Disclaimer: Not mine, no monetary remuneration, so sad.

Main Characters: Vin with a nice splash of Chris and Ezra

Author’s Notes: Big huge hanks to my beta Sherri and to Marnie for spider hunting. Special thanks to Lynda and her medical help without which Vin would still be dead. And big kudos and thanks to Ninheve for the beautiful artwork she created to go with this story.

Special Note: This story is somewhat of a sequel to a little piece I wrote called Chiseled In Stone. It is not necessary to read it first or at all, but both stories are kind of spoilers for each other.

The smell of wildflowers assaulted his nose and wove around his head like an invisible trail of smoke. So familiar was its scent and the effect it had upon every nerve ending in his body. Burying his head deeper into her hair he caught the gentle freshness of her shampoo. Not a heavy perfume smell, but fresh like the air after a gentle spring rain. He could get lost in those smells forever and never wish for more. They reminded him of happiness, laughter, and love. They reminded him of her and all she had given him, of all that she had brought into his formerly dreary life.

He felt her body shift and twisted more to the side, allowing her to turn around and snuggle up closer against him, the light breath from her slightly parted lips tickling against his chest. She hadn’t even awakened but sought out comfort from his gentle touch and strong arms. And he was more than happy to provide this haven of rest for her.

Just the two of them in bed were some of the most blissful moments he had ever experienced and he clung to each precious minute as if it were his last. To die like this would have left him feeling totally fulfilled. Like this, with the woman he loved sheltered within his embrace, he was certain that there was good in the world and that dreams really did come true.

Breathing in deeply he felt lightheaded. He still couldn’t believe that he had become so blessed as to have this beautiful woman by his side. So strong willed and yet so loving, she had captured his heart from the first day they met, even if it had taken more than a few months to recognize its loss. And now he loved everything about her. The way she looked every child she spoke to right in the eye, as though they were the most important person in the world to her. The little notes she left on the refrigerator to remind him how much she loved him. The way her nose wrinkled up when she was trying to decide if she wanted pizza or Chinese for dinner. The smell of the bathroom after she took a hot shower.

But most of all, he loved the way she made him feel inside.

Jerking awake he felt the incredible wave of deep sadness and loss that assaulted him every time he dreamt of her, of them together. Sucking in a breath and choking back a strangled sob he sat up quickly, throwing his pillow across the room in anger, then just sat there in the semi-darkness trying to get his racing heart and ragged breathing back under control. Glancing over at the clock he read the time. 4:48 Am. Well, that was more rest than he had gotten in the last week.

These dreams came often enough, but had trickled down to an occasional occurrence. Anniversaries, the sight of young lovers together, or just a really stressful day sometimes triggered them. But things were not as bad, not since he had found a new purpose in life. He was actually starting to build a future now and the six men he worked with were the main reason. They had given him so much. A new reason to get up in the morning, a feeling of being needed again, and a sense of family he hadn’t felt since…

"Oh God." His chest ached at the recent memories from the dream. It had been so real that he could almost still smell her, still feel her warmth against his cool skin. The room was freezing. The heat was probably on the fritz again. Pulling himself out of the bed he put on some sweats, a pair of heavy wool socks, and headed for the kitchen to start some coffee. There was no way he was going to sleep anyway. Stopping abruptly at the closet he opened the door and reached up for the small metal box he knew was there. Pulling it down he continued toward the kitchen.


He was tired. So very, very tired. His hand swept gently across the plastic that protected the precious photographs. The last remaining pieces he had to a life that had been so incredible, so full of hope and love. The very idea of its existence had been so foreign to him, almost as foreign as it sometimes seemed now. No. It was no longer foreign to him as much as it was inaccessible. Before it had been a dream. Something he thought existed only in movies and fairytales. He had been wrong. It did exist and he had almost had it. Almost. But now that he knew what it felt like not having it was so much more painful. The mere glimpse he had once had of such a life was now only a memory sharp enough to stab him in the heart over and over.

Swallowing hard at the razors that slashed at his throat and swiping hard at the salty wetness that stained his cheeks he reached out to the images in the photograph and felt his heart shatter for the thousandth time.

A deep sigh escaped him and he glanced now at his watch. Sometime during the wee morning hours, between bouts of nostalgia, he had grabbed a shower, drank two cups of coffee, and gotten dressed. It was after 6:30 now and still early, but he had some reports to finish before the briefing at 10:00. Closing the book and steeling his emotions deep inside he put everything back in the box and put it away in the bedroom closet. Time to once again move on.


Chris Larabee was driving through the darkened streets with ease. Little did he know just a year ago that he would be so familiar with this particular part of Denver. Known for its crime and poverty, he had never given much thought to the little community of Purgatorio, as it was called. Sure, he’d spent time in the area when he had worked for the Denver Police Department but his main area had been in another part of the city, with only an occasional visit to the rundown area when searching for a suspect or a new lead. Now he could drive around most of the area with his eyes closed. All thanks to one pain in the ass sharpshooter with no respect for his own welfare.

If Vin would only move into a respectable neighborhood. But the reasons he stayed in his rundown apartment in this beleaguered part of town were what made Vin who he was, a respectable, caring individual with a penchant to make a difference in the lives of the kids and the people that most of society had turned its back on. Vin had been one of those kids once and was determined that if he saved even one it would be worth it.

No, Vin had never said as much. Never really even spoke about it at all, but over the last few months Chris had come to know a lot about the younger man and with each bit of information his respect for him grew. Vin hadn’t had an easy life, that much was certain, but despite it all he had turned out to be one hell of a man. One Chris Larabee was honored to call friend.

It had been a long week, topped off by a longer day of paperwork and debriefings. They were all heading to The Saloon for a few drinks and maybe even a game or two of pool. Vin had left a few minutes before, wanting to change clothes and pack a bag. He was going to spend the weekend with Chris at the ranch for some clean up work around the barn and just some good old fashioned R&R. Chris allowed Vin to board his horse at the ranch and in exchange the younger man helped out with some of the menial repair chores around the place. Chris had offered to just pick him up, well, truth be told the team’s leader didn’t always trust that hunk of junk Vin drove to get him out to the ranch. Plus, Vin had seemed a bit more tense lately. In fact, on retrospect, he had even looked more tired.

Pulling around the corner Chris pulled up in front of Vin’s building and headed up the stairs. It was quiet for a Friday night, but the air was cool and most of the residents had sought comfort indoors. Knocking with confidence and a spring in his step, Chris wondered at the change a few months could make. Just a year ago Friday night would have meant another night home alone with bittersweet memories and a bottle of Jack Daniels. Now, with the new team and a man like Vin to call friend, the world had new possibilities.

Chris stared up at the door, attuning his ears to the sounds around him. There was a television on too loud down the hall with what sounded like an old sitcom showing. He could hear someone speaking overly loud from the floor below. Just the everyday sounds of life all around, except that none of them were coming from the apartment in front of him. Warning bells began to clang in his head. Vin had been nearly five minutes ahead of him and he had seen the jeep parked nearly at the back of the building. Having just assumed his friend would already be in his apartment getting his stuff together and getting changed the blond had headed upstairs. But he could hear nothing coming from inside Vin’s apartment and the door had yet to be answered. Fear exploded in Chris’s gut and he pulled his pistol, even as he slowly stuck the spare key he had into the lock.

Entering the apartment with extreme caution, he noted the only light was the one in the kitchen over the sink that Vin always left on. Otherwise the room was dark. Sweeping the room and moving on to the rest of the apartment, Chris noted with growing alarm that everything looked untouched. It didn’t even appear that Vin had made it up yet.

As horrible scenarios began to play in his mind his mental survival instincts tried to extinguish the growing worry with other possibilities. Maybe some of the local youths had caught Vin on his way up and wanted to talk. Or maybe one of the neighbors was having some trouble. Vin often helped out the other tenants by fixing simple repair problems, knowing that any complaints made to the superintendent might go unheeded for weeks. Surely there was some simple reason why Vin had yet to make it to his apartment. Surely.

But even as his head tried to calm his anxiety, something in Chris’s gut was screaming at him to find Vin and fast.

Heading back down the stairs, gun still at the ready, Chris headed out the back way, closer to where Vin had parked. He would check around outside first and then try Vin’s cell phone. Reaching the corner of the building he froze and hugged the wall before scanning the area. Nothing. No sounds, no movement. Nothing. His heart beating out of his chest with an unnatural rhythm, he moved toward the battered jeep Vin used for transportation. ‘Where the hell are you, Tanner?’


Rounding the edge of the jeep Chris felt the ground beneath him shift as his shoes lost traction, sliding on the pavement. Grabbing a hold of the bumper to stop from sprawling on the ground in an ungraceful heap he still hit the ground hard, his knee and palm taking the brunt of the impact. It hadn’t rained in weeks and it was still too early in the season for any of the snow flurries they had seen the week before to stick for more than a few hours. Looking down at the ground he noticed the dark wet spot, felt it seeping into his pants leg and coating his hand. Lifting his hand up to grab hold of the jeep and drag himself up he felt his stomach flip as his hand left a print. Even though the harsh glow of the streetlight down the way was only providing a sliver of light it didn’t take him long to realize what it was. The metallic odor of blood was all too apparent, causing Chris’s entire body to go cold.

‘Oh God.’

A dark shadow against the wall in front of the jeep drew his attention and the world around him seemed to tunnel in as he recognized the figure slumped against the dirty brick wall. Rushing forward Chris turned away from the dark pool of liquid that covered the pavement beside the battered vehicle and never even noticed the hole in the canopy.

Kneeling down and pulling out his phone at the same time Chris’s eyes were riveted to the dark patch of shirt Vin’s hand was clutching at. Even in the dim lighting the continuing flow of blood was terrifyingly obvious.

"Hang on, Cowboy. Just hang on, damnit."

Chris could feel his heart beating nearly out of his chest as he kept an eye on their surroundings for any sign of the shooter while dialing for help. He wanted to try and stop the flow of life seeping out of his best friend, but feared he might do even more damage. But from the amount of blood he had seen on the pavement and what was now covering Vin’s chest, there may not be a choice. Time was definitely not on their side.

Within seconds the ATF leader had determined that the shooter was likely long gone. After summoning help, putting great emphasis on the fact that there was an officer down, his own hand had joined Vin’s to press firmly against the wound. Sitting in the cold dark parking lot awaiting the arrival of help, slowly but surely he was beginning to believe his mind was going to explode. His carefully maintained outer control was only a façade to hide the unimaginable fear and horror leaching through him. This could not be happening. Only a short hour ago things had been fine. Damnit, he had practically begged Vin to move to a decent neighborhood. One where crime and drive-by shootings were not so commonplace. Somewhere nice and safe, where the very residents that one sought to save would not turn on you at the drop of a hat.

A low groan brought his attention solely to the sharpshooter’s face. Even as a part of him longed to see two blue eyes another part did not wish to witness the pain that would surely be there.


Pain. All encompassing fire shooting sparks through his gut and burning through his chest, evaporating all of his breath. Oh God, he couldn’t breathe and the thought of moving filled him with fear and dread as the pain only intensified. But why? Why did he hurt so bad and why couldn’t he breathe? Something on the edge of conscious thought, something vitally important and dancing just around the edges of the grey world he was enveloped in beckoned to him. Calling to him with its urgency. What had happened? He needed to remember. Then it became clear, like a heavy fog burned away by the early morning sun, it all came back to him.

Vin had been hurrying home to get changed and pack a bag for the weekend. It had been a long few weeks, punctuated by a disturbing phone call on Monday that had only served to darken his mood and dredge up a host of memories he struggled to keep buried, both the horrific and the bittersweet. That in turn had led to sleepless nights and an even more sullen mood on his part during the days. He knew the others were worried, but he would be okay. Monday he would be just fine.

This weekend was exactly what he needed. It was a chance to get out of the city and the constant reminders that bombarded him. It seemed every corner he turned was a restaurant where they used to eat, a park where they used to meet for lunch, a hotdog vendor where she had spilled mustard all over her blouse, the street where it happened…. He had purposefully avoided that entire area of town, but had been forced to drive nearby tonight because of the lack of time.

Yep, this weekend away with just nature, the horses, some hard work, and good buddy time with Chris was exactly what he needed. He just hoped his best friend didn’t ask him too many questions. It wasn’t that Vin was trying to hide things from the others, but talking about the past wouldn’t change things and he had long ago learned that just keeping his mouth shut was a whole lot safer. The more others knew about you, the more ammunition they had to hurt you with. And even though deep in his heart he didn’t believe his new friends would ever use his past against him, some lessons were just hard to unlearn.

Trying to clear his head on the way home had been a bust but as he pulled into the parking area beside his apartment building he decided that he needed to pull himself together before Chris showed up. The worry he had seen on the older man’s face had been strangely comforting, but he didn’t like the idea that his own standoffish behavior had put it there. Time to ‘put on a happy face’ so to speak and help alleviate the other guys’ concerns. Vin would just consider it practice for all of his undercover duties.

The fall air was beginning to feel a lot more like winter and snow flurries had already dusted the city a couple of times, though it had not stayed around for very long. As he parked the jeep he glanced up out of the windshield just in time to see the sliver of moon wink at him before being hidden by a group of clouds. A strange feeling washed over him. Shaking off the sudden chill he climbed out, intent on quickly heading upstairs, but turned back to grab his coat out of the back. If he didn’t not only would he be freezing his ass off all the way up the five flights of stairs it would also just give Larabee one more thing to gripe about. He could just picture his boss and best friend standing in his doorway with hands on hips and that infamous glare turned up on high beams.

‘What in the hell were you thinking, Tanner. It’s not bad enough you live here in a war zone, but you’ve got to tempt fate by letting your thin blooded Texan hide catch a chill? Knowing you you’d end up with pneumonia and then Nathan would be riding both our asses. You for catching it and me for letting you.’

Vin felt a tight grin lift the corners of his mouth at the vision. Yep, that sounded just about right. Except for the part where Vin would just cock his head and grin, infuriating Chris even more. Putting his hand on the door handle he froze at the sound of someone behind him. Geez, he knew better. Of course he knew where he lived and the dangers involved. Where had his head been? Actually his head had been desperately trying to rid itself of the flood of memories that had been assaulting him all week, but that was no excuse for his lack of vigilance.

It could just be one of the residents on their way out or one of the local kids needing his help with something. Then again it could be a mugger or worse.

Just starting to turn around and investigate Vin had no chance to wonder any more as the sound of a shot and the feel of searing pain in his back answered the questions all too clearly. Grabbing at the jeep in a futile attempt to stay upright he felt himself begin to slide to the ground, his legs suddenly made of rubber. Clutching at his chest Vin felt a wetness he knew was blood as it spread soaking both his undershirt and the dark grey Henley he wore. The bullet had gone all the way through, but he wasn’t sure if that was a good thing or not. As his left hand tried to put some pressure on the wound he could reach, the right one fumbled to retrieve his service weapon from its shoulder holster, but his fingers, already slick with his own blood and shaking from the ensuing shock, couldn’t even get the tie down unsnapped.

All he could do was lie on his side helpless as his assailant stood over him, cursing him and speaking in cold dark tones. Looking up he could see the anger mixed with fear, but the face was that of a stranger. The lighting was bad, that was true, but…

Vin had closed his heavy lidded eyes all the while his mind screaming at him to get up and defend himself, but his body would not or more likely could not obey. All he could do was lie there and listen to the angry bitter voice as past sins returned to slay him.


His assailant had gone, but for how long? Had he passed out? It was getting hard to breathe and the cold from the ground had seeped into his body even as his warm blood flowed out. He was dying. Somewhere in the back of his mind he saw a picture. A beautiful face smiling back at him with love. Maybe this wasn’t such a bad thing. Maybe it was his time. The world around him faded and the quiet darkness called to him.

Just as consciousness began to fade the dark assassin’s words came back to him. He couldn’t die, not yet. There was no way he was getting up, but he had to try. He needed to get help. Inch by inch he pulled himself toward the wall. Maybe if he could just get there, maybe rest a minute, then he could pull himself up using the bumper of the jeep. With the wall for support he could make his way inside and get some help.

Chris would be here soon, but how long. Damn. His cell phone was in the jeep in the pocket of his jacket. It was up to him and time was of the essence.

Vin made it to the wall, slumping against it as his adrenaline gave out and his body screamed out its protest.

"Ah shit. Damnit all ta hell. That hurts." Gritting his teeth against the pain he worked to draw breath into his lungs. He was well aware that there was a chance the bullet might have pierced one of them. This wasn’t the first time he had been shot and between his own injuries and the ones his team members had suffered over the last year his medical knowledge was growing at an alarming rate. Then there was the shiny trail he had left behind of what had to be his own blood. That definitely wasn’t good. Maybe if… Vin slumped further down the wall and his head lulled to the side as unconsciousness drew him once again into its dark depths.


Pain, all encompassing pain. And cold. He was so cold. Warmth, he felt warmth on his hand and a voice. Someone was speaking to him. He had been shot, that’s why he hurt so badly. And he was sitting on the ground, thus the cold. And the voice… Vin knew that voice.

"Ch… Chrrriii… sss?"

"Hey there. Looks like you found yourself a bit a trouble." Chris kept one hand on the wound, still covering Vin’s, and with the other he held Vin’s head up. Where the hell was the ambulance? Vin shifted and Chris nearly lost his footing as he squatted before the man. Putting one knee on the ground he steadied himself. "Stay still now. Helps on the way, you just stay still and hang on. You hear me?"

Chris was rambling but he needed to talk to Vin, as if talking to him would keep the younger man awake, would keep Vin from…

"He… help."

"Help’s on its way, Vin. They’ll be here soon."

"No... gotta… war.." It was too hard to talk. The pain and lack of breath zapped every ounce of strength from his body. Vin knew that the only thing holding him up was Chris and the only thing keeping him conscious was sheer will and fear, but not for himself. He had to get Chris to understand.

"Sh… shot."

"Well, hell, cowboy. I think I figured that one out already." Chris mentally cursed himself. ‘Geez, Larabee. You’re losing it. The man’s sitting here bleeding out and you’re making stupid jokes.’

"Tore…" A harsh cough stole his breath and the ensuing pain nearly closed the dark curtain upon him, but he fought it hard. He had to make Chris understand. Vin knew he was fading and that he had to rely on Chris to make things right. Blinking up into the inky blackness at the shape that he knew was his best friend he tried again. But his words were too soft and slurred to be understood.

"Don’t try to talk. Help’s on the way and we can sort all of this out later."

Vin coughed again weakly, the pain causing him to nearly double over but Chris held him tight, his hand now slick with his friend’s blood.

"No… sh… shooter…"

Chris’s ears perked up. He knew Vin shouldn’t be talking, from the rasping shallow breathing and the position of the wound he feared that the bullet might have perforated one of Vin’s lungs, but this could be important.

"Gotta… help… her."

"Help who?"

"Car… tur..." Another cough tore from him. Vin was losing ground fast and he knew it. Just trying to talk was sending spikes of pain through his chest, but he had to tell Chris. This might be his last chance.

"Help Cawh… tureh...." Vin’s blue eyes stared pleadingly through the pain. How could he make Chris understand? Then he remembered and taking as deep a breath as possible he concentrated on his words. "Metal… box… closet."

"Metal box?" Chris saw the slightest hint of a nod. "Closet? Vin, what closet?" Chris wasn’t following the wounded man’s logic, not that it was an easy task when Vin was healthy, but this had to be important and by God he was not about to let his best friend down any more than he already had.


Chris barely heard the last word as it was spit out between coughs. What he did see was the thin trail of blood that now dripped from Vin’s mouth. The sound of sirens closing in only offered a small bit of relief as the repercussions began to swirl in his head.


Chris stood, his eyes riveted on the scene before him as the paramedics worked on Vin. He had answered their questions as best he could then held the police off with his own badge as he made a phone call he hated. As he heard the end of the ringing on the other end the background noise on both ends only served to aggravate his already agitated state.


"God damnit, Buck, just listen to me. It’s too damn loud, go outside now." Chris waited, nearly pulling the phone away from his ear as he heard the shrill whistle on the other end. Buck had heard the urgency in his voice and knew something was seriously wrong. Not waiting to get outside the big ladies man had obviously just silenced the entire bar.

"Look, I need you to listen, I don’t have much time. Vin’s been shot." Buck started to interrupt him. "Buck, listen. I’m going to the hospital with him, but I need Ezra, Josiah, and JD down here. Yes, at Vin’s apartment. I need them to keep an eye on the investigation and I need them to look for something."

"No, just tell them to get their asses down here now and I’ll fill them in as soon as I can."

Chris was barking out the orders and listening to the paramedics at the same time.


The paramedics had just mentioned that the chest wound, the one he had been so frantically trying to stop the blood from flowing out of, was actually the exit wound. More guilt assailed him at his ineptitude. Why hadn’t he noticed or checked?

"God, Buck, whoever it was shot him in the back." Chris continued to stare as IVs were started and pressure bandages applied.

"I’m okay, shit, no I’m not okay, but… Damnit! Buck, just meet me at the hospital."

As he shut down the phone and put it back into his jacket pocket he realized how bad he was shaking. The paramedics had found another wound, the entry wound in Vin’s back. A feeling of rage bubbled up inside of him like a volcano simmering. Somebody was going to pay and pay dearly for this.

"Mr. Larabee, sir, we need to ask you a few questions."


"Chris, I know you want to go with him." Chris looked up to see who the officer was and realized that he knew him. Arnie Sawyers had been working the beat in Purgatorio for a number of years now. He not only knew Vin but through a few other incidents had gotten to know most of Team Seven as well.

"I told the detectives that I’d talk to you. I know you want to go with Vin, but they need to know what happened."

"They’ve got until the paramedics get Vin loaded and they better be able to write fast."

Arnie motioned the two detectives over and one of them stuck out his hand toward Chris. The hand wasn’t taken and the ATF agent’s eyes roamed back over to where the emergency crew worked feverishly, each of their hurried and precise movements a dark reminder of the gravity of the situation.

Without waiting for the questions to even be asked, Chris began his account. "I got here about fifteen minutes ago. Vin was only about five minutes ahead of me. He wasn’t in his apartment so I suspected something might be wrong. Got down here to his jeep and found him against the wall, bleeding all over the damn place from a bullet wound. There wasn’t anyone else in sight. He said something about helping someone, a her, not sure who he meant. It was hard for him to talk and he kept saying Kotter, Carthure hell, I’m not sure. He was pretty out of it and barely breathing."

Chris purposefully omitted the part about the metal box, which he knew could get him in a lot of hot water, but Vin had said ‘mine’, which led Chris to believe the object was in Vin’s closet, which meant it was personal, very personal. And if there was one thing he had learned about Vin Tanner in the last year it was that to him personal meant off limits.

"Mr. Larabee, I’m Detective Hutchens…"

Chris left him standing still in mid sentence as the paramedics moved to lift Vin into the ambulance.

Yelling back he barked. "I’ve got three of my men on the way down here right now. They can answer most of your questions. You’ll have to catch me at the hospital later and I do mean later."

It wasn’t the right thing to do. Correct procedure would have been for him to stay behind, answer all of their questions, and see if there was a connection to any cases Vin was working on, but procedure be damned. His best friend could very well be dying and there was no way in hell he was going to be anywhere else but by his side. Climbing into the front of the ambulance with the driver, Chris began to pray like he hadn’t in a very long time.


Dr. David Knight was considered one of the best trauma surgeons in the country. Having studied with some of the best he was now ranked among them. After returning to his hometown of Denver over eight years ago he had quickly established himself and found his true niche. But all of the accolades and all of the knowledge he had acquired over the years had not even come close to preparing him for tonight.

He did not relish his next task. Not that explaining the seriousness of a loved one’s injuries was ever easy, but this was doubly hard. Not only was the patient’s condition critical, not only might the injured man die despite whatever was done to repair the damage, but more than that, he knew the patient.

Dr. Knight had met one Vin Tanner nearly six and a half years ago. They had met at a youth center fundraiser. Noticing how uncomfortable the young man in the corner had looked and knowing exactly how he must have felt he had introduced himself and the two had hit it off fairly well, even discovering a couple of things they had in common. Then, before he knew what had happened, he was volunteering to help out at the local medical clinic that was operated in conjunction with the youth center Vin spent a lot of his free time at. But that had been what sometimes seemed like a lifetime ago. He hadn’t even heard that Vin was back in town and this had been the first time he had actually seen the young man since… Well, he hadn’t actually seen Vin since the funeral.

The shock had likely shown on his face when he had been called to the emergency room to consult on a GSW. All too commonplace for a Friday night, but this time had been anything but routine. The man on the table had looked a little older, but even with the pale face, slightly longer hair, and a bloody chest he would have known Vin Tanner anywhere. His first instinct had been to remove himself from the case, but despite his own personal involvement he also knew that he was Vin’s best chance of survival. Maybe if one of his revered colleagues had been available, he might have stepped down and only assisted, but not only was the other trauma surgeon out of town, there was not even time to await someone else’s arrival. Vin’s condition was critical and needed immediate attention.

Within minutes, Dr. Knight discovered that not only was Vin back in Denver, but had been for awhile and was now working for the ATF. Life certainly had ways of surprising you. Right now though his primary concern was keeping the younger man alive. A daunting task to be sure.

Heading toward the waiting area, he had been advised that Vin’s colleagues were awaiting word, rather anxiously, as they had accosted numerous nurses and orderlies in order to find out what was happening with their injured co-worker. Still, he was not exactly prepared for the attack as he spoke Vin’s name aloud and was rushed by three fierce looking men. Okay, this was the ATF after all, right, but something he saw in the hardened men’s eyes and most especially in the eyes of the dark blond with the intense green glare spoke of much more.

The three anxious agents looked up at the sound of their friend’s name. A middle aged man with dark brown hair peppered lightly with the beginnings of gray and wearing green scrubs looked their way as they stood and hurried toward him. The man stood about six feet tall and his facial expression seemed intense, his dark brown eyes almost sad, putting a touch of dread in all three hearts.

"I’m Dr. Knight. You’re here for Vin?" Dr. Knight hadn’t meant to use Vin’s first name, but it just seemed so natural.

"My name’s Nathan Jackson." A dark skinned gentleman who seemed to be the spokesman for the group stepped forward. "I’m a trained medic and, well, medical translator for the team. How’s he doing?"

"Not good. The bullet entered through the lower back here on the right side." Dr. Knight indicated the area on himself as he spoke. "And exited out his front chest. By some miracle it completely missed his spinal cord and the lungs, but it did fracture a couple of ribs in the back and one in the front and nicked the subclavian vein. There are also a few bone fragments in the outer tissue of the lungs that we need to remove. We’re preparing him for surgery and we’ll have a better idea of the extent of the damage once we get inside, but the blood loss alone has made the situation critical."

It sounded so much hollower speaking it out loud. By all intense purposes, Vin may not even make it through the surgery, but he couldn’t say that, couldn’t truly believe it himself. The situation was grim, but he would use all of his expertise and anything else he could think of to give the agent, his old friend, a fighting chance. And a fight it would be. Even if he survived the surgery, there were no guarantees, but they would have to cross that bridge when they came to it. For now, he needed to get his head and body prepared for the fight ahead.

"I’ll come and get you in the surgery waiting room as soon as we’re done."

"Can I see him?" Chris gritted out the words, his voice like rough sandpaper.

Those were the first words the doctor had heard from the intense blond, but just by the commanding look and the way the other two men seemed to flank him, David could tell he must be the leader of the group. What he hadn’t expected was the next words.

"He’s my best friend and I just need to see him."

"I’m sorry." And he was, for so many things. Sorry he couldn’t promise them that Vin would survive. Sorry that Vin had been shot at all. And most of all sorry that he couldn’t grant this simple request. "He’s already been taken upstairs. There really is no time to spare and I need to get up there myself. I’ll keep you updated as much as I can."

And with that said he turned to go, but a hand caught his arm and he turned back to the scrutiny of the leader’s eyes. "You know him? You know Vin." The last was more of a statement.

Chris had noted the use of Vin’s first name by the doctor and the pained expression and concern where most times he had faced a very clinical front. Something had told him that this was personal for the man before him.

"Yes. I’ll do whatever it takes."

And with a firm nod the blond let go and Dr. Knight hurried to the elevators, praying for strength and guidance as he went.


Ezra had just gotten off of the phone with Chris. Josiah and JD were still downstairs with the two detectives that had been assigned to the case and Ezra had slipped upstairs to Vin’s apartment, per his leader’s request. They had been informed that Vin was heading for surgery and that things were, for lack of a more lustrous term, ‘bad’.

A part of the undercover agent was angry. Angry that he was here instead of there with the others, but then again, at least he had a mission, a purpose. Sitting still in the waiting area, awaiting word on the health and well being of his co-worker and friend, was not something he wanted to be doing either. Here he could help, maybe even find out who had shot Vin and why. And God help the loathsome cretin who had when he found him.

Chris had instructed Ezra to enter Vin’s apartment, knowing full well that the former FBI agent was well versed in the art of breaking and entering. Then the agent was to check Vin’s closets for a metal box. It likely contained some personal items and hopefully a clue that would lead them to the parties responsible for putting Vin in surgery and fighting for his life.

Ezra swallowed hard. Damnit, but this wasn’t at all fair. Not that life was ever truly fair. How many times did he have to get kicked in the teeth to realize that fact? Cautious. That was what he was. In work and in his personal life. Never let anyone close and you were safe, but he had. Even after the bitter betrayal he had faced while working with the FBI and his solemn vow never to trust anyone like that again, he had been totally unprepared for the force that was Team Seven.

The seven diverse men made up a formidable group of agents who were quickly building a reputation of being the best in their field. The way they worked together had surprised not only the higher ups who expected such a ragtag group to fail miserably, but shocked even themselves at how well they worked together. That camaraderie they had built had effortlessly spilled over into their personal lives as well, with a ritual of drinks at The Saloon, a local bar that had a western theme and catered to a variety of law enforcement officers. Then there were the weekend get-togethers to watch some sports team or another, watch movies, or just wind down. Most teams kept their work life and personal lives completely separate from the other, but this team, these men, were different. Each was so unique and yet those very differences had molded them into a better team, each one taking up the slack where another one lacked and complementing the skills of each near perfectly. They had grown over the past fourteen months into more than just a stellar force to be reckoned with, but a solid group of friends bordering on what no one voiced but everyone felt. A family.

And nothing stoked the fires of justice, the anger of unfairness, or the protective tendencies of one Ezra Standish more than this. The feeling was not only surprising, but frightening. To think that he had allowed himself to become attached to these men, to depend on them not only professionally but personally was terrifying, especially when right now his greatest fear was the loss of one and thus the possible crumbling of the entire unit.

By God Vin Tanner had better survive or he might just be inclined to follow the team’s sharpshooter into the hereafter and drag his skinny ass right back.

Putting his emotions back into check after gaining entry into his friend’s apartment he began his search, which was somewhat short lived. The box had been strangely easy to find, considering how coveted Vin was of his past and personal life. Now as he sat at the kitchen table with the metal box in front of him, just finishing the final work on the padlock, he paused for a second. This felt so wrong. It was like he was invading Vin’s privacy, but obviously whatever was in this box was more important or Vin would not have had mentioned it.

Taking a deep breath he gently lifted the lid and looked inside. Some tattered letters, other scribbled on sheets of paper, newspaper clippings, and a few photos protected in plastic sheets were what he found. And as he began to read he found himself surprised and saddened. Life had definitely not been fair to one Vin Tanner.


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