Out of the Shadows

by Deirdre

ATF Universe

10:00 pm
Paisano's was especially crowded as the weary traveler inched through the room. The long bar was three deep with thirsty patrons. He gingerly protected his delicate flank as he peered through the masses. They were seated around a large table in the back. He stopped by a pole, obscured from their view and studied the group. He felt a pang of envy stab at him, as the obviously close friends laughed and cavorted, surrounded by pizza and beer. He sighed painfully, both from the injured ribs and the lonliness that sometimes overwhelmed him. He shuddered when his eyes took in the blond leader. He felt that electrical charge again, and was confused by the intense feeling.

"J.D. when's the last time you ate?" Buck teased, eyeing another slice disappear.

"I'm a growing boy," the youth retorted, mouth full.

"Don't talk with your mouth full." Buck chastised.

"You're gonna grow right out of them pants, if you keep eatin' like that." Nathan assessed.

"You're all just jealous 'cause you're all old and you can't burn up calories anymore." J.D. commented, taking a swig of his beer.

"I'll be burning up plenty later with Suzette after you're all tucked in bed and asleep." Buck crowed, giving the group a laugh.

"Pass the Hot Pepper," Buck frowned, not seeing it nearby.

"Here ya go."

"Thanks." Buck replied, "Wait a minute..." He spun, hearing the familiar twang. "Where'd you come from? Are you alright?"

"I'm fine." Vin nodded, keeping his distance.

"Did you catch him?" Chris asked, "We tried to find you. Drove around for a couple hours, but..."

"s'okay..." Vin shrugged, "I deposited him downtown about an hour ago." Vin hesitated, "Chair and all..."

"Hell, Son, we don't bite," Buck boomed, sliding over a chair. "Come on and sit down...grab a slice."

"No thanks." He grinned at Chris and rubbed his jaw. "Reckon it'll be a few days 'afore I'm up to heavy duty chewin'. Yer good...study long?"

"Ten years..." Chris replied, "I'm rusty...haven't practiced in years. You ain't so bad yourself."

"Study what?" J.D. muffled, stuffing the crust in.

"Karate...try to keep up, Kid," Buck shook his head at the full mouth.

"Hey, how did you find us?" J.D. asked.

"It's what I do, Kid." Vin replied.

"You ain't old enough to call me Kid," J.D. challenged.

"Hell, J.D. everybody's older than you." Buck laughed, ruffling the dark hair.

"Oh, by the way, Chantelle said to give y'all these," Vin handed Buck a small gift bag, "She said she'd washed them for ya. Tarzan, huh..." Vin grinned, raising an eyebrow at the animal skin loincloth.

"Hey, I was wonderin' where these got to," Buck grinned, "Wait a minute...Where did you meet up with her?" Buck noted of the exotic dancer.

"I asked around after y'all..." Vin supplied, grinning as Buck proudly displayed his scanty garment

"Buck," Chris winced, "Some of us are trying to eat..."

"Jealous Chris?" Buck winked, wiggling his eyebrows.

Vin flinched as that pain fed, out of his reclusive lifestyle, knawed at him but good. A part of him ached to belong, to have friends like these men. But then came that nagging fear...and the walls started to close in.

"Did you get them ribs X-rayed?" Nathan eyed the bounty hunter's face. "What about that eye?"

"Are you okay?" Chris asked the lean man, seeing the color leave his face. The blue eyes seemed vacant and desolate.

"Huh?" Vin blinked, feeling the gentle tap on his sleeve.

"Your eye, Tanner..." Nathan repeated.

Vin fingered the uneven stitches, "I took care of it." He said distractedly.

"You stitched it yourself...Ughh!" J.D. cried, screwing his face up.

"You didn't just come here to wave around Buck's shortcomings..." Chris said.

"Ya got a minute..." Vin directed at Chris shifting unsteadily.

"You gonna sit down on should we wait until you keel over?" Buck demanded, seeing the pain etched in the younger man's face.

He didn't reply, but kept his eyes trained on the blond's. Chris sensed the younger man's discomfort and felt his shy nature. He met the unsure eyes and nodded, sending his reassurance.

"You're safe here. Something wrong?" He asked, confirming his suspicions.

"Hope not." Vin said "After I dropped Granby off, I saw a bunch of them fella's from that gang. I's in the parking garage and heard 'em talkin'. It was them ones y'all busted, they made bail. I moved in and got close enough to hear most of it. They's pretty pissed off at y'all for the bust today and that business at the hospital. I just wanted to warn ya, they're fixin' on payback. Y'all watch yer backs..."

"You got close enough to hear them?" Chris growled standing and closing the few feet between them. "By yourself? That makes a whole lot of sense! You could have been killed. What were you thinking?" He shouted, causing the younger man to flinch.

"I guess I was trying to save yer sorry ass. Forget I even said anything..." Vin shoved off and was swallowed up by the crowd.

"Tanner...wait a minute..." Chris fought his way to the door and jogged outside. The night air bit right through his shirt . He shivered and peered into the blackness. He heard the motorcyle roar and watched it fly out of the lot. "Shit...." He swore, kicking up the gravel. "Damn no account cowboy..."

By the time he got back to the table, every set of eyes met him with hostility.

"You handled that well." Nathan grunted, tossing a handful of bills on the table.

"Geez, Chris," J.D. demanded, "What'd you yell at him like that? He was only trying to help."

Chris tossed some money on the table, grabbed his coat and left without a saying a word. Truth be told, he didn't know where the outburst came from, and that scared him a little. He like to be in control of his emotions. He reached his truck and pounded on the hood.

"J.D. get the waitress to give you a box. Take the rest home." Buck said to the youth, but his eyes followed Larabee. He zipped his jacket and made his way to the door. He watched Chris pound the hood of the truck and made his way over to the car. He saw the confusion on the other man's face.

"You mind telling me what happened back there?" Buck asked quietly. "He didn't have to go to all the trouble of finding us. He could of called. Hell, he could have taken his claim and ridden away."

"No...he'd never do that." Chris stated, "He wouldn't run...it's not his way."

"Well, I guess we'll never know now." Buck replied, "Jesus, Chris do you realize how loud you screamed at him? Did you take a good look at him? I bet he hasn't gotten a good nights sleep in a quite awhile. Not to mention the pounding he took today and them ribs of his. He could have been sleeping somewhere, but..."

"Enough!" Chris turned. "Back off..."

"What the hell happened to you? He was only trying to help. There was no call to rip his head off like that."

"I know that..." Chris stammered, rubbing the bridge of his nose, trying to stem the pounding headache. "Buck...I don't even know what I said...after he said he went after that gang alone...All I could see was him lying dead in a pool of blood. I saw red...I don't know why I exploded." He slumped, frustrated by his lack of control.

"You were scared..." Buck saw the fear flash in the green eyes as he related the story. "The Kid got to you, didn't he?" Buck said softly as Chris's eyes shifted and his hand flipped the key in the lock. "I'll be damned...that's it..." Buck tapped Chris's chest over his coat. "The scrawny Texas terrier penetrated the mighty Larabee defense system."

"I'm tired Buck...I'm going home." Chris shook him off and got in his truck.

+ + + + + + +

Ezra was on sick leave, due to his injured arm. The knife penetrated deep enough to require surgery and the pain killers knocked the Southerner off his feet. Josiah managed to get him home and stayed the night.

Ezra aside, the rest of the crew filed in, except one. None of them were surprised that Donnelly's desk was cleared out. He was a bad fit from the start. Buck got in early and was surprised to see Chris already at his desk. The large glass wall of his office revealed little, except that the door was shut and the team leaders back was turned. That signaled the rest to stay away. Buck knew Chris was upset about the bounty hunter. He looked up as Nathan arrived.

"Anything?" Buck asked hopefully.

"Nope. I checked all the local hospitals. Tanner didn't show up."

"He's like one of them wild things that heal themselves." Buck noted, shaking his head. He drained the last of his coffee and saw Jackson eyeing the vacant desk.

"Donnelly finally got the ax." Nathan observed, "Good riddance. Guess Maddox and Dillon will rotate in until Chris settles on somebody permanent." He said of the sharphooters from two of the other teams.

"Lord, but this is gonna be one long day." Buck shook his head, "Freezing rain slickin' up the highway, a ton and a half of paperwork and Chris is in a foul mood."

"Yeah, best stay clear of him at all costs," Nathan commented, making his way to his desk.

Chris was tired and every inch of him ached. He popped two Tylenol's at nine a.m., just as the phone rang.

"Larabee." He grunted, rubbing his aching eyes.

"Weren't right for me to go flyin' out like I done last night. I didn't want to pull out without sayin' I's sorry."

"No, Cowboy," Chris said, relieved that the younger man was still in one piece and not wrapped around a guard rail. "I'm the one that's sorry. I had no right to jump on you like that. I don't know what the hell happened. You okay?"

"Did y'all call me Cowboy? Vin mocked indignation.

"You aim to do something about it?" Chris grinned, feeling the warm current again.

"Hell...I ain't got enough parts in workin' order right now. Guess I'll take a raincheck." "You're on." Chris agreed. "You heading out already?"

"In a little bit...still got a few ends to tie up." Vin paused, clinging to the conversation.

"Listen, about yesterday. I'm sorry I messed up your collar." Chris offered contritely, "Thanks for the help in the ER, you handled yourself pretty good for a scrawny tracker."

"I'm lean and I'm mean..." Vin crowed, laughing softly. "Reckon I best get goin'. It was a nice ride, Cowboy."

Chris laughed and nodded, "Same here..." He said softly, and winced when the dial tone came on.


Vin ambled over to his bike and reached for his helmet. He spotted movement out of the corner of his eye. He ducked for cover behind the large trash receptacle. He was in the parking garage of the Federal Building. The U.S. Marshal's Office was several floors above. He'd picked up his money and when he got to the lobby, he got the idea. He'd found Larabee's name in the directory on the receptionist's desk guide in the lobby.

Now, he watched cautiously as a half dozen of the denim and leather clad gang members circled the area. They were fooling around with two of the cars. He glanced at the cubby hole where the security guard was and saw it vacated. He inched his way over to the wall, where he spotted a phone. Keeping his eyes trained on the gang, he dialed Larabee's number, and dropped down out of sight.


"Y'all got a big black truck?"

"What?" Chris leaned forward, "Tanner? What's wrong? Yeah, I got a black truck, why?"

"'cause them devils is back and they're foolin' with it," Vin peered hard, "looks like they're puttin' somehing under the hood. They messed with a green Jimmy too. They must have watched y'all drive in today."

"Nathan's car..." Chris stood and waved to Buck. "Where's the security guard? Find him and stay put. Don't you get any ideas of rushing them alone."

"I can't see the guard," Vin scanned the empty concrete structure, "Most likely they offed him. Y'all best call the bomb squad. I can take care of these vermin until y'all..."

"Dammit Tanner!" Chris shouted, as Buck and Nathan stared at him in confusion. "Bullets won't bounce off your chest like Clark Kent. Keep your head down and stay put. I'll call for backup." Chris paused as he heard movement in the background. "Tanner..." He heard a thud and a sharp cry.

"Hey Chico." A strange voice sounded close by, "We got company. It's that dude from the hospital."

"Bring him over and we'll say hello." A voice replied.

"Shit..." Chris slammed the phone down. "Let's move. Tanner spotted some of that gang in the garage. He thinks they planted bombs in Nate's car and mine. They spotted him. Josiah, call for backup on level 3, and get the bomb squad. Have the street level sealed off. Buck, J.D., Nathan, let's move."

Vin protected his already damaged ribcage and curled up when the blow came. He flinched as the boot tip made contact with his arm. The next blow, after he dropped the phone, was something hard on the side of his head. He eyed the blurry figures surrounding him, the double vision making it difficult to discern where they actually were standing.

"Y'all ready to surrender?" He gasped, blinking and trying not to pass out.

He heard laughter and felt his head yanked up by the hair. "That was my cousin Ricky you offed in the ER you stinkin' hippie." Vin felt a brief claw of pain as a blade slashed across his side. "That's just a little taste of the medicine we're gonna hand out later." He leaned in and flashed the bloody knife in front of Vin's eyes. "Hey look...even hippie pigs bleed red. Get him over to the car. We're outta here."

Vin felt the blackness closing in and tried to find a way to stay awake. His legs wouldn't work and his head was splitting. Every breath was painful and he hoped he hadn't popped his lung. He almost laughed at the irony. Be just his luck to die before the gang had a chance to finish him off. He heard shouting and flinched as he was dropped to the asphalt. He curled up and crawled under a car. His eyes started to slide shut, but the rapport of gunfire called him back.

"Freeze ATF." A voice shouted as they poured off the elevator. Three of the younger ones surrendered almost immediately. Two more exchanged fire and were wounded. Chris eyed the parking lot as the police and bomb squad arrived. He spotted the lone remaining gang member heading south on a concrete beam. He motioned for the police who took off after the kid.

"Tanner! Tanner!" Chris called, running to where the phone was dangling. He squatted and fingered the small pool of blood. "Fan out and find him."

Vin shook himself awake. He tried to figure out who was calling him. He heard voices...lots of voices and tried to answer, but no words would come out. He stared at the blood on his hand and wondered why he was so cold.

Nathan, J.D., Buck and Chris fanned out, each taking a row of cars. J.D. went past a red pickup and backtracked, spotting a boot sticking out.

"I got him...Hey Chris, over here."

J.D. dropped down and peered under the car. Vin's glazed eyes were inches away. He saw the blood on the young man's hands. His body was twisted at an angle which prevented the dark-haired youth from determining the cause of the wound.

"Did you get shot?" J.D. asked and frowned as the disorganized blue eyes kept staring at him.

"J.D..." Chris's frantic voice called.

"He's over here." J.D. stood and let Chris get by. "He's bleeding but he's not talking."

"You okay?" Chris asked, seeing the wide-eyed stare. "Nathan?"

"He's in shock." Nathan replied, recognizing the shivering man's symptoms. "Let's get him out of there. Be careful. We don't know how bad he's hurt. Chris, try to turn him on his back and we'll slide him out."

"Alright." Chris winced as his sore ribs protested his actions. Buck tapped him and moved him.

"Let me in Chris." He knelt and saw the pale face and wide eyes blinking . "How ya doin' Pard? I'm gonna get you out of there. You just relax and let Old Buck do all the work. Nate, you ready?" Buck asked, watching the black man nod. He carefully turned Vin over and pulled him backwards. Nathan moved in and helped ease the injured man from under the car. They carried him to the center of the drive and carefully laid him down.

Chris dropped down and cradled the bounty hunter's head. He saw the blue eyes darting back and forth, full of fear. He heard the frantic breathing and gripping the anxious man's hand. "Calm down, Tanner, you're okay. Nate's gonna take a look at you." He frowned when Vin turned his head and left a bloody trail on Chris's pants. "Nathan...his head's bleeding."

"Buck, keep pressure on his side, but not too firm, I don't want to pop a lung. God knows how, but so far he's managed to keep 'em both inflated. Let me see Chris." He turned the tracker's head and saw the jagged laceration. "It's nasty and he's losing a bit of blood. Thanks J.D." He looked up as the youth appeared with a towel. "Chris, press this against his head and keep him awake. I'm gonna check on the ambulance."

"They find anything?" Buck nodded to the bomb squad.

"Sure did." J.D. replied, "Two plastic explosives, one in each car. How's he doing?"

"I'm...f..f...fi..fi." Vin offered weakly, eyes half shut.

"Shut up, Tanner," Chris ordered. "You ain't fine. Didn't I tell you to stay put? You're a mess....bleeding out all over my pants and Buck's shirt."

"...where are ...ya...can't see..." Vin blinked then scowled when Chris's blurry face appeared. "...bossy s...s...son...of...a...bitch...cow...cow...cow..."

"Are you tryin' to call me a cowboy?" Chris grinned at the bloody scowling face.

"...callin'....y'all...out..." Vin gasped, "...yer not...as...slick...as...as..."

"Quit jawin'" Chris ordered, then saw the eyes droop. "Keep your eyes open."

"...make...up...damn...mind..." Vin protested shivering. "...s'cold..."

"Hold on," Buck said shrugging off his coat and covering Vin's upper body.

"Thanks...Tar...zan..." Vin grinned, then scowled as Chris's hands held him down.


"Don't make me shoot you Tanner. You can't follow orders...you're hard-headed... you take on entire gangs singlehandedly and you don't wait for backup." Chris drilled the muddled blue eyes with his own. "Now you're gonna lay still and behave. You understand that?"

"...it's...Vin..." he breathed softly, completely disarming Chris, "Iffen...yer gon...gonna...bust my...my balls...reckon ya out...outta know my...name." He offered, relaxing finally as the green eyes soothed him. "Damn..." He hissed, gripping the hand firmly.

"Easy Vin. Just relax. I got you. You're safe."

"...safe..." Vin mumbled as the black curtain finally fell. But he wasn't worried this time. That's what the new warm feeling was. The green eyes made him safe. He relaxed and let himself go and let the calming words lull him.

+ + + + + + +

Vin flipped off the television as the evening news ended. The light from the television made his head hurt. He pushed the uneaten tray away, shaking the empty container of juice. He sighed and laid back, trying to get comfortable. The concussion was enough to merit an overnight stay. His broken ribs would mean some downtime. He frowned, his nomad like existance didn't lend itself to a permanent home. He'd have to rest up for a couple weeks. He thought of the deserted cabin west of town, nestled in the woods. He'd discovered it a couple years ago and refurbished it. Now he used it whenever he had downtime. He closed his eyes, not intending on sleep, but to stem the pain behind them. He laid his arm over his eyes, but jerked it back defensively and spun his head.

"Whoa!" Chris said, putting his package down, "I'm one of the good guys."

"'scuse my confusion, they's usually wearing white..." He noted the black garb the other wore.

"How are you feeling?"

"Like I run into the Bronco's front four without pads..." He sank back, shifting again. "Can put a man on the moon, but can't make a decent hospital bed...go figure."

"Got something for you." Chris pushed the bag forward.

Vin pulled out the object on top and began to laugh. An action which caused him to cry in pain, clutching his side. "Ya aimin' to finish me off?"

"Sorry..." Chris grinned, watching Vin's eyes light up as he held up the lime green pleather helmet with velcro straps. A purchase from the novelty store near the office. "It guarantees protection against Alien Death Rays...figured it would prevent more dents in your head."

"'preciate it," Vin grinned, wiping the tears the laughter caused. He smiled up at the other man and felt a little embarassed. Chris fished out a quart size soda from the bag.

"I know how thirsty you can get laying around in these beds." He slipped the straw in and watched Vin take a long series of steady sips. He finally leaned back and sighed in contentment.

"Nectar of the Gods..." Vin grinned, then blinked and yawned, "Thanks, ya didn't hafta go to all that trouble."

Chris smiled and saw another yawn. He eyed the owlish stare, one produced when trying to force your eyes to stay open. "The nurse says you're getting out tomorrow."

"Yeah...not a minute too soon." Vin shifted again. "I ain't got much likin' for hospitals. They's for sick folks."

Chris chuckled and shook his head, "I think you qualify. Gimme a call. I'll swing by and pick you up." Chris offered, his features surprised at Vin's blank stare.

"Listen, Chris," Vin said quietly, "Ya done more than enough already. I don't aim to be a bother. I'll be okay. It ain't my first visit here."

"Wouldn't offer if I didn't mean it," Chris eyed the downcast head, which took a large gulp of soad and then yawned again. "Why don't you think about it? I'll stop by tomorrow morning." Chris turned to leave, realizing his visit was keeping the patient awake.

"Ya leavin'?"

Chris almost winced at how small and alone the voice sounded. For a split second, the body in the bed seemed very young. He felt Vin's silent plea as the younger man reached out.

"I can stay awhile." Chris shucked his jacket off and pulled a chair up. "Why don't you get some shuteye." Chris suggested, flipping his newspaper open. "Unless you want to read the stock market report." He slipped his legs up onto the underside of the bed and settled in.

"I'll pass..." Vin wrinkled his nose and felt a twinge of guilt. "Listen, iffen ya wanna go, it's okay. Hell, I ain't some little kid." He thought outloud of his request.

"Geez, Tanner," He complained, raising a sandy eyebrow, "I was just gettin' comfortable. You kicking me out?" He paused, Vin's face remained in profile, hands nervously clutching the blanket. "Would you relax? I'll wave my usual bed-sitting fee, seein' as your a friend and all."

Vin's head turned and Chris's smile disappeared. The expressive eyes were full of fear and uncertainty. The bounty hunter looked like a deer in the headlights. Chris backtracked, thinking on what he could have said to upset the younger man. Vin sank back and stared at the ceiling. Chris suddenly realized why Vin panicked. It was the word 'friend' that set him off.

He swallowed painfully, wondering what had happened in the tracker's past to cause such a feeling. He scanned the paper and flicked his eyes over to the figure in the bed. Vin's eyes were closed and his breathing was steady and restful. His face finally relaxed and Chris was taken at how very young and vunerable he looked. He waited until Tanner was resting for some time and rose to leave. He stood over the bed, when the soft voice floated past. He turned as the blinking eyes sought his.

"Thanks..." Vin's hand shot up and clasped Chris's forearm. Chris snapped his arm in a duplicate gesture. "...friend."

8:30 a.m., ATF Office

"Chris? You busy? Alex Robertson is here." Buck stuck his head in the leader's office door.

"Alex?" Chris frowned, then thought of Vin. "Tanner okay?" He made his way to the door.

"I was on my way to see him," The U.S. Marshal replied. "I called last night and the nurse told me you stayed quite a while. I wanted to say Thanks. He's a good kid, but he's a loner. I usually keep an eye on him when he's in there. But I was out of town most of the day. I'm grateful."

"You picking him up? He's needs someplace to stay. I offered, but seemed reluctant."

"I've offered several times," Alex sighed, scratching his gray hair. "Every time he gets busted up. But he only lets you get so close, then he pulls away. If you push, you'll lose him for good. I know he has a place in the hills somewhere. Damn shame about his money. He's gonna fight me tooth and nail...he won't take any help."

"His money?" Buck asked, perched on the edge of his desk. "I thought he picked that up last night?"

"He got his five hundred, but the police report said his wallet was empty. I guess that gang took it. Shame, the kid worked for over two months chasing that slime Granby."

"Five hundred?" Chris frowned, "He said...three thousand I thought?"

"He only takes enough to cover his costs. The bulk of the money is forwarded to a children's hospital down in Texas."

"He got family down there?" Nathan asked.

"No, he's got no family. He's been alone as long as I've known him. Paul Harris has known him longer than me. I think he knew the kid from the Army. I know he's proud as hell of his records. Everytime the kid's in town, Harris crows about how he taught Tanner everything he knows." Robertson smiled.

"Paul Harris..." Chris leaned against the door, "From the Firing Range?"

"Yeah..." Robertson nodded, "You ought to see that kid shoot. He's remarkable. I don't think I've seen better and I go back a long ways."

"Wait a minute..." Buck piped up, face scowling, "...records...Firing Range...Don't tell me..." He stared at the Marshal. "Is he The Texan?" He asked incredulously, of the holder of most of the records at the range.

"A living legend..." Robertson laughed, seeing Buck's face. "Don't be embarrased, Son, everybody's lost money on that kid."

"Damn...I thought he was a phantom; something Harris invented to make money. Shit..." He found a small grin forming.

"Listen, Alex, Don't worry about Vin's money. We'll take care of it. Hell, it's the least we can do. He saved my life and Nate's twice in the span of twenty-four hours." Chris saw the others nodding and pulling bills out.

It was almost ten a.m. when Chris got to the hospital. He ducked his head in the room and saw Vin fully dressed, sitting on the bed, back propped up. His eyes were closed and he was dozing. He remembered Alex's warning of Vin fighting charity. He was glad he'd written the note. He slipped it inside the worn leather backpack that rested between the denim-clad knees. A few minutes later a nurse came in and gently tapped his leg.

Vin yawned and blinked at the nurse. "Y'all got my walkin' papers?" He watched her smile and nod. She read off the usual restrictions and he promised to behave. He turned as a snort from behind echoed. The nurse smiled and left the two alone.

"Hey Chris." Vin hopped off the bed and swayed.

"Steady there." Chris grabbed him. "You need a ride?" "Nah..." Vin shook his head, "...got it covered, but I'm grateful...for everything." Vin shuffled uncomfortably and paused, finally drilling the green eyes hard. "I ain't much for words, Chris. But...I want you to know...I really felt it inside...stayin' like ya done. I ain't gonna forget it."

"Don't intend to let you forget. Not everyday somebody saves me from being blown to kingdom come. I'm the one who's grateful."

The both laughed as their arms shot out simultaneously to lock forearms. "Listen, I got a favor to ask. It's about my bike..." Vin started.

"Taken care of." Chris finished. "It'll be safe at the garage until you're able to pick it up." Chris narrowed his eyes. "Which won't be for a month, right? I'll be watching."

"Y'all is too suspicious."

"Uh-huh..." Chris nodded. "Take care, Vin. Don't be a stranger, okay. If you ever decide to retire, you give me a call. I could use you on my team, I mean that."

"Thanks..." Vin swallowed, feeling his heart skip. A small part of him inside was screaming to accept the invite. But he wasn't ready...it was too much too soon. Chris felt the wall coming up again and moved towards the door. "Hey, y'all watch yer back, Larabee."

+ + + + + + +

Vin kept a careful eye on the parking lot outside. He saw three black trucks, one had a figure behind the wheel. He grinned and picked up his backpack. He shuffled slowly out into the hall and down the elevator. He got off on the second floor and took the back door, past the kitchen and out onto the service bay. A half hour later, he checked into a cheap rooming house down the street from the hospital. He'd fished his emergency twenty from under the sole of his boot and stopped for provisions. The activity left him exhausted and he was still dizzy. He eased himself against the back of the bed and slept. It was later that night, when he was figuring out how to pay for the hotel, when he went inside his pack to get a clean shirt and underwear out. He saw the envelope and frowned. The note was brief and all Larabee.

"Found this. You're the only 'Tanner' we know. Figured it belonged to you. Team 7."

He felt his face flush with color as he flipped through the bills, there was over two hundred dollars inside. His anger subsided and he felt his chest tighten and his eyes fill up. He opened his small notebook made an entry. He'd see to it the money was paid back in spades. It would be enough to see him through for awhile. He could live spartan at the cabin. Once he was healed, he'd head back on the road.

Chris checked on the bike everyday. It was a stormy Monday about ten days later when he pulled in and the spot was empty. His heart sunk and he felt a pain inside. He'd been hoping that the tracker would have accepted his offer. He sat there for some time, mulling over his feelings. A familiar voice caused him to stir.

"You okay, Pard?"

"He's gone." Chris said quietly, slipping out of the car.

Buck followed Chris's gaze and winced. He laid a gloved hand to the black wool shoulder of the leader's coat. "I'm sorry, Chris. I was hoping he'd stay too. Fiesty little fella grew on me."

"Yeah..." Chris sighed, expelling a deep breath. He glanced back once as they approached the elevator. An image of the bounty hunter's cocky grin, with blood running down his face during their fight, gave Larabee a broad smile.

"...he laughed..." Chris murmured, his features softened.

"Who?" Buck asked, seeing the unusual wide smile on his oldest friend's face. "Tanner?"

"Cocky Son-of-a-Bitch laughed while he was fighting...both times. Had that tiger's glint in his eye." Chris smiled again. "Damn, I like that."

"Like lookin' in a mirror, huh?" Buck grinned, "Now that's scary..."

Three Months Later

Kenny Murray watched the Federal Agents scurry beneath him. Hidden in the loft of the warehouse, he kept a close eye on his watch. Soon. Very soon...his insides tingled and his eyes shone with anticipation. Images of the flames got him excited. He felt the thick envelope of money in his jacket and crawled out of sight. Ten minutes later he was on the street.

"I found it..." J.D. screamed, pointing to the bomb, the serial arsonist left. "We got ten minutes...get the bomb squad."

J.D. and Nathan had been searching the eastern corner of the large warehouse full of toys. If that pattern followed suit, three bombs were hidden inside. This made number two and they were running out of time.

"Come on, J.D." Nathan nodded, "Let's catch up with Josiah and get the hell out of here."

"What about number three?"

"It's not in our sector and we can't get to the others..." Nathan pushed his comm-link, "Buck, you got anything?"

"Nope." the tall agent answered, "Me and Erza are making one final sweep, then we're outta


"Where's Chris?"

"He's on the roof across the street. If the pattern follows true, our man will show up to watch the show."

+ + + + + + +

Chris eyed his watch and frowned. "Where the hell are they?" He mumbled, watching the exit for his team to emerge. He glanced around the roof and then placed his eyes into the binoculars. He scanned the other roofs, where other agents waited. He then scanned the street below. They had a descripton of the suspect and his trained eye ruled out all others.


The scream filled his ears as his body was slammed onto the ground. He wheeled and spotted the suspect several feet away and fired. The detonator flew in the air and Chris's past as a wide receiver on the football team in High School and College paid off. He sailed through the air and caught it. He eyed the dead man and relayed the info in the comm-link. He was on his knees when it hit him.

"Larabee?" He muttered, screwing his face up. "Who?" He wondered as his eyes rose and his heart sunk. "Shit..." He ran across the roof and dropped to the wounded man's side. "Goddammit Tanner!" He growled, turning the body over and frantically checking his pulse. He opened the leather jacket and saw a large amount of blood scoring the denim shirt. "What the hell was that?"

"Missed y'all..." Vin said weakly, his eyes slits.

"You never heard of a phone." Chris seethed, pressing the wound hard and causing Vin to scream and buckle. Chris ignored him and pushed his comm-link "I gotta a man down...I need a Medivac on the roof." He screamed.

"Chris...ya okay?" Vin's bloody hand came up and grasped at the older man's shirt.

"No, I ain't okay." Chris snapped, eyes feral. "Shit...you're bleedin' all over my pants again."

"...least I'm consistant..." Vin offered, groaning and gripping Chris's shirt. Chris wanted to grip that hand, but he needed both of his to stem the blood flow. "...ya messed up m'claim again...we gotta stop meetin' like...this...cowboy..."

"We could if you would stop pretendin' to be fuckin' Superman." Chris growled, "Dammit, Vin, this ain't an armor." He nodded to Vin's bloody chest.

"...I'm gettin'...tired...tired...of savin'...yer sorry...sorry ass..." Vin tossed, eyes rolling in pain.

"Who the hell asked you?" Chris snapped, then saw the emotive blue eyes darting fearfully. The bloodless lips were moving. "Don't talk Vin, save your strength."

"...need to ask...favor...ya listenin'?...Chris..." Vin blinked, as the world got dark. "...Chris..." The desperate weak voice nearly broke the agent's heart.

Chris felt the urgency in the grip and heard the tremor in the voice. Vin's blue eyes were riddled with fear. "I'm right here, Vin. Take is easy." He soothed, as his own heart pounded frantically.

"...promise...send money...life insurance...to St. Theresa's Hosp...kids...promise." His glazed eyes begged, unseeing. Chris bent lower, and Vin's hand brushed against his face. "You got my word, Cowboy." Vin sighed and his body slumped.

"NO!" Chris screamed as he heard a footfall

Buck froze about five feet away, his legs locked. His pained eyes went from Vin Tanner's bloody body to Chris's anguished face. The last time he saw that face and heard that cry was when Sarah and Adam were killed. "What the hell happened?" His shocked voice emerged in a forced croak.

"Shit..." Nathan flew past Buck, his training kicking in. "Chris, move away and let me at him." Nathan ordered. "CHRIS MOVE!"

Nate's call spurned Buck into action. He pulled Chris away and fought the wounded man's thrashing arms. Finally, Chris relaxed.

"Hey, it's Tanner..." J.D.'s voice died when he saw the gory scene. "Buck what happened?"

Buck shrugged and kept a firm hold on Chris, whose face was the color of newfallen snow.

"The bullet he took" The pained voice croaked, "had my name on it." Chris eyed his oldest friend. "Christ, Buck, I can't lose him too."

"Nathan?" Buck asked, not wanting to disturb the EMT, but needing reassurance.

"I don't know..." Nate's eyes met theirs and didn't hide his fear. "It's bad. He's losin' too much blood."

"Chopper's here." J.D. waved the medics over.

"Go on, Chris. You ride with Nate. We'll see you over there." Buck prodded the shocked leader.


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