Out of the Shadows

by Deirdre

ATF Universe

"What the hell is taking them so long!" Chris ranted, slamming his palm against the wall. "It's been two hours."

Nathan sighed and rubbed his head. Handling Chris had been left up to him. Buck and J.D. went back to the office to start the paperwork. Josiah and Ezra were with Forensics. He eyed the clock and paged Rain again.

"No news is good news, Chris." Nathan tried, knowing it would do no good, "He's still alive."

"No thanks to me..." Chris kicked another chair and continued his panther-like prowling.

"How do you figure that?" Nathan scolded, "He was chasing Murray. It was an accident."

Chris didn't want to hear that. He didn't want absolution. He wanted to feel the pain. He refused to change the bloodstained clothing. More than anything he wanted Vin Tanner to live. The desire so strong, it overwhelmed him. His green eyes flinched remembering the large pool of blood on the rooftop. He slumped into a chair and dropped his head into his hands, which rested on his knees.

"Nathan, are you alright?" Rain sailed through the double doors into her husband's arms.

"I'm fine."

"I just got your page...I thought..." She paused, eyeing Chris's bloody gray pants. "Oh God No...J.D., Buck..." She eyed the vacant room, wondering which of the team had been injured.

"No, it's Vin." He replied.

"Vin?" She frowned, not making the connection and wondering why Chris Larabee looked so lost.

"Vin Tanner." Nathan supplied, "He's a bounty hunter. He..."

"Tanner..." She murmured, as an image formed. "longish brown hair, gorgeous blue eyes...slow drawl..." "You know him?" Nate asked.

"I've treated him a few times in ER," She drew her hands across her chest, shuddering. She remembered the quiet, shy tracker with a sad smile. "He's so sweet. I had a hard time believing he was a bounty hunter when I first met him. He always calls me 'Ma'am" and he blushes...What happened?"

"He was tailing an arsonist, the same one we we're settin' up and caught one in the chest."

"He took a bullet for me." Chris snapped, throwing his restless body up. "Two Goddamn hours since they took him to surgery." He shouted, "and we got nothing."

"I'll see what I can find out." She kissed Nathan and disappeared through the doors.

Another forty minutes went by and Nathan barely managed to keep the irate blond under control. He'd talked security out of putting Chris out twice.

"What's taking so long?" He demanded, glaring through the small window which shut him out.

"Chris..." "I don't want any fuckin' coffee, Nathan and I don't want to calm down." He snarled, clenching and unclenching his fists.

"How is he?" Nathan looked past Chris when he saw Rain enter the waiting room.

Chris spun around and gave Dr. Jackson such a death ray, she backed up. She'd heard about 'the glare' but she'd never encountered it.

"I wish I could bring you better news, but he's still critical. He's lost a lot of blood and he coded once on the table."

Nathan moved in as Chris rocked back on his heels upon hearing the word 'coded'. "Shit..." The blond rubbed his hand across his pale face. Rain noticed the trembling hands and moved closer, taking one in both of hers. "I'm sorry Chris. I had no idea you two were so close. He's losing blood as fast as it goes in. The bullet did some internal damage that they're trying to repair. It's going to be at least three more hours, if he holds up."

"He has to..." Chris croaked, eyes reeling. "Thanks Rain...I appreciate it."

"Hey, he's a fighter and he's got Ned Langston working on him. Ned's the best in the state." She offered, but the guilt and pain in his green eyes ate away at her. "How about you and me take a walk?"

"I'll call Buck and Josiah." Nate said, nodding in appreciation to his wife.

"How long have you known Vin?" She asked, gently leading him down the corridor towards the chapel.

"Added up it only comes to a few days...but inside, it's like I've known him forever. Jesus, Rain I haven't felt this torn up since..." He swallowed hard and his face contorted.

"Since Sarah and Adam died." She whispered, recalling the awful event.

"Yeah...It hurts like hell, Rain. I can't figure it out." He shook his head and saw the wooden door leading to the chapel.

"Some people go through their whole life without having something as powerful as that." She ushered him inside the dark, peaceful arena. He sat in a back pew and stared at the blood red stained glass. She saw the deep colors stain his handsome face and turned the chin so she could see the lost eyes. "You're the reason he's fighting so hard...you're his saving grace. You hold to that and talk to the Man." She nodded at the cross. "I'll check on you later." She went to turn and found her hand gripped in his. He lifted it and kissed the top. "You're welcome," She smiled, caressing his face.

Chris absorbed the solitude of the dark chapel, bent his head and prayed.

+ + + + + +

"Brought some sandwiches," J.D. offered to Nate as he and Buck entered the Waiting Room. "Any word?"

"Not since Rain's last update. He's still hanging on. They've been at it almost five hours." Nate stretched and took a bite of a chicken salad sandwich.

"Where's Chris?" Buck said, eyeing the room and amazed nothing was broken.

"He's around. He's been pacing, cursing, tossing chairs, punching walls and praying in the chapel."

Nate took a large swig of the soda J.D. offered and swallowed fast as the doors opened and a blood splattered doctor appeared.

"One of you named Larabee?" He asked.

"He's..." Nate started to point, when a cold voice interrupted.

"I'm Chris Larabee. How's Vin?" Chris made his way to the doctor's side. He fought back the urge to vomit at the sight of so much of Tanner's blood scoring the seagreen scrubs. He felt Buck's hand on his shoulder and felt the tension ease up a bit.

"He's alive." The weary surgeon sighed, "and I have to tell you, there is no scientific reason for that. His heart stopped twice, and he lost a lot of blood before we found all the leaks. But he made it through surgery and that's quite an accomplishment. There was some internal damage and the next forty-eight hours will be critical."

"What are his chances?" Chris drilled, trying to stop the knives from slashing his insides.

"Fifty-fifty." The doctor replied honestly. "Your name was in his wallet as the point of contact. I need to ask you about donating his organs. You see..."

"FUCK NO!" Chris shouted, "Jesus, he's not even dead. You just sewed his organs up and now you're talking about taking them back? What the hell kind of butcher are you?"

"Chris, listen to me." Buck spun him around and pinned him to the wall. "It's routine, everybody fills out those forms. Vin wouldn't have put you down if he didn't think it was important."

"No...I won't do it..." Chris wormed his way past his worried friends. "Where is he?"

"He'll be in recovery for awhile, then he'll go to ICU. I left word for them to except you, Mr. Larabee."

"Was there any permanent damage?" Nathan asked.

"No. If he pulls through, he'll be laid up for a couple months. Replacing that blood loss and regaining his strength will take that long. But he's young and he's a fighter. There's no reason to expect he won't have a complete recovery."

"Thank you, Doctor." Nathan shook his hand as Buck and J.D. offered their thanks. Chris grabbed Tanner's discarded jacket and disappeared. "Leave the papers with the nurse. We'll talk to Chris."


The nurse adjusted the patient's IV drip and took his vital signs. She recorded all the data on the chart and shook her head as she eyed the rumpled figure who'd maintained a bedside vigil for the last two days. He left the critical man's side only to change clothes once. He ate little, slept less and spoke rarely. Mostly, he kept the limp hand gripped firmly in his own and waited. She wondered what his thoughts were, watching his intense green eyes bear down on the pale face. She left the pair and went to her next patient.

The room was quiet again and Chris leaned in closer. Vin was the same color as the sheets he wasy lying upon. The ferocious warrior with the wild smile who'd kicked his butt in that warehouse, now looked frightfully frail. His chest rose and fell in time with the bleep of the monitors behind him. For two days Chris had maintained the bedside vigil in stoic silence. The others had come and gone, for intermittent visits, offering support. The green eyes left the pale face and glanced at the clock on the wall. As the second hand swept past the number twelve, officially surpassing the forty-eight hour mark, Chris Larabee finally spoke.

"Listen up Tanner," Chris gripped the hand tighter and leaned down, his breath dancing across Vin's cheek. "It's been two damn days...you need to wake up." He implored, trying to will the azure eyes open. "I thought you were a fighter. You're nothing but a damn coward. You're hiding in there." His frustrated voice lashed out, loud and angry, "It's my fault you're laying there and I'm tired of waiting on you." He eyed the buckskinned coat and wandered over to the closet. He slipped the jacket on shivered as Tanner's scent clung to him. He fingered the keys in the rightside pocket. He wandered back to the bed and leaned over the rail. He jingled the keys and eyed the tracker's face carefully. "Maybe I'll take Jack Daniels for a ride on your Goddamn bike."

He spat out in a fury and waited.

He stood quietly, not touching Vin and trying not to breathe. Sure enough, his intent rang true. Vin's head turned and there was movement under the lids of his eyes. The slack lips moved in a silent plea. It took of all of Chris's strength not to reach out and grab the younger man as the signs of life returned. But he waited, then felt the warmth he'd been missing for so long return. A slow smile started to form as he saw the eyes begin to open.

+ + + + + + +

"How's he doing?" Buck asked, as they approached the elevators and Nathan met them.

"Who? Chris or Vin?"


"Vin's still in a coma and Chris might as well be. He ain't said a word in two days. If his eyes weren't open, I'd check for a pulse. He's starting to look like a recluse. He ain't shaved or bathed, he barely eats and sleeps." Nathan fretted, hands on his hips. He'd sat with the leader for the last two hours, leaving when the nurse came in.

"You gotta do something Buck." J.D. prodded, juggling the bag of food they'd brought.

"What the hell you think I've been doing?" Buck snarled, blue eyes snapping. He backed off at J.D.'s hurt look. "I'm sorry, Kid. I didn't mean to bite at ya."

"S'okay, Buck." J.D. leveled, not used to seeing his best friend so unsure. "I know you're worried."

"He can't go on like this Buck." Nathan sighed, "He's gonna make himself sick."

"Or worse..." Buck whispered, remembering the horrid weeks that turned into months of heavy drinking, womanizing and bar brawls after Chris's family was murdered. "I don't think he can survive that again."

"Survive what?" J.D. asked, eyeing the tall agent's glazed eyes. Then he saw Nathan's face and understood. "Oh...it's that bad. Jeez, He hasn't known Vin that long."

"How long don't matter none, J.D." Buck sympathized, "Only thing that matters is that boy waking up. Somehow, he managed to crawl right into Chris's heart. Come on, Kid, let's make tracks. See ya, Nate."

"'Night guys." Nathan said wearily, longing for the comfort of his wife's arms.

+ + + + + + +

Chris pulled an envelope out of the tan buckskin jacket. He winced at the maroon stains covering most of the white paper. He read the simple salutation and started to laugh. The tension of the last forty-eight hours started to evaporate.

"Oh God Buck, we're too late." J.D.'s voice hushed as his wide eyes took in the spectacle from the doorway. "He cracked up..."

Buck didn't know what to make of the scene. Chris was wearing Tanner's bloodstained coat and laughing. His brow's furrowed as he entered the room. Then his face softened when he saw two muddled blue eyes squinting from the bed. He tapped Chris's arm and pointed. The laugh died and he saw Chris wiping his eyes. Tears of laughter or tears of joy...didn't matter none. Chris strode to the bed and leaned over the rail. His smile remained, as for a split second the foggy blue eyes crossed in confusion, reminded him of Adam when he woke out of a sound sleep.

"Well it's about time." He stated, as Buck stood at his shoulder.

"Hey Junior," Buck crooned, "Good to see them baby blues. You with us?" Buck ducked and weaved watching the eyes dart, following his motions.

"He's cold." J.D. noticed the shivering and put down his bag of food. He spotted a blue blanket on the top shelf of the closet and handed half to Chris. They covered up the shivering patient whose lips were finally moving.

"Hold on there, Pard." Buck said, getting the plastic cup of water and steadying the straw. "Chris..." He nodded.

Chris gently lifted Vin's head and Buck held the straw against his lips. "Drink." Chris ordered as the eyes blinked in confusion. Vin's jaw worked and the liquid slid up the straw. His eyes never left Chris.

Vin stared at the faces looming over him and tried to make the jumbled mess inside his head come together. He frowned, trying to figure out where he was. He heard the machines humming and beeping; he eyed the IV lines and felt the oxygen. He swallowed painfully, his throat raw. He heard a deep voice and shivered at the blurry mustached-man looming over him. Somebody told him to drink, so he obeyed. It was as if he never tasted water. The burning left his throat and his brain created images. He glanced again at the green-eyed blond and wondered why he had his coat on. His mind hummed and kicked into gear. He pulled weakly at the sleeve of the coat.

"...keys..." He croaked, face scowling. "...keys...now..."

"I waited two days for that?" Chris took the hand and gripped it. He sat on the edge of the bed and grinned at the angry scowl.

"Why's his feathers ruffled?" Buck asked of the groggy but irate Texan.

"I got tired of waiting on him. I told him I was gonna go drinking and take his damn bike." Chris grinned at Buck.

"Apparently, he didn't like that idea." Buck smiled, watching Vin get angrier, eyeing both of them.


"Calm down, Vin." Chris disarmed, "I got sense enough to know to stay off of those death traps on wheels."

Vin studied the cocky grin and realized what Chris had done. He didn't remember what exactly was said, but in the dark, cold void he was lost in, an image of Chris wrecking his bike scared him back to life. He was cold and his chest hurt. He vaguely recalled seeing a gun and Chris holding him.

"...hurts..." He hissed, squeezing his eyes to ward off the pain. "...s'cold..."

"It's gonna hurt for a little while, Vin." Chris relayed, "You got busted up inside. But you're gonna be fine."

"...did we get him?" He rasped, trying to open his heavy eyes.

"He's dead." J.D. answered.

"...anybody hurt..."

"Just you, you fool." Chris answered.

"...yer welcome..." Vin managed to peel his eyes half open and smile. Chris offered more water and watched the eyes regarding him.

"Go on back to sleep. We're not leaving." He answered the silent question in the blue eyes.

"...get a bath..." Vin replied, dozing off. J.D. and Buck both chuckled and even Chris managed a smile. For a few minutes, nobody moved. Then Chris stood and pulled the rails back in place. He took the jacket off and hung it back up.

"What the hell was so funny?" Buck asked, as Chris fished a Roast Beef Sandwich from the bag. He took a hefty bit and popped the top on a can of Ginger Ale. He slid the envelope over to Buck and saw the big man's face break into a grin as he read the single line of print.

"Well?" J.D. prodded, elbowing Buck.

"Found this. You're the only Larabee I know. Figured it belonged to you. Josh Randall" Buck read aloud. "The boy can't count..." Buck noted of the bills which totaled over three hundred dollars."But he's got style."

"Who's Josh Randall?" J.D. asked.

"Ain't you ever watched 'Wanted: Dead or Alive?" Buck asked, seeing J.D.'s blank face. "Steve McQueen was a bounty hunter in the Old West."

"Remember the gun?" Chris inquired, finishing half of the large sandwich.

"Hell yeah." Buck unwrapped a Turkey sandwich with Bacon, "Sawed off shotgun. Man, I thought that was cool when I was a kid."

"Chris, Me and J.D. will stay for awhile. Go to my place and get some sleep. A few hours rest, a hot shower and shave, you'll feel better."

"Yeah..." Chris nodded, "I feel like I went ten rounds with Ali. Wonder if Mary's home?"

"The idea is to get some rest, Romeo." Buck winked. "You're not in college anymore. You not up to amourous adventures."

Chris just grinned and stretched. He shucked his black coat on and stood by Vin's bed. He studied the sleeping man for a few seconds and took a good breath. He felt as if he'd awoken from a horrible nightmare. He walked to the door and paused, as Vin's head turned in his sleep.

"Welcome home, Cowboy." He murmured as he left.


The Denver sun was playing against the walls of the room when Vin next opened his eyes. He saw long black-denim clad legs sprawled across the foot of his bed. He followed the lean form upwords and spotted Larabee, who looked like a human being again. He saw Buck and J.D. who were sitting on the radiator watching a college football game. He eyed the IV pole with the bags of blood and fluid running in multiple lines. He heard a beeping monitor and his fumbling fingers found the oxygen.

"Leave that alone." A cross voice ordered and pulled his hand away.

"...it's botherin' me." He snapped, struggling in vain against the stronger arm.

"So will restraints..." Chris threatened, sitting up and pulling his legs free. "How you feeling?"

"Like I got shot and my innerds is squooshed up."

"That about covers it." Chris agreed, "Your lunch is here. You want to eat?"

"I miss breakfast?"

"You been out almost twelve hours. You missed dinner and breakfast." J.D. supplied. "I'm sure glad you're okay Vin."

"Thanks, Kid," Vin nodded. "Whatcha watchin'?"

"Notre Dame - Ohio State."

Vin felt the bed rising as Chris pushed the button on the side. He felt pressure in his chest and grabbed at J.D.'s arm. "No more...stop."

"Chris..." J.D. warned.

"Yeah, I heard." Chris eyed Vin, who was breathing heavily. "You okay?" He saw the nodding head and pulled the tray forward. "Looks great. Wish I had grub like this."

"I want real food." Vin rasped, wrinkling his nose at the broth, yellow gelatin and juice. "I ain't eatin' that. Looks like somethin' ya feed to invalids."

"You'll eat it and you'll like it." Chris snarled, lifting the spoon. "Don't piss me off, Vin, open up."

"Aw, Hell." Vin complained and swallowed. "Ya don't have to enjoy it so much. Give me that spoon."

"I don't think so." Chris supplied, leveling a second spoon, "It will end up all over you, then you'll miss eating your yellow jello. Sure looks good." Chris smirked, wiggling the awful creation with the spoon.

Vin didn't want to laugh, and tried hard, but that chuckle snuck out on him. Buck joined the trio.

"Welcome back, Vin." He smiled and Vin found himself returning the grin. Something about the tall man was comforting, like a warm blanket on a cold day. "I took care of your paperwork for the claim. They're holding your check."

"But I didn't bag him." Vin protested. "Chris shot him. I can't..."

"You can and you will. Now open up. This mystery-meat broth is getting cold." Chris ordered.

Vin finished his lunch and felt his face flush. He dropped his head. "Thanks. Guess I went out with a bang."

"You're quittin'?" J.D. inquired.

"Had half a mind to do it last time when Chris offered."

"Why didn't you then?" Chris demanded as Vin pushed the tray away and sank back on his pillows. His eyes closed and he sighed before replying.

"Been ridin' solo for nearly twenty years." He drawled, "Old habits is hard to break." He opened his eyes and stared out the window.

"Twenty years..." Buck laughed, "What'd you do Vin? Round them up on your tricycle with a cap gun?"

But Buck's smile disappeared when Vin's eyes grew wide with emotion. "My Ma died when I's five." Vin said softly, his gaze fized on the window. "I got bounced around quite a bit for a few years until I busted out. Reckon I was about ten or eleven. I got myself through High School and then joined the army."

"Is that where you learned to shoot so good?" Chris asked.

"Sorta..." Vin snorted, "The first day they put me on that firing range, I shot a perfect score. That Sergeant damn near jumped out of his skin. They put in with the Special Forces for awhile. Anyhow, my hitch was up and I found something I thought would put that trainin' to use. It was okay for awhile. But I think now I want that pizza."

"Huh?" J.D. shrugged, "Pizza?"

"That night in the bar." Vin said softly, finally looking at the trio. "I watched y'all for a spell. It hurt like hell. Laughin' like y'all was doin'" Vin dropped his eyes again, suddenly queasy. "I ain't feelin' so good."

"You gonna get sick?" Chris rested a hand on the slumped shoulder.

"No...don't think so. Gimme a minute." Vin took several deep breaths, wincing at the pain in his chest. "But don't go to far, okay?"

"What and miss you puke?" Chris raised an eyebrow and saw Vin grin.


"Yeah, Vin?" Buck leaned over, watching Vin fighting to stay awake.

"Tell Alex to send the check to St. Theresa's Hospital."

"Sure Vin." Buck reassured, "You know a kid in there?"

"Nah...I's there for quite a spell when I was a little feller." "Where you sick Vin?" J.D. asked.

"No." Vin said, swallowing hard and turning away. The look of a long ago pain washed over the pale man. It wounded Buck so much he backed away, feeling guilty for even having brought it up. It was stupid question to ask. He felt Chris glaring at him and didn't have to look to know the leader was pissed.

"I'm sorry Vin. It wasn't none of my business to ask." Buck apologized. He finally saw Chris's icy green eyes. The head nodded once and Buck stood, signaling for J.D. to follow him. "You get some rest, Vin."

"Buck..." the weak voice caused him to turn back. He saw those emotive pools again. "s'okay. No call to be draggin' yer chin. Y'all bring me back a coke, okay?"

"You got it, Junior." Buck winked, clapping J.D.'s shoulder as they left.

+ + + + + +

Vin slept soundly for several more hours. It was dusk when he woke up coughing. The movement caused such an intense pain, he felt tears running down his face. But just as fast, a hand was there, supporting and reassuring. A damp cloth gently rode over his face. He felt the straw at his lips and took a good drink. He heard the calm voice and listened to every soothing word. Finally, he was able to catch his breath and open his eyes. By this time, the body had moved back across the room.

"I ain't scared no more." Vin spoke, eyeing Chris's back as he peered out the window. "That's why this time I'm stayin'"

"Scared of what?" Chris asked without turning.


"ME?" Chris turned, his face screwed up.

"Chris." Vin sighed, running a hand through his tangled hair. "I got a sense of ya, that day when that pack snatched Nathan. I ain't never felt anythin' so strong in m'life. It scared the shit outta me. It was like I was inside yer head." He eyed the stoic face approaching. "So I ran...but while I was away, somethin' happened. I felt funny, like half of me was missin'. I can't rightly explain it." He groped for the cup and Chris supplied it. After taking several sips and catching his breath, he continued.

"Then when I was chasin' Murray up them steps to the roof...I felt ya. Nearly fell down the stairs. I...I knew ya was up there. By the time I opened door onto the roof, I thought I was havin' a damn heart attack. Aw, hell...ya probably think I'm crazy." Vin sank back into his stack of pillows, welcoming the soft embrace.

"Then I guess I'm crazy too." Chris said softly, watching Vin's eyes open in amazement. "I felt it and..." He gave a small chuckle "It scared the shit out of me, too, Vin. I...uh...Thanks for taking that bullet. Next time, just yell 'duck' okay?"

"Next time?" Vin croaked. "Ain't gonna be no next time. Ya sure, about the job I mean."

"Wouldn't have asked if I wasn't."

"Don't ya need some kind of special schoolin'?" Vin worried.

"Nothing you can't handle. You'll do fine at the Academy. Josiah used to be a teacher. He can help you prepare. From what the doctor said, it's going to be about eight to ten weeks before you're completely healed. You'll have plenty of time to get ready. We both know you can handle a rifle and read a crime scene. That's seventy five percent of it."

"It's okay with the guys?"

"Unanimous." Chris replied, but still saw the fear lurking behind the blue eyes. He tried to imagine Vin's predicament. Orphaned at five, passed around like an old shoe, raising yourself up. What Vin missed was the normal bonding that occurs in twelve years of schooling. A natural maturation process that most people took for granted. He suddenly felt an admiration for the younger man. It took a lot of guts to take that first step and learn to trust. Chris imagined it would be a long process. He sat on the bedside and caught Vin's eye.

"Maybe it's time to come out of the shadows, Vin." He paused, as the head cocked, "and into the sun."

Vin thought on Chris's words and remembered that laughing group at the bar. He remembered the day he was lying hurt under that truck; and how good it felt to be surrounded by a team of men who cared so much. He nodded and then gripped Chris's hand.

"Good." Chris grinned, feeling a huge weight lifted off his shoulders and a wonderful warmth spread through him, like a healing touch. When Vin lifted his head and smiled, and Chris met those blue eyes, he felt his soul soar. "I got a ranch outside town, on a few acres. You can stay with me until you're on your feet."

"A ranch...with horses?" Vin's eyes widened, giving Chris a grin.

"Four beauties...all throughbreds. Plenty of fresh air, blue skies, open spaces and lots of trees."

"Reckon I could get used to that. Thanks, Chris."

Six months later, outside town.

"Nice work, Eagle. Come on back." Chris relayed, eyeing Vin's perch ontop of a water tower. He saw the body rise and the rifle extended, waving back. He kept his eyes trained on the figure as he began the long decent back to earth. "Clip that line to the railing. Get your harness on!" Vin pretended not to hear, "Dammit Vin. I know you can hear me." Chris watched the figure stop and a hand come up. "I saw that..." he said of the colorful response. But the line was clipped and he relaxed.

"Man it must be over ninety degrees out here." J.D. complained as they headed back to the van. The desert like terrain was a site for the annual training session. They piled into the large van and began peeling off the flak jackets and protective clothing.

"You think it's hot down here," Buck noted, watching Vin's descent, "Vin must be melting."

"Yeah, he's gotta be beat. How about we pick him up. It's a good half-mile." J.D. recommended.

"Josiah, let's get rolling before Vin passes out." Chris smacked the ex-minister's back lightly.

"Yeah, Vin's cranky enough in humid weather. Him being sick and cranky will make the ride back twice as long." J.D. noted, finally glad to be in shorts and a tee shirt. They pulled up and Vin was sitting on the ground, resting against the tower. His hair was plastered to his head and his eyes were shut.

"Vin, you still among the living?" Buck shouted, opening the back door of the large van.

Vin made no move and remained where he was. He was too tired to care about Buck's ribbing. He felt someone tugging at him and opened an eye long enough to see Josiah grinning down at him.

"Afternoon, Brother Vin," he boomed, half carrying the exhausted tracker to the van. "How's the water?" He asked ruffling the sopping head.

"Hey, Vin." Chris nodded as the weary man was deposited in the back. Buck peeled the vest and shirt off and stood him up. Chris managed to get his lines off and the pants fell down. "Damn Vin, You got no ass." Chris complained.

"Y'all think this is funny." Vin wheezed, struggling, "Leave me be...I ain't no cripple. Next time yer climbin' up that friggin' tower, Larabee. It was like squattin' on the damn sun. I reckon I lost five pounds at least."

"Quit gripin' and get over here." Nathan ordered. Vin didn't need to lose any weight and his assessment was correct. The Nike shorts and tee shirt revealed the lean form, which was soaked. "Here...you drink all of that. You need to replenish your electrolytes."

"I want the red stuff." Vin scowled, welcoming the icy blast from the cooler.

"I think J.D. took the last of the red stuff." Buck said.

"Hand it over, Kid." Vin demanded, grabbing for it.

"No, I got it first." J.D. twisted away.

"GIVE IT UP!" Vin snarled, pouncing. They wrestled on the floor as the Van headed back to Denver. "Y'all didn't lose no electric lights. Yer ass was in the damn van most of the day sucking up the air conditionin'. Ya give it up or I'll tell Casey about that Latin gal y'all was neckin' with."

"Did you say 'nekked with'?" Buck leaned down, suddenly very interested.

"NO!" J.D. blurted, "I wasn't naked with her. She kissed me...What was I supposed to do?"

"Well, now Son, If you don't the what comes next, You got bigger problems than that Power Drink." Buck laughed.

"Dammit J.D. gimme that bottle."

"No, drink the green stuff."

"Aw, Hell, it's like drinkin' antifreeze." Vin complained, as J.D.'s heavier, more rested body won out and the slighter man was pinned. J.D. waved the bottle over Vin's face, enjoying the scowl.

"Now you done it. You riled the Old Man up but good." Buck laughed, watching Chris's stormy approach. "You two are gonna get busted."

Chris grabbed the bottle and turned back to the front of the van. He opened it and drained half before J.D. and Vin's stunned faces. Vin pushed J.D. off and started to complain. J.D. followed suit.

"You two youngun's best quit while you're ahead." Buck warned.

"Aw, hell." Vin coughed, slumping back exhausted. He felt Nathan before he saw him. "Git away from me."

"You got a choice," Nathan boomed, shoving the green fluid at him, "Drink it or I'll stick y'all with an IV and it's a dull needle."

Vin and J.D. each took a bottle of the greem stuff and settled in, whispering and nodding.

"That don't look good," Josiah noted, spotting the conspiracy forming among the youngest.

"I get the distinct impression that at some interval in the not to distant future." Ezra finally spoke, draining his imported mineral water, "Mr. Tanner and Mr. Dunne will seek their revenge."

"Them threads of yours washable, Mr. Fancypants?" Buck teased, noting Ezra's streak of bad luck. The Conman was usually caught in the middle of food fights, snowball fights and any practical joke the two pranksters thought up.

Chris let the motion of the van lull him to sleep. The air conditioner blew the damp blond hair. He smiled inwardly as the image of Vin at the end of the table at Paisano's came to mind. He'd struggled the first few months, learning to trust and work within a team concept. He still was most comfortable on the perimeter, whether it be in a loft of a warehouse with a rifle, at the last desk in the office, or sitting at the end of the table. One day, he would be able to sit in the middle, surrounding by the group. But he was here, and for the first time since Chris formed the team of specialists, he felt complete.

"Nathan, ya come at me again with that thing and I'm gonna bust yer arm." Vin growled.

"Don't sass me, white boy," Nathan slapped the hand away, "I seen ya shakin' clear across the van. It's only a pinprick...I need to test your blood sugar."

"OW!" Vin griped, "Couldn't ya find a duller needle? Ain't I suffered enough today?"

"Shut up, Vin." A chorus sounded.

"Enjoying the music, Chris?" Josiah asked, watching the slow grin spread on Chris's face at the clamor behind them.

"Sounds damn good, Josiah."

"Amen, Brother."


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