Waiting For A
ATF Assistant Director, Orrin Travis was still in his office. He had worked late again. His wife Evie had been very gracious when he called. She always understood. The ringing of his telephone interrupted his musing.
"Vin Tanner is on line two. He says it is urgent. He's calling collect, sir."
"Thank you Crystal." He punched the button for line two. "Orrin Travis."
"Sir, it's Vin Tanner."
"What can I do for you, Vin?"
"Chris is in trouble. He was..." Vin paused, taking a deep breath, "He was life-flighted to Denver."
Travis leaned back heavily in his chair. "What happened? Is he all right?"
"It might be his heart, sir. Nathan wasn't sure." Vin grunted in pain as he shifted his weight.
"Son, are you all right?"
"Long story, sir. I'm stuck here. I lost my wallet. There's a charter service, but I don't have any money or credit cards."
"Hold on." Orrin put Vin on hold and called Crystal into the office. "We're going to need to get a charter flight ASAP for Mr. Tanner. He's going to give us the details." He punched the button for speakerphone. "All right Vin. I've got Crystal here, go ahead with the details."
"I'm in a town called Parson's Crossing..." Vin went on to give the information on the charter service and Crystal went to make arrangements.
"Are you all right, Vin?"
"I'd be a helluva lot better if I was with Chris."
Orrin smiled grimly. Vin Tanner was not normally short with people. "I'm working on that, son. Where are the other boys?"
"Hopefully they are on the way, sir. They had to wait for Josiah, Buck and Ez to get back from town."
"Arrangements are made, sir. Mister Tanner's flight will leave in 15 minutes. He will reach Denver in 90 minutes."
"Did you catch that Vin?"
"Get yourself to that flight. I'll pick you up at the airport."
"Thank you, sir."
The phone line went dead. "Crystal, call the local hospitals. Find out where Chris Larabee is a patient."
Orrin Travis was shocked at the appearance of the young man walking toward him. Vin's right arm was in a sling; a couple of bandages adorned his forehead and cheek along with several bruises. His jacket was tattered and he wore light blue scrubs beneath it. He was walking very slowly with a distinct limp.
"Son, are you all right?"
"Fine, sir." The reply was abrupt. "Do you have any word on Chris?"
"No. I couldn't get any information from the hospital." Orrin turned and began to lead Vin to the car. "What happened to you?"
"It does to me."
"Fine," he snapped tersely.
Orrin glanced and the wiry sharpshooter. Vin was tough and strong. He faced down some of the most frightening situations without so much as a blink. But now the young man was biting. He was scared. Orrin very gently laid a hand on Vin's shoulder as they walked. Vin flinched and tried to shrug it off, but Orrin kept it in position all the way to the car. He wanted the young man to know he was not alone in this.
Several minutes into the silent car ride, Vin sighed and began to speak. "I'm sorry, sir."
"I know, Vin."
"It's just..." the sharpshooter stopped. He couldn't find the words to describe how he felt at that moment. He couldn't tell A.D. Travis when he didn't really know himself. He was scared that Chris was going to die. But there were a whole lot of other confusing emotions happening at the same time.
"It's okay, Vin. What happened to your arm?"
Vin looked down at his sling. "Oh... I kinda took a bit of a fall."
Orrin smiled to himself. He would have to pry every bit of the explanation out of the quiet man. Vin wasn't one to go around offering information anyway and with his current emotional state, it would be like pulling teeth.
"Is it broken?"
"Your arm. Is it broken?"
"Oh... yeah. They put it in a splint so the swelling could go down before they cast it."
"What about your head?"
"I got a headache," said the sharpshooter. "Doc said I have a concussion."
Orrin sighed. Tanner was clearly disoriented. "They released you?"
"Well...not exactly," said Vin as he leaned his head back on the headrest and closed his eyes. "I couldn't wait that long."
Orrin sighed. It was not the first time one of Team 7 had left against medical advice or escaped from the hospital. He'd make sure Vin was examined at Four Corners. They pulled into the hospital parking lot, found a parking spot and headed for the admissions desk.
Orrin stepped out of the elevator followed by Vin who was blocked from view by the large man in front of him. The waiting members of Team 7 were surprised to see A.D. Travis.
"Sir," said Buck guiltily, he should have called the Assistant Director. He froze as he caught sight of the injured man. "Junior, are you okay?"
"I'm fine Bucklin. How's Chris?" His eyes widened as he got a glimpse of Larabee through the open door. He stiffened at the sight of his friend. He looked so...lifeless.
Seeing Vin's face pale at the sight of Chris, Buck stepped to the sharpshooter's left side and took hold of his arm to support him just in case. "You okay there, Junior?" He felt a shudder run through Vin. "He's gonna be okay, Vin."
"You don't know that!" snarled the younger man in desperate fear.
"Yes, Vin," said Nathan stepping up beside his battered friend, "Yes we do. It's not his heart, Vin. After you left, JD discovered a bite mark on the back of his head. The doctors have determined he was bit by a Black Widow spider."
The room began to spin and his legs would no longer hold him up. The next thing he saw was the ceiling and Nathan leaning over him. "Stay still, Vin."
"Like hell you are. You just passed out, Junior," said Buck.
"Spider bite?" Vin whispered.
Vin sounded confused. Nathan was concerned. The sharpshooter obviously had a concussion. "Yes, Vin. A black widow spider."
Vin reached up slowly with his good hand and touched the back of Nathan's head. "Here?"
"Yes," nodded Nathan.
"I told him it served him right." Vin's voice faded. "Thought it was a mosquito."
Nathan and Buck exchanged glances. How could their young friend feel guilty about that? Two orderlies arrived with a gurney. "Vin, we're gonna put you up here on the gurney."
"No, I'm fine. I gotta see Chris," said Vin. He sat up. Fear laced his voice.
Buck took Vin's chin gently in his hand turning it took make sure he made eye contact. "Vin, Chris is going to be fine. You hear me?"
"Black Widow..." Tears brimmed in the sharpshooter's eyes.
Realization flooded everyone. Vin had not been privy to the information on the spider. He must have thought Chris would die from the poison.
"Oh, Junior, Black Widows kill less than five percent of the time," said Buck gently. "Chris is going to be all right."
"Let us get him on the gurney," said one of the orderlies.
Doctor Marcus was now standing behind the group. She had heard the entire conversation. "Perhaps Mr. Tanner could see Mr. Larabee for just a moment before we examine him."
Buck and Nathan helped Vin to his feet and Buck walked him the short distance to Chris's room. Sitting on the left side of the bed, Vin took Chris's hand in his. "Cowboy?"
Chris opened pain-wearied eyes. "Hey pard," he gasped out, "What happened to you?"
"Long story. How you doin'?"
Vin fought to control his emotions at the team leader's words. Chris never admitted feeling lousy.
"They think I was bit by a Black Widow spider."
"Yeah, that's what they said. Maybe it was when you thought you got that mosquito bite."
"It hurts so bad."
"I know, Cowboy, I know. I wish I could make it go away."
Another surge of pain shot through Chris's chest causing him to tighten his grip uncontrollably on the sharpshooter's hand as he choked back the groan.
Vin winced at the pain in his hand but said nothing. His pain was unimportant in comparison to what Chris was experiencing. The quiet man began speaking softly to Larabee, his words and tone soothing him.
Doctor Marcus checked Chris's IV and increased his pain medication. Vin watched as his friend's face relaxed and in moments, he drifted off to sleep.
"All right, Mr. Tanner. Let's get you checked out." Vin went willing after seeing Chris with his own eyes.
Chris was on painkillers and muscle relaxants, so he was pretty much oblivious to anything for the next 24 hours. Doctor Marcus had examined Vin. Knowing these men as well as she did, she decided not to admit him, figuring that he would just escape his room to be with Larabee. As a compromise, she made sure the bed next to Chris remained empty and told Vin he should use it when he was tired. A suggestion that the young man totally ignored. He occupied the chair next to Larabee's bed practically around the clock. The others came and went keeping an eye on both of their friends.
The tall, beautiful brunette approached the waiting men. As Buck stood, she observed Vin seated in the chair by Chris's bed.
"Mr. Tanner, did you get something to eat?"
Vin ducked his head a little, shyly. "Yes, ma'am."
"What exactly did you eat?" asked Doctor Marcus
"Some toast and " he paused, looking at the other guys before finishing. "Some toast and some juice."
Eyebrows raised, heads looked up. All attention was on the quiet man. No one was teasing, but they were all a little surprised that Vin Tanner, a connoisseur of anything sweet, had chosen such bland food.
"Define 'some' and 'a little', Mr. Tanner." Easily reading his discouragement, she sat in the chair next to his and softened her tone. "How much toast? How much juice?"
His eyes refused to leave the spot on the floor in front of him. He couldn't meet her eyes.
"I tried. Please let me stay with Chris," he pleaded softly.
"How much, Mr. Tanner?"
"One piece. And part of a glass of cranberry juice," he mumbled.
"And you didn't even eat the whole piece, did you?"
He shook his head. "I ain't hungry."
The rest of the team watched in amazement as Doctor Marcus connected with Vin. She took her hand and raised his chin so he would look at her.
"I know you don't think you're hungry, but I don't want you becoming a patient here. You have to eat, and you have to get some rest."
"I have to be here for Chris," he said firmly.
All eyes turned to the groggy man in the bed. He flopped his hand against Vin's. "You eat sleep... Don't come back..." Chris was too bleary eyed to see the look of hurt that crossed Vin's face, but JD didn't miss it.
"Fine." Vin forced himself to his feet. He swayed slightly but pushed away Buck's hands. He limped slowly out of the room. JD started after him, but Buck called him back.
"Give him a few minutes, JD. Then you can make sure he eats." Buck gave the kid a grin.
Ezra now occupied the chair next to Chris's bed. He had his cast propped up on the side of the bed.
"Anything?" asked Chris anxiously. It had been three hours and Vin had not returned to the room. The others were searching his haunts around the hospital. Chris clenched and released his fist repeatedly. He should not have told Vin what to do. The kid hated that, and feeling as poorly as he did, he had taken Chris's comment the wrong way. Chris had just wanted him to eat and rest. Vin had taken him literally and had not come back.
Ezra dialed Buck on the cell phone. "Is there any progress?"
"He's not anywhere outside the building. Nathan went over to Vin's to see if maybe he got home somehow. Josiah's checking the third and fourth floors again. And JD's checking the first and second floors."
"Thank you, Mr. Wilmington."
"No luck so far, Mr. Larabee."
"Chris, he'll turn up. He's so worn out, he probably fell asleep somewhere."
Chris laid back and tried to relax. He didn't have to try too hard. The pain meds kicked in and he soon was asleep.
Vin had been AWOL for five hours and now JD was missing too. Another search of the hospital turned up neither man. Josiah was headed back to the elevator on the second floor as he passed the chapel. He stopped thinking that taking a few minutes to pray wouldn't hurt. He gently pushed open the door to the tiny sanctuary and was surprised to see the form of JD Dunne sitting in a pew. He walked up the short aisle to the pew behind JD. As he lay his hand on JD's shoulder to tell him he was there, he smiled.
"He sleeps," said Josiah softly. There was the missing Vin, lying on the pew, using JD's lap as a pillow.
JD glanced over his shoulder, whispering, "I didn't want to disturb him. I found him in the cafeteria. He ate a little. We were on the way back up and he wanted to stop here."
"Call when he wakes up."
JD nodded. Josiah slipped out of the room and headed upstairs.
When he reached Chris's room, he collected pillows and blankets off the second bed.
"What's up, Josiah?" asked Buck.
"Found 'em. Vin's sleeping." He grinned. "JD is his pillow."
Chris sighed and closed his eyes. The two youngest members of his team were okay.
"Where are they?" asked Nathan.
"The chapel?" asked Ezra incredulously.
Josiah smiled. "Yes, the chapel. Vin got something to eat. He's been sleeping in the chapel the rest of the time." Josiah held up a pillow. "I'm going to make them a little more comfortable. I'll be back in a bit."
Buck let out a chuckle as he entered the chapel. The sight that greeted him might have scared him if he had not known the two ATF agents were sleeping in the small room. JD was lying on the floor, his legs sprawled out into the aisle like a dead man. Buck approached the pew quietly. Looking over the top, he noticed Vin was awake.
Vin rolled his head slightly and looked up at Buck. "Chris still mad?"
Buck smiled. "Chris wasn't mad at ya, Junior."
"He said not to come back," Vin whispered, turning his face away from Buck.
Buck paused for a moment. How had Vin picked only that phrase?
"Vin Tanner, look at me," Buck scolded.
Vin, hearing his given name instead of the usual 'Junior' from Buck, turned to the older agent.
"That ain't what he said. I mean, he said those words, but he told ya to go get something to eat and get some sleep before ya came back. He was lying up there worried about ya 'til Josiah found ya." Buck watched Vin's face turn from confusion to guilt. Way to go, Buck. Make him feel guilty for worrying Chris. Buck slapped the heel of his hand against his forehead. Biting pain reminded him quickly of his air hockey injury. He clenched his eyes shut to ward off the pain. Hearing a soft chuckle, he opened his eyes.
"Oh, you think that's funny, Junior?"
"Sorry, Bucklin. What happened to your head anyway?"
"Hockey injury. Got hit in the head with a puck."
JD laughed as he sat up. "Tell him the whole story, Buck. Go ahead. Tell him it was an air hockey puck."
Vin's shoulders bounced in silent laughter and a grin crossed his face. "Just ain't your week, Bucklin."
"Don't look like it treated you too well, either."
"It was worth it," Vin whispered, as he became serious again.
"Hey, Junior. Doc Marcus is going to let Chris go home today. She wants to see you, get that cast on your arm. You all right with that?"
"Well, then, let's go. Time's a wasting." Buck grinned as both men got to their feet. JD gathered up the blankets and pillows and Buck gave Vin someone to lean on. The Texan moved like an old man. His whole body was stiff and sore. It was going to take more than a couple days before Vin felt like doing much of anything.
"No, Ezra. I said, I'll take care of everything."
"I really don't need your help, Mr. Wilmington. I'm sure Mr. Tanner feels the same way."
"Now, Ezra, you were injured because of me, and I owe it to you."
"Yes, well, I can recuperate just as well at home. Besides, how can I be sure your um unlucky streak is over?"
"Ha-ha," said Buck sarcastically. "At least Nate got through this thing unscathed." Buck swung the door open, colliding with the paramedic's hand as Nathan was reaching to open it.
"Ow!" yelped Nathan, grabbing his wrist protectively.
"Aw hell!" moaned Buck.
"I'll get the ice," said Ezra, shaking his head as he hobbled on his crutches to Chris's kitchen.
Chris, seated in his recliner, watched Buck trying to help Nathan. The paramedic was having nothing to do with it. Ezra hobbled back into the room with the ice.
"Here you are, Mr. Jackson," he said handing Nathan a bag of frozen peas. "And one for your ailing knee, Mr. Tanner," he added, handing Vin a bag of frozen kernel corn. Ezra turned to JD, slouching on the couch. "Mr. Dunne, there is a bag of mixed vegetables still available should you feel the need to use them on your eye."
Chris surveyed his team, his oddball family. Buck with his 'hockey' injury. JD's black eye and Ezra's broken ankle from the mountain board incident. A smile crossed his face. Josiah's fishing injury. Nathan's bruised hand. All of them falling into the 'accidents waiting for a place to happen' category. All of them victims of Buck's accident-prone streak.
His eyes settled on the wiry Texan. Vin's injuries, the broken arm, the sprained knee, the concussion, those fell into a different classification. They fell into the 'it's my fault' category. Vin would not have been hurt at all if Chris had been more careful. He knew spiders hid out in woodpiles. If I had been more careful, that dumb spider wouldn't have bit me, and Vin wouldn't have been hurt trying to rescue me.
Chris had caught a glimpse of Vin earlier when Buck helped him change his clothes. The kid was bruised from head to toe. It was no wonder he had planted himself on the couch and not shifted unless absolutely necessary. It had to be very painful to move. After the past few days, Chris had a new appreciation for pain. Vin had not said a word about hurting. In fact, he hadn't said much of anything since arriving at the ranch yesterday, and for once, Chris couldn't read him. Their eyes connected and Vin abruptly broke contact, sitting up and wincing with the movement. Buck moved to help him. Vin held up his hand to halt him. He didn't want any help. With his slow shuffle, he disappeared down the hallway.
"Anybody know what's bothering Vin?" asked Chris when the guest room door closed.
"I would assumed he is trying to sort out the emotions of the past few days," said Ezra, "Like the rest of us."
"That ain't it," said JD.
Everyone turned to him and he suddenly felt embarrassed. Vin had told him in the chapel what was bugging him, but he had said it in confidence. Now JD was stuck.
"Then what is it?" asked Chris.
"Uh I can't say."
"JD, you can't dangle a carrot like that, then jerk it away."
"I'm sorry, Buck. He told me in confidence."
"So it was something from before the trip?" Chris smiled. JD was an open book. Without intending to, his expression told Chris he was correct. "Something I did?" JD looked away, but not before Chris confirmed it. Great. What did I do that would upset Vin?
The sharpshooter lay on the bed in the guestroom. He had tried to let it go. Now that the stress of the trip was over, every time he looked at Chris, the hurt popped right to the forefront. This is stupid, Tanner. Forget it. Chris did. Hell, that was the whole problem.
There was a soft knock at the door. "Go away."
"Can't do that pard. I live here."
"Then call me a cab. I'll go."
Chris opened the door and came in. This was ridiculous. "Vin, talk to me. Something's been bugging you for days, and I figure it's something I did. But I don't know what it is. You have to tell me or I can't fix it."
"Ain't something you can fix, Cowboy."
"Damn it, Vin!" Chris sat down heavily on the end of the bed. Knowing that he couldn't force the younger man to talk, the team leader backed off. If he pushed any more, Vin would totally wall himself off. So he waited, hoping the Texan would tell him what was troubling him.
Chris eyed the remains of Vin's backpack, its shredded condition indicative of the turbulent hike the sharpshooter had taken on his behalf. Josiah had taken the long drive back to the cabin yesterday to retrieve their gear. Chris smiled to himself remembering Vin's insistence that Josiah explain to the clinic staff what had happened and make sure they had all his insurance information. He had told Josiah no less than three times to make sure to pay for the 'borrowed' scrubs. It had not surprised Chris in the least that Vin had stolen the scrubs and sneaked out of the clinic. Josiah had been able to retrieve the backpack from the Ranger Station and ascertained their take on what Vin had gone through on his little jaunt across the mountains. Chris sighed. It had been almost twenty minutes and he thought that maybe Vin had fallen asleep.
"An accident waiting for a place to happen."
Chris turned to Vin, but said nothing.
"That's what you call me."
"It doesn't mean anything."
"Sure it does. It means you don't trust me."
"What? Of course I trust you."
"Yeah. You trust my skill with a rifle. I cover your back in a bust, protect the team, but you don't trust me with me. You check up on me. You think I'm reckless. That I make poor choices. That I do risky things without considering the consequences. You don't trust me to take care of myself. You want me to fit in this perfect little box, totally safe. But I got news for ya, Chris. I don't fit in no box, and nothin' is ever totally safe." Vin paused and caught Chris's eye. "You, of all people outta know that." He saw Chris flinch as memories of the loss of his wife and son flooded him. Vin took a deep breath. He was hurting Chris and he wasn't sure why. Damnit. Why can't I stop shaking? He felt the fear that he thought was neatly tucked away come flooding over him. He forged ahead anyway trying to push Chris away. "I am a big boy, ya know. I've been takin' care of myself for along time before you came along."
Chris was stunned. The sharpshooter's obvious hurt as well as the uncharacteristic long-winded speech caught him off guard.
"Vin, I " He looked at his friend. Long brown curls framed the handsome face. Unshed tears brimmed in the lost blue eyes. But what grabbed his heart and crushed it was the trembling of the younger man's body.
"Vin, I'm so sorry. I didn't " the sharpshooter clamping his hand on Chris's forearm cut off his words.
"I thought you were dying," he whispered.
So that was it. He was afraid. He was using his anger and hurt as a ploy to push Chris away. But, Chris was a master at this move. He had done his best to drive Buck away after the deaths of Sarah and Adam. He had tried his best to keep Vin and the others out of his heart. If he didn't let someone in, he wouldn't get hurt when the person left either willingly or unwillingly. Vin had just faced the reality that he had let someone get into his heart, and he could lose him. The young man hadn't had to face that fact since he lost his mother when he was five. He had never let anyone get that close. Chris reached his hand around behind Vin's shoulder and touching the side of his face lightly, he pulled Vin against his shoulder.
The sharpshooter didn't resist. He leaned into the embrace letting his cheek rest against Larabee's chest. The steady beating of Chris's heart was a comforting sound. That sound had almost ceased. Chris had come so close to dying. Vin absorbed the rhythmic rise and fall of Larabee's chest assuring him that Chris was still here. He felt Chris stroking his hair, as a parent would comfort a child. Vin reveled in the feelings for a few minutes, letting them surround him and settle him. He sighed, knowing that he would have to leave the security he felt and face the real world.
When Chris felt him sigh, he knew Vin was gathering himself back into his fortress. "Vin, I never meant to hurt you with those words. It has nothing to do with me trusting you. I just don't want you to get hurt. I didn't mean to force you into a mold. And I know nothing is ever totally safe. Someday you will die or I will die. Someone on the team will die." Chris thought for a moment of the hell Buck had gone through with him, and what he had finally learned from the man. "The way I see it, we only have two choices: crawl inside the walls we build to isolate ourselves so no one can hurt us, and live a lonely miserable life; or take a risk, take a chance on friends, guaranteed we will be hurt sometimes, but guaranteed we will be loved and cared for as well. Team 7 was my risk Vin. It was my accident waiting for a place to happen. I didn't plan to let you guys into my heart. But I'm glad it happened." He paused, and added with a grin, "Well, most of the time, I'm glad."
Vin's head popped up off his shoulder. He smiled. "So me being an accident is a good thing?" he asked teasingly.
"You should try mountain boarding, old man."
"Not a chance in hell, Tanner. You want to get something to eat? Josiah's making chili and cornbread."
"Oooh. Cornbread sounds great. Don't think I can handle chili." Vin held his good arm to his stomach. It was still being disagreeable.
"Me neither. Buck made soup," replied Chris, scrunching up his nose in repulsion. Vin stood up with a chuckle, moving stiffly.
"Man, that's gotta hurt."
Vin nodded. "Purty sore."
"Well, shuffle off to the kitchen, old man."
Vin grinned. "You'll get yours, Larabee."
They joined the rest of Team 7 at the dinner table in the kitchen. As usual, pandemonium reigned. Buck and JD verbally jousting, the southerner complaining about the lack of proper etiquette, Nathan and Josiah discussing some new psychological issue from Nathan's journal. Add the taciturn Texan and the demanding team leader. Seven vastly diverse men. Seven vastly diverse men that pulled together as a family and made the best team in the ATF.
"Waiting for a place to happen," whispered Chris.
The words had a new meaning to the sharpshooter. Vin nodded and smiled. "Glad it was here, Cowboy. Glad it was us."
He is so unlucky that he runs into accidents,
which start out to happen to somebody else.
Don Marquis (1878 - 1937) US journalist, poet, dramatist, humorist
Home - Blackraptor M7 Fanfic
Comments to: JK