Back For Good

by Raquel

ATF Universe

Disclaimer: They aren't mine (only Stella and Hector). They belong to CBS, MGM, Trilogy Entertainment Group, The Mirisch Corp., the people from the TNT or whoever has the legal rights now. (I don't know a lot about it. I live in another country). I only use them to enjoy myself and maybe the people who read this fanfic. The ATF/AU universe is Mog's creation and I hope she doesn't mind I have played in it. I'm not going to get any money for this and I don't have any, so don't sue me.

This is my first attempt of a fanfic, so please... don't be too cruel...;-) Feedback is really, really appreciated.

Comments: I must thank Gina (I'm glad to say that she is my beta) because she have been so nice, patient and diligent about my work and my English (my second language anyway). I hope she helps me with my future stories.

Warnings: This is mainly a Vin story, but if you don't like the idea of Vin having a relationship (I mean a girlfriend) it's better that you don't read this fanfic. Okay, there are a lot of Chris moments too.

Originally this is the sequel of another story I was writing. I got stuck with that so I wrote the second part. Someday I will finish that story.

'It was two days only, before her arrival. It had been two long months without her'. He was surprised by his thoughts. He had never imagined he could feel this way.

He wasn't sure about which was 'the magic moment'. In the bust when she was taking care of him after falling injured? Maybe it was that moment when she was at her office her fingertips flying across the keyboard of her computer, hearing music and talking with her co-workers at the same time. Or maybe it was when she was at the gym with Rita, her partner.

No, definitely it was the first time he saw her. She was at the bar in that nightclub serving drinks and singing in a low voice the songs the DJ chose. She was so into her job. Nobody would be able to imagine that she was with the ATF. Her smile had a lot to do with that. She seemed so alive and at peace with everything around her.

He couldn't believe he had a real girlfriend. He wasn't good with women or at least that was his thought. The boys, mainly Chris, had convinced him to ask her for a date. That day he was completely scared and the words didn't want to come out of his mouth. She was very nice and helped him when he was standing in from of her.

Yeah... he was happy that she was dating him. He was relieved when she had told him she'd left the ATF. She had got a job in the Denver Museum of Arts. He wasn't sure if he would be able to keep cool knowing she was involved in a bust or in any kind of dangerous situation.

He was aware that she thought the same way about him but was completely sure she would never say a word about it. She knew how important his job was for him. That was another reason why she was perfect for him.

He was lost in his thoughts when he noticed someone calling his name:

"Vin...Vin!!" Chris just shook lightly Vin's shoulder and Vin turned his face to him.

"Yeah... sorry cowboy, I was just thinking..." Chris' grin told Vin that he knew what Vin was thinking of.

"Only two days..."Chris commented looking at Vin's face.

"Yeah..." Vin answered leaning his head.

"I would like to give you better news but we have a bust Friday night" Chris' face showed how unfair he knew the situation was.

"Stella will understand... I will tell her on the way to my apartment from the airport" Vin's eyes went down to his desk where his hands were trying to put several sheets of paper in order.

"I'm sorry Vin" Chris squeezed Vin's shoulder.

"Call her if you have to. We will be waiting for you in the meeting room..." and he turned walking toward the meeting room where the rest of the team was preparing their new case.

Vin fixed his eyes on the computer screen and automatically he picked up the phone and dialed Stella's job number.

"Good morning, I would like to talk to Stella Thomas. I'll wait, thank you."

+ + + + + + +

"Hi...oh, Vin, hi, is it something wrong?"

"No. Why are you so surprised I called you?

"No, it's because you never call me at my work"

"Hell... it's nothing serious. I have work to do. Actually we have a case and we hope to close it Friday evening. So... we have to change our plans a little"

"Oh, I see, well, I can go directly to your apartment. "

"I won't be able to go to the airport. Are you mad at me?"

No, I'm not mad at you. It isn't necessary you come to the airport I'm an adult person, you know... it's okay, yeah, I'm serious"

"I promise we'll enjoy a totally private night." Vin's voice sounded totally mischievous.

"You promise???" added Stella in a suggestive tone "Well, in that case I'll be waiting for you with a succulent dinner" she finished.

"So everything's okay, isn't it?" Vin felt a little guilty and was trying to find an assurance that everything was all right between he and Stella.

"Don't worry, okay. And please, be careful" she had a little worry in her voice.

"I'll see you Friday night then"

"Yeah I'm looking forward to see you"

"Take care Stella"

"Bye, I love you Vin"

+ + + + + + +

Friday morning arrived and Vin was on his way to the supermarket. He had asked Chris for some time before going to work. He had promised Stella that he would arrive at dinnertime and she had told him she would prepare a delicious meal. She was so wonderful in so many things. He thought her spaghetti with prawns and cream was one of the most delicious dishes he had eaten in his life.

He remembered the first time she invited him to lunch. She was astonished by the amount of food he can eat. He knew her first thought was that he was obliged to eat so much because he didn't want to disappointed her, but at the end she was sure that he liked her cooking.

After putting away everything he had bought for the meal, he tidied up his apartment getting everything ready for Stella's arrival. An hour later he was leaving Purgatorio on his way to the ATF building. His mind concentrated in their upcoming case.

+ + + + + + +

Vin parked his bike in the garage where the rest of his friends vehicles were since early morning. When he came into the office he was surprised by the silence. Everybody was in the meeting room. With a light knock on the door Vin came into the room. Chris was at the end of the large meeting table, on his left was Josiah and on the right was a free chair, Vin's place. Beside Josiah were Buck and JD and next to Vin's chair were Nathan and Ezra.

"It's seems that Ezra's habits are contagious" Buck said with a big grin in his face.

"Shut up Buck" JD gave Buck a blow with his elbow.

"Buck leave Vin alone, you know how his revenge can be" Chris warned while Vin took his seat and opened the folder in front of him hiding a mischievous smile.

Chris went on with the information about the case.

."..We'll be with Team 3 inside the ground floor. All this area"-he said pointing to a warehouse plan "there are cars, pile of crates and containers. Josiah, you and Nathan will be at the east part between this cars; Buck, JD and Ezra, you will be there at west, and Vin and me will be here, at the north. Team 3 will be in this part of the building. And Teams 2 and 6 will be there. We will be prepared at five o'clock."

When the meeting was finished everybody came back to their desks. As everybody was leaving Chris stopped by Vin's side.

"Is everything ready for tonight"

"Yeah, I hope everything goes okay in the bust, I don't like it"

" I know, me neither. It's better to be aware. It's impossible believe the whole information a snitch gives."

"Can Mary and I meet you and Stella for lunch tomorrow?"

"I suppose so... but do you remember what it happened the last time they were together? They are so dangerous..."

"Yeah, I know"

Vin shook his head remembering that day and looking directly into Chris's face. Both of them exchanged big grins as they walked.

+ + + + + + +

All the ATF teams had arrived at the old warehouse by five o'clock in the afternoon. Everybody was in position patiently waiting for the unmistakable sign that would end this assignment. Now it was more than two hours after and there they were waiting yet.

JD's nerves were killing him. Buck glared at him 'how could that boy keep so much energy inside him?'

Just on the opposite side was Vin. He could wait hours, days and keep his body still. That didn't mean that Vin wasn't full of energy. Contrary of what everybody could think, energy flowed through every cell of Vin's body.

Ezra was very quiet on Buck's opposite side. Nathan and Josiah were in the same way.

The ATF teams kept their position while the gangs were doing the 'goods' exchange.

Chris felt an odd sensation in his gut. He had a bad feeling about the situation, and that sensation was increasing every minute. Without saying a word he discovered in Vin's eyes that he felt the same way Chris did.

It was widely known that Julian Stoichkov was quite an unbalanced person, but nobody could imagine the awful surprise he was keeping in his mind.

Stoichkov stood in the middle of the warehouse floor receiving a suitcase from Tony Scalia, handcuffing it in his left wrist. It was the money. Tony picked up a crowbar and opened a big wooden crate.

His face showed a satisfaction smile.

"It's always a pleasure to meet you Julian. Every time I do it I make a great profit." He offered his hand to Stoichkov who look him in the eye before shaking it.

In that moment the Team 3 leader gave the waited sign and the waited phrase sound all over the place: "ATF freeze!! All of you are under arrest!!"

In that moment Stoichkov pulled out a small remote control from his pocket and shouted: "If you want me, you will have to fight hard. If any of your ATF agents move I will push this button and everything will blow up. What do you think about that?"

"What are you doing, Stoichkov? Scalia asked totally panicked.

Stoichkov lowed his voice and added "Don't worry I'm only scaring them" He wore a strange smile stuck in his face and suddenly he decided: "I think I am going to do it anyway" and he pushed the button. The building exploded.

+ + + + + + +

Vin was looking for Chris between the debris at were everywhere around him. He knew his left elbow and wrist were broken and some ribs too, but he needed to find Chris. After removing some debris only with his right hand, he found what he thought was Chris' body. There was very little room to move and no light so he could hope it was Chris' head.

Vin realized his eyes were adjusting to the dark and now he could distinguish where he was and how the situation was. He could see Chris's unconscious body, but Vin realized his breathing wasn't labored, so, he decided, it couldn't be very serious.

"Chris, can you hear me? It's me, Vin" Vin whispered approaching Chris's body and shaking it lightly.

"Chris, come on, open your eyes..."

"What... what the hell..." Chris awoke with a hell of a headache and wondering what all of that was about. He tried to sitting-up being very careful with every move he made.

"Hey cowboy, welcome to the living. Don't move a lot. That was a hell of a fall..." Vin took a seat near where he thought Chris was.

"Caused by a hell of explosion. I supposed the building fell down over our heads" Chris was almost sitting up when he moved his leg and discovered that was broken.

"Shit" Chris mumbled between clenched teeth.

"What" Vin turned his face toward where the sound.

"I think my right leg is broken" Chris touched his leg discovering something he knew was blood.

"Anything else?" Vin asked, concern in his voice.

"I don't know, maybe some ribs bruised or splintered. Can't tell you for sure."

"Is it hard to breathe?" Vin's right hand reached Chris arm and squeezed it. It was a way to know his friend was real and alive.

"No, but hurts when I take deep breaths.

"Then don't do that for a while, cowboy, at least until we are out of this hole" Vin added smiling for the first time since they were there.

"I'll try to remember that" Chris chuckled "What about you?"

"Well as far as I can feel, my left elbow and wrist are broken and I think I won't take any deep breaths either"

"Do you know where are we?" Vin asked changing the subject. He hated to re-count his injuries.

"Probably is a hidden and abandoned corridor." Chris was trying to recreate the building plan in his head, but he was quite dizzy.

"Well, thanks to it we didn't die in that explosion. It was as if the ground broke open below our feet" Vin's mind was running at thousand miles per hour. "How much air will it have left over?"

"I don't know I can't figure out how big this hole is and we don't know if there is air coming into" Chris knew which way Vin's thoughts were taking.

Shaking his head lightly he added "I'm sorry Vin"

"It's not your fault"

"I know but I didn't like this case and now I know why"

"I wish I could tell Stella that there is nothing to be worry about. I don't even know what time is it. Maybe she has just arrived at my apartment and is preparing dinner. Spaghetti."

Chris was thinking about their possibilities. There are only two: The rest of the team would rescue them or they would have to find a way out. This thought found a way through his mouth. "And what about the rest of us? Will they be all right?

"I hope so" Vin was sitting with his legs stretched out and with his head resting against the wall.

Both of them, Chris and Vin let go a sigh of resignation.

Buck, JD and Ezra had managed to get out of the building through a window the moment they saw the gang's leader had activated the remote control he had picked out of his jacket pocket.

Josiah, Nathan were near to a way out so they reached the exit within seconds.

Vin and Chris were in the opposite part of the warehouse. When the building had exploded, immediately it caught on fire.

The five men were standing in silence turning their heads at every movement they caught. Hoping Vin and Chris would appear any moment. The fire department, the ATF vans and the ambulances had just arrived and were taking care of everything.

Mark, Team 3 leader approached the five men. "I can't believe this has happened. It was such an easy bust" added shaking his head and with a grave look he found Buck's eyes.

"Are all of you okay?"

Ezra stopped beside Buck and answered instead him. "As you can see physically we are almost perfect only some scratches. On the other hand we are unaware where Mr. Larabee and Mr. Tanner are."

Mark's face became more serious if this was possible. This situation was turning into a very nasty one.

"Well, I'll take care of everything here. You concentrate on finding Chris and Vin." Mark left them walking quickly as he pulled out his cell phone and dialed a number.

+ + + + + + +

After two long hours the fire department had finished extinguishing the fire and had rescued the dead bodies. All of the corpses were totally burnt. It would be necessary to get a dental I.D. to know who they were.

The five men were trying to figure out where Vin and Chris could be. In that moment the fire department chief approached them and taking off his helmet told them:

"We are finished there. Mark told me he was in charge, but I thought I would tell you personally"

"But Chris and Vin have disappeared" JD couldn't believe nobody cared where their friends were.

"I know, but somebody called Mark and the case is closed. You must wait until the dead bodies are I.D.ed"

Nathan was trying to keep cool but what that man was telling them was so weird.

"So you are telling us that there isn't any more searching. But they can be seriously injured and we must find them"

"I'm sorry Nathan. But this is over. Nobody is going to go on with the searching even you. This must be clear within ten minutes. I have to warn you: Officially they are dead, but the bureaucrats will say 'disappeared'" the chief shook his head lightly turned around and left the rest of team 7 totally demoralized.

"Buck, we can search for them. Nobody can stop us. They are our friends, they are.... We must go on and find them" JD's eyes were full of tears. The rest of the team's faces were no so far from reaching this point.

Ezra was shocked. How could anybody decide to stop searching for someone that must be alive? It was denying them an option to live. In this case it was the people he cared most for, his family. Somebody should take the initiative:

"Gentlemen, I think we should go to the hospital in an attempt to ascertain where our fearless leader and quiet sharpshooter can be"

"We can get the dead bodies' names the moment the forensic knows them" Josiah suggested.

They were the last people to leave the place where the bust had happened. Now the building was a smoky jumble of concrete, iron and stone...

All of them headed to the ATF van determined to find Chris and Vin alive. The only thought inside them minds were 'They aren't dead'.

They had to believe that.

+ + + + + + +

'What hell of a flight! How can they allow inside the plane a person who talks so much'. Stella's mind was trying to find a excuse for not thinking about Vin.

She was so anxious to arrive at his apartment.

Her flight had arrived on time. She took a cab and arrived at Vin's apartment about eight thirty. On her way upstairs she met Héctor one of the kids that lived in Vin's building.

"Hi, Héctor"

"Hola Miss Estela,(Spanish translation to Stella)¿cómo está? (How are you?)

"Muy bien, Héctor, gracias" (Very well, thank you)

"Mr. Vin no está en casa" (Mr. Vin isn't at home)

"Lo sé. Le esperaré en su apartamento" (I know. I wait for him at his apartment)

"Hasta luego Miss Estela" (See you Miss Stella)

"Adiós Héctor" (Bye Héctor)

Héctor's family had recently arrived at the neighborhood. They didn't speak much English and when Stella met them and they were able to talk to someone in their language it was great for them. The first time Vin heard her speaking in Spanish she had to explain him why she was able to speak it. She remembered Vin's face when he told her that his Spanish was 'No bueno'. Stella told him the whole story. They were at Vin's and both of them were drinking coffee. Stella told him that her great-grandfather, who loved to draw and paint, went to Spain because he wanted to meet Picasso at the beginning of the century. He couldn't find him because he'd moved to France but her great-grandfather stayed there and married a beautiful woman. When they arrived to United States again and settled down there, his wife taught her children the Spanish language. One of her children, Stella's grandfather learned it perfectly and when Stella was just a kid he spent whole afternoons teaching her. It was some kind of secret language they shared because nobody in the family understood them when they were talking. Every time Stella spoke in Spanish her grandfather memories came into her mind. At the end of her story, she told Vin 'You would have liked him' and Vin's answer was 'I'm sure about it'.

Stella left her bag in Vin's room, took off her black leather jacket and her high boots and headed to the kitchen. She loved to walk without shoes at home and here she did the same. In the kitchen she found the food Vin had bought for their 'romantic meal'. There was spaghetti, a carton of cream, wine, and prawns in the fridge.

She rolled up her sleeves and began to prepare dinner. After a while she went to the living room and turned on the stereo. She put a CD and came back to the kitchen. Vin was a very organized person but in the end he was a man, and normally he was working almost all the time so she began to put several things in order.

An hour or so later the meal was ready. The table was set and the candles lit. Stella was having a look at some books she had bought. She knew how Vin loved poetry so before taking her flight she stopped by a library and picked up some books for him and two Art books for her. Looking at the pictures of one of them, she remembered the first time they spoke about art. When she told him who her favorite painters were, she discovered that Vin was really interested in them. He decided his favorite picture would be "The Kiss" by Gustav Klimt. Some days after she bought him a reproduction that was now hanging in one of the walls of Vin's living room.

She didn't know how long she looked at the books. Finally she picked up the remote control, turned off the stereo and turned on the TV. She chose a local news TV-channel:

."..the fire that followed the explosion has turned the warehouse into debris and ashes"

"Peter can you tell us what has been the cause of the fire?"

"No, Tania, the ATF and the fire department haven't give us an official report. The only thing we can tell our spectators is that there are 20 people dead and 17 injured. Among the dead people there are some ATF agents..."

Stella turned the TV-volume down, beginning to walk all over the room biting her lips at the same time, and her mind went back to the same idea, over and over again... Vin.

'What was this man saying? ATF Teams... Vin had told her about a bust today. That was the reason he couldn't pick her up from the airport'.

A very bad feeling was growing inside her.

The first thing she did was dial Vin's cell phone number. Nobody answered, instead she only got the simple message on his answering machine. She did the same with Chris's cell phone obtaining the same result.

Then she tried Ezra phone and finally she got an answer:

"Ezra, it's Stella."

"What's happened Ezra? Are everybody all right?"

"At the hospital? Waiting for what?"

"So if you are waiting for this they should be dead?"

"I know you haven't told me that Ez, but if all of you thought that Chris and Vin are alive, you would be at the bust site not waiting at the hospital"

"Please Ezra don't lie to me, are they dead? Is Vin dead?"

"Disappeared. Right now it's the same, isn't it?"

"No, thank you Ezra, I will be fine. When you find out something, please tell me. And call Mary, I supposed she would like to know. Does she know? Okay. Bye. I'll be waiting."

She didn't remember that she didn't hang up the phone. The TV was still on with the volume turned down. She sat down on the couch tears flowing from her eyes and running down her cheeks. This couldn't be happening. She held her face in her hands and began to cry aloud. She fell down from the couch to her knees and holding her body tightly with her arms cried for a while. She would swear she was shivering.

Her mind went again and again over the same idea: 'This can't be true. He will be fine. I can't lose him now. It's too soon. I was only trying to make him happy. I wouldn't hurt him why he was been pulled apart from me.

There was a moment she couldn't cry anymore. She was on her knees her hand turned into a fist resting in her thighs. Her head was lowered and her eyes were looking at the emptiness. She stood up, looked for a tissue, cleared her eyes and nose and them turned to the couch and lay in it crying again without making any noise.

The rest of team 7 was in one of the corridor outside the morgue waiting for any news that told them that their two friends were alive.

Buck was holding JD who was making unimaginable efforts to keep his tears into his eyes. 'How could be Chris and Vin dead? This wasn't possible. They have to be okay'

All the remaining men from Team 7 were terribly tired but none of them would leave without knowing for sure what the destiny of their two friends was.

The thoughts of all of them went the same way. All of them would be lost without their leader and Vin. They wouldn't be The Magnificent Seven anymore, this couldn't be real.

+ + + + + + +

"How much time do you think we've been here?" Chris was trying to concentrate in keeping himself conscious. It seemed to him they'd been here too much time and probably it would be better to find a way out by themselves.

"Maybe two hours... but I can tell you for sure" Vin's arm was giving him a very hard time. He will never admit it out loud because he knew Chris was in worst shape than him.

"Well, a least we know there is air coming into this place in some way. Only have to find which way. If there wasn't any we would be dead or unconscious." Chris was determined to stay in that hole the less time the better.

"Okay, it would be good if we had a match, then we would know where the air is coming from" Vin was feeling his claustrophobia increase. He couldn't tell when he was going to lose his self-control, and wasn't very sure what he was saying.

"You are not going to believe what..." Chris, was grinning widely for almost the first time since they were there.

"Surprise me" Vin who had been on his knees trying to find a way out, stopped and sat down again next to Chris.

"Actually, I have a match box." Chris searched carefully in his black jeans' pockets and finally pulled out a little box of matches. Vin couldn't see it very well but the sound of the matches inside it was all Vin needed in that moment.

"You're McGyver's relative and you never told me..." Vin said facing Chris with a hint of mischief in his voice. He was feeling better under the circumstances. Now they have some options to get out of the hole.

"It's better to keep some secrets. Okay let's find where the air comes from."

Chris lit a match and immediately gave it to Vin who had moved to what seemed the center of the place. After a moment the match in Vin's fingers began to move in one direction. Vin waited a little more time before throwing away the match wanting to be completely sure they could find a way out.

"It's coming from there. I hope there isn't any big debris on our way out. With only a hand I really think I wouldn't be able to remove them" Vin said approaching the part of the hole where the exit should be.

"Vin, give me a hand here. If I am just behind you, you can give me the debris and I can put it behind us.", Chris was trying to move with the assistance of his arms. Vin positioned himself at Chris's back and held his good arm around Chris's chest.

After a few minutes and some Vin and Chris gasps, both of them were in front of the part of the hole they supposed was the way out.

"Are you all right?" Vin said letting Chris free of his hold.

"I could ask the same of you."

Vin laughed shortly "That's true. I'm still alive. What about you?"

"So am I, more or less" Chris found a comfortable position with his right leg stretched out in front of him.

"Okay, let's go" Vin picked up a block of concrete. When the block touched Vin's ribs, he cried out in pain.

"Easy there, Vin, are you okay?" Chris was alarmed.

"Yeah, I forgot about the broken ribs. I want to get out of here ASAP.

"Do you think the guys believe we are dead?"

"I don't know, Chris. I think that if they thought in that way, they wouldn't admit it, nor Mary and Stella. If I were in their shoes I would feel the same."

"I'm sorry Vin"

"Yeah, me too. Yesterday when I called her, she told me that she loved me and I couldn't say a word. Now I'm sorry because I do love her, or at least, I do think so. I'm not used to this kind of thing, you know..." Vin was a little embarrassed to talk about this but at the same time was relieved to discuss the subject with someone. He knew Chris would understand him. And he did.

"Do you care for her?"

"Of course I care for her."

"Do you listen to every and I mean 'every' word she says when she is talking to you?"

"Yeah, I do, and sometimes it is so amazing..." Vin smiled at the memories that came to his mind.

"And when you're with her the time goes so fast that you can't tell..."

"Yeah, I think so"

"Yeah man, you're in love with her"

Vin was picking up concrete pieces carefully and giving them to Chris who put them at the end of the hole.

"Do you feel the same way about Mary?"

"If you asked me that question in a different situation I will tell you 'no'. But almost every part of me is saying 'yes'. There is always this little part of me that was afraid of it but I know Sarah would be happy for me, and although this little part is still telling me that I can lose everything again, I think it is worth the risk."

"I think you're right. Four years ago I couldn't imagine I would have a family and a girlfriend... At that time if anybody had told me that I would have laughed in his face. I'm happy now and I don't want to lose what I have.

"That's normal Vin, but I think our lives have had enough pain. Life is not fair but sometimes it gives us another opportunity."

"You know what, if Buck was here we would have to put up with his jokes and comments for the rest of our lifetimes"

"I won't say a word if you promise the same"

"You have my word, pard" Vin stopped moving debris back and offered his hand to Chris. Chris shook Vin's hand. Both of them were grinning. They were very grateful for the understanding the other man offered.

"Okay, now we have to figure out where this corridor goes and pray for some good luck from above" Vin could see light coming from the gap they had managed to open removing debris.

"I only hope whatever is over our heads stays where it is now" Chris knew that their way to the surface was going to be hard and very painful. He knew Vin wouldn't leave him there, and more important he didn't want to spend more time there than the necessary.

"Okay, let's get out of here. I'll go first and then I will catch you."

"Vin probably I'm going to hurt you when I put all my weight on you."

"Don't worry. I'll try to catch you with my right side. That doesn't hurt." Vin wasn't so sure about the pain but it would be worth if they could get out of that place.

Vin very carefully passed through the hole. When his feet touched the floor again Vin realized it was water. The water was at his ankles level and Vin decided that he was in one of the corridors of Denver's sewers. They only had to find a sewer cover that was open and they would be again in 'the open air'.

Vin turned back and looked to Chris "Hey cowboy come on." He caught Chris's body with his right hand and let him put all his weight over him. Chris's legs were the last things that left the hole. When Chris was completely through of it, Vin let him rest against the wall.

"Welcome to Denver's sewers, cowboy. Our way to liberty" Vin stretched out his good arm showing Chris the way.

"Thank you. How's your strength holding up Vin? Chris voice was grave.

"Okay, let's go" Vin stopped next to his best friend. Chris passed his left arm around Vin's neck while Vin held him around the waist.

After more than half an hour they found a sewer cover. Vin climbed the iron steps and tried to open the iron cover. He lifted it carefully in case that exit was in the middle of the road. Luckily it wasn't, the exit was in a sidewalk.

Vin went down again after removing the iron cover by pushing with his right shoulder at the same time that he held onto the iron step with his right hand.

Chris waited until Vin caught his breath and rested enough for his arm and ribs stop aching a little. "Are you all right" Chris was leaning against the wall.

"I've been better. Now it really hurts." The light coming into the sewer from the exit showed Chris the sweat in Vin's forehead and the blood that was covering the left part of his face.

"You only have to hang on a little more. When we get out our cell phones will be on-line and we'd be able to call the guys."

Chris had to climb helping himself with both arms and only putting weight in his left leg. When he was on the street he waited for Vin leaning against a building.

"You look awful Vin"

"I can say the same about you"

Now both of them were against the wall. Chris picked up his cell phone and dialed Nathan's number.

"Nathan, it's me, Chris. Yeah, well, we are alive. We fell into a passage underground. Vin is right here with me. Well, a ride to the hospital it would be nice. We are just in front of that bakery Buck loves so much" Vin grinned at that comment.

"We aren't going anywhere, okay" Chris turned off his cell phone and nodded at Vin. "They are on their way"

"I suppose Ezra will call Stella and Mary"

"I guess so" Chris said closing his eyes for a moment.

After twenty minutes an ambulance and Josiah's car stopped just in front of the two men.

JD was the first one to meet them.

"Chris, Vin, I'm so glad both of you are alive"

"Yeah, we know it JD, we know it" Chris was sorry about the nightmare the youngest of the seven had suffered.

Buck approached both men and with a wide grin exclaimed "We thought we had lost both of you, buddies. Welcome to the world" and bowing until he reaching their shoulders he hugged them trying not to hurt them anymore.

Vin and Chris interchange smiles with their friends. The paramedic began to work over them.

Ezra came to their side and giving them his two finger greeting added "I have tried to contact Mrs. Travis and Miss Thomas. I have to tell you Mrs. Travis is aware of your adventure but I couldn't speak with Miss Thomas. Mr. Tanner's phone is disconnected"

Vin faced Ezra "It's okay Ez, thank you. Did you talk to her before?"

"Of course, Mr. Tanner and I assure you I'll try to reassure her. She saw everything in the news and when she asked if you were okay and I told her both of you had disappeared, she didn't listen to me anymore."

Vin tried to raise himself but the paramedic and Nathan stopped him. Vin groaned "I need to go home and tell her I'm fine"

"First of all you must go to the hospital to take care of these injuries and then maybe you can go home" Nathan knew how stubborn Vin was with this kind of thing. In Vin's shoes Nathan would do the same.

Chris was listening but his leg hurt too much to allow him to think about much else.

When they arrived at the hospital Chris and Vin went to different examination rooms and the rest of Team 7 headed to the waiting room. After more than two hours Vin was ready to leave the hospital. His doctor had wanted to keep him in observation during the night, but Nathan and Ezra persuaded him by saying Vin would have someone watching him.

Vin didn't want to leave Chris's side so before going home he went to his room. Chris had a cast on his right leg below the knee and bandage was holding his ribs, the same as Vin's. Chris opened his eyes when he heard the door.

"Go Vin, I'm fine. And I will be here tomorrow. Besides, Mary is on her way here. You aren't a bad friend because you want to see your girlfriend"

"Are you sure?" Vin knew Chris was right but it was easy if Chris repeated it again.

"Go, you need some nursemaiding" Vin grinned and offered his good hand to Chris. Chris shook it and added "With that arm in a cast and those stitches in your pretty face, Stella will forgive you for scaring her to death. I'll see you in the morning.

Vin left the room and headed to the waiting room where the rest of the team were waiting for some kind of news about their friends. He convinced them he could take a cab and headed to the hospital exit.

It was almost four thirty a.m. when Vin arrived at the door of his apartment. His arm and ribs hurt like hell and the scratches and stitches in his face was itching his skin. His arm was in a cast over the elbow and resting in a blue sling. Under his shirt his ribs were firmly bandaged. On his left eyebrow and cheek were several cuts, some with stitches and some closed by butterfly dressings.

He managed to pick up the keys and opened the door. He came in closing the door behind him and walked silently toward the living room. The candles over the table were almost completely melted. The room was lit with the TV and the candles.

Stella was lying on the couch. Her black hair spread over the couch cushion. She was wearing a short black long sleeved dress with a wide V shaped neckline and buttons in the front. The first two buttons were undone and he was able to see her black underwear. The contrast between her black clothes and the paleness of her skin were totally fascinating.

He stopped still looking at Stella's sleeping body. After some minutes he approached her and met her face. He could see the trace of her tears in her cheeks and the shadows that were under her eyes. Her right hand was clutching a used tissue. She was barefoot like she always was. He smiled remembering the first time she arrived at his apartment and asked him if she could take her shoes off. When she saw Vin's face she felt a little embarrassed. When both of them were in the living room Vin took his boots off, guided her to the couch, invited her to take a seat, crouched down in front of her and took her shoes off. Then she leaned over him and kissed him softly.

That last image sent him back to reality.

He had scared her to death. This was the first time but not the last one. He was so sorry about it. He supposed she had fell sleep exhausted. He leaned carefully over her head and lightly touched her hair. Then with the back of his good hand touched her cheek.

"Stella" whispered in her ear.

"Stella, wake up" he repeated.

"Vin?" came out her mouth and at the same time she opened her eyes and Vin could see those green eyes he liked so much. Instantly those green eyes were overflowing with tears that fell down her cheeks. She couldn't say a word. She stared at him. 'Was he real? Was she dreaming?'.

"I was so scared, Vin. I thought I wouldn't see you again and... You are hurt, you should be in bed..."

"Ssshhh" he put his finger in her lips... "I'm okay, are you okay now?"

She shook her head affirmatively but the tears were still falling from her eyes.

"Please, let me get you into bed, we can talk tomorrow" Stella stood in front of Vin and touched the cuts in his face with her fingertips...He took her hand in his and kissed her palm very tenderly "I'm so sorry I made you cry"

Stella didn't let his hand free. Instead she pulled him into the bedroom and helped him to take off his boots and clothes. After she tucked him in bed she sat in the edge and leaning over him kissed his lips.

"I couldn't be mad at you. I was afraid because I had lost you..." Vin looked her directly into her eyes.

"I would never leave you without you knowing that I love you too. And I had to come back to tell you that."

"Sleep now Vin, I'm not going anywhere."


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