Black and Bruises

by Pamiekae

This was the very first story I ever wrote. It does have a OFC for although I like Mary, I just never could see her and Chris as a couple that would last. Both are too strong in personality. But she did kindly give her blessing to this match. And though it is a stand alone story it is the first story of three that go together and will soon be posted soon.

A special THANK YOU to Mary Ann for looking over the story for me. I don't know what I'd do without your help.

And lastly, to get the legal stuff out of the way, I don't own them, never have. But I refuse to admit I never will. I remain ever hopeful that Santa will one day take pity on me, (ie: give up on me ever being 'good') and put them in my stocking or better yet, under my tree!!!!!!

He was positive that the Security Guard was laughing at him as he pulled into the parking garage. He had left the night before and the same guard had been there and saw him leave without any bruises. His fingers came up subconsciously to the swollen lip and cheek on the right side of his face. He knew his eye was sporting a nice shiner and let his fingers move to rub his chest where more bruises and four cracked and two broken ribs ached.

'Chey and Vin are the only ones who know what happened last night. She wouldn't tell anyone. Vin on the other hand........ .naw..... he wouldn't. He understands I like to keep things quiet.....he wouldn't tell anyone. Course he ain't afraid of me either. ......... maybe....... ..... Well, hell! Only way I'll know is to get out of the Ram and head upstairs." His thoughts rambled in his head trying to decide why the guard had looked so smugly at him as he had waved him on in to the underground parking garage of the Federal Building that housed the ATF offices. He slowly moved his body around so that he could ease his long legs out of his treasured black truck and slowly straighted up. He heard another vehicle pull into the garage and he forced his body to a fully erect position, biting back the groan he couldn't help let slip pass his lips from the sudden movement.

"Dammit! How'm I gonna get past Nathan and Buck when I can't stand to even straighten myself up?" he asked out loud under his breath.

He saw Ezra getting out of his Jag and watched as Ezra began to walk towards him.

"My God! Mr. Larabee....Chris.....What has happened and why have I not been informed prior to our meeting here? And why has Nathan allowed you to come in looking as you do?" Ezra began to rapidly shoot out questions not waiting for answers. "Or did you try to come in against orders and on your way home? Perhaps I should drive you instead. You do not seem to be in any condition to be driving,"he paused to take a breath and Chris threw up his hand to halt more questions.

"I just arrived myself Ez. And Nathan hasn't seen me yet so he hasn't been able to tell me that I shouldn't be here. Nor do I need him to tell me that I'm ALLOWED to come into work. I"M THE BOSS, Not that the lot of you ever seem to recognize that fact. Now come on. Your late getting here and standing around jawin' is only making ya later." an irritated Chris Larabee spit out as he turned to walked towards the elevator to head upstairs feeling very relieved that it was Ezra and not Vin that he had met up with knowing that he would have either of had to put up with Vin fidgeting in the elevator that he usually refused to take or would be suffering thru taking the stairs with Vin to prove to his friend that he was not really hurting. "If we don't get our asses up there then all of them will come a looking for us soon and then no work will get done today."

Both men stepped into the elevator and he hissed as the car jerked hard before beginning its ascent up to the 11th floor of the building. He watched the southerner sip at the coffee he held in his hands and let his mind slip back to the night before......

THE EVENING BEFORE...... ......... ......... .....

  It had started as a wonderful evening. He had actually gotten off work on time for once and had stopped at the store to purchase a bottle of wine and flowers for Cheyenne. They had not been dating for very long and had been introduced to each other by Vin, whom she had known years ago when they had both been placed at the same horror of a foster home. She now worked at the hospital as a therapist and had gotten to know all the boys while helping the sharpshooter of the team recover from a bullet wound to his shoulder. The two of them had flirted each time that he would drop off and pick up Vin and eventually he had asked her out. The relationship had moved quickly. He had not felt this way about anyone in a long time. Although he had occasionally dated Mary Travis, the daughter-in- law of his supervisor, they had never really clicked and she had been dating a man she worked with at the news station for almost a year now. From what Travis said, they would be announcing their engagement soon and Chris was very happy for her. Mary had been very supportive of his seeing Cheyenne and encouraged him to let go of his memories of Sarah so that the two of them would have a chance at a real relationship. He had taken her suggestion seriously and now he could not even imagine his life without Chey in it. So he had not called to let her know that he was coming to her house and instead decided to surprise her. They had exchanged keys with each other a week ago and this would be the first time that he would make use of the key. He knew that he would probably catch her taking a nap as she often did after she got home or taking a shower before she napped.

Whistling softly he had let himself in and set the flowers on the table and placed the wine in a bucket of ice. He could hear her singing in the shower and figured he would surprise her by joining her. He toed off his shoes and walked down the hallway til he reached the doorway of the bathroom. He couldn't help but pause and just watch her thru the glass doors. "So beautiful.' he thought to himself. 'And mine!"

Slowly he opened the door, stepped up behind her and leaned over her to growl softly into her ear and found himself thrown back against the shower wall from an elbow thrust against his mouth and a leg kicked back and up into his ribs. His butt had barely hit the floor when he had a 120 pound tigress on top of him pommeling him with her fist.

"Chey......Chey.'s! It's alright. Babe....!" he tried to let her know who he was and that everything was alright but in her startled state, his words were not sinking in and he found a fist connecting with his upper cheek and eye. He grabbed her with both hands and pulled her down and rolled over onto her and realized the mistake of that move a second later as a knee caught him again in the ribs and he felt them crack.

"SONOFABITCH!" he yelled as he rolled back off of her and curled up into an almost fetal position to relieve the pain in his chest and ribs.

"C...Chris?? ?" a dazed voice finally spoke. His voice had finally sunk in and was recognized when he yelled the last time and penetrated her fear induced state of mind. "Oh my God! Chris! " she called to him as she fully realized what had happened.

BACK TO PRESENT..... ......... ......... ..

"Chris?? ..... Mr. Larabee????" a voice called to him and brought him back to the present. "We have arrived at our destination unless you have decided to forgo your erroneous decision to try to work in this obviously monstrous state?" Ezra's concerned voice asked. He had watched as his boss had stood next to him in body only. His mind had spirited away somewhere else - most likely back to the time and place of his injuries from the looks that had crossed his face before the elevator had come to a stop.

Giving the suave man next to him a glare that said to back off, Chris stepped from the car and walked down the hall towards the office. He knew he was receiving stares from several of the secretaries but was not in the mood to acknowledge them. He pushed the door open and stalked through the room, his look daring any one of the men seated at their desks to comment on his appearance.

"Chris!". "What the Hell?" and "Hey Ol' dog" were all called out in unison and ignored. Nathan, Buck and Josiah all looked at the closed door and then at each other and finally at the two youngest of the group. JD sat at his desk with a stunned look on his face and Vin kept his eyes on his computer monitor ignoring both the blond man's entrance and the threesome who now stared at him. He continued his two fingered typing refusing to look up so that they would not see the smirk on his face. He could not help but laugh to himself as he remembered the frantic call he had received from his best friend and his girl the night before. He was happy to hear the voice shouting, "Tanner, get your sorry ass in here!" come over the speaker of his desk phone so that he could get away from the questions he knew where coming.

He stood up and moved past the three without making eye contact and let himself into Chris's office. "Hey Pard. How ya feeling this morning?" he asked softly. He figured rightly that the other men were all trying to listen to thru the closed door to try and figure out what had happened.

"What the hell did you tell everyone?" hissed the hurting blond sitting at the desk before him. "Ya give 'em all a big laugh? The guys, all the secretaries outside. Hell even the guard downstairs knows. How many did you tell on your way up here this morning?"

"Didn't tell anyone nuthin,'"a much subdued Vin answered. "I wouldn't do that to ya." He was hurt that his friend could think that of him.

"Then just how the hell could they of found out? Not gonna try and tell me Chey musta told 'em are ya?" he stood up and got right up into Vin's face. "Hope it gave ya all a big laugh. I trusted ya, and...." suddenly he found himself shoved up against the wall.

"I . DID. NOT. SAY. A. WORD! Got that Larabee. Not to the guard, not to the guys. NOBODY! I didn't find it that funny last night when ya called me and I came rushing over and didn't find it that funny when I's waiting with Cheyenne at the clinic for them ta tell us if'n you were okay or if'n ya needed ta go ta the hospital whether ya was awantin' to or not. But if this is what you call trustin' me then ya ken jist keep it and shove it up yer ass!" he released his hold on Chris and shoved away from him and headed for the door. "Takin' the rest of the day. Didn't get much sleep waitin' round the clinic and then taking ya back home and driving myself back inta town." He didn't bother to turn around and look for his bosses okay at his statement. He walked back out the door and spoke to Nathan as he walked passed them again without making eye contact. "Might wanta go in an check on him in a few minutes. Got some cracked ribs and I just shoved him against the wall." The agitated young man grabbed his jacket off his chair and hurried towards the door wanting to escape before his emotions got the best of him. Ezra had been standing next to the door watching the others listening at the doorway waiting to tease them at being caught eavesdropping. But seeing the groups sharpshooter come barreling out the door so upset had taken the smile off of his face.

"Mr. Tanner....." he began trying to stop the young man from leaving in such a state. "May I have a moment of your time?"

"Not now, Ez." he pushed the man away from him and made again for the door.

"Mr...Vin... ." Ezra grabbed Vin's arm trying again to stop the young man. "You do not need to be driving in the state of mind that you are in. May I at least volunteer my services as a chauffeur to whatever destination that you have in mind?"

"Jist gonna go home. Didn't get much sleep last night. Gonna go home and ketch up on it." He sighed and tried to pull away from the hand that continued to hold onto him. "Ez, I'm fine. Really. Jist gotta get outta here. Please!" he tried to keep the pain out of his voice but could hear it come thru loudly and from the look that crossed Ezra's face, he clearly heard it too. He refused to look back at the others. He could feel all of their eyes watching him. Again he voiced softly to the conman, "Please."

"I'll take you, Vin. Home or back to my place or wherever you wish, but as a friend I can not in good conscience let you drive in this state. To quote you, Sir, 'Let me show you that I'm your friend." He watched as the young man lowered his head, staring at the floor for a moment before finally giving a small nod of consent. "Come then my friend. Let us leave post haste before our escape is noted by our leader." Upon hearing the end of the statement he felt Vin tense up and pull away from the grasp he held on his arm. Together they walked out the door and neither man heard the door to their leaders office being slammed open and a very angry Buck Wilmington , and confused Josiah Sanchez and Nathan Jackson with a fearful JD Dunne not to far behind, to confront the still angry man that was pacing around the small office already inwardly yelling at himself for the hurt he had seen in Vin's eyes.

"Just what in the hell is going on. First ya come in looking like ya been in a gang war and then ya call in the man that is your best friend, ...ya do remember that he's yer best friend, right? He just walked out of the office looking like his world has collapsed around him." bellowed Buck getting in front of Chris to halt the pacing.

The phone rang and everyone looked to the desk but no one moved to answer it. After the 6th ring, Chris finally grabbed it up and yelled into it, "Larabee!"

"Well, Hello to you too, darlin," a sexy whisper spoke into his ear.

"Chey, this is not the best time....." he began.

"Just wanted to warn ya, babe. One of the nurses from the clinic called to follow up on you and make sure that you were doing okay. We were talking and she asked me if you were the same Chris Larabee that worked in the Fed Building. When I told her yes, she said that she had gone home and mentioned the event to her family and her brother-in-law had stated that a Chris Larabee worked in the building where he was a security guard. She wasn't sure what hours or days he would be working but in case he comes......"

"Shit!" Chris moaned realizing the truth.

"Babe? What's wrong? He already been teasing ya? I am soooooo so sorry. I don't know how I can make this up to ya. Please baby, tell me what I can do." She begged, afraid that the relationship had been ruined before it had even had time to really begin.

"I just accused Tanner of telling the whole building. He walked out of here pretty upset"

"Darlin...he was probably a little ticked that you'd think he'd tell everyone but he knows ya better than to believe ya are really angry with him. Give him a bit and he'll come back in to tease ya about how a...let's'd he put it last night? 'A lit'l filly like me coulda whipped yer ass sa' bad," she tried to tease him into a better mood.

"Just told him I was sorry for trusting him," he confessed to her and to the men before him at the same time.

"Sonofabitch! " Buck yelled as he kicked the side of Chris's desk. Josiah lowered his gaze to the floor as he shook his head and JD's head kept bouncing around as he looked from one man to the other throughout the room. Nathan was watching the man dressed in black carefully. He saw the way the man babied his right side, keeping his arm tight against the rib area. From the steady tick of the vein in his forehead, he figured the man before him had a ferocious headache.

"Oh Chris. How could you do that to him?" her voice a mixture of sorrow and pain. "It's all my fault. I'll talk to him. Make him understand that you didn't mean it. I have to head in to work but I'll go by his place tonight unless you can talk him into coming here with you tonight so we can all talk."

"He said that he was heading home to get some sleep. So I'll call him in a bit and see if he'll meet me over there tonight. If he'll even pick up the phone when he hears my voice."

"I'll call you later. See if you were able to talk to him. Okay. Otherwise, how are you feeling? No dizziness or nausea?"

"I'm fine. I'll talk to you later, okay. Don't worry about this. I'm the one that screwed up not you. Okay. Be careful driving in to work." After listening for a moment longer he hung up and dropped his head into his hands.

He felt Nathan's hands feeling down the right side of his body and flinched as he touched the first of the bruised ribs and grabbed at the medics hand before he reached those that were broken, having no intention on letting the team medic know the full extent of his injuries. "Been to the clinic already, Nate. Took care of it last night. Some just bruised and a few cracked. Gonna be sore for a bit but otherwise will heal just fine."

"Brother Chris, would you like to tell us exactly what happened last night that led to this conundrum this morning?" Josiah asked.

"God, Josiah. It's bad enough with Ezra and his ten dollar words. Don't you be throwing out twenty dollar ones," JD laughed only half kidding.

"Talk Pard. You come in here madder than a wet hen and called Vin inta here. That boy left here lower than a snakes' belly and I want to know why."

"Cause I'm a class "A" jackass, okay. I accused him of telling what happened without waiting for me to be here and of telling the whole building on his way up."

"Shit. You know Vin would never tell us anything private without making sure it was okay with you first. What were you thinking?" Nathan was surprised at the man's actions and accusations against his best friend. "That boy is more loyal to you than he is to the Bureau itself," he continued

"I know it. But coming in and seeing the guard at the gateway entrance smiling so smug at me like he knew what happen..."

"What did happen?" Buck interrupted.

With a heavy sigh but feeling that he deserved whatever teasing comments that followed after his treatment of Vin he explained the events of the night before. By the time he got to the part where he had tried to stop her attack by rolling on top of her and pinning her down, JD and Buck were on the floor laughing their heads off.

"Y..ya..ya're telling me that little bitty gal did all that to ya?" Buck gasped between bouts of laughter.

"Your forgetting the little gal in question, helps grown adults move from beds and wheelchairs to equipment and works them thru various types of therapy. She is much stronger than she looks. Something we all seem to forget. But I for one won't again. Anyway, if you can control your laughing so that I can continue???? " he looked at his oldest friend and waited for his nod.

"She finally came to realize it was me and not some pervert," he stopped and glared at Buck daring him to say a word before he continued on," she stopped hitting and kicking me. As I was trying to get back to my feet I stepped on the soap she had dropped and fell back down again hitting the faucets and bruising my chest and breaking another rib. She was upset at hurting me and from thinking she was being attacked in her own home and was in no condition to drive but wanted me to go to the hospital. I didn't want to go and so she called Vin to come and help convince me to go. We came to a compromise and went to the clinic on 92nd Street that is open 24 hours down near Vin's place. So we drove all the way back over there and spent the next 5 hours there. Once they were convinced I didn't have a cracked skull or concussion they released me and said that the hospital wasn't necessary as long as someone stayed with me. Vin drove Chey and I back to her place about 3:00 this morning."

"I got here at 6:00 and Brother Tanner was already here. Must of just laid down on the couch here instead of driving back to his apartment." Josiah commented.

Seeing the dark circles that had surrounded the man's eyes in his mind, Chris agreed. "Probably didn't get more than a couple of hours sleep the whole night and then I come in here and thank him for all he did last night, driving all over the city and staying with Chey while waiting for me to be looked over and keeping her calm, by treating him like he was lower than the dirt stuck to the slime on a snails belly," he whispered getting angrier and angrier with himself as he unknowingly used what the team often referred to as a Tannerism misquote that the Texan had become renown for throughout the building. This time, however, no one was laughing.

"Ezra convinced him to allow him to act as his chauffeur. Said he'd take him wherever he wanted to go. Once he gets him settled and can call in to let us know the boys' okay, he will." Josiah assured him.

Meanwhile. at Vin's apartment... ......... ........

Ezra pulled up in front of the old apartment complex and cut the engine.

"Don't gotta come up with me. Jist gonna go up an' get some shut eye." Vin stilled the movements as Ezra made to get out of the Jag.

"My friend. A couple of months ago, when I was being accused of leaking information to the gunrunners and was told I had to take a short vacation by our illustrious leader, you drove me back to my humble abode and refused to allow me to stay alone and dwell on the unhappy events of the day. I now intend to repay that kindness and show of loyal friendship in the same way. I won't pretend to know what happened but am willing to forgo the day's appointments to stay here and converse with you on whatever you like, or to simply sit in silence in the hope that my presence is help enough."

"If'n you saying that ya plan to come up and try ta convince me ta talk about what happened or just sit while I's sleeping regardless of what I say, then ya better let me talk ta a couple of the kids so that yer car stays in one piece." He quietly drawled secretly glad that the southerner was going to come up with him so that he didn't sit around the small apartment wallowing in self pity and anger at himself for letting himself believe in a friendship like no other friendship he had ever known. "Jist plain ol' stupid a me ta believe in what everyone else kep' sayin' about us." He said to himself as they walked up the steps to the entrance way. Vin could feel Ezra watching him and vowed to be careful of what he said out loud so that the man would not have to try and divide his loyalty between Vin and Chris. He knew that the teams leader was not an easy man to get along with and Ezra and Chris butted heads quite often. But he also knew that Ezra coveted his place on the team and very badly wanted to respected by Larabee. He would do nothing to cause a problem between them.

They walked up the steps to the fourth floor where his apartment was and opened the door. He knew that it was an ongoing argument with his team members that he didn't lock the door to his apartment. Only the one to his bedroom was kept locked because that was where he kept his collection of guns and knives. All were in a locked safe inside his closet but he felt better knowing that the door to the room was also locked as an extra precaution. He motioned towards the couch and asked if Ezra was interested in a cup of coffee or some tea. He had some Earl Grey and Chai tea that Nathan had brought over once when he was sick insisting that the tea's were better for him to drink than the coffee or soda that he preferred.

Seeing how the man swayed on his feet, Ezra suggested that he make the tea for them both and Vin to go lay down until the water was heated enough to steep the tea. Nodding in agreement, Vin walked past him and laid down on the couch. Within minutes the young man was asleep and Ezra pulled out his cell phone as he walked back into the kitchen to wait for the tea kettle to whistle. JD answered the phone on the second ring.
"Agent Dunne speaking, How may I help you?" JD's voice sounded much older over the phone and brought a smile to the undercover agents face thinking of how surprised most people were when they saw JD for the first time after talking on the phone with him. He was an above average intelligent computer expert and was called from all over the state to answer computer questions and suggest computer programs. Yet to look at the man you would think he was still in high school. He had such an innocence about him that made all six of his fellow teammates treat him as a younger brother. Looking back at the man laying asleep on the couch in the next room he thought of how much he and the others tended to forget that Vin was at most only a year or two older than JD age wise but probably older than all of them in knowledge and wisdom due to the rough life he had been forced to lead since the death of his mother at the age of five. For all that his own mother had treated him with indifference at least she had been there and tried the best that she could. She had always made sure that he had a roof over his head and food in his stomach and clean, new clothes to wear. Something most took for granted yet the gentle soul before him had often had to do without. He felt himself getting angry with Chris. "JD, its Ezra, just wanted to let everyone know that I have safely delivered our young friend to his humble abode. He is indulging in the arms of Morpheous as we converse."
"Huh," JD said hating himself for it as he did. He was teased constantly by all the men for saying it but Ezra was always speaking in words that he would need to look up in a dictionary to understand. "It's been a bad morning, Ez. Please speak in simple English," he begged.

"Mr. Tanner and I are at his apartment and he is currently sleeping." Ezra translated quickly. "Please inform those who need to be that we are here and will stay here until such time as he awakens and wished to be transported elsewhere."

"Uhhhhh, think Chris wants him to meet with him later over at Chey's home." JD informed him.

"Well, I am only concerned with the wishes of Mr. Tanner at the moment. If he wishes to comply with Mr. Larabee then that is where I shall transport him but if he does not wish to go, I will not force him. I do believe he has been subjected to enough of Mr. Larabee for one day."

"It was all a mix up, Ez. Chris thought he had told something that he hadn't. He found out the truth and feels real bad about what happened."

"Well, Bully for him! To treat the man who is his best friend in such a manner is unconscionable. Mr. Tanner would no more do as accused than Buck would mistreat a woman."

"I know. But he does feel bad. He's hurtin petty bad from all the bruises and broken ribs. Maybe Vin will understand that he didn't mean it he was just in a lot a pain and took it out on him."

"So we let him get a hold of him again to use? I don't think I wish to allow that to happen."

"No! Chey wants them both to come over so that she can explain to Vin what happened so that he knows how the mix up all happened. Chris is gonna call in a bit to talk to him. Please try to convince him to take his call. He is really upset about the whole thing. It can't be resolved if we can't get Vin to talk to him."
"I agree. As much as it aggrieves me to allow the man to get off so easy. I am sure that our gentle compatriot will forgive and forget once all is explained. But I do believe that the rest of us can make things a bit uncomfortable for the man a bit longer."
The phone ringing a couple of hours later awoke the exhausted man. He slowly opened his eyes and remembered why he was home and sleeping on the couch. He could hear Ezra speaking on the phone and raised up as he heard him explain to whoever had called that he was sleeping. "I's awake now Ez," he called to him as he jumped up from the couch and took the phone and placed it to his ear and stated, "Tanner here," before Ezra could tell him who was on the other end.

"Vin, it's Chris. Need to talk to ya, Pard. Got some groveling big time to do."

"Think ya said enough, Larabee. Don't need to hear anymore from ya."

"Please, Vin. I was wrong. Knew it even as I said it. But by the time my head caught up with my mouth it was to late. I know ya didn't tell anyone. That ya wouldn't. Chey called not long after ya left and told me that one of the nurses is related to the guard. That's how he knew. Until I opened my big mouth no one else knew. Just my own suffering ego made me think everyone staring at me and the bruises were laughing at me. I was hurting from the pain and from the blow to my ego and took it out on ya and I'm really sorry. Can ya forgive me for behaving like a jackass, Cowboy?"

He didn't say a word. He sighed and stared at the worn carpet beneath his feet. He knew that coming in to the office with the bruises and the ribs were painful. Hell, he'd done it himself enough times to know how much they hurt. But to know the injuries had been inflicted by someone that had weighed almost a hundred pounds less and was barely 5 feet tall to his 6'1 had to be a big blow to the ego. Still yet, he would never have accused his friend of going around making fun of him behind his back. But this was not him. He should be use to being treated this way. So he once again pushed to the side his own feelings and spoke, "Sure, Cowboy. No problem. Ya feeling any better? Gonna have to let Chey give one of her prize winning back rubs tonight. I can tell ya from experience that they make ya forget all the pain your in." he laughed as he heard the expected growl from Chris at his statement. "Speaking of Cheyenne, she wants us to come over this evening to talk to her. She feels really bad about everything and wants to make sure that everything is okay between us. Can ya come over to her house this evening?"

"Umm, I left the jeep at the office. Ez brought me home. I'll see if he would mind...."

"How about I just come by and pick ya up. That way, we could talk some before we get there and really clear the air."

" 'kay. If ya wanna. I'll let Ez know so he can head on out."

"I'll be by about 7 then, Vin."
Vin hung up the phone but stood staring at it for a moment longer. Turning he saw the look of outrage on his friends face. "Ez?"

"You are going to just let him off the hook with no more than a quick sorry please forgive me I was a jackass apology aren't you. You should be and have every right to make that man grovel at your feet for the next month and yet your just going to pretend it didn't happen. How can you do that? I just don't understand?"

"Don't matter none, Ez. I just don't see what good it would do to not forgive him. He don't mean to lash out, just don't know any other way to get rid of his anger. I was there. An easy target." He turned away as he felt tears fill his eyes. "Always seem ta be the easy target," he said under his breath as he looked out the window.

"Why don't you go take a shower and clean up while I fix us some supper." Ezra offered. He had heard the soft spoken comment but knew that he was not meant to so he acted as if he had not for his friend.

Agreeing to the shower, Vin unlocked his bedroom door and grabbed clean clothes to change into and went into the bathroom. Once Ezra heard the water running, he pulled his cell phone back out and pressed the number 1 for the instant dial. He had almost hung up the phone by the 10th ring when it was finally answered. "Larabee," the rough voice came thru the earpiece.

" Are you alone in your office Mr. Larabee?"

"Ez? Yeah, I'm in here alone. Why?"

"I have sent our Mr. Tanner in to take a shower so that I could speak with you in private. I want to make you aware of just how much pain your actions today have caused. He believes, truly believes that it is all right for you to use him as a way to let out your anger. He has become so use to being used, as he termed it, 'an easy target' that its okay for you to be just another one to use him in such a way. I do hope that you take great care to disallow him of this illusion. Nothing I could say would make a difference to him. He would believe that they are just words and nothing more. But to hear them from you will be entirely more believable to him and therefore accepted as a truth. And then I hope that you in the future also remember that this is not an acceptable way to treat him and act accordingly." Without saying goodbye or noting his actions he hung up on Chris. He was still so very angry at the man, he was afraid of what else he might say but felt that the rest of what needed to be said had to come from Vin himself.

A little later Vin stepped into the living room and could smell the meal that Ezra had begun to prepare. "What smells sa good? Don't think I had much in the way a vittles in the pantry or fridge."

"You are quite correct in your observation of food or lack thereof. However, there were several young people at the bottom of the stairs more than willing to run down to the local store and make a few purchases for a small delivery fee. "

"Ez! Ya were takin a awful big chance that they'd take the money and run. Ya shouldn't ta taken sucha chance with ya money."

"Posh! They seemed quite an honest bunch group. And since I was offering more money than what they were leaving with to return with the food, I was relatively safe in betting on my faith in them. If they are not given a chance, Mr. Tanner, how will they ever learn what they are capable of?"

Vin looked at the man in amazement. He knew that if it had been himself asking the kids would have done it because he had proven to them repeatedly that he believed in them. But to hear and see that the man before him would give them the same chance. Buck wouldn't even drive into the area unless the group was with him. He would also insist that JD was not allowed to do so also but JD had just as often snuck over without Buck's knowledge. "Thanks Ez. From me. And from the kids. It would mean alot to them to hear you say that. "
Flustered at having revealed so much, Ezra turned back to the sauce and suggested Vin get out them both a beer from the refrigerator. "What are ya cookin?" Vin asked again, not quite recognizing the dish.

"Chicken Spaghetti."


"We must expand your and Mr. Dunne's expressions. I said, Chicken Spaghetti. It's a dish that an old friend of mine taught me in our college days. Easy to prepare but tasty and filling. I made some extra so that you may freeze some for a later date if you wish."

"Thanks. Guess Chris should be here in a couple of hours," he sighed as he stuck his hands into his pants pockets.

"Vin, you don't have to attend this so called meeting if you do not wish to. He can not make you go with him. You must begin to think about yourself and your feelings rather than everyone elses."

"If I don't get it out of the way tonight, how do we go on tomorrow? Don't want to make the others uncomfortable cause of our argument. So figure might as well just get it done and over with. Let them have their moment to say they's sorry and accept it and everyone's happy."

"Everyone? Or Chris and Cheyenne? Somehow I don't see this resolving the pain it caused you. What will this evenings events do for you?"

"Told ya Ez. Don't matter none. Just gonna let them have their say and let it be done with. Just know ta be more careful in the future. Not let myself be caught like that again. Always kinda figured this day'd come. Was too good. Nothing ever stays good fer me," his voice slowly faded out as he turned towards the window and stared out into the darkness.

Ezra was not even sure if he was aware that he had spoken the last part out loud, but the words hit him hard in the chest. He knew that the quiet man had been used harshly in the past by those who had been chosen as foster parents and by the people at the orphanage. His days in the military had been filled with loneliness since he was the sharpshooter/ assassin in the black ops unit he had served in. He had been left to take out the assigned target and due to his status and skill many in his team rarely invited him to join them when he was able to around them which only led him to feel more inadequate. He remembered the first few months after Vin had joined the team. He was always staying back behind everyone else just watching them, unless he had Chris right by his side. He would go out of his way to keep from being included in one of Bucks bear hugs or Josiah's fatherly pats on the back. Even when he was injured only Chris's touch could calm him. Anyone else's touch would cause a violent reaction. He tended to flinch if someone made any kind of unexpected movement around him, as if he expected to be hit by even those who were his friends. And now the hit, although a verbal one had come from the one man he held high in his esteem. The one man that he thought of as more than just a friend and co-worker. His brother. To feel that he had lost that would break the man before him. No, he amended, had already broken him.

The food was ready and so he gave the young man a moment to compose himself once more as he poured some of the food onto a serving platter and carried it into the living room.

"Shall we?" he asked as he went back to the kitchen and brought back beers for them both. "Vin?" he called when the man continued to stare out at nothing.

"Sorry Ez." Vin said as he turned towards the southerner. He sat at the end of the couch and pushed some of the food onto his plate from the platter and then handed it to Ezra to take some. He began to pick some of the food up onto his fork but found his hands were shaking too much to control the fork. He sat it back down and grabbed the beer, gulping down almost half of it in one swig. He sat the bottle back down and looked over at Ezra. "Sorry Ez. Ain't got much of a appetite. Belly is all worked up like I's got a bunch a worms crawling round in it."

"I can understand your feeling of trepidation, Mr. Tanner. But I do believe it is in your best interest to try and ingest a small portion of the feast before you to fortify you for the upcoming soul searching debacle you seem intent on undertaking."

"Ez, on a good day I couldn't make head ner tails a what ya jist said. So today I ain't gonna get nothing but a headache worsen what I's got to even try."

"I said, Mr. Tanner, you need to try to eat something before Mr. Larabee gets here to give you strength to get you thru this evening."

"Oh, 'kay," he said slowly as he again picked up his fork and was happy to see that the hand holding it was a bit more steadier than before. He ate a few bites finding his appetite return and before long had the plate finished.

Happy to see his friend eating, Ezra ate his plate without further conversation. He had just taken both empty plates into the small kitchenette when a firm knock on the door heralded the arrival of Chris Larabee. Vin just stood there staring at the door and Ezra could see the unease resettle down on the slumped shoulders. Putting down the plates, he walked over to the door and opened it. He saw Chris standing there looking very unsure of himself. He stood back from the entrance and motioned for the blond to come in. As Chris walked past, he gave Ez an look of near panic. He saw the dejected look of the man he considered his best friend and knew he had put that look on him.

"Hey pard, ya ready to head out?" Chris was glad that his voice sounded calm because he felt anything but.

"Just need ta help Ez clean up from cooking us a meal. Then I'm ready." Vin said in a monotone voice trying to hide the mixture of feelings coursing thru him.

"Mr. Tanner, I made the dinner and since it does not require more than one pan to cook it all in, I can have it cleaned up in a matter of minutes. You go ahead and I'll do the clean up and lock up."

"M'door to m'room is already locked. Jist close the door behind ya when ya leave. Some of the kids might need to come in while's I'm gone." he headed towards the door with Chris right behind him but when he reached the door he turned back to the his friend, "Thanks Ez. Fer everythin'."

Knowing the man was thanking him for more than the cleanup, he gave him a two fingered salute against an imaginary hat on his head and then gave him a nod and mouthed the words "Call me if you need to talk later."

Vin nodded his understanding of the message and then walked on out the door. The ride to Cheyenne's home was a silent one. Both men were lost in thought of what they would say once they had arrived. It was a good thirty minute drive but it seemed to both men that the drive had been done in a fourth of the time. Neither were really ready to see the driveway that led to her home. Chris pulled up as close to the house as he could and stopped the truck. They both sat there not saying a word nor moving to get out of the truck. Taking a deep breath, Chris began, "Vin....."

But as soon as the words started to come out of his mouth Vin jerked the door open and jumped out. He knew it was the cowards way out but he just wasn't ready for the words he knew Chris wanted to say. "Yer yeller Tanner. Ya wasn't raised ta be yeller. What would yer Mama think of ya now? Ta see ya running sceer'd of words. Big bad ATF man, more like yella bellied worthless piece a shit........ "

He was shocked out of his diatribe against himself by a hand to his shoulder jerking him around and a angry voice demanding "What in the hell ya talking bout, Vin. Not yourself, that's for damn sure." Chris didn't know who he was more upset with, Vin for thinking such things or himself for making him think the things he had overheard him saying. "No one talks about my best friend that way including my best friend." When Vin's head remained downward with his hair spilling over his face hiding any expression crossing over it, Chris reached down and grabbed his chin forcing it to raise up and to make eye contact with him. "I behaved like an ass today Vin, there isn't anything I can say that will excuse it, but I hope that ya can find it in ya to forgive me."

"Sure Chris. It's already forgiven. Ya thought I'd broken yer trust. It's okay. Really." Vin mouthed the words he knew Chris wanted to hear.

Remembering though the comments that Ezra had called him earlier with, Chris had to question it further. "Ya forgiven me cause ya know I know I was wrong and understand how sorry I am or because ya feel its what you're expected to do and just doing it because ya don't think your worth the need for an apology? Cause ya are, Vin. And I'd not be surprised if ya refused my apology or wanted to knock my head off. That's the reason Chey and I wanted you to come here tonight. I want to apologize to you and her. I don't want her to think that she can't call on you if she is need of help or that I will be upset with her if she does. Nor do I want you to think that I don't trust you to come and help her or me when we need help like we did last night."

Vin looked at the house and could see Cheyenne at the window watching them stand there talking. "Yer lady is waiting on us. We better get in before we cause her to worry." Vin told the tense man standing beside him. He didn't know how to answer the man. He knew that Chris was sorry for what he had said, he knew that he no longer believed that Vin had betrayed his trust. It was that Chris could have thought even for a moment that he would do so that had him tied up in knots. And he felt that if it happened a month from now again, then they would still be in same predicament because when push came to shove, the people in his life always seemed to leave him in some way, rather it be thru death or betrayal. So he wasn't surprised at this betrayal of his trust. He simply was not in his own eyes worth it. Without answering Chris's question he headed up the walk to the front door and let himself in fully aware that Chris had just stood and watched him at first before finally following him inside.

Cheyenne went straight to Vin and put her arms around him. "I'm so sorry for this mess. Its my fault for reacting to badly in the first place. I don't know how to make this up to you for putting you thru all of this."

He returned the hug and held her tightly for a moment before he relinquished the hold and let her pull back enough to look up at him. "Ya don't got anythin' ta make up fer. Ya called me when ya needed me and I came. Just like ya should a done and just like I shoulda done. Anything else is just sand in the wind. Let it go and the wind will blow it away and forget it was ever here."

"I can't. I know what happened. Chris told me. And believe you, me, he and I are gonna have some words on what happened...."

"No. Ya ain't gonna fight over this with him. It's over. No more needs ta be said. 'Kay? I mean it, don't let something sa foolish as this get in the way of your relationship. Ya both belong with each other and I ain't gonna be the reason that yer relationship gets messed up. I won't allow it. So let it drop," Vin gave her his best puppy dog look as he continued, "Please, fer me, let it drop."

Looking deep into his eyes, she saw that he really wanted it to be dropped and would only cause him more pain if he thought she and Chris would fight over it later. So she raised her hand to his cheek and nodded her head in agreement as she gently caressed the weathered cheek. She looked over at Chris and still saw the worry in his eyes as he looked at Vin. There was something still wrong but knew she'd have to wait til later to get to the bottom of it.

She told them both to go sit in the livingroom and she would go get coffee and some cake that she had made earlier. She hoped that leaving the two together for a few minutes would force them to speak of whatever trouble still lay between them. Vin went to the rocking chair and sat just as she knew he would. For as long as she had known him, Vin had always sought rocking motion for comfort. At the home the had both been at she had seen him often climb into a rocker and sit when things were getting to him. One day he had sat there almost all day, when she had finally gone over to speak to him she had seen tears in his eyes and discovered it had been his mothers birthday. But she had also seen him at times when he had been forced to stay in a room and not allowed into the room with the rocker he had just sat on th floor and imitated the rocking motion. It had angered the man who ran the place they were at and had later beaten Vin badly for continuing to imitate the motion after being told to quit. He had always made sure not to be seen after that. But seeing him head to the chair again brought home to her just how much this episode had hurt her friend. She went to the kitchen and braced herself against the counter trying to controll the tears that threatened to come. When she was sure that she could control them she cut the chocolate cake and made sure she gave Vin a large piece and then poured them each a cup of coffee. She added a touch of hot water to Chris's because he did not like his coffee as strong as Vin and she did. After setting everything onto a serving tray she lifted it up and walked back into the room disappointed to find both men sitting exactly where she had left them. Only now Vin was staring out the window at the black sky. She served each of them and sat down on the floor between them.

They ate in silence and when the last bite had been eaten, Vin turned to them, "I know that ya both are real sorry for what was said today. I want you both to accept that its over as far as I'm concerned. No harm, no foul. But it is getting late and I have a cranky boss that will kick my ass if I'm late fer work tomorrow after taking the day off today. So' iff'n ya don't mind, I'd really like to head back to my place, okay?"

He stood and put his hand down to help Cheyenne up. Chris quickly stood and said he'd take him back and would come back to Chey's for the night instead of driving back to his ranch if it was okay with her which she quickly agreed to. She may have promised Vin that she would not argue with Chris about what happened but it didn't mean that they would not still discuss it.

She walked them out to the truck and watched as it pulled away. Feeling that not only was the truck pulling away but the man who sat in the passenger seat was too. She couldn't help the shiver that ran up her spine as she watched him looking back at her with no expression on his face.

Chris tried to get Vin to talk to him but all he would do was stare out the window. When the Ram pulled up in front of the apartment complex that Vin lived in he slammed it into park and turned to the man beside him.

"Vin. Ya gotta talk to me, Pard. Tell me what's going thru that stubborn head of yours. I can't leave here tonight without knowing ya deep down really forgive me. "

Pulling himself together as much as he could, he turned to Chris and gave him his best smirk. "Cowboy. Everythin' is fine between us. I swear it. I know ya are really sorry for everthing and that ya and Chey figured out what really happened. So it's fine. Now ya better get yer ass back there before she gives ya another shiner."

Chris couldn't help but laugh at the thought. He looked at the man he considered his best friend and studied his face carefully. He finally nodded his head, feeling that Vin truly had forgiven him. Seeing the acceptance in Chris's face, Vin hopped out of the truck and with a wave headed inside the building and up to his apartment. Turning on the light in the livingroom he looked out the window and waved to the man still sitting in the truck. He was use to Larabee waiting for his light to come on before leaving and knew tonight would be no different. He watched the truck pulled away before turning the light back off and sat down on the couch.

He never moved when the phone began to ring a hour later or as Ezra's voice spoke over his answering machine, "Mr. Tanner.? Mr. Tanner are you home yet? Please return my call upon your arrival home."

As he stared into the darkness a tear fell unchecked down his cheek....... .........

To be continued in Part 2 - Bruises Shadow