by Raquel

An ATF "Virtual Season" episode

Vin had enjoyed each moment he had spent with Daisy. In a lot of ways, the old lady reminded him of Miss Nettie and in other ways he knew he recalled his ma and one nun who had adored him in one of the orphanages. He felt terribly sorry hearing about Daisy's life. She had lost her husband years ago, her only son died in Vietnam. At least when she had her husband they consoled mutually, now she was alone in a world, in a city that didn't care about her. Vin felt the urgency to stay with her to ease her loneliness as best he could. It was the least he could do to make her happy.

When Buck had called Vin back, Vin would have liked to stay more but he needed to find Chris first. It was even difficult when he thanked her but at the same time, she thanked him back. He had told her that without her help he wouldn't have been able to find Chris. Daisy had told him that she was there just to help him, that he didn't need to thank her, that he had given her something else by staying and allowing her to share her memories while he answered her questions from his heart. Vin placed a light kiss on her cheek and left, telling her that he would come back to check on her. In Vin's mind resounded yet her last sentences. 'I'll be fine Vin Tanner. What you already did is enough. Take care and say hi to your friend Chris.'

Anyway he made up his mind to come back to see her when he had found Chris and knew he was okay.

It was a good thing that no one but he had to read the note he had taken about the owner of the Cherokee's address. He had to be sincere at least with himself. His writing was still too illegible. JD said that his writing it was like doctors'... you never knew what they meant. Just Chris and Vin himself could understand it. He'd been worried about it at the beginning, like he had been with all his 'literate' skills, but he was doing much better and he knew he had the support of all the Team. Chris was implacable with him when he got a little down about the issue. Vin thanked him and all the Team.

He checked the address in front of him. That was the house.

Vin checked his face before he got out of the car. The cuts were healing nicely when he looked at them in the morning, but the stitches scared people less if they didn't see them, so he covered that one with a clean adhesive bandage. The bruises were still there, but didn't look too bad; they weren't as black and dark purple as the day before. They were purple but what the hell, he still could offer a presentable appearance. He realized he had to look more or less good when he saw the house. It was large and based on the part of city it was in, the owners were wealthy. He sighed deep and got out of the car, straightening the lapels of his leather jacket as he walked the path that led to the entrance door. The weather was still getting worse.

He sighed again before ringing the bell. He felt so close to finding Chris that he could hardly wait.

"What can I do for you?" A woman impeccably dressed with her hair gathered at the back of her head opened the door and stared at him.

"My name is Vin Tanner, I'm a Federal Agent. I'm looking for Jim Maddox." Vin said, showing her his badge.

"Oh my God, has Jim done something?" Vin supposed the woman was Jim's mom. He preferred not to worry her before he got the opportunity to talk to him.

"I need to speak with him concerning an accident he may have witnessed. Is he home, ma'am."

"Yes. He arrived a while ago. Please come in."

Vin obeyed and stepped into a huge hall. The woman turned to a stairway that led to an upper floor and called her son's name.

Some minutes later a redheaded young man, around JD's age came down.

"Yeah?" The boy asked while eyeing his mom and the stranger next to her.

"This is Agent Tanner. He wants to ask you some questions about a car accident."

Vin may not have been as adept as Ezra when it came to reading people; however, he didn't miss the slight flinch .

"You can use my husband's office."

The woman led them to the mentioned room and closed the door behind her back when she left the room.

+ + + + + + +

Chris stirred again; he didn't know how long he'd been out. Before he had a chance to regroup, he caught a waft of an odor and realized his hopes for survival were dwindling as he recognized the smell of a burning drug. Kidnappers were always risky business - high ones tripled the odds.

He tried to recall the last time he'd awakened. How long ago had it been? Finally, his mind drudged up the memory of the 'leader' telling the others to go home, that he would deal with the problem. There was no doubt in his mind that his time was running out.

Hurry, cowboy. I can't hang on much longer.

Briefly, he thought about trying to overpower his captor, but quickly dismissed that idea. At this point, he didn't have the energy to lift his head much less make a break for it. He'd wait for his Team - for Vin.

Vin was looking for him, of that he was sure. He could feel him close by. And that thought alone comforted him.

However, he couldn't stop himself from adding another sensation to his already overloaded body: He was nervous. He could be killed by that unstable bastard and his friends would never know why; Vin and the team would spend the rest of their lives trying to find an answer. The boys had collided with him driving drunk and feeling too high. They had just needed to hide their sly trick and he had been caught in the middle. He had been in the wrong place at the wrong time. It wasn't the first time one of them was in a situation like this without really knowing how or why. The difference was that the other times they had gotten together again; he wasn't so sure about this time. He sighed deeply, then closing his eyes tight, he hid a gasp as pain once again shot through his body.

+ + + + + + +

Buck felt totally restless. He trusted Vin's instincts, expertise, skills, his habitual gut feeling and everything else, but he knew the Texan was too stubborn and too overprotective with all of them. Vin was the team's sharpshooter and as such, it was his job to cover his team's back. However, sometimes he forgot that that his own back needed covering.

The ladies' man had acceded to what Vin had asked for. He remained at home in front of JD's computer but he was going insane. He wanted to know if Vin was okay, if he had already found Chris, if his lead was good or not, or if the Team 7's sharpshooter could be into troubles and could need a hand.

Vin had the bad habit of going out on his own too much. Chris too. It was something that annoyed the mustached man. Each always had the other in mind. Vin and Chris always protected the team, as the family they were, but sometimes forgot that the team was there ready and willing to protect them when needed.

JD had called a little earlier before time inquiring if they had found something and Buck felt frustrated when the only thing he could say to his best friend was that he was waiting to hear from Vin.

The youngest member had asked if the hardheaded Texan was going to take care of the situation on his own.

Buck had heard Nathan's complaints on the end of the line. The ex EMT had cursed aloud about a deaf Texan sharpshooter who never followed his medical advice and ended more hurt than he was before, and warning Buck himself that if he ripped open any of the stitches in his side, he would have to face him.

Buck had chuckled and promised them that he would call them in the moment he knew something if they weren't in the middle of the bust, of course.

He stood up and walked to the kitchen to grab something to eat and drink while waiting anxiously Vin's call.

+ + + + + + +

He hated following a hysteric young man on a path that would surely hang a sign of guilty around his neck.

This chat with Jimmy Maddox was brief. He had asked him about where his Cherokee was and the boy had assured him that his dad had taken it early in the morning to go to a meeting with some friends, something his dad did a lot. It was Jim's car but as he used his dad's, his dad used his.

When he asked Jim about the Dodge and showed him Chris's photo; Vin had stared carefully at him, and saw Jim grew a little more hesitant and nervous. The words didn't leave his mouth as easily as at the beginning of his meeting. The boy had run his fingers through his red hair like hundred times while Vin was there. Vin himself, had tried to look understanding, but impassive, trying not to show how this case affected him personally.

It was clear to Vin that Jim did know what had happened to Chris and probably knew where his best friend was. Vin just hoped that Chris was alive.

Now he had followed Jim who had gone to a friend's home and rushed to the door. He looked incredibly impatient while he waited for somebody came to open the door. When a blonde boy opened it, Jimmy pushed him inside, closing the door at his back.

Forty-five minutes later, Vin was starved. He already knew that being an ATF agent meant not following normal meal schedules, but this was turning into a bad habit. And this car wasn't like his jeep - no handy stock of junk food in the glove compartment.

Above all, he was impatient, restless. He needed to find Chris and it was taking all his control and not to get out of the car, head to the house and force them to tell where they had hidden, but for Chris's safety, he had to wait and he would do it.

When he was there for almost two hours, both boys left the house and checked around before getting into the car Jim Maddox had taken from his home, another 4x4.

Vin slipped himself the driver's seat so they wouldn't see him when they drove away. He waited the established time and then followed them.

Vin cursed in low voice, as the weather grew darker. He thought it would rain soon.

The boys headed toward Denver's outskirts, just the opposite of where Daisy lived.

Vin rolled his eyes as the rain began to fall heavily. He was tired, hungry, his body ached, and he couldn't properly move his arm. Now he was gonna get soaked to the bone.

He watched as the car pulled into a warehouse, a door shutting behind it. His heart began to beat faster and he could hear it echo in his ears. He knew Chris was close by, but a fear that he may be too late clutched at his stomach.

He sighed and got out the car, walking quickly to the other side of the road after pulling his jacket collar up and getting his gun out of his waist holster.

He could feel his broken arm beating inside the cast. Now it really hurt. Probably from the tension he felt running through his body.

The sharpshooter walked to the warehouse praying he could find a window that allowed him to see what was happening inside.

+ + + + + + +

Chris would have laughed aloud if he had been able to. Vin had found them. The shouts and yells inside the warehouse had awakened him. He just hoped what he was hearing was true and not another one of the illusions and nightmares that had crowded his sleep during the whole time he had been there.

"Okay, tell me again!" Greg, the leader, commanded to his friends.

"A federal agent came to my home asking if I had witnessed a car wreck between a Cherokee and a black Dodge. Later he showed me a photo of him, Greg, he knows!!" Jimmy explained trying to control himself.

"How can he know it? You're imagining. Are you sure it was a Fed?"

"At the beginning I wasn't sure because he had long hair, an arm in a cast and some bruises and wounds on the face. But he showed me his badge and it looked like an authentic one."

"Well, if he was a Fed, I hope you said what we practiced. Was he convinced of what you said? Tell me."

"Yep. I told him nothing about what happened. I told him I hadn't seen any car accident. He thanked me and he left. Later I went to Dean's."

"Did you check if he was following you?"

"Yep, all the time. Nobody followed us, right Dean?"

"Yeah. Nobody. We were real careful."

"Well, we can't take any more risks. We have to get rid of him today. Let's get the Dodge attached to your 4x4 and get him inside.

"Greg, I think we shouldn't be..." Dean started to say.

"We shouldn't ... what?! Do you want to spend the rest of your life in prison? I don't. This is near the end. We have been careful and we have agreed on everything.

"We agreed because we didn't have any other option Greg. You didn't allow us! Dammit. You bastard!"" Dean lost his control "This is bad and I don't know what in hell is happening inside that head of yours but this could have been solved another way. I'm sure of it!"

"If I don't recall it wrong you didn't say a word when we hit the Dodge and everything. You and Jimmy shitted."

"It was you driving, not me. My only problem is that it was my car!" Finally, Jimmy took part in the conversation.

"We would have had more than an accident if you were the one driving. You were practically in coma."

"You were driving too fast, Greg. We know you like the new experience and the speed, but that road isn't like the one in

Indianapolis, you know," Dean said more controlled.

"Anyway, we have to finish this, and you know what can happen to both of you if you don't co-operate."

Chris knew Vin had followed them and would be around waiting for the right moment to burst in and get him out.

+ + + + + + +

Vin saw light coming from some holes in the windows. He couldn't get a whole scene of what was happening inside but he could hear some different voices. He supposed inside would be the three boys Daisy told him about. He could feel Chris's presence.

He checked all the windows and in one of them, he could see somebody lying on a kind of cot. He couldn't see the whole body either, but he was sure it was Chris. He could see his legs and saw they were tied together and that one of them had blood on it.

The rain was falling heavily. His leather coat was soaked as was his hair and more than likely, his cast.

He decided that he had to call Buck so he would be aware of what was going on and could bring help. He walked away from the building before dialing Buck's house number.

"Buck, it's me, Vin."

"My God Vin. I almost made a hole in the floor from pacing waiting for your call."

"I'm sorry Bucklin. I think I have found Chris. I can't be sure how he is but after the car wreck he probably isn't okay, because you know Chris, he would have ripped the boys' heads off and gotten the hell out of there." Vin was really impatient to get Chris free and didn't realize he wasn't giving Buck the whole story coherently.

"What are you talking about? What accident, what boys... Vin, listen to me, tell me where you are and I'll come to you. Wait for me. Don't do anything. It could be dangerous..."

"Buck, please. You can't be serious. I'm going to get Chris the hell out of there right now. Come here, but I can't wait. I'll be fine, I promise. I'm in a warehouse in the south of Denver, one with a big green door, near one with a big sign that said "Jack's warehouse". Everything for old cars." You got it. Ask for help..."

"Vin, listen..."

Vin turned the phone off and hid it in his jacket pocket.

The rain didn't disturb him anymore. He couldn't be wetter than he was. Besides, he was just focused on one thing: get Chris out of there.

He kept a firm grip on his gun with his right hand. He kept it out-stretched next to his thigh. He could feel the handle grow warm from the contact with his hand. Soon it would be wet from his tight grip.

He walked to the warehouse and observed carefully the entire perimeter while trying to find a way to get inside. He couldn't find any so, he decided that the front door and extreme force would work this time.

He walked decisively toward the door; his eyes fixed upon it. When he reached it, he shot the lock and opened the huge sliding door with a pulled to the left.

As he'd thought, he'd taken them by surprise as three pair of eyes stared at him.

"Don't move," he said, pointing the gun at the three of them.

"You said he didn't follow you! You stupid bastard!" Greg shouted from the top of his lungs. "I'm going to kill you for this Jim!"

"I said, don't move. Don't give me a reason."

That voice sounded so good in Chris's ears. He had thought he was dreaming at the beginning, but now he knew it was Vin. Finally. He laughed mentally at Vin's words. That was a phrase he himself would have used. The Texan spent too much time with him.

Jim Maddox and his blonde-headed friend stared at him in disbelief, trembling like leaves in the wind.

"Please, agent we didn't want to do him any harm. We just hit him and everything turned to a mess." The blonde began to say.

Jimmy lost any coherent thought and in an outburst run to Vin to hit him.

Vin didn't want to shoot him so just hit him with the back of his gun and the boy fell unconscious.

"You see, don't make me do it again to any of you," Vin warned.

Vin pulled a pair of cuffs from his pocket then walked to the blonde boy. He tied the boy's hands to his back, noticing that the boy didn't struggle. One good thing. he thought.

Greg, on the other hand, grabbed a plank that was close to him and ran toward where Chris was lying, raising the plank to hit Chris. Vin followed him.

"You die, fucking Fed. You ruined everything. It's all your fault!!!"

"No!!!" Vin shouted and shot his gun.

The bullet hit Greg in the arm, making him drop the plank at Chris's feet. Chris tensed and hissed in pain when the board his part of his leg.

Greg knelt on the floor grabbing his arm.

"I said, don't move," Vin said between clenched teeth, grabbing him by the back of his shirt and dragging him away from Chris.

Sirens could be heard getting louder as the police car reached the warehouse. Vin thanked Buck for calling the nearest police department station.

"The Calvary is here, son," Vin said, grabbing Greg who groaned in pain and placed him next to Dean, who was sitting with his back against the wall. Jimmy was lying on the floor, still unconscious.

Police agents came in guns in hands.

"I'm an ATF agent," Vin said, raising his hands.

"Are you Tanner?" one of the agents asked.

"Yeah. Here you go," Vin said, pointing at the boys with his head, placing his gun in his waist holster at the same time. "I need to check on my friend."

Vin ran to where Chris was.

Chris felt a lot of things when he saw Vin's face, and one of them was pride. He absolutely knew that Vin could take care of any situation as the young man had done it all his life before meeting Chris and the Team. But now, Vin was part of a team and it was nice to see that the younger man maintained his reliability and courage - even when injured. It pleased Chris to know that his trust and belief in his sharpshooter was well-founded.

Chris's eyes expressed all the relief and happiness at seeing his friend. Vin immediately knew something was wrong with him. He knew Chris's first words would be something like "It was damn time you came, cowboy."

Chris looked totally beaten, that was why his silence communication didn't work so well. He knew Chris was happy to see him and that something had stopped him from getting free by himself, he also knew that Chris thought he, well both of them, looked like shit.

Vin opened the cuffs that held Chris's arms at his back and crouched close to the head of the cot, while Chris very carefully moved his arms to the front. He couldn't do it completely as it hurt too much. A gasp escaped his mouth.

Vin saw the bruised left part of Chris's face and the swelling around his cheek and jaw.

"Broken, eh cowboy?" Vin said in sympathy.

Chris closed his eyes, nodding once. He hurt too much to do anything else.

"I imagine, we'll have to visit the hospital for a while."

Vin was going to stand up when a wave of dizziness hit him and he had to hold to the edge of the cot and sit down next to where Chris was lying.

When Vin got the spinning controlled, he opened his eyes, meeting Chris's, smiling at the worry that showed in his best friend's face.

"That happens when you don't take anything to eat the whole day after a light breakfast. Tell Nathan, I'll deny it."

The mischievous sparkle in Chris's eyes didn't do a thing to reassure Vin about it.

+ + + + + + +

The ambulance had driven Chris and Vin to the hospital. While enroute, Chris had fallen unconscious. He was admitted and went directly to surgery.

Vin met with Buck and the rest of the Team with the exception of JD. A nurse had given him a towel and he was drying his hair. He knew he would need a new cast, the part around the palm and thumb was soft, but he would take care of it later.

"You," Buck told Vin pointing at him. "We'll talk later about how you handle a case, Tanner," he added grinning.

"Are you okay Vin?" Nathan's first question was so obvious.

"Yeah, Nathan, I'm okay, although I could eat a cow," Vin admitted.

"I knew you wouldn't follow my advice. What about having three meals per day, take care of those cuts and that arm..." Nathan kept on saying.

"Ow, Nathan, I was busy, you know. How was the bust?"

"It was as simple as ABC, Mr. Tanner." Ezra added.

JD walked toward them with some chocolate bars.

Vin's month turned to water.

JD smiled evilly. "Here you go," he said, throwing one of them to him.

"You should go get a new cast on that arm... " Nathan suggested.

Vin rolled his eyes, opening the chocolate and taking a seat on one of the chairs in the waiting room. "Later."

Nathan shook his head, while the rest of the Team imitated the Texan.

+ + + + + + +

The doctor had told them how Chris was.

They had placed him in ICU at least for that night. He had lost too much blood and was dehydrated. As Chris and Vin suspected his jaw was broken and he would have to have it wired for several weeks. Some of his ribs were cracked too. Fortunately, his leg wasn't broken. They had cleaned the wound and had closed all the vessels and torn skin when the boys had tried to free his leg that had been trapped in the twisted metal.

Vin had been seated next to him until they had convinced him to go get his arm his cast replaced. He had come back dressed in JD and Buck's clothes and with his re-casted arm in a blue sling. He was exhausted but he felt good, Chris was back and was going to be okay.

He made the team go home to get some rest, telling them to come back the next morning. No one questioned that he would spend the night close to Chris.

With Chris's broken jaw, Vin knew that he and his friend would be 'chatting' with their silent communication.

A light movement caught his attention.

Chris's head turned slightly toward Vin.

"Welcome back, Sleepy Beauty," Vin said when he saw his best friend's eyes were focused enough.

Chris's lips went up a little.

"You know you will have to shut up for a while... but you'll survive," Vin said, placing his hand on Chris's forearm and squeezing it lightly.

It was incredibly good to have him back more or less safe. I'm so glad to have you back. You had me worried there, cowboy.

I know, I'm sorry. I was worried too. That boy was unpredictable.

Yep. If he had gotten hold of a gun, I'm afraid he would have shot you.

So, when were you going to keep your promise to do light job?

You didn't allow me to, cowboy. I was going to.

Is everything fine, Vin?

Yep. Just a little tired. Too much movement and too little food and sleep. It has solution, though. I'll eat and sleep later, don't worry.

Go to sleep Vin.

I'm staying.

Stubborn Texan.

Say what you want, but I'm staying.

Thanks for finding me.

Vin slipped his hand into JD's pants pocket and took his harmonica from it.

Thanks for finding this. You know me Chris. I don't have a lot, but you and this harmonica, are two of the most important things.

Chris knew it. Vin didn't have many tangible things other than his harmonica - a gift from his grandfather - but what he had was impossible to replace. The other thing was himself. Chris imagined that he was as irreplaceable to Vin as Vin was to himself.

Well, you got the two of us. Your lucky day, Tanner.

You can say that, cowboy.


Chris was resting on the couch at the ranch. Vin had offered to take care of him while he was still recovering from the accident. He had to use crutches to get around, and he couldn't speak properly yet. So, he sure could use a hand. Besides, the Texan was still dealing with his broken arm, so in that way each one took care of the other.

The rest of the Team had acceded to this solution, since the only one who could understand Chris without driving anybody crazy, was Vin.

He had being informed of everything since he had disappeared, and was satisfied with how well his Team could handle things without him. It wasn't like he had in mind to do it again. The only disappearance he was interested in right now was a good holiday, only if he could share it with his family, though.

The kidnappers were in prison waiting for the trail, but Chris didn't want to think about it. He knew he had to testify but what really mattered to him now was enjoying these days with Vin and taking it easy.

Vin had left early morning to get Chris a new cell phone and to check at the garage where Chris's Dodge was being repaired and to check on Daisy.

He remembered Vin telling him about the old lady that aided in his rescue. Chris had been surprised to learn that anyone still lived in that area. He would have liked to go with the sharpshooter to thank her personally, but was still too weak and really couldn't have talked to her so he waited. Perhaps next time.

He fell asleep in the couch, awaking when he heard a car approaching.


Chris sat up on the couch. He was sure Vin was going to tell him about Daisy.

Vin came in like a storm. He had his head bowed and some locks of hair prevented Chris from seeing his face.

Anyway, Chris knew something wasn't right.

"She died, Chris. A police agent friend of Buck's went to check on her while I was with you at the hospital and found her. He says she looked so peaceful," Vin said aloud, the tension was too much to keep on with their silent conversation.

I'm sorry Vin.

"It's just like she was there to help me - us. I don't think I did enough for her."

You did, Vin. I'm sure of it.

"I've been thinking about it and sounds so stupid, but she was meant to be there to help me, Chris. It's the only answer I can find that convinces me."

Maybe she was. Just be happy for her because she joined her beloved ones and thank her for what she did for us. I did, and still do.

"Me too."

I told you that day it was your lucky day, Vin.

"It was our lucky day, cowboy," Vin added, brushing away the tears that threatened to fall down his cheeks and taking a seat next to Chris.


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