Vin Tanner glared at Chris Larabee. Neither man bothered to hide their disgust. The other five agents listened as tensions grew. The office had become deathly quiet as the raised voices from Chris's office drew unwanted attention. The normally level headed tracker threw open the leader's office door and faced Larabee. The other five men stayed at their desks not bothering to keep up the facade of working. Larabee was not visible to anyone but Tanner. Vin did not see Chris Larabee instead he saw a boss, not a friend.
"Your decision," Tanner bit out in an angry whisper. The Texan drawl dripped with ire.
"You better start realizing it," Larabee hissed with enough venom to raise eyebrows.
The small, lithe, Texan turned on his heels and left the office doorway. He strode past his desk whipping his coat from the back of his chair knocking the piece of furniture to the ground. Vin looking neither left or right, not seeking support from anyone, headed for the elevator. The muted sound of his boot heels were muffled by the institutionalized carpet that laced the whole building.
Chris surveyed his domain searching, daring anyone to challenge his authority. He refused to watch Vin leave the office instead he pinned each man with a steely gaze squelching any dissension with a sharp look. He heard the elevator ding announcing its arrival heard the swoosh of the doors opening and then closing. Larabee would not acknowledge Vin's absence. Without a word and with fire burning in his hazel eyes he turned his back on the knot off desks that his team occupied and returned to his office. He slammed the door. The reverberating sound echoed off the silent room indicating all discussions were over.
Vin rode the elevator to the ground level not bothering to go for his jeep. Snow blew with howling intensity. Tanner was confident in his driving ability but was not convinced of the abilities of others on the road. Tanner clenched and unclenched his fists grinding his teeth and working his jaw. He stood in the back corner of the elevator creating as much distance as he could from anyone who dared enter the small area. The elevator chimed in on a few floors and secretaries and mail service people made to enter. One look at the smoldering anger of the long haired Texan made them think twice. Vin rode the elevator to the main floor alone.
Josiah watched with concern as Chris reentered his office. Tanner and Larabee had disagreed on tactical play during a bust a few days ago. Chris was their leader and he called the shots. They all knew that and no one questioned his leadership or his ability. Vin however acted outside Larabee's direct orders and though he had a good reason, the tracker had put himself in obvious danger. The fact that Tanner managed to save Nathan's life was the only thing that kept Chris from 'canning' (as Dunne would say) Tanner's insubordinate butt. This did not stop Vin from arguing in his own defense. The others could understand the views of both leader and sharpshooter but they could not fathom why neither one would let go.
Chris was responsible for the lives of all six men. The other six understood this fearsome responsibility and did their best to protect one another and their leader. They would go to the grave defending the life of one of the team. Tanner was willing to blatantly risk his life to save one of the others. Chris was willing to risk his friendship to protect his men. Vin Tanner was Chris Larabee's closest and dearest friend, practically brothers. It was this fear this potential loss that sparked the anger in their Leader. Tanner did not need to place himself in such dire danger to protect Nathan. His move was reckless though fruitful. Everything turned out all right. The bust was successful guns were taken off the street and arrests made. A friendship wavered.
It was this near loss that sparked Josiah's motivations. "Brother Ezra." Sanchez's soft baritone voice rang out across the room. The young southern undercover agent gazed up from his computer terminal. Josiah knew Standish was not working his eyes had not moved, his fingers had not typed anything and the screen saver had come up. The deep green eyes raised up from the screen and stared at the older agent.
Sanchez liked the southerner as much as the other men. Something about the squirrely undercover agent touched Josiah. The ex anthropologist had taken a shine to the Standish's mother, but more importantly had taken to watching out for the gambler. Ezra walked a thin line, played in a confused ball field of misdirection and false friendships. He mingled as much with the dark undercurrent of society as he did with the team. Standish had a strong constitution, steadfast faith in the group of men that made up this formidable team. He would sacrifice as much as the others sometimes maybe more in order to gain acceptance within the unit. It was because of this fierce, heavily disguised loyalty that Josiah pin pointed Ezra. Tanner would never see it coming
Josiah met the inquiring green eyes. Sanchez merely nodded his head in the direction of the elevator. 'Follow Vin'. Standish raised his eyes in quiet shock but quickly recovered. He nodded once and pushed back from his desk and headed for the elevator. He draped his tailored overcoat on his arm and followed after the tracker.
Ezra stepped into the elevator and sighed as the doors whooshed closed. He stared at the elevator panels. They were on the twelfth floor. Where had Vin gone? Standish read the list of options that were illuminated in small circles of plastic lights. He took his best guess. He hit the 'M' for the main floor. The undercover agent leaned against the aluminum rolled railing that circumvented three walls of the cheap imitation wood interior. He sighed wondering what he would say to Vin. Ezra let a small smile etch his features as he noticed the silence in the elevator. The drone of poorly orchestrated music no longer harassed trapped listeners. Mr. Wilmington in a fit of characteristic impatience brutally ripped the speakers from the elevator car that fed the twelve floor. It seemed no one was willing to replace it.
Buck and JD watched as Ezra disappeared after the tracker.
Nathan remained glued to his terminal. He felt responsible for this mess. Vin broke cover to protect him. This was not all Vin's fault. If the Chemist had only known that two men were flanking him from the left he would have reacted accordingly. Then again why did Vin not just warn him vocally? They were all wired for sound. They could communicate with one another at all times. Instead the tracker broke the rules and stepped out into the open and gunned down two assailants that had the drop on Nathan. Jackson was eternally thankful but the heated discussions that followed between Chris and Vin ate at his heart. The despair he felt now almost made him wish he had taken a bullet. If only Vin had spoken up, if only Jackson could have sensed them closing in on him.
"Not your fault Nathan," Buck said softly. Wilmington shrugged a lopsided smile lit his mustached face. "They're as close as family, Chris and Vin are bound to fight," Buck pointed out hoping to relieve some of the visible tension in the room.
Wilmington could read the trepidation on the EMT's features. Nathan blamed himself for this mess. Buck knew better they all did. They were a fraternity, a family of brothers, sometimes they fought. All brothers fight it was natures way of doing things. Vin and Chris were as close as any two brothers. It was the fear of losing the bond, violently and unnecessarily that drove Chris to react the way he did. Vin saved Nathan but his actions did not have to be so dangerous.
Nathan gazed over at the fun loving ladies man and smiled a thankyou. He believed Buck's words and knew the others did too. Jackson just could not convince himself that it was enough. He should have known the intruders were closing in on him.
"Ya think someone should talk to him?" JD asked staring at Chris's closed office door. He had longed for a family. His whole life had consisted of just his mother and himself. He had always wanted a big brother someone to shoulder part of the responsibility that befell him at such a young age. A baby sister would not have been bad either at least there would be someone there to help him. Instead it was just his mother. He loved his mom, loved her more than anything in his life. Now that she was gone a deep dark hole suddenly developed. Without her he suddenly found himself all alone in a city that he knew like the back of his hand but did not know him. JD went to Denver seeking a job. He found an occupation but more importantly he found a family. The lonely dispair that had drilled itself into his being at his mothers loss was slowly being filled. Team 7 had become his home his family. For once he was the kid brother his responsibilities lay only in his computer and law enforcement abilities. If he should falter six other men would grab him before he hit the ground. For that he would give his undying loyalty and devotion to these men. In return all he wanted was a place in their midst.
Buck understood JD's plight. He had taken the young man under his wing protectively. Wilmington understood better than most what it was like to lose ones only living relative. JD in some ways mirrored Buck himself. But unlike Buck JD was still naive still innocent. He believed in people, took them at face value gave them the benefit to the doubt. Dunne was a firm believer in 'All for one and One for All' . They all were, even the loners like Ezra and Vin, but to JD it was a dream come true. Unlike Vin and Ezra who fought and struggled against the camaraderie of the others JD embraced it. Dunne struggled to envelope the others especially Standish and Tanner into the fold. The more those two fought back the more Dunne dug in his heels. Without knowing it JD had managed to ingrain a certain sense of responsibility in the one time self indulged southerner and aloof tracker.
JD wanted to fix the crack that had suddenly shifted in the foundation of the makeshift family.
"Na JD let it alone," Wilmington smiled reassuringly to the kid. Chris and Buck had had their fair share of blow outs. Vin and Chris were due for one. If they survived this it would strengthen their bond. Besides Josiah had sent Ezra out after Vin. The slippery conman could sweet talk a miner out of his claim. Things would level out.
+ + + + + + +
Ezra stepped out of the elevator and headed across the lobby. His shoes rung out hollow on the marble floor. The gold speckled grey stone was marred with the melting slush of numerous sandy footprints. He nodded absently to the security personnel that monitored the comings and goings of the countless individuals that entered the building.
Standish caught the eye of one of the light blue uniformed security people near the door. An unvocalized question clearly evident on the clear features of the southerner.
Without having to explain his silent inquiry the middle aged overweight man simply pointed to the west. Ezra smiled tight lipped, nodded his thanks and headed out the door to his right. Tanner was heading toward Inez's Saloon.
Standish raised the collar of his tailored full length overcoat and cursed the Denver winters. The wind whipped by wrapping the long tails of his coat around his legs. Snow swirled on the sidewalks and ice packed streets. How could people live in such an unforgiving environment? Live hell, they thrived.
Ezra hunched his shoulders cursing the biting wind and the subzero temperatures and wondered how JD could run to the window with school boy enthusiasm every time it snowed. Vin and Buck were not much different. As soon as a few inches covered the area those two were making plans for ski mobiling or skiing. Chris had just finished having corkscrews placed on his shod horses so he could ride with little fear of the animal slipping in the slick stuff. Josiah and Nathan were forever trying to convince the southern born undercover agent into ice fishing or some other foolhardy activity. Ezra did not mind winter...it looked nice in picture books. He did not relish driving in the snow or ice and even less inclined to walk through the freezing sludge.
Ezra buried his chin to his chest and plodded along the greyish white sidewalks for two horrid blocks turned left crossed at the light and headed for the corner bar marked 'Saloon'. Standish smiled slightly to himself revealing dimples under the heavy material of his coat. He liked the little rustic bar. It had a western theme minus the sawdust on the floor. Old relics and paraphernalia graced the barn wood walls, pictures of old west lawmen and outlaw alike hung at different heights and angles. Time weathered photographs with short blurbs could be found throughout the small tavern as well as ancient, weathered tack and traps. Vin one night had taken the time to pull the southerner aside pointing out and explaining the function of some of the trappings that hung on the ceiling and walls. Standish nodded appreciating the decorations even more and marveling at his younger friends working knowledge of such 'tools'.
Standish leaned into the heavy oak door ignoring the frosted design embedded in the glass. A rearing horse and rider heading up some cattle. Vin had once explained that a horse on its hind legs in front of moving 'beefs' was not a good work horse at all. All the same Ezra liked the picture and longed for the freedom that it represented.
Once past the ornate door he crossed a few steps and sidle through the batwing doors. The ribbed gates swung together loudly banging close repeatedly, announcing his arrival. Ezra had never noticed the noise of the doors before, then again he had never been to the Saloon on a Tuesday afternoon.
Inez turned her head toward the entrance of her establishment and smiled in relief when she spotted the handsome southerner. The barmaid sent up a silent prayer thanking whatever powers at be that it was not Buck that came through those doors. The large overt ATF agent though nice in his own way could not seem to grasp the meaning of 'Nunca' or 'No' or 'Nyett' or "Ne Pas" for that matter. Inez was running out of languages but Wilmington seemed to have an endless supply of bad one liners.
The soft worried brown eyes met the searching green ones. Again the silent question on the southerner's countenance went unvocalized. Inez merely cocked her head and neck in the direction of the seven's usual table.
Standish nodded his thanks and headed toward the back of the saloon.
Vin sat hunched over a bottle of Jack Daniels whiskey. He had been thankful to the gambler for explaining the differences in the green label J.D. brand whiskey and the black label. The die hard whiskey drinkers always preferred the black over green it was more pure, aged longer, time tested. The green was left overs, had not paid adequate dues in the charcoal filtered barrels. Tanner had felt like a left overs all his life. He made his own way in this world. No one gave him a hand up, no one taught him right from wrong. He learned as he went, he was time tested. Tanner prided himself on his independence and free style livelihood. He could come and go as he pleased, like the wind, or better yet like the trappers and mountain men that first forged through this great land. He did not need the fickle ties that came with friendships or steady government employment. Vin did not want to be a left over, he was the true thing, he paid his dues. What you see was what you got. Tanner reached for the bottle in front of himself and took a swig. Just like The Black label Vin Tanner was the real thing. The original.
The sharpshooter ignored the double shot glass Inez had given him with the bottle. Motion across from him diverted his sky blue eyes from the bottle. His steely gaze fell on the intruder. Vin was slightly taken back. He watched as the charcoal grey fitted overcoat was folded and tossed into the booth. It's owner melted in silently afterward.
Ezra slid into the booth seat across from Tanner and noticed the bottle was already a quarter of the way gone. A hefty amount by any measure. Standish did not challenge the angry eyes that landed on him, instead he gazed back inquisitively.
"What'd ya want Ezra?" Vin growled out. He did not need anyone coming after him telling him walking out was wrong. He did not need anyone to point out the supposed wrong actions of the other day. He especially did not need correction from the most ethically questionable one of the group.
Chris accused Vin of being reckless, dangerous, needlessly putting his life in harms way when it was not necessary. Now, here was Standish one of the most unpredictable of the group sitting across from him. If Standish thought Vin would sit idly and let the capricious undercover agent expound on Tanner's supposed wrongful actions then he was a fool.
"Just a drink Mr. Tanner," Standish purred out. He did not miss the fight in the eyes or the voice. Vin would not submit himself to any lectures. Ezra realized of course he was not inclined to such noble ideas. He in away agreed with Tanner's actions, albeit foolish and dangerous but successful. Though the odds were against the trackers survival, the nimble Tanner side stepped the odds won the gamble and saved Nathan's life. Ezra could only marvel at the man's figurative dexterity.
Vin stared at the undercover agent critically. He knew Standish had more dirty tricks up his sleeve than a horse had hairs. Tanner slid the bottle the short distance across the table and muttered out, "Ya best be drinkin' that and not drain'in it into some spittoon."
Ezra smiled half heartily to himself. He really had to be more careful about how much he revealed to these gentlemen. The dumping drinks on the slide made for a very good ace in the hole when faced with an opponent who was consuming mind altering liquids. Ezra filled the glass to the level of two fingers and stopped he was about to raise the short glass when Vin picked up the bottle and filled the glass to the top using the meniscus to keep the bronze liquid from spilling over.
A knowing leer crossed the Texan's face as Ezra's green eyes widened momentarily. Vin had to give Ezra credit the southerner quickly recovered.
A self satisfying smirk crossed Standish's dimpled features, two could play this game. "Surely Mr. Tanner you do not expect me to drink alone?" Ezra would get Vin a little more inebriated and then drag him home. Standish figured a few more gulps of the whiskey and Vin would not be able to detect Ezra's slight of hand even if Vin were watching for it.
Tanner grabbed the bottle. Both men matched stares and up ended their respective 'glasses'. Ezra's shot glass no sooner hit the table then Vin was refilling it.
Standish did not argue but instead waited patiently as Vin slopped a few gluggs into the small glass. The southerner was not worried just yet. If Tanner matched him drink for drink then Ezra figured he himself would do ok. Vin had a head start of course.
"He send ya?" The Texan bit out. He eyed the glass he filled waiting for an answer. The sharpshooter noticed the manicured red tipped fingers that encircled the small glass. Standish did not like this kind of weather and made no qualms about letting others know. That meant someone sent him.
"He?" Ezra asked hoping Tanner would cease in pouring the liquid since the glass threatened to over flow. As the invisible cohesive boundary of the liquid was at its breaking point Vin stopped pouring.
The ice blue eyes lifted from the shot glass and met the bright light green eyes. "Don't play with me Ezra." Tanner warned.
Standish raised his eyebrows in apparent shock but then stopped the charade. Vin was a friend an angry one but a friend none the less. "No. He did not," Ezra answered plainly.
Tanner nodded searching for an evidence of a lie. He found none. Though he had never been able to read the gambler all that well anyhow. Vin trusted the plain language and simple statement. Standish was not trying to trick him with convoluted sentences and fifty point words. "Who did?"
"What make you think anyone sen...." Ezra stopped mid sentence when the searing blue eyes nailed him again. Standish shrugged. It was in his nature to hide the truth unfortunately Mr. Tanner was well aware of the undercover agent's 'nature'.
"Mr. Sanchez in his esteemed wisdom sent me to brave the elements and seek you out." Ezra answered truthfully tossing the fiery liquid back down his throat following Vin's lead.
Vin wiped his mouth with the back of his hand and closed his eyes. "I don't want company. Don't need ya nursemaidin' me."
Ezra raised his eyebrows at this. Why had Josiah sent him on such an errand? He would really have to get even with the giant anthropologist. "I do not believe I am a nursemaid and as for the company," Standish paused and held his hands palm up in a helpless gesture, "it is unfortunate you have such a solitary state of mine. I am here and I for one am not willing to go back to that inferno empty handed."
"I ain't goin' back," Vin hissed out leaning threateningly across the table. If he meant to intimidate the gambler it failed, or so appearances would indicate.
"Fine do not return. I for one am in agreement with you," Ezra answered sipping slowly on his third shot. His empty stomach burned and gurgled with the sudden influx of the biting alcohol.
Vin paused in gulping from the bottle. He watched the southerner warily. Standish was up to something. He never fully agreed with anyone unless he was working an angle or a con. Tanner knew how to get past that little puzzle. He smiled wolfishly jutted his chin at the nearly full glass and indicated Ezra should shoot it back. Tanner hid his smile while he gulped from the bottle.
Standish's sigh was edited as he was forced to gulp down another round. At least his eyes no longer watered with the sharp passage of the liquor.
"Ya agree with me?" Vin asked cautiously putting out hesitant feelers for a comrade. Not that Vin needed anyone backing him up or coming to his defense. But still......
Ezra noticed the tactic and once again thanked his mother for all her training. No one likes to fight a battle alone. No one wants to stand on one side of a boundary while everyone else stood on the opposite side. People are social creatures, herd animals as Maude had explained once. No one liked to face a wolf or a pack alone there was safety in numbers. Vin was no sheep or some mindless herd creature. He was a predator a skilled hunter but even the fierce loners like Mr. Vin Tanner wanted, needed an ally no matter how much they denied it. Hell even wolves ran in packs.
Standish presented himself as such, a comrade, a one of the pack, siding with the ostracized pack member. It was not very difficult to pull off, mainly because it was true. Ezra truly admired Tanner's cunning and loyalty. It took bal.. (Ezra stopped himself he was a gentleman of course) It took great courage to not only break cover and court the very real chance of getting killed but more importantly and more fearsome face Larabee's wraith.
Vin Tanner not only faced down two gunmen in the midst of flying bullets to save a friends life he risked enraging the sleeping demon just under Chris Larabee's very controlled persona.
Ezra could only marvel at such splendid courage and fool heartiness. If Vin had simply spoke into his mic and alerted Josiah or Buck all this would have been avoided. Standish rubbed his eyes. His face felt flush. 'It must be the increased temperature of the bar.'
"Agree with you?" Ezra stated wide eyed. He watched as Vin once again filled the glass to the rim. Standish was trying to recall his original plan but it eluded him at the moment. He was sure it would come back to him. "Of course, I agree with you, Mr. Tanner, Vin. Had those two miscreants not been stopped then our dear Mr. Jackson would be as Buck would say, 'Pushing up daisies,'" Standish finished. He matched watery stare to watery stare with Vin. Each man daring the other to dispute the facts.
Tanner nodded and gulped from the bottle indicating Ezra should polish off his drink. Both ATF agents matched swallow for swallow. Both placed the glassware back on the table.
"Though your execution was a bit questionable," Standish could not resist the off hand inflammatory remark, a weakness of character. A wise half smile creased his face bringing out his right dimple.
"Shut up Ezzzra. Knew I should'na tttrust'd ya." Tanner hissed out not sure if he should take a swing at the undercover agent or just leave.
Standish chuckled at the reaction. "Now, now Mr. Tanner, lets not jump to any rash conclusions," Ezra tried to pacify his riled friend. ' Good let you smart mouth get in the way.' "All I'm saying is think of it from Mr. Larabee's point of view."
The sharpshooter hit the southerner with a cold stare. Vin leaned across the table his expression and body language spoiling for a fight. "Ohh yeah why don't you look at it from Nathan's point of view?"
Ezra paused for a moment leaning back in the booth trying to create distance from the threat that stared caustically at him. Nathan's point of view? What did Mr. Jackson have to do with all this? This was not Nathan's fault at all. No one blamed him. No one blamed anybody things happen.
The confusion must have flashed clearly across his flushed features because Vin leaned back across the table with a self satisfied smirk. He poured more whiskey into the glass.
'Mr. Jackson? What was Vin getting at?' Ezra thoughts tumbled over the scene from a few days before. Jackson was not at fault. Standish replayed all the arguments that had erupted between Vin and Chris since then and still Jackson's name had not come up. What was Vin driving at?
Vin watched the undercover agent for a moment and then shook his head sadly, "I figured you of all people, Ez, would understand how Nathan feels 'bout all this." Tanner slouched back in the bench wishing he could just straighten this whole mess out. But Chris did not understand what he did and of all people Ezra missed it too.
Standish stared perplexed at Vin's words. Understand? Understand what? Nathan tolerated Ezra. The chemist had no use for conmen or undercover agents. When Ezra first joined the group he and Jackson clashed right off. Mostly due to Ezra's foolish remarks, but that was ancient history. After all that time though, Jackson still had yet to accept Standish for who he was and was not. The chemist did very little to help the southerner feel welcomed into the group. In fact Nathan did not trust him at first and did his best to keep him on the outside just as much as Ezra allowed himself to be kept separate from the others, socially.
Standish was sure Nathan would take a bullet for the others but he might have hesitate when it came to Ezra. The southerner knew that was not true now but at first, yes. Ezra truly believed Jackson would protect the others more avidly than he would the undercover agent back then. Standish just had not rank amongst those worth sacrificing life or limb for, but that was ancient history, as they would say. Ezra knew Jackson would hurl himself in front of a speeding train to save the southerner. They all would...No one's life stood above or below anyone else's....they were all equal, all brothers...It had taken Ezra three years to finally recognize and accept the responsibility the others gave him.
Standish paused, ran the thought through his mind again, dwelled on it and suddenly gazed up shocked at the Texan. "Are you implying Mr. Tanner that our Mr. Jackson now feels that Chris holds your life to a higher degree than Mr. Jackson's." Ezra asked with wide green eyes. This made no sense. Jackson was a highly educated man with a level head and a knack for seeing both sides of the coin. He had both feet firmly planted on the ground and was secure in his position with the team. It was something Ezra only recently began to feel.
Tanner leaned forward again resting his bent arms on the table and gazed up at Ezra. "Yup."
"You dear sir must explain yourself." Standish said a bit more hotly than he intended too. Standish had felt misplaced and discarded for a life time. He had faced ostracism and betrayal almost all his life. It had become an expected folly for him. When he first joined this audacious group he waited, even courted and tried to force them into betraying him, tossing him out. It had become so ingrained in him that he did not belong, could not belong to anything resembling a team much less a family. He tried to reject it before it rejected him.
True to form the the magnificent seven survived. The others put up with his selfish acts, his cutting remarks and his cool aloofness. Their patience and constant nudging (sometimes blatant shoving) gradually won him over and after three years Ezra found a team and in it a home. When that realization had hit him, one night a right here at Inez's saloon, Ezra had vowed never to let one of the others to fall into the same hole of solitude he had once lived.
Vin now sat before him trying to inform him that Nathan Jackson had not only slipped into that well of dispair but had done it without anyone seeing it.
"Think about it Ez why's Chris so hoppin' mad?" Vin asked tiredly. He had seen the hurt and pain that befell the EMT. Nathan, of all people, should be spared such self doubt.
"Because you broke cover and nearly got killed," Ezra answered and then continued, "you could have just as easily alerted Mr. Sanchez or Buck," Standish finished.
"How much time do you think Nathan had?" Tanner continued to question the southerner. Why was he the only one who could see the necessity of his actions?
"I do not know...maybe two, three seconds or less." Standish answered slowly. The light bulb began to glimmer.
"Huhuh. If I took the time ta yell ta Buck or Josiah. They woulda had ta stop what they were doin' refocus and then fire," Tanner clarified. Still a befuddled expression held the southerner.
"How much time ya think it woulda tak'n?" Vin answered his own question, "maybe three or four seconds," Tanner paused and played with the bottle on the table, peeling at the label. He then looked up and watched as the undercover agent finally grasped the enormity of the situation.
"Mr. Larabee just has not thought it out," Ezra said finding himself defending their leader.
"Yeah maybe, but Nathan has," Tanner answered sadly, "Chris is willin' ta risk Nathan's life ta procedure and followin' orders. He's mad 'cuz he thinks I mighta got hurt. Whatta 'bout Nathan he almost got kilt." Vin had tried to talk to Nathan about it but Jackson always came up with an excuse why he had no time. Tanner would have chuckled at the irony. Nathan was acting so much like Ezra when the southerner had first joined the group.
Jackson was hiding behind excuses. Keeping himself busy, burying himself in his work. He apparently was fooling everyone but Vin.
Standish nodded his head, not agreeing with the misunderstanding swirling around the three men but acknowledging it might actually exist. Ezra knew he would have read the situation in a similar manner Nathan was now suspected of doing. Without encouragement Ezra tossed back the now full glass full of alcohol. Tanner followed suit.
The sharpshooter watched the undercover agent. Ezra sat quietly mulling over the facts replaying the gun battle. Vin watched as the slightly glazed green eyes phased out as the southerner recalled the countless arguments that had erupted between Chris and Vin. Occasionally Standish would slowly nod his head as if seeing Nathan for the first time.
Inez watched from across the bar. Her thankful smile began to dip as Texan and Southerner began to delve into the bottle. A ruckus in the storage room grabbed her attention. With some hesitancy she left the two ATF agents. The Mexican entrepreneur had faith in the genteel southerner, he would rein things in after a bit and get Vin home safely.
+ + + + + + +
Jackson poured cold coffee into his mug. He ignored the blatant fact that the coffee had been reheated numerous times through out the morning. The thick office swill Vin had made this morning still sat in an almost congealed mass in the permanently stained glass pot. The EMT's mind was not focused on the black oil like liquid he poured into his mug. Nathan did not notice the unsaturated grounds that flowed in with the super saturated semi liquid. Jackson's sharp mind wandered back to Chris.
He knew Chris worried about Vin. Larabee worried about all his men. He protected his team with tenacious ferocity. It was legendary amongst the halls of the ATF and other federal offices. If you stepped into the ring with one of the seven you took on Larabee. Hell you took on the whole team.
Nathan leaned against the spotted off yellow formica counter. He placed his half filled cup on a raised food stain. The mug tilted a little but remained somewhat steady. Coffee stains and assorted food stains adorned the shelf. Short of a power sander there was not much that would get the food textured counter top clean.
Jackson ignored the mess. Why had he not seen the men? How come he did not know they were closing in on him? He was better than that. Vin should not have needed to put himself in danger. Chris was hounding the wrong person. Tanner was picking up Jackson's slack. Nathan shut his eyes and replayed the scene. He just never saw them coming. What if Vin had been hurt or killed? What would it have done to Chris? Or the team?
Chris was right, Nathan mused, Vin should have stayed behind cover. The sharpshooter should not have risked his life for Nathan.
Jackson did not hear Josiah enter the small room. Nathan had his eyes closed replaying the gun battle, listening to the arguments between two men who were like brothers. All because of him. All because Nathan Jackson was losing his edge. Maybe it was time to go back to full time employment as an EMT?
Sanchez observed his tall friend. Nathan Jackson had a genteel manner that should not have survived the rigors of law enforcement life. The Chemist trained EMT dedicated his time to making this world a better place. He had overcome great obstacles in his life to reach the point he now attained. Jackson had plowed through school excelling in his field of science. It was not enough. The young man wanted to do more. He became an EMT. It was still not enough. The day Chris Larabee recruited Nathan Jackson the 'gold standard' of ATF work was raised ten notches. Jackson worked hard, diligently, he strove for perfection. Josiah knew Nathan did not except perfect results every time but that did not stop him from trying.
The incident last week bothered him. It ate away at his very fiber. Sanchez could not understand why. The fight was between Chris and Vin. No one blamed Nathan but obviously Nathan blamed himself.
Sanchez could understand the second guessing Jackson was going through now. It was healthy to a point. One should replay their reactions search for alternatives maybe see an option or create an option that was not readily noticed earlier. Too much second guessing, however, was dangerous. People began to hesitate. Hesitation in their business could get someone killed. Nathan knew this, Josiah was aware of it, that meant Jackson was contemplating foolish personally unfullfilling options.
Josiah as his friend and coworker was going to put a stop to it.
"You aren't really going to drink that are you?" Sanchez asked, "'cuz I've not brushed up on my last rites." He smiled trying to break the tension in the room.
Jackson jerked his head up. Sanchez's baritone voice yanking him from his reverie. The EMT contemplated the thick goo in his mug and then the anthropologist turned crime fighter. "No probably not," Nathan conceded. Ezra had once asked if Vin's coffee could be used as embalming fluid. No one knew for sure.
Sanchez took the plunge. "This is Vin and Chris's problem, not yours." His tone should have left no room for argument. One of the many things the stern unforgiving preacher had left his son was the ability to intimidate people with his voice. Sanchez eyed his friend critically. He would give Nathan some divine intervention and slap him right off the side of the head.
"I should have seen them coming," Jackson finally said it. Now it was out in the open. The bone that he had been gnawing on, that defied his teeth had now been thrown out to someone else.
He did not give Josiah a chance to speak. "Vin risked his life to watch out for me. Shouldn't 'ave had to happen. I messed up. Coulda got someone killed." Jackson met Josiah's eyes and added, "What if Vin wasn't so lucky, what if next time he gets killed or maybe JD or one of the others?"
Jackson dropped his eyes and muttered, "I'm losing my touch."
Josiah narrowed his eyes and clenched his teeth. He had never wanted to throttle someone so badly in all his life. (Well actually that was not completely true there was that time when Ezra...)
Sanchez bit back his growing hostilities. No wonder Vin preferred his own company. People could be so damn foolish at times.
"You done feelin' sorry fer yourself?" Sanchez asked conversationally trying to keep the edge out of his voice. Nathan had done enough ruminating it was time to haul all the cud out onto the barn floor.
Nathan's head snapped up. He had not expected that all. He figured Josiah would listen pensively as was his habit, mull over the facts and come up with the same conclusion as Jackson. The man was just down right contrary right now, Jackson thought. He felt his anger soar. Feel sorry for himself? Nathan Jackson does not feel sorry or pity for himself. He had always prevailed. Hard work and a good work ethic saw him through every time.
Jackson was about to retort when JD burst into the breakroom.... "You guys gotta come here and listen to this.." Dunne said trying to control his shock and mirth.
"What JD?" Josiah asked slightly perturbed. He finally had Jackson cornered.
"Chris is on the phone to Ezra..." Dunne explained. When neither man reacted to the news the young computer whiz added, "I think he's toasted."
This earned him a pair of amused raised eyebrows. Josiah followed JD and Nathan out of the room. Maybe sending Ezra was not a good idea after all.
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