or something....knocked Buck you shot’

Vin! Showing off? Can you hear how stupid you unbelievable this is...he gets shot....and you blame him for getting me shot by showing off.......

‘We didn't know he had been hit'

‘How did you not see him get shot, he jerked like a marionette! Didn't you notice that he was white as a ghost?’

‘We didn't see him get shot...we were all watching you....’

' blamed him for me getting shot...after being shot sent him away...alone....thinking he might have gotten me killed....while he had a bullet in his stomach?’

‘I swear we didn't know he had fallen, that he was hurt....there was no sign of blood...and he didn't say anything.....’

‘Didn't say anything...didn't say any...ITS VIN! ...Of course he didn't say anything....he never says anything...but you didn't even ask....did y....hang on a moment...fallen.....he didn't fall...he ...oh don' didn't'

‘Ezra...what...what do you mean he didn't fall?....he was shot from the rafters and fell......we didn't notice...thought he'd jumped...and then.....’

‘Oh....Chris....That's just it...he did jump.....he jumped from the rafters...and then was shot...not the other way round....cause and effect Chris....cause and eff....’


‘Vin didn't fall....he jumped out of the rafters....into the path of a bullet...a bullet meant for you Chris....’



‘HE DID WHAT!??.....Of all the.....Why the hell wou.....Oh Vin.... ‘


‘He couldn't shout...for fear of startling the guy who had you Ezra...and he mustn't have been able to get a sight with his rifle.....’

‘I had wondered....that's what happened....he got himself shot for you....and you treated him like..... ’

‘I know....I can't....We didn't....I wasn't...What have I done....Vin....’

‘Chris...I can't believe that you would do that to Vin of all people...that any of you would.......I'm disgusted...appalled....if you've broken that boy.....if he never trusts you again...never forgives you....I wouldn't be know how he was raised, what he's endured, over far he extended himself to trust us all......if you've shattered that trust....Vin won't be the only one who never forgives you...’


*Sigh/sob/indrawn breath*


‘He'll forgive you Chris....he shouldn't....but he will...’

*..I'll do anything...we all will...prove to him....but Ezra....he won't wake up....*

The southerner sat beside the bed, white linen contrasting with the blue blanket, yet blending with the too pale skin. His hand gripped the patient's left hand, warm and reassuring, the right held by and equally reassuring hand.

Ezra gazed across at their leader, the man was asleep, his head on the mattress beside the small waist, holding on, even in sleep. Although he was angry, furious even, that they had treated Vin with such unthinking insensitivity and unbelievable heartlessness, he knew that the only ones who could truly heal were those who had harmed.

Of them, especially this man, who would walk across fire and right into the pits of hell for the boy in the bed, if only the stubborn Texan would allow it, Ezra would have to see that he did.

Suspending his anger and disbelief for an instant, he could see how in the heat of the moment, and looking for someone to blame, adrenaline and emotions running high...he wasn't so sure that if he hadn't seen what had happened with his own two eyes....he wouldn't be on the other side.....he only wished that the easy target had not been this particular target....who was as insecure as he was trusting.

He wasn't without blame either, and the guilt he was feeling proved that. It was a different kind of shame...but shame none-the-less. He remembered Chris's words...we were watching you...and couldn't help the tingling of happiness at the thought that they had been worried about him. He knew they cared, just as he did, but to have it said, in plain view, right under his nose....

And to be the cause of such pain and suffering...hence the guilt and shame.

He would put it to right...see the trust rebuilt and solidified....he wouldn't lose the only true family he'd ever had to anything...especially not cracks of turmoil from the inside out.

Ezra sighed as Chris stirred, watching as hope was chased away by resignation as the blond woke and looked to his best friend. Standing, the southerner ran long fingers through the slightly less tangled hair, thanks to his gold pocket comb, and left, giving the two some privacy.

‘Please Vin’

‘Please Vin...Please wake up...’

He'd told them to go home, get some sleep, that they would be no use to any one, meaning Vin, if they were exhausted; but in truth, he had been unable to stand the shame and guilt that wreathed each of their persona's, enhancing and intensifying his own.

Finally Ezra left, and Chris was both grateful and sad. Some part of him hoped that Ezra would remain here, because Chris had no idea what he was doing, and the boy needed someone he could trust.

As soon as the room was cleared, of all except himself and the patient, Chris felt the weight that had been hovering over his head like a dark cloud, crush into him, an almost physical presence that forced him to slump lower in the plastic chair.

Chris shivered, pulling the black coat closer, although, perhaps the low temperature of the hospital was only a factor of his discomfort. In the short time he had known Vin, in reality, a stretch of forever, he had always believed, without a doubt, that the fates had conspired to make their paths not only cross, but become irrevocably tangled that he belonged at Vin's side and Vin at his.

Friends, partners, kindred spirits...

After what he had done, or not done; he felt as though this was the last place he deserved to be. He wasn't going to leave though; he may not deserve to be here, but Vin didn't deserve to be abandoned...again.

‘He jumped into the path of a bullet....a bullet meant for you Chris.....’

And then Chris had betrayed him, broke Vin as easily as he had protected him. He had no idea how to fix the mess he had created...but Vin waking up would be a start.

The doctors had no real reason for the coma, stating any number of possible causes, blood loss, shock, emotional trauma.....

Any and all of which could be contributing factors.

Chris was at a loss, but he wouldn't lose Vin, he squeezed the smaller hand tightly, as if trying to anchor the boy to him.

His other hand, curled against a slim, blanket covered waist, convulsively tightened around the thin, crumpled sheet of paper, the white parchment showed creases and lines, indicative of having been scrunched up and then smoothed out repeatedly over the last several hours.

Vins prose, it haunted him, during waking and sleeping hours, certain lines eating at his heart, He knew the younger man had a poet's heart, and liked to write when emotional; it was a sort of outlet.

And the boy had talent, real talent...Chris himself had a framed and signed (much to Vins delighted chagrin) copy of ‘A hero's heart' hanging on his office wall, but never had Chris ever seen such devastating honesty on paper...and stained by blood smudges, the message was even more harrowing.

He knew it was all about interpretation, but if Vin was feeling even a tenth of the misery and worthlessness that poured of this page...Chris couldn't bear the thought that he had had helped cause it.

Had Vin even realised that he was hurt, bleeding out while he was writing this...or had he been so wrapped up in getting how he felt out that he hadn't even been aware of his own dire situation?

And when you're gone; just a distant thought

No one will remember how hard you fought

Didn't he realise; hadn't they made it clear enough. Surely he knew that should anything ever happen to him, if they lost him, that nothing would ever be the same again.

No one will remember.... more like, no one would ever forget, even for a second, days filled with reminders and memories and night with dreams and nightmares. What ifs, maybe's and if only's clouding the mind and actions, until finally, one by one, they joined him in the beyond.

If he didn't know, didn't realise...Chris vowed he would...if he would just wake up.

Chris started at the lax, pale hand in his, the colour contrast almost as striking as the size, he had never noticed that how small Vins hands were, how small the whole package was...just like their realisation of how young he was. His gaze followed the slim arm, and neck before coming to rest on the familiar, yet unfamiliar face.

Usually so animated, when happy, exited, angry or sad, yet never blank, like now.

Not knowing what else to do, and not able to stand just sitting here Chris began to speak.

Here we are again.....becoming a bit of a habit cowboy....I'd be glad to help you kick it......I don't think I like this side of the game much, I much prefer to be on the other side...the one in the bed......I know you are probably thinking.......but I gotta tell you Vin...I hate being the one waiting.........would you just wake up already?? You hear me? Get that mangy, flea ridden, shag carpet and that scrawny, buckskin covered ass out of that bed! ...yeah, yeah...I do it and your mouth......really though've gotta wake up....I can't stand the waitin' any know I'm not exactly the most patient guy....oh wipe that smirk of your face...if you wake up, I'd let ya tell me to shove many times as ya like.......”

Chris patted the hand in his grasp gently before letting go and pacing over to the window, staring out at the empty tarmac parking lot, noting the stars that barely shone through the city pollution.

If you were awake, I'd take ya out to the can see all the stars out there....breath the fresh air...see the horses...Yosemite rang me this morning...he taking care of the horses...he said if you don't come home soon he's gonna have to turn Peso into bastard gave him a real hurry up the other morning....if you wouldn't have my hide I tell Yosé to just let the devil starve....I know....Peso a fine horse....if you ignore the teeth and the legs and the rump and his tail.....not much of a horse then partner........

He turned back to the bed, taking his place at Vins side again, hand automatically reaching for Vin's, still speaking.

You know....I think I have the makings for smores....uh...what do you call them?....Buck liked the name......oh right Chocmallow Orgasms.....*Snort* ...yeah, I see why Buck likes that name.....that's Buck for ya....All he thinks about.....except that's not true....he know that right....don't worry , I'm sure he will tell you himself....damn drill it into your head until you understand......he thinks the world of you.....loves how much you love life...and everything in it.....he never meant to hurt you....shock I think, so close to saving and then losing's not an excuse....there's never going to be an excuse for how we treated you....but Vin....Buck ain't got a mean bone in his body...not where your concerned......he's just your know how you're the only one who I let call me cowboy? ...Well you're the only one who can call him Bucklin....not even JD can do that.....

Chris shifted in his chair, fingers of his free hand worrying the blanket, unable to stop the out pour of his very soul.

Speaking of JD....well that kid thinks the sun shines out your very was that for a Vinism....pales in comparison huh?....well, I do what I can......Anyway....JD wants Bucks approval and care...but it's you he're the one he wants to be just like....the look on his face when he realised what he had done...I don't even think he knew what was going on...kid was in the van for most of it...came into the warehouse just on the tail end of hearing how you got Ezra hurt him to realise that his idol was human....was probably good for him...but Vin what I'm trying to say is that JD's anger was probably aimed more at himself that you...he couldn't process what he was being told about his hero...didn't believe it...he just reacted...but Vin your still super human in his eyes...more so than ever...he'll tell you that, although it will be in JD-enese...which only you seem to treat him like ‘just one of the guys' rather than ‘the kid'.... something that only Josiah does as well......but Josiah's mature like JD-enese I thinks that's ‘Old!...'...don't tell the preacher man I said that......”

Chris trailed off for a moment...grabbing the glass of water on the bedside table and taking a drink himself before dunking a cloth and wetting Vin's lips.

My mouth was dryza-bone...nope....too Aussie....can't blame a guy for trying....oh ya can, can ya? would to, wouldn't ya....need some of Josiah's wisdom right about with these uppity young ones.....or some of his ‘old testament ‘problem think you'd wipe the floor with anyone....I'll admit Tanner, you're a scrapper...but Josiah...really?...Have you seen the size of that're probably right....nope...he'd let ya knock him out cold before he'd lift a hand to you.....its true...for all his strength, Josiah is a softy when it comes to you...says you ‘get' him in just the right place....I reckon he will be able to tell you all this himself much better...something about using the wrong set of parameters to judge...forgetting that the past can shape each man differently....and ignoring someone's past for seemingly obvious facts in the present being a dangerous and unsteady path...wisdom isn't really my forte...but I reckon Josiah will walk you through it....just as soon as you wake up.....if you don't get you your head out of dream land soon, I'll sick Nate on you....Like he did to Ez last weekend...and the weekend before that.....don't much reckon you'd like having your legs casted together..... ”

Chris stopped talking as the midnight Nurse stuck her head in, her eyes screamed sympathy, as they all did. She did a quick check of the equipment and IV's before she was gone again.

‘I don't think Nate's slept a wink...between you and Ezra and Rain being here at the hospital... he stretched kind of thin...not that he minds......finding out he had missed that you were injured...and badly...really shook him up...he hardly leaves the hospital...not that I'm particularly pleased about that little fact either...but Nate takes his duty as team medic to an you well know...and he thinks you're the worst of the bunch of us for not telling him when you need help...also true...Vin....we had no idea you were hurt...we don't even know if you have to believe me...we would never have sent you back to the office if we had known...we should never have sent you anyway....but almost died....I-I .....Nathan was terrified he would lose you....Vin...if that ever happened...I know that he...we...would never get over mean a hell of a lot to us....your one of us.....Nathan knows you had nothing to do with Ezra being shot....and even if you had...he...we..I....would never have blamed you...things happen... Nathan wouldn't have cast you matter what had happened with Ezra....not only are you too far ingrained, joined to our soul....our brother, blood or not, you're stuck with us...;but Ezra would have eaten him alive, as it was a close call...’

Chris swallowed and glanced furtively around, Ezra had the most awful habit of just ‘popping' up when you least expected...he'd never hear the end of it if the southerner overheard what he was about to say.

‘When he woke, he went to bat for you...he's a great friend to have Vin...but I don't think you ever need worry about losing him.....I have never seen Ezra so riled up in my life...I wouldn't have been surprised if steam had started to pour out of his ears...his face was so red he looked like a tomato...oh he was good and vexed...not that it's in any way a laughing matter....we more than deserved his fury...for even considering the idea that you would even contemplate doing something that might endanger one of us.... the idea is just ludicrous...I just don't know why we didn't cotton onto it then....we knew you weren't to blame for Ezra......perhaps you were just an easy target....all of our busts lately have been cake walks....facing our own mortality might have shaken us up a bit...had us looking for a scapegoat....I'm sorry Vin...It never should have been you...We know that you would never hurt any of us...we don't need Ezra to tell us that....we know you actually put ‘yourself' in danger if it protected one of us.............................Ezra told me what you did.......stepping in front of that bullet.....for me..’

Chris gazed at the too still figure, wanting to see the eyes open, even if they were filled with hate and disgust...he needed Vin hear with him. Finally he had reached the crux of the matter, felt like he had reached the core of the wound, the poison had been draining for the last few hours, but now the painful part began....his own place in the mess

‘I want to say that I wished you hadn't done that......hadn't taken it for me....but I'm not presumptuous enough to think that it would make the slightest difference if I told wouldn't for me...I'd step in front of any number of bullets for you Vin...trains, cars, buses, bombs...walk through fire and tell death himself to take his pissing party elsewhere, that I've already staked my claim.........and I'm never giving you up.......I know....I chose a piss poor way of showing that sentiment....and Vin, all I can really say is I am so, so very sorry......although I plan on saying a whole lot more.........I don't know whether it was a culmination of the conversation from the day before about safety protocol, which, despite the incredibly inappropriate timing, I still stand by...the fact that you were late and I was getting worried about you.....and then Ezra coming so close to dying and you just being in the picture my subconscious peripheral vision painted.......I don't know....but Vin...I trust you with my life....I trust you with my teams life.....if he were alive...I'd trust you with my sons life.......what I did was inexcusable...what I said to you......some of it I meant...but even at the tine Vin....when my brain was wacked out on insane were never leaving the team....never leaving my side.......I don't know how to make you understand......I don't expect to be forgiven...I don't know how you would be able to after I destroyed your trust and loyalty....but have to was my short coming....not yours.....I've never had anyone who knows me the way you do...cares for me like you do...or that I care for the way I care about you...not even Adam or Sarah......’

Chris broke off, unable to continue, daunted by the vastness of the mistake he had made...the total destruction of a friendship unlike any he had ever experienced...he truly and honestly didn't think he would survive if he couldn't fix this.....but he would....he didn't deserve death....not after what he had done to this precious soul..... Chokingly he continued, hand convulsively tightening and loosening on Vins.

I need you to wake up Vin...I'll beg you if I have to...I need to make you understand...I've never felt as ashamed as I do now...what I did to you....when all you ever gave me was your support, loyalty.....and love.....If I have to prove my loyalty and belief in you, to you for the rest of my life ........I hoping that one day you will trust me again...not just as your boss...although I understand f you no longer want to work for me.....but as your friend......I know that there's no way you can ever forgive me...........

Chris reached out and automatically smoothed the creased brow, soothing the grimace of distress off the pale face before opening his mouth to continue....then realised what he had just done.

He jumped to his, free hand going to Vins face, other never leaving the hand that was...yes!...returning his grip ever so slightly.....

“VIN! Vin...that's it... your're in your eyes....come on....I know you can do me those baby blues....come on Vin, glare at me!.....” his cajoling was rewarded with the slightest slit of blue, before Vin blinked a little and wakened more fully, groaning his free hand moved towards the gunshot wound.

Chris intercepted it “Ah ah...leave were shot...that's it, look at me instead.....” he pulled the hand back up to Vins face, placing the back of his against the softly stubbled jaw, still speaking, soothing Vin until the boy got his bearings, knowing how much Vin hated hospitals and often reacted adversely to medication.

“That's it...deep breaths....nice and calm...I'm just going to call for a've had us all a bit worried...” he started to reach for the call button, when a feeble tugging on his hand drew his attention, looking back to Vin, worried, he was met with the boy trying to tell him something to him, but his mouth was too dry to form the words.

Chris had seen that stubborn look before and knew there was no avoiding whatever the boy was trying to tell him, he reached for the glass of water and helped him take a sip. The glass went back to the table with a dull ‘clunk' and Vin licked his lips and swallowed several times before he breathed deeply, grimacing against the pain and reached up and grabbed Chris forearm.

The vice was soft and wispy, barely more than a mummer but Chris heard it anyway.

“Take ya sorry, mangy, flea bitten, scrawny assed, black bellied, run down, old self and get the hell outta my're's a body sposed ta sleep ‘round here with all ya jawin'?”

The blond grinned, slapped the call button and settled back into his seat, looking at the small hand that hadn't left his......thinking for the first time since he started this mess, that maybe, just maybe, there was a way out.

Chapter 4: The Resolution

JD leapt to his feet as soon as he saw Vin moving slowly into the den, "Here Vin, you can have my seat!" the youngster was already trying to herd Vin to the kind of ugly, but very comfortable armchair.

"JD..." Vin started, but was startled by the sudden appearance of another hand on his shoulder.

"He can't sit there JD, he's should stretch his legs out...he can have the couch..." Buck's large hand was pulling him towards the three seater couch, where Josiah and Ezra were quickly getting to their feet, making room for the injured man.

"But I..." the object of their attention tried again, only to be cut off by Nathan's interference.

The medic shot to his feet, moving across the room towards them, issuing directions as he went. "Ezra, you sit back down, you're not exactly in top condition yourself" the big black man waited until the southerner sat, before he rounded on the other occupants.

"For god sake, Buck, JD, let go of Vin...stop your pushing and pulling, you're gonna hurt him..." Nathan scolded, exasperated.

JD and Buck both reacted as if scalded, leaping back from Vin, Buck worriedly asking "God Vin, Sorry ...we didn't hurt ya? You're not bleeding again?"The big man reached towards Vin; as if to check for tell tale signs of bleeding, when Vin stumbled backwards.

The sniper waved his hands in the air, a gesture of frustration unusual for the typically calm man, "Stop, just stop already...I cain't stand it..." the long hair flipped wildly as Vin paced across the room "I'm fine, I ain't breakable...I can sit on my own, been doing it for a long time now...ya'll gotta stop motherin' me...I don't need to be coddled and babied...I'm fine!"

Vin spun back around, intent on continuing his justified tirade, when he gasped, hands going to his side as pain flared across his abdomen. He doubled in on himself slightly, taking deep shaky breaths. Nathan, Buck and JD all rushed to help him, but were quelled with a ferocious glare, "Leave me alone! I'm fine..." the tracker snarled.

Ezra spoke up, playing mediator from his spot on the couch, "Vin, you're not fine, you've been shot. We're just need to calm down, getting angry will not help matters..." he trailed of as scathing blue eyes turned to his.

Breathing still shallow and pain lingering in his voice Vin, crossed his arms, glare strong as he spoke, "I knew that's what this was all're all trying to make up for what happened..." several sets of guilty eyes looked away, as their young team member continued "You don't have to...there's nothing to make up...I forgave you...I'm not angry..."

"Why?" the previously quiet voice asked, Chris interrupting from his own seat, where he had been watching the drama unfold.

Vin turned to his best friend, confusion apparent on his face "Why, what?" he asked.

Chris got to his feet, walked to Vin and steadily guided the smaller man to the couch, one hand at the small of his back, the other on his right arm. Vin allowed himself to be helped with no complaint, eyes on Chris, bafflement clear.

Chris sat opposite him on the coffee table, glad that they were finally going to have this conversation, but dreading it at the same time, leaning forward, maintaining eye contact Chris asked "Why aren't you angry?"

The others who had still been standing also returned to their seats, they wanted, needed to hear this to, also not having understood Vins easy forgiveness of what to them was the gravest betrayal of friendship.

Vin sighed, still not sure he understood, but willing to try to make them understand. "It hurt that you could believe that I would ever put one of you in danger...but I also understand that you were upset and worried about Ezra, acting on adrenaline and not thinking clearly..." Vin trailed off, not sure what else to say.

"Vin...none of those are any excuse for how we treated you...what we said, did, or didn't do...we know you...know how seriously you take your job to protect us...but we still betrayed you, abandoned you at the slightest hint..." Josiah tried his own explanation; unable to fathom that Vin could just forgive and forget what had happened.

Vin looked stunned "Betrayed...You're all here didn't betray or abandon me...what are you talking about..."

"Vin! I told you to go back to the office! You were shot and hurt and in shock...and I sent you away...we ignored you, yelled and blamed you for almost killing Ezra! If that's not betrayal than what is? " Chris asked, voice intense, almost desperate that Vin understand the gravity of what they had done to him.

Vin turned huge blue eyes on them, individualizing them as he spoke "Betrayal is being with people but being alone, or being alone when surrounded by people" his eyes were glassy with memories as he spoke, "Being told that you will never amount to anything, worthless, hopeless, not deserving love or care".

Vin slumped further back into the seat, continuing in a harrowed voice "Being held accountable for actions belonging to another...watching your mother die, and not being able to do anything...knowing that the people who are supposed to care for you have willingly left you to die...having no one to trust, because anyone you have trusted before used you, or abused you..."

He was silent for a moment; the other men couldn't bring themselves to speak, knowing that Vin was speaking, though abstractly and vaguely, of his own past, which he never spoke of. They waited for him to continue, which he finally did "Betrayal cannot happen without trust...and intent...and nobody else who ever betrayed me ever felt bad about it...I trust no one I have ever trusted before...and I trust that you wouldn't ever mean to betray me... and the way I see it, a betrayal without just a mistake...and everyone makes those..."

"You's are all sorry...and a true friend, who trusts...forgives you're forgiven...and that's why I'm not angry..." he spoke with such matter-a-fact determination, that some of the others couldn't help but crack a smile at the 'Vin logic', which despite it, seemed to actually make a bit of sense, at least from where Vin was sitting.

Chris spoke "Okay Vin, that makes sense...but a mistake is still a mistake...and it still hurts when someone you trust makes a mistake like we should be least about the fact that I sent you away without even asking if you were okay...I could have killed you!"

Nathan was agreeing, his guilt the strongest over this issue. He had allowed Vin, almost made him, walk away, and as a result the younger man had almost died, he told Vin as much.

"It's my job to keep you guys healthy...I didn't even notice...Chris is should at least be angry about short-sightedness almost killed you" the medic trailed off as Vin answered his statement.

"I'm not angry at all about that, I'm not angry about anything...It'd be right hypocri-..." he looked at Ezra, who nodded and Vin tried the word again "-Hypocritical- of me..."

Chris and the other stared at him, not sure that he had the right word, Vin elaborated " guys were angry because you thought I had hurt Ezra..." the team tried to interrupt him, but the sniper continued "even if you didn't mean it...that's why you acted the way you did at the were angry because I almost killed Ezra, right?"

Chris slowly nodded, not sure where this was going, but paying attention as Vin continued "But ya now say that was wrong, cos you know...ya just know, I'd never hurt any of ya on purpose...right?"

Again Chris nodded.

Josiah and Ezra were starting to smirk a little, getting an idea where this was headed as Vin finished "Well, if you know I would never hurt ya on purpose, and aren't angry with me because of that...then I also know that you would never have meant to hurt me when you sent me away, so I ain't angry either...You've said ya sorry...I've forgiven you...there's nothing more to it...I'm over it... "

Chris blinked, blinked again, and then shook his head "Well how can I argue with that logic..."

Vin relaxed more comfortably on the couch, happy now that his point was across, and the others seemed to get it, maybe they would lay off the mothering now?

Chris moved to go back to his own seat, but at the last minute stopped, and leaned forwards where he was sitting, placing both hands on Vins knees, waiting for the blue eyes to meet his before speaking "Vin...your forgiveness doesn't mean that the hurt you felt is going to just go may not feel we betrayed you...but the break in trust, however minute...well that won't resolve itself any more than our guilt will...deserved or may not feel it now...but if something starts to bother to's something that will only get better with time, patience and honesty"

Vin nodded, eyes wide and serious, not truly understanding, but willing to try, the blond nodded, clapped his hands on Vins knees then got to his feet, heading back to the other single arm chair that was 'Chris's seat'.

" and the matrix!"

JD crowed as one of his favourite movies was selected, usually he had to beg and connive and bribe...but Chris's word was law.

He just knew that their leader was a secret Sci-fi geek... not that he'd ever breathe a word, after all, he valued his life.

Chris settled into his seat as Buck organised the DVD. Seeing the look of unbridled glee on JD's face Chris couldn't help himself, and ordered "JD, go put the pizza in the oven, don't forget to add the extra ham and cheese..."

JD stared at Chris, then at the TV where the Movie was already beginning to run, then back at Chris, before getting to his feet and sulking into the kitchen, after all Chris's word was law.

Vin stared after the moping agent, unable to stifle a grin as he took pity on JD and began to get to his feet, saying "Without mercy Chris...I'll go help the kid..."

Quicker than he could say 'mother hen' Ezra had pulled him gently back down beside him, Buck, Nathan and Josiah had protested and Chris got to his own feet saying..."Never let it be said that I am without mercy...I'll help JD..." he pointed at Vin, saying in a stern voice "You stay right where you are..."

Vin growled softly, but remained where he was without protest.

The others all shared a grin, Vin's easy capitulation to the 'motherin'' and Chris's 'order' showed more forgiveness than any words the tracker could say. They all knew that Vin could, had and did challenge Chris on a daily basis, and was the only one who could walk away relatively unscathed, the fact that he was choosing not to right now, said much for the trust and loyalty he still felt existed between himself, Chris and the rest of the team.

Chris turned and left the room, Vin huffed a long suffering breath before he slumped back into the seat; after all, Chris's word was law.

And at this point in time, he was much too content breathing the air they'd cleared to bother trying to challenge the law.

Vin stared at the ceiling above him, knowing that at 2 am in the morning, the others would have conniptions if they knew he was still awake, they would all have something to say. JD would be the easiest, soft concern, and ideas to help, Josiah and Buck would both be gentle, but Buck's loud and Josiah's soothing wisdom and strength was not what he wanted.

Ezra would understand, of that Vin was sure, but the southerner would still be worried, and the last thing the other injured man needed was to be fretting after him. Chris would probably yell, but his green eyes would be concerned.

Nathan would be the worst, man was like a damn grizzly mama bear, and he the youngest of her cubs!

The Medic would likely take him to task about not sleeping, and then take him to task about not asking for help to get some sleep.

Oh, he had no doubt that Nate just wanted to help, and none that the man actually could help him.

It was more the fact that he didn't want the help; he hadn't slept since the first night they had been at the ranch, two—no, three nights ago. He didn't want to sleep and was hoping that the others would not discovered that his usual night owl tendencies were bordering on insomnia.

Remembering his reason for being awake, as if he could actually forget, Vin rolled to face the window, pleased that he had left the opening ajar, sighing as the gentle breeze chased his thoughts across his face, glad for the fresh air to help clear his head of the memories.

It seemed that he wasn't quite as unaffected as he had thought. Not quite so over what had happened.

Images from the dream, the nightmare that had woken him the first night remained in his vision despite the small comfort the stars gave.

Ezra, eyes dull and unseeing, red blood dripping, spreading grotesquely across the southerners favoured white suit, turned to him, hands outstretched, reaching "You killed me Vin... "The man cocked his head, as a child would, when baffled by something "Why did you kill me...I thought you were my friend...I trusted you..."

Vin reached towards him, hands trying to stall the flow of red on the white material, and from the flesh beneath, but knowing it was too late, 'He had done this' he didn't even notice that the scene had changed until the material beneath his hands went from white, to black.

Yanking his hands away Vin looked up, knowing what he would see, but still shocked when the green eyes of his best friend found his.

Except they weren't Chris's eyes. None of the bright warmth, concerned exasperation or righteous fury remained...they were empty, hollow...dead.

"You killed him Vin..." NotChris turned a stare more terrifying than any glare on him.

Vin shrank back, hands over his eyes not wanting to look, not wanting to hear, know the truth, what he had done "N-No...Never!...No! C-Chris..."

NotChris seemed to ignore him, speaking over Vins faint whimpers of protest. "You killed him...he was your friend...and you killed're worthless...hopeless...loveless...I want no friend I can't trust..."

Vin stumbled backwards with each word, hands going from eyes to ears, trying to block the words, despite knowing the truth.

Then Chris was gone, and in his place JD...

The boy had blood running down the side of his face, covering one of the haunting dead eyes, he spoke to Vin "You killed him Vin...You were meant to protect of us... "

On an on, over and over, a different friend each time, Buck, Nate, Josiah...

Vin had retreated to the farthest point of the blurry grey dreamscape, hands over his eyes, but still seeing...still hearing...

And then JD was back, eyes staring and unseeing as the blood coursed across his face in rivers of red, seeping down onto his collar, the figure spoke "You killed me Vin..." the little head cock and confused gaze looked puppyish on JD as the boy continued "Why did you kill me Vin?...I thought you were my friend...I trusted you..."

Vin didn't approach the falling body this time, didn't try to help, instead he watched JD crumple in on himself and finally go still, blood spilling like a halo around him. The tracker stared, eyes huge, breathing harsh and laboured as puffs of air wheezed through the constricted lungs.

Then the body became Chris.

As before the man spoke, but didn't see "You killed him Vin...pathetic, snivelling coward...I need someone who I can rely on to watch my back..."

And then it was Nate in the centre of the room. There was dark red liquid seeping from the gaping wound at the medic's throat, it gurgled as he spoke "You killed him...It should have been you..."

He faded out, replaced by Buck and then Josiah.

Vin rocked back and forth, curled into a small ball, face in his knees, arms wrapped around his legs, a constant whimper forced itself from his clenched lips.

And Nate was back, hands clutching at the gushing liquid that ran from his throat, gurgling "You killed me Vin..." the head cocked, "Why did you kill me...I thought we were friends...I trusted you..."

Vin wasn't looking, but he knew when the body hit the ground almost as instinctively as he knew when Chris came.

And so it continued, the blame, the deaths.

Until Just Chris remained, and he returned, not bleeding or damaged in an outwardly visible manner, but Vin knew he was dying none-the-less.

The blond had his hands to his chest, as if trying to protect his heart, and Vin knew that this was what Chris was dying from, a broken heart.

The dialogue started. But for the first time, it differed "You killed me Vin...Broke my heart...destroyed me...You were never what I could you're a danger to us...a danger to me" he walked forward, his gait off, unsteady and shakily, until he stood over the sobbing trembling form.

"Why did you kill me Vin?..."

And then Chris slumped, and for the first time since Ezra, Vin could not do nothing.

He threw himself at the falling body, lunging forward, desperate to catch, plead.

Threw himself up, and straight out of sleep.

Vin had sat shakily on the bed, breath a shallow panicked rasp as he took in the surroundings. His bed at Chris's, the window, framing his stars...

A loud snore came from two doors down, and he barely heard JD sleepy, irritated "Buck!", but it was enough.

Heaving in a great breath, the trembling became all out shakes as he rode the horrifying high to the bottom of the long jagged cliff where he was dashed against the rocks.

Stifling the distraught sobs, with his hand, Vin levered himself out of bed, hand going to the bullet wound that pulled painfully at the sudden movement, grimacing when he felt the tell tale wetness that seeped onto his hand, he had pulled a stitch or two...probably while he as thrashing around during the ...

Getting to his feet, ignoring the aching pain he stumbled into the bathroom, almost falling into a seated position on the toilet. He used the glass on the vanity to take several long gulps of water, trying to calm himself, but unable to completely quell the shaking.

Wiping his face with a damp washer he was glad that at least the tears had ceased.

Looking out the window, he could tell that dawn was only an hour or so away, and while he was unlikely to be disturbed so early, Chris was the earliest riser, apart from himself, and even then the leader usually followed the sun, but no one could predict the needs of a full bladder.

Yanking his shirt up and over his head, remembering to make a note to discard it properly so the red stain wouldn't betray him, Vin gently eased the covering away from the wound, and was gladdened that it was relatively minor, he'd just popped two stitches. Grabbing some loo paper he dampened it a little and then wiped the blood away. He snagged an older washer from the cupboard, which he folded into four and using at as pad, bound it tightly over the wound.

Admiring is handy work, he was glad that the added measures weren't obvious. Nate would be livid the thought of the medic, Vins mind settled on dark hands clutching at a bloody throat, and his breath hitched, he immediately turned his mind elsewhere.

Nathan was fine, they were all fine.

If the medic found out he had popped the stitches, he would not be very impressed, but Vin was more worried about the questions of 'how' that would inevitably come up.

And there was no way he was going to tell them that, they had enough guilt was a mistake for god's sake.

Conveniently ignoring how furious Nathan, not to mention Chris, would be when, not if, but when they actually did find out, Vin headed outside, glad for the first rays of gold appearing on the horizon, as he moved towards the barn and Peso.

Peso was a good companion, and Vin enjoyed grooming the horse, he found it calming as well as being productive. Peso snorted into his hair, and Vin grinned and leaned against the massive shoulder, petting the soft, glossy neck as the horse nickered at him softly. Peso was a much misunderstood animal.

His reputation included names such as devils spawn, and satan's beast, or Chris's personal favourite, 'great black bastard' which Vin thought was vaguely hypercritical, but had found no reason to actually say that to his best friend. Yet.

Peso was a magnificent animal, both physically and in personality. He was feisty, and spirited, impossible to break and as temperamental a stepped on rattler, but Vin, being the kettle, didn't mind calling the pot black.

He loved his horse, and any who bad mouthed him, seriously, he didn't mind the jokes, had better not do so in Vin's company, or they might find that the horse is the least of their worries, and that the owner is the one to watch.

Sighing again at the gentle nibbling on his ear, Vin nudged the horse back, and bent to pick up the supplies he had used while brushing the horse, he froze, a deep groan drawing itself to the surface form the pit of his stomach as an agonising pain screamed to be recognised from somewhere in the general ache that had been his side for the past few days.

Slowly he forced himself to straighten, using more power of will than actual ability, leaving the brushes and combs were they lay. He wandered over to the closest bag of grain and slumped down on it, unable to suppress the moan of pain. It just wouldn't seem to break; there had been moment here and there of the sharp stabbing pain, but nothing as terrible and prolonged as this. It was so bad that he was actually starting to contemplate calling for Nathan when it was gone as suddenly as it had arrived.

Breathing deeply, Vin settled, he knew he was to expect some pain, after all he had been shot, but this was almost, actually it was beyond intolerable...standing he hissed as the small aftershocks of pain left stinging tendrils across his abdomen.

It would probably help if he was actually taking his medication, he was taking the antibiotics as much as he hated them, knowing that he couldn't afford an infection, but the pain killers made him drowsy, which wouldn't do at all when your physically exhausted but steadfastly refusing to sleep.

Now that the pain was gone Vin could see that the sun was starting to shoot rays in the distant gloom, and decided that he would watch the sunrise from his favourite place on the farm. He slowly, and with difficulty, climbed the ladder into the barns loft, having to stop several times as the wound pulled and ached, thinking that he may have bitten off more than he could chew, but he was nothing if not stubborn and preserved until he reached the top.

Dragging his weary body over to the open hatch, he stared out; and was immediately ensured that the view was worth the climb. It was simply magnificent, one of the true simple wonders of the earth.

Sitting, he watched as the sun finally appeared and began its journey into the sky. He was just contemplating heading back down, when a yell from the house got his attention.


Leaping from his perch on the low window sill, although with less than his usual grace, Vin hurried toward the ladder, hoping to avoid an encounter with Chris while he was 10 foot off the ground, but he was too late.

"Vin...are you in he...Jesus Christ Vin, what in the hell are you doing up there!"

The blond was at the foot of the ladder, eyes angry as they took in Vin's own lofty perch above him.

Sighing Vin answered truthfully, perhaps a little waspishly, "I'se watching the that a problem? "

Chris heaved his own sigh, and able to detect the irritation in his friend's voice, answered a little more calmly "Well, no...Of course not, but you could have watched from say...down here..."

Vin had reached the ladder and was now sitting on the balcony of the loft, eyes peering over the edge to see Chris, the sniper answered "Why? I get a better view up here..."

It was Chris's turn to snap, frustration warring with irritation "Yeah, and the doc said no heavy lifting or extended flights of stairs for a few weeks...I don't think he meant that you could climb ladders instead..."

Vin grumbled, but the blush was indication enough that he hadn't remembered the instruction, petulantly he answered "Spose not...well suns up now, I was coming back down anyways" turning away from Chris he shuffled backwards and went to step back onto the top rung of the ladder, which was a good half meter from the loft edge, the one above having broken at some stage, and Chris hadn't gotten round to repairing it yet.

Going up hadn't really been a problem, coming down however was proving to be just a little more difficult. It all lay in the fact that usually they'd just swing down, waist at the edge, and hang until their feet found the rung; the problem with this was the bullet hole that happened to be at Vin's waist.

Chris watched the smaller man fidget and fuss for a moment, waiting, until finally Vin cracked and asked for help

Only he didn't.

The tracker sat facing the rest of the barn, feet dangling a good couple of inches above the thin rung that he now couldn't see because of his own body. He eased his body forward, almost wiggling off the edge of the loft floor, and Chris realised what he intended to do an instant before Vin would have slipped off the floor, and just hoped to hell he landed on the rung, and the jolt didn't tear the stitches in his side.

"Get your ass back on that damn fool, are you trying to kill yourself?" Chris didn't wait for an answer, the fact that Vin had stopped and was now paying attention to him enough, as he started up the ladder himself.

Getting to the top rung, Chris found that this placed him directly at Vins eye level, and he watched, exasperated as the blue gaze flinched back from his, guiltily.

The blond spoke "Just ask for help Vin, it's not that difficult a concept...your too damn stubborn and self reliant for your own good."Vin had the good grace to shrink back a little more, as Chris went on "What if you had missed the rung, it's a bloody long way to the it was, even if you did land've got a fricken hole in your hide that mighta ripped open!"

Vin mumbled something, unclear under his breath, gaze still not meeting Chris's.

Chris sighed, softening his tone, he asked "What was that Vin?"

The sniper winced sullenly at a pained twinge from his side, before finally looking at Chris with big blue eyes, "I'm sorry...wasn't really thinking...keep forgettin'..."

Chris nodded and clapped a hand on one slumped shoulder "Don't be sorry, just don't do it again..."he waited for Vins nod before he added "Right, let's get you I can go and have my coffee...maybe two."

Vin cracked a grin at that, but looked at the blond a bit confused "Uh, Chris? Exactly how am I getting down...your kind in the way..." he looked from Chris, to the ladder and then to the ground as if to prove his point.

Chris sighed "Trust me, okay" as he took a step down one rung, gladdened by Vins murmured 'always'.

One hand on the side of the ladder and one on Vins waist, Chris leant back a little, creating room between himself and the ladder. "You, grab my shoulders and ease yourself down until you find the rung...Vin..." blue eyes turned back to him..."Do it slowly, and use me as support, I can easily take your weight... you really are gonna tear that wound open again if you ain't careful..." he missed Vins guilty look as the blue eyes dropped from his and Vin began to shuffle forward again.

Vin pretty much used his upper body strength to almost climb down Chris, at a slow, controlled speed, assisted by the hand that held him steady from the waist, Soon his feet were on the rung and Chris was making sure he was stable, as Vin rode out the increased jolts of pain in his stomach.

Finally they eased and Chris, noticing said "You okay?" Vin nodded and Chris added "Okay, carefully turn around and climb down after me." He climbed to the bottom of the ladder and stepped off, waiting for Vin who was much slower, moving carefully, and trying to ignore the painful pull every time he stepped down.

Two rungs from the bottom and a large hand on either side of his waist basically lifted him the rest of the way smoothly, and he sighed, glad to be back on solid ground, he wouldn't tell Chris, but he probably wouldn't be repeating that climb for a while.

Chris waited a moment as Vin caught his breath than began guiding the younger man back towards the ranch house, stopping to pick up the horse grooming instruments as he passed, saying to Vin a bit smugly "I bet you won't be trying that climb again anytime soon."

Vin just growled.

The dishwasher was packed and the table cleared of the breakfast dishes, except a covered one for Ezra, who was still asleep. Buck had retired to the den, and was watching the cheerleading tryouts, for 'scholarly interest' and he had managed to drag an only semi-reluctant JD with him, every few moments a dismayed half-shout of 'Buck!' could be heard.

Nathan had headed off to find some cell reception to call Rain, and let her know that he and the boys were staying out at the ranch for a bit longer. Chris himself was on the phone to some breeder upstate, talking about going to see a man about a horse.

Vin had taken a fourth cup of his tar-coffee out to the porch, settling comfortably in the old rocker that had been Sarah's. It was a fine day, not a cloud in the sky, the gentle breeze blowing the fresh air, laced with the scent of lavender and eucalyptus. Vin just sat back and relaxed, eyes closed, soaking up the atmosphere.

The soft clink of the door several moments later had his eyes opening and he greeted Josiah with a smile and a friendly gesture when the big man asked "Care if I join you brother?" The man sat heavily, as he always did, his own mug settling on the rail near Vins.

For several moments they just enjoyed the silent companionship and the glorious day. Finally it was Vin who broke the stillness and asked, voice strangely soft and hesitant, vulnerable "'Siah...?"

The big man turned his attention to Vin, his deep voice rumbling quietly, soothingly as he asked "Something on your mind, Vin?"

The blue eyes stared out at the sky, reflecting the deep blue as he spoke "Why did ya ignore me that day..." he trailed off, needing to add no more clarification.

Josiah's large frame almost crumbled in pain at the shy, uncertain question. He had know that despite Vin's ability to forgive, the depth of the pain they, he, had caused wouldn't fade so easily, whether Vin realised or admitted it.

He turned to face Vin, determined to do this right, honestly, "Oh Vin,...I am not without my fact they are many...that wasn't you I was seeing...I was seeing another incident, many years ago, in which something I did, led to the death of someone I held very dear to the time I shook the stupor off, and remembered that you are nothing like I am, or at least, as I used to were gone, and it was too late..."

The whole time Josiah had been speaking Vin had gazed staunchly out into the distance, refusing to meet his eyes, and Josiah now used a hand to turn the small face towards him.

"I know only a little of what happened to make you so wary of people...hush...and I don't blame you at all...the fact that you can find it in your heat to trust us,'s astonishing...and Vin, I will never throw that trust away so blindly again...I promise to never become so absorbed in my own, or anyone else's past that I judge you by that history...I will never hurt you like that again..."

Vins eyes were glassy and Josiah could see that he was starting to comprehend what had happened, how Josiah had turned from him in shame for something that he, Josiah had done, not Vin. Finally the blue eyes cleared and he spoke, "I know you as well 'Siah...well enough to know you would never hurt me on purpose...whoever you remembered...I'm sure they knew it as well"

Josiah stared in amazement at this...he wasn't much more than a child...yet so much more. Such compassion and wisdom... the boy was comforting him, not only was all well, perhaps better than ever between them, but the boy was trying to help him with something that he had never been able to get over.

And surprisingly, the words worked, as he felt the consuming, angry guilt ease just a little, for the first time in a long time.

Smiling, he half ruffled, half caressed Vins curls, grinning "You truly are one of his chosen Vin Tanner, and I am honoured to have known you and been called friend by you..."

Vin blushed scarlet, eyes skittering away from him in discomfort as they always did when confronted with praise and affection, but Josiah wasn't letting it go.

"Thank friend"

Vin reached out with shaky hands and drained the rest of his mostly cold coffee, and then rose to his feet mumbling, "Uh...need more coffee" before hightailing it as fast as his bullet hole filled body could go.

At the door he turned back, face a ridiculous, tomato red, "Thanks 'Siah...I'm glad to know you as well, man could ask for no better protector or friend." he said quickly. Vin was gone before Josiah had time to process the words, and he missed the warm smile that blossomed over the older man's face.

Vin chased his fifth coffee that morning with a can of coke and as a result, was absolutely buzzing, his fatigued body glad for the caffeine boost. Unable to shake Josiah's words or the small grin they left on his face he followed the sounds of shrieking laughter and shouts from the den, entering to a room full of organised chaos.

The TV was still running, but was currently unwatched as Buck had flipped the struggling JD over the back of the lounge, and was currently beating him to death with a cushion. A long, painful death to be sure, if judging from the inhumane shrieks that came from the boy's mouth.

JD was well and truly pinned, Buck using his size to great advantage as well as the angle he had tossed JD onto the couch, it was almost impossible for JD to move, and Vin decided to even the odds just a little.

Careful of his side, Vin grabbed the ballpoint pen of the table beside him, and with hands used to stripping a rifle, he soon had the empty round casing. Looking around Vin began to hunt for suitable ammunition, the duo still wrestling near the couch not having even noticed his entry to the room.

Finally he gathered a handful of the bright pink candy that was obviously JD's, little rock looking things called nerds, he shook his head at the absurd looking junk food, he was much more of a classic guy, but then, beggars can't be choosers. The rocks were actually quite pleasant, kind of tangy and sweet at the same time, he could go for that, but more importantly, they were the perfect size for his mini projectile weapon.





Buck yelped and jumped back from JD as he his backside was suddenly peppered with little pinpoints of pain, probably twenty in two seconds. Spinning around he came face to face with...Vin.

Leaning against the door frame, hands behind his back, butter wouldn't melt in my mouth look, firmly plastered across his face.

Which he promptly ruined by asking "What's the matter JD being a pain in the ass..."

The ladies man growled, and started to charge at Vin, when he was suddenly hit from behind by the flying form that was an airborne JD Dunne. Buck stomped around for several minutes, jumping and cursing and pulling at the limpet that, no matter what he tried, stayed firmly attached to his back. Finally, out of breath he slumped onto the couch, calling "Truce...truce...mercy...uncle...I give...I have been bested by the aerial ninja and his spunky companion the dastardly 'pink rock' ranger"

Vin snorted tossing the pen aside, and entering the room. JD's voice rose from the depths "B-Buck! Git off! You're squishing me!" he squeaked. Buck laughed and got off the boy, wiggling and thrashing as he did so, mashing JD further into the soft seat, before slumping down beside the boy.

Vin sat in 'Chris's chair' looking at the other two, "So...apart from being beaten by a handful of pink candy...what in the hell are you two up to?..."

JD's immediate grin meant that whatever it was, it didn't bode well for Buck.

Admittedly the big man took it in his stride good naturedly as JD explained, "We were watching the cheerleading tryouts, and Buck had it bad for number 11...right up until she was disqualified for being a he..." as he said this the boy dissolved into conniptions again, and Vin was soon to follow.

Buck groaned "Hell, It ain't that funny!"

Except that it was, and he knew it, so he joined in the laughing.

Finally they settled, JD was munching on some other hideous lolly, and Buck's eyes were glued to the TV again. Vin was almost too settled, and afraid that sleep might be just around the corner, no matter how caffeinated he was he spoke again.

He grinned as he spoke, hoping to incite a little more banter "Ya know JD, you're lucky I was here, Buck had you pinned but good..." the boy grinned at Bucks superior snort, agreeing with Vin "I know, he cheated, and pounced before I even cleared the couch, but I'm lucky you've always got my back..." the boy trailed of when he realised what he had said.

The silence that followed was rare among them, awkward and long.

Finally Vin broke the stifling atmosphere "It's okay JD..."

The other agent exploded "It's NOT okay's've always got my back, and when you needed me to have yours, I failed...rottenly..." his voice was angry, but it was self directed.

Vin spoke reassuringly and calmly "JD, I know you look up to me...that ya like it when I teach you to track and treat ya like one of the guys...but in all honesty, I'm just as human as the rest of you, and just as capable of making mistakes..." JD went to interrupt, but Vin beat him to it, continuing "No listen to me! You believed, wrongly as it turned out, that I had done something dangerous, and stupid...and were angry with me about it...and JD, if I had made such a mistake...and I likely will one day... I hope you will be angry with me, and not just brush it off...and then I hope you will forgive me..."

JD was listening closely, and Vin could tell that Buck was as well, despite most of his attention being on the kid "JD, you made a mistake...I was a bit angry until I understood everything that had happened...and that you were all sorry about the mistake you made...but now I forgive you...I know you'll always have my back when it counts...perhaps even because of this...everything teaches us something JD...and I think the lesson in this is that no one is perfect...and everyone makes mistakes...and we forgive them when they do..."

JD nodded, and smiled slightly, voice a bit shaky as he spoke "Thanks Vin...I really am sorry...I didn't believe it, but couldn't see any other option, cos I just didn't look hard enough...I'll make sure I always look harder from now on..."

Vin smiled at the easy acceptance and forgiveness JD could offer, and knew that none of them realised exactly what he had been through to achieve his own level of inner security, and it had all been thanks to this group.

He spoke again "'re a great agent, and you're just going to keep improving...but I know you're already a better friend...and I'd trust you with anything"

JD grinned, happy that all was settled between him and Vin, taking comfort in the fact that Vin now knew that he was worth just as much in JD eyes as ever, he was about to say as much when an irate, blood curdling screech filled the house, seeming to shake the very glass in their panes.


JD's eyes shot open wide, and his head whipped around, looking for the owner of the voice...before it dawned on him and he leapt to his feet, saying exuberantly "Oh crap...I think Ez just found that I tie-dyed every pair of underpants he owns...gotta run..." he took off for the porch, knowing that Ezra was less likely to follow him outside, even without being wounded.

At the hallway entrance he stopped and turned to Vin, asking "Cover for me...?"

Vin answered "You got it..." understanding that it was more than a simple question he was answering.

JD shouted his thanks as he took off, the thuds on the stairs indicative of their angry owner's journey out the front door after the wayward imp. Apparently tie-dyed underwear were reason enough to venture outside before Ezra got first cup of coffee.

Vin and Buck finally calmed down enough to choke down a glass of water each, both still thinking about the wickedly wrong glee on JD's face as he baited Ezra.

Sitting at the dining room table, knowing that once Ezra caught JD it wouldn't be long before Chris broke them up and called lunch, Vin turned to the big man opposite him.

When Vin spoke, for the first time regarding the incident, he actually sounded a little guilty or ashamed "I think I should be apologising to you...You almost had Ezra...and then got knocked on your ass by me...If I'd been just a little better, more accurate, I could have missed you it was I could have gotten either you or Ezra killed..."

Buck stared at the boy with a stunned look on his face, not speaking back yet, unable to comprehend what he was hearing, finally he snapped. Jumping up he rounded the table in two steps and knelt beside Vin, who looked startled and nonplussed, but at least he'd fallen silent.

"Junior" Buck began "Stop being an had no time to think or be any more accurate before you threw yourself between Chris and that bullet...Chris is probably right that I was reacting partially to the sudden loss of control over the situation when I went off at you...but Vin...don't ever second guess yourself like that... and Ez and I are both okay...and Chris would probably be dead if you hadn't acted when you did..."

Vin tried to say something, but Buck cut him off with a hand over his mouth... "Still speaking here junior...It's your turn to listen for a moment...I haven't told anyone the entire truth about the incident from my POV..."

Vin looked startled at that revelation, but remained silent, although that may have just been the hand keeping his mouth closed as Buck explained "I knew it was you when you first fell...and I thought you'd been hit...I'm kicking myself now...but at the time Vin, I almost ate my own heart...had I been so focused on Ezra that I had missed someone aim, fire and kill you?...I couldn't do anything while the bullets flew, but as soon as the dust cleared, I was looking for you...and then you looked just blood or pain...I keep thinking...If only I'd said something...asked...but I was just so angry at you...for making me worry like that..."

Bucks voice was upset, an octave lower and slightly wet as he spoke of a shame he had kept hidden. Vin surprised him by leaning forward into a hug, for someone not very tactile; the boy would do anything to help a friend. Buck on the other hand, was very tactile, and he had no qualms about drawing the slight frame to his own much larger chest, shuddering at the memory of the instant he had thought Vin was dead...

Vin spoke "I'm sorry for worrying you..." Buck snorted and Vin acquiesced "Again" he added.

Buck tightened his hold as he spoke "You're forgiven...And I'm sorry for jumping to conclusions...for letting my anger and relief get the better of me...and for breaking your trust."

He released Vin and sat back on his heels a bit, as the boy spoke "I forgive you...and Bucklin...I'd trust you with anything...except perhaps Cecilia..."

At the name, Buck's eyebrows jumped "Cecelia" he tested it on his lips as he moved to the chair beside Vin, "Cecilia...I don't remember any Cecilia...did you score with one of them pretty nurses Junior?...Oh come on...don't hold out on Uncle Buck..."

Lunch had been spaghetti, cooked by Buck with JD's help, and it had been very good, if they did say so themselves, crediting Buck's Italian heritage, which may or may not have existed. JD had taken great delight in informing Buck exactly who Cecilia was, starting by telling him that 'Yes I know Vin's girl...she'd probably be happy to let you go for a ride while Vin's out of commission' and then elaborating at Bucks stunned reaction, that she was in the shed, and Vin expected her back in one piece, not a single scratch, Vin really adored his new bike.

The argument about what they were going to watch after dinner had already started by this time, despite being several hours away, but as they say, early bird catches the worm, or Chris Larabee had last say.

After lunch Vin had insisted that they go riding for a few hours, that the horses need it as much as they did, and that he would be fine, that he was just going to sleep and watch the idiotbox. Finally after much grousing, they had agreed, also agreeing to take Peso on a halter.

They were only gone a few hours and Vin, true to his word, sat around and did nothing. Mostly. He may have gone for a walk to the old lake a few minutes away, but it wasn't strenuous or difficult, despite leaving him exhausted and sore, yet happy.

The others returned just before 4pm and Chris 'allowed' Vin, as if he could have stopped him, to help groom Peso before they bedded the horses down for the night. Going inside they began the nightly battle of 'first to the shower gets all the hot water', although Vin had had his shower while they were out, and by unanimous decision they agreed to let Ezra have the first shower; they claimed it was to stop his bitching, but everyone knew the truth.

Hamburgers were on the menu for dinner, quick, simple, filling and tasty, and they retired to the den where Chris dug out an old favourite in the form of Lethal Weapon. Much laughter always ensued as the team watched the antics or Martin Riggs and Roger Murtagh on screen. Halfway through the second movie Vin excused himself, heading up to bed, claiming tiredness, this in all honesty was so true that he didn't feel he could stay awake down in the den any longer.

The others turned in not too long after as well, and Vin sat awake in a sleeping house, wary that sleep should turn to death if his eyes were to close in slumber.

Morning couldn't come soon enough for Vin and he waited until it was barely reasonable for him to be out of bed before escaping outside again, glad for the biting coolness in the air that staved off the drowsiness. He had found that the pain was another method adept at keeping him awake, but if he could get rid of that he would.

It had gone beyond the occasional jolts of sharp pain, and was now a constant piercing pain, that meant he had to mask his every movement from the others, lest they realize he wasn't being overly forthcoming.

He didn't want any of them having to come and find him like Chris had the previous morning and so he made his way back inside just as they began to stir. As each one entered the kitchen he pressed a mug of coffee, tea or milk into awakening hands, smiling at the half-asleep thanks he received.

Finally it was just Ezra they were waiting on, and everyone knew they were unlikely to see him until midday, which is why when he breezed into the room several minutes later, completely dressed, coifed and styled all they could do was stare.

Vin handed him a mug of coffee, hands acting on auto pilot as he did so, brain engaged with being unengaged in the wake of such strange behaviour.

Finally Ezra could bear it no longer and asked "What?"

Conversation picked back up, and breakfast was made and the table set as they got over the fact that the nocturnal had joined the ranks of the daylight partiers.

After breakfast, Buck, JD and Josiah agreed to head into town to get a few essentials, and grain for the horses, Chris retreated to his office, filing reports on the Johansson case, despite the team being on leave for the next few weeks.

It wasn't until Vin sat down in the den, and reached for the TV remote that he realized Ezra's reason for getting up early.


In most cases the southerner was as tricky and slippery as a damn eel, but in the matter of his friendship and relationship with those he most cared about, Ezra did not have enough experience for anything other than a direct 'face it and move on' ideal.

This is what his plan was this morning. After cornering Vin in the den for almost an hour, but yet to have said anything of importance, Vin shifted the conversation dynamic.

"Ez...If you've got something you need to say...then say it...I ain't gonna be able to read your mind, no matter how long we sit here..." the southerner actually blushed a bit, but in his defence he did plough into it.

"Of course...I just sought to address the underlying tension that I feel has come between us..." Vin just looked baffled and Ezra sighed.

"I- I wanted to tell you that I'm sorry that you got hurt...maybe if the others hadn't been so focused on me..." Ezra trailed off and Vin cut in.

"Ezra, you had a gun to your head, someone they cared about had a gun to his head...hell...someone I care about had a gun to his head...we were all was the only thing we could one else would have seen the guy who took a shot at Chris, it was the height, and the sudden movement he made that did have nothing to be sorry for..."

Ezra felt the warm thrill of affection that coiled in his chest, not yet familiar, and he doubted, ever growing stagnant. Returning the sentiment, he spoke "Thank you Vin...the same also applies to getting shot was not your did what you had to do to save as many of us as you could...which was you have nothing to be sorry or ashamed of..."

He stopped as Vin's cheeks pinkened and the younger man asked "How did you..."

Ezra answered "I know how you think Mr Tanner...exactly where you would lay the blame...and Vin...I won't have was no more your fault that it was it?"

Vin nodded, although not overly convincingly, and Ezra pushed a bit further "No Vin...I want to hear you say it..."

Vin looked down, unable to believe how well Ezra knew him, he hadn't even realised he was still harbouring guilt about any of this...

Ezra's voice prompted him, stern and firm, yet gentle " please..."

It was strange, Ezra had no true authority over him, but he still had the authority that Vin gave him, and he used it now, pressing the advantage, needing to make Vin see, as Vin had done so easily for him.

He placed a hand on the slim shoulder, seeming to startle Vin out of his own reverie, and the younger man spoke "I-It wasn't my fault...I-I did nothing wrong..."

Ezra smiled as he reassured the wide blue gaze searching his " did everything right..."

Vin smiled at him, a little moist, but happy, and more at peace with himself than he had been for days.

Ezra left Vin to contemplate what he had been told when he heard the truck pull in, going to offer his help...just to see the same shocked looks he had received that morning. Besides they wouldn't actually let him help, he was injured; therefore it didn't hurt to offer.

Being lighter than you had felt in days was a wonderful feeling, and Vin revelled in it, although he did have to admit, not being heavy and weighed down seemed to make it almost easy for him to just float off on a haze of fatigue. But unless he wanted to scream the house down, he had best stay wide awake.

They unpacked the car, with a disgruntled Ezra tasked with carrying in the bulk loo paper, putting everything away, before Josiah brought the KFC they had bought in, and passed the plastic cutlery and paper plates around. Vin loved KFC, it was his favourite take out place, which is probably why the guys went there, but Vin had to disappoint them, because a soon as the smell hit his nostrils he realised he actually feels rather nauseas. He knew that lack of sleep and intense pain could do that, and so didn't say anything. He knew though, that the others had noticed his lack of appetite, and he more than half expected Nathan to call him on it, and was strangely disappointed as well as relieved when the medic does not.

As much as he hates Nathan's fussing and the stupid meds and needles, the fact that Nathan seems not to care hurts more that the wound does. There's no way he's going to seek the medic out though, the team would have him committed if he displayed behaviour that out of kind. Vin had a feeling that he knew the reason behind Nathans seeming reluctance to have anything to do with him. Hell, he'd broken the man's trust in the warehouse. Nathan's job was his life, therefore the teams lives were Nathan's life. The fact that Nathan must think that Vin would rather die than tell Nathan he was injured, must have destroyed any trust and caring Nathan had for the sniper.

Vin broke out of his melancholy musings as the others began to clear the table, he started to help, but was gently forced back into his seat by at least three sets of hands, although none of them are dark.

After the beautiful fine day of yesterday, it didn't take long for the dreary overcast sky outside to convince them that they would rather be inside. Ezra was quite happy to start a friendly poker game with Buck, Nathan and Josiah, and Chris returned to the office grumbling of his "piece of shit technology" meaning his computer, snagging JD on the way.

Vin settled into the couch, and before long was day dreaming about the foggy mountain out the window, comfortable enough in his own surrounds that he didn't even notice when he starts to fidget a bit.

But someone else does.

He almost hissed as a particularly sharp bolt of pain lanced through his side, and he tried to hide a grimace.

Not entirely successfully.

After sitting in one position for too long, he shifted, and his hand flew to the wound as pain lanced through him.

Someone lost what should be a winning hand at the table, too preoccupied by Vin to notice.

They ate lunch in the den, just toasted sandwiches and orange juice. The football was on in the background, indecipherable beneath the waves of conversation in the room. Vin once again picked at only one sandwich, although he did drink two cups of juice. His head was down most of the time, as he mused on something he didn't fully understand, and he missed the interference someone runs when two of the team try and prod him into eating.

After lunch most of them decided to have a lie down and retreated to their rooms, Vin stayed on the couch, finding it easier to resist the siren call of sleep here than in bed.

It was only a few minutes later when Buck came back into the den and approached Vin, saying softly "Hey junior, Nathan wants to know if he can take a look at you? "

Vin looked up from his stupor, a little pale and green around the gills "Tell him he shouldn't have bothered asking "

Buck gaped for a second, he knew Vin hated being fussed over and cared for with a passion, but he had never refused Nathan before, he tried to reason with the boy, not sure what was going on inside that head of Vins, or between Nathan and Vin. "Vin...Nathan just wants to..."He was cut off by the sniper.

"Just tell him." The boy turned his gaze out the window, conversation obviously over.

Buck stared at him for a moment, before he left to deliver the message, knowing it would hurt Nathan, and wondering if something had happened between the two of them other that the incident.

Buck wasn't sure what he had expected once he delivered the message to Nathan, upset or anger perhaps, but he hadn't expected the medic to smile, as if privy to some great secret, and grab his kit before heading for the den.

Curiosity piqued, Buck followed Nathan into the den and over to Vin, smiling when Nathan, true to what Vin had said, didn't bother asking. Finally understanding when Nathan just knelt near the couch were Vin was reclining, and said in a matter of fact tone, "Right, temperature first, I think" and produced a thermometer, which Vin allowed to be slipped into his mouth without even a whimper of protest from the usually maddeningly frustrating boy regarding anything medical.

Buck left the room, headed for his own bed; sure that Vin is in good hands.

Nathan looked at the thermometer again, frowning at the slight fever, and wondering at the obvious nauseousness the boy displayed during meals today. The medic noted the pale, sallow skin, that despite having been shot, Vin shouldn't be sporting quite so obviously.

"How long have you been feeling off in the stomach?" he asks and waited patiently for Vin to answer, which the boy does.

"Uh, since the KFC I think..." Vin said easily, without hesitation. Something that Nathan thinks he could get use to, fighting Vin was half the battle when the kid was sick.

"Right, and you're a bit warm...have you been taking you're antibiotics on haven't missed any?" Nathan was half worried that infection could be the cause, Vin was notoriously bad with meds, and Nathan usually took charge of them and basically forced them on the boy at the correct intervals and in the correct dosages.

Vin however nodded, and Nathan knew that the sniper had never out right lied to his face before, and trusted that he wasn't doing so now. "Okay, good" he murmured, despite not knowing the answer yet.

"Next, I want to get a look at that wound...Shirt off..." he ordered, reaching for the hem of the blue shirt the kid wore. Vin pulled away, and Nathan raised his eyes to meet obstinate blue, 'Ahhh...There's the Vin I know...and love'' he thought to himself...well this was a fight he had plenty of practice manoeuvring.

"That wasn't a request're" the boy raised wide eyes to him, and as innocent and young as they seemed, Nathan could see the fire of stubbornness in them.

"But Nathan...the wound is okay..." Vins voice was reassuring, but the words had the exact opposite effect on Nathan, who remembered, that in Vin language, 'fine' meant anything from a hangnail to a nail through the hand, and 'okay' was just as ambiguous.

"Vin Tanner...I'm not asking again...take the shirt off..." he almost growled the order, sure something was going on.

Vin hesitated one second to long and huffing an irritated breath Nathan reached for the hem again, and pulled the shirt up, glad when Vin didn't protest, though he looked decidedly unhappy about it. Reviling the white bandage, which Nathan began to unwrap his hand were suddenly caught and held by two smaller hands. Sighing, Nathan let go of the bandage and in turn engulfed Vins hands in his own huge, gentle palms, holding them steady, but able to feel the tremble despite this.

Looking up into eyes he had learned to read, he asked "Okay Vin, what's going on?" and waited, knowing that eventually Vin, who knew he couldn't out wait Nathan in this matter, would give in.

Sure enough, it took several minutes of Vin staring at their joint hands, and Nathan staring at Vin for the first cracks to appear, but appear they did.

"I-I still trust you more than just about anyone else" as a dialogue opener it wasn't very clear, but Nathan understood exactly what Vin meant by the statement. Vin had a rather severe case of latrophobia...or fear of doctors, hospitals and the like...admittedly it was less serious now than it had been, but Nathan was still the only medical person that Vin would willingly let near him.

Nathan placed one of his hands that was now being clenched by Vins against boys chest, "Oh Vin...I never doubted it...not even for a second...I just wasn't sure you weren't angry with me for not catching the fact that you were shot of all things..." Nathan fell silent as Vin answered his revelation.

"No,'re not all knowing Nathan...I didn't even know I was signs, no blood, I was never angry with you about that...only that you though I would deliberately endanger Ezra...I-I was not really angry about that either...just hurt..." he stopped, eyes still looking at the striking contrast his small, pale hands made against Nathan's dark, large ones.

Nathan jumped to explain "Never...I never thought that...I will never think that Vin...I've patched you up to many times after you pull one fool stunt after another" he squeezed the shaking hands to take some of the sting from his words as he continued "that you pulled so that one of the others wouldn't get hurt...I know you would die, almost have...before you'd let anything happen..." Nathan waited as Vin processed this, glad to see that the pale cheeks and scarily haunted eyes were much brighter now.

"Then...Why?" Vin asked.

Nathan answered as honestly as he could recall, 'You fell and Ezra was shot, you looked fine, and Ezra did not...I didn't know you were hurt, and I had my hands full with Ezra...I'm sorry, I wasn't looking out for you Vin...' there wasn't much else to say besides sorry.

Vin sighed as he answered "I'm not the only one you have to take care're the team medic and Ezra was bleeding out and I looked's okay...I understand..." he smiled a watery at Nathan who reassured him.

"Next time there won't be a next time, I know now that you can appear to be perfectly fine and be half from now on, expect me in your personal space, checking you over ...I won't let any of this happen again..." he was happy when Vin looked relieved and calm, and that their relationship was back on normal standings, one last squeeze to the hands in his and Nathan let go, reaching for the bandaged torso.

"Right...bullet wound..."he said, only to have Vin grab his hands again.

"VIN..." Nathan was starting to get irritated...but this was definitely the Vin he knew and for that he was glad.

Vin refused to meet his eyes, nor let go of his hands as he spoke "'re going to be mad... I know I should have told you when I did it... but I was...scared..." he almost whispered the last word and Nathan sighed at the continued delay, especially now that his fears were confirmed, but he had to remember that this was Vin he was dealing with.

When the boy had first joined the team, he had refused to let Nathan anywhere near him after finding out that the man was a medic, and it had taken months of steady work to break down the walls and get Vin to see him as a man and friend first, then a doctor, as was impossible to do with most medical personal one encountered in their lives. Nathan had never found out what had truly started the phobia, but knew it was something traumatic that had happened when Vin was very young.

It had taken a long time to even get Vin to admit that hospitals and doctors terrified him, only Chris or Nathan could keep him calm if a hospital visit became necessary, but even now, it was a challenge to get him to admit his fear, the fact that he had done so without prompting, showed Nathans that Vin was looking for reassurance that he was indeed still the friend first, and then the medic.

"It's okay Vin...I'm just going to have a look for now...I already figured that something happened, so calm down...I'm not angry..."Nathan's hand went back to the bandage and he peeled it away, eyes on Vin's knowing that if the boy freaked out, he could pop every stitch, and Nathan definitely did not want that.

Finally he got the bandage off and was met with the added pressure pad, in the form of a washer. He frowned at Vin, but kept it only at a 2, not his most volatile glare that he saved for complete imbeciles who walked around for a week with their shoulders dislocated. "Not exactly hygienic Vin" was all he said, wanting the boy to know he wasn't exactly impressed with where this was going. He eased the washer off, and the bloods stained pad beneath, immediately seeing that two stitches had popped.

'Okay...not so bad...still pretty stupid though, and did it happen Vin...' he asked, expecting an answer.

Vin sighed, but complied "That first night,..." he trailed off at Nathan's glare, at least a 5 this time.

"Four days ago..!" Vin just nodded, and Nathan decided to let bygones be bygones, but not without a warning.

"That was stupid Vin, It could have gotten infected...remember the promises and rules we set when I agrees to be your primary physician despite not being a doctor" he asked the question, knowing that Vin would remember.

"If something happens, and I don't tell you, and it gets so bad you can't fix won't be my doctor anymore..." as Nathan suspected, Vin remembered clearly.

"Right, you remember as for this cut, I'm not going to re-stitch it, but I will keep an eye on it, and you. It's not infected, so I don't know what's causing the fever or nausea" He said, although he actually did have a fair idea, but because he knew Vin, he knew there was a better approach to it than directly.

Nathan re-bandaged the wound, and pulled Vin's shirt down, patting him gently on his good hip "Right, I'm going to go lay down for a few hours, I'd suggest you do the same..." he ran a hand through Vins hair as he got up, smiling when the boy, like always, shook the long locks back into their organised disarray, before the medic headed for his bed.

Vin sat in the den for several hours, glad that the confrontation with Nathan was over, and had run about as smoothly as one ever had. In fact he felt better about his relationship with all the guys.

Well, almost, that was.

He ran the incident over in his head again, like he had a hundred times, and each time, it was Chris's face that popped out at him, that hurt as he watched.

But he realised that Chris was not the only one who hadn't done his best to settle the relationship, for there was something he had to do as well, and getting to his feet, albeit, a little shakily, he headed towards the office, where he could still hear the gentle 'Clack...clack...clack' of single finger typing now and then.

Before his courage deserted him, Vin knocked on the office door...and waited to be bid 'come in'.

The blond was at the desk, one hand hovering over the keyboard the other grasping a pen, multi-tasking at its best, and for a second Vin felt as though he shouldn't interrupt. Then Chris turned to him, a little surprised, saying "I thought you were asleep Vin...did you need something?"

Vin sighed, shaking his head as he said "No" and started to back out, but he didn't get very far before Chris's voice coaxed him into the friendly study.

"Vin..." Chris never needed to say much to communicate with Vin, and that at least, had not changed.

Vin entered the room and closed the door, leaning against it as he spoke hesitantly, "I was kinda hoping you had time's okay if you don't...I just thought..." he trailed off as Chris indicated the chair next to the desk.

"Vin...I've always got time for you...what's on your mind..." the leader asked as Vin sat.

The sniper licked his lips as he spoke "I just wanted to let you know...I thought about what you said about safety protocol in that meeting...I came back to tell you afterwards...that you might have a point...I probably should at least wear a vest and harness more..." he trailed off, not understanding Chris's grin.

The blond explained "I had forgotten...I'm glad you thought about it though...I wasn't saying it for any other reason than your safety...I'd like to keep you alive if possible..." he stopped, unable to believe that the meeting had only been a week ago, it felt like forever.

Thinking back over what else Vin had said, he asked, "Wait a second, you came back to the office?...after we'd all left, why?..." He didn't need to wait for Vin's answer as it popped into his own head, "...Oh Vin, your car! I'm so sorry...I completely forgot..." Chris felt his gut tighten, how had he forgotten his best friend?

Vin was speaking..."I came back, and the secretary said you'd all gone to the saloon without me...I didn't ring because I didn't want to intrude..."he was cut off abruptly by Chris.

"Your never intruding Vin, you belong there...we just all thought you'd gone home..." again Chris recalled all Vins words, his brain settling on the sad 'without me' and hoping that he may have found something to make Vin feel a little better he added, "We don't speak about work at the saloon anyway, just family and friends...We spent the whole night discussing you..." Chris could tell by the gentle quirk of Vin's lips that the boy had gotten the message he was trying to send, that Vin was as family as it got.

The leader continued "How did you get home? I wished you'd have called me..." Chris was an expert at Vin language and could tell that there was something that the boy didn't want to tell him, so he coaxed gently, "It's okay Vin, tell me...I deserve to know" whether this was because he was a good friend or a bad friend, Chris wasn't sure, but regardless, he wanted to know.

Vin capitulated "I...Uh – I walked" he knew Chris wouldn't be impressed, and he was right.

"Vin, you walked two blocks home, through Purgatorio in the dark and...wasn't that the night of the thunder storm?" Chris wasn't angry, but he wasn't exactly calm either.

Vin just nodded, figuring there was no use denying it.

Chris kept going "That's probably why you were late and sluggish the next morning...I know how you are with the cold...Dammit!...I'm should have called Vin..." the boy could clearly hear the self loathing and anger in Chris's voice, as the older man extracted a promise.

"Promise me that you will call if you need me...I don't care what time it is, where you are or what's gone down call it?" Chris voice was determined, and Vin knew that arguing was useless, besides he liked the warm feeling Chris's protective words stirred in his chest.

"Okay Chris...but you've gotta promise to do the same..." The leader nodded, agreeing to the simple honest request as easily as his tracker had.

The phone rang and Vin got up to leave Chris to his privacy, but was gently pulled back into the seat by Chris as the blond answered the phone. From the one sided conversation Vin figured that the caller was Judge Travis.

Vin sat in silence, until Chris hung up several minutes later.

"Travis threw the book at Johansson, he'd going away for a long time...apparently we 'did good'" Vin could easily hear the self directed loathing in the bitter, sarcastic statement.

The self derision remained as Chris went on, "You should probably know that I'm also putting myself on formal review regarding my conduct after the bust..."

Startled, Vin interrupted "What? Chris, No! It was just a mistake..."he said almost desperately.

Chris answered him with vehemence "Yes Vin! And Mistakes still have consequences...I almost got you killed for god's sake!..."

Vin stared at him for a moment, unable to comprehend how Chris could do this to him.

Then he exploded "You're an asshole Larabee...haven't you already done enough? You want me to shoulder the blame for an IA investigation as well...?" Chris snapped his gaze to Vins, alarm in every feature, he tried to interrupt, but Vin had decided that it was high time that Chris heard him.

"Shut up! I know you feel all do!...well so do I!...but tearing us apart with an investigation isn't going to help matter any!" he scooted forward on the seat, almost nose to nose with Chris. "It was a stressful situation, one we were not prepared or expecting to face, Ezra was down, emotions and adrenaline were running high...You. Made. A. Mistake..." he prodded Chris in the chest, saying "The great Chris Larabee is not perfect...he's human...and makes bad decisions just like the rest of us!"

Chris opened his mouth again, but Vin wasn't finished "Nope...quiet!...Any of us make a mistake like that, and you're the first one to forgive...well, don't hold yourself to higher standards! It was me you wronged! ME Chris! And I forgive you...yes it hurt...I thought my heart was being ripped out of my chest...yes I was upset...but I'd rather have it happen a thousand times than lose your friendship or guidance! " the brutal honesty was revealing, not only to Chris, but to Vin as well, as he allowed the fury he had been avoiding roll over him and be released.

Breathing ragged and erratic, Vin sagged back into his seat, face an unhealthy pallor, pain evident in his movements.

Finally Chris was allowed to speak, and in return, he favoured Vin with as much honesty as he had been awarded "You have my friendship and guidance forever, nothing will change that...I'm sorry Vin...I didn't think of it from your perspective...I won't be going near IA, this is a family matter..." Chris sighed with relief as Vin relaxed a little more, pain lines easing around the blue eyes.

"I'm sorrier than I can say that I hurt you, and broke your trust, especially when I know how hard it is for you to give it...and I don't know if I will ever truly forgive myself for that...but Vin, your forgiveness makes it easier to believe that I will."

He saw Vin's small nod of approval, acknowledging that this was all Chris could offer at the moment, and gladly accepting it.

Chris continued "I've watched you be beaten, drugged, kidnapped, assaulted, shot, stabbed and strangled too many times to count...and even though I knew you wouldn't have, at the time, and with everything going on, Ezra already being down, already being worried about him, and you appearing unhurt, it was easier to face the fact that you pulled a stupid stunt, than you sacrificing yourself for me again, which is exactly what happened..."

Vin tried to get a word in, but Chris wasn't finished yet.

"I know... I'm not asking you to not try and protect us; it would be as pointless as you asking me, but Vin...don't fault me, or the rest of the guys, for wanting to safe guard you as much as possible... this whole incident, on my behalf, was me wrongly handling my concern for you...I should have just spoken to you...I know, without a shadow of a doubt, that you would never, ever, endanger one of us willingly, and Vin, when I said that, it was a heat of the moment cop out, I didn't mean it at just seem to get under my skin like no one both a good way and a bad way... I don't ever want to lose you...and it was easier to confront you with anger that terrified concern after I realised that you fell...All I can really say is that I'm sorry you...we... had to go through this...but I think we might actually be stronger because of it...and that I personally will never let it happen again...we'll never turn from you like that again"

Vin heard what he needed to hear, had needed to hear from the beginning; in Chris's reassurance, and most of any residual emotional turmoil disappeared, leaving him feeling more untroubled than he had in days.

Chris got to his feet and helped Vin to his, careful of the painful wound, glad that their unspoken bond didn't appear to have taken any damage, and did indeed seem to be forged stronger between them.

Vin knew that Chris knew, but felt the need to put it into words anyway, to make it real "Thanks Chris..."

The leader just hugged the smaller form to his side gently for a moment, allowing his own silent reassurance and answer to seep across the bond, gladdened when Vin tightened his own grasp in response, both men truly believing that all was going to be just fine.

"Right...I'm on dinner duty...any suggestions...?" Chris asked as he led the way towards the kitchen.

All of the men noticed the newly re-found balance between Chris and Vin over burrito's and peach cobbler that night, and were beyond happy when the usual team dynamic was back in place as they gathered in the den to watch the hilarious Jack Sparrow cavort around in "Pirates of the Caribbean'.

As like the previous night Vin got to his feet at about 8:30pm, halfway through the second one and said his goodnights, unable to stay awake much longer in the cosy atmosphere of the den.

He lay in bed, counting stars, happy that team 7 was back, as strong as ever, but finding that one downside of not having the emotional rift to concentrate on anymore was how it accentuated his exhaustion.

Finally he had to resort to silently pacing the floor, the cold, movement and pain keeping him awake.

In the den below, Nathan turned the sound down as Jack repartees with his 'Jar of sand' and turns to the others.

"I'm right to think we've all spoken to Vin...and everything is as normal as its going to get?" he asked.

The others all nodded or agreed, and looked relived that things had been sorted out, and not left to fester and rot.

Nathan sighed..."That good, very good...but we may have another problem on our hands..." at the worried looks he elaborated.
"I checked him over this afternoon, and the wound seems to be healing okay, although he had popped a couple of stitches..." at the angry looks he reassured them, "It's okay, I dealt with it...I doubt it will happen again...but that's not my concern...he's got a low grade fever and I noticed he only picked at his dinner tonight, which is becoming the norm, I'm thinking nausea...and he's taken to trembling of the extremities..." the others all looked worried as Nathan continued 'Now, he's he hasn't said anything...but I'd bet my bottom dollar it's sleep deprivation and exhaustion...'

At the other startled, questioning looks he explained "I'm thinking nightmares...and being Vin he doesn't want to be a he won't come to us...and trying to force it out of him would be like hitting an old nag with a fly swatter, he'd just keep getting more and more ornery, and more obstinate in his we need to address this before he crashes and burns...but not directly"

The others nodded their agreement, and Nathan began to outline the skeleton of his idea for them, "I'm thinking that hi..."

By 2am Vin didn't need to move to stay awake, the screaming pain more than enough stimulation as he lay on the bed. He considered calling Nathan, but knew that would just lead awkward questions that would no doubt get him in trouble with the medic and their leader, as well as earning the disappointment of the others.

And besides, he wanted to avoid sleep, and was doing so successfully at the time.

By 6:30, he was in the kitchen, searching for coffee, only to find that they'd run out, the same seemed to be true of the coke. Sighing, but not overly worried he had a hot milo instead, sure that he was immune to the effects of caffeine anyway.

Chris came down not long after, greeting Vin with a cheery, "morning!" to which Vin grumbled but didn't reply, the first indicator that all was not well, Vin was the teams infamous morning person.

Pouring himself a juice, Chris began to make toast, offering Vin a piece, which was declined. They ate breakfast, the rest of the team trailing in one by one, Ezra last at almost 9am, quite considerably early by his standards. Each asked Vin how he was feeling, and each time the answer was more surly that the previous, and it soon became apparent that the young sniper was not in a good mood.

It became even more evident as the day went by.

Every time one of them helped him get up, or sit down they were snapped at.

Every time one offered to do something for him was rewarded with snarl.

Buck got told to "shove off" when he offered to brush Peso.

Vin was nowhere near that polite when JD asked if Vin wanted to borrow his game boy, his furious roar sending the boy scurrying backwards from the usual gentle, kind man suddenly turned irate, belligerent fiend.

Vin told Josiah to shove the offered glass of water up his ass, to which the giant did not take to kindly, but held his temper knowing that this was typical Vin avoidance, 'make 'em so angry, they want nothing to do with you' tactic.

Chris wasn't quite so lenient.

"Vin Tanner! That's enough! "Vins eyes flashed to his and Chris could see the rebuke forming on the tight lips. He reached across and sealed the foul mouth with a hard hand "Enough I said! One more foul word or bad tempered comment and I'll wash your damned mouth out myself..." Vin's eyes widened at the threat, but it was nothing he hadn't heard before, he glared his dirtiest at Chris.

"Wipe that look off your face. Now!" Chris ordered, continuing only when the glare became less murderous "You should be ashamed of yourself! We're only trying to help, but your acting like a selfish little bastard..."Chris knew Vin well enough to aim true, and the words easily took the belligerent wind out of the boys sails, and he wilted before Chris's angry gaze.

Chris was about to say something else about Vins unsavoury behaviour when the boy broke, refused to meet his eyes, just staring at the small hands in his lap. Sighing, Chris softened immediately, knowing how Vin hated being out of control, and knowing that being ill was one sure way to lose control.

Turning the small face towards him, having to pull against the reluctance, he spoke, much more gently this time, noting the embarrassed pink cheeks and pale skin. "Vin, we know you are sore and tired and sick of being out of control...but that doesn't give you the right to act like a child and lash out at everyone here, we all just want to help you."

Vin had the good grace to blush and duck his head, sighing as he followed the unspoken demand "You're right...I'se just...Sorry guys..."his apology was greeted by a barrage of 'It's okay's and we understands'

Chris spoke again, wanting to make sure the message got home clear, not wanting to have to deal with this every few hours. "If you had known that it would hurt like this...would you avoid jumping into the path of that bullet?" he asked.

Vin immediately replied, with no hesitation "Never" and stopped, seeing Chris's point "Right, sorry..."

After that he became a lot more cordial, quiet and sullen, but more polite, and the others were careful not to push the independent young man too far.

The day passed quietly, with no more drama, other than JD and Buck's regular banter. Chris pulled a casserole from the freezer for dinner, which Vin picked at until they moved the show to the den. He went to sit in his usual spot in the recliner near the window when he was pulled down onto the three seater between Nathan and Chris; who gave up 'his chair' to Josiah for the night.

Lord of the Rings was loaded in the machine, and the soothing opening music wafted from the speakers. Trap set, the others sat and waited. At 8:30, like the previous nights, Vin went to get up and leave, only to find himself retrained by a hand on both knees and shoulders.

Looking at his friend on either side of him, Vin Flinched a little at the unwelcome restraint but wasn't overly worried, "Uh...guys...I'm going to go to bed...I'm tired..." he trailed off as Nathan spoke.

"I know..., exhausted in fact...because you're not sleeping..." Nathan knew he had been right when despite the denial Vin blushed red and refused to meet his eyes.

"I-I don't know what you're talking about...let go..I'm going to bed..." he tugged uselessly at the hands that held him, starting to panic a little, unable to stand the lack of control on top of everything else.

Chris stepped in "Calm down Vin, your being's just us, you know we won't hurt you...we won't let the nightmares hurt you either..." he said gently.

Vin stopped his useless struggle, looking at Chris "How...I don't...", Nathan answered the unasked question.

"I can see that you are exhausted...your eyes are bloodshot, your pale, nauseous and have the shakes...all signs of sleep deprivation...the nightmares were just the best theory..."

Vin looked down, embarrassed by his weakness.

"Vin Tanner, look at me...every person in this room has had at least one nightmare about what happened in that warehouse...there's absolutely no reason to feel ashamed..." gladdened when Vin took his words at face value and swallowed deeply, meeting his eyes.

"I can't sleep...I won't...I don't want to dream about...that...again..." he shuddered at the memory of his notfriends, and the other men got the idea that they had underestimated the horror of Vin's dreams, just by the look on the boys face. "You need to sleep Vin, you going to go into overload if you don't, and then you'll crash and burn, and I won't have it!" the medic said.

Chris interrupted "You sleep down here, with us about...we'll wake you at the first sign..." the leader knew that the boy's exhaustion and fatigue would be the true decider, Vin already trusted them enough.

Vin thought for a moment, he was so very tired, coming to a decision, "Promise..." he asked.

The others all agreed, offering promises and agreement.

"Fine...I'll do it..." Vin agreed, and they settled back into their seats, JD pressing play on the paused movie.

Vin leant back against the back of the huge couch between the two men, eyes shut but body rigid. Chris soon grew impatient waiting for him to relax, he grabbed the boys arm, "For god's sake Vin, you've fallen asleep against me plenty of times...lie down" and pulled the boy towards him careful of the wound.

Buck chucked a cushion at them and Vin ended up curled on his side, head on the pillow on Chris's thigh and legs tucked up between himself and Nathan's lap. It looked uncomfortable and scrunched up as hell, but the others had seen Vin fall asleep like this many times.

Nathan checked that the bandaged flank was facing up, and not tucked under Vin's side against the couch, and satisfied, they all turned back to the movie. Several minutes later and Vin still hadn't fully relaxed, tense between Chris and Nathan. The leader dropped his hand to the curly haired head, long fingers carding through the hair, trying to reduce the unease that Vin was feeling. Nathan's hand on his lower back, gently rubbing also bought a small measure of comfort, but still Vin didn't drop off.

Nathan was nonplussed, he had been positive that once Vin accepted that he was going to sleep, and lay down that the boy would be out like a light bulb, his exhaustion was so severe, but nearly half an hour later and he was still taut and tense, seemingly unable to relax.

A horrible thought occurred to him, one he wasn't sure he wanted to contemplate, but he couldn't think of anything else. Not wanting to wait even an instant more if he was right Nathan said "Pause the movie JD" and turned to Chris and Vin... "Vin...I need you to roll onto your back ... " Vin grumbled tiredly but let Chris help him to turn over carefully.

Nathan lifted the boy's shirt, ignoring his protest, and bating hands, which Chris grabbed. The medic ignored the bandaged area and instead focused his attention on the flat expanse of exposed abdomen. He placed his finger tips just under Vins navel and pressed down firmly.

Vin's response was instantaneous, a severely pained cry broke free of usually taciturn lips, and one hand got free of its imprisonment and tried to push Nathan's hurting hands away from his body, as he thrashed, trying to get free.

Chris gathered the hand back, as Nathan spoke "Sorry...I'm sorry..." hand warm and pain free against the rigid muscles. The pain gradually faded, and Vin calmed.

As he calmed, Nathan seemed to get angrier, and by the time Vin could breathe deeply, without hitched breaths the medic was furious, and it was clear in his voice "Vin, when was the last time you took your pain meds?"

The snipers eyes slid away, and he refused to acknowledge Nathan, but the medic was adamant, a large dark hand dragged the small face back to his and he growled "Vin Tanner...when was the last time you took the pain meds?"

Vin answered, knowing it was inevitable "Uh...t-the first night..." Nathan's dark look, became positive stormy, and he clenched his hands, as if to stop himself from physically shaking the boy.

"Goddamit Vin! You were shot through a wall of muscle...the meds were to help them stay relaxed! I don't even want to contemplate how much pain you've been in...Why the hell did you stop taking them?" the medic was irate, unable to believe that Vin would do anything so stupid.

Vin sighed, knowing he couldn't make it any worse anyway, said "They make me drowsy..." Nathan looked prepared to launch into another spate of yelling when Vin eyes registered with him, softening immediately he spoke "The nightmares were that bad?"

Vin didn't meet his yes, just nodded as he answered "Nightmare...I only had one..."

Nathan sighed, and ran a hand over the taught abdomen, speaking gently now "Oh Vin...You should have come to me...I could have given you something non drowsy if you were so adamant...JD go and get Vin's meds...Buck...a glass of water please"

Vin swallowed the tablets without protest, actually looking forward to not being in pain and knowing that Nathan would be fit to be tied if he did refuse.

The guys all returned to their original positions with Vin curled between Nathan and Chris. The battle of Amon Hen was watched with avid interest, Boromir dying in the arms of Aragorn, declaring his loyalty. Chris's hand passed over the long hair again, smoothing it back from the pale face. Nathan held the warm compress to Vins stomach, hoping to ease the pain until the meds kicked in.

The credits started to roll and JD switched to 'The Two Towers' and they settled in to watch. The men on either side of Vin knew the moment the pain meds started working, as Vin relaxed against them, body limp.

The music rose in crescendo and flowed as three of the fellowship, led by the blond elf, tracked the two halflings across the wilderness.

Gandalf the white had just appeared when Vin first fidgeted, just a small movement, perhaps no more than repositioning for comfort, after that though, Nathan and Chris's eyes remained more on the boy than the movie. The Ents had just gone to war when Vin flinched violently, and whimpered, hands coming up, as if to block his vision...

A soft litany fell from his lips "No-No-No-No..." the already pale face going ashen.

Wondering what the hell was causing this, Chris started turned to Nathan for advice "What do I do?"

Nathan was about to answer when Vin distinctly calmed.

The medic spoke "You speaking seems to help...just talk to hi...", Vin sighed as Nathan's voice rumbled above him, the boy relaxed back into peaceful sleep.

"All we have to do is talk..." Buck threw in, happy that it was something he was going to be able to help with.

Needless to say, the DVD remained on pause for the rest of the night, and several after that, as voices rumbled above the sleeping boy, calm, safe and secure in his dreams, finally on the road to complete recovery.


After two weeks leave and a further two riding a desk, both Ezra and Vin were granted the leave to return to full duty.

For the first few months it seemed that the situation and circumstances had mellowed the sniper; he wore his vest and harness without complaint and followed safety protocol where possible.

Chris was pleased.

And then it was on the 'safe' field exercises that the vest failed to appear every time.

And Chris was not so pleased.

Before too long they were right back where they started from, Vin arguing and refusing vests and harnesses, not following protocol, ignoring procedures.

And Chris was pissed.

He tried everything, reminders, memos, threat and bribes, usually to no avail.

The case they were going in on was eerily similar to the Johansson bust, and they were all feeling it, each tense and nervous. Geared up, decked out and equipment ready, they were just waiting for Vin to finish checking the sight on his rifle, and JD to double check the tech gear for the van, before the op was a go.

The store room door clattered open and the slim long haired figure emerged, rifle in one, harness in the other, but no vest.

Chris called "Vest, Vin!" which was promptly ignored.

The leader stormed over "Vin...go put your bloody Vest on!", giving the sniper a gentle shove towards the room.

Vin turned back, eyes stormy "I ain't wearing a vest on this one...need to be manoeuvrable..."

Seeing he had a fight on his hands, Chris squared his shoulders, snarling "We're all wearing go put it on!"

Vin just yelled back "NO! I said I AIN'T wearing a vest!"

Chris stormed into the back room himself to retrieve the garment.

Nathan marched over to Vin, "Goddammit Vin, don't be a fool...these guys are armed and need to wear the vest...I don't wanta have to be digging any more bullets out of your stubborn go!"

Vin is about to tell Nathan where he can shove it, when he is suddenly blinded from behind as something black and heavy is forced over his head.

Buck wrestled with the smaller man, determined that Vin was going to wear the vest, after what happened last time they faced a group like this...

Despite Buck's much greater size, Vin was a hellion, snarling and flinging himself away, equally determined he wasn't wearing it.

"Git the HELL off me Bucklin!" Vin shouted as he finally pulled free of the big man's grasp, flinging the vest to the ground.

Josiah shook his head disappointedly at Vin, sure that the boy would capitulate if he stopped and thought rather than just fought against them.

Ezra tried his hand "Thirty of your favourite chocolate return for wearing the vest?"

Vin just glared, saying "I'm not wearing the stupid vest! It restricts my ability to move, and I'm not in a location where it's necessary!"

It became a standoff, each man refusing to give, Vin holding off all five of them, adamant that he wasn't wearing the vest.

The door clattered open, and JD entered pulling his wheelie trunk of gadgets, speaking as if he didn't notice the tension, he said "Right, I 'm ready, we can go now..."

Buck turned incredulously to JD, as if to say, 'uh, you didn't notice? We have a slight problem here', when he noticed something odd.

He asked "Where's your vest JD?"

The boy turned wide eyes on him, "Oh, I ain't wearing one."

As one six voices exclaimed "What!"

JD answered, still light and airy "Well It restricts my ability to move...and I'm in the van, that's not a location where a vest is necessary..."

Seeing the stunned looks he was receiving, JD put the last nail in the coffin "Besides, Vin's not wearing a stupid vest."

Vin wore the stupid vest.

***THE END***

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