Magnificent Seven ATF Universeblankspace
What Doesn't Kill Us…


DISCLAIMER: These Characters do not belong to me (but if they did, I'D share… probably.) That said, this story was written purely for self entertainment and no money is being made, has changed hands, or has been paid out for the contents therein. The Author wishes to thank MOG for the ATF AU, she came up with it, and graciously lets others play there, and the lovely team at Blackraptor who posts these for me. Special thanks to my Beta – BMP, who made this piece so much better than it began as – it's totally her fault that I got into fan fiction in the first place. Without her encouragement (nagging), constructive criticism, and long talks on characterization, I might still be writing pathetically depressing purple poetry, and what prose I did write, would NEVER be finished…

~Constructive Criticism will be graciously accepted

~Flames will be used to toast marshmallows

Damn! I hate when we give backup to the FBI boys. You can never predict where they'll be in a firefight like you can with our ATF teams. Ok, ok, to be fair it's probably a matter of familiarity and training. But I don't trust these guys like I do the home team. Nathan Jackson, team medic of Denver ATF Team Seven, poked his head around the crate that was sheltering him from the firefight between the ATF and the FBI, and a group of mercenary gun runners that the FBI hoped would lead them to one of the big names in organized crime. Nathan didn't care about the alleged mob connections; he was more worried about arresting these guys and getting the powerful automatic weapons off the street, and keeping his teammates in one piece.

He was in position to cover Josiah Sanchez, the team profiler, and the back door, making sure that no additional combatants entered the fight from behind. He knew that their sharpshooter, Vin Tanner, was up in the rafters of the huge building, picking off targets one at a time with his rifle, and laying down cover fire any time one of the team had to make a move from the shelter of the wooden crates scattered around the warehouse floor. There was supposed to have been an FBI sharpshooter in the rafters opposite Vin, but the plan had been changed at the last minute. Nathan couldn't help the little smile that crossed his face as he recalled Vin's comment at that news.

Nathan mentally calculated where all the players were. While the crates gave the team cover, they also interfered with their lines of sight. It would be all too easy for the gunrunners to sneak up on an inattentive agent.

"J.D., you got movement coming up on the left. I can't tell if it's friend or foe," Nathan heard Vin's voice through the earpiece of his radio.

"I see him, Vin," Buck Wilmington's voice answered from the other side of the warehouse. "J.D., you got a bogie trying to get behind ya."

"Got him! Thanks guys," J.D. Dunne's voice came back.

"Ezra, DROP!" interrupted the voice of their team leader, Chris Larabee. It was followed by the sound of swearing.

"Chris, Ez, you guys all right?" Buck radioed.

"Dandy," came the sarcastic southern-flavored reply of their undercover agent, Ezra Standish. "Mr. Larabee, I will be sending the FBI the cleaning bill for this suit."

"You do that, Ez," came the tight response.

"Chris?" Buck radioed, the one word asking multiple questions.

"Damn FBI hotshot tried to take out Delorenzo and almost took Ezra's ear with him."

"Chris, coming up on the left. I can't get a clear shot," Josiah's deep voice warned.

More gunfire sounded, then Vin's voice over the mike, "Got him. Look out boys, looks like they're gonna make a push for the door."

The next few moments were busy ones for Nathan as the armed felons concentrated their effort on his position. He could hear his teammates as they worked to surround the oncoming force. Gunfire sounded fast and furious, only to peter out to silence almost as quickly as it had begun.

"I think we got 'em, boys," Larabee's voice reported. Team Seven held their positions as FBI agents slowly came out from cover to effect the arrests of the wounded and defeated felons. Finally, Larabee gave the order for his men to move from their assigned positions. "Team Seven report in."

"Wilmington, coming in."

"Sanchez, coming in."

"Jackson, heading in."

"Standish, coming in."

"Dunne, on my way in."

"Tanner, coming down."

"Alright boys, let's wrap this up."

Nathan wasn't sure exactly what happened next. One moment they were heading in from cover, and the FBI agents were making the arrests, the next, a shot rang out, followed by another and Buck yelling, "J.D.!"

A rapid thunder of shots echoed through the warehouse for a moment, underscoring Buck's frantic cry for a medic. "I got the shooter," Josiah called. "How's J.D.?"

Nathan rushed over to where Buck was kneeling over J.D. Dunne, his hand pressed to the junction of the younger man's neck and shoulder. "Buck, let me see," Nathan demanded while he reached for the first aid kit he carried at his waist. It was only an emergency pack, but it just might be enough until one of the others could get the full kit from the van.

"I'll get the bag and call it in," Josiah called, jogging toward the back door.

"Vin, secure the scene. Make sure none of the rest of these bozos missed any weapons," Chris ordered. "That ambulance isn't going to come in until we’re sure this place is locked down."

Nathan leaned over his fallen teammate, keeping Buck's hand on the bleeding until he could get a pressure bandage out. The blood oozed from under Buck's hand to run down the curve of J.D.'s shoulder and pool underneath the downed agent. Nathan couldn't be sure from the placement of Buck's hand if an artery had been hit or not. Lord, he thought, I hope not.

“Take it easy Kid. You’re gonna be fine,” Buck told the younger agent with a shaky smile. “Nate’s gonna get you all fixed up.”

J. D. tried to smile around gritted teeth but Nathan could see the fear in his eyes. “Just stay with me, J.D.” he reassured.

Pressure bandage at the ready, gauze pad in hand, he nodded at Buck to release the pressure. He gave a quick swipe with the gauze to clear away enough of the blood to see the wound, and then applied the field dressing. He breathed a small sigh of relief when he saw that although the wound was bleeding heavily, it wasn't spurting. "Don't think any major vessels were hit," he reassured his worried teammates. "Bullet caught him just past the edge of the vest."

"Now just a minute, you have no authority…" Nathan heard the FBI team leader start to protest.

He looked up at the sound of a body hitting a wall. Chris was standing in front of the FBI team leader, his hands twisted in the man's jacket as he pinned him to the wall of the warehouse. "Is that how your team secures a scene? You could have gotten my agent killed! Hell, you could have gotten us all killed! Don't your men check for weapons?"

Nathan was distracted from the drama by the arrival of Josiah with the oversized orange first aid bag. "Anything you need me to do?" the profiler asked as he knelt beside the medic.

"Nah, Buck can help me." He kept one eye one the combatants.

Josiah nodded. "Ambulance is here and just waiting for the all clear to come in," he informed them as he rose to his feet, and started toward the two arguing team leaders. Nathan watched him go out of the corner of his eye, most of his attention on his patient, but he could easily keep track of the combatants as well as Josiah by keeping one ear tuned in their direction. He was getting very good at diagnosing injuries by the sound of the blow that caused them. Something told him he might have to patch up the leader of the FBI team before the end of the day.

With a final shove, Chris let the FBI team leader go. "Josiah," he ordered the big man coming toward him, "help Vin finish securing the scene. Let’s get those paramedics in here."

"The bleeding's heavy but Nathan doesn't think the bullet hit anything vital," Josiah reported.

Chris nodded, turning to check on Vin and Ezra, who were double-checking the gun runners the FBI already had in custody.

"Looks good, Cowboy," Vin's voice came over the headset. "Let's get those medics in here for J.D. and the rest of these yahoos."

"That your blood?" Josiah asked.

Nathan's head jerked up automatically at the question.

"Just a graze. No big deal," Chris answered, moving away.

Nathan didn't see any blood from where he was working on J.D., but Chris was limping… He made a mental note to make sure Chris got that checked. Ingrained suspicion regarding his teammates and trouble made him glance toward Vin and Ezra before turning his attention back to the newly arrived paramedics. He should have known. "Ezra! Don't even!" he warned, catching sight of the undercover agent.

"Buck, I'll be right back," he told the hovering agent as he rose to his feet, and turned his patient over to the paramedics now kneeling beside Buck and J.D.

Nathan moved quickly toward the southerner and the profiler, who had hurried over to grab the smaller man at the shout. "Let me see,” Nathan demanded.

"I assure you, it is of no import. I can take care of the matter by myself, Mr. Jackson."

"Like hell you can. Your shoulder's out again, ain't it?" Nathan asked, running a hand over the offended joint.

"Yes. I landed on it wrong when I dove to the floor. Now if you'll just let me-"

"No. You want it in, you let me do it. Or we go to the hospital to do it. I told you, popping your shoulder in by slamming it into the wall is for emergency situations only. Now, we got paramedics here, and no one is trying to kill us. We do it my way."

"Mr. Dunne needs your attention more than I. It's not a problem-"

"Ezra, shut up,” Larabee growled, coming over to them. “Let Nathan put your shoulder back in, or get it done at the hospital. You decide."

Ezra sighed. "Mr. Larabee, I am more than capable of —“

"I didn't ask if you were capable. I said you will let Nathan do it, or it'll get done in the ER."

"There is no need to trouble yourself on my account, Mr. Jackson. It will only take me a moment to—"

"Ezra!" Chris ground out between clenched teeth, "one more step, and you won't have a choice, because you'll need to go to the ER for them to remove my foot from your ass."

One glance at the look on Larabee's face was enough to convince the undercover agent that his team leader was not only perfectly serious but had reached the end of his patience. Ezra sighed again, reluctantly bowing to the inevitable. "Mr. Jackson, if you please…"

"Hold him, Josiah. On three?"

Nathan watched as Ezra prepared himself. Keeping his shoulder as still as he could, he inhaled a shuddering breath, held it just a moment, before he let it out in a slow, uneven stream. He repeated the breath twice more, before the pain in his shoulder subsided to a manageable level, and he nodded as Josiah's solid bulk wrapped diagonally around him. Ezra's right shoulder was pinned beneath Josiah's left arm, with Ezra's arm trapped between them. Josiah's right hand pressed Ezra's head to the space between Josiah's neck and right shoulder, giving it a reassuring pat before the older agent wrapped his right arm around the smaller man, carefully sliding it under the injured agent's left arm.

Nathan waited until Ezra took a deep breath and began a series of short, shallow pants to control the pain that he knew was coming. He laid a warm hand on Ezra’s back, just under the injured shoulder, and began a gentle massage of the abused area. He then took hold of Ezra's left arm in a firm grip with his other hand, and slid the hand on his back up to the aching joint.

Nathan listened to the pattern of Ezra's breathing for a moment, and then, with a loud "three!" he jerked up on Ezra's arm, pressing his shoulder at the same time and feeling the joint pop back into place. Nathan saw the man in Josiah's arms jerk, nearly falling to his knees the moment his shoulder moved back into its socket; only Josiah's firm grip held him upright.

"You okay?" Nathan inquired.

Ezra nodded, clearly not trusting his voice yet.

"Fine, then let's get you to the hospital. I want to get that shoulder x-rayed."

As Ezra started to protest, Chris overruled him. "Go. Josiah, go with them. Ezra, I want a doctor's note. And after you get checked out, you can help these two keep Buck sane until Vin and I can get there." His tone left no room for arguments.


Nathan sat in the waiting room watching Buck pace. J.D. had been taken up to surgery an hour ago, and Buck had been pacing the area in front of the chairs ever since. Josiah sat a few chairs down, speaking quietly to a disgruntled Ezra. Ezra, his left arm immobilized in a sling that Nathan doubted would stay on longer than the night, was looking a little green from the shot of pain medication that the doctor had insisted that he needed.

Every so often, an ambulance would pull in, the medics rushing in with a patient on a stretcher. Nathan idly amused himself by trying to identify which unit the medics belonged to by the patches on their uniform shirts. Not surprising, he knew most of the logos well enough to identify the company. He was just making an idle bet with himself on which company would enter next when the pneumatic doors to the ambulance bay opened with a soft whoosh. He craned his neck a bit, anxious to see if he had correctly predicted the next medic unit. He was surprised to see his view was obstructed by a familiar figure trotting along side the stretcher.

"Vin? What happened?" Nathan rose to get a better look at the patient on the gurney. His trained eye absently took in the I.V. in the medic's raised hand, its trailing tube delivering life-giving fluids to the patient on the stretcher. He took an automatic step forward as he tried to see around the hurrying medic team, his mind blanking for a moment on why Vin would be with them. The team was in the waiting area already, waiting for word on J.D. All except for Vin and… Chris.

In two long strides, he was at the sharpshooter's side, launching questions in a rapid-fire delivery without pausing for answers. "Chris? Vin, what happened? Did we miss one? What did the medics say?" At the same the time, one large hand was reaching out to take Chris's pulse, and satisfy for himself that his team leader would be alright, while the other reached out to cup Vin's elbow, and move him out of his way if need be.

Out of the corner of his eye, Nathan saw Buck, Josiah, and Ezra look up as he rushed toward their sharpshooter. When he started firing questions without waiting for the answers, Buck moved closer, the worry on his face etched a little deeper as he waited to hear the responses. Nathan was glad to notice Josiah stayed where he was, one hand gently pressed to Ezra's right shoulder to keep the undercover agent in his seat. The last thing they needed was Ezra passing out at their feet.

Vin elected not to answer the inquisition as he accompanied the stretcher to the doors of the emergency room, where he was turned away. There he turned to his teammates, as if he finally remembered the reason the four of them were waiting. "How's J.D.? Any word?"

"J.D.'s in surgery." Nathan answered. "What happened to Chris? How'd he get hurt?"

"We were only ten minutes behind you," Vin finally answered. "Chris only wanted to make sure that the scene was secure and gather our equipment, the surveillance tapes, that sort of thing. Then the damn FIBbies stopped us, wanting to know what we were going to put in our reports. Took us a good quarter hour or more to shake them. By that time I could tell Larabee was hurting—he'd given me the keys to the truck. We stopped by headquarters long enough to drop things off. Then I took Chris to the Urgent Care around the corner." Nathan nodded his understanding. "The docs at the Urgent Care Center gave Chris a shot of something before they started to clean out his leg—it's just a scrape but it's got a lot of splinters in it. Next thing I know, they're callin' for an ambulance. Something about an allergic reaction."

Nathan let his head fall back in supplication. Not another medication that Larabee was allergic to! Was there anything that could be used to treat the man without an adverse reaction?

J.D.'s doctor chose that moment to come out. He checked his clipboard, before calling, "Mr. Wilmington? Is there a Mr. Wilmington here?"

Nathan nearly smiled despite his worry at the look on the doctor's face as he looked up from his paperwork to find himself surrounded by a pack of men, most of whom towered above him. It was the look of a herd animal that suddenly realized he had inadvertently wandered into a pack of predators.

"Which one of you gentlemen is Mr. Wilmington?" the doctor asked.

"I'm Buck Wilmington."

Nathan's redirected his attention to Buck. The surveillance expert looked liked he was about to jump the doctor for news of his young coworker and apartment-mate. "Do you have news on J.D.? How is he? He gonna be alright?" Buck asked, his mustache fairly quivering with anxiety.

"I'm Dr. Cutter, J.D.'s doctor. And please, I've heard all the jokes."

The men surrounding him didn't so much as crack a smile.

Nathan thought he may have to hold Buck back if the doctor didn't get to the point quickly.

"Mr. Wilmington,” the doctor continued, “if you'd like to come with me, we can talk."

"Why? What's wrong? Is J.D. okay?"

Nathan could hear the fear in Buck's voice that he couldn’t quite suppress. He couldn't stop the uncertainties that suddenly assaulted him, as well. J.D. had been bleeding pretty heavily, and it wouldn't be the first time that someone took an unexplained turn for the worse in the OR. He steeled himself for the worst, knowing that he would have to hold it together long enough to help the others hold themselves together.

"I'm afraid that I can only release information on J.D. to members of his immediate family, or his healthcare proxy. Since you are listed as holding his medical power of attorney, under the rules of this hospital and HIPAA regulations, I am only authorized to inform you of his prognosis." The doctor was trying to keep a casual eye on all of them as he spoke the officious words, but Nathan could read the poorly disguised panic on his face as he attempted to make eye contact with the security guards.

"Look, anything you can say to me, you can say to these guys. We're J.D.'s team. And if you only tell me, I'm just going to call this guy over," the tall man gestured to Nathan, "and make you repeat it to him, so he can tell it to me in words I can understand. Then we're going to turn around and tell the rest of these guys anyway. So you could just tell us all to begin with, and save us all a lot of time and trouble."

Nathan watched as the doctor nervously looked for security, trying to be unobtrusive about it. "Look, I understand about HIPAA. If it helps, I'm listed on J.D.'s healthcare proxy. Nathan Jackson," he added helpfully.

Vin was quiet as he watched the doctor try to stand his ground. "You guys can stand here jawing all day if ya want to," he spoke finally, the look on his face letting Nathan know he knew he wouldn't be helping matters if he stayed here much longer. "I'm gonna see how Chris is doin' 'fore he wakes up and shoots someone." He strode toward the ER doors where they had turned him away. Nathan watched him go, figuring that they could let him know about J.D., and in the mean time, maybe Vin could find out about Chris.

The medic looked over at Josiah and Ezra. The smaller man's posture and coloring made him interrupt the doctor. No man should be that green. He rushed over to their sides, bending down so he could ask, " How are you doing, Ezra?"

Ezra raised his head long enough to glare at him.

"How am I doing? How am I doing?? My shoulder is on fire, my head is killing me from watching the floor spin around after that oh-SO-necessary shot of pain killer, and any moment now I am sure to be throwing up everything I have ingested in the last month. How do you THINK I am doing??"

Nathan sighed. It appeared that when he got back to the office he was going to have to update the copies of the medical files that he kept there, not only for Chris but for Ezra. He was hoping that there wouldn’t be any medicines that had to be flagged in J. D.’s file as well. Chris had another med that he was allergic to and would have to avoid at all costs, and it seemed that there was another pain medication for Ezra to avoid. He needed to take a closer look at that file – something gnawed at his gut that the pain med that they gave Ezra may have already been flagged, or it may have been a related one. Then again, since he had the unenviable job of trying to keep their medical records up to date, it was entirely possible that he was recalling a drug that one of the others couldn’t take, He’d have to look it up to be sure.

"J.D. will be just fine," Dr. Cutter abruptly interrupted his musings.

The sudden silence was startling.

He continued, "He's out of surgery, and will be just fine. With a little physical therapy, he will be as good as new."

Buck looked like someone had lifted a Buick off of his chest. "He's okay?" he asked in a hopeful tone, needing to hear it again to make it sink in.

Dr. Cutter gave a half-laugh at the look on the tall man's face. Nathan termed Buck’s body language as going from snarling wolf, to unstrung marionette, to hopeful puppy in a fraction of a second.

"The bullet nicked an artery, which caused significant blood loss. But I understand help was on the scene almost as it happened?"

The two large men in front of him nodded in agreement and pointed at each other. Dr. Cutter nodded in understanding and continued. “That probably saved his life. There is some muscle damage, but with physical therapy there should be no loss of motion in his shoulder. A few days in the hospital to recover from the blood loss and the trauma, and he'll be allowed to go home. He's in recovery now; as soon as we have him settled in a room, you can go up and see for your self."

Nathan clapped a hand on Buck’s and Josiah’s backs, his grin stretching from ear to ear. Wide grins decorated their faces as loud cheers and thanks to the Almighty rang in the waiting room for the next few minutes. He was almost as surprised as the doctor when Buck stepped away from his friends and grabbed the E.R. doc around the middle in a quick bear hug that lifted him off of his feet.

"Please, Mr. Wilmington, don't break the doctor. J.D. may not be finished with him yet," admonished Ezra.

Wilmington abruptly realized what he was doing and put him down with a hasty "Sorry."

Dr. Cutter smiled. "That's okay. It happens. One of the nurses will let you know when you can see J. D." He made his escape before any of the others could get carried away.

Now Nathan was ready to deal with Chris.


It didn't take Nathan long to find Larabee — all he had to do was listen.

"I said I'm fine. Now tell me where my damn pants are so I can get out of here," came the unmistakably familiar growl as he turned a corner. He ducked around the closed privacy curtain with a relieved grin. If Chris felt well enough to growl, he was going to be fine.

"Nice legs, Cowboy," he heard Vin comment. He was in a position out of the way, yet still able to see his team leader sitting woozily on the exam bed. The blond was pale; the bandage wrapped around one thigh standing out starkly white against the hair-scattered flesh around it.

"You can't be in here," the round, grey-haired nurse that had been arguing with Chris objected. "And you," she turned back to Larabee, pointing a finger, "you sit there. You still have another I.V. to go through, and some more tests. Doctor's orders." She turned to escort both Vin and Nathan out. "You can wait in the waiting area, or I can call security. It's your choice."

"Let them stay," Chris growled. She stopped to look at him. "Let them stay, or I leave with ‘em."

"Without any pants? I'm surprised at you. What would Travis say?" Vin teased lightly. He raked his eyes over the blond. Nate didn’t miss the assessing look in the sharpshooter’s eye. He looked closely, trying to see what Vin saw. The lines that radiated out around Chris’s eyes – what on Buck would be smile lines, but only those who knew Larabee best would ever guess that was their origin – were deepened by the allergic swelling that hadn’t completely dissipated from Chris’s face and were increased by pain from the graze on his leg. He still looked a lot more life-like than he had just a few hours ago, rolling past the team on a stretcher.

"Hell, if you and Ezra could do it, do you think it would stop me? You don't think I could?" Larabee challenged.

Vin cocked his head, seeming to give the matter a moment of thought before deciding it was a sucker bet. Nathan snorted softly. Larabee had been a SEAL, after all. If he really decided to leave, pants or no pants, Nate knew it would take more than a single nurse to stop him – unless that nurse was carrying a loaded syringe and was a lot sneakier administering it than the average criminal. Fortunately, Denver Memorial General had a lot of sneaky nurses.

"Nah, you'd probably just roust some drunk for their pants," Vin replied.

"I knew I should have killed Buck years ago," Chris muttered. That thought brought him immediately to the next one. "How's J.D.?"

"He’s gonna be fine. He’s gonna need some PT, but he should be back to fighting weight in no time. How are you doing?” Nate asked.

"I'm fine."

"Mr. Larabee, if I let your friends stay, you will lay back and rest," the nurse informed them, proving that her silver colored curls were only an indication of the steel in her backbone. "The I.V. will work better if you relax and lay back, or I will strap you to that bed, and have security escort your friends out."

Chris turned his glare on the nurse. Nathan saw her eyes widen a moment, but watched as she recovered quickly. She glared right back, her arms coming up to fold uncompromisingly in front of her as her back straightened.

A grin crossed Vin’s face. “'Bout time you got a taste of what that glare looks like from the other side, Cowboy.”

A lab-coated ER intern chose that moment to pull back the curtain on the cubicle. "Mr. Larabee? How are we doing?"

"I don't know about you, kid, but I'm lying on a hospital bed with an I.V. poking in me to counter some damn medication I didn’t want in the first place," Chris growled. "What kind of stupid question is that?"

Vin swallowed a grin.

"Um, yes." The intern shuffled his feet nervously for a moment under the

glare sent his way. “We do want to keep you overnight for observation; to make sure that there are no secondary reactions. Do you have any questions for me?”

"Yeah. I have a man here that just had surgery — bullet wound. Any chance on the two of us sharing a room?"

"I don't know… That's highly irregular."

"Look, I have three large men in the waiting area in addition to these men here that are going to be worrying about their teammates tonight. If I have to stay anyway, you might as well put J.D. and me and in the same room. It will save you a whole lot of aggravation in the long run."

"Why don't you check with Maggie in Admissions?" Tanner suggested. "The other agent is J.D. Dunne. Just ask her about it."

The intern nodded and left to do just that. Somehow, checking with the nursing staff didn't seem inappropriate in this instance.

"You know we've been here too many times when we know the nursing staff by name, don't ya Vin?"

"Ain't my fault y'all are clumsy…"

After a quick consultation with the Admitting staff, arrangements were made to move Larabee into the same room J.D. would be occupying as soon as he was out of recovery. One of these days, Nathan thought wryly, as he and Vin headed back to the waiting area carrying the plastic bag of Chris’s belongings, somebody in Admissions is gonna just set aside a room or two for Denver ATF Team Seven and start charging them rent. And Travis is gonna is gonna have a hissy fit when he sees * that * on the expense report.

By the time he explained to the others that yes, Chris was going to be alright; yes, the hospital was keeping him overnight, and yes, arrangements had been made to put him in the same room as J.D., a nurse had arrived with the room number and brief directions on how to find it. Nathan didn’t think any of them needed the directions.


Nathan walked with Vin up to J.D.'s hospital room the next day, giving the sharpshooter a few last-minute instructions before he drove their team leader home. It wasn't that Nathan didn't trust either Vin or Chris; it was just that he knew the two of them well enough that he didn't trust Chris to take it easy if he saw something that he thought needed doing around the ranch. The man was as likely to try to do it all himself and end up half killing himself before he thought to ask for help, even from Vin. And Vin was the same way, whether or not he wanted to admit it. Stubborn fools, the lot of 'em.

The plan for the day was for Vin to give Chris a ride home, and if Nathan got his way, sit on their team leader, while Nathan sat with J.D. Buck would be by later to sit with the young computer expert, and Nathan would stop by the ranch on his way home to see if Chris or Vin needed anything. Vin had been assuring him that they would be alright. Nathan knew that the younger man was just humoring him, but he couldn't help it. If something went wrong, it would be him that they called on to fix things. He just felt better if he did everything he could think of to prevent his team mates from screwing up all of his hard work in keeping them alive and healthy.

When they entered J.D.'s room, they found Chris sleeping in the chair by their young teammate's bedside, an issue of Mad Magazine lying open on his chest.

"Aw, ain't that a sight," Vin mock-cooed.

Nathan let out an involuntary snort. The sounds were enough to wake Larabee.

"You ready?" he asked, rising stiffly to his feet and tossing the magazine on the table next to J.D.'s bed, on top of the superhero comic book.

"When you are," Vin answered, unobtrusively hovering until he was sure Chris was steady on his feet. Nathan watched the two of them leave, bickering softly already. He just shook his head, and settled into the chair that Chris had just vacated.


Nathan and Josiah stepped out of the elevator on Monday morning, thinking about a cup of coffee and enjoying the companionable silence of long time friendship. The two men entered the office, their eyes going to the empty desks in the middle of the bullpen. Buck had taken a personal day, planning to spend it visiting with J.D., who wouldn't be back to work for the next two weeks. Once again, Nathan thought, we got lucky. An inch in the wrong direction, and they would have lost the young agent.

Nathan puttered around his desk, hanging up his coat and booting up his computer, before he grabbed the coffee mug off his desk and headed for the coffee pot. Intent on his first cup of coffee, he headed for the break room. As he raised the pot to his mug, he noticed the absence of the coffee stain first. The taupe insides of his mug were a clean, uniform off-white. There was no sign of the stubborn brown ring that had previously marred its surface. He put the coffee pot back on the burner, un-poured, and looked closer at his empty mug. Still the same off-white color. He lifted it carefully. The blue caduceus that he expected to see on the side of his mug was absent. In its place was a saying: WHAT DOESN’T KILL YOU WILL MAKE YOU STRONGER… He turned the mug slowly. As he expected, there was another message printed on the other side: OR JUST PISS YOU OFF.

Nathan read the slogan again, disbelieving. He held onto his scowl even as his lips twitched when he filled the mug with coffee. Taking the longer way through the bullpen to his desk, he stopped at the open door of Chris's office. Waiting in the doorway for the blond to acknowledge him, he watched the team leader bent over his paperwork in silence. After a long moment, Larabee looked up, one eyebrow raised in question. Nathan raised his coffee mug, mute question on his face, waiting until Chris nodded in return. Turning away back toward his desk, Nathan mumbled loud enough for Chris to hear, "That's not very damn funny."

As he made his way back to his desk, grumbling about risk-taking injury-prone agents who thought they were humorous, he glanced back once to see Chris in his office. The slight upward twitch at the corner of his lips was the only outward sign Chris allowed to betray his amusement as he turned his attention back to his desk, intent on his paperwork once more.


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