December 5, 2000
Disclaimer - No I don't own any of them, just wish I did. No, I didn't invent this A/U, just wish I did. TPTB and Mog get credit in those departments.
Author's Note - If, while you're reading this, you say, 'Hey, she did this to him already!' please don't stop reading - it is different. Really. But some people (Teresa!) just kept begging for an ATF version and I finally figured out how to do it. Thanks to Suzy for the beta reading and to Sandra for the medical advice.
"Please state your name and occupation."
"Vin Tanner. I'm an agent for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms."
"And how long have you been so employed?"
"Three years." Sigh.
"And were you so employed on November twentieth, nineteen hundred ninety nine?"
"Yes." Another sigh.
"Please, Agent Tanner, this is important. And during the course of your duty on that date, did you happen to encounter the Defendant, Mr. James R. Reginald?"
"Yeeaah... Come on, we been over this a dozen times already. I think we know my name and everything already."
"Could you please explain," the district attorney began through gritted teeth, "the nature of your acquaintance?" When Vin didn't reply he went on to say, "Agent Tanner, I know you're getting a bit bored here, but this case is crucial. We've had one mistrial and two other delays already. If you don't testify on Thursday, Reginald is going to walk. We aren't going to get another chance at this."
Vin sighed and nodded before answering, "I was working undercover, posing as an employee of Steve Martinelli, a suspect in some gun running," reciting his testimony once again. "On that date around twelve-thirty in the afternoon, in Martinelli's warehouse, I saw Judge Reginald show up and take out a gun, a Smith and Wesson thirty-eight to be exact, and point it at Martinelli and threaten to kill him if Martinelli's men didn't back off."
"Back off what, Agent Tanner?"
Vin was about to reply when Buck burst into the room.
"Sorry boys, but we gotta run! O'Reilly's making his move," the ATF agent explained.
+ + + + + + +
Chris Larabee was not a happy man. The raid was not going as planned. The bad guys had more men and firepower than expected and thus, they found themselves in a standoff. Not something the ATF liked to be in. He looked over the small warehouse's blueprints again.
"A couple of guns on the north side," Buck's reported, his voice whispered over the radio. "I think if one of our snipers, namely Vin, could take 'em out, we could get in this way," he added.
"Vin?" Chris called on his radio.
"Got time to come in for a new rifle first? This one keeps jammin' on me," the sharpshooter asked in reply.
"No time, Vin, do it with what you've got," Chris ordered, getting back to the action.
Vin cursed silently and prayed that the rifle wouldn't jam on him again. He'd been able to take out two of the bad guys earlier, but he'd barely done it. Having to clear the rifle's chamber twice, he'd almost lost sight of the men. He spotted the two men that Buck had seen and took aim at the first one.
"Do it, Vin," he heard Chris command and took the first shot. He was right on target. He sighted the second man and took him out as well, as he heard the eruption of gunfire his had instigated.
"Third man to the left, Vin!" Buck shouted.
Vin moved the rifle left and found the man Buck referred to. He squeezed the trigger again. Nothing happened. "Goddammit!" he cursed as he tapped and racked, clearing the jam. He squeezed the trigger again and this time let out a hoarse scream, as the weapon seemed to explode in his face.
"Vin!" Buck yelled, hearing his friend's anguished cries. "Nathan! Vin's down!" he shouted into his radio as he began running to Vin's location.
He found the sharpshooter writhing on the ground with blood-covered hands held to his face.
"Oh, shit! Vin! Nathan!" he shouted as he crouched down next to his fallen comrade. "Easy, Vin, easy," he murmured over Vin's cries, trying to pull the injured man's hands away from his face.
"My eyes! My eyes!" Vin cried, resisting Buck's attempts to move his hands.
Several bullets ricocheted on the ground next to them. Buck cursed as he grabbed Vin by his shoulders and dragged him away, into the trees and cover.
"What happened?" Nathan demanded when he arrived, dropping his medical bag next to the two men.
Buck caught sight of the mangled rifle lying a dozen feet away. "Looks like his rifle jammed again, only this time it blew."
"Vin, let me see," Nathan urged, pulling at Vin's hands now. "I gotta see your face to help ya."
But Vin was beyond listening at this point.
"Buck give me a hand, I've got to see his face, his eyes," the dark agent urged.
Each man pulled on one of Vin's arms and managed to tear his hands away from his face.
"Shit," Nathan whispered, struggling to keep hold of Vin's arm. He laid it flat on the ground and pinned it between his knees so that he could use both hands to examine the sharpshooter's injuries.
"Ah, fuck, my eyes! I can't see!" Vin cried out, thrashing his head back and forth now, attempting to relieve some of the pain.
+ + + + + + +
Chris and the rest of the team, despite hearing that Vin was down, knew they still had a job to do. Buck and Nathan would take care of the sharpshooter. He and Josiah, along with three members of Team Six charged towards the north side of the warehouse. He heard Ezra and JD heading there as well.
"Move it! Move it!" Chris shouted, ducking for cover behind a parked car.
Bullets flew past him, shattering the car's windows. He kept his targets in sight, however and returned fire. Between the agents, they were able to take down three more of the gunrunners. One man kept eluding him, though. Two if you counted the sniper that kept the ATF leader pinned down behind the car.
"Josiah! See if you can take out that sniper!" he ordered, believing that the other man might have a better shot from his position behind a retaining wall.
Josiah gave Chris a thumbs-up sign after sighting the sniper. JD laid down some cover-fire so the former missionary could break cover and get a clear shot. After three rounds, he was successful. After assuring his safety, Chris went on the move again, after the other man.
+ + + + + + +
"Nate?" Buck asked tentatively as the medic wound the bandages around Vin's head, covering the sharpshooter's eyes and face.
Buck was holding onto Vin's arms now, preventing the young agent from touching the wounds on his face, letting Nathan do his work.
"Nathan?" Vin called, his voice fighting its way through the pain and blinding disorientation. The worry in it echoed Buck's.
"I don't know, Vin," the dark man replied. "Just gotta wait 'til you get to the ER and let the experts clean you up. All I can do is start washin' 'em, cover 'em up and keep ya from hurtin' 'em worse," he added.
But Buck saw the worry in Nathan's eyes. He wasn't lying to Vin, but it didn't seem like he was telling the whole truth either. Nathan just shrugged his shoulders at the mustached agent.
"Let's wrap those hands up now, Vin," Nathan spoke, ending the silence.
+ + + + + + +
Ezra was positioned just outside the doors to the warehouse.
"It appears we're at a stalemate again, Mr. Larabee," he whispered into his radio.
Chris didn't have to hear it from the undercover man. He was well aware of the situation.
"Buck? How's Vin?" he whispered into his own mike. He got no response. His worry increased. "Buck?" he called again, urgently.
"He's gonna be fine, Chris," Buck finally replied. "We're ready to take him to the ambulance now."
"Buck...," Chris began, wanting to question the agent further. He heard something in the tone of his old friend's voice that told him that somehow, Vin wasn't going to be fine. But gunfire from within the warehouse prevented any further speculation. "Ezra?" he called, hoping the southerner could enlighten him on the goings on within the building.
+ + + + + + +
Nathan looked hard at the bandaging job he'd done. It would have to do.
"Vin, we gotta get you to the ambulance, now. It's waiting just outside the perimeter we set up in the parking lot," he told the injured sharpshooter.
If Vin heard him, Nathan didn't know, because the injured man didn't respond. Vin was battling both pain and sudden blindness. He wondered which was worse for Vin. He'd seen some of the shrapnel pieces in Vin's eyes. He was able to flush some of them out with the sterile water he carried in his kit, but he couldn't tell if there was more that he couldn't see. There were some nasty gashes on the rest of Vin's face, neck and his hands, as well. He saw bone through one of the cuts on the sharpshooter's left thumb.
"Buck, you get his right side. Hold him around his back and under his leg," Nathan instructed. "I'll take the left."
The medic grabbed the plastic bag from the IV he had started and put it between his teeth to hold it. On a silent count, the two men lifted their injured comrade between them and headed towards the parking lot and the waiting ambulance.
+ + + + + + +
"Ezra?" Chris called again.
"It appears as if our prey has decided not to be taken alive," the southerner replied, though there was caution in his voice.
"Let's find out for sure," Chris replied. "Josiah, Ezra; take the left side. JD, you're with me on the right. Team Six, head out toward that western entrance again," he ordered, moving up toward the doorway.
Chris wanted to get this bust over and done with. It had already taken several bad turns, and now Vin was injured, to top it off. As the three teams entered the warehouse simultaneously and cautiously, the ATF leader fervently hoped that the gunrunners hadn't been setting a trap for them.
When he and JD reached the center of the warehouse, he found that his fears were unfounded. Paco O'Reilly lay in the middle of the floor, dead by his own gun. John Madison was in a similar state a few feet away. After checking with the other teams, Chris called the scene clear.
"Josiah!" he called to the big agent approaching him. "Take over here, I'm going to check on Vin."
Josiah nodded and began issuing orders to the other agents in the warehouse.
"Buck?" Chris called into his radio.
"I'm in the ambulance with Vin," Buck replied, shouting over the rig's siren. "We just left the parking lot."
"What happened, Buck?" the blonde demanded, while digging for his car keys. He did not miss the time lapse before his old friend responded.
"Rifle jammed and blew on him, Chris. Shrapnel got all over him," Buck replied. He thought about telling Chris more, about the injuries to Vin's eyes, but decided against it.
Chris dropped the keys. Vin had asked to get a new rifle and he had denied the request.
"Chris?" Buck called when Chris hadn't said anything more. "Chris?" He closed his eyes and sighed.
+ + + + + + +
Buck watched as Nathan and the paramedics took Vin out of the ambulance and into the ER. He'd wait for Chris. He knew the man wouldn't be long. Not when one of his men was concerned. And sure enough, only about two minutes had gone by before he saw and heard the plain government issue Chevy screech to a halt before parking on the sidewalk next to a tow away zone.
"How is he?" Chris asked.
"They're checking him out now, Chris," Buck replied, putting a hand to his old friend's shoulder to guide him into the building. "Why don't we head for the waiting room and get some coffee."
Buck's diversion technique didn't work though and he had his hand shrugged off. "What aren't you telling me, Buck," Chris leveled. "How bad?" There was a tremor in his voice.
"The shrapnel hit him in the face. Some got into his eyes," Buck answered, his own fears for Vin's vision coming through. "Nate thinks it's bad."
The blonde closed his eyes and bowed his head, muttering a curse as he did.
"Come on, Chris." Buck put his hand on Chris's shoulder again and this time the other man let himself be led inside.
Nathan cut them off before they got to the waiting room, though.
"Chris! Come with me," he said and him and brought him into ER and towards one of the treatment bays. "The doctors need someone to calm Vin down and he ain't listenin' to me. Thought maybe you could do it, since he's hell bent on talkin' to you anyway," he went on.
Chris nodded, recalling the sharpshooter's stubborn streak when it came to doctors. Thoughts of berating the man filled his head momentarily until the shock of seeing Vin lying on a gurney, covered in bloody bandages, brought back the reality of the situation.
"Mr. Tanner, you need to keep still," a nurse was telling him. "We need to clean the debris from your eyes and you'll have to keep still..."
"Vin!" he called out loudly as he approached the man, putting a hand on his knee to let him know where he was. "Time to listen to the lady."
Vin stilled instantly, hearing his best friend's voice.
"I can't see, Chris!" he practically cried, and reached out a shaky hand.
Chris moved to the head of the gurney and leaned down to whisper into Vin's ear. "I'm right here, Cowboy. And I ain't leaving. Let's just let the docs do what they gotta do and we'll take care of that seeing part later." He put a gentle hand to the top of Vin's head.
The nurse gave Chris a grateful smile as she kicked a wheeled stool toward him and began to remove the bandages from Vin's head.
Chris stayed right there with Vin, whispering encouraging words to him as the doctors and nurses treated his wounds. He helped them hold him down and still as they poured what seemed like gallons of water over his face and into his eyes. Winced and moaned with him as they put special lenses attached to tubes into his eyes to flush them out even more. By the time they were done, he was just as wet as Vin.
+ + + + + + +
When Chris returned to the waiting room, wearing hospital scrubs and carrying a towel, he was greeted by an anxious Buck and Nathan.
"How is he?" Buck asked first.
Chris shook his head. "I don't know. They must've poured about ten gallons of water into his eyes to flush the shrapnel out. And then they put some glow in the dark shit into them to look for some more." He heaved a big sigh as he sank into one of the chairs. "He can tell light from dark in his right eye, but that's about it right now. Won't know if he'll get full vision back for a few days."
"They takin' him up to a room now?" Nathan asked.
Chris shook his head again. "No, up to surgery. A couple of pieces went deep into his hand. Might be some nerve damage. And while one team is working on his hand, the plastic surgeons are gonna see what they can do for the cuts on his face, neck and other hand. Dammit! Shoulda let him get the other rifle."
"Weren't no time, Chris," Buck replied, finally taking a seat, too. "If Vin hadn't taken out those first two guys, you and the rest of the boys'd probably still be shooting it out with Paco."
"Or Vin wouldn't be the only agent here in the hospital," Nathan added.
+ + + + + + +
Vin lay still in his hospital bed, warily listening to the sounds around him. He picked up the bits and pieces of conversations from the people passing in hallway outside his room. Heard the squeaky wheels of the food carts as they moved around. The distinct ding of the elevator. He assumed that it was daytime, considering the level of activity going on, but he wasn't sure if that meant it was morning or afternoon. He vaguely remembered a nurse talking to him earlier, checking his vital signs, but between the anesthesia and pain meds he'd been given, he had no idea if that was one hour ago or several.
If only I could see, dammit! his mind screamed. But that's why you're here, ain't it, Tanner.
He began to reach for the bandages covering his eyes again, was stopped by the tug of the IV on one hand and the soft splint and bandaging on the other.
"Shit!" he swore, dropping his head back to the pillow, hoping the bandages would hide his tears.
Silently, Chris watched Vin's struggle from the doorway, unsure whether he should intrude or not. He saw the slight tremors in the injured sharpshooter's shoulders. Swore at himself.
If I'd only let him get that other rifle...
Vin stilled when he heard a new sound.
"You comin' in or not, Chris?" he asked, his voice barely above a hoarse whisper.
"How'd you know?" Chris asked, shaking his surprise and walking over to the chair next to the bed.
"Heard your boot. You scuff it when you're tryin' to figure somethin' out," Vin replied tiredly.
Chris shook his head in amazement and asked, "How you doin'?" as he put a gentle hand on Vin's arm and sat down.
"Ya gotta ask?" the sharpshooter replied sarcastically. "Let's see, what kind of work do you think a half-literate, blind ex-ATF agent can find?"
"Gee, Vin, awful quick to be heading down that road, don'tcha think?" Chris retorted.
"What time is it?"
Caught off guard by the question, Chris replied, "Three in the afternoon."
"Twenty-four hours ain't too quick."
"Vin... Shit, Vin, at least give yourself some time, alright?" The older man ran a shaky hand through his hair. "Docs said it could take up to a whole week for you to get some decent vision back. And they said you probably would, too."
"I heard what they said, Chris. Also heard how they said it. They ain't too hopeful."
Chris sighed and sat back in the chair. Can't fool Vin.
"Fine, you might not get full vision back," he conceded. "Does it mean the end of the world?"
"It does for someone like me," Vin retorted, turning his head away from Chris.
"Only if you let it, Cowboy," Chris answered back. "And I don't aim to let you."
"Woulda been better if the damn thing just blew my whole head off, instead of just cuttin' me up," the younger man muttered.
"Don't you dare say that, Vin!" Chris replied back angrily. He stood up and roughly grabbed hold of Vin's chin, bringing his face back toward him, ignoring the painful gasp Vin let out. "Don't you dare say that," he repeated, this time through gritted teeth. "Whether you believe it or not, you are worth a hell of a lot more than a pair of eyes."
"I guess we'll find out next week, won't we," Vin retorted, breaking free of Chris's grasp.
+ + + + + + +
"Agent Larabee? May I have a word with you?"
Chris looked up from his desk and motioned the District Attorney, Matt Rossie, into his office.
"I heard the news," Rossie began. "I'm sorry to hear about Agent Tanner."
"You and me both," Chris replied darkly. Rossie's apology made it sound as if Vin was killed in action. He realized that with Vin's attitude, it was almost as bad. "What can I do for you, Matt?" he asked, gesturing to one of the seats next to his desk.
"I understand that none of Agent Tanner's injuries are life threatening... that he might..."
"You're wondering whether or not Vin can testify on Thursday?"
"Well, yes," Rossie replied. "You know the score, Chris. This is our last chance to bring down Reginald. And Tanner's the one that can do it."
Chris sighed as he pushed his chair back from the desk and then a thought came to him. Maybe this was what Vin needed. What could show him that he's still got a part in life. Still has a job to do.
"I gotta be up front with you, Matt," Chris began. "Vin isn't taking this too well. The doctors only give him about a fifty-percent chance of getting his sight back. To him, that means zero chance. But I'll talk to him," he added. "And I'll see what the doctors have to say about releasing him, at least for Thursday."
"I appreciate it, Chris," Rossie replied.
The two men stood and shook hands before the District Attorney left the office. Chris sat back down and tried to come up with a way to turn Vin's testimony into a fight for his life.
+ + + + + + +
"You almost ready, Vin?" Buck asked, poking his head into the hospital room.
"Yeah," he replied quietly.
Vin had reluctantly agreed to testify at the Reginald trial. Part of it was due to Chris's insistence. He was really beginning to get sick of his friend's constant pep talks. He figured that if he gave in and testified at the trial, Chris might stop nagging him. He knew his blindness was permanent. No matter what the doctors said. He still couldn't see more than light or dark out of them. No way his livelihood as an ATF agent, let alone, sharpshooter, could continue.
Getting out of the hospital was another reason. He was tired of the small room. Even though he couldn't see that it was a small ten by twelve room, he could feel it. He was sick of the noise and attention. Sick of the pity he heard in the nurses' voices. He just wanted to go home. Be by himself for just a few hours.
"Got your jacket right here," Buck said, putting a gentle hand to Vin's arm before placing the leather garment around his shoulders.
"Thanks, Buck," Vin replied, reaching up with his good hand to keep the jacket from slipping.
Vin took a tentative step toward the door before reaching out to grab onto Buck's elbow, to be led out of the room.
"Nurse said all the paperwork's been done, so we can just head on out."
"Yeah, got that done while I was waitin' for ya," Vin said. "Got all my meds and doctors' orders right here," he added, holding up a small, brown paper bag.
Vin was about to take another step when his nurse returned, pushing a wheelchair.
"Sorry, Mr. Tanner," he said. "Hospital rules, you know. Gotta leave in a wheelchair."
Vin was about to protest when he felt Buck's hand on his arm again. "Go ahead, pard'," he said. "Let's make it easy on the poor fellow."
The injured agent relented with a sigh and Buck guided him toward the wheelchair, letting go of Vin's elbow when he was sure Vin wouldn't fall.
"You alright, Vin?" the mustached man asked, giving his elbow a shake.
"Just fine, Buck."
Buck heard the easiness to Vin's voice and saw the small smile given for his benefit, but he knew there was fear inside of Vin. Not that he didn't understand it. Vin was blind. He was virtually helpless. And for a man that normally took in every minute detail around him, sizing up any situation in a matter of seconds, Buck knew that this couldn't be anywhere near easy on his friend, despite the reassurance.
"You sure you're gonna be okay at your place by yourself?" Buck asked as he walked beside him.
"Should be," Vin replied with a sigh. "Between y'all motherin' me and the neighbors lookin' in on a regular basis, don't think I'll really be alone at all."
Buck just nodded to himself. He was one of the best when it came to cheering people up, but this was new territory for him. He didn't think he could find the words to make Vin feel better, find hope. Not this time.
Once out of the hospital, Buck led the way in the parking lot, leading Vin, letting the younger man hold onto his elbow as they walked to his truck. He drove slowly through the streets of Denver and eventually they had made their way to court. Buck kept shaking his head during the drive. Despite the fact that Vin was blind, his instincts were intact. Vin seemed to have a knack for knowing where things were, what streets the truck was on, which way they were headed. During the drive there, the sharpshooter reminded him about several large potholes that would have surely rattled Buck's truck to pieces if he hit them.
At the trial itself, Vin gave a near flawless testimony. The only problem occurred when District Attorney Rossie absently asked him if he could point out the defendant. After a small pause, Rossie caught his mistake. Vin wound up describing the man to a tee, anyway. After the defense lawyer cross-examined him, he was dismissed.
Chris and Buck met him out in the lobby where the bailiff dropped him off.
"How'd it go?" Chris asked.
"I did my part," Vin replied. "Don't think the Defense had to much to go on. I think we nailed him."
"Sounds good to me," Buck put in.
"I'll stick around and talk to Rossie," Chris said. "I've got some other court paperwork to check up on anyway. Buck, can you give Vin a ride?"
"Sure thing," he replied.
+ + + + + + +
"Hey, Buck? You up for some beer and pizza?"
"Sure, Vin," he answered as he drove. "Am feelin' a might hungry, now that you mention it. Whatta ya say we pick up some beer and then order from Marco's, have it delivered to your place?"
"Sounds like a plan."
The two drove through the streets of Denver, headed toward Vin's neighborhood.
"Still don't know why you live around here, Vin," Buck remarked, taking in the sight of the dilapidated buildings surrounding the convenience store parking lot he pulled into.
"Didn't have much of a choice when I first moved in," Vin replied. "Now, it's just hard to leave the friends I've made."
"Well you stay put, I'll be just a minute or two," the mustached man said, patting Vin on the knee before getting out of the truck.
"Get some OJ, too!" Vin shouted.
Buck entered the small store and absently noting the clerk stocking some items behind the counter before grabbing a hand basket. When Vin mentioned the orange juice, he figured that his friend's fridge would probably be lacking a few other essential items, him being gone for a few days and all. After grabbing a six-pack of beer and the carton of juice, he made his way over to the aisle that had the bread and cookies. He set the basket onto the floor and squatted down to get a look at the selection on the bottom shelf. It was as he put his hand on the box of Mallowmars that he heard the threat.
"Gimme all the money, now!"
Buck put the cookies down and reached for his gun. Keeping his body low, he moved slowly toward the end of the aisle. He took a look at the security mirror in the corner and spotted robber pointing a gun to the store clerk.
"Come on, come on!"
Checking the mirror again and seeing no one else in the store, Buck crept his way toward the front of the store. When he came to the end of the aisle, he rose up. Keeping his body behind the shelving, he pointed his gun at the robber.
"I'd drop that gun if I was you!" he ordered.
The man turned around and looked at Buck.
"That's right, buddy," Buck said, keeping his gun steady. "Put it down, nice and easy like and no one'll get hurt."
The robber looked around quickly - eyeing Buck, the clerk and the door in turn - before putting the gun onto the counter, next to the clerk.
"That's right smart of you, son," the ATF agent replied, coming out from behind the shelves.
Buck watched the store clerk take possession of the robber's weapon. He then put his own gun away. He was unprepared for what happened next. Before he could take out his gun again, the clerk pointed the gun at him and fired it.