Black Widow

by Deirdre

Part 14

Mary Travis put the Sunday paper on table and poured a large glass of juice for Chris. She eyed the clock and made her way upstairs to make sure he was on his feet. Billy was at his cousin's house overnight and she had to leave soon for the press conference. This was one story she was dreading. Her head reviewed the facts and the police report and told her one thing; her heart reviewed all the years she'd known the quiet Texan and told her another. She entered the bedroom and eyed the bronzed Adonis who was still asleep. She ran her hand up his spine and saw his lips turn up.

Leaving the juice, she headed back down stairs. She flipped the morning news on and stared horrified at the sceen. The reporter's voice recalled the taped incident.

"Mr. Tanner's appearance a few minutes ago in a disheveled state and obviously unstable just reaffirms the initial reports we had yesterday..."

Mary didn't hear anymore, she was glued to the image of Vin's terrified eyes as he dropped to the ground.

"Oh My God..." She covered her mouth, "CHRIS! CHRIS turn on the television. CHRIS!"

Chris sat up and stretched, and rubbed the sleep out of his eyes. The sun peeked in the room, cruelly assaulting his eyes. The few hours sleep helped a little, so did having Mary next to him. He yawned and stood, eyeing the empty shower. He was just on his feet, when Mary screamed. He flipped the power button on and channel surfed.

"What's the matter with her?" He wondered, until another station broke in.

"This footage was taken a few minutes ago, when the ATF agent, Vin Tanner, who had been accused of shooting down an unarmed woman yesterday, made a startling appearance..."

"Dammit Vin..." He pained, spotting the startled look on his friend's face and the watching him drop to the ground. The worst image was the close-up of Vin's face and the eyes filled with fear and pain. Chris knew how uncomfortable Vin as in close places or crowds. Add a head injury and the emotional trauma of the shooting and it spelled trouble. He could feel the sharpshooter's chest constricting and his throat cutting off the air. He berated himself for leaving him alone. What was he doing in the damn lobby? Where was he going?

He heard the reporters barrage him with questions and winced at Vin's blank face. Then Buck's roar preceded his furious entrance. He was never so glad to see his oldest friend. Buck dressed down the wolves but good. Chris snapped of the television and headed for a fast shower. As the hot water beat on his weary body, he groaned inwardly, it was going to be a long day.

The elevator stopped and Buck wheeled Vin into the hall. He saw the back of Chris's head as the angry leader spoke with a nurse, demanding to know how Vin got by her. Buck saw Vin stiffen and bent over his shoulder.

"How the hell did he get here so fast?" Vin hissed, not wanting to hear a lecture.

"You let me do all the talking. You woke up and decided to get a drink. You punched the wrong buttons and ended up in the garage. You were all mixed up. I found you and brought you back. Don't you mention seeing Carlino, they don't need fuel added to the fire." Buck warned.

"He was there. I didn't imagine it. I'll find him. Bad enough I'm goin' to the gallows, don't need you swingin' with me."

"You let me worry about that. You're gonna get back in that bed and wait for Rain to discharge you. Then you have to face the firing squad at headquarters. Don't give them any ammunition, Vin. Play it cool. I'll check on Carlino, and on that girl. I'll be your eyes and legs, okay?"

Vin's face screwed up and Buck saw the anger and frustration settling in. Vin didn't like to take a hand, and hated this helplessness. He felt Vin pull out of his grasp and saw the face color with anger.

"Cut that out, and quit actin' like a child." Buck scorned, "We're a team, right? You'd do the same for me, wouldn't you?"

"You got the balls to even ask that?" Vin shot back, then realized what Buck was driving at. He gave in nodding slowly, but he didn't like it. Chris's bellow ended the thought.

"Goddammit Vin, where the hell were you going? What the..." Chris's fury was cut off by two things. First was Vin's face, the younger man appearing almost traumatized; he was white-knuckling the chair. Second was the lethal glare Buck shot at him and the tall agent shaking his head, indicating to back down. Chris felt all the tension and anger seep out of him. Crouching by the chair, he looked into the lost blue eyes. Vin didn't say a word, and stared mutely ahead, eyes locked in pain.

Chris patted the defeated shoulder and Buck maneuvered the chair into the room. Vin stood shakily and Chris helped him back into bed. He turned away from them and put a hand over his throbbing eyes.

"I'm gonna see if I can scare up some aspirin," Buck noted, motioning for Chris to join him outside, "I'll be right back, Vin."

"What the hell happened?" Chris asked when they were at the nurse’s station and well out of range.

"He woke up thirsty and tried to find a soda machine and got lost. He ended up in the garage. I found him near the elevator and stopped on the first floor to get him a chair, his damn legs were like noodles." Buck paused to update the nurse, who left to get a painkiller, "I left him alone for a few minutes to get the chair and them damn reporters attacked him like sharks in a feeding frenzy."

"Shit..." Chris swore, berating himself again.

"It was ugly Chris," Buck sighed, "All I saw was his foot sticking out...he was laying on the floor and they were all over him, saying all kinds of shit. I never saw him so helpless...them damn eyes of his just about done me in." Buck shook his head, "You going with him today, aren't you?"

"Yeah," Chris nodded of the Internal Affairs inquired, "Me, Orin, and Abby Thomas"

"What time's the lynching?"

"High Noon," Chris's voice laced with sarcasm, "How appropriate. They're gonna take his badge, Buck, I can feel it."

"That's just temporary. Vin knows that's par for the course. There's a lot of things that don't add up. What was Cambria doing at that restaurant? Vin said he was following her from Ezra's. What if she is the one who clubbed him? He told me he saw her last night, foolin' with Ezra's phone." Buck theorized, taking the white cup from the nurse and turning back, "There was a gun, Chris, I can feel it, and I intend to find it."

"Yeah, I got those vibes too. Something's not quite right with this picture. You start with Cambria and find out all you can. I'm gonna head to the office, Orin wants to meet with me before the press conference. Don't leave him, Buck, even if them I.A pricks show up."

"Like you had to ask?" Buck scowled as they entered the room.

Vin stared the wall with dull eyes. Chris took the pills from Buck and walked over to the bed. He handed them to Vin, along with a glass of water. Vin swallowed and nodded, sliding back onto the pillows. Chris caught the troubled blue eyes and sent his own message of support.

"I'll see you over there, I'm late for a meeting with Orin. Don't lose faith, Cowboy, this ain't over by a long shot."

Vin nodded and slid his aching eyes shut. Buck waited by the door, arms folded across his chest. He pushed himself off with his boot, when Chris went to leave. Chris paused as they were shoulder to shoulder and eyed his oldest friend in appreciation. How was it that Buck was always there? Buck didn't say a word, but Chris could almost hear him roaring at the reporters. He was damned lucky to have Buck, they all were.

"Thanks, Buck."

Two simple words, but the green eyes said a whole lot more, and the mustached man heard those words too. Buck gave a half grin and clapped a hand on Chris's shoulder as he made his way to the chair.

+ + + + + + +

Gia eyed the spectacular display of flowers. Pink roses stood in a vase by her beside. A large colorful spray of a variety of blossoms in mint, peach, and white were on display on the chest across the room. A fruit basket was on the floor next to Ezra's feet. He hadn't said much, but his eyes were riddled with guilt. She smiled, this was going to be easier than she thought.

"Darling, please don't mope," she stroked his handsome face, "It doesn't become you. You heard what the doctor said, this might be temporary." She cooed, then dropped her voice, "I don't understand why your friend shot me, but..."

"Do not mistake that reptile as a comrade of mine." Ezra spat, jumping up and pacing the room, "There are no but's about it. He will atone for his mistake and quite dearly."

She was glad his back was turned and he didn't see the huge smile she wore. She eyed the clock, nearing nine a.m. Roberto was due, in disguise as a priest. It was one of his best, his grayed his hair and wore a mustache and beard. She needed to poke Standish along.

Ezra looked out on the parking lot and saw J.D. striding towards the door. The boy had been the only one to stick by him last night. He heard J.D. on the phone with Chris, who reported both Nathan and Josiah attempted to call Vin in his room. Did they bother to call him? That damn blue-eyed bastard might have the rest of them fooled, but not him. He turned and saw her fighting to stay awake.

"I'm sorry, My Dear," He crossed the room and bent over her, stroking her hair, "I forgot how strong that medication is. I have to get downtown in a short while anyway." He kissed her, lingering and then departed.

He entered the elevator and his finger hesitated over the lobby button. His anger at Vin Tanner was building like a brushfire. He moved his finger upward and made a different choice. He exited the elevator and saw Buck arguing with Matt Krieger at the end of the hall. John Glass and Carl Gordon stood a few feet away. Gordon was practically beaming. It was no secret that the former ATF agent disliked Vin. Ezra stopped a nurse and got Vin's room number. Buck didn't see the Southerner slip inside.

Vin was sound asleep, and Ezra stood over the bed, fists clenched in rage. How dare he be afforded the luxury of rest? Sleeping as peaceful as a baby, when upstairs the love of his life was suffering. Cambria hid it well, putting on a good game face. But Ezra didn't cloak his fury. He gripped the bedrails and shook them furiously.

"Wake up you cold-hearted miscreant!" he hissed close to Vin's face.

Vin felt the bed move and blinked. His eyes widened in surprise at Ezra's face, a mask of rage, inches from his own.

"Ezra, now hold on a minute...” His attempt at discussion was cut off.

Ezra grabbed him and hauled him upright, "How dare you have the audacity to rest while she suffers! Have you no conscience? Are you aware of the full ramifications of your careless behavior."

"Get your hands offa me," Vin said in a low growl.

"She's the most wonderful thing in my life and you shot her like a rabid animal" Ezra seethed, pulling Vin up and throwing him against the wall.

"Ezra, I ain't warnin' ya no more." Vin leveled, "Back off. She ain't who ya think she is. She had a gun and was gonna blow yer head off."

"Ah, yes, the mysterious gun." Ezra placated, "It disappeared along with your creditability. Where is the gun, Mr. Tanner? Perhaps Cambria is a witch and made it disappear?"

"I don't rightly know how she done that," Vin admitted, "but it was there. I followed her, Ezra; she was coming to take ya out. Didn't ya wonder why she showed up, the same time as yer meet?"

"She saw my car outside the restaurant and pulled over. She was going to surprise me. She had no idea I was back in town."

"No, she's lying...I know... I saw...I saw..." Vin blinked, recalling only fuzzy images of the day before.

"I, for one, would like to know what the hell you saw." Ezra spat, slamming the daydreamer hard in the gut. "Perhaps the blow to that thick skull of yours caused you to suffer delusions. Just what were you doing in my apartment yesterday?"

Vin was still gasping from Ezra's unexpected shot to his midsection. Ezra's apartment? He thought hard and came up blank. He remembered driving in the rain...Buck making breakfast and then following Cambria to the restaurant. He felt Ezra's hands on the collar of his shirt. He wouldn't be caught off guard twice. He shoved Ezra hard on the chest, bringing his arms up and dispelling Ezra's grip. The grappled like two drunken dancers, until Ezra felt Vin weakening and threw him backward. Vin fell against the bedstand, sending it crashing to the floor.

"Your fair-haired friend can't even save you this time," Ezra said of Chris, grabbing the dazed man's collar with one hand and readying the other for a strike. "He's protected you far too long."

"What's that supposed to mean?" Vin gasped.

"You don't know, do you?" Ezra laughed, "My God, you really don't know."

"I reckon ya best tell me then," Vin growled, pulling Ezra's feet from under him. He clenched the Conman's shirt, his blues wide with anger. "Start talking..."

"You're only a member of the team because he amended your records. You don't have half the qualifications you should. You're like his damn lap dog..."

"Shut up..."Vin screamed, throttling the gambler, "Shut the fuck up, Ezra. Yer lyin'!"

Buck and Matt Krieger's heated discussion about Vin's inability to be questioned came to a halt with the crash. By the time they got to the room, Buck heard Ezra's proclamation. He put a beefy hand on Krieger's chest and shook his head.

"This ain't your territory, Krieger, back off. Vin's doctor will release him and until then, you can't see him. Go away..." Buck hissed, entering the room.

He crossed over the short space and hauled the irate Texan up with one hand. Vin's flailing arms socked him square in the face. He grabbed the thrashing body and pushed him to the far side of the room.

"Enough!" He screamed, "You ain't got enough trouble as it is? You get that temper under control. We got meet with Chris and Orin and an hour and go over everything. You need a clear head." He waited until Vin's breathing got back to normal and the tension left the lean frame. Vin nodded once and Buck released him. He then turned back to Ezra, who was wearing a smug grin.

"I ain't got words to cover how despicable you are." Buck said lethally. "You got no business being in here. You best leave before I finish what Vin started. Chris wants you in the conference room at 10:30." Buck issued in a terse tone.

Buck gripped the bedboard in an effort to control his rage. Part of what Ezra said was true, but he twisted the words, to make Vin hurt. Ezra knew his business, just how to inflict pain. The Southerner left without saying a word.

Vin was so angry he was shaking with rage. He crossed the room and spun Buck around. His blue eyes were shooting fire.

"Start talking, Buck. Tell me he was lyin'."

"Listen Vin, it ain't like that. Ezra just twisted the knife cause he's hurt right now and you're an easy target."

"Stop dancin', Buck." Vin gritted, "Did Chris fix it so I'd get this job?"

"There are certain qualifications you need at this level. One of the is a college degree."

"Shit...I ain't even been to High School." Vin growled.

"That don't matter, Vin. You got your GED, it's the same thing." Buck replied, "There isn't anyone in this whole department who doesn't respect you for the fine agent that you are. You passed with honors at the Academy and broke every record at the shooting range. You made a name for yourself, the guys at the Bureau, the Justice Dept and the Treasury, they all respect you. Who you are says a whole lot more than what you were. Chris only made them see it that way, to grade you on your talent, ability and knowledge. Vin, you're one the best the ATF's got."

"But he broke the rules..." Vin hissed, interrupted when Rain came in to examine her patient.

Ezra strode to the elevator and slid against the wall as the door closed. Somehow his victory left him empty. He didn't know what possessed him to tell Vin. As quickly as the pang of guilt arrived, it dispelled with the sight of Cambria's crippled body in the bed. Vin would get what he deserved. The doors opened and he saw the Internal Affairs team heading outside. Carl Gordon was grinning like a cat that swallowed a canary. As much as he wanted Vin to be punished, he despised the former agent who enjoyed his new job a little too much.

"Christmas come early, Gordon?" He tossed in disdain as he exited the building.

"You bet your ass it did, Standish," Gordon sassed back, "That slimy little bastard is finally gonna get what's coming."

Ezra felt a loathing inside, chilled by Gordon's words. He slid behind the wheel and headed for the Federal Building. Facing Chris Larabee, Gordon and the rest of the I.A. primates was giving him a headache.

Part 15

Chris took in the city's skyline with a sense of foreboding. The pressure of the Internal Affairs interrogation was harsh enough. Vin was in no shape to undergo the grueling affair. He knew they'd take his badge. Vin knew too, it was routine after a questionable shoot. What worried Chris was if the move was made permanent. If Vin was expelled from the team. He didn't know if Vin could survive that. He'd exposed himself, allowed himself to be vulnerable and placed his trust in his teammates. He knew how hard that was for the younger man. If he got trumped out of his job, would he ever learn to trust again? Would he instead, revert to being the loner he was before they met? Vin was a part of him now, and the thought of the drawling Texan being gone was just too painful


The blond turned at the sound of Buck Wilmington's voice. He motioned for Buck to enter and saw the irritation on Buck's features. He narrowed his eyes and threw his head up. Buck caught the silent question.

"You ain't gonna like it." Buck sighed, "Krieger and a couple of them jerks showed up at Vin's room. They didn't get anywhere, but..."


"Carl Gordon is on the I.A. team. He's gonna be doing the questioning."

"Fuck!" Chris threw the coffee mug he'd been holding against the wall. "How did that happen? Krieger swore he'd assign a fair team. Christ, Gordon probably dancing on air. He hates Vin."

"It gets worse..." Buck frowned.

"How could it?" Chris's eyes widened, wheeling to face his friend.

"While I was tangling with the I.A. guys in the hall, Ezra slipped into Vin's room. They got into it but good. I had to pull them apart after they tore the room up some."

"And..." Chris stepped next to Buck, who looked like his best friend died. "How bad can it be? Did Vin get hurt?" Chris's eyes were anxious.

"Not physically...but," Buck squirmed, "Ezra told Vin you fixed his paperwork to get him his job."

Chris reacted as if struck by an invisible blow. He rocked back on his heels and ran a hand across his face. He put the desire to pummel Ezra on the back burner.

"Christ, what else can happen?" He eyed Buck, "Don't answer that. How is he?"

"He ain't real happy," Buck confirmed, "I answered him the best I could. You know damn right well Gordon's gonna throw his lack of schooling in his face. At least Vin knows what the score is."

"Where is he?"

"In your office. Do you want me to get him?"

"No, I'll talk to him."

Vin was pacing like a caged tiger. He wheeled when Chris entered and wasted not one motion. He flew across the room and backed the man in black into a corner. He caught Chris with a vicious upper cut, sending the blond to his knees. He saw the fist's clenched in rage and heard the heavy breathing. He rubbed his sore jaw and stood.

"You figure that's gonna help you any?" Chris eyed the angry eyes.

"Who the hell do ya think ya are playing God!"

"Vin, that's a bit dramatic, don't you think?"

"Think? Reckon I'm too dumb for somethin' like that. Me bein' a dropout bastard and all..."

"Pity doesn't become you, Vin. Knock it off." Chris glared, shoving Vin hard and walking away.

For several minutes, neither moved nor said a word. Vin slumped in a chair, smacking the top of the desk. Chris waited a minute longer, then sat on the edge, facing his friend's livid profile. He saw a lot in the expressive blue eyes. Hurt, fear, anger, and maybe a little shame.

"Why didn't ya ever tell me?" Vin looked right through him, the only person who could.

"I'm sorry, Vin. I thought you understood." Chris said truthfully, "Do you remember when I asked you about being on my team. I explained I had already talked to the Orin Travis. I laid it out for him. He agreed to a trial, if you passed the Academy, the shooting range, the psychological testing and the fieldwork. You not only passed, Vin, you shattered just about every record and expectation. Those awards, merits and citations he hands don't come easy. You got quite a collection. It takes most agents years to attain the knowledge and savvy you have. So you see, if didn't matter. I really thought you understood that, I'd never lie to you, Vin, you know that."

The straightforward style and testimony sunk in deep. Vin felt the anger disappear and heard what Chris didn't say. That this man had so much faith in him. Nobody, other that Jack, his last foster father, ever trusted him like that. He went to the head of the ATF and risked his own job and all the years he'd put in, to give Vin a chance. That went far beyond faith.

"Sorry about punchin' ya." Vin finally mumbled, unbending a paper clip.

"You call that a punch?" Chris replied.

"Weren't too bad for a dropout." Vin crowed, cocking his head to one side, with a teasing grin.

"I don't see any dropouts." Chris answered, "Did you remember any more, Vin?"

"No, just bits and pieces, it's all real fuzzy." Vin scrunched his face up, "Only things I can tell y'all fer certain, is that I followed her and that she had a chrome plated beretta aimed at Ezra's head."

"You can't remember why you were at Erza's that morning?"

"No. I remember drivin' in the rain and Buck cooking. Then seeing her run by me and jumpin' in my car."

"Run by you?" Chris leaned over from where he was perched on the corner of the desk, "You didn't say that before. Run by you where?"

"I dunno," Vin shrugged, "I can't remember."

"Okay Vin, let's go over it again from the time you left here Friday night."

It was just past eleven and Chris was waiting for Ezra to give his statement. He wanted a full account from each of the agents on the scene. He taken them in order, starting with Vin. Vin couldn't remember much before the shooting, thanks to the concussion. But he was dead certain on two things, that he followed Cambria to the restaurant and she had a gun. He looked tired and drawn, he'd look a lot worse after the grueling session ahead.

Buck was next and really didn't see much. He ducked for cover after the shot. He then went to Cambria's side. J.D.'s statements worried the leader for two reasons. First, that he was so sure of himself. He never waived, despite the pressure Chris put on him. He simply stated Vin entered, drew and fired, without warning or provocation. The second thing that worried him was how J.D. could be so sure. Then the 'what if' drifted into this brain. What if J.D. was right? That Vin was exhausted and only a few minutes from awaking from a head injury. What if he did imagine a gun?

Ezra stood for a few minutes in the doorway, watching the doubt lingering on Chris Larabee's face. Chris turned and motioned for Ezra to enter. The Gambler shut the door and remained where he stood.

"What, no rubber hoses?" He sneered, already feeling the pressure cooker inside Larabee waiting to burst.

"Don't tempt me," Chris snarled, green eye like glass, "Did you tell Cambria you were meeting with Carlino at that restaurant?"

"Certainly not," Ezra replied indignantly.

"You don't think it's a little coincidental that she showed up exactly the same time?"

"Not at all. That is one of her favorite cafe's and she dines there frequently. She was riding by and saw me enter. She was going to surprise me."

"Does she have a key to your place?"

"That's none of your business." Ezra growled, "Do I inquire on Mary Travis's comings and goings at the ranch?"

"It's not the same thing and you know it," Chris glared, "I've got reason to believe she's the one who clubbed Vin at your house. He remembers following her and J.D. and Buck passed him coming from your development."

"That's preposterous." Ezra shot back, "Why was Vin in my house? Did he tell you that?"

"No, he can't remember."

"Oh, now that is a pity," Ezra mocked, "How convenient that his memory lapses are so selective."

"What time did you get to the restaurant?"

"Shortly after noon, there wasn't anyone there. I was only there a few minutes, when I heard the shot."

"So you didn't see Cambria until after she went down?"

"I fell into a tray of glassware and Mr. Dunne retrieved me. It was then I saw her lying on the floor. How lucky for me to be the teammate of an eagle-eye sharpshooter." He seethed.

"There are several waiting rooms upstairs next to the Interrogation Center. You can wait there or at your desk." Chris addressed, with his back to the agent.

Ezra left the room and paused his jade eyes turning hard at Vin, who was standing by the door. Buck stood from his desk and started forward, in case more trouble began.

"You can remove yourself from that doorway or I can use your deplorable person to create a new opening in the glass." Ezra warned.

Vin remained in place, glaring openly, before slowly easing himself away. J.D. glared at Vin too, following Ezra out the door.

"With friends like that," Vin noted, "Who needs enemies."

At eleven forty-five Chris left his desk and entered the hall. Buck was pacing restlessly tossing a rubber ball against the far wall, near Josiah's cubicle. The tense blond turned the other way and saw only the back of Vin's head. He was so still it was almost as if he wasn't there. Chris silently made his way to the disquieting man's side. He rested his hand on Vin's shoulder and gave the soft white cotton a good tug. He watched the shaggy head nod and made his way to the door. He met Buck's eye, "J.D. and Ezra are up first, I'll call."

Orin Travis and Abby Thomas, the assistant District Attorney, were seated outside the interrogation room. Ezra and J.D. sat farther down. 'Crabby Abby' as she was known among some of the rank and file, had her usual cold face on. Chris thought it ironic that her no-nonsense style and quick string of impressive victories had helped her rise to the top in short order. If she were a man, he'd be lauded as aggressive and decisive. But being the other gender she was often incorrectly labeled as a bitch. Chris had referred to her as such on more than one occasion. He looked up as the door opened.

"We're ready to proceed," Matt Krieger said, motioning for Orin, Abby and Chris. "Mr. Standish, you're first."

They took their seats around a large rectangular table. Each end had a large pitcher of ice water and several cups. Matt waited several seconds, then began.

"For the record, beside myself those present include Orin Travis, the Bureau Director, Christopher J. Larabee, Supervisor of ATF Team Seven, and Abigail Thomas, from the District Attorney's office. Mr. Gordon, please proceed."

Chris's face remained neutral but his insides churned at the relish that the former ATF agent took in his job. He never liked Vin and scrutinized every shooting Vin was involved in. Vin's record was sterling and that only infuriated Gordon more. He shifted in his seat as Ezra began to answer the formatted questions. He was surprised that Ezra's responses were so clipped. Despite himself, the Southerner was defending Vin in a small way, by keeping to 'yes' and 'no' responses. Ezra departed and J.D. entered.

Chris poured a drink of water and watched J.D. carefully. The normally high-spirited and exuberant youth was unnaturally sullen. He sat straight in the chair, his face an impartial mask. With every confidant, clipped response, cast in a strong voice with a clear eye, Chris's heart sank. Every answer Dunne gave caused the blond leader to head the nails being pounded in Vin's coffin.

"So, in summary, Mr. Dunne, you contend that on the date and time in question, you had a clear, unobstructed view in close proximity of Vin Tanner. It was at this time you saw him raise and fire the weapon, striking Miss Santanna, without issuing identification, warning or any other command."


"In your opinion, was Mr. Tanner intoxicated?"

"You arrogant no good..." Chris growled, rising to his feet, infuriated at the smug interrogator.

"Chris!" Orin warned, pulling him down, "You know the rules."

"No," J.D. responded, flicking a quick glance at Chris and seeing the white-hot fury on the leader's face.

"Was Mr. Tanner under any undue pressure at work that would cause him to act so irrationally?"

"He's been working non-stop for a month, putting in lots of extra hours. He's was so tired on Friday night he fell asleep at the wheel."

"Dammit J.D." Chris hissed inwardly, spotting the fuel being added to the already well-stoked embers. He saw Gordon's head shoot up and the look of surprise.

"Was he in an accident?"

"No, Buck found him and...Agent Wilmington found him and brought him home. It was the next day he got hurt at Ezra's. Just before we saw him driving past us, he was weaving all over."

"Interesting..." Gordon cooed, eyeing the dark-haired youth, "Is there anything else that might cause Tanner to act in such an irrational fashion."

"He hasn't been himself since we started working on this case. He's too close to it."

"A drug case?"

"Yeah...Yes..." J.D. corrected.

"Tanner's taking it a vendetta? Because of those low-lifes he shelters?"

J.D. looked at the inquisitor sharply. He worked at the Center too and knew those kids. They were good kids and J.D. resented the reference. "Excuse me?"

"Would you say perhaps Agent Tanner's relationship with the troubled youths he works with, took away his impartiality?"

"Yes, he knows some of the kids who OD'd real well."

"So you contend that Mr. Tanner, due to this exhaustive state and a possible head injury, was not in acting in a clear and alert manner on the day in question, that his reflexes and judgement were impaired."


"Thank You, Mr. Dunne, you are excused." Krieger noted the two o'clock hour. "We'll have a ten minute break. Agent Wilmington and Tanner are up next." He nodded to Chris.

Chris didn't move for several seconds stunned by J.D.'s barracuda actions. His offering of unsolicited advice was just the thing he'd been warned about. Stick to the book, yes and no, don't give them any extra. What was he thinking? This was his first experience with I.A, but he'd known about their reputation. Unless Vin could part the Red Sea with a staff and find the missing gun, his career was done.


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