Punching Bag

by Raquel

ATF Universe

August 2000

Disclaimer: This is a work of fanfiction based on the TV show The Magnificent Seven. I wish they belonged to me, but it's such an impossible thing. So I just play with them and after that I return them to the people who have the rights. There are a lot of them, and you all know who they are. I ain't making money with this, just an enjoyable time for me and the people who read this.

Thanks: To each one of you that gave me feedback for my first stories, because you encouraged me to write more. Thanks to Mog because I keep playing in her great universe without her saying a word about it. And thanks to Nancy who archives all I've written and I will write. And of course thanks to Judy who beta read this, and corrected all the incongruities I wrote in the first version of this. Also to the person who had the idea of Vin and Ezra being called the Hardy Boys.

Note: I don't know if anybody wrote a story similar to this one. If there is one I'm sorry. I have read quite a lot fanfic and I have never read yours. I just needed to write it.

Comments are appreciated!

"Vin, Vin, okay, listen to me..." Chris's serious glare was trying to get through Vin's stubbornness. "YOU AREN'T GOING TO DO THAT. Have I made myself clear?"

He had managed to stop his friend on his way towards the elevator guided by the rage that was burning his insides. He couldn't understand what was going on in the sharpshooter's mental mechanisms, but he looked him directly in his eyes, trying to put some common sense into that hard skull.

"No Chris. No way. Of course I'm going to do it. It was exactly what he was looking for and he's going to get it. I tried to be patient, I kept quiet, and you know what,... I have had enough of it!". Chris realized Vin was almost shouting. That wasn't normal, no man. He thought about it and that was the second time he heard the longhaired man use his voice in a tone that was above normal. It wasn't Vin's usual behavior.

There they were. One man in front of the other. Chris with his arms stretched out in front of him, his hands resting on Vin's shoulders. The younger man was pushing against Chris's hands trying to advance to the elevator. Vin's face was a mask of anger, his brows creased, his jaw clenched and the fists at both side of his body were closed tightly.

Chris's brain was working at 110%, trying to think of something to calm his friend down, a possible solution and an explanation. He could feel Vin's muscles tense under his shirt and Chris thought that the Texan was in great shape, maybe the best since they met. That fact took a load off his mind. In case Vin got his own way he would be able to take care of himself more or less.

Vin went on pushing against his hands. Chris could stop him but not forever if he didn't slack in his effort.

Just in that moment, Ezra came out of the elevator. He arrived late, as usual. Of course he was impeccably dressed, but even so, he stopped just for a second to put the knot of his tie in place. He was going to set off again but he made out his two comrades in such a strange situation that he changed his mind and approached them. He just stood next to them. The look in his eyes showed how surprised he was by what it was going on in front of him.

"Morning gentlemen," he stood in front of the two men. He titled his head and placing his fingertips on one of his temples, his brow creased, "Can I assume there is a problem here?"

Chris and Vin had stopped doing what they were doing, that is, Vin stopped pushing toward Chris, and The Magnificent Seven's leader was able to stop preventing Vin getting into the elevator. Both of them turned their heads facing the Southerner. Chris still with his arms resting on Vin's shoulders.

"No, there's no problem here, right Vin? Chris gave a furious Vin a questioning look.

"No. There is a problem... but I'm going to solve it, right now," and Vin avoided Chris and walked to the elevator. Chris had just time enough to hold him by his arm.

"Wait a minute please."

"No. The only thing I want to do is smash his face right now," Vin wasn't listening to reason.

"Well... before you do that, wait and..."

Vin stared at Chris it evident that his remaining patience was running out.

"Wait for what... I don't wanna give him the pleasure to backpeddle. I'm gonna face him.... once and for all."

Ezra stood there in total disbelief, seeing Vin act this way. "I'd appreciate it if you would elucidate to me this rather complicated situation."

"I have no time for that, Ez,"

Vin answered waving his hand in the air, playing the matter down.

"No, no, Vin, wait and tell Ez... listen to another opinion." He saw that Vin's eyes were traveling from him to the Southerner, deciding if it was worth the wait to listen to them before he did what he had to do. Finally giving it, Vin shook his head, locks of light brown hair accompanying the movement, "Oh, hell, Chris, okay."

Turning to Ezra, pointing with his index finger in the direction of Ezra's chest," But I'm sure as hell that you can't say anything to change my mind."

Ezra was almost sure of that. He couldn't cast the first stone, because he was quite stubborn himself, the same as their fearless leader. Vin had said Hell twice in his last sentences... His decision was almost immovable, the dapper man thought. Of course, he wasn't going to say a word about it yet... He needed every detail.

"Very well. Can we begin the conversation with a cup of coffee...It would be almost inhuman to deprive me of the breakfast I haven't enjoyed yet."

Vin and Chris stared at the Southerner and rolled their eyes... Some things never change.

"Okay, but a quick one... We have work that needs to be done." This time it was Chris who was pointing at Ezra with his index finger.

That is becoming an incredibly annoying gesture, Ezra thought turning and heading to the meeting room.

The other two men followed him. Chris silently praised the undercover agent's idea. The meeting room was the best place, in case Vin decided to shout at the top of his lungs again.

+ + + + + + +

The three men sat there. Ezra and Chris were sipping their coffees resting their backs in the comfortable office chairs, while Vin was resting his elbows on the large table with his hands cupping his face... his eyes fixed on the polished table surface.

After several moments of silence Ezra was ready to listen... with some liquid in his stomach.

"Okay Mr. Tanner... Just enlighten me as to the reason you have gotten so disordered."

"Garret Thompson" Vin mumbled without taking his hands away from his cheeks.

"I see," that was enough for Ezra to know what the problem was about.

Garret was a new agent who had been transferred to the Denver ATF Office from New York. Since the team he belonged to and Team 7 had collaborated in some cases, it had been patently clear that this guy and Vin, without the quiet agent ever doing anything to provoke it, were as water and oil: They would never be mixed.

In the beginning it was small, supposedly funny comments about Vin's hair, his way of dress or about being a good shot. Then it was about Vin's courage... and strength... Silly thing's in Vin's opinion... he could bear these kind of signs of insecurity, as Ezra had called this kind of male's behavior once.

"He talked about my ma... and the education she gave me. And, nobody talks about her that way. She was a marvelous and beloved mother, and I consider she didn't do too bad at all..." Vin crossed his arms over the table and hid his face in them.

"Vin, you don't need to tell us that... We know," the last thing Chris wanted was to hurt Vin's heart or his pride.

Suddenly, Vin stood up again and both Chris and Ezra saw how he clenched his fists at his sides, until his knuckles were completely white.

"Vin, please, calm down," Chris faced Ezra. "This morning Thompson arrived in his coupé. Vin was parking his Harley. He said something about Vin's education was soft like a girl's, because only a woman had raised him... and that his hair was a way to demonstrate that. Then he added that he was sure that he couldn't fight like a man. Vin confronted him and answered him that he would fight with him in a karate or kickboxing contest whenever he wanted. He said that those aren't ways to demonstrate virility. The only way was boxing like real men did"

Chris's explanation had caught Ezra's attention... his gambler side was awakened, at the same time his concern for Vin did too.

"And I can box against him. Chris, are you telling me that I ain't enough man to fight? Is it that?"

Vin pushed his chair backwards and began to pace around the conference room trying to calm down his anger.

Now Ezra was astonished. The Texan always had been in his eyes the most quiet and patient person he had ever met. Ezra thought about it and found a possible answer to his behavior. Maybe it was related to the fact that the man had spent too much time indoors. It had to be four weeks, maybe more since the last time he had gone to the mountains, or Chris's ranch. They had been so busy with cases. Then Chris got shot in one of his legs and he had spent almost three weeks in Vin's apartment.

Of course everybody had noticed the change in the sharpshooter's behavior but Chris and Ezra knew that Vin was at the edge. Garret had arrived at a really bad moment.

"Vin, you know I'm not saying that. I'm just saying that Garret goes to the gym at least twice a week to box, and he's a little more strapping than you. I know you can fight, but I don't want you to do it".

"Godammit, Chris, I'm an adult person... I choose what I want, and..." each muscle in Vin's body was totally tensed again and he was trying to find the right words "what I want right now it is to smash his face in, and destroy his self-esteem and to take out each one of his teeth..." saying that, some of the fury he was feeling inside had decreased. At the end of the sentence Vin faced the two men in the room and nodding with his mouth tight, like two thin lines on his face. "Yeah, definitely, that's what I want to do." He had reached a chair and collapsed into it letting out a sigh of relief as if a heavy load had been removed from his shoulders.

"Okay Mr. Tanner. I must agree with Mr. Larabee. It's quite possible you can't succeed in a fight with such an individual, but..."Ezra turned to face Chris "... if Mr. Tanner won it'd teach all the men like Garret to keep their mouths shut. To that I can add an extra benefic..."

"Just don't say it, Ez... don't even think about it," Chris pointed at him threatening with his index finger.

"...monetary, you mean," Vin finished the sentence Ezra couldn't and stared at the Southerner. After some seconds he added "Ez, if you bet against me, please don't even tell me."

"Why would you thing I'm going to gambler my money, in favour of your opponent?" An indignant look appeared on Ezra's face.

"Well, whatever..."Vin said getting up and walking to the door. "I'm going to find Garret."

"Wait Vin, I'm going with you," Chris reached him in a second.

Ezra remained there, rhythmically tapping the conference table with his manicured fingers, for several minutes. His mind was working carefully on creating a complex spider's web around this subject.

Chris tried to catch up before Vin reached the elevator. "Vin!, Vin!" The younger man stopped in his tracks and turned to face his boss and best friend, "promise me you'll keep cool when you talk to him. Promise it to me, NOW. I don't want him to throw a right and send you to the ground. Then there won't be anything to do to defend your pride."

Vin shot him a glance that showed rage but also pain. "Chris, for God's sake I'm not four years old. I know how to talk to him... I ain't stupid!"

Chris held the bridge of his nose with his thumb and index finger, 'I can't believe I am going to allow him to get beaten'

"I know cowboy that you want to defend yourself and your mother's memory and I support you... I just don't wanna give him another opportunity to mock you," Chris placed a reassuring hand on Vin's shoulder, both of them stood in front of the elevator doors, waiting for it, after Vin had pushed the button.

+ + + + + + +

Garret was in the cafeteria taking the first coffee break of the morning. He was with some partners. Vin approached him with Chris on his heels. The ATF team leader had promised himself he wasn't going to interfere in their conversation, but Garret was making that almost impossible.

"Look at who we have here, it's Miss Tanner in person." In fact Garret would have added that he came with the back up of his inseparable friend and leader of his team. It was widely known that Chris and Vin were best friends, but Garret didn't desire his own death enough to dare insult the Team 7 leader.

"Be careful Garret", Chris said. He knew it would have been better if he had kept his mouth shut but he also knew that if Garret went down path he would punch his face. Vin sent Chris a look telling him not to go further.

"Garret, I came here to tell you, I'd box with you, not play games. So we just need to set the date"

"I can't believe what my ears are hearing... Okay, let's see, what about next Sunday," Garret had a big and malicious grin glued on his face.

Vin thought about it... that left him almost a week to get himself trained enough. "Okay, next Sunday. Eleven o'clock, ATF gym," Vin stated.

Without saying a word, the two members of Team 7 turned on their heels and left the cafeteria, caught the elevator and came back to the office they shared.

Ezra had filled everybody in the issue and when they saw the doors of the elevator opened, they approached the two men.

Nathan shaking his head lightly and with both of his hands resting on his hips was the first one to break the ice.

"I can't believe you are going to do this. I don't approve it. So don't come to me asking for my help."

Ezra discovered with great panic that the menacing index finger gesture was incredibly contagious. As Nathan spoke, he was shaking his finger energetically at Vin.

"I know what I'm doing... Come on guys this isn't the first time I'm going to participate in a fight. I admit the rest were accidental, but I know how they work. I'll be fine." Chris and Nathan couldn't do anything, but rolled their eyes and close their mouths.

JD was totally excited about the idea of a fight to defend one's self pride and honor... like in the movies, so he approached the next youngest member of the team really delighted.

"It is going to be a real boxing match Vin? Which gloves and shorts are you going to wear? Are you going to train in a gym till the fight?"

Vin was surprised by the kid energy "Aw, hell, JD, I don't know... I've just told him that I would fight with him." He didn't want to disappoint the youngest member of the team, so he threw his arms around JD's shoulders and leaning his head in to the kid's ear as if it was a secret added, "But, don't worry, just when I know all the answer to those questions, or if I need some kind of help with that stuff, you'll be the first to know."

Josiah approached him and with a slap on the back announced, "I can help you with the training if you want, Vin. I used to box long time ago."

"Thank you Josiah... It would be great... I can use all the help all of you can give me."

Chris looked suspiciously at Ezra who was too quiet to be a normal situation. In fact, he looked at his face and discovered the gambler was attending to the scene in front of him, but his mind was for sure in another galaxy.

"Junior... what can I say?" Buck took Josiah's position next to Vin and held him as Vin had done with JD some minutes ago.

"I'm proud of you son... I hated that Garret, from the moment he came into this building. He's a bad fellow"

"No Buck, you don't hate him for that... it's just that he competes with you for the female personnel," JD added with a mischievous grin in his lips.

The kid is learning, Chris thought not being able to hide a grin.

"And I live and share a home with you!!!... If you can't come into the house tonight... Don't be surprised son," Buck told JD pointing at him with his index finger.

That finger again, Ezra thought.

+ + + + + + +

The rest of the morning was routine. Everyone worked on the paperwork from their last case. Chris was shut up in his office doing the same and thinking about Vin's fight at the same time. He wasn't the only one, there were two more men with the same topic on their brains: Vin and Ezra. Vin was thinking about what were his chances of making a good impression and Ezra, was thinking of a way to allow him to get a respectable amount of money, and ensure Vin's victory in some way.

The undercover agent had a special link with the quiet sharpshooter... it wasn't a coincidence that Buck had named them the Hardy Boys... they shared such a great tendency to call trouble to them. And when it was about getting a joke prepared... they were the worst of the best doing it. Besides Vin was a very good friend and in some ways Ezra envied him for the image he kept of his mother and the love and care that their relationship appeared to have. Ezra hadn't had those feelings for Maude, and he was sorry for that but he couldn't help what he felt.

Anyway Ezra decided to make Vin a winner any way he could, and he was spending his time on those thoughts, looking to the computer, or to the papers on his desk but without doing anything for his 'official job', but who cared right then?

+ + + + + + +

Vin spent the rest of the week training after work with Josiah and Chris's help. In fact they enjoyed it quite a lot. Vin sweated and got so tired, that after one of the sessions, Chris left him at home so exhausted that he almost had to carry the younger man to his bed. He only hoped it was worth it.

He was becoming worried about the whole thing. He knew Ezra had organized a bet about the boxing match for sure. He really hoped he bet on Vin. In fact the rest of the guys had already bet on him, he himself included. It would be sad for the sharpshooter if he discovered that one of them had bet against him.

He only was also glad that they didn't have an immediate case coming. So he and the boys could put all their attention on Vin and his fight. That's what friends were for. They would be there backing Vin up and giving him all their support and to keep an eye the situation so it wouldn't get too dangerous for the Team 7 sharpshooter.

+ + + + + + +

The day had arrived. Chris would pick Vin up at nine, but he arrived at Purgatorio at a quarter to nine. He parked the Dodge and climbed the stairs two at a time. He arrived at Vin's apartment door and knocked lightly. There wasn't any answer and Chris began to think the worst. He hit the door strongly twice and then turned the doorknob and discovered it was opened. He came into the apartment like a lightning bolt looking for any clue that could tell him where Vin was. Finally he went into the bathroom, discovering a longhaired head almost inside the lavatory very busy puking all the contest of his stomach.

"Are you okay?" Chris said after he let out a sigh of relief, leaning in the doorframe.

"I'll be okay in a minute, cowboy?" Vin managed to say in a pause of his disgusting task. Then another wave hit him.

Chris was wondering what in the hell Vin had had for breakfast, when the younger man lifted his head. Chris walked over, picked up a towel and gave it to clean his face with.

"Now I'm almost okay," Vin said closing the top of the lavatory and sitting on it.

"What happened?" Chris leaned over Vin placing his hands on his thighs as support.

"I'm nervous, okay, what can I say? Am I a coward?" Vin's face looked everything but a 26 years old man that was going to box for his pride.

"No, Vin, you aren't a coward. In fact..." Chris crouched and placed a reassuring hand on Vin's thigh "This is the first indication I've gotten that you are as intelligent as I've always thought you are. For God's sake, Vin, you are going to box against a guy that is almost twice as strong as you and that trains several times per week"

Vin stood up quickly "Are you telling me that I shouldn't do it?... Because if it's that, you must have told it to me before..." Vin angry tone was worrying Chris.

"Vin!!, I not saying that... I really thing you are doing an incredible thing for your mom's memory and for what she means to you, but the fact is, you don't need to demonstrate anything to Garret, to the rest of the ATF agents or to the guys... People that really care about you know how you are and how you feel, and to them you don't need to prove yourself."

"I know Chris, but I couldn't allow Garret to get his way. He is the kind of person who judge's you and does it wrong. I've met so many of these guys before that I needed to stop them some day... It could be Garret, or it could be another guy."

"I know it, and the guys know it too. That's why we're backing you up. I just hope you knock him out"

"Yeah, I hope so too" Vin whispered his answer, leaving the bathroom and heading into his bedroom where a sport bag waited for him.

"Has Josiah helped you with the equipment?" Chris asked glancing at the content of the bag.

"Yep. I have an incredible pair of boxing gloves and a really nice pair of black shorts with the matching boots. Vin picked up the boots from his bedroom floor and showed them to Chris who let out a laugh.

"Yep. You are going to look really good there, cowboy" Chris added slapping Vin in the back. Vin gave him a shy smile.

They finished picking up everything Vin would need and walked to the door. There, Chris stopped Vin.

"Promise me one thing, Vin."

Vin's eyes met Chris's and Vin knew he had to, "Tell me."

"If Garret begins to play dirty, or you think you can't do it, leave it, okay?"

"I promise. But, Josiah and you have the power... you can throw in the towel. That fact, makes me have to ask you something too... Let me do it my way... I've already promised you I'll leave if I can't handle him... Promise me you aren't going to throw in it in any case," Vin saw the doubt in Chris's eyes.

"Dammit, Chris, promise me that, you owe it to me."

"I don't know what I owe you..., but I promise it. Neither Josiah nor me will throw in the towel"

Chris saw the gratitude in Vin's face, "Thank you cowboy."

I just hope I don't have to regret my decision, Chris thought as they left Vin's apartment.

+ + + + + + +

When Chris and Vin arrived, the rest of the seven were there already. It was a relief that Garret and his entourage hadn't appeared yet.

"Hey Vin, how are you feeling?" Buck approached them and giving him a nudge on the side, he added "you look quite pale, you know."

"I'm fine Buck. Stop fussing over me."

"Excuse Mr. Wilmington, Mr. Tanner. He only wants to lighten the situation, and save you getting yourself nervous," Ezra took Buck's place.

"I know, thanks to all of you, you're great guys," Vin was getting emotional.

"Come on Junior, you're going to mangle him" Buck added slapping the younger man in the back. Vin was sent forward by the force Buck had placed in the hit.

"Buck, I would like to have the opportunity first... don't hit me like that or you're going to break me."

JD gave Buck a nudge that said 'I told you so.'

Josiah, Chris and Vin went to the changing room to get Vin ready for the boxing match. Some time after that JD came into it very excited.

"He'd just arrived. He went to his changing room. In ten minutes you begin the fight" JD said twisting his newspaper cap in his hands.

Chris had left Vin with Josiah who was bandaging the sharpshooter hands, and attended to JD.

"Okay, we are almost ready. We'll be on time," Chris said squeezing JD's arm.

JD left and Chris went back to the changing room to find Vin in shorts and Josiah who was finishing the bandaging of Vin's left hand.

"How are you doing, cowboy?"

"I am handling it, more of less. I've just drunk a special concoction Nathan prepared for me. He said it'll help me."

Chris nodded.

Josiah finished the bandages and picked up the gloves. "Come on Vin, put your hand inside," the anthropologist instructed the sharpshooter.

"Vin the fight will begin in ten minutes, it's that okay with you?"

"Yep. Let's go for it, and finish it as soon as possible." Vin said while Josiah tied the laces of the other glove.

Vin was ready. Josiah and Chris picked up several necessary things as the mouth piece, water, towels, and ointment in case Vin got an open wound on his face.

Garret never said a word. He and his comrades were with him, and the only thing the man did was to show a face of superiority and a wicked smile on his face.

Ezra didn't like that guy either, and anyway he was going to get profit from him, not only for himself, but for Vin also.

Vin couldn't believe he was going to do this. He was really nervous and the lime flower tea that Nathan had given him in the changing room didn't have any effect on him.

Besides, the moment he caught sight of Garret he was determined to smash his face and send him directly to the ground.

Richardson, one of the trainers of the gym, had accepted to be the referee. Both men occupied one of the corners. The rest of the seven were sitting in the first row of chairs they had placed around the boxing ring, while Josiah and Chris were in Vin's corner.

"You two approach the center" Richardson called Vin and Garret. Chris was very grateful Richardson had accepted. He was a legal man, and the Team 7 leader trusted him.

"I'm not going to allow dirty play. You will fight until one of you get knocked out. When one of you are lying in the floor I will count till ten and the other one will go to his corner to wait. If at ten he isn't up again the other one will be the winner. Each round will last three minutes, at the end, you go to your corner for a rest and then we'll begin another round. If you play dirty the other one win's. If one of your trainers thinks you can't go on they have the right to throw in the towel. Have I made myself clear?"

A quick nod from the two men that were staring at each other was the answer to Richardson's question.

+ + + + + + +

Garret began strongly, and Vin had to protect himself as Josiah had taught him. Chris almost felt each one of the punches Vin was getting. Josiah was becoming angry because of the strength Garret inflicted in his blows. Vin could hit him and in fact he gave two powerful rights to the man¸ one in the stomach and one in the jaw. Even so, at the end of the first round Vin's nose and right eyebrow bleed freely.

"Okay Vin, you're doing okay, but try so he doesn't reach your brow again, you hear me... it'll begin to bleed again," Josiah said as he placed some Vaseline on the open wound.

Chris approached his best friend with a towel, that he used to clean Vin's nose and placed his hand next to Vin's mouth so he could spit the mouth pieced.

"How are you doing, cowboy?" Chris said giving him a bottle of water.

" I don't know, you tell me... I'm quite busy trying to avoid his punches... he hit like a bull."

"That's not a problem Vin, you're more flexible than he is and faster, those things could play in your favour," Josiah added. Chris was amazed by the great amount of knowledge that Josiah had. He looked so peaceable that nobody would think he had boxing in his past.

Buck, Ezra, Nathan and JD were sitting wondering what in the hell was happening in Vin's corner. Nathan had almost jumped in his chair and run to Vin the moment he saw the blood running freely from the sharpshooter's brow and covering the right side of his face. JD and Ezra calmed him down and Nathan kicked himself mentally for breaking the promise made to himself: If Vin wanted to get beaten, it was his problem. He wouldn't move even a finger.

In the second round Vin began to move around the ring more than in the first one that allowed him to dodge quite a few blows. However, Garret got him in one of the free corners and had hit him continuously in his ribs and stomach. Vin thought he was going to be out of breath, but while Garret prepared his fist to give him a hook in the jaw, Vin managed to hit him directly in his side, near one of Garret's kidneys and the man moved backwards trying to block Vin's blows to his gut and face.

At the end of this round Vin had one eye almost shut, his lower lip split and some bruised ribs.

"You're doing great, boy," Josiah said patting Vin's shoulder.

"I know you're having a great time, aren't you..." Vin was trying to catch his breath. "I hope this counts as payment for all the jokes I played on you."

Chris chuckled at that idea... It was impossible for Vin to pay all his jokes with just one boxing match, but it was a nice try.

The third round was the hardest for Vin. It was as if Garret came back with renewed strength, looking for Vin's annihilation. Besides, Garret whispered things in Vin's ear when they came together that got Vin's rage to increased to unsuspecting levels and made him fall into Garret's blows easily. Garret had been giving Vin a series of blows, one to the jaw, one to the stomach, jaw, stomach, until he gave him one directed to the center of Vin's face. When Chris saw Vin falling to the ground, he was sure Garret had broken the sharpshooter's nose. It was a blessing for all the Team Seven members to hear Richardson call the end of the third round just then.

Chris came into the ring and picked up Vin who was trying to raise himself with the help of a pair of uncooperative arms.

"Thank you for coming to my rescue, cowboy," Vin's hair was stuck to his neck and to both sides of his face from the sweat, but some was hanging over the younger man face, not allowing Chris to see his eyes. He could only see the blood running freely from Vin's nose to his mouth and chin.

Chris pushed his hair back with one of his hands. He found one eye almost shut and surrounded by red and purple skin and another one that looked at him gratefully. He placed one of Vin's arms around his neck and wrapped one of his around Vin's waist and carried him to his corner where Josiah was getting really worried.

"That beast broke your nose for sure, Vin. Nathan is going to give you a hard time about it, you know," Josiah said at the same time he placed Vin on the stool with Chris's help, and held a towel to Vin's nose. The younger man leaned his head backwards to stop the bleeding.

"Now I'm telling you.... Keep him away from your nose, you listening to me."

"It's easier said than done, Josiah, but I'll try it," Vin felt his nose double bigger than usual and a stab of pain sent a message to his brain reminding him of all the parts of his body that hurt.

Nathan left his seat, although his own mind was telling him not to do so and went over to the three men inside the boxing ring.

"He broke his nose, didn't he? Oh, for God's sake Vin, stop it now, before you get more seriously hurt!" Nathan couldn't understand the sharpshooter's reasons.

Vin faced the Team Seven medical expert. He looked damned awful with both of his nose holes blocked by cotton and one eye almost completely swollen shut.

"I don't want you to understand or to share my reasons or my motives, Nathan. I wouldn't even ask you for that. I know this isn't the way my mother would like me to honor her, I'm not proud of it, but I have always wanted to shut some of those mouths that speak without knowing what they're talking about. I know that I'll feel better after this and for sure my mom would be happy if I'm happy," Vin turned his head to face Garret's corner. His opponent's lip and nose were bleeding and he had a cut in his cheekbone, not too bad for a beginner, Vin thought.

Then he turned to face Nathan again. "And Nathan, don't worry, I ain't going to do this frequently. One beating is enough!"

Nathan smiled at that sentence. In fact he understood Vin, but it was so hard to see one of his team the hell beat out of him.

Nathan came back to his seat and explained to the rest what had happened.

Chris came into Vin's view and told him, "I know I'm not going to play fair with this, but Vin, listen to me, I want you to finish this asap so when you go back to the center and see Garret's face, think about all the things he said about your mother and yourself and replay them in your mind until Garret is lying in the ring on the ground. Do you understand me?" Chris held Vin's face with one of his hands and placed the mouth piece in Vin's mouth.

Vin nodded with his face still in Chris's hand, his eyes meeting his best friend's.

The fourth round was shorter than anybody have imagined. Garret's people thought the Team 7 member was almost defeated, but when the fight began again, they changed their opinion. Vin hit Garret with a group of punches, then he received some more from his rival, in the ribs and in the face, but fortunately none of them directly in the nose, thanks to Vin's flexibility.

Vin punched Garret as hard as he could in the face first with his right fist, then with the left. Garret's body jerked to one side then the other as the blows hit him. He was almost unconscious. Vin finished him off with a uppercut to the chin, that sent Garret to the floor some meters from where Vin was.

Richardson began to count and when he reached ten, Vin could just hear his heart beating and as background, his friends' shouts that told him, he had won the fight. The next thing he remembered was Chris on his side holding him and telling him he had done great then he was falling to the floor as the remaining strength abandoned him.

+ + + + + + +

When he opened his eyes, in fact, his one, he discovered he was in his bedroom, in his apartment. He touched his face lightly and noticed a bandage was covering his nose and another one his right eyebrow. He tried to sit up in the bed, but the pain in his ribs made him forget it and he cursed out loud. He ran his hand over them and discovered that they were bandaged too. He was wearing just underwear. He remembered of a hell of headache, but it wasn't a real pain right then.

Chris came into the room after hearing Vin's curse. "Hey, welcome back, featherweight champion," he said sitting on the edge of the bed.

"Don't make me laugh... my ribs hurt like hell."

"And what about your face, pretty boy," Chris was so glad that it all had finally ended.

"You're having a really good time at my expense. I'll get revenge for this. Come on help me get out of bed"

"Are you sure? As your boss I can allow you to take a free day?"

"Yeah, I'm sure. I hate doing nothing... It's not sane for the brain, cowboy," Chris helped Vin on his feet and placing an arm around his friend waist, guided him to the bathroom. "I hope you can do everything yourself once you get inside."

"Yep, don't worry."

Chris closed the door and went to the kitchen where he had a cup of coffee and found a bottle of aspirins for the boxer.

Vin came out of the bathroom and walked to the kitchen, helping himself with a hand on the wall. Chris handed him the coffee and two pills which the sharpshooter took without saying a word.

Getting Vin dressed was a worse task. His face couldn't even be touched without the younger man crying out or hissing in pain. Chris helped him with his jeans and the boots and he chose a shirt instead of a T-shirt because it wasn't necessary to pass Vin's head for the collar. Vin insisted he could button it up by himself but at the last moment he looked down at the buttons and got dizzy. That, all the blood in his head was making pressure in his nose, so he let Chris do everything.

+ + + + + + +

The drive to the ATF building was quiet. Vin fell asleep twice. When they were arrived Chris couldn't help but ask him, "Are you feeling as good as you thought you'd be?"

"Yep. I look like shit and I reckon I feel like shit, physically, I mean, but my mind is clear and my heart and soul are in peace, man."

"I glad, Vin. What about a fishing trip next weekend?"

"I thought you are never going to ask."

They arrived at the office and everybody was congratulating him. The guys were waiting for him with a banner that read 'Vin Tanner, ATF boxing champion'. He thanked them. They had to prepare for a new case so everybody went back to their computer station to work.

Ezra approached Vin and gave him a check. This is your part, Mr. Tanner. Betting for you turned out to be a wonderful deal!"

"Thanks Ez, but I can't believe everybody bet on me."

"Not everybody, just the female staff and agents, plus some intelligent male agents too. The women prefer you over Garret."

"I can't believe you. They weren't at the fight."

"That was because I knew if they came to watch, you wouldn't have been able to win the fight. I hired a camera that recorded it and they can see it today, on their lunchtime. Am I right, Mr. Tanner?"

Vin had blushed, just with the thought of all the ATF females encouraging him. It would have been a nasty experience for him. "I suppose I have to thank you, Ez."

"You suppose accurately."

Vin faced the Southerner and pointing at him with his index finger added, "But don't organize a bet at my expense again or you'll get beaten Ez."

Ezra saw a wicked look in Vin's eye and swallowed hard. How could that stupid finger gesture impress him so much... He had to do something.

"You know Ez, who plays with fire, get himself burned lately," Vin winked at him and Ezra went back to his desk without saying a word.

'Ezra speechless... I should have practiced boxing before', Vin thought leaning in his chair carefully and crossing his arms at the back of his head. He really felt good.


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