The Exorcism of Vin Tanner
Disclaimer: Unfortunately, the Magnificent Seven do not belong to me. Not making any money from this either. But, for the love of the boys, I persevere.... And I also bow down to the creator of the ATF AU. Thank you.
A lil' note from the author: I don't know, perhaps I should just stick to writing tragic stories, but this one has been in my head for a long, long time, so I decided to put into words. I apologize beforehand if this story fails to make you smile, at the very least. So, don't ya'll go throwin' stuff at yer computers iffen y'all think this story's a pile of cr... And don't forget to read the note at the end of the story.
It began with the discovery of some disturbing movies on tape in Vin's desk. JD had been looking for a stapler; seeing that his, along with Nathan's, Josiah's and Ezra's had been flung out the window of their office down to the parking lot, by himself and Buck. It was to see if they could survive the eleven-story fall, encased in water or flour-filled balloons. The result was two angry agents from another team, one pissed off janitor, Ezra being twenty dollars richer, four broken staplers that would have screamed if they had been alive, and Chris promising to shoot Buck and JD should they be seen standing near a window. But that's a different story. JD was puzzled when he saw the blank tape covers. There were four of them.
"Buck?" JD called uncertainly, still seated at Vin's desk, and still staring at the tapes in the drawer. Buck looked up from the report he was filing. The rest of Team 7 had called it a day; Buck and JD had been given an extra two hours to stay behind and watch the office. Naturally, the two had argued that they would not be undergoing 'detention'.
"We're adults, dammit!" Buck had argued.
Chris didn't even glare. He merely reached for his shoulder holster, sending Buck and JD diving for cover. End of argument.
"What's up, kid?" Buck asked, pushing away from the desk and stretching himself. There was another half hour to go before their 'detention' ended. They could have skipped out earlier, but there were cameras in the elevators. And worse still, Chris could make their deaths look like an accident.
"Vin has these...movies..." JD said, looking very worried.
Buck chuckled and slapped his knees. "It's called a man's stash, JD," Buck remarked, walking over to JD, his interest in JD's findings very obvious. "Soon, you'll have your own," he added, sagely.
"Buck, it ain't that kind of movies," JD said, thrusting the tapes into Buck's hand.
"What the hell..." was all the tall ladies' man had to say when he saw the titles of the movies.
Both he and JD looked at the tapes for long, long time; unable to comprehend what madness could have compelled their Texan counterpart into watching the movies they were now holding in their hands.
Two days later...
Ezra flicked on the alarm of his Jaguar and pocketed the keys. He picked up his suitcase and sipped the fancy coffee in his other hand. Perhaps it was the twelve dollar coffee, or perhaps it was the new Zegna suit he was wearing, but Ezra had a feeling that it was going to be a good day that morning.
Team 7 might actually have a normal day, Ezra thought. There had been a lull in the cases Team 7 were dealing with; most of them solved, a handful had gone cold for the time being. Chris told the team to take it easy for the next few days, and Ezra prayed that calm would prevail; practical jokes notwithstanding, of course.
But, even if it turned out to be a rotten day, Ezra was in a genuine good mood; despite the fact it was hours before he was usually fully awake. His exuberant mood could be attributed to winning a round of pool last night at Buck's place. Ezra had to admit (to himself, much, much later) that Buck had looked below par during the game. Come to think of it, Buck, for the last few days, had looked as if he was coming down with something. But it felt sweet, as usual, collecting ten bucks each from Chris, Nathan and Josiah, who had wagered on Buck. JD did not want to bet anything...the younger agent had been looking distraught all evening. Perhaps Buck and JD should consider redecorating their loft; their inherent bad taste must be affecting them both. Vin had not been present at this little soiree. He "...had something to do..." he had growled, as usual. The rest of the Seven did not pursue any form of interrogation at that; Vin had talked about getting reading lessons, they figured he had some lessons to catch up.
Speak of the devil, Ezra smiled to himself, when he saw Vin. Vin was standing in front of the elevator doors. He started to walk away from the elevators, deciding on the stairs. Ezra called out to Vin.
"Mr. Tanner, if you would be so kind as to press the elevator buttons for me," Ezra said. Vin turned and saw Ezra holding up his suitcase and coffee.
Vin nodded, relief flickering behind the blue eyes. He appeared more relaxed than he had been moments ago. Elevator rides were not high on Vin's list of fun things to do. It was an eleven-story walk to the Team 7 office, and though Vin would make it look easy, Ezra just could not let the Texan endure the lonely trek upstairs just because he was afraid of closed spaces.
Vin pressed the elevator button and mercifully they did not have to wait long for the doors to open. Ezra got in first and Vin followed him in, albeit a little reluctantly. Ezra refrained from saying anything encouraging; Vin might get insulted. The elevator doors closed. Vin swallowed nervously.
"Fine morning outside, Mr. Tanner," Ezra said, trying to make small talk to distract Vin. And that was when Ezra's nightmare began.
"I agree, Ezra," Vin said. "It's a crime to be holed up in the office on a day like this!"
Ezra snorted coffee through his nose.
"Ezra, are you okay?" Vin said, touching Ezra's arm, looking genuinely concerned. "Ezra?"
Quickly regaining his composure, Ezra wiped his nose, and the twelve-hundred dollar suit, with a crisp, white handkerchief.
"Are you allright, Ezra?" Vin tried again.
Ezra flinched and shrugged Vin's arm off his.
"What's wrong?" This time, there was a hard edge in Vin's voice. It was mostly due to the fact Vin had never seen Ezra anything less than the cool, poised Southerner.
Ezra gave Vin one of the strangest looks anyone has given him in a long, long time. The last time someone had looked at Vin like that, he had just finished reciting word-for-word the ATF manual on gun-firing procedure. It was an inch-thick manual and took him slightly more than an hour and half to recite to a nineteen-year veteran of the ATF, when the old man refused to issue anymore ammunition to Team 7, without the team paying for it out of their own pockets. Naturally, the Seven had planned to waste more ammo on the man who refused them, but Chris had a better idea. He sent Vin, whose eidetic memory was a source of unending fascination, sans his gun and other weapons, to face the guy. Vin returned a couple hours later grinning. But that had been funny, because the guy barely knew Vin. But this was Ezra, and Vin could not understand the strange look the Southerner gave him.
"Ezra, please," Vin began, but this time, as the elevator halted at the eighth floor, Ezra stumbled out, displaying nothing of his infamous grace; always evident, even when taking down a perp.
"Stay away, you ... you ..." Ezra tried to speak, but words failed him. Vin was shocked to see Ezra at a loss for words and as for the Southerner himself, he was not sure which was more frightening at the moment; being with Vin at that particular moment or being speechless. When Vin made a move to step out of the elevator himself towards Ezra, the Southerner bolted, dropping his coffee cup.
Vin just stared after Ezra, frowning. He had never seen Ezra spooked before. Worse still, he had never seen the man speechless before.
"Lovely morning, Agent Tanner," a female voice greeted from Vin's back.
Vin turned and saw Jane Malone, Team 7's ninth secretary in as many months.
"Indeed it is," Vin replied, in a manner Ezra would have been proud of and wept if he had seen it.
Jane gave a small smile and walked past Vin, heading towards Team 7's office. Vin's smile did not fade as he followed her.
Ezra watched the whole thing from the broom closet, frowning, not in the least deterred by the brooms and mops.
He was still in shock. But now, he was intrigued as well.
Later that same day...
Nathan pushed away from his desk and stretched languidly. He rubbed the kinks out his necks and looked around the office. A surreal sense of calm had blanketed Team 7's office. It was a ripe time for practical jokes; actually, any time was a good time for the pranksters in Team 7, but surprisingly, the usual suspects did not strike. Even as they neared the completion of their backdated paperwork. There was something unsettling about how ...normal everything seemed. But, despite its strangeness, the normalcy had prevailed. For three whole days.
Buck and JD frowned most of the time, arguing discreetly among themselves. They looked guilty, but there had not been a practical joke sprung. Maybe that was the joke, Nathan thought to himself. This whole normal thing was the joke.
Nathan shook his head, unable to believe what he had theorized. Having seen so many jokes and being victim to a fair number of them, Nathan just could not shake the wariness that Team 7 had unconsciously developed for jokes amongst themselves.
Ezra looked ill and had actually taken the morning off. He never gave a specific reason, which was all Chris needed to order Ezra to go see a doctor. The Southerner had looked... confused. And that had Chris and the rest of Team 7 worried. Ezra was always so sure of himself that it had been perplexing to see the Southerner without an explanation for his condition. Looking back now, Nathan realized that Ezra's confused state did not draw one snide remark from Buck or JD. It should have been a tease-fest, but the duo had been strangely subdued, even though they had looked concerned.
Nothing was strange about Josiah; he had finished his paperwork and was engaged in a discussion about Central American tribes with Team 7's newest secretary, Jane Malone. She was halfway through her third week in the office and had so far not thrown anything at any members of Team 7. She meticulously handled any task Chris gave her to do in the office. She discussed psychology with Josiah, and made fancy Jamaican coffee for Ezra. Nathan found her knowledge on organic food quite extensive and often swapped recipes, much to the amusement of the rest of the team. She was friendly with Buck, but never more than in a younger cousin kind of friendly. She gave sisterly advice to JD when he had shyly asked for her help in getting Casey a gift for her birthday. She had never spoken to Vin, aside from the morning greetings when he came into the office, but they seemed friendly enough.
Chris was in is office, talking to some poor soul in Accounting who had approved budget cuts to Team 7's expense account. Chris was not yelling at the man; which bode very bad for the pencil-pusher in question. Nathan chuckled, pitying the fool who probably had signed the paper without reading it first.
Nathan turned to Vin. The Texan sniper was re-reading the report he had typed on the computer screen. He must have sensed Nathan looking at him; Vin looked up from the screen and gave Nathan a smile.
"Finished your report?" Vin drawled.
"Nah," Nathan replied. "Just takin' a break."
"I could use one," Vin said, pushing away from his desk. He bent down to reach the bottom drawer, which was a miniature candy shop that kept Vin's sweet tooth satisfied and Nathan's own sanity on the edge every time Vin opened it.
Nathan sighed when Vin straightened himself. He wondered what kind of candy the Texan was going to indulge in. Hell, there were more candy per square inch in Vin's drawer than there was in a drug store. The Texan must be robbing candy factories to keep the 'supply' drawer well-stocked.
What the hell, Nathan's musings stopped when he saw Vin's choice of snack. It was a green apple.
He'll eat the apple now and make it up with two Mars bars, Nathan thought grimly.
Ten minutes later, Vin threw the apple core into the trash can next to his desk and reached into his supply drawer again.
Here it comes...Nathan was watching Vin, under the pretense of typing his report. Vin, surprisingly, was quite unaware he was being National-Geographicized by the medical man.
Nathan's eyes went wide when he saw the peach in Vin's hand. Two fruit snacks in a row, Nathan wondered. Something's wrong.
It was a joke, Nathan was sure of it. He turned to Buck and JD, who were doing their reports with ferocious concentration. Nathan decided to let the whole thing drop. There had been worse practical jokes carried out in this office and Vin eating two fruits in a row was hardly a reason to berate any of them. Nathan went back to his typing.
He managed two lines and inadvertently looked up at Vin. Who had finished the peach and was starting on a plum. There was an orange on his table, waiting to be eaten.
"That's it!" Nathan said suddenly, standing up.
The rest of Team 7, except Chris, who was in his office, looked at Nathan. Josiah looked concerned. Buck and JD tried to and Vin was munching on his plum.
"Ha, ha, very funny," Nathan made no sense to the rest. "Joke's over."
"Nathan, what's wrong?" JD asked, looking quite believably innocent.
"Vin snacking on fruits?" Nathan pointed out. "You guys are good. That's something new."
At the mention of Vin's name, Buck and JD paled. They turned back to their reports without any word.
"What joke?" Vin spoke. "I'm just eatin'. I'm hungry."
When is Vin NOT hungry, the thought rose simultaneously in the minds for all those in the office.
"Stop it with the head games, Vin," Nathan said. "This is a joke. I know it."
"I'm hungry," Vin almost wailed, half-eaten plum in hand.
"Vin does seem genuinely hungry, Nathan," Josiah said calmly, as if trying to soothe Nathan's nerves, which seemed to be on edge.
Nathan gave a glare that rivaled Chris's and stood up from his seat abruptly. He gave a huff and left the office, muttering something under his breath. Josiah watched him go, shrugged at Vin, and continued with his discussion. The secretary never said a word, or even looked up from the files she was working on.
Vin shook his head, finished his plum, and went back to his reports.
Normalcy, or what seemed normal, reigned again.
The next morning...
Josiah yawned as he walked into the office of Team 7. Despite being ahead on the completion of his paperwork, Josiah had pulled an all-nighter the evening before, as a favour for a member of Team 3. The other agent had wanted Josiah to take a look into some profiles of a few less than charming personalities in connection with bootleg liquor distribution in Colorado. Josiah had been happy to oblige, until he saw that 'some' profiles actually turned out to be seventy-six files in all. But, Josiah had promised the other agent, so he profiled each criminal and wrote a note to other agent, telling him that he owed Josiah Sanchez seventy-five favors; one less than the amount of files he has given him because Josiah used up one favor telling Chris Larabee that he had been working on another team's files, when Chris had called up Josiah wanting to discuss some cold cases. Chris had wanted to shoot the other agent, but Josiah had told him it was favor and that he had been committed to it. Josiah had added in the note that he had done his part and reminded the other agent not to forget that he owed Josiah seventy-five more favors and also to try not getting into Chris's path anytime soon. The favours might just run out, because nobody was keeping count, anyway.
Yes, Josiah had been glad to oblige a member of another ATF team.
Anyway, after just twenty minutes of sleep that was more of a silent contemplation on writing the fictional, but nonetheless, scary note, Josiah showered and left for the office. He was sustained by a cup of coffee and by the time the elevator opened in the eleventh floor, Josiah's system was ready for another dose of caffeine. As he walked into the office, he saw Vin, Ezra and Nathan already at their desks. Nathan and Ezra were talking to each other; whispering urgently, occasionally throwing glances at Vin, who was eating a... what the hell...was that a muesli bar in Vin's hands? Oh well, Vin must have ran out of some serious junk food, Josiah thought.
The big man greeted his team mates and went straight for the kitchenette.
"Bless the Lord," Josiah said aloud, when he saw that the coffee-maker had some coffee in it. He poured out a mug, hesitating momentarily as he hoped the coffee was brewed by anyone but Vin. But the urge for caffeine was stronger and Josiah had been known to actually drink Vin's coffee and live to tell others how it tasted, so Josiah was not too concerned if Vin made the coffee.
One sip and he knew Vin could not have been anywhere near the coffee machine. The coffee was truly divine; a unique blend of Brazilian roast that Josiah remembered savoring when he had been a missionary in South America. Josiah closed his eyes and took another sip of his drink, enjoying it as much as one would enjoy vintage wines.
Someone touched Josiah's shoulder and the big man turned around. It was Vin, smiling at the older agent.
"Vin, you must try this excellent coffee," Josiah recommended. "Brazilian roasted beans."
Vin's grin grew wider. "Kenyan roast, actually," Vin said, filling his own mug. "And I already tried it. Twice. When I made it this morning. Bought them beans from a store down the street from my ap..."
Nathan and Ezra heard the sound of the mug crashing on the floor. The looked at each other, silently understanding what had happened in the kitchenette. Josiah came out soon after, his face pale.
"Come, Mr. Sanchez," Ezra said, holding out his hand for Josiah. "And tell us exactly what happened."
A day later...
Team 7 had just gotten back from a bust in downtown Colorado. Actually it was not even the team's sting. But Team 2, who had been working on the case, was diverted from their operations when their supervisor fell to the floor of the van they had been riding, clutching his heart. The team van drove straight to the hospital, while one of the members asked Team 7 for a favor. Team 7, out of action for almost a week, jumped at once when Chris walked into the office. He did not even open his mouth; the rest of them had heard the phone call Chris took in his office.
The bust had been fairly simple. A few Ukrainian citizens, who were supposed to be tourists, were awaiting shipments of guns from home. They had managed to get a few interested buyers Stateside, and had been waiting for the truck delivering the weapons from their homeland, which had arrived in a ship, via New York at a warehouse downtown. The weapons had been stuffed into frozen pigs.
The bust had been fairly routine. The takedown took less than twenty minutes. Later, as Ezra was handcuffing one of the four Ukrainians, the man told the Southerner that they had been more frightened by the sight of the seven men barging into the warehouse, rather than the guns the agents had been holding. It didn't help the gun-traders that Buck had been yelling when Team 7 came rappelling from the catwalk in the warehouse. That had been JD's idea, as he had badly wanted to try out the rappelling gear given to the team.
By the time the perps were detained, Team 2 had managed to get to the warehouse. Turns out the supervisor suffered nothing more than a serious case of heartburn bought on by last night's Mexican dinner. Team 7 went back to HQ, leaving the other team to deal with paperwork and statements to the press.
The team hit the showers, and apart from Ezra trying to drown JD in the shower for using his hair products without asking and Buck getting shampoo in his eyes trying to save the younger agent, nothing happened. Nathan and Josiah dressed quickly and left the shower room. Ezra got dressed too and double-locked his locker before leaving. Buck cursed as he changed into his office clothes again; his eyes stung every time he opened them, despite Nathan assuring him that no hospitalization or the shooting of Ezra was required. JD looked guilty as he led Buck out of the shower room, Buck's hand on his forearm. It was JD who had squirted the shampoo on Buck. He had been aiming for Ezra, but he could not really see clearly in all that steam, so he had just squirted wildly. It was too bad Buck had been standing in front of him, trying to protect JD from a rampant Ezra.
Chris and Vin were the last to dress and leave. Chris was buttoning up his black shirt when Vin came out of the shower, one towel around his waist and another bundled up on his head. He opened the locker to get his clothes.
Here comes scruffy, Chris thought, smiling to himself.
"Stone-washed, Larabee!" Vin muttered.
"Ezra would say unwashed," Chris remarked, belting his pants.
Vin just shook his head. He put on his boxers. Chris sat down on the bench to put on his socks and shoes. And nearly fell off when he saw Vin slipping into a beautifully-cut pair of black slacks. They were the kind of slacks Ezra would wear. Stylish. As far as Chris knew, Vin would not be anywhere near this kind of clothes. Hell, Vin's idea of formal was white t-shirt tucked into black jeans, black blazer and loafers.
"Funeral?" Chris hazarded a guess.
Vin's reply was muted as he had his head in his locker. Whatever he had said, Vin had no plans of repeating them again. Not that Chris would have listened anyway, because Vin was now putting on a dark blue shirt that could only be silk and Italian-made. It fitted Vin perfectly, accentuating his cerulean eyes. Chris could not help but to stare; he had hardly seen Vin in anything but jeans and t-shirt. He had seen Vin in his army dress uniform and once in a dark suit he had borrowed from JD during the funeral of an agent from a different team. But the clothes Vin was wearing were a far cry from all those Chris has seen the Texan in. Ezra would have wept if he had seen Vin now.
Chris just sat there, his mind blank, one hand holding his balled-up socks. He stared at Vin, who completed his look with a black leather belt, Hush Puppies and a jacket Ezra would have wagered his whole wardrobe for. Vin cleared up his towels quickly and left the shower room without looking directly at Chris, though Chris remembered Vin telling him that he would be out for the afternoon.
Nathan found Chris half an hour later, still seated at the bench, balled-up socks in his hand. He was staring into space. The rest of the team had gotten worried about what was taking their supervisor so long that they had sent Nathan looking for him.
"Chris, what happened?" Nathan asked, looking worried. He had never seen Chris so ... zoned-out before.
"Vin..." was all Chris said managed to say.
Nathan understood at once. He gently led the team leader back to the office and asked him to tell what had happened to the rest of them.
The next morning...
Team 7 was assembled in the office conference room, despite it being a full hour before work started. Even Ezra was there, fully alert. The only absentee was Vin. Chris stood at the window, watching the parking lot below, his back turned towards his fellow agents.
"Perhaps someone could start this morning's proceedings," Josiah said, breaking the uneasy silence.
"This is about Vin, right?" JD confirmed, just in case. The rest of them nodded.
"He's been watchin' these," Buck said, throwing some movie cassettes on the conference table. He could not stand it anymore; Vin's secret stash had been simmering in his thoughts for days now.
The rest went silent when they saw the titles of the movie.
"Steel Magnolias," Josiah read one title.
"The Divine Sisterhood of the ...what the ..." Nathan was stumped.
"My Best Friend's Wedding?" Ezra looked incredulous.
"Chick flicks! All of it!" Buck cried, throwing his hands in despair. "What's wrong with him?"
"That is precisely what I wish to discern, Mr. Wilmington," Ezra remarked. "This could not be Vin we are dealing with. The Vin Tanner I know has never endeavored to address me as 'Ezra' before. My name is always corrupted into 'Ez' or anything rude that comes in handy at the moment. Never Ezra. And yet, not two days ago, Mr. Tanner used my name not once, but five times, in less than three minutes we were together in the elevator."
"I agree with Ezra," Nathan said. "I have never seen Vin eating a salad before and two days ago, I saw him eating fruit for snacks. FRUIT, Chris! FRUIT! In succession!"
"Calm down, brother," Josiah said, putting a hand on Nathan's shoulder.
"Josiah drank Vin's coffee..." there was no stopping Nathan when he got worked up.
The rest of the team looked impressed. Even Chris turned to look at Josiah. Drinking Vin's coffee was no small feat. It was akin to drinking road tar, as Buck had once described his own experience with Vin's coffee. JD lost all sensation in his tongue for two hours after a sip of Vin's coffee that same day.
"Vin said he made it," Josiah said, shrugging, thankful his experience was not nearly traumatizing as Buck's and JD's and Ezra's. Josiah shook his head, remembering each nuance of the coffee he had tasted yesterday. "Vin could not have made that coffee."
"We have an impostor?" JD asked.
"A well-dressed one, if it's really and impostor," Chris said slowly, back to his station near the window. "Saw Vin puttin' on some real fancy duds yesterday. And I'm not talkin' about new Levi's or plaid shirts. Real fancy shirt and pants."
"How fancy?" Buck asked, frowning.
Chris turned around again, his gaze on Ezra.
"Shit," came the collective response from Buck, JD and Nathan. Ezra looked stunned.
"Then I believe it's not Vin we are dealing with here," Josiah said, seriously. "There are other forces at work here."
Chris's attention was held momentarily by the arrival of two people at the parking lot below. One of them was Vin. Chris smiled and went back to the conference table. His stakeout was successful. He saw exactly what he wanted to see.
"I think I know exactly what force we are dealing with here," Chris said to the others. "Josiah, this is what I want you to do..."
The rest of them leaned forward as Chris laid out his plans.
Ten minutes later...
When the door was opened, Buck gave the take-down signal and Vin was ambushed by five of his team mates. Naturally, he put up a struggle, but the five managed to pin him to a chair. Of course, it took Buck and Nathan to hold Vin's hand behind his back and Ezra and JD holding on to his kicking feet.
"What's goin' on? What's the matter with y'all?" Vin yelled as he tried to squirm his way out of his team mate's clutches. He would have succeeded, had he be not surprised when Josiah suddenly came to stand in front of him, looming large with a Bible and a rosary in his hand. Josiah made the sign of the cross in front of Vin.
"Josiah?" Vin's voice was full of doubt.
Josiah opened his mouth to say something when the secretary walked into the office. She was startled when she saw Vin being pinned by his team mates. Before she could say or do anything, Chris came out of his office.
"Miss Malone, I need to see you in my office now," Chris said, his face expressionless. Vin saw that he was ignoring the rest of them. When Jane Malone was in his office, Chris closed the door.
"In the name of the Son..." Josiah began as Vin stared in horror.
"Hell, I'm a Baptist, Josiah!" Vin argued.
"Silence!" Josiah's baritone rang clear three floors down.
"Agent Larabee, what are they doing to Agent Tanner?" Jane asked, looking worried.
"Let them deal with Vin," Chris replied, motioning Jane to take a seat in opposite him at the desk.
"Jesus Christ, Bucklin! What are you doin'..." they heard Vin yelling, followed by the sound of a head being smacked.
"Thou shalt not use the Lord's name in vain!" Josiah was on a roll now.
"Miss Malone, you seem distressed," Chris tried, a small smile to soften his sharp gaze. He was trying not intimidate her. But Jane's attention seemed to be outside the office, where Vin was being subjected to a strange ritual not unlike the exorcisms she had seen in movies.
"Stop them, Agent Larabee," Jane said, upset. "Please."
"I don't think they will harm Vin," Chris' assurance fell flat when they heard Vin howling in pain. Jane stood up abruptly, fists clenched.
Chris' smile widened when he saw Jane's reaction. He was expecting this. Especially when he saw Vin drop off Jane at the end of the street before driving into the parking lot all by himself.
"How long?" Chris asked, standing up. He came to her side and bade her sit down again.
"Three weeks," Jane replied, sighing, as she sat on the chair again. Chris' eyebrow lifted at her answer. She had been in the office exactly three weeks.
Chris opened the door and gave the rest of the team the A-okay signal. The fish had taken the bait. But the boys were having too much fun now to stop. Chris ignored them and went back into his office. He went back to his seat and waited for Jane to speak again.
Jane, with dark hair and eyes, would be hard pressed to be considered beautiful in a world obsessed with stick figures and perfectly-made artificial faces. She had the wholesome look of someone raised in a farm and practical to go with it. Chris had seen she was imperturbable when faced with Team 7. In fact, today was the only day Chris had seen the secretary display any emotions. She was small of build, but Chris saw strength in her, especially the way she reacted to Vin's apparent distress.
"We met on my first day here," she spoke, her voice soft, but calm.
"Help me..." Vin wailed. Jane looked up, glancing towards the door, frowning a little. Chris shook his head, asking her to continue.
"Agent Tanner...Vin was having trouble walking up the stairs. He had his ankle sprained at that time..."
Chris nodded, remembering. Vin had sprained his ankle playing football with Buck and JD. In the office. Josiah's stapler was the pigskin. It was sometimes unnerving for Chris to know that his team mates had more than one use for that particular piece of office equipment.
"He seemed reluctant to use the elevators," Jane continued. "I did not know at that time Vin was claustrophobic. I was carrying a handful of files, which dropped right at the elevator door. Vin came to help me. The elevator door bumped him into the elevator. Two and a half floors later..."
"...the elevators stopped," Vin was telling the rest of his team mates outside Chris' office; though not nearly as comfortable as Jane was inside the office. JD had Vin pinned to the floor by sitting on him, and the rest of them were holding Vin down, kneeling on the floor. But they listened without interruption.
"Jane was scared..."
"...Vin started yelling at the buttons," Jane told Chris, who remembered waiting ten minutes for the elevator on the day Jane was talking about. JD was partially to blame for that incident. He had been trying to hook up illegal cable to the seventeen-inch television in Team 7's office. He misplaced a fuse and the electricity was cut off for twenty minutes in the whole building. Part of the blame went to Buck for bringing the television into the office and encouraging the kid to 'go for it'.
Chris smiled as he imagined Vin screaming at the emergency buttons. He also felt anxious for he knew the distress the younger agent would have felt in the closed space.
"...so I started..."
"...she started to..." five faces leaned closer to Vin, who was now more relaxed on the floor, a far away expression on his face. JD was beginning to blush. "She started telling me about the mountains in Montana..."
"...that's where I came from," Jane said. "I grew up in Grandpa's ranch there. It's a beautiful place, Agent Larabee..."
"...blue skies and mountains so high that they seem to touch the sky she tol' me..."
"...it seemed to calm him down a bit..."
"...made me forget about I was trapped in an elevator for a while there..."
"I just kept talking to him, keeping him occupied with thoughts of wide open spaces," Jane explained. "I seemed to have talked for hours, but it was only twenty minutes. When the elevators started working again, we came up to the eleventh floor. I swear, Agent Larabee, I didn't ..."
"...didn't know she was going to work here," Vin said, now casually stretched out on the floor, hands behind his head and legs crossed at the ankles. The rest of them were sitting cross-legged on the floor.
"...he played cool the whole day, probably embarrassed that I had seen him so vulnerable."
"He is," Chris said softly.
Jane nodded. "Then, he did something totally unexpected..."
"...I guess I jes' wanted ta hear about them mountains again. She does have a nice voice. So, I wrote her a note..."
"...but he could not give it to me because..."
"...fine! Yes, I was shy! But it ain't as if talk to womenfolk ev'ryday! So, I ..."
"...casually came towards your office..."
"...I knew Chris was not there..."
"...and he dropped the note into the waste basket next to my desk..."
"...not a good idea. Not when the girl ain't paying attention to you..."
"...I was terrified, it was my first day! How am I supposed to know Vin had dropped me a note..."
"...so, I waited until the rest of y'all had gone home..."
"...met me at the elevator when I was leaving. I swear, Agent Larabee, Vin just melted out of nowhere..."
"...dropped all her papers again 'cause she was surprised. Then I asked her out for coffee," Vin said, blushing a little. "Hell, Buck, I don't know how you do it. I've been on classified missions more easy than askin' Jane out for a drink."
The rest of them grinned. Jane Malone must be something to have the shy Texan approaching her for a drink. Vin had his share of women throwing themselves at him, but he had always ignored them. There must definitely be something special about Jane.
"...and things got rolling from there," Jane concluded her tale. Chris sat back in his chair, an amused expression on his face.
"We have been noticing changes in Vin," Chris remarked, hands crossed in front of him.
"Purely unintentional," Jane quickly assured. Then, she dropped her gaze as she shyly said, "He's perfect the way he is, Agent Larabee. I would never dream of changing him..."
"...felt I had to do somethin' fer her, ya know," Vin tried to explain to his team mates. "Jane understood so many things about me without me explainin' 'bout 'em. Maybe it's because she's an orphan like me. She knew when to ask me stuff and when to leave me alone. I liked that about her. So, I asked her what she liked..."
"...Steel Magnolias is my all-time favourite movie..."
"...I rented those movies for her. Wore a bloody wig and a fake moustache!" Then, Vin started laughing. "Signed my name as Buck Wilmington..."
"Why you scrawny-assed..." Buck lunged towards the Texan.
"...asked him once why he called Agent Standish Ez. It clearly irritates Agent Standish..."
"...wanted to show her I could change. A little..."
"By addressing me with my given name," Ezra said, sarcasm unmistakable in his voice.
"Which is a remarkable thing for our Vin," Josiah said indulgently, slapping Vin on his back. Vin winced; Buck's attack on him has left his shoulders very sore.
"...he eats candy for breakfast..."
"...she eats organic food!" Vin made retching noises. "Rabbit food!'
"Then why have you re-stocked your candy drawer? With produce that would put a marketplace to shame?!" Nathan's voice was smooth, but there no hiding the amusement in it.
Vin gave a shy smile. "Told ya I wanted to change for her."
There was a collective gasp from the rest of them.
"Jes' a bit..."
"...I love trying out coffee beans from all over the world..."
"...there's coffee, like the one I make, and there's sissy coffee, like the one Ezra drinks," Vin told them.
"That which you erroneously call coffee, Mr. Tanner, is the ooze from the tar pits that fossilized pre-historic creatures while they were still alive," Ezra shot back.
Vin ignored Ezra. "She bought these Kenyan roasted beans and I liked it. So, I brought it over for y'all. 'Cause, it's good coffee!"
"No, Vin," Josiah remarked. "If yours is good coffee, although we will have to debate about this later, and Ezra's is sissy coffee, then the divine concoction I drank yesterday was angel coffee!"
Vin had a smug look on his face when Josiah said that.
"...I noticed he only wore jeans. Not that he looked bad in them..." Jane's voice started to trail off. She had a dreamy, far away look on her face. Chris cleared his throat to get her attention again. "Sorry, Agent Larabee," she said, quickly composing herself. A soft blush crept up her cheeks. "Got him a suit when we went to the Opera last week..."
"A new suit?" Ezra was incredulous.
"Jane said it was... what was it again...Hugo..?" Vin tried remembering. Ezra's mouth hung open.
"The Opera?" Nathan exclaimed.
"Couldn't understand a word they sang. But then again, neither did half the people in the audience. But it sounded nice."
"Junior, you're moving up in life, aint'cha?" Buck teased, good-naturedly.
Vin just smiled. He lay back on the floor, sighing contentedly as he looked at the ceiling.
"But it's not all one-sided, Agent Larabee," Jane hastened to add. Chris raised an eyebrow, indicating his interest. "Vin does things for me too..."
"...took her to the firing range..."
"...took me to the mountains one evening. We sat and watched the sun set..."
"...tried to make her breakfast one morning. Neighbors damn near broke the door to her apartment when they saw all that smoke comin' from under the door..."
"...he loves cooking for me..."
"...I try to do as much as I can for her..."
"...he does so much..."
"But he doesn't like to tell, right?" Chris guessed.
"He doesn't like me telling either," Jane said. "You're the only I've told these things to, Agent Larabee. But then again, you know him better than me."
"I thought I did," Chris gave a wry smile.
Jane sighed. "Please, Agent Larabee. It's my fault. I told Vin not to tell anyone..."
"...guess we weren't ready to tell anyone yet," Vin said, now propped up on his elbow, facing the rest of the team. Nathan was handing out potato chips to everyone. They munched as they listened to Vin. "We're taking things slow."
"How many times have you had breakfast with Jane, Brother Vin?" Josiah asked.
"Ten, eleven times," Vin answered. "Why?"
"Hot damn, Vin! You been with Jane almost every day since you met her..." JD's voice was excited.
"That's Vin takin' it slow fer ya!" Buck quipped, grinning. The rest of them laughed as Vin threw a handful of chips at Buck.
"Let us not tease him, Mr. Wilmington," Ezra said, brushing some crumbs that had settled on his suit. Ezra had been so engrossed with Vin's tale that he did not berate Buck for getting the crumbs on his expensive suit. Josiah was silently impressed with this. "Miss Malone is obviously of great importance to Mr. Tanner."
"Besides, Jane thought she would be transferred to some other office if we were found out..."
"...he wanted to tell all of you very badly," Jane was saying. "I was just scared! I mean, you are Team 7, for God's sake!"
"We are also his friends," Chris said softly, as if to assure her Team 7 would not bite.
"Friends are people you hang out with after work, Agent Larabee," Jane said, looking at Chris. "Team 7 is a single unit of dependant individuals who would feel lost even if a single one was out of their eyesight..."
"...she says we ain't like any other normal teams."
"Of course we're not," Nathan said seriously. "Not with Ezra, Buck and JD in our team."
"Everyone is aware of that," Ezra said. The rest nodded in agreement.
"...Vin did not like going behind your backs about us. I guess that's why he started doing all those things he did. Hoping you guys would figure out eventually..."
"...didn't expect y'all goin' and doin' an exorcism on me! I had ne'er been so scared in my life!"
Jane sat in her chair. Waiting for the axe to fall. Chris Larabee sat back in his chair, his expression bland. But there was a glint in his eyes. Jane could not figure out what was going through Agent Larabee's mind.
Chris stood up, walked to the door and opened it. Jane held her breath. The agents sitting and lounging on the floor stood up abruptly when Chris walked in; Jane followed him.
"Jane Malone," Chris said, turning to face Jane again. Chris could feel Vin's gaze on him. "Jane Malone, you have gotten seriously involved with a member of this team. There can be no worse punishment for you than welcoming you into our circle!"
Cheers went up in the room. Vin was blushing, trying to hide his grin. Jane was smiling shyly.
"I'm sure you two know how to conduct yourselves in the office," Chris said, turning to look at Vin.
I'm happy for you, Vin.
Thank you, Chris. There was happiness in his Vin's eyes that Chris had never seen before. Chris hoped to see it for a long, long time. He still remembered how it was having a woman who adored him by his side.
Looking at Vin and Jane as they stood side-by-side answering more questions from the rest of them, Chris knew Jane would stick around Vin for a long time. Jane caught Chris' gaze and gave a small smile. The smile seem to say, "Don't worry, Agent Larabee. I'll look after your boy."
Three months later...
Jane quit her job. A week later, she and Vin were married in a simple ceremony in Josiah's garden. Jane wore white, Vin wore an Armani tuxedo with cowboys boots and spurs. Chris was the best man, Josiah performed the wedding ceremony. JD and Nathan were the ring-bearers and Buck gave Jane away, at her request, as she has no surviving male relatives. The tall agent was touched with the request and proudly walked down the aisle with her, knowing many of Jane's friends were intrigued with him. When Vin and Jane announced their wedding plans, Ezra had quickly volunteered to plan and organize the whole thing. He had said weddings were not about plastic flowers and supermarket wines. Vin had pointed out that there was not much money. Ezra had waved it aside, saying he knew lots of places where he could get discounts. Which was true, but there was more than one occasion where Ezra did not show the receipts to Vin and Jane, choosing to pay it for it himself. When Chris discovered this, Ezra told him that he had a few thousand dollars inheritance from an uncle he did not know, so, he did not mind at all. Chris did not ask anything more after that.
The rest of the Seven cried during the wedding. Ezra claimed he cried because it tortured him to see an Armani tux being paired with cowboy boots and spurs. Nathan said he had an allergic reaction to flowers. JD said he got an allergic reaction from the lobster he ate. There were no lobsters on the menu, but no one reminded JD of that. Chris just glared at anyone who had come near him when they had seen him wiping his eyes. Only Josiah and Buck admitted weddings made them cry.
It was late by the time the newly-weds got into the limo Ezra had arranged to drive them to the airport. There could be no escaping from the teasing, but it was all done in good fun. The goodbyes were long, almost as if the rest of them, and Vin included, did not want Vin to leave. Jane decided then that though Vin loved her unconditionally, there were times his friends...his brothers, would always come first in his life. She could live with that, she thought to herself, when Vin kissed her in the limo and told her he loved her. There was nothing but truth in his eyes. Vin Tanner was a lot of things; and most of these included the rest of Team 7.
"What do you think about Ezra Bucklin Nathaniel and Christopher John Josiah?" Vin asked Jane, a sly smile on his face, as the limo drove away from the waving crowd in front of Josiah's house.
"Well, Mr. Tanner," Jane gave her best Texan drawl. "How about just lil' Chris, Ezra, Buck, JD, Josiah and Nathan? And we'll throw in a Vin Jr. too, just to complete miniature version of the Seven."
"I was right to find you, Mrs. Tanner," Vin drawled, kissing his wife again.
"I'm glad I found you too, Vin," Jane replied, sighing. She looked forward for a life with Vin. And the rest of the Seven.
P/S: Should this story inspire anyone to write sequels or anything, DON'T. Vin SHOULD be a bachelor. The only reason I wrote him getting married was to give this story a happy, albeit clichéd, ending. I hope y'all enjoyed it. I'm new at this, so the Texan drawl does not really come easy for me. And I really appreciate reviews. Thanks for reading.