by Raquel

An ATF "Virtual Season" episode

Vin didn't remember reaching the parking lot and getting inside the Dodge. He leaned back on the passenger seat then picked up the seat belt with his right hand. He winced as he tried to lock the belt into place. Chris watched for a moment then leaned over to help. Vin muttered a 'thank you' then placed his cast-covered arm over the waist belt.

Chris started the car and drove outside the hospital parking lot.

"I can handle light work, I'll even be happy with desk work, you know, I ain't planning climb the Everest... I don't want sick leave again, it's not necessary, please Chris."

Vin's voice told Chris how desperate Vin was about the issue. His best friend was pleading not be out of work, not be out of the Team.

Chris knew how important his job was to Vin, but it was something else. It was to be with them, with his friends and family. It wasn't just to share time together, but to back them up, to protect them when the situation called for it. He knew that Vin didn't care what happened to himself but his family's safety was first and foremost. What worried Chris the most was that Vin would go to the extremes in his protection, taking chances and putting himself in the line of fire.

However, as he looked into those stormy blue eyes that stared back so fiercely at him, Chris realized he would do whatever was necessary to allow Vin to keep working.

"I don't see why not. Will you be happy if I make the call tonight so you can rest peacefully?"

Vin nodded a smile of calm and triumph spreading on his face.

Chris smiled, too. It was so easy to make Vin happy. His job and the people he cared about were enough for him. Chris looked over and saw that Vin was now relaxed.

"You know... You better keep your promise to take it easy at work. I'll have Nathan keeping an eye on you and on Buck, when he gets released."

Vin had his head resting on the headrest and Chris saw how his lids were fluttering, the tiredness was winning the battle the young man was fighting to control. He didn't want to fall asleep yet, but he wasn't very sure he could manage to keep himself awake.

"Drive me home," Vin muttered.

Chris looked away from the road and turned to Vin just for a second. "Are you sure? You know you can come to the ranch."

"It's okay I'd rather be at home and not give you any trouble."

"You know what? You're speaking nonsense, Vin. You can stay at the ranch whenever you want, and you know it. In fact you do it."

Chris would have liked Vin to stay at the ranch so he could keep an eye on him. However, he knew it wasn't good to push Vin too much about those things so he kept himself from insisting anymore.

"'Sides, it's not that bad Chris. It's just a broken arm. I just have to take some medication for the pain and sleep straight through the night till morning. I'll be fine."

"Suit yourself." Definitely Chris wasn't going to push Vin anymore. He already knew Vin didn't really mind to be at the ranch, in fact he enjoyed being there, but he also knew that Vin wanted to keep working. If Vin went to Chris's house it would mean he needed help and that he wasn't up to work. Just the opposite of what Vin wanted.

They arrived at Purgatorio and stopped the Dodge in front of Vin's apartment building.

Chris released Vin from the seatbelt, receiving an annoyed glare from the Texan for his trouble.

"You can't reach, so don't look at me like that."

"I know, but it pissed me off, anyway," Vin said waving his good hand in frustration just before getting out of the car.

Chris grinned. Okay, at least he's admitting it. Better than in past situations.

Both men walked to Vin's building and went up the stairs; the elevator didn't work as usual.

Chris was at Vin's heels while they went up, just in case Vin felt dizzy. He would have preferred to hold him by the arm but he was sure Vin would have snapped something like, 'I ain't an elderly, you know. Step aside!', or if Vin didn't say a word, his look would.

Chris and Vin sighed, relieved when they reached Vin's apartment door that for a change, was opened.

Vin grinned at the look he knew Chris was sending to him from behind. It wasn't a 'how many times do I have to tell you, you keep your door closed' look. It was an 'I don't like it, I don't understand it, but I respect it, although it annoys me' one.

Vin knew Chris just wanted him to be safe. The problem was that this desire collided with Vin's need of freedom and characteristic ways to understand life.

Vin didn't want to look too stubborn about things, and Chris didn't want to cut off Vin's wings, that wasn't his intention, and his best friend was adult enough.

They kept balance without even realizing it. That was another thing to add to their intense and amazing relationship. What the rest of the world didn't know and couldn't even imagine was what limits that connection reached. Probably even Vin and Chris didn't know either, but it was there, was real and kept them alive.

Inside Vin's apartment, Chris help the sharpshooter to get rid of the sling, jacket and boots... the things he suspected were going to be hard for him to take off from him.

Vin kept his broken arm close to his body while he took a seat on his couch.

Chris supervised each one of his movements. He saw as Vin hissed in pain as his battered body tried to relax against the back of the couch.

"You okay?" Chris asked

"Yep. If you want something to drink, you know where the fridge is. I ain't moving from here for a while."

"Do you want something?" Chris smiled in sympathy while chuckling at Vin's comment, wondering the real intention in Vin's last statement.

"There are chocolate shakes. There's beer and whiskey if you prefer, but I don't think you'll allow me that. So chocolate will do."

Chris walked to the kitchen and poured two glasses full of chocolate shake. He walked to the couch, offered one glass to Vin and left his on the coffee table.

"Do you want me to call the Judge now? He should still be up." Chris raised an inquiring brow to his best friend.

Vin showed a hint of smile. Was it so obvious he wanted that? He nodded.

"Okay," Chris said, standing up and walking to the kitchen wall where the phone was.

He dialed the number and smiled at Vin when the Judge answered the call.

"It's me, Chris, Judge. Yes. I imagine you heard about the bust. Yes. We all are more or less fine. Buck is going to be released tomorrow morning. Vin wasn't even admitted. You know Vin, sir,..."

Vin knitted his brows. It looked like Chris was going to have a good time at his expenses.

"...Yeah. He got his left wrist broken and a good collection of bruises. He wants to keep on working. He doesn't want a sick leave. Yeah, you'd be right in your assumption, sir. Okay. Thank you, sir. Good night, thank you for everything."

Chris put the receiver down and took a seat next to Vin again.

"Okay, everything is solved. You can go to work as usual.

Chris stared at Vin and saw the complete relief and gratitude his face showed.


"You're welcome, cowboy."

"I mean it. Thanks."

"I know. I better go and let you get some rest. You sure look like shit, Vin."

"Thanks. I know I always can count of you to cheer me up."

"I am to please as usual," Chris grinned and squeezed Vin's shoulder lightly as he got up again.

Vin rose to his feet slowly.

Chris started to help but stopped in his tracks knowing assistance would irritate the sharpshooter. It was so hard for him to refrain from doing those kinds of things.

Both men walked to the door.

Vin saw the concern on Chris's face.

"I'll be fine, Chris. Besides I know you're going to be checking on me first thing in the morning. I'll rent a car to go to work and I'll follow the doctor orders and keep on with the medication schedule."

"Okay. I know, I know. You're adult enough to take of yourself and all that stuff, but if you need something, call me."

"I'll do it." This time it was Vin who squeezed Chris's arm lightly to reassure his best friend and reassert his words.

"See you in the morning."

"See you cowboy, be careful."

"Ain't I always?"

"Yep." Vin muttered as the close his apartment door.

+ + + + + + +

Chris decided to take another path to go home. It was late and although he knew he was exhausted, the adrenaline and the worry he had felt during the day were still going around his system. Besides, from Purgatorio, situated almost at the end of the city, he could take several directions. This one was the fastest to go to the ranch. He needed to get home as soon as he could. Too many emotions in a day. He wasn't sure Vin was going to be okay. Better said, he knew Vin could handle himself alone, but he preferred to keep an eye on him, for his own peace. He couldn't help it, he had to admit that he felt better if he saw first hand how Vin was. He couldn't lose Vin, but even he knew that he was being too possessive. He'd call the Texan just when he reached home.

The streets were emptied. That in itself wasn't strange as it was late Monday night, or better said, early Tuesday morning. This part of the city, beyond Purgatorio, was almost unoccupied, just some elderly people living alone and a few homeless that found shelter in the half-ruined houses. Housing wasn't appealing to the buyers and constructors because of the dilapidated neighborhood and nearby railroad. Chris sighed. It still amazed him that Vin lived here, but Vin was of course, Vin.

He was driving not too fast, within the speed limits, closer to the minimum. He stopped at an intersection waiting for the green light. Something in the floor of the passenger seat caught his attention. It was Vin's harmonica. How it had landed there, he didn't know, but he needed to keep it carefully for Vin. He was sure the Texan would turn his apartment and his desk at the office and even the ranch, upside down, until he found it.

It was one of those things Vin possessed and it would be near impossible to replace. Chris knew that its loss would be felt deeply if anything should happen to it. Vin didn't have a lot material things in this life but what he did have, he held dear... if for no other reason than the sentimentality.

Chris unbuckled his seatbelt and leaned to grab Vin's precious treasure. Sitting upright, he saw that the light was green.

Something coming from his left hit him with such force that Chris hit the left side of his upper body against the steering wheel, sending him to the right side of the vehicle. He felt pain in his face, forehead, ribs and his left leg, quickly realized it was trapped in the Dodge smashed driver's door. Pieces of shattered glass from his window covered him and his seat when it exploded.

The blow made him drop Vin's harmonica, but he couldn't coherently register what was happening anymore. He felt blood in his lips and he supposed what he felt falling down his left brow and forehead was blood, too.

When he opened his mouth to speak, the sharp stabbing pain in his jaw was his last coherent memory.

+ + + + + + +

"That's great Greg. It's my car what you smashed against that Dodge." A red-haired boy exclaimed, getting out of the passenger seat of a Jeep Cherokee. "What were you thinking?" he added, running toward the front of his totally destroyed 4x4. He was waving his hands in the air, pointing at the ruined car, running his fingers through his hair from time to time in desperation. He had a bottle of whiskey hid in a creased brown bag. He took some swings from it. He was so nervous. He hoped the alcohol calmed him. What got on his nerves the most, was the complete impassiveness his friend showed.

"Calm down, Jimmy. Your insurance covers everything. If doesn't, your dad will do it. And please, don't raise you voice somebody might hear you, and you don't want that."

Greg, a dark-haired guy with dark blue jeans hanging from his hips, surfer sneakers, white T-shirt under a jean jacket, stepped out of the driver's seat.

He stared at the red-haired boy through a cloud of smoke that had left his mouth, a cigarette of pot in his right hand.

A third boy, a blond, got out of the back seat of the Cherokee and stepped next to the car, trying to get a whole idea of the situation. He groaned at the smoke boiling out of the hood of his friends car then moved forward toward his friends as the owner and driver of the car, Greg, moved closer to the other one, menacing a fight.

"Calm down... You idiot! I can't go to my old man saying, 'the stupid Greg smashed my car because was trying to grab my bottle of whiskey, yeah, the one I shouldn't be drinking because I ain't 21, while I was changing the CD in the CD player. Besides, we were driving twice the speed we should, didn't stop in the semaphore and we were full of pot, by the way.' Yeah Greg now that I think about it, maybe he won't kill me when I say him that!!!" Jimmy was exasperated but kept a low voice, leaning toward Greg so he could hear it. "Listen to me Greg, I'm fucked, but I won't be the only one falling, Greg, I'll drag you with me. And you too, Dean." Jimmy said pointing at the third boy.

"Yeah, Jim, suck my dick."

Jimmy's face was red with the rage he felt and as a result of the whiskey he had consumed. In a fit of anger he pulled himself toward Greg throwing a right to Greg's face.

Greg managed to keep himself upright and stroke Jim back with a punch in his middle.

Jim bent by the blow and let out some coughs and curses trying to get his breath back.

Dean, the third one immersed in the situation, rushed toward his two friends until he was between both of them. He raised and stretched his arms at both sides of this body, his palms pushing his two friends' chests, trying to stop them from hitting each other.

"You two, stop now."

Both of them kept pushing toward the other.

"We have a bigger problem than your car, Jim," He warned them, trying to get them to focus in the real important thing.

Both men stopped struggling against him.

"What are you talking about, Dean?" Greg mumbled, the cigarette hanging from the corner of his lips.

"You've got too high, Greg!... Okay, think for a moment... what have we crashed against?" Dean pointed to the smashed Dodge that showed no signs of life emerging.

Jimmy turned to face the black Dodge.

"You bastard, Greg! If you killed somebody, I don't wanna have nothing too do with you!" Jim added jogging toward the smashed driver's door. Dean was on his heels. Both stepped dead when they saw Chris's unconscious form leaned inside the car, his body between the driver and the passenger seats.

"Oh my God, Greg!!" Jim muttered between clenched teeth. He turned to face an indifferent Greg in a quick movement and rushed toward Greg, grabbing him by the lapels of his jean jacket.

"Look what you have done!"

Greg fixed his eyes in Jim's, shook off Jimmy's hold while at the same time, grabbed his friend's arms, keeping them stretched along his body and squeezed his upper arms.

"You and Dean were too damn drunk to drive. For God's sake, you were zigzaging when we left that nightclub. So this is our problem, not just mine!"

The glare Greg sent Jimmy made shivers run down Jim's back. "Everything will be fine. Just keep you ass cool, boy, stop panicking," He added in his usual tone of voice.

Dean remained where he was, staring at the unconscious, even probably dead body inside the wrecked Dodge. He tried to open the door but couldn't.

He could hear his friends' voices not too loud, because they knew that if somebody heard them and discovered what had happened they would be in trouble.

Dean was still so concentrated on what it was on front of him that it was everything he could think about at that moment. He had never seen a corpse before, and now, maybe, be was staring at one. He realized about how frighteningly fascinated he was by it. He came back to reality. He needed to know if the guy was dead or not. He couldn't see his face completely.

He reached the bottom of the shattered window, cleaned the glass pieces stuck in the border with his football jacket sleeve, and leaned his upper body inside the vehicle through the busted window. With his arm stretched in front of him, he reached the unconscious man's arm and grabbed his wrist looking for a pulse. He was shocked and in some way a little disappointed when he found a strong one. He soon realized he wasn't sure it was good or bad the guy was alive.

He pulled his body out of the car, realizing so many emotions had made him calm down instantly.

"Houston, we have a problem," he said, staring at his two friends who stopped struggling and menacing each other.

They fixed their wide eyes on him.

"What?!" Jimmy asked desperate.

Greg remained as indifferent as before. It could be the end of the world and he would stop where he was taking puffs of his pot cigarette.

They knew how Greg was, his life had made him be in that way. It didn't mean he kept calm in stressed situations, it was that he simply didn't care. He had learned not to care while growing up; it was now his trademark.

Dean didn't know what Jimmy thought about it. To him, this facet of Greg's scared him to death.

"The guy is alive," Dean explained.

"Okay, reach for his wallet to find out who he is." Greg's suggestion sounded like a command. Dean obeyed.

Jim approached Dean to see what it was in the wallet.

"Holy shit.!" Jim muttered when Dean opened it. "Could this get any worse?" Jim said, slamming the open wallet in Greg's chest.

Jimmy crouched on the floor and hid his face with his hands. He definitely was hysterical. "This can't be happening." He mumbled like a mantra.

"It's a Federal Agent, Greg. What are we gonna do?" Dean asked. He felt the tension in his body increasing.

They were stopped in that spot for too long. Somebody might have seen them, or heard something. It wasn't any good.

"Jimmy, stop wailing, we have to tow the Dodge to another place... Maybe that empty warehouse your dad has. Dean, grab the small broom and scraper from the Cherokee and clean all the pieces of glass you can."

Jim looked at Greg in disbelief. "You aren't talking seriously, are you? I ain't going to take the car and the guy with me."

"Okay, then, somebody will find him. He will give a description of your adored car or maybe the police will find some of yours or Dean's fingerprints."

Dean bit his lip in panic. Jim gasped.

"Okay, let's do this."

In a quarter of an hour they got everything ready and left the accident scene with Chris's Dodge tied to the back of the Cherokee. Chris didn't notice or realize anything.

Tuesday morning - ATF building

If Vin was sincere, and at least he could be with himself, he was really sore. The light painkiller he had taken that morning hadn't helped a lot but what he could do? If he took a stronger medication he wouldn't be up to his job, and after all the troubles he had given to Chris, bothering him until he called the Judge, he could bear a little pain.

He had been a little surprised that he had slept the entire night. But it had made him awake rested and ready to face the day, although he felt a little stiff - a sensation he knew was going to last for several days.

While he got ready to head the office, he couldn't help but wonder why Chris hadn't called like he did each time he wasn't very sure he was okay, no matter what Vin had told him. He smiled lightly, thinking that perhaps Chris was offering a bit more freedom...but deep in his heart he felt something might be wrong.

After struggling through a shower and getting dressed, Vin called to rent a car. Then, after drinking a cup of coffee, he left the apartment and took a taxi to the car rental company and picked up his vehicle.

It was easy to get a car. He hadn't had so exquisite tastes like Ezra and with his hand in that way he couldn't be too picky about it. He just needed something that was discreet, automatic, that worked and that was economical, although he knew that Ezra and/or Chris would find a way for the agency to pay at least part of the expenses. He had chosen a dark gray car.

He sighed in relief when he began to drive and saw he could manage himself. Another thing he didn't have to keep worrying about.

Vin parked the rented car inside the ATF garage, grabbed his leather jacket that rested on the passenger seat with the blue sling the nurse had given him at the hospital last night. He was debating if he should put it on or not. It did relieve the pressure and pain on his arm but he hated it and it would make him look more seriously hurt than he was. He decided to keep it inside his jacket pocket.

Unconsciously, he looked at his eyebrow and cheek and touched the adhesives bandages lightly with his fingertips... Those wounds hurt too. Damn metal stairs. he thought. It had saved his life but the gratitude he should feel could wait until he wasn't in so much pain.

He had been so surprised when he discovered all the left side of his torso covered in purple when he looked himself in the mirror. It had been so weird he hadn't gotten any of his ribs broken. It was nice for a change.

Putting on his white checked shirt had been a hard task, buttoning it was even worse, but doing his jeans buttons up, had been the worst, ever. In that moment he decided he would buy jeans with zip in the future.

Without his thumb in use, everything that meant to fasten, lace-up, button up, do up, or something similar, was a nightmare... When he thought he was ready and had sighed deeply in pleasure, he realized he had to tie up his adored black boots... The ones he walked so comfortably in.

He rolled his eyes and cursed, using the extensiveness of English language widely.

It took him ages to get himself ready. It was a good thing he woke up earlier than he used to. Thanks to the experience I have gotten, He realized, chuckling dryly.

Vin reached the elevator and pushed the button of his Team office floor. He was trying to figure out what Nathan and Chris would tell him. He really thought Chris was there, but the knot in his stomach wouldn't disappear. Maybe it was complaining because just a cup of coffee wasn't enough for him. Vin thought about it. Probably it was both things, his worry for Chris and the need of food.

Anyway, he kept thinking about his teammates and friends. They acted in a 'so-mother-hen' way that got on his nerves. Nathan would tell him about the sling. Chris would ask him millions of times if he was okay, reminding him that he could get a leave and go home. All Vin wanted was to keep on with his work. It was the only way to keep himself in balance, in peace with himself and with the people around him. Why couldn't they understand it was the best for everybody?

A bad-mood Vin, he knew, it was the worst thing to deal with, and he felt bad for his friends. The main reason he was hiding, the one he tried to deny, without success, and he didn't want to acknowledge was even more important than just his job and his need to help people. It was that he needed, desperately, to be with those men he worked with, to watch their backs... to keep them safe, to keep his family together.

There was a strange pain in the middle of his chest each time one of them was in danger, injured or in pain. It was a sensation he had gotten used to, but that he knew he couldn't bear for too long. If someday he felt it in that way it would mean one of them had died and he knew he couldn't bear it. It didn't matter to him if something happened to him. He wasn't worthy, they were.

He absently touched the middle of his chest, coming back to reality when the door slid open.

Nathan looked up from his medical magazine. "Hey Vin, how do you feel?"

Vin smiled. He knew Nathan too well. "I'm fine, Nate. A little sore, that's all."

Vin walked to this desk, took his jacket off and sat down.

Nathan was going to keep talking, but thought it better. He didn't want to bother Vin, and get on his nerves. Probably, better said for sure, Vin knew that if he put on the sling, the pain and pressure would be less, but knowing him, he was sure the Texan had decided it for some strange reasons that would hide Nathan's medical mind. He went back to his reading.

Vin switched on his computer and while it was starting, he took a look at the office... Just Josiah, Nathan and himself were there. He couldn't know about Chris, his office was closed.

"Is Chris inside?" Vin asked to the other two men.

Josiah pulled one of the corners of his newspaper down and looked at Vin. "Nope. We thought you both would arrive together. Haven't you spent the night at the ranch?"

"Nope," Vin said leaning against the back of his office chair.

"It's just my arm. I can walk. Besides, I didn't want to give Chris any trouble. I do it too frequently, you know. This time it's just a scratch... comparing... " He waved his good hand in the air trying to remember one of the times he had needed extended care and healing time at Chris's ranch. There were too many. "... to all those times that it has been more serious."

Josiah smiled at Vin. Poor kid. Vin was around 20 years younger than he, and had suffered and passed so much in his life... Just about injuries, Vin was ahead Josiah about suffering, and if, to that, he added the hard childhood alone, without anybody... Josiah's youth and adult defiance against his father, was a garden walk.

"We understand you Vin, but know that we are just worried about you. We hope you tell us when you need help."

Vin sighed. "I'll do it, Josiah, I'll do it."

In that moment, the elevator doors opened again, revealing a not-to-aware-of-everything, still-asleep, semi-lethargic Ezra Standish. He hid it quite well behind his expensive sunglasses. In fact, if a person didn't know him a lot, he or she wasn't going to be able to discover it. Team 7 knew him too well to know that the Southerner was pleading for at least three more hours of sleep, despite his immaculate façade.

"Morning gentlemen," He mumbled finding his way to his desk. As he kept walking, he kept talking: "I hope, Mr. Tanner, you don't mind if I inquire about your physical integrity..."

Vin chuckled. "I'm fine, Ez."

"In that case the bruises and bandages on your face and that cast in your arm, don't collaborate too much to testify it so."

"Look who's talking. You always say the same as well, so don't bother me with it."

"Well, Mr. Tanner..."

"Whatever you say," Ezra said, sitting down at his desk. "Where are our fearless leader?" The southerner asked taking a seat in his office chair and leaning his back on it, trying to find a comfortable position that allowed him to relax.

"On his way, I imagine," Josiah offered.

"And where are Mr. Wilmington and Mr. Dunne's whereabouts?"

"JD is going to take Buck home this morning... I suppose he will come here later," Nathan explained without taking his eyes from his reading.

Vin was wondering where in the hell was Chris, but he wanted to give his best friend the benefit of the doubt and a little more time. "Does anybody want donuts?" he asked at the same time he maneuvered with his computer mouse... It was good he could use his right hand... too damn hard to try to manage with the other one. "I'm starved."

"Haven't you taken breakfast, Vin?" Nathan asked concerned. The Texan was so damn stubborn that probably he couldn't manage himself to get something done for breakfast than coffee and if his stomach didn't complain, he wouldn't say a word. Nathan shook his head in desperation. Hasn't anybody told this man, breakfast is the most important meal of the day?

As Josiah read Nathan's mind, he stood up. "I'll go, Vin. Just tell me what you want."

"No, Josiah. I'll do it. I don't want to..."

"...'give any trouble.' I know. I'm going to get things for me also, so don't worry, Vin."

Vin felt a little embarrassed. Those men were getting to know him too well and he didn't know if it was a good thing or not. He was trying hard to let that family feeling push through that invisible hard wall he had built as a child. Now he had people to care for him and sometimes didn't realize it.

Josiah had seen the frown in Vin's face and approached his desk in his way to the elevator.

"Listen Vin. It's okay. I don't mind at all. You would do the same for any of us. I'm just going to the bakery... I ain't going to save the world... And, by the way... I don't think you're an invalid. Have I forgotten anything?"

Vin looked into the anthropologist's ice blue eyes and saw sincerity. He smiled lightly. "No," he said simply.

"Good." Josiah answered squeezing Vin's shoulder. "Now, tell me, what can I get you? And please if you're going to tell me those names of junk food you and JD usually eat, give me pen and paper to take note... I ain't going to remember them."

"No. I'll give you the easy ones. I just want donuts and chips and a Pepsi™ for later... My stomach rules over my willpower... and 2 Twix™... you can remember that, can't you?"

Vin looked at Josiah with such a worried look that the man couldn't hide a wide grin.

"Yep. I can. Nate, Ez... Anything for you?"

"Now that you mention it... A cappuccino with a croissant would be nice," Ezra suggested.

"Having me in mind with the donuts, it's enough for me," Nathan said absently.

"Okay then, boys... I'll be back," Josiah said, raising his brows to emphasize his words.

The people who didn't know Josiah could think he was a hard-ways man, serious and impenetrable, when it was the opposite. He cared a lot for his partners and friends, those who had become his family.

+ + + + + + +

Josiah had gotten what Vin asked for and the young man felt better now that his stomach had something into, but he didn't feel comfortable at all. Something in his gut told him he should be worried about Chris. It wasn't normal.

If Chris had a meeting with the Judge, Chris would have told him last night or if his best friend wouldn't want to tell him or disturb him calling him later, he would have called to one of the Team's member.

He wasn't as good as Ezra with his poker faces. Josiah realized something was bothering the Texan.

Nathan saw how Josiah looked at the Team sharpshooter, and eyed him too.

"Vin you okay?"

Vin came back to reality, turned his head and looked at Nathan. "I'm fine." The ex EMT sighed and rolled his eyes. He didn't know why he kept asking.

Josiah grinned at the young man's statement, but kept staring at him.

"What is it Vin?"

"Maybe it's nothing, but Chris hasn't arrived yet and unless you forgot to mention it, he's not in a meeting."

Vin had restrained himself from call Chris each half of an hour. He had tried to be reasonable. Now he couldn't wait anymore. He grabbed the phone and dialed Chris's ranch phone number. When the answer machine gave him the message with Chris's voice, he left a simple message.

"Chris, it's Vin. Cowboy, call the office."

Josiah, Nathan and Ezra watched attentively what Vin was doing.

After that, Vin dialed Chris cell phone and he didn't get any answer. Just that the receiver wasn't available.

Vin put the receiver down. "Something has to be wrong. I got the message from the operator."

All of them knew that Chris had the cell phone on, and in case he couldn't answer his voice mail kept the message.

"Okay, " Josiah began to say trying to assess the situation.

"Where do we start?" Nathan asked, looking for some kind of order of action.

In that moment the phone rang and Ezra was the fastest of all of them reached the receiver from where he was.

The other three men held their breaths waiting it was Chris who was calling.

"Oh, Mr. Dunne. We were wondering about your and Mr. Wilmington whereabouts." Ezra said, loud enough the rest of his friends knew what it wasn't their leader. In fact, it wasn't necessary he raised his voice. The other three men were listening to whom he was talking to very intently.

They sighed. It was good to hear from JD and Buck but that didn't solve the problem at hand.

Vin ran his good hand over his face. His mind was working so hard that he didn't listen to the rest of Ezra conversation with JD.

When he looked toward Ezra again, the Southerner had already put down the receiver.

Ezra saw the look of confusion on the sharpshooter, like he realized he had missed something.

"Mr. Tanner. Mr. Dunne phoned to inform us that he and Mr. Wilmington would remain at his so-called home. Mr. Wilmington is feeling miserable right now. His stomach isn't taking the release to kindly, I'm afraid."

"Okay," Vin simply said, this mind busy yet with Chris's issue. "I think I'm going to call the Judge."

It was a statement but the rest of the Team 7 's members caught the light tone of 'if it's okay with you...'

Normally it was Josiah or Buck's task to take care of the Team if Chris couldn't. Mainly because when that had happened it was because Chris got injured and Vin was taking care of him, quite a rare situation, or because Vin got injured and Chris was taking care of him, the most usual situation.

Josiah and Nathan nodded at him. Vin turned his head and received another nod from Ezra.

Vin grabbed his receiver and dialed Judge Travis's office number.

"Hi. I'm agent Tanner. I would like to talk to Judge Travis. Yeah, it's urgent."

Vin sighed. The rest of the present Team was staring at him. Probably the Judge's secretary left him waiting.

"Yeah, Judge it's me. Yeah, I'm fine, sir. Well, we are worried because Chris hadn't appeared in the office yet and we were wondering if you know where he could be."

"I see. No, it's okay; we'll take care of it. Thank you, sir. We'll keep you informed. Okay."

Vin finished the call and raised his eyes to meet his friends' gazes.

"The Judge says we are to inform the police department and the rest of agencies. He's going to call Mary in case she knows where Chris could be. After that..."

"... Josiah, Nathan, check out the hospitals and clinics."

"Ezra, check the computer. Look for last news in the police and law enforcement webs, news lists... those things JD and you know so well."

"I'll check the bars and common places Chris would be. We'll tell Buck and JD later, maybe we are lucky and we find him before we think."

Somebody who didn't know Vin too much, would be amazed for what had just come out his mouth, but his friends knew how important it was for Vin to find Chris as soon as possible. It urged them to find their leader and friend. For Vin it was a necessity.


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