Out of the Frying Pan,
Into the Fire
ATF Alternate Universe
Vin was slowly becoming aware of voices. He'd heard them calling his name, but he didn't recognize any of them. When his whole body began to wake up, aches and pains making themselves known, he groaned. He tried to move, get more comfortable, but he couldn't. He opened his eyes, hoping to figure out why. What he saw, the ceiling of an ambulance and a paramedic hovering over him, brought the memory of the explosion crashing back.
"Gina?" he called weakly, his voice muffled under the oxygen mask. "Gina? Chris?" he tried again.
"Sssh. Just lie still, Mr. Tanner," the paramedic soothed, shining a penlight into his eyes.
He tried to turn away from the bright light, couldn't. Panic began to set in again as he tried to move against the restraints on him.
"Where's Gina?!" he demanded. "Where is she?! Chris!" he called weakly, gasping from the effort of just those few words.
"Calm down, Mr. Tanner," the paramedic told him. "You've been in an accident and you're hurt. I need you to lie as still as you can," he instructed.
"It wasn't no goddamned accident!" he retorted. "There was a little girl! Where is she?!" he demanded again.
He didn't get an answer as the paramedic was now beginning to unhook the IV and the oxygen from the ambulance's controls.
"We're at the hospital now, Mr. Tanner and I need you to settle down," was all he said.
"I need to know!" he shouted, squirming under the restraints, ignoring the pain flaring up in his shoulder. "Is she alright?! Gina! Chris!"
"Easy there, Vin," a familiar voice now soothed from the side of the gurney.
"Chris?" Vin called, straining to see his new boss. "Where's Gina? Is she alright?" he begged.
"She's fine, Vin. Not a scratch," he assured him as he walked along side the gurney into the emergency department. "But you - you got yourself banged up pretty good. So do what the nice paramedics say and calm down," he admonished.
"Gina's fine?" he asked, still needing to make sure.
"Thanks to you," Chris replied. "Now calm down already."
"As soon as Johnny and Roy here back off and let me up," the younger man responded, still trying to get loose.
Chris was about to reply to the remark when an ER nurse stopped him.
"I'm sorry, sir, but you'll have to wait in the waiting room," she said.
Chris nodded and watched Vin through the open door. He winced visibly as he heard the scream the new ATF agent let out. He had finally managed to get free of the gurney's straps and unfortunately found out why the paramedics had been telling him to stay still. 'Live and learn,' he thought before the door swung shut.
"I'm fine!" he yelled, glaring at the doctors and nurses crowding around him.
And then, as if to prove his point, he squirmed a little more and got free of the straps holding him onto the backboard. He sat up quickly, causing his shoulder to drop and pain lanced through his entire body. His body betrayed him and before he knew it, the scream escaped his lips. His eyes met with Chris's across the room and he saw the man wince in sympathy for him. And just before the door to the ER swung shut, he saw those same eyes say, "I told you so."
"Shit," he swore quietly, letting the nurses ease him back down onto the backboard.
"Mr. Tanner?" the doctor called. "I'm Dr. Neubert. Will you lie still now?" she asked.
"Yeah," he replied quietly.
"Mr. Tanner? Can you tell me what happened?" the doctor asked, checking Vin's pupils.
"Got blown up," he replied with a slight chuckle.
The doctor also chuckled at his response, saying, "Yeah, that's what I heard. Do you know what day it is?"
"My name is Vin Tanner. It's Friday. Clinton is still president," he responded, knowing the questions.
"Been through this before?" she asked, amused.
"Somethin' like that," the sharpshooter replied.
"Okay," the doctor began. "We're going to run a few tests, take a few x-rays, maybe put a few stitches in you. Alright?" she continued. "Then we'll see about setting you free again," she added, checking the cervical collar.
"Yeah," he replied, squeezing his eyes shut again as another wave of pain washed through his shoulder.
About three hours later, Buck found Chris in the waiting room.
"How is he?" the ATF agent asked.
"Still haven't heard anything since you called an hour ago," the team leader replied. "The doctors are still going over his x-rays and stuff. What have you got?" he asked.
"Josiah, Ezra and Nathan picked up Parker," Buck replied. "Got him at the airport. He had himself a plane ticket to Texas."
"Did he talk?" Chris asked.
Buck shook his head, saying, "Nope. Got himself lawyered up as soon as he could. And there's more," he said with a sigh.
"What?" the blond agent asked.
After hearing Buck's tone of voice, he knew to dread whatever news the big agent had.
"Jacobs is dead. CO found him hung in his cell," he said. "We don't have any ties to Nealson anymore. That and he never did sign any statement."
"Shit!" Chris swore, getting up from his chair, beginning to pace. "Okay," he began. "Parker is not to be left alone. No bail. No deals. NOTHING until he gives us Nealson. Understood?"
"Understood, boss," Buck nodded.
He was just about to continue when Dr. Neubert entered the waiting room.
"Agent Larabee?" she called. "I'm Dr. Neubert. I treated Agent Tanner," she said, shaking Chris's hand.
"How's Vin?" he asked.
"He's a very lucky young man," she began. "Aside from the mild concussion and several cuts that needed stitches, his most serious injury was the dislocated shoulder," she told them.
"Then he'll be okay?" Buck inquired.
"Yes," she assured them. "We'll keep him here for a couple of days, for observation, then he'll be able to go home."
"Thanks, Doc," Chris said to the woman. "Can we see him?" he asked.
"Maybe a little later," she said. "He's finally asleep and," she trailed, looking a little sheepish.
"And after the hell he probably put you guys through, you want to keep it that way," Chris finished.
"Yeah," she replied, giving them a wink before she turned to go.
"You see that, Chris?" Buck whispered, nudging his old friend. "She wants me."
"Dream on, Buck," he replied, heading for the doors.
EJ Banks walked through the U.S. Marshal's office casually. Every now and then, he'd stop at an empty desk, rearrange the items on top and move on. He couldn't explain his need to meddle with other people's things, let alone their lives. It was just a perverse little trait and he enjoyed it. The office had been closed for hours. It was nearing eight o'clock, still another couple of hours before the cleaning crew came in. He saw a lighted office ahead of him and entered, closing the door. There he found Jack Nealson, a nervous man furiously pacing the office.
"Where the hell have you been?" Nealson asked, furious. "Tanner's still alive and the ATF picked up Parker at the airport!"
"Just can't find good help these days, can ya Jack?" EJ remarked. "But don't you worry none. I'll take care of Tanner. Like you said, if ya want a job done right, ya gotta do it yourself. As for Parker, I took care of him. Already got him a lawyer. I wouldn't worry about him."
"You're sure?" Nealson asked, still worried.
"I'm sure," Banks said with a smile.
It was nine o'clock in the morning and Chris was walking down the hospital corridor, trying to figure out how to tell Vin the news. The news that the best connection that they'd had, the best evidence they'd had against Nealson, was dead. Nothing they'd gotten from Jacobs could be used. It was all hearsay evidence now. Not even worth bothering to mention in court. The boys had been checking into Nealson and Banks' files. They still couldn't find any connections between them, Parker and Vin. Other than the fact that Parker was headed to Texas, and that's where Vin had worked, anyway. But Vin had never dealt with Parker. They obviously found some other connections between Nealson and Parker, those being prior arrests, but they still had no hard evidence that Nealson hired or bartered with Parker to kill Vin. Chris's thoughts continued to lead to Texas, though. There must have been something else going on there. It was a mystery that the ATF leader was already tired of. Finally, he reached Vin's room. He nodded to Jimmy Beck, one of the ATF agents he'd assigned to guard duty outside Vin's room. He was about to enter when he heard Vin swearing.
"Son of a bitch!" he cursed, as he painfully tried to get up.
"What the hell are you doing?" Chris asked, getting to Vin's side just before he fell off the bed.
"Tryin' to get outta here, what does it look like?" he retorted.
"Looks like you're trying to hurt yourself some more," the older man admonished. "Now get back over and lie down," he ordered.
"Come on, Chris," Vin began. "I gotta get outta here. I'm fine. I don't need to stay here," he continued before Chris cut in.
"Oh, and practically falling out of bed because you can barely move is fine?" he asked, sarcasm in his voice.
The sharpshooter just glared at his new boss, saying only, "I don't like hospitals."
Chris shook his head at the younger man. He saw something else in Vin's eyes - more than just a dislike of hospitals. Something else was bothering him.
"You've only gotta stay here another day," the ATF leader offered. "Then, we find you a safe place to stay."
"I already know where I'm goin'," Vin responded quickly. "I got a place."
Chris raised his eyebrows at the injured agent, questioning him.
"No ATF safe house for me," he continued, daring Chris to contradict him. "I don't want nobody else getting' hurt."
"Nobody else got hurt," Chris cut in.
"Gina almost got killed 'cause of me!" the younger man blurted out.
"No, Vin. Gina almost got killed because of Parker and Nealson," his boss countered. "And Nealson's gonna try at you again."
Vin let his head drop back against the pillow and sighed. He brought his bandaged right arm up and over his face, attempting to block out everything that had happened over the past three days. 'When did things turn all upside down?' he thought.
"I just wanna go home," he whispered to himself.
Chris heard the quiet plea from the young man in front of him. Heard the hurt in his voice. Shit.
"So where's this place you got?" he asked quietly, pulling Vin's arm down.
"I got a camper in the woods, about seventy miles from here," he began. "Real secluded. Easy to tell if someone's been there or is coming at ya."
"Okay," Chris agreed, nodding his head. "Tomorrow after you're released, we'll head out there. You need a few days to rest up before the doc says you start physical therapy. We can spend it there."
"We?" Vin questioned.
"You sure as hell can't ride your bike out there alone," the blond agent retorted. "And secluded or not, you're having a body guard."
"I can take care of myself, Chris. Been doin' it all my life," the younger man argued.
"Yeah, and how often have you had to do it with one arm tied to your chest while someone was out gunning for you?" Chris shot back.
Vin knew it was a losing battle. Somehow, he knew he wasn't going to win too many with Chris Larabee, either. The man was more stubborn than he was. And damn, if he didn't know what he was thinking most of the time, too.
"Fine," he conceded. "Gotta bring your own beer and fishin' gear, though."
"Count on it," Chris laughed and patted Vin on the leg. "And now, some bad news for you," he continued, getting serious again.
Chris then proceeded to tell Vin about Jacobs' death and the implications it held.
Josiah and Ezra sat at the table in the interview room with Dwayne Parker and his new lawyer. They'd gotten a call from the lawyer about an hour ago, saying that Parker had decided to make a statement.
"Okay, Mr. Parker," Josiah began. "What did you want to tell me?"
Parker looked at his lawyer first, got a nod from the woman and proceeded.
"I set the bomb at Tanner's apartment," he said.
"Why?" Ezra asked.
"I was hired to do it," Parker replied.
"By whom?" Josiah asked, feeling as if he was pulling teeth.
"Jack Nealson from the U.S. Marshal's office," the man answered.
"Why?" Ezra asked again.
"I don't know. I get paid to do a job. I get paid more if I don't ask questions," Parker said.
"Did Nealson also pay you to try and kill Agent Tanner at the gun bust?" Josiah asked.
"Yes, he did," he replied.
"You willing to swear to this in court?" Sanchez asked.
"Yes, I am," Parker replied, getting an affirming nod from his lawyer.
"Good," Josiah said, pulling out the laptop he'd brought with him. "Let's get all this down on paper, now, shall we?" he added.
They continued to get a sworn statement from Parker, implicating Nealson as ordering and paying for the attempts on Vin's life.
Chris sat at his desk, going over Parker's statement again. Something wasn't right. He just couldn't figure out what. When they'd first brought Parker in, the man wouldn't say anything to anybody. Like Buck had told him in the hospital, he'd gotten lawyered up quick. But Josiah said he barely even talked to the lawyer. Now, one day later, Parker'd got himself a new lawyer and Chris had his full confession in his hands. Details about the van that tried to take Vin out at the bust, the bomb at the apartmentall contracted and paid for by Jack Nealson. Chris read about another incident that Nealson had contracted. Apparently Parker had also sabotaged Vin's jeep, removing several lug nuts from the wheels. Either Vin hasn't used the jeep since then (thankfully) to discover said sabotage, or he found it but didn't realize what it was. Something he'd have to ask the new agent about. But again, why the sudden change of heart?
So now, he was awaiting a call from A. D. Travis to give him the go ahead to pick up Nealson. He was sure the former judge would have no problem getting the arrest warrant for the Marshal. Chris already had Ezra, Nathan and Josiah staking out the U.S. Marshal's building, watching the man, waiting for the go ahead to pick him up.
There was still one other loose end, though. And Buck and JD were watching him. EJ Banks was the variable in this mystery. Vin swears that Banks is in on the hits, possibly the lead man behind them. But Parker, even when asked about Banks, swore that Nealson was the only one he dealt with. That he wouldn't know Banks if he'd walked in front of him. Maybe Nealson would give him up when they got him into custody.
Chris pinched the bridge of his nose in a vain attempt to get rid of the headache he had. Two days ago he had a simple bust planned. They'd been trying to get Juan Nunzio for awhile now and when Ezra made contact with the man two months ago, it was almost a miracle. Nunzio did not come out for just anybody. But that southern charm Ezra has did the trick. All was going as planned. Then Vin Tanner entered the picture and the simple gun bust turned into a full-blown case of conspiracy within a government agency. The ATF supervisor had no idea why he felt he had to help this man. He could have just said his good-byes at the end of the bust, sent the Marshals on their way with their prisonersbut no. Something about the young Marshal Chris shook his head. He still couldn't explain it to himself, let alone anybody else, why he had taken Vin Tanner under his wing. He called upon a lot of owed favors getting that transfer for him.
But somehow, Chris knew it would be worth it. As long as he can keep the man alive, anyway.
He'd told Buck about his and Vin's plans to go to the new agent's camper outside of town. He didn't tell Buck where it was (even he wasn't sure) but wrote the directions Vin had given him down and put them in a place Buck could find them if the need arose. He'd have his cell phone with him, of course, too. Come morning, when Vin got released, they'd head out.
Jack Nealson was still a nervous man. Despite Banks' reassurances that Parker would be handled, he was still unsure. He'd had his own informants within the city and several government agencies, but Larabee's team was good. Not one word about Parker or whether he'd talked or not had gotten out. He was startled by the knock on his door. When he saw that it was EJ, he beckoned the man in and closed the door behind him.
"Well?" Nealson questioned. "What's going on?"
"Jack," Banks began. "I'm afraid I've got some bad news for ya."
Nealson questioned the Marshal with his eyes, yet knowing what he would say.
EJ nodded as he said, "Parker named you, Jack. There's ATF agents waiting outside the building now, just waiting for the warrant to come through."
"You told me you had it handled!" Nealson exclaimed. "You were supposed to take care of Parker!"
"I did," Banks said with a smile.
"You! You set me up!" the supervisor accused.
"'Bout time you figured that out," EJ laughed, getting his gun out and pointing it at his supervisor. "Though you came close before, about what, six months ago?" he added.
Nealson looked at the man with the gun, trying to grasp the meaning of his words. Finally it hit him.
"Tanner had nothing to do with any of this, did he?" he asked, realizing that he'd ordered the death of a law enforcement officer that was completely innocent.
"Just somebody to get the attention off me," Banks nodded.
"While you moved in to take over the operation," Nealson finished. "You son of a bitch!" he cried, lunging at the man.
But Banks was ready and sidestepped the charging man, swinging his gun out and hitting Nealson in the temple with it. The older man went down, stunned. Taking advantage of Nealson's weakened state, EJ realized happily that he couldn't have planned this better if he tried. He took Nealson's gun from its shoulder holster, put it in the man's hand and brought the gun up to the bruised temple. Nealson, barely conscious, tried to resist, but before he could do anything, Banks pushed his index finger onto the trigger.
It was nearly five o'clock when Chris got the call from A. D. Travis, telling him that he could go ahead and get Nealson. Chris got on the phone to Josiah and told him to go ahead. He was just about to leave the office and start getting the paperwork ready for Nealson's processing when Buck called and told him that he and JD had been following Banks to his apartment and got separated. Apparently there was a car accident that blocked the road just after Banks had passed the intersection and before they'd gotten to it. They were going to find an alternative route to the apartment as soon as they could.
Chris headed down to the interrogation room, thinking that he would look forward to seeing Vin later, telling him the good news about Parker naming Nealson and then, Nealson's arrest. But he knew Vin would still want to know about Banks. He hoped Nealson would implicate the man, give Vin some peace. Maybe find out what this whole mess was about to begin with. He was almost finished cleaning out the interrogation room, readying it for Nealson, when his cell phone rang. It was Josiah.
"Nealson's dead," the big man reported. "Looks like suicide. Must have found out about Parker's statement."
"You're sure it's suicide?" Chris questioned, remembering Banks' departure and subsequent disappearance.
"Looks that way so far, brother," Josiah replied. "Single gun shot to the temple. Powder burns and appropriate blood splatter on his hand," he added.
"I don't like it anyway," Chris replied. "Make sure we get the autopsy report as soon as possible," he said before hanging up.
Right away he dialed another number.
"Buck, Nealson's dead," he began.
"Murdered?" his old friend replied.
"Don't know. You find Banks yet?" Chris asked, heading back to his office as he talked.
"He didn't go to his apartment. JD and I are checking out his other haunts," Buck told him.
"Find him and bring him in," the ATF leader ordered. "I'm taking Vin out tonight. I got a bad feeling and I don't want him in town."
"Gotcha, boss," Buck replied, knowing how his old friend thought. "You be careful."
"I will," Chris replied before hanging up.
He'd gotten to his office by then and grabbed his jacket and keys. He mentally went over his plans as he made his way down to the parking garage and his truck.
Chris strode down the familiar hospital corridor. He carried a small bag with some clothes he'd gotten from what was left of Vin's apartment. Recalling his visit, he was surprised that there hadn't been more damage to the place, just near the doorway. Once the bomb squad and forensics teams were done with the place, all the landlord would have to do is replace the door and the surrounding wall. Right now, there were several pieces of plywood covering the gaping hole. Hector told him that Vin wouldn't have to worry about anybody going through the place while it was without a lockable door. The kids were watching it. Chris smiled to himself at the thought of the merry band of children Vin had for friends. He was probably good with animals, too, he thought. Coming back to the present, Chris saw Jimmy Beck outside Vin's room, still on guard duty.
"Hey, Jimmy," he greeted the young agent. "What are you still doing here? I thought Joe was supposed to work this shift."
"Yeah, he had a family emergency or something," Jimmy replied. "I told him I'd stay. Can always use the overtime," he added with a smile as he rubbed his thumb and fingers together.
Chris smiled and nodded at him before tilting his head towards the hospital room.
"He try to escape on you yet?" he asked.
"Only once," the agent replied. "But then I reminded him that he didn't have any pants on," he laughed.
"Well, we're gonna fix that, now," Chris remarked, holding up the bag before entering the room.
"Hey, Vin," he greeted the injured agent.
"Hey, yourself, Cowboy," Vin replied with a smile.
"Alright, who told you about that one?" Chris responded, dropping the bag to put his hands on his hips.
"Oh, nobody in particular," the younger agent replied mischievously. Then he straightened up on the bed and asked, "So what's going on with Nealson and Banks?"
"Parker's named Nealson," Chris began. "Got a sworn statement from him that Nealson contracted him for the hits on you."
"Well that's great!" Vin exclaimed quickly. Then he saw that Chris hadn't quite finished his story, that he had bad news, so he asked, "What went wrong?"
"Nealson's dead," the ATF leader replied. "Josiah said it looked like suicide,"
"But you don't seem convinced," the new agent put in. "Nealson never seemed to be the suicide type to me either. He'd find better ways of getting out of a situation," he added, knowing why Chris wasn't convinced of Nealson's suicide.
"Like trying to kill you," Chris remarked. "So, no. I'm not convinced."
"Parker say anything about Banks?" Vin asked, hopeful.
Chris shook his head and threw the bag of clothes at Vin.
"And Banks is among the missing right now. Convenient, with Nealson dead and all," he remarked. "Get dressed. You and me are heading out of town, tonight."
Vin was just about to let out a whoop of joy, when a voice from the doorway cut him off.
"I don't think so, gentlemen," Dr. Neubert spoke. "This man is still under my care and I believe he needs more time here," she added.
Chris turned to her and tried not to glare before saying, "I'm afraid we're going to have to leave, anyway, Doc. Unless, of course you want a shoot out here in the hospital."
She looked uncertain then, torn between letting an injured man, that still needed rest and medication out of her care, and possibly risking the lives of others in the hospital.
"Won't the guard at the door, do?" she asked, motioning to Jimmy.
"Normally, yeah, it would," Chris replied. "But for some reason, and don't ask me to explain, I think it would be best for all involved for me to take Agent Tanner out of here."
The woman looked at the ATF agents before her. She saw their eyes, their determination and somehow knew that the leader was right. She nodded her head.
"Okay," she relented. "But I'm still against this, mind you," she put in quickly. "Let me get some meds for him, at least. Okay?"
"That'd be fine, Doc," Chris answered.
He turned to find Vin struggling with the ties on his hospital gown. He moved closer to help, only to get his hand swatted away by Vin's.
"I can do it," he growled, and finally did.
Getting dressed was another story. After several failed attempts at getting the large tee shirt Chris had brought turned around and over his head, Vin finally relented and let his boss help him. Chris got the shirt over his head, careful of the bandage taped to his temple and held the right sleeve for the young agent to put his arm through. Vin hissed as the bandage caught on the end of the sleeve, tugging the stitches below. But he ignored Chris's look of worry and pulled the rest of the shirt down, covering the sling contraption that had his left arm bound to his chest. He turned and swung his legs down over the side of the bed and Chris saw several other bandages, with more stitches underneath, no doubt. There were two large ones on Vin's lower right leg and another just above the knee.
Vin began to lean over, underwear in hand, but a sudden wave of dizziness hit him and he stopped. He looked up and gladly noticed that Chris didn't seem to notice the spell. Still embarrassed about not even being able to dress himself, he quietly called to his new boss.
"Can't seem to reach that far," he said with a half-smile, holding the underwear out in front of him.
"Don't worry about it," Chris responded and quickly helped Vin finish dressing, keeping his gaze away from Vin's, equally embarrassed to have to help a man on with his underwear.
The jeans followed, then the socks and finally, after Chris finally pulled Vin's second boot on, Dr. Neubert returned, carrying a small brown paper bag.
"Okay," she began, pulling a couple of medicine bottles out of the bag. "This one is an antibiotic. One pill every six hours, with food. This one is for pain. Use it as needed or one every six hours, like the other one. Okay?" she asked, making sure they understood.
"No problem, Doc," Vin drawled, putting the bottles back into the bag.
She put some papers on the bed tray in front of Vin and handed him a pen.
"Just some paperwork to get you out of here," she explained. "And those stitches should be ready to come out next week, if of course, it's safe for you to be in town," she added.
"Thanks Doc," Chris said, shaking the woman's hand.
Vin nodded his thanks as well before slowly following Chris out of the room.
"What's going on?" Jimmy asked, surprised to see Vin up, about and leaving.
"We're checkin' out," Vin replied.
"Come with us, watch our backs until we get to my truck," Chris ordered.
Jimmy did as he was told and walked with the pair out to Chris's truck, again parked in the tow away zone near the Emergency Room entrance.
"Thanks, Jim," the ATF supervisor said, shaking the younger agent's hand. "See you around the office."
"Where you guys headed?" he asked.
"Don't worry about it," Chris replied, getting into the truck and driving off.
Jimmy watched them go and then, once the truck was out of sight, pulled out his cell phone.
"Yeah, EJ, it's me, Jimmy," he spoke. "Larabee and Tanner just left in Larabee's truck. He wouldn't tell me where they were headed, but I heard them talking about some campsite Tanner has this morning. Oh, you know about it? Good. Now this is one less I owe you, right?"
Jimmy nodded at the answer he got and turned off his phone.
Chris drove the truck in the direction Vin had told him. He'd been checking behind him every so often, making sure they weren't being followed. He'd seen an occasional set of headlights but they'd either already passed him on the freeway or turned off somewhere. He looked over at the sleeping young agent and saw the pained expression come across his face after he'd hit a bump on the road. He could also just plain see the way Vin was holding himself, that his shoulder was hurting, probably badly. He began to question his decision to take Vin out of the hospital.
He'd tried to get Vin to take one of the pain pills Dr. Neubert had given him, but the stubborn young man just said, 'I'm fine,' and refused. So now, he was still in pain, even as he slept. One way or another, when they got to the campsite, Vin was going to take his medicine, Chris decided.
He looked down at the truck's odometer. Another mile or so and the turn off Vin described would be coming up. Chris again checked his rearview mirror. No one behind him. He thought about waking Vin up, just to make sure he wouldn't make a wrong turn, when the yellow and orange reflective markers came into sight, exactly where Vin said they'd be. He'd let his new agent sleep. He slowed down the truck and made the left turn onto the dirt road, continuing to look for the landmarks Vin had described before succumbing to his fitful sleep.
The ATF leader had to drive slowly on the dirt road. It was not only dark and unlit, but the narrow width of the road and its turns made the large truck difficult to manage. An occasional deer running out in front of him didn't help much, either. After Chris slammed on the brakes for a large doe and her fawn, Vin finally woke up. Chris saw the sleepy and confused expression on his face and smiled.
"Hey, Vin," he began. "We on the right road?" he asked.
The sleepy agent looked around, saw some familiar landmarks and nodded his head.
"Yeah," he drawled. "Just up around the next bend should be the camper. You'll see the red reflectors on the right."
Chris saw the markers and turned onto the small drive, barely visible between the trees. He wouldn't have spotted it without the reflectors showing him the way.
"Pull up to the shed over there," Vin instructed. "Got a flashlight?" he asked and reached into the glove compartment when Chris pointed to it.
Chris parked in front of the shed, letting the truck's headlights shine on the doors. He was about to get out, when Vin stopped him.
"Wait here," he said, opening the door. "Gotta check the traps, first."
"Vin," Chris began, worried as he saw Vin get out and grab onto the door with is right hand for support.
But Vin just looked back at him and said he was 'fine' again and motioned Chris to stay put. The blond agent didn't listen though and got out. He was careful to stay close to the truck and then followed Vin into the dark woods. He was amazed at how Vin, even injured as he was, was able to navigate the narrow path, not even using the flashlight. He was just about to go around a tree to get closer to the younger man when Vin's voice halted him in his tracks.
"Don't move!" he called, turning around, pointing the flashlight's beam up near Chris's chest, illuminating the thin strand of fishing line strung across. "Another step and you'd a been covered in deer shit."
Chris looked up to the small tray Vin pointed to and gladly stepped toward the new agent.
"Nice welcome," he said with a half smile. "We safe now?" he asked.
"I reckon," the younger man replied, giving the area another quick glance.
They headed back to the truck and the shed. Vin unlocked the shed and showed Chris how to start up the generator. After the engine started, Chris saw the lights come on inside the camper, an old Winnebago he saw. After locking up the shed, Chris grabbed the bags of clothes and groceries he'd picked up and followed Vin to the camper.
"You alright?" he asked, seeing Vin sway a bit.
"I'm fine," Vin replied.
"Vin, you're shoulder is obviously killing you. Once we get in, I'll get you some of that medicine Dr. Neubert gave you," he told him.
"No. I'm fine," the younger man repeated, turning toward Chris, practically glaring at his boss, hoping to get his message across. He unlocked the door to the camper and motioned Chris in first.
Chris looked at the young agent again and shook his head. He went inside and Vin followed, locking the door behind them.
"Sorry 'bout the mess, it's the cleanin' lady's day off," Vin muttered, trying to make a joke to ease the tension a bit.
"Don't worry," Chris returned. "Ain't nothing compared to Buck and JD's place."
Never the less, Vin began to pick up a few things in an attempt to make the camper more presentable to his new boss.
"Vin, don't worry about it," the older agent sighed, grabbing the clothes out of Vin's hands.
Now, in the light inside the camper, Chris got a good look at his new agent. He saw the dark circles under his tired and pains-filled eyes. Vin was just about to begin picking up his dirty laundry again, when another dizzy spell hit him. Chris just barely caught him before he fell.
"Come on, let's get you to bed," he said, pulling Vin toward the rear of the camper.
Vin did not resist. After Chris helped him get his boots off, Vin carefully reclined onto the old mattress. He was just about to close his eyes when Chris gently nudged him.
"Here," he said, holding a glass of water and two pills out in front of the sharpshooter.
After staring at his boss for a minute or so, Vin realized that again, he was not going to win any battles of wills with the man. He took the pills and then the glass. He felt like a little kid as Chris watched him, suspicious green eyes on him the entire time. Finally, he opened his mouth and stuck out his tongue for Chris to see. Satisfied, Chris grinned and went back to the main section of the camper. Once his boss was out of sight, Vin removed the pills from his mouth. He wouldn't have minded the antibiotic, but he did not want his senses dulled by the pain reliever. Since he couldn't tell which was which, he put them both under his pillow.