Part 5 of The Physical
Why was he being forced to endure this?
When he had decided to become an ATF agent, things had been so simple. He was supposed to catch the bad guys and save America from all kinds of terrorist harm. It was a good feeling knowing that he was living his life doing something that meant a great deal to the world. There was no need for fame and glory because the excitement and the danger that came with living life on the edge was reward in itself. Sure, it was not all fun and adventure, a life led where bullets and death were a constant reality could not possibly be that way. But Vin Tanner had chosen this life so he accepted its high and lows readily.
However, where he found himself now was not a high or a low. It was hell. Pure unadulterated hell. When the leader of Team 7 had brought the subject up, he had thought Chris Larabee to be joking. It had to be a joke because the truth was too horrifying to imagine. Just the very notion of it being remotely true was enough to make Vin decide he was going to use up all that vacation time he never taken and disappear until the dust had cleared.
No such luck.
Chris was not letting anyone escape, although he did announce with almost smug relish how, being a team commander, he was exempt from the duty even though his underlings were not. Vin could not further fathom how his comrades did not all find this terribly humiliating since he could not imagine how anyone could see it as anything but that. Buck looked forward to it, Ezra and Nathan were unimpressed and shared his distaste while JD was more terrified than anything else and Josiah did not mind, since it was in the aid of charity.
And against his will, he was made a volunteer and Vin looked forward to the day with as much enthusiasm as he would look forward to having a circumcision done without anesthetic and still, he would have happily submitted to one if he could get out of this detail. With dread, he was unwillingly dragged towards the day, walking through the corridors of the building, watching and studying everyone he happened along, trying to decide who would step forward and be the one who would make this hell on earth a reality.
He actually resorted to requesting vacation time and had Chris tell him in no uncertain terms that the directive from the top indicated that there would be no one fleeing the grasp of this terrible fate and to just take it like a man. Vin had practically stormed out of the office, hell bent on throwing himself in front of a truck when he decided that probably would not have the end result he desired. Besides, with his luck, they would still find some way to make him go anyway.
Two days before hand and even Ezra and Nathan were starting to become caught up in the possibilities of the evening, until he was the only one left to have any lasting objections. He stared at the card engraved in gold lettering before him on his desk, thinking it more a writ of execution rather than an invitation to a charity fund raiser. He knew staring at it continuously was not going to make it go away but Vin was willing to put a few solid hours into the exercise if he thought it would make the difference. However, after the first ten minutes, it was rather apparent that no miracle was going to occur and he was going to have to endure the night.
"You got your tuxedo yet Vin?" JD asked as Vin was at his desk, trying to think of more ways to get out of his predicament, even though he had exhausted every avenue of escape so far. He actually considered conjuring up a dead Aunt Adele whose funeral he had to attend if it was not for the fact that Chris knew that he had no family to speak of.
"No, I ain't," Vin grumbled unhappily.
"Jeez Vin," JD looked at him with a hint of disapproval. "The fund raiser is tomorrow night. You're cutting it pretty close."
"Did I ask your opinion?" Vin snapped and immediately made JD recoil in embarrassment.
"Hey don't take it out on the kid," Buck said, coming quickly to JD's defense as he did in all things.
"Its okay Buck," JD retorted just as hastily, understanding how Vin hated to be the centre of attraction and preferred fading into the background for any high-profile event. Tomorrow night's festivities had to be absolutely terrifying to the ATF agent, JD realized. "Sorry Vin, didn't mean to pry."
"No I'm sorry JD," Vin apologized, knowing it was not JD's fault that he was in this mess and he had no reason to take it out on the boy since he had only made a harmless inquiry. Well, harmless to anyone else but him.
"You know Vin," Buck added, appreciating how nervous Vin was about tomorrow night, as well as a little terrified. "If you just relaxed, you would actually have a good time. A little female company is just what you need since you ain't doing nothing about that pretty lady doctor of yours."
Vin flinched uncomfortably, wishing that Buck had not brought Alexandra Styles up. It was a source of great consternation to the ATF agent that he had not seen the doctor in almost two weeks and he was going crazy, trying to think of an excuse to see her without actually making it look obvious that he was trying to see her. After all, he did have his dignity. "I'm just fine for female company and I don't have to do anything with Alex. I don't even like her."
Buck rolled his eyes and said with a completely straight face,"Sure you don't."
Vin scowled at Buck as the big man walked away grinning, blatantly showing that he did not believe Vin for one minute. And to add insult to injury, Buck also took the opportunity to remind Vin that since the fundraiser was black tie, it was time he really started thinking seriously about that tuxedo. "Besides," Buck chuckled as he went back to his desk. "You don't want those ladies thinking you're not really looking forward to this."
Vin could only swear under his breath again. Bastard.
+ + + + + + +
"Daddy, why am I here with you?" Alexandra Styles complained as she and William Styles emerged from the limousine her father had rented for the night to take them to the fundraiser that was being held for a new children's wing of the local hospital where she did her residency. The event fortunately was newsworthy only to the society pages of the city's newspapers and she was glad there was not a thousand photographers clicking cameras in her face. She hated going to these things and had only agreed because her father's regular escort was sick at home with the flu.
"Because," William Styles sighed with resignation, hearing this same question being asked all throughout the limousine ride here. "You are my only daughter and it's a father's prerogative to make you suffer for all my sacrifices in bringing you up and sending you to medical school."
Alex looked at her father and smiled. "I knew there was a good reason." She found her annoyance withering somewhat and was more than thrilled to be his escort even if she hated the event itself. Besides, she made enough money to know that she could afford to donate something to the wing the hospital was attempting to build. At least, she could still enjoy the night out at the very prestigious Kings Langley Hotel, having a good meal and wearing the dynamite dress she bought weeks ago for a date she never ended up going on, thanks to a stray bullet in the rear fired by a moron.
She had to admit, it looked much better than it did in the store with its shimmery colour of sapphire blue, with a slit in the just the right place to keep it in the realms of elegant instead of scandalous. She had chosen to wear her hair up tonight and decided that at the very least, she could say she had worn the gown at least once if anyone ever asked. They made their way through the front doors of the hotel, following the red carpet and other guests who headed to the venue of the event. Among guests were important town dignitaries, government officials, a couple of local personalities but the majority seemed to be made up of doctors and members of the hospital board.
"Apparently, the festivities include an auction," her father remarked as they walked past the billboard that preceded the entry into the ballroom.
"I'm assuming not baseball cards." She threw her father a mischievous grin, her attention was mostly focussed on the people around her.
"You are not my child," he retorted. "They must have switched you at birth in the hospital."
"Not such luck daddy, I am the fruit of thy loins." she teased and then asked seriously even though she was observing the faces around her rather than the billboard as they passed by and left behind them upon entering the wide ball room floor, "What are they auctioning?"
"Eligible bachelors by the looks of it," her father answered.
"Oh no," Alex groaned in distaste. "Let me guess, the very cream of high society or some equally dilettante fop that has about as much personality as Styrofoam." She could think of nothing more odious than spending time with a blue blood who talked about his portfolio and how grand mama would have to approve the girl he married.
"Not this time," Styles replied as he found their appointed table located at the very head of the stage where the entertainment and the auction would take place. "Apparently, the sacrificial lambs are meant to be ATF agents."
"ATF agents?" Her voice rose an octave as she immediately straightened up and looked at her father before clearing her throat. "Really?" she said in a calmer voice, pretending that nothing had sparked her interest even though her eyes were already scouring the room.
Alex looking around, searching for the particular face and feeling a faint smile steal across her face as she sighted him, looking as if he wished the floor would swallow him up where he stood. Vin Tanner was currently seated at the table with the rest of the ATF agent assembled whom her father had described to be the sacrificial lambs in the altar of the new wing. She had not seen him since he had played that awful prank on her and at this point, he did not know she was present tonight because he had not caught sight of her. Despite her annoyance over that incident, Alex could not help but find some admiration in the fact that Vin gave as good as he got and she did sort of deserve it after she conspired to have him endure an enema.
However like all men, especially ones who hacked the system to find her phone number and had seen fit to make a public display of it, Vin Tanner had not called her since that incident despite a begrudging desire on her part for him to do so. At this moment, however he looked so lost and desperate to escape this place, Alex could not help feeling terribly sorry for him and was mortified when she wished there were some way she could save him from the experience. She felt pangs of affectionate pity when she noticed he kept tugging at the collar of his tuxedo, which incidentally he happened to look smashing in, appearing inordinately uncomfortable.
"Yes, apparently they have lent their services for the evening. You know how these society debutantes feel about rough and tumble men who actually work for a living," Styles remarked as he pulled out her chair for her. "I supposed I ought to be grateful that you're level headed enough not to fall for this nonsense."
"Yeah right," she said distractedly, having heard nothing her father had just said because she was still keeping her eye on Vin. "Daddy, do you have your check book?"
+ + + + + + +
The evening progressed painfully slow with Vin wishing he could just stay under the table, the closer it came for the auction. Chris sat at the space next to him, wearing this satisfied expression on his face that he would be saved the carnage the others would be soon enduring. Vin spent most of the evening offering monosyllabic words of unbidden distaste at the humiliation he would soon be enduring and cringed each time he saw the time draw closer to his debut performance.
When the event finally rolled along, Vin and the others were ushered to the backstage before a roomful of panting women armed with check books. He contemplated escaping through the back stage doors but had no choice but to remain when he learned that Chris Larabee had requested that door be locked, just in case of any trespassers. Vin made an oath to kill the leader of Team 7 one way or another if he survived this night.
Buck, who was eager to get out on the stage floor was the first to be raffled off like the side of beef he wanted to be, Vin thought tartly. As expected, the bids for him were quite extensive and he raised almost five thousand dollars. In the end, the ladies man found himself in the company of a rather insipid looking blond in a tight dress who left no imagination as to what she desired of him, sort of like her dress really.
It continued that way for the rest of the evening, with Ezra being purchased by a rather dazzling red head who seemed to have disappeared after she wrote the check and left the gambler wondering who she was. Incidentally, her disappearance had coincided with a brief interruption to the ceremonies when it was discovered that the hotel safe had been robbed. It was anyone's guess if the two events were related.
After the others had been successfully raffled off, Vin found himself the last head on the block and reluctantly stepped before the guests of the function for the bidding to begin on him. With bright lights in his face and everyone's attention on him, Vin had not believed it was possible for him to be so humiliated, embarrassed or completely intimidated in his entire life. All he wanted to do at that moment was to hide somewhere and never be seen ever again. He barely heard the words of the auctioneer and searched for Chris Larabee in the crowd, hoping to convey in a scathing glare just how much he hated to be here. Unfortunately, the glare of the lights made it difficult to see anyone beyond the stage.
Once the auction was well and truly on the way, Vin was actually quite astonished by the number of bids being put up for him. As he saw ladies all over the place eyeing him like he was something tasty that should be savoured with copious amounts of chocolate sauce and cream, Vin started to feel extremely protective of his virtue and thanked God he had his gun. He was sure none of these women intended respecting him in the morning.
The bids were starting to become quite intense and eventually the house lights were dimmed. To his surprise, he saw Alexandra Styles in the audience. He almost groaned in horror at seeing her present, wondering if his shame could be any more prolific. The only woman in the place that he was remotely interested and she was not even bidding for him, even though he would have been surprised if she had. It was not Alex's way and Vin found some measure of comfort realizing that she was not staring at him across the floor in scorn but rather sympathy for this untenable situation. He supposed this would be ample reward for her to see him in this position after he had played that trick on her two weeks ago and hoped she would spare him the sarcastic barbs when they next met.
+ + + + + + +
Alex swallowed, staring at poor Vin on the stage, suffering this humiliating experience and unable to feel a skerrick of satisfaction at his unfortunate state. God, she hated how he could do that to her. This was the man who had forced her to change her phone number because someone named Lubefist had put her on the Swinger's mailing list! How could she even feel slightly sympathetic towards him?
Alex groaned inwardly, knowing precisely why but would deal with that another day.
"Going once to the lady in red," the auctioneer announced.
The spotlight fell on a rather expensive looking brunette who was siren like in her appearance with perfect hair, perfect teeth and perky everything else. Alex had used the word expensive because it had to cost a lot of money to look like that, especially in plastic surgeon fees. One could only appear that way with a heavy investment in petroleum products, in particular the variety that was worn under the skin. There was no mistaking what she had planned for Vin this evening with the salacious glimmer in her blue man-eating eyes and the very idea that Vin would be in her company tonight made Alex recoil in disgust.
Vin was about to go where every man had been before.
"Three thousands dollars!" Alex blurted out before she had even time to consider what the hell she was doing.
"A new contender," the auctioneer remarked and turned his attention to her. The spotlight fell on Alex about the same time her father's jaw dropped open in astonishment. Alex avoided meeting Vin's gaze because she knew she was blushing. What was running through his mind? Alex briefly wondered but realized she had opened a can of worms, the consequences of which she would deal with later. "Three thousand dollars to the lovely Doctor Styles."
Oh yeah, she told herself. Way to play hard to get Alex.
The brunette threw Alex venomous look for standing between her and that beautiful man on stage before she exclaimed loudly,"Thirty five hundred!"
The challenge was clearly thrown and Alex was more than prepared to pick it up as the room felt silent except for the section of the room occupied by the ATF agents who were trying hard not to be heard as they sniggered. "Four thousand dollars," she said, showing no signs of anxiety or annoyance, like her rival was doing. In fact, Alex was rather pleased with how cool and deliberate she appeared to everyone, even though she was a mess of nerves beneath the skin.
"Alexandra.." Styles managed to find his voice. "What are you doing?" This was not the behaviour he normally expected from his sensible daughter although it did rather amuse him to see this side of her. While she had a terrific sense of humour, Alex was not one to take such chances with her dignity.
"Quiet daddy," she hissed as she waited to see if the brunette would continue the bidding war. "The hospital really needs that wing."
"Forty five hundred," the brunette's voice sang out again.
"Five thousand dollars," Alex said just as quickly.
A low hush had fell across the room since that was the highest bid of the day and it appeared that the bidding was nowhere concluded. Alex stared at the woman, waiting to see if she would up the ante, all this time managing to avoid looking at Vin. She did see the reaction of his friends who were with their respective owners and they were all finding this entire episode extremely amusing.
"Fifty-five hundred dollars." This time the brunette seemed a little uncertain and Alex could smell blood in the water.
"Daddy," she said quickly to her father. "Can I borrow your check book?"
William Styles rolled his eyes and shook his head before handing it to her, never being able to deny her anything and hoping that she knew what she was doing. "Just don't go over ten thousand dollars," he warned.
"Seven thousand dollars!" she replied with the cool of a doctor about to go into surgery, with complete confidence in herself and her abilities. Alex had read the enemy and knew that silicon excuse for a woman was about to capitulate and scream defeat.
The brunette deliberated her situation, throwing Alex another dark glare before easing back into her seat, the unspoken sign of surrender declared as Alex found a smile crossing her face at the sweet, sweet taste of victory.
"Going once," the auctioneer announced as if expecting no one else to resume the bidding after such heated competition.
"Going twice," he repeated himself and was unsurprised when silence followed.
"Sold to Doctor Alexandra Styles!" he said finally, and a hush of satisfaction ran through the room.
Suddenly it hit her with a splash of cold what she had just done. Alexandra Styles froze at the realization that she had made a very public declaration regarding the nature of her relationship with Vin Tanner. "Oh my god!" she gushed, and stared at her father panicked. "Daddy! What did you just let me do?"
"What did I?" Styles looked at her sternly. "Daughter, is there something you're not telling me about that young man up there?"
Alex stared at Vin Tanner for the first time since she had launched herself into this entire debacle and saw the same look of absolute astonishment on his face that she was now wearing on her own. It was hard-pressed to say who was most amazed by this entire incident, him or her. They stared across the floor at each other with only one thought in either of their minds.
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