Disclaimer: Just playing. I know I can't keep 'em…damnit!
Thanks to Mog for the ATF universe.
Main Characters: JD, Vin
Summary: Who is in his right mind? Or are neither of them?
JD knew that, at twenty, he was likely considered too old to get excited over a camping trip...but he was...very excited. For a few months, Vin had promised to take JD hiking to a place he knew, but work continually got in the way of their plans. A lucky break in their current case offered up an extra long weekend, and just in time for the Halloween holiday. So on the Wednesday morning, and with a promise to meet the guys at the ranch on Friday, the pair packed up their gear and headed out, ignoring ribbing about being exposed and alone outdoors during All Hallows' Eve.
JD figured it was just as well they were both fit, as the long hike to the top of the mountain was challenging. He could see that even Vin was feeling the strain, though, to be fair, work had been real hectic lately, preventing the pair from working out as often as they liked. Now though, as they stood at the summit and drank in the breathtaking view, Vin and JD acknowledged that every muscle-straining moment had been worth it. The pair enjoyed a picnic lunch, and simply sat for hours, taking in the vista, and fresh air. In the morning, they intended to check out some caves Vin pointed out on their ascent. That night, after setting up camp and enjoying a supper of sausages, followed by toasted marshmallows and a luxurious imported hot chocolate, they slept well, despite JD's initial discomfort on discovering several fake spiders when he climbed into his sleeping bag. Boy, would he be seeking payback for that little prank.
"Hey! Time to get movin', Kid!"
From behind a tree, JD peeked at his teammate and grinned shyly. He zipped up the fly of his jeans and emerged to find Vin chuckling, softly. "Figured I should...you know...'go'...before we head out. Didn't seem right to pee on ground that Indians once lived on."
Still grinning, Vin nodded, and decided not to tell JD that Indians likely lived all over these parts, including the spot he'd just used. Leaving the tent in place for their last night, and the much anticipated 'al fresco Halloween sleepover', the pair picked up their gear and left the camp.
The caves proved fascinating, especially the largest one. They unearthed remnants of a time long past, including cave drawings, pieces of cloth, and human bones. JD took lots of photographs, as Vin insisted they disturb nothing. JD always found Vin a mine of information, and never failed to learn something new when with him. This, however, was JD's favorite kind of fact-finding mission. Tanner was in his element and, unlike his normal conservative persona, the Texan gushed with enthusiasm as he talked about the extraordinary world of Native Americans in the nineteenth century.
Deciding to call it a day, for the caves at least, the pair walked back toward the mouth of the cavern, but as they left behind the gloom of the tunnels and approached the opening, small pieces of rock and silt dropped from the roof just ahead of them. They heard a rumble, and felt a slight tremor just as Vin's voice raised the alarm, but it was moments too late. Larger rocks rained down in front of, and on them, in a brief, but brutal fall. When the dust cleared, nothing stirred and two friends lay among the rubble bleeding and unconscious.
Groaning sounds brought JD around. Realizing it was his own voice, JD tried to work out where he was, and why he hurt, but before he could even begin to focus his thoughts, he passed out.
The next time he awoke, it took mere seconds to work out it was his shoulder hurting, but right then he was more interested in turning off the jackhammer inside his head. With a moan he looked up, and was shocked to find a gun pointing at his face. JD blinked, and as his vision cleared he could see Vin sitting cross-legged, and next to him. The sharpshooter's head was bloodied, the thick, red stream covering half the side of his face. The cut it stemmed from looked bad.
"Aww man, Vin, you're hurt."
Vin was jumpy, and the Texan waved the gun closer. "You quiet down now. I know all the tricks, and you bein' all friendly-like ain't foolin' me one bit." Vin leaned over and checked JD's own cut head.
"You may be worth money, but I ain't about to make you move around too much 'til you've rested up some. Even though the bounty on your head goes either way, I ain't in the mood for haulin' in your dead carcass, so I aim to keep you breathin'."
At first JD stared, and then he laughed, nervously. "Shoot, Tanner, you sounded like some sort of Old West bounty hunter there for a minute. Are you playing a Halloween hoax to stop me thinking about what hurts?" He hissed at the pain in his shoulder when he propped himself up to point at Vin's head.
"Joking aside, Vin, you could use a doctor to look at that cut. How about we quit fooling around and call for help? Are you hurting anywhere else?" JD paled and gasped slightly when Vin produced a huge knife and held it to his throat.
"Keep up that yammerin' and takin' you in dead could be an option after all."
Despite struggling to stay focused, JD was worried. He knew Vin would never hurt him...under normal circumstances. "Vin...are you okay, dude? It's me...JD...don't you know me?" He gently moved the knife away, and was relieved Tanner didn't contest it.
"I'm pretty sure that bump to your head is bad. You need help, man...hell, we both do." He watched as Vin stood and shuffled away backwards. The look of mistrust in his eyes was painful to see.
"Don't need no help. I can take care of myself."
"I know you can, but I'd like to try."
Tanner remained on the opposite side of the small camp and just stared.
"Aww, come on, Vin. Don't you remember us hiking out here yesterday? We were visiting the caverns...there was a cave-in...remember? Vin?" Emotion rose in JD's throat and he struggled with the ache in his heart for his friend's confusion.
"Please? Come on dude look at me. It's JD...you can trust me. We're friends...teammates, remember? Huh?"
From his safe distance, Tanner simply continued to stare while he absently tossed the knife from hand to hand. JD was feeling tired, and a little nauseous. Despite knowing he should, he was failing to stay awake. With a soft groan, he lay down.
"Fine, have it your way if it makes you more comfortable." Before closing his eyes, he cautiously reached under his back and sighed. 'Nuts,' his holster was empty. Without protection, JD hoped that Vin, or whoever he thought he was, wouldn't slit his throat while he slept.
It was dark when JD awoke next. He stayed quiet and watched Vin maneuver around the shadowy, makeshift camp. The guy was behaving like a whole other person. The sharpshooter still moved with the stealth and self-assurance that he, and the team, was accustomed to but, there was something very different about the man...other than he was favoring his side, and looking a little unsteady.
It was obvious Vin made the campfire, and in its glow JD could see he'd caught rabbits, and skinned them for cooking. Vin dropped down and sat cross-legged next to the fire. He took a long, thin branch, poked a sharpened end through a piece of rabbit flesh, and held it in the fire's outer flames. Not too much later, Tanner removed the meat from the smoking wood, blew on it, and then tore into it as if he hadn't eaten in days. Between bites, he wiped his mouth with the back of his hand, and occasionally sipped from one of the tin mugs he'd brought in his rucksack. JD shifted restlessly, and Vin was instantly alert and armed. He peered through the gloom at JD and his gaze softened.
JD nodded, and instantly regretted the action. Vin was suddenly next to him and helping him to sit up, but JD cried out when a pain shot from his shoulder down to his toes.
"Reckon you did some damage when you came off your horse."
"My what?" JD frowned in thought. They'd left the jeep at the base of the mountain, and walked...hadn't they? Vin offered some meat, but when JD reached up to take it, he realized that his hands were now tied.
"What the hell? Vin, what's going on?"
The man scowled. "It's Tanner to you. Just 'cause you got beat up some, don't mean I'll go all soft on you. I know you'd run iffen you got the chance."
"Run? Run where?" JD was exasperated. None of this was making sense. "In case you hadn't noticed, I can barely sit upright, let alone run." He saw Vin ponder that remark before he took out his large knife and raised it.
Vin reached out, placed the blade between JD's hands, and sliced the rope. "I've lived with Kiowas, and Comanches, and know a thing or two about inflictin' pain, so if you were to try runnin', it wouldn't be real smart."
Confused further by Vin's words, JD took the offered meat and ate, greedily. Vin was making little sense, but JD'd seen enough Westerns to know cowboy lingo when he heard it. He was really worried. Vin's head injury must be really bad to have the guy acting this way. When the Texan turned his back, JD quickly checked for his phone, but it was nowhere to be found.
A few minutes after he finished the meat, and took a few sips of water, a thought occurred to the young agent. Just before the cave-in, they talked about Native Americans and the migration into their territory. Vin had confessed that he liked the idea of the life of a buffalo hunter, or bounty hunter. Living off the land, and never laying down roots.
That had to be it. Vin's head injury must have him stuck in some kind of time warp from his last conversation. He'd mentioned a price on JD's head, and taking him in dead or alive. Just like a bounty hunter would.
JD felt comforted by that possibility. It made sense...didn't it? He relaxed onto the bedroll beneath him, settling on his good side and easing his back up against the warm rock behind him. With food in his belly, the fact it seemed late, and washed out from all that thinking, or at least that was the excuse he was going with, JD was soon falling asleep again, but before he did, he said a small prayer that Vin would be okay.
"Hey, Kid...drink this."
"Huh?" Heavy eyelids opened to see daylight, a low, but healthy fire, and Vin crouching next to his suppine position. After being helped to sit up, JD instinctively took the offered drink. Two sips in, he made a face. "Holy shit, Vin, what's that?"
Tanner laughed. "Somethin' packed in our..." he air quoted, "...'rescue pack'. It'll help you rest easier. You got quite a fever goin' there. Last night you were thrashin', and yellin' all manner of stuff about sheriffs, and Indians and such. Have to admit, you got me a little worried."
He smiled. "Good to see you at least know me, now." He held up his cell. "Both our phones are busted, so's our heads, your collar bone, and a coupla my ribs...but we'll live."
JD eyed the man cautiously. He sure sounded like the Vin he knew, but could he trust him? Was this some kind of trick, or was Vin really okay again? His head looked as banged up as JD remembered last night, and he was pale, and dark-eyed.
Resting his throbbing head against the rock at his back, JD closed his eyes and decided to test his friend. "So what did I do to earn a bounty on my head?" His eyes opened. "Am I famous, or something?"
Vin tilted his head and touched the back of his hand to JD's brow. "Again with the bounty huntin'. I reckon that fever's not as low as I'd hoped. Just hang in there, Kid, we're overdue, so I'm bettin' the cavalry are already on their way." Vin winked, and grunted softly from pain as he stood.
With a soft sigh, and with the thrumming of rotor wash somewhere over the mountains, JD let go, and as he did so, he smiled at the blue-eyed, fair-haired fella wearing buckskins, a cream slouch hat, and cowboy boots. He sure looked a lot like Vin.
Hearing help was coming, Vin finally allowed his aching body to rest. As he settled down, a song played in his head, the words of which he recognized as Kiowa. He took a last look at the slumbering, young, raven-haired easterner dressed in city duds and clinging to a bowler hat. Kid sure reminded him of JD.
With a sigh, Vin hugged his painful ribs, and closed his eyes. To the comforting sounds of distant, but familiar voices, he let himself drift off and finally close the corral gate on one long, rough night, and a real strange day.
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