The Way Of Things

by US

Disclaimer: Since I am not a studio, production company, distributor or TV station, I'll take a wild guess and say I don't own them. The ATF universe was created by mog.

Author's note: The events in this story occur in less then five minutes.

The first of The Way of Things story collection.

Team 7 was leaving the saloon after a long week at work. Normally, they wouldn't all have left at the same time, especially since it was still early, but they had plans for the next day. Buck and Vin led the way to the parking lot, the rest lagging behind as they finalized a few last details and teased Ezra about his ability to get up early.

Buck had no idea what made him suddenly glance to his left but what he saw chilled him to the core. A shadow in the shadows with an automatic pointed at Vin. Knowing he didn't have time to draw his own gun and not knowing if Tanner would react in time to a warning without thinking he was joking, he did the only thing he could. He threw himself at Vin.

Shots filled the night.

Buck reached Vin at the same time the bullets did and felt the impacts. Vin felt them as well. For an endless moment, light blue eyes met dark blue ones. Then time began again. Vin ended up on the ground where the collision left him and Buck's momentum carried him beyond the fallen man.

More shots rang out as Buck rolled to a stop facing the way he had come. When he managed to open his eyes, Chris, Nathan, and JD were gathered around an unmoving Vin. 'Must have hit his head on the concrete,' was Buck's bleary thought. He saw Josiah and Ezra approaching from the side, holstering their guns. 'Checked the shooter.' They joined the others beside Vin. No one even glanced in his direction.

'Come on, guys, I could use some help here.' He tried to call to them but found he didn't have the strength or the breath. He also realized he didn't hurt and vaguely wondered if he should be worried about it.

The others still hadn't looked for him. 'What do you expect?' asked a voice in the back of his mind that he had been trying to get rid of since childhood. 'It's not like you're anyone important. You're just a disposable nobody. After all, look how easily Larabee replaced you with Tanner.'

Buck tried to ignore the voice. But lying there, watching the others, feeling his blood drip down to start to soak the front of his shirt, he found he couldn't. And past things suddenly acquired new meanings.

He watched as Jackson slowly ran his hands down Vin's arms and legs looking for injuries. 'Come on, Nathan, it's not like he had that far to go to the ground. Typical. He gets a splinter and you're ready to rush him to the emergency room. I get a migraine and it's take a couple of aspirin and leave me alone.' Forgotten was the fact that the first had been a joke and the second a misunderstanding brought about from a bad day for everyone.

Buck focussed on Chris. His oldest friend was kneeling beside Tanner gripping his shoulder, apparently intent on the unconscious man. The image seemed to validate the voice in his head. 'Well, Chris, you've been wanting me gone, looks like you'll finally get your wish.' Forgetting that was years ago. 'You replaced me with Tanner knowing he'll let you do whatever you want because he doesn't like to interfere. And by the time he realizes he should've, it will be too late. There won't be any pieces left for him to pick up. You better hope he can live with that.'

Pain signals finally started reaching his brain and his breathing got worse.

Buck shifted his gaze to JD, wide-eyed and pale as he knelt beside Chris looking down at Vin. Out of all of them, he thought JD would be by his side no matter what. So why wasn't he?

'Because Chris is his hero and he's sticking with Vin,' came the hated voice. 'You're just the mother hen who won't let him do anything.'

Buck's eyes closed then he struggled to reopen them. He was too tired to fight the voice anymore. And it hit a hidden core of bitterness that he never realized existed. 'Hell, Chris, at least when you put Vin in my place, you gave yourself a partner, an equal, someone to watch your back. Who did you give me to replace you? Some rookie to train and babysit in the hopes I wouldn't notice I'd been replaced. Some kid who's so busy stupidly trying to prove himself when he doesn't have to that he's a danger to everyone. Someone who isn't qualified to watch my back.'

A wave of pain washed over him. Why was he even bothering? He was so tired, maybe he'd just close his eyes and go to sleep. Then Buck saw Vin move and his eyes open.

Tanner tried to get up but Jackson stopped him.

Buck thought he saw Vin's mouth move. 'Asking about me,' he guessed when the others looked towards Chris and JD. 'Expecting me to be standing behind them as always.' Only Vin looked his way. Sirens sounded in the distance, coming closer.

Two pairs of blue eyes met then the darker ones closed. The last thing that Buck heard as the darkness fell around him was Vin yelling his name.

The End

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