Growing Pains

by WendyW

Disclaimer: The Magnificent Seven are owned by MGM and Trilogy. No infringment is intended. No profit is being made from this activity.

Notes: This story is set only few months after the team is formed. Thanks to MOG for the ATF AU. A sandpit I'm happy to jump into with my little pail and spade. A nod to the CDC for medical management of chemical exposure ( All medical and police procedure has no basis in fact, extracted from too much TV.


"On the ground now. Face down, arms behind your backs. You know the routine," came the strident call.

"Ah shit," cursed Vin Tanner as he watched the Denver PD swarm toward the gang members he was standing near. He turned to identify himself only to be shoved into the chain wire fence. Rebounding, his feet were kicked from under him and he crashed to his knees. He decided to 'assume the position' and wait to clear up the mistake after the situation was under control. This was going to get embarrassing. An ATF agent picked up in a gang sweep by the local PD. He was looking a little rough, but he had been working on his motorbike all afternoon. Senora Cifuentes had begged him to find Ramon and try to bring him home. The old woman had lost two grandsons to gangs and drugs and now the youngest was being dragged into it. If Ramon was lost then the woman would be alone. Vin had wanted to at least try to help.

Larabee would kill him.

He'd started on the new ATF team only three months ago and was trying to fit in with the whole team thing. He might as well have taken out a billboard - 'Have you seen this idiot ? Does he work with you?'

The officers had been through these round-ups too many times and knew this was a show of force for the media rather than any real policing of the problem. It was midnight and they weren't interested in explanations from the scruffy long haired young man in the torn levis and greasy t-shirt. A threatening hand on a nightstick warned Vin to save his explanations for the desk sergeant at the station.

+ + + + + + +

"What ?" Vin winced at the pissed tone in Larabee's voice. It was 2am on Monday morning, but there had been no alternative if he wanted to be able to get out of here in time to appear at work.

"Chris, I'm in a bit of trouble."

Larabee jerked awake at this, realising the time and the caller.

"You hurt ?"

"Nah, but I'm bein' held at the station on 27th. They need an ID before they'll let me go."

"You don't have you're badge on you I take it," Chris sighed resignedly.


"Any chance you can quote you're badge number? They can call it in."

"Don't know it." Vin mumbled.

"Well, it'll take me nearly an hour to get there. I'll call Buck. He's only about 15 minutes away."

Vin knew he was being a bother, so he agreed to have Buck come down. He hung up the phone and moved back to the holding cell. Vin listened as the gang members were separated and charged, mostly for illegal weapons, but one or two with drug possession. This was just getting better and better. He leaned back against the wall to wait. He was tired and wanted to sleep, but closing your eyes in a place like this was never a good idea.

The door to the cell rattled and an older uniformed officer called him out.

"You're cleared. I'd stick to your own neighbourhood next time."

Vin rolled his eyes at these pearls of wisdom and stepped a little faster toward the door. He had expected Buck Wilmington to meet him in the foyer, but the area was empty at this time of the morning. Surprised, he headed outside and found the truck parked in front.

"Sorry to be trouble Buck."

Buck gave the younger man a hard look. "Chris called." Buck hadn't meant that to come out as sharply as it had by the startled look in Vins eyes, but hell, he was the one being disturbed here.

Vin wasn't sure if he should ask for a ride home. He didn't have enough money for a taxi and it was too late for the bus. Wilmington recognised the look in Vin's eyes as he searched up and down the street.

"Want a ride home Tanner?" Buck asked. Maybe this would be an opportunity for a few things to be cleared up.

"Appreciate it, thanks."

Buck waved him toward the truck and once safely inside he decided a little question and answer was called for. Larabee had been very short on answers when Buck had questioned him about hiring Vin Tanner, and Vin certainly didn't encourage questions. But Buck now held the advantage with Tanner being a little tired and a lot beholden.

Vin could feel the tension starting to build in the cab of the truck. They slowed for a red light and he could feel Buck look across at him. Vin decided to say carefully focussed on something outside the window.

"So Tanner, even you don't roam the streets of your neighbourhood at midnight. What's going on ?"

"Jus' doin' a favour for a friend." Vin didn't even turn to face his inquisitor. He knew this would happen, but couldn't it have waited until after sunrise. He'd had to explain himself to enough people tonight.

"I checked with the desk sergeant. You were picked up for dealing and illegal weapons."

"They were picked up, it was possession not dealing, and it was only a few." Vin corrected defensively. He didn't really care about their charges, he just didn't need his involvement to be any worse that it was.

"So what were you doing on the street corner at night in the middle of a deal." Buck was worried. Larabee hadn't been concerned when Buck had called him back to fill him in on Vin's release, but Buck was suspicious. Chris had taken on a virtual stranger and they hadn't made it through the first case and Tanner was causing problems. He knew Larabee had taken risks in some of the team members, but at least he remained watchful of Standish. JD only needed watching because of his inexperience. Tanner received no such limits and Buck was not about to see his oldest friend damaged professionally or personally by this newcomer.

"How far are you involved in this?" Buck demanded.

"I'm involved in nothin'."

"You live in one of the worst areas in the city. People don't stay in Purgatorio without a reason."

"What the hell's that got to do with anything?" Vin asked, surprised at the new accusation.

"You pulled in big bounties, now you earn good wages. You staying on when you can afford to leave looks like there's something there you want to hold on to. Isn't much there but drugs and violence. "

"You've never lived there. Hell, bet you do your best to drive past it and not through it. You've got no idea what's there." Vin accused.

"I don't plan to see you drag Chris or JD down with any of your problems."

"Let me off at the next corner."

"We're not near your place."

"No, but I think you've gone far enough."

Buck pulled the truck over and Vin snapped off the seat belt and jumped out, quietly shutting the door behind him. Vin gave Buck a long look before stepping away into the shadows and disappearing down a side street.

"That went well." Buck mused. Vin hadn't tried to argue with him, hell he didn't even slam the door. He hadn't taken him for a 'turn the other cheek' type of guy. Still, he'd seen the anger in Vin's eyes before he'd walked away. Okay, he'd seen the hurt too, but he couldn't risk Chris being betrayed by Vin. No , he had to be satisfied Tanner wasn't a threat to his friends.


Despite only two hours sleep, Vin dragged himself into work early hoping to arrive and stay at his desk as the story surely circulated. He made the coffee, extra strong for a morning like this then settled at his desk and tried to look busy. Except for Larabee, the team shared a large open area with the desks arranged haphazardly. Office space was still being arranged, but government departments moved slowly. Vin's desk was against a side wall, with Ezra the nearest by the windows. Josiah and Nathan had both pushed their desks forward to sit facing into the room. Buck had moved his desk closer to JD under the pretext of supervising, but mostly to annoy the young agent.

Larabee arrived, walking through the main office to his door.

"Vin, my office," he called, not even breaking stride.

Vin dropped his head in his hands for a moment. This was just not going to be a good day. He saw the concerned look from JD as got up, and tried to look confident as he stepped into Larabee's domain. JD felt sorry for Vin. He dreaded the day Chris Larabee called him in for an 'explanation'. He watched as Buck willingly recited the evening's events to the curious Nathan and Josiah.

Vin shut the door gently and took the seat across the desk from Chris, unconsciously pushing it a little further away as he sat down.

"Not the way I usually like to wake up in the morning. Especially not at 2am."

"Sorry Chris. Just got caught up in someone else's doin's."

"You in trouble."


"Someone else in trouble ?"

"Some. Might be too late after last night."

Chris just shook his head. Getting answers from Tanner was like extracting teeth. Buck had called back after organising identification for Vin and filled him in on the release. An ATF agent amongst a gang carrying illegal weapons might raise some eyebrows, but Vin had a history in that neighbourhood. Chris had called AD Travis, and left a message to head off any possible problems.

"Well, there's nothing official on your pick up last night. You cleared okay. "

Vin nodded his relief and moved to leave.

"Vin? That little piece of plastic with the photo and the ATF shield - try to keep it with you."

"I'll work on that." Vin smiled as he left.

Buck frowned at the sharpshooter as he left Larabee's office laughing. He slipped into the office himself to confront Larabee.

"Tanner didn't look too ragged," Buck claimed.

Chris raised an eyebrow in question.

"Thought you'd have torn strips off him for causing a ruckus."

"Buck, it was just bad timing. Vin wasn't doing anything wrong."

"Oh, he says so," Buck said in disbelief.

"No Buck. He didn't need to." Chris turned back to the work on his desk in dismissal of Wilmington and his concerns. Buck just shook his head and walked out.

+ + + + + + +

Vin returned to his desk to find Ezra had arrived and been filled in by the others.

"You appear to have survived the Larabee ire unscathed."

Vin just flopped into his chair.

"Don't get comfortable Mr Tanner. We've got a 9 o'clock." Ezra reminded Vin as he picked up his cappuchino and headed toward the conference room. "You don't want to add a tardy note to this morning's reprimands."

Vin just heaved a sigh. Great, all of them in one room. At least they'd all get it out of their systems in one go. He picked up his half cold coffee and followed Ezra.

Chris watched as everyone slowly moved in, chairs scraping as the team settled around the conference table.

"Ok, lets review the setup at the warehouse. Ezra, is Flannery still on the hook ?"

"He agreed to the personal exchange and as yet has not communicated an alteration to the arrangement."

"So, that would be yes. Vin, do you have the plans? " Chris asked.

"Yeah. I got a copy for everyone," Vin replied passing out sheets of paper.

Josiah looked them over, nodding approval at the neat three dimensional plans of the building and surrounds. Vin saw the surprise and knew it was because his team-mates were used to his chicken-scratch writing.

"Okay, so I draw lines better than letters," he explained.

"I didn't think we had this sort of detail on the building records," Chris asked suspiciously.

Vin simply shrugged.

"Where did you get this detail Vin," Chris asked sternly.

"I know the area."

"You were told we don't enter that building." Chris was surprised at Vins disobedience. The others stirred uncomfortably at the impending explosion.

"Didn't enter. Didn't go more than a block near it to get the surrounding scale. I know the area and I know the building," Vin defended.

"You do a little business in the warehouse district," Buck challenged.

Everyone knew that district was known for trade in most illegal goods. Everyone had planned on a little teasing of Tanner after hearing about last night's disturbance, but Buck's tone hadn't been teasing. An accusation was being made.

"I used to live there." Vin eyed everyone at the table daring any of them to try to question him further. He ended, holding Buck's eyes defiantly before leaning back in his chair, arms crossed over his chest.

Buck's accusation had caught Chris by surprise. He knew Buck had been concerned at the speed in which he'd hired Tanner, but they had seemed to be getting along. Buck seemed to be pushing for an argument and Vin was just withdrawing. Larabee didn't want to see his team disintegrate before they'd even got a chance on the job.

"We've got less than 48 hours, so lets get back to business," Chris demanded, staring Buck down for his disturbance.

Vin sat back and watched as the others gave their updates to Larabee. Maybe this team thing had been a mistake. Having to explain yourself to others and keep checking with other people was a lot of trouble. It had started to feel good to be included with these men. He was beginning to consider them friends. Damn, he should have remembered his lessons learned from his trail of foster families - those here first get to choose who stays.

Josiah watched the group and saw Tanner's silent withdrawal. He had been hired on as criminal psychologist and profiler, but a little counselling closer to home may be called for. Josiah had been hired early in the team, second after Buck. He had then reviewed each of the new team members with Chris. While he had reservations about blending a pack of loners into a cohesive team, he had seen that each individual had strong skills and each filled a gap that together would make them a great team.

"Okay everyone. Get a final equipment check done. Ezra, you do a final check-in with Josiah late Tuesday afternoon and then we'll see you at the meet on Tuesday night." Chris stood and walked out, closing the meeting.

"Wilmington, my office," Chris called.

Buck stepped into the office and closed the door. He knew this would happen after his shot at Tanner in the meeting.

Chris stood in front of Buck and gave his old friend a hard look.

"Do you have a problem with Vin, or is this about me?"

"You're being too trusting Chris."

"Me! Trusting! Try again Buck, you've got no grounds for what just happened in there."

"I've seen his history Chris. How you got that past admin I don't know, but some explanations are due."

Chris almost snarled at the last accusation.

"Everyone of us have gaps in our resumes. Vin's just honest enough not to fill them with euphemisms. Any string pulling to get him past the requirements was done by me, he didn't ask to be here. You know damn well he's no threat to you professionally, so there's only personal left."

Buck stumbled to try to explain. So maybe this mess was an opportunity to take the shine off Tanner, but Larabee needed to have his own blindness pointed out.

The rumble of voices was carrying to the main area. Vin knew this was about him. He wasn't about to sit here and wait for others to decide his fate. He ignored the concerned expressions on his co-workers faces and walked into Chris's office without knocking.

"If you're gonna rip me apart, I'd prefer to be in the room. Better yet if there wasn't a bunch of folks right outside the door." Vin's quiet words cut in.

"This is between Buck and me, Vin " Chris explained.

"No. I'm between Buck and you. That's easy fixed." Vin offered. The arguing pair were silence by that. He saw the immediate denial in Larabee's eyes, but Wilmington looked like he was considering it. Vin moved to slip back out the door but Chris stopped him.

"We will get this sorted out. We're all on this team and we're staying that way. We need to get this job done, then we'll settle this."


"Federal Agents! You are under arrest!" The call triggered action from the members of Team 4 and Team 7. The arms dealers were contained quickly with only some minor scuffles. Larabee moved forward with the rest of his team.

"All clear. Targets detained," came the crackled voice of the leader of Team 4 over the radio. Chris watched his team members round up the last of the gun runners. Standish had worked hard to keep Flannery at the scene and ensure the bust came up with the big players. He automatically counted his team clear. JD in the van, Buck moving up beside him, Ezra in the middle of the deal, Josiah and Nathan each holding a suspect and Vin was clambering down the plumbing from the second level. Team 4 were assisting with the round up. The bust had moved a little too quickly, but no damage was done. Larabee inspected the open crates, noting some important artillery was missing.

"Standish, you think they planned to short change you?"

"No, Mr Larabee. Our transaction appeared to be completed with mutual obligations met. Aside from the judicial bonus supplied by ourselves," Ezra replied.

The suspects were being transported by Team 4 so it was up to Larabee's team to secure the physical evidence.

"Okay people, lets take this place apart. We're short at least three crates, " Chris ordered.

The warehouse was stockpiled with an assortment of boxes, gas cylinders and crates. Vin moved off toward the north wall where a collection of boxes and gas cylinders stood. He squeezed between a stack to begin checking the boxes pushed against the back wall. Nathan and Josiah had decided to move the larger crates clear with the fork-lift. Josiah began to lift one of the upper crates, not realising the load was unbalanced. Nathan let out a yell as the crate slid slowly from the forks and crashed back onto the stack. The impact toppled the stack sideways and like dominos the stacks came crashing down along the wall. Josiah backed the fork-lift away and climbed down sheepishly, only to be greeted with a round of applause.

"Very nice Josiah!" Buck called. "That'll save us getting a pry bar out to open everything."

Vin had stepped clear at the sound of the crashing and was now surrounded by the remains of boxes, and rolling gas cylinders. He sniffed. There was an odd sweet smell. Then the burning began in his eyes and he began to cough. Everyone turned as the coughing echoed through the warehouse. Nathan and Chris were moving toward Vin as they saw him collapse to his knees, a fist clenched to his chest. Nathan suddenly realised Vin was surrounded in fallen gas cylinders and recognised the hazmat symbol - ethylene oxide.

"Clear the building ! Everyone out now !" Nathan yelled.

"Hold your breath and we'll get him out of here fast," Nathan warned Chris as they moved to the fallen sharpshooter.

Chris and Nathan grabbed an arm each and dragged Vin toward the doors. Vin could tell he was moving, but he didn't think he was in charge of it. The burning in his eyes caused too many tears for him to see clearly. He just wished they'd stop moving for a minute and let him catch his breath.

Nathan and Chris had pulled Vin clear of the building to where the teams were congregating. The tone of Nathan's voice had been enough to have everyone vacate the place at a run.

"Someone call an ambulance and the fire brigade. Warn them it's ethylene oxide," Nathan called to the group.

"What's going on Nathan?" Chris asked. He was kneeling by Tanner trying to keep him lying down.

"Some of the cylinders must have busted and Vin was standing in the middle of it. It's toxic."

"What? Deadly? " Chris was stunned by the rapid turn of events.

"No. Someone get me some water!" he yelled to the group hovering around them. "No, not with the sort of exposure Vin probably just got," he reassured his leader.

"Here you go Nathan." JD passed him two sports bottles of water.

"Vin? Vin? I need you to stay still," Nathan instructed.

Vin was trying to curl over to ease the coughing, fighting Chris's hold on his arms. Josiah stepped over to hold his shoulders down as Nathan liberally doused his eyes. The sirens of the emergency vehicles could be heard approaching. The noise of the sirens and the chemical in his eyes turned Vin's world into a kaleidoscope of colour and sound. He struggled to breath through the coughing, desperate to sit up. Josiah was surprised by Vin's strength as he tried to keep the wiry figure restrained without hurting him. Nathan had used all the water now and was trying to calm Vin down and slow his breathing to relieve each wheezing breath.

The emergency vehicles had now arrived and the paramedics approached and began to set up.

"You called it in as ethylene oxide?" the fireman asked.

Nathan nodded, concentrating on Vin.

"Liquid or gas ?"

"We didn't see liquid, only gas cylinders," Nathan replied.

"Okay." The fireman nodded and moved off to start organising his crew.

Chris needed to control the scene, but he didn't want to leave Vin. Vin had calmed down after the sirens had ceased. He either recognised that the others were here to help, or he was just too exhausted to continue the fight. Chris and Josiah moved back to make room for the paramedics now setting up oxygen. Vin began to panic at the sudden change in the blurred jumble of bodies above him. Hands were reaching for him and he struck them away.

"Josiah..." Chris started, stepping back toward Vin.

"I'll co-ordinate with the Team 4 and Fire Services, Chris. You stay here," Josiah agreed.

Chris moved in to grab Vin's flailing hands and stop him from interfering with the oxygen mask the paramedics were trying to fit.

"Slow down cowboy, it's just the good guys here."

Vin realised Chris was still with him and stopped fighting the strangers around him. Chris retained his hold on Vin until the paramedics moved him onto a guerney. He gently tapped Vin's shoulder as they moved him away.

"You do what you're told. We'll catch up to you soon."

Vin could still only see blurs and turned toward the direction of Chris's voice as he has taken from his team.

Larabee moved over to where the ATF teams had gathered.

The leader of Team 4 turned to greet him.

"How's Tanner?" Chambers asked.

Chris shrugged, looking back quickly to the departing ambulance.

"They won't say much, but it looks like he got a good dose of that gas."

Chambers nodded. No team leader like to have a man go down, regardless of the cause. He could see Larabee wanted to get to the hospital.

"Fire Services are saying they won't clear the building for access for another 24 hours. I'll get some personnel down here to keep the place secure until then." Chambers offered.

"Buck and Ezra are going in to the office to do the arrest reports. JD's gathering the tapes from the surveillance van and will run them back to the office. Nathan and I will go with you to the hospital and the others will meet us there when they're done." Josiah added.

Chris nodded his thanks at the organisation of his colleagues.

+ + + + + + +

The doctor exited the exam room only to be confronted by the patient's friends.

"You're with Agent Tanner I presume, " the Doctor asked, eyeing the ATF insignia on their jackets.

"How is he?" Chris got straight to the point.

"Agent Tanner was exposed to an industrial chemical. We're treating him with oxygen and medication for the bronchospasm. The burns to his eyes are being irrigated at the moment, which will have to continue for another 15 minutes."

"Burns?" Chris asked worried at the possible damage to Vin's sight.

"The burns appear minor, but ophthalmology will be down to confirm there's no permanent damage to the cornea," the Doctor explained.

"What about his lungs? He was having a lot of problems breathing." Nathan asked.

"He may require further bronchodilators later, and we'll need to do chest exams for the next 12 hours. This particular chemical can bring on respiratory distress. Unfortunately there is no antidote for ethylene oxide intoxication. We can only treat the symptoms as they occur. We'll keep him here for at least 24 hours."

"Can we see him?" Chris asked impatiently.

"He's being treated currently to irrigate his eyes. In the next few hours he's going to be very uncomfortable with nausea so he probably won't want too much company. "

"But we can see him?" Chris demanded.

The doctor pushed the exam room door open.

"You can keep him company until the nurses return to move him. Some patients find this process distressing." The doctor offered.

"Why the hell is he tied down?" Chris demanded.

Nathan and Josiah peered over Chris's shoulder to see Vin lying on a flat table tilted head down. Along with the oxygen mask on his face, he now had cups over his eyes that washed fluid through and drained off to the sides. Vin's wrists were strapped down at the sides of the bed.

Vin heard the voices entering the room. Relief flooded through him as he heard Chris's outraged voice. He couldn't see or even turn his head as a brace kept his head still. The oxygen mask muffled his voice and his throat hurt too much to yell. His world had been reduced to chaos after Chris had let him go. There had been nothing but lights and blurred movement, hands touching and moving him without warning.

Then they'd tied him down.

Chris's voice was a lifeline and he stretched his fingers out from under the restraints in a desperate plea.

Chris saw the movement and reached forward to grasp the finger tips.

"He persisted in trying to remove the washers. I'm afraid it was necessary to retrain him," the Doctor explained.

"Take these off. I'll keep him from ripping this stuff off," Chris ordered.

The doctor nodded agreement and undid the straps. Chris quickly grabbed Vin's hands as they moved instinctively up to his eyes. Vin recognised the touch and allowed his hands to be drawn back down. Chris loosened his hold only to have Vin quickly grasp his hands to stop them from withdrawing. Chris was surprised as he'd noticed that Vin would avoid physical contact where ever possible. He knew Vin must be upset if he was showing a need so openly. He allowed the crushing grip and tried to rub some warmth into the icy fingers.

The doctor saw that Chris could control the patient, so he departed, reminding them that the nurse would return in 15 minutes to stop the wash.

"He look ok Nathan?" Chris asked. Nathan was trained as a medic and Chris preferred to trust the innate sense of healing that the large man seemed to have rather than the impersonal hospital staff.

Nathan stepped to the other side of the bed and saw how tense Vin was holding himself, even in contact with Larabee. He reached out and lay his hand on Vin's chest to check his respirations. Vin jumped at the unexpected contact.

"Sorry Vin. It's Nathan here, and Josiah. I was just checking on your breathing." Nathan rubbed Vin's chest gently in reassurance before removing his hand.

Josiah moved up closer to the patient. "That looks decidedly unpleasant Brother Vin," Josiah remarked.

Vin squeezed Chris's fingers.

"I think that was agreement," Chris interpreted. "You're nearly done here Vin. I'll stay with you."

Again he received a squeeze to his fingers, this time a little longer. Chris returned it silently.

Josiah and Nathan moved outside of the small room to call the office and inform them of Vin's diagnosis.


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