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"Vin? Come on, Cowboy, come on back to us," Chris coaxed.
"Theyre here," Vin whispered. "Theyre here."
"Whos here, Vin?" Buck asked.
"Theyre dyin right here! God! Theyre dyin!" Vin cried, slumping down to sit on the cold ground.
Chris knelt down in front of him.
"Vin, what are you talking about?" he asked. "Theres nobody else here, Vin. Just us three. Come on, Cowboy, youre scaring us here. Tell us what youre talking about."
"Theyre just lettin themselves be killed " Vin whispered, closing his eyes, letting the tears fall.
Four months earlier
Vin and Buck exited the elevator and headed for the office.
"Well if it aint the gimp twins!" Nathan announced, rising from his seat to grab the door for the duo.
Vin still had his right arm in a sling held tight to his body and Buck was still on crutches, his leg supported by a brace. They smiled appreciatively and thanked Nathan as they entered the bullpen.
"Howdy, boys!" Buck greeted everyone, taking his seat at his desk, propping his leg up onto JDs lap, getting an eye roll in return. "Miss us?"
"Its not like we dont see you two at least once a week, Buck," Josiah remarked.
"Or every day," JD added.
"Yeah, well, todays the day to go out for lunch," Vin announced.
"Whats the occasion?" Nathan asked.
"I finally got a date with Olga Johannsen," Buck replied with a leer and a wink.
"I thought it was with Inga?" Vin asked.
"Theres a difference?"
"I hate to interrupt, gentlemen," Ezra interrupted, entering the office and handing file folders out to JD, Nathan and Josiah. "But I do believe we finally located Benny Rogers."
"LaSalles henchman?" Buck asked.
"The very one," Ezra replied with a smile. "Seems Mr. Rogers was in the wrong neighborhood this weekend and got caught up in one of Dallas PDs drug stings."
"Dallas know we want him?" Josiah asked, looking over Rogers arrest history.
"That they do," Chris replied, coming out of his office. "Just got off the phone with one of their detectives. They havent got a whole lot on him there, just some minor possession charges. Theyre willing to give him up so we can extradite him."
"And maybe we can get him to talk about LaSalle, maybe give up his hiding space. Right, Vin?" JD asked. "Vin?"
The six men turned to look at Vin when he didnt answer.
"Vin?" Nathan called, putting a gentle hand on Vins shoulder.
Vin flinched at the touch and backed away until he was up against the wall.
"Vin?" Chris called. "Whats wrong, Vin?"
Vin still did not reply, but the fear in his eyes was evident for all to see.
"We were talking about LaSalle," Josiah reminded them.
"Flashback?" Buck asked quietly.
"Looks like it," Nathan replied.
"Weve talked about LaSalle before," JD put in, confused.
"But weve got the pictures right in front of us today," Ezra spoke up, offering a possible explanation.
"Vin? Come on, Vin. Come on back. Youre safe," Nathan spoke quietly, soothingly.
"Ezra, lock the door," Chris ordered, hearing some voices in the hallway outside their office.
Ezra did so and also drew the shades on the door, ensuring even more privacy for Vin.
Vin remained silent as the others tried to coax some sort of response from him.
"Back off!" Buck yelled from his desk. Hed been watching the others slowly close in on Vin in their attempt to break him from the flashback. They didnt realize that they were probably making things worse. "Give him some space. Youre scarin him."
The five backed off, realizing that Buck was right. Vin slid down the wall and sat heavily on the floor. Chris motioned the others to back away even further as he knelt down in front of Vin.
"Come on, Cowboy," he whispered, hoping the familiar nickname between the two would spark familiarity. "Youre in Team Sevens offices. Youre safe with us, Vin."
Vin still remained silent, but he seemed comfortable with Chris for the moment. Chris moved to sit next to Vin, then, putting his back to the wall as well. "Go on," he whispered to the others. "Back to work. Get that extradition paperwork going."
+ + + + + + +
Vin looked around at the office, noted that most of the lights were off, that it was dark outside.
"Why are we sittin on the floor in the dark?"
"You took a little side trip, Vin," Chris replied quietly.
Chris looked over at Vin, saw his head hung low, heard the whispered curses.
"Its okay, Vin."
"No, it aint, Chris!" Vin shot back. "Everybody saw. Everybody knows. Aint gonna be able to work no more!"
"The doctors said to expect them, Vin. Especially in the first couple of months," Chris responded. "And everybody knows that, too," he added, forcing Vin to meet his gaze. "Nobodys holding this against you. We know its gonna take some time."
Vin was silent for a few minutes. Then, "Did I hurt anyone this time?" he asked, warily.
"No. You just kinda zoned out on us. No harm done. Really," Chris assured him. "And you wont be back to work for a couple more months anyway. By then, the flashbacks should be over and done with. Doctor Preston said that they diminish over time."
Vin thought about Doctor Preston, the staff psychologist for the ATF. He had been seeing him since hed been in the hospital, talking about what happened, what to expect, etc. He nodded his head, agreeing with Chriss words.
"Come on," Chris said, rising up and offering Vin his hand.
Vin clasped forearms with Chris and let himself be pulled to his feet.
"The boys are in the conference room planning the trip to Dallas," Chris said, leading the way.
+ + + + + + +
"Been a while, huh?" Chris asked later on, as he helped Vin with his seatbelt. "Since you had one."
Vin just shrugged his good shoulder, not meeting Chriss gaze, not wanting to talk about it.
"Or has it? Vin?"
Vin sighed and looked at Chris.
"Been havin em once or twice a week," he began. "Dont take much. Just gotta start thinkin about what happened, or sometimes, about Charlie. Ill find myself sittin in a corner of my apartment or hidin in the closet."
"Why havent you said something? Does Dr. Preston know?"
"Preston knows," Vin answered, nodding. "Havent said nothin to yall cause I didnt think I needed to. Aint like Im comin back to work anytime soon."
"Vin, you shouldnt be by yourself if youre still having these flashbacks. What if ?"
"Im fine, Chris," he responded sharply, cutting in. "You got all my guns locked up at your place. Cant shoot no one."
"Thats not what Im worried about, Vin."
"Cant shoot myself, neither."
"I just worry about you, thats all," Chris said, seeing that Vin was becoming defensive.
"I know that, Chris," Vin replied with a sigh. "Just its been two months. Im tired of everyone worryin on me already. Dr. Preston says Im doin just fine, as good as he expected."
Chris looked closely at Vin, then, saw the honesty in his eyes and nodded his head. "How about some pizza tonight? We can stop at Marcos?"
"Pizza Hut," Vin suggested. "Im in the mood for stuffed crust."
"Pizza Hut it is."
+ + + + + + +
Vin finished locking up his apartment and sank down onto the couch. He hadnt bothered to turn on any lights - didnt feel the need to. It had been good to be out with Chris, he thought. Or maybe it was just good to have told him about the flashbacks. Either way, Vin was feeling a lot less stressed than he had been lately.
The constant worry of having a flashback while out with the boys, or anyone else for that matter, had been weighing heavily on him. It had been bad enough when hed first been dosed. He still found himself apologizing to Buck, despite the fact that Buck had told him that there was nothing to forgive. Hed worried about how they would react to him if, when, it happened again. Well, tonight he had his answer. Business as usual, it seemed. He hadnt hurt anyone, hadnt caused a scene.
He closed his eyes and sighed as he leaned his head back against the back of the couch. Mentally going through his date book, he remembered the doctors appointments he had the next day. The orthopedist was going to check his shoulder and maybe change his therapy routine in the morning. Then in the afternoon he was scheduled to see Dr. Preston.
"Yeah, looking real forward to telling him about the latest trip to la-la land," Vin muttered to himself.
"And what about the trips to our land?"
Vin opened his eyes and looked at the old Indian woman sitting in his rocking chair.
"Why are you here?" he asked her, his tone of voice showing that it was not the first time hed asked her that question.
"I dont want this!" he cried, his good hand shooting up to roughly rub at his temple. "You say that every time and you havent shown me shit!"
"You have seen many things, Vin Tanner. You are learning. You just dont realize it yet."
And then Vin watched as the walls of his apartment faded around him and the sounds of the small Indian village became louder, until he found himself sitting outside a teepee, next to the old woman, skinning a deer.
"Whos here, Vin?" Buck asked, painfully lowering himself to the ground to sit next to him. "Whos dyin?"
"She told me it would happen," Vin whispered. "She said theyd do it, but I didnt believe her."
"Vin! Theres nobody else here!" Chris shouted. "Were in the middle of fucking nowhere!"
Chris was growing more frustrated by the moment and he had serious thoughts of slapping Vin across his face, hoping, like in the movies, it would bring his friend back to the here and now.
"Why did you bring me here?!" Vin cried out.
Three months earlier
"So howd the date with Inga go?" Chris asked.
"It was with Olga, and it didnt," Vin replied, biting into his bagel sandwich. When he realized that Chris was waiting for an explanation, he rolled his eyes and said, "I called her Inga by mistake. How the hell Buck can get away with mixin em up, I dont know, but me "
"Must be that animal magnetism of his."
"Animal magnetism my ass, its the size of his-"
"Wallet," Chris said quickly, finishing Vins sentence. "He spends lots of money on his women."
"Like thats important?" Vin balked.
"From everything you two have told us about those twins, Id say it was. But hey, on to better subjects. I got the fax from the orthopedist saying you can go on light duty. All we need is the word from Doctor Preston."
"Preston already gave me the okay for light duty," Vin responded. "As long as Im not doing more than paperwork or research," he added.
"So when you wanna come back?"
"Tomorrow too soon?" Vin asked, a hopeful look on his face.
"Nope, in fact Ive already got the perfect job lined up for you to do."
"I sure hope it involves a certain neighborly fellows upcoming court appearance."
"Why Agent Tanner, however did you guess?" Chris asked with a smile. "Thought you and Ezra could go over all the paperwork and make sure weve got everything ready with the DAs office."
"Think hell make a last minute plea?"
"And give up LaSalle? I dont know, Vin," Chris replied. "Rogers has been tight lipped about LaSalle since Josiah and Nathan brought him back from Dallas. Hes refused to make any statements or say anything, other than to plead not guilty to the assault charge against him."
"We even sure hes gonna show for court?" Vin asked, skeptical.
"Hes been checking in faithfully with his parole officer since he made bail. If he was gonna skip town, Id have thought hed have done it by now."
As Vin contemplated Benny Rogers, Chris noticed the faraway look he was getting in his eyes. Recalling similar looks over the past three months, he moved his hand to grab onto Vins wrist.
"Vin? Vin?" he called, squeezing his hand tighter around Vins wrist.
Vin shook his head, blinking his eyes rapidly as he did so. When he focused on his surroundings, he saw the concerned look on Chriss face, felt the other mans grip on his wrist.
"Im okay, Chris," he whispered.
Chris loosened his grip, but did not let go. "You sure, Vin?"
"Yeah, thanks," he replied, taking a deep breath and letting it out. He chuckled softly, saying, "Gee, if Ida known you could stop em like that, Idve had you move in with me two months ago, Cowboy."
"Got no problem with that, if thats what you need, Vin," Chris said, momentarily tightening his grip again on Vins wrist before releasing it.
"Appreciate that, Chris. But I think I gotta do this on my own."
"Says who?" Chris questioned. "Doctor Preston? Or you?"
Vin looked away then, and focused his gaze on the rocking chair in his living room.
"I ever tell you about that time I caught that big Rainbow?" Vin asked, returning his gaze to Chris. "Id just graduated from the Marshal Academy and Charlie brought me out to the Vinnebago to celebrate. We were sittin down next to the crick, feet in the water, drinkin cans of Bud, when this huge fuckin Rainbow Trout just swims right to us. Damn thing nearly bit my toe off before I reached in and grabbed it. Couldnt believe it. But you know what Charlie does?" Vin stopped a minute as he recalled the details, remembering his old friends face and voice. "He grabbed it out of my hands and threw it back! Said if I was gonna catch a fish, then I had better damned work for it, because nothin that comes easy is ever good."
"Its true," Chris said.
"It was the fuckin grandpappy of trout! Musta been at least tweny pounds!" Vin exclaimed, holding his hands apart, approximating the size of the fish.
"Wasnt too long after that that he told you about his cancer, was it?" Chris asked.
Vin shook his head. "When I was in El Paso, on comp. time," he replied, looking at Chris, seeing if he remembered his telling him about a bust gone bad during his rookie year. Chris nodded his head, saying he remembered. "I was out of the hospital an all, bored out of my skull, sittin around my apartment. Next thing I knew, Charlie breezes in and starts unpackin his suitcase, first tellin me hes gonna be shackin up with me for a couple of weeks, then tellin me why."
"Im dying, Vin. Simple as that. Got a tumor thats taking up half of my liver. Docs say they cant do anything about it."
"Picked a hell of a time to tell me."
"Considering that you were just about dying last week, I thought it was the perfect time."
"Preston thinks Im havin all these flashbacks cause I never really settled things with Charlie," Vin said after a few moments, shaking himself back to the present. "But I dont know, sometimes it seems like its more. Keep thinkin on stuff my stepmas grandma used to say about takin spirit walks, and interpretin dreams." He thought about telling Chris about the old Indian womans visits, about his own recent spirit walks with her, but seeing the skeptical look in his eye, he chose not to. "And then, hell, I realize that its just a bunch of stupid drugs messin with my head for no damned reason at all."
"Well, whatever the reason, or result, Vin," Chris began, putting his hand back on Vins wrist, "whether you want the help or not, youve got six of us ready and willing."
"I know, Chris," Vin replied.
"We gotta get him out of here," Buck whispered. "Its this place."
Chris looked around at the wooded area. Theyd found the cabin empty and abandoned and had been disappointed. Not usually one for superstitions, Chris had wanted to disagree with Buck, but he couldnt. As soon as theyd gotten onto the property hed noticed the change in Vin. Hed known something was going to happen.
"Fine," he said, grabbing Vins arm. "Come on, Vin. Were leaving."
Buck grabbed Vins other arm and pulled, putting almost all of the weight onto his good leg.
"No!!" Vin cried, pulling away from them. He looked around frantically, seeking safe passage, but found himself surrounded by the dozen braves. "No."
Two months earlier
"I cant believe were doin this," Vin whispered, feet tapping nervously.
"What, sitting in a room together, holding hands? Afraid peoplell talk?"
"Fuck you, Larabee," Vin retorted, pulling his hand away as he got up to pace the room again.
"Guys on Team Twelve already think you did," Chris responded, trying to keep from laughing. Seeing how quickly Vin turned around and seeing the shock on his face, though, he gave up. "Im kidding! Geez, Vin, Im just trying to lighten the mood a bit."
"I just want this to be over with, Chris."
"I know that, Vin. I do, too," he said, standing up and putting a hand on Vins shoulder. "But you and Doc Preston agreed that if anything was gonna dredge up a flashback, then being here in court, with Benny Rogers, would do it. The attorneys all agreed to me being here with you, for moral support."
"Never knew any other ATF agents that needed hand-holdin in court before," Vin muttered.
"If thats what it takes to prevent a flashback so we can take Rogers and LaSalle down "
Vin closed his eyes and concentrated on the hand on his shoulder, using it as an anchor as thoughts of the ill-fated gun deal flitted through his memory.
+ + + + + + +
"I dont fuckin believe it!"
"Vin, you knew this might happen."
"All this for nothing!"
"I wouldnt call Benny Rogers conviction on assault and federal weapons charges nothing, Vin," Chris practically shouted, trying to reason with Vin.
Chris watched as Vin paced angrily around the courthouse lobby. He glared at a few people that dared to stare at his friend. He was just as unhappy about the trials turnout as Vin, but then again, he wasnt the one that had been dosed with hallucinogens.
"Hes takin the fall, Chris!" Vin exclaimed, turning abruptly. "What the hell does LaSalle have goin that Benny Rogers is willin to do ten years worth of federal time?!"
"Nothing we havent suspected already," Chris replied calmly. "We knew we were dealing with the big leagues when we first started on LaSalle, Vin. Thats why we started on him. What he did to you and what he probably threatens his employees, like Rogers, with, is how he treats people that cross him. He doesnt take chances. And thats all the more reason to take him down."
Vin slumped against the wall and put his head back. "I know, Chris," he finally whispered. "Its just so damn frustrating," he added, pounding his fist into the wall and regretting it as the pain vibrated up to his shoulder. He closed his eyes and dropped his chin to his chest.
"Come on," Chris coaxed, grabbing onto Vins left arm and gently pulling him from the wall. "Lets head back to the office and write this up."
+ + + + + + +
Back at the office, JD and the rest of the team present were just as dismayed at the news. Theyd all been hoping that Rogers would make a deal with the District Attorneys office at the last minute and give up LaSalle. But despite JDs testimony the day before and Vins today, both relating the events of the meeting at The Red Dragon, it wasnt to happen.
"Well, I for one, am at least glad that the jury found Mr. Rogers guilty of the charges brought against him," Ezra spoke up. "Things could have been worse; they could have found him not guilty, you know."
"Here, here," Josiah agreed.
"Yeah, I guess," Vin conceded, dropping down onto his desk chair. He was just about to turn on his computer, to start writing up the court disposition for the file, when his phone rang. "Tanner," he answered.
"Gotta love loyalty, huh, Tanner?" LaSalle asked.
"Where the hell are you?" Vin growled, motioning to JD to get a phone trace going.
"Why, didnt you see me at court? I was right there, watching you hold hands with Larabee. Whats the matter, afraid of a few little bad dreams, Vinny?"
"Where the hell are you?!" Vin shouted this time, waving his arm, fending off Chris, who was trying to grab the phone from him.
"Hey, Vin," LaSalle began again, "Id be careful of what you touch these days. Never know where its been, you know?" He ended the call, laughing.
Vin dropped the phone and stood up abruptly, afraid to touch anything at his desk. He wondered if LaSalle had been able to get into the offices or his Jeep or his apartment
"Vin? Who was it?" Chris asked.
"Whatd they say?" JD asked, hanging up his phone.
Vin backed away from the desk and his friends, heading for the door, eyes darting about, wondering where LaSalle had planted the LSD this time.
"Vin?" Chris called, getting more concerned by the second. When Vin turned and ran for the stairwell, Chris had to fight his way past the others that had also begun to chase Vin. "JD! Get on that trace!" he ordered, before heading down the stairs. "Vin!"
+ + + + + + +
Vin was running down the stairs, taking two at a time. He tried to reconcile the images in his mind. The men were after him again, yet he knew that it was impossible. He was in a modern building, not in the woods, not amongst the tribe. Charlie kept calling him, telling him which way to go, which turns to take, how to keep away from Steve. Steve isnt real! But there he was, chasing him into the trees, toward the cabin. They wouldnt make it. Suddenly the breath was knocked from him as he was slammed into a tree.
"Vin!" Josiah shouted, pinning the younger man to the wall with his size and weight.
Chris joined them and got into Vins line of sight. He grabbed Vin by the chin and forced him to meet his gaze. "Vin," he said forcefully. "Look at me! Youre in the Federal Building. Youre safe! Its just us here, Vin. No ones gonna hurt you!"
Josiah met Chriss gaze as Ezra and Nathan showed up. He would continue to hold Vin until Chris said it was okay to let him go. Vin struggled a few more minutes in Josiahs grasp before finally slumping down against the wall, as if admitting defeat.
"Hes gonna do it again," he whispered, opening his eyes. "He said to watch what I touch."
Chris and Buck circled slowly about their friend, looking for a way to get a hold of him before he ran off again.
"Its for the best."
"No! Its not! Its not fair!" Vin shouted.
"No one said it was."
"Whats not fair, Vin?" Buck asked, inching closer.
"Our choices are our own, and they are for all."
Vin watched as the braves met their foes, watched as the bullets riddled their bodies, watched as they fell, one by one.
"No," he whispered, dropping to his knees, letting his tears flow freely.
Chris and Buck gathered him into their arms, and headed toward the truck. Vin did not resist.
+ + + + + + +
Chris sat down onto the bench next to Vin. Looking across the street, watching the Haz Mat team exit the apartment building with another plastic bag, he heard Vin let out another sigh.
"I know this is all probably a bluff, Vin, but we cant take any chances," he said.
"I know it, Chris," Vin replied wearily, scratching at the band-aid on his arm. "The blood tests came back negative, the closed circuit videos at the office and garage came back clean and even Mrs. Garcia, who knows everything that goes on in the building, said no one came around here."
Chris looked closer at his friend; saw the fear and frustration in his eyes. "Were gonna find him, Vin."
"When?" Vin asked, leaning his head back against the top of the bench. "Im already so fuckin tired of this, Chris. Wonderin when its all gonna end. When Im gonna wake up in the same place I went to bed. When Im gonna stop seein things that aint there. When Im gonna stop bein afraid of my own goddamned shadow. And now LaSalles gotta pull this shit!"
"Were gonna find him, Vin," Chris repeated.
After a few moments of silence, Vin said, "I need outta here, Chris."
"Come out to the ranch for a couple of weeks," Chris suggested. When he got a headshake of no from Vin, he asked, "What about the Vinnebago?"
"Yeah, right. Thatll really keep the flashbacks away," Vin replied sarcastically.
Chris turned to face Vin, then. "You havent been out there since this happened, have you?" he asked.
"Cant," Vin whispered. "Cant bring myself to go there."
"What if me or one of the boys goes with you?"
"You got too much to do, Chris. Its more important for you to find LaSalle than baby-sit me."
"What if I think your being safe and sound is more important than getting LaSalle?"
"Then I think youre fuckin crazy, Larabee," Vin replied. "Im just one-,"
"Just one, what?" Chris asked, looking at Vin after hed stopped talking mid-sentence. "Vin?"
"What have you just said, Vin Tanner?" the old woman asked with a smile.
"Vin?" Chris called, grabbing Vins wrist and squeezing it.
Vin blinked his eyes and the woman disappeared. "Sorry, Chris," he said quickly. "Look, I aint feelin too good. Maybe I can take you up on your offer and crash in your spare room tonight?"
"Sure," Chris said, not sure of what had just transpired.
He led the way to his truck and unlocked it for Vin. Before getting in, himself, he went over to the Haz Mat truck and spoke with the officer in charge, giving him his business card when they were through. Back in the truck, he took in Vins tired posture and started the truck.