Fresh Air

by mcat

May 22, 2000

Disclaimer – No, I don't own any of the boys. Trilogy, Mirisch, CBS, TNN, TBTB, EIEIO and them all do. Mog brought forth the ATF universe, thus, we bow at her feet…

Chris and Vin walked out of the elevator and down the hall. There was a slight spring to Vin's step and a light tune to his whistle. When they stepped into the Team Seven offices, they were greeted with five expectant faces.

"Well?" Buck asked first.

"You are now looking at the owners of sixty-four and three-quarter acres of land!" Vin announced, holding up the papers in his hand.

"Alright, guys!" JD exclaimed, rising to shake their hands.

The couple that owned the property next to Vin's, where he had "The Vinnebago" parked, were moving on. When they decided to sell their land, they asked Vin first, knowing that he'd been interested in it. Their acreage butted up against Vin's twenty acres and included most of the stream that fed onto the ATF agent's property.

Unfortunately, their asking price was more than he could afford. That's when Chris stepped in and offered to go in with Vin to buy it together. Having had his eye on the property for a number of years, and knowing that if he didn't buy it, some land developer would, Vin quickly agreed to Chris's offer.

"Sounds like we got us a weekend of fresh air and fishing coming up!" Buck spoke up, rubbing his hands together.

"Sounds good to me," Vin agreed. "Y'all can meet up Saturday morning at the Vinnebago and we can hike upstream to the new property."

"I'll bring the beer," Josiah offered.

"I'll grab the bait," Chris put in, eager to celebrate as well.

"Oh, joy," Ezra replied dryly. "Six packs, worms and mosquitos. While I do congratulate the two of you gentlemen, I do believe I will pass on this particular celebration."

"How about you, Nate? You coming?" Vin asked.

"I don't know, Vin," the dark agent replied. "I was thinking of going out with Rain and spend the day at the park or something," he added.

"Oh, come on, Nathan," Josiah admonished. "You can go to the park with Rain on Sunday. Come with us."

"Yeah, Nate, come with us," JD added, practically begging.

"I don't see you boys begging Ezra to come along," Nathan returned.

"We don't want to have to bait his hooks," Chris put in.

"Yeah, and if Ez came along he'd be complainin' so much about the bugs and the bait that he'd scare the fish away anyhows," Vin added, smiling at Ezra.

"I completely agree with you gentlemen," the southerner replied. "Therefore, I will be perfectly content to stay behind."

"Nate?" Buck called, raising his eyebrows.

"Alright. I'm going," Nathan gave in with a smile.

After the plans for the weekend were settled, the seven ATF agents got back to their tasks for the day.

+ + + + + + +

"Ah, fresh air!" Josiah exclaimed, taking a hefty breath of the stuff upon exiting Nathan's Explorer.

Nathan, getting out of the driver's seat of the vehicle, inhaled deeply as well, smiling at the sensation. "Yessir, fresh it is," he agreed.

They turned around and watched as Buck and JD arrived in Buck's Trans Am, fishing poles hanging out the side window, country music blaring on the radio.

"Don't know how JD puts up with it," Nathan muttered, covering his ears.

"That's how," Josiah replied, pointing to the set of earphones JD had on, watching as the youngest of their team got out of the car.

"'Bout time you boys showed up," Vin shouted from the Vinnebago's door. He watched as the men started for the old motor home and then suddenly stop. "Don't worry, I disabled all the traps from there to here," Vin said, walking toward them, carrying a cooler.

Vin's fishing line traps provided a low-tech security system for the sharpshooter. He'd be able to tell if someone had been on his property during his absence or came on while he was there.

"How far up is the new property line, Vin?" Josiah asked, meeting him halfway.

"It's about a mile and a half from here to the line, where it butts up against my old property," he replied. "We can drive up a little further than that. Then we'll have about a mile hike to where we'll be fishin' today," he added.

"You got enough beer, Josiah?" Chris asked, stepping out of the motor home and meeting them at Vin's old Jeep.

"There are six of us, you know," he replied emptying one of the two cases into Vin's cooler.

Vin grabbed some of his gear and put it into the Jeep. "Nate, you think that truck of yours can actually do the off-roadin' they say it can?" he asked, laughing.

"Yeah, I think it's finally gonna lose it's virginity today, Vin!" Buck joined in.

"Very funny," Nathan sighed. "Just because I choose not to abuse it like you do your Jeep, doesn't mean it can't do the job."

"Nate, you hate takin' that thing out in the snow," Chris put in, helping Vin tie down the cooler.

After JD and Buck put their gear into Nathan's Explorer, the group prepared to go.

"Let's ride, boys," Vin shouted, putting the Jeep in gear and leading the way up an old trail into the woods.

+ + + + + + +

The ATF sharpshooter and co-owner of the land he was lounging on couldn't be happier. Leaning up against an old tree that had come down to lay next to the streambed, he tipped his head back and took another sip of beer as he looked around at his friends.

Buck and JD were about a third of the way into the stream, water up to their knees. The mustached man was once again trying to teach JD "the fine art of casting." And of course, JD kept arguing that he knew how to use a fishing pole, despite the fact that his line kept tangling.

Josiah sat similarly to Vin, leaned up against an old tree stump. His head was tipped back, soaking up the sun, tanning his face further. Vin didn't think he'd even rigged up his fishing pole. He was here for the company. And the beer.

Nathan was out in the water, too. He seemed genuinely interested in catching the fish, and had. Six so far. He'd told Vin that it had been almost fifteen years since the last time he'd gone fishing. The man wasn't in need of a refresher course, though, Vin smiled.

He was just about to look for Chris when the shadow crossed his feet.

"Hey, Cowboy," Vin greeted him, pushing his hat back on his head as he looked up.

"Enjoying yourself?" Chris asked, smiling.

"Yup. You?" the sharpshooter nodded.

"Yup," the older man replied. "Gonna take a walk, check out our property. Come along?"

Vin responded by standing up, brushing off his pants as he did. "We'll be back," he said to Josiah as he and Chris headed into the woods.

+ + + + + + +

"Can't thank you enough, Chris, for goin' in on this with me," Vin spoke as he walked, pushing tree branches out of the way.

"I knew how much this land meant to you," the blonde responded. "I wouldn't want any housing development coming in here and messing things up, either."

"Or worse – a mega-mall or somethin'!" Vin laughed.

Chris stopped walking then and motioned Vin to look at something on the ground.

"That what I think it is?" he asked, looking at an old, rusted spring trap.

"Yeah," Vin sighed, disgustedly.

He found a large branch and put it into the trap, hoping to close it. It didn't work at first, but with some effort, Vin finally tripped it and the contraption slowly began to close, the build up of rust slowing it down.

"Thought the old man had found all of them," he added. "Told me that when he bought the land twenty five years ago, he'd gotten it from a trapper. Said he went through it as best he could, at least by the streams and trails, and gotten rid of all the traps."

"Well, there are sixty-four acres, Vin," Chris replied. "Kinda like looking for a needle in a haystack. Bound to miss a few."

"Yeah, he didn't like the thought of any animals gettin' hurt," Vin went on. "He never minded me huntin' on my land or his, 'cause he at least knew the I wasn't in it for sport or money. I eat what I kill and I don't let the animals suffer." When Chris nodded in agreement, he continued. "He's run a few people off his land, though. Huntin' without licenses and permission. I don't think we'll have to put up any 'No Trespassin'' signs, he kept up on 'em. Did his best to keep the wrong people out."

"We better start heading back before Buck starts up a search party," Chris said, carefully picking up the old trap.

The two took a different way back toward the stream and their fishing party, Chris leading the way, this time.

About twenty minutes later, Chris was about to step over some low branches when Vin suddenly surged forward.

"Chris! No!" he shouted, reaching out to push the older man out of the way.

But he was not quick enough. Chris stepped on the branches and seconds later, a young sapling that had been bent back out of the way came whipping towards the two and hit Vin.

Chris sat up quickly, sputtering curse words as he brushed himself off. He was about to ask Vin what the hell had happened when he heard the younger man's gasps. He quickly went to Vin's still prone form and rolled him over. The sharpshooter had both hands up holding onto his throat and was desperately gasping for air. He pulled Vin's hands away and saw the quickly bruising flesh on the front of his neck. The sapling had hit it and must have damaged the sharpshooter's windpipe.

"WE NEED HELP OUT HERE!! NATHAN!!" Chris shouted, frantic, yet knowing he needed to stay calm.

He held onto Vin's hands, keeping them away from his injured throat. It wasn't an easy task as the younger man writhed on the ground, desperately trying to get air into his lungs. Chris heard the high pitched wheezing sound. Vin was getting some air, but it would not be enough to survive.

"NATHAN!!" he shouted again. He heard the sounds of his men rushing through the woods, trampling the small brush as they went. "Over here! Vin's hurt!" he added.

"What happened?" Nathan asked, out of breath as he came to a halt at Vin's side.

"He can't breathe!" Chris practically shouted. "I stepped on a trip line. Damn sapling whipped out and hit him in the neck," he explained.

Nathan quickly examined Vin's neck, taking in the sharpshooter's breathing sounds and his coloring, as well as his level of consciousness.

"Shit!" he muttered vehemently. "Somebody give me a clean knife!" he began ordering. "JD, you still got your water bottle on you? I need that straw!" he added.

Chris looked at Nathan, horrified as he realized what the man was about to do. The look he received in return told him that it was necessary. That he didn't have a choice. That Vin didn't have a choice.

"Vin, I gotta cut a hole in your neck to help you breathe," he said quickly, opening up the pocketknife Chris handed him. If Vin heard him, he didn't know, because that was about when the sharpshooter had lost consciousness. "Chris, hold onto his head. Lock it right between your knees. I don't want him movin'. Josiah, Buck, JD, hold onto his arms and legs."

"Here's the straw," JD said, his voice wavering as he offered the hard piece of plastic.

"Cut it in half," Nathan ordered and then made his own cut, carefully easing the pocketknife's sharp tip into Vin's flesh, pushing it down and in. When he reached Vin's trachea, he pushed it a little harder, piercing the tube. He fingers felt a small rush of air escape as Vin's lungs emptied out. "Gimme the straw," he said, holding out his hand. He maneuvered the piece of plastic so that it fit into the hole he'd cut into the trachea and waited. "Come on, Vin, breathe for me," he whispered. "Shit."

"Nathan?" Chris called tentatively, hearing the low curse. But before he knew it, he was watching the medic begin to blow into the straw sticking out of Vin's throat.

"Come on, Vin. Breathe dammit!" Nathan continued to curse between breaths.

The other four men watched silently and prayed. Finally, Vin's lungs filled without Nathan's help and the dark agent sat back in relief. "We gotta get him to the hospital," he said, unnecessarily.

"We've got over a mile hike to the cars," JD put in.

"Then we'll just have to walk fast, JD," Buck replied.

"Josiah, call an ambulance, have them meet us at the Vinnebago," Chris ordered, tossing his cell phone to the tall man.

Nathan was just about to tell Buck, JD and Chris how they were going to lift and carry Vin, when the injured man began to stir. Vin's breathing quickened and his hands started for his throat. Chris caught them easily before they could dislodge the makeshift breathing tube.

"Easy, Vin," he soothed, his green eyes meeting with the panic stricken blues of the sharpshooter.

"Vin, don't move your head or neck," Nathan instructed quickly, making eye contact. "I cut that hole in your neck so you could breathe," he added, hoping to explain the strange sensations Vin was probably feeling.

Vin tried to talk, but found he couldn't. The panic increased and he began fighting Chris's hold.

"Vin… No… hold still," Chris admonished. "You've got a tube in your neck – it's letting you breathe. You move too much and it'll come out and you won't be able to breathe.

That got Vin's attention and he stopped his thrashing. He closed his eyes tight and clenched his jaw to block out some of the pain that was radiating from his neck, but managed a slight nod, agreeing to Chris's reasoning.

"Good," Nathan sighed. "Now let's get the hell outta here. Chris, you keep holdin' his head and neck. Try to keep it in line. Buck, you and me are gonna get on either side of him, holding his shoulders and waist. JD and Josiah take his legs," he ordered.

Each of the men took their assigned positions and lifted the fallen sharpshooter. After making sure they had good holds, they began the slow mile long trek to their cars.

+ + + + + + +

The blue sky and the branches of trees overhead took up most of his field of vision. Occasionally Chris, Buck or Nathan would lean over and ask him how he was doing. As if he could answer. But Vin was almost thankful he couldn't make any sounds. Then the others wouldn't hear him scream. They wouldn't hear how much pain he was in. Hear the fear in his voice, knowing that the straw from JD's water bottle was the only thing keeping him alive.

"Almost there, Vin," Chris said.

Vin looked to Chris and realized that he didn't need a voice. His best friend knew exactly how scared he was. He knew exactly how much pain he was feeling.

"Almost there, Vin," the blonde repeated.

+ + + + + + +

The ride down the old trail was bumpy, despite Josiah's expert handling of the Explorer. He and Buck had removed the back seat so that they could lay Vin on the floor for the ride and still have room for Chris and Nathan beside him. Chris still held onto the sharpshooter's head and neck, doing the best he could to keep them from moving. Nathan couldn't do much more than help keep Vin from bouncing around, either. Even if he'd had a full medical kit with him, there wouldn't have been much more he could have done.

Buck and JD had driven ahead in Vin's Jeep, so that they'd be able to help find the ambulance and guide it to Vin's campsite. Even during the daytime, it could be difficult to find. So when the men in the Explorer finally reached the Vinnebago, the medical rig was there waiting for them.

Vin was quickly transferred to the ambulance's stretcher while Nathan gave the crew an update on his condition. The paramedics quickly placed a cervical collar around Vin's neck, carefully maneuvering it to allow the straw to fit through the hole in the front. Once that was done, they started an IV and oxygen treatment.

"Go on, Chris," Buck said to his old friend. "There's a seat up front for ya. "We'll meet you boys at the hospital."

Chris nodded and headed toward the front of the ambulance. He stopped then and turned before walking back to where Nathan stood.

"That was some fast thinking and good work, Nate. Thanks," he said, putting a hand to the other man's shoulder.

Nathan just nodded and smiled, not real sure what to say. He was finally beginning to relax, knowing that Vin was now going to be receiving proper medical care. He only hoped that a tube in Vin's throat wouldn't become a permanent fixture.

+ + + + + + +

Chris looked up from where he sat in the hospital's waiting room, watching his teammates, including Ezra, now, as they entered.

"How is he?" Nathan asked first, hoping that his treatment in the field had continued working.

"So far, alright. They're running some tests now," Chris replied. "Doctors think the trachea might just be swollen, not really damaged."

"So if that's the case, then once the swelling goes down, they'll be able to close up the hole I made," Nathan concluded.

"Exactly," the ATF leader responded.

"Sure am glad we talked you into goin', Nathan," Buck said quietly, putting an arm around the dark man's shoulders.

The six men nodded in agreement.

+ + + + + + +

Chris sat next to Vin's bed, reading a book he'd bought in the gift shop. The doctor in charge of Vin's case had told him that their beliefs were correct – Vin's trachea had only been bruised and swollen as a result of the sapling's strike. They also agreed that if not for Nathan's quick intervention that the sharpshooter would have slowly suffocated to death.

A movement from the bed made him look up.

"Easy there, Cowboy," he whispered, gently taking hold of Vin's wrists. "Don't touch it."

Vin opened his eyes then and Chris watched him as he tried to figure out what was going on and took a mental inventory of his injury. When the sharpshooter's blue eyes met his, Chris gave the official explanation.

"Yeah, you still got the tube in your throat," he said first. "But don't worry – it's just temporary. Doc says the swelling'll probably be down by morning."

Vin tried talking and became frustrated that he couldn't.

"No. Don't try to talk," the blonde admonished. "You can't, not until they take the tube out."

The sharpshooter pushed his head back against the pillow and shut his eyes. He opened them again when he felt Chris's hand on his arm.

"Only one more day, Cowboy," Chris said quietly. "Just think, a whole day where no one will expect you to answer the stupid questions they ask that you usually ignore anyway," he added with a mischievous smile. That did the trick, he thought as he watched Vin relax and even smile a bit.

+ + + + + + +

Nathan and Chris watched as Vin's eyes began to flutter, caught his hands as they moved up to his neck again.

"No more tube in your throat," Chris said first. "Your own works just fine, now."

When Vin tried to speak, Nathan added, "No. Don't try to talk yet. Doctors say to give your throat a rest for a few days at least. No talking. And a liquid diet, too," he added with a smile, knowing how those dreaded words would make Vin cringe. "Sorry."

Vin nodded carefully and closed his eyes again, ready to go back into the drugged sleep he'd been in. But before he did, he whispered, "Save me some fish?"