by Winter

ATF Alternate Universe


Vin couldn't believe it. They were actually here. He wasn't sure how Chris talked the Denver area office into letting them go. Not only had they agreed to let Chris and Vin go but the whole team. They had arrived at Corpus Christi, TX the night before and had thrown Chris a belated birthday celebration. It was a month late but as his mama used to say, better late then never. Vin was just glad Chris was still around to celebrate. Vin frowned as he remembered that frightful night when Chris was shot. In a far corner of his mind he still blamed himself.

"Earth to Vin," called Buck.

"Huh?" asked a confused Vin

"Are you alright cowboy?" asked Chris

"Yeah, fine," Vin smiled "Just wool gathering."

"Fine day for it," Josiah said philosophically. "but we have fish to catch"

"Yeah let's get to it!" exclaimed JD

They had been waiting outside the marina office while Chris signed the papers for the rented fishing boat. At their feet were duffel bags and food for their trip. They each grabbed their own duffels and some of the food. Buck, of course, grabbed the beer and pulled JD down the pier. Buck had on a pair of cut offs and sandals, while JD was wearing an outrageously colored pair of jams. On his head was the newsboy cap Buck hated. Buck had vowed that the hat would be lost at sea. Josiah, Ezra and Nathan followed the duo. Josiah was also in cut offs but had on a white T-shirt as well. Nathan was sporting a navy polo shirt and matching shorts. Ezra was immaculate, as usual, in a dove gray silk shirt and light gray slacks. Chris watched the five members of his team walk down the pier drawing stares from people on various boats. Chris turned to the last member of his team. Vin was dressed in a white T-shirt, faded jeans and cowboy boots. His attire seemed out of place for a fishing trip; even Chris had on a pair of shorts and a T-shirt. Chris watched as Vin shouldered the last two duffel bags, and follow after the others. He shook his head at the mother hen attitude of his team as he followed behind Vin; they had left him nothing to carry.

"Hey, Chris, is this the one?" Buck asked as he got closer.

"Yup, that's it," he answered checking the dock number. The name of the boat was Seven Brothers.

"Appropriate," chuckled Josiah as he climbed on board.

The others scrambled aboard and stowed their gear. Ezra remained in the cabin he was sharing with Josiah and Nathan to change. The others came back on deck. Buck and Nathan untied the boat. Josiah was to be their captain since he was the only one who knew how to drive it. They were all surprised when they had found out. He had learned at various fishing villages his father had visited as a missionary. Josiah backed the boat out of the slip and steered it into the channel. Once out of the no wake zone Josiah opened it full throttle, and they were off. Ezra emerged back on deck with no shirt and a pair of Tommy Hillfiger shorts. The mirrored sunglasses were by Armani.

"Well shoot, Ezra," laughed Buck "Don't you own any non-fancy clothes?"

"Sorry to disappoint you, but no," smiled Ezra

"Really Buck, did you think he would?" laughed JD. The two of them were sitting in the bench seat along the back of the boat. Ezra joined them.

"Yeah Buck" began Nathan "did you really think he would sully his hands with clothing that didn't have a designer label?"

Chris smiled at the banter. He wasn't worried about Ezra getting mad because he was giving the others a hard time as well. He went to join Josiah and Vin at the controls of the boat. Vin was standing next to Josiah as he explained how to drive the boat. Vin was always eager to learn new things and listened intently. Chris took a seat in the co-captains chair and got comfortable. He noticed Vin had put his long hair in a ponytail to stay cool, but was still wearing the jeans, T-shirt and cowboy boots.

"Vin," Chris called over the growl of the engines, "Why don't you go get changed? It's only us."

"All right," he agreed reluctantly and headed for the cabin.

"I'm surprised he gave in so easily," commented Josiah.

"Yeah, so am I" agreed Chris.

They all knew Vin was reluctant to appear in public with shorts on, since the accident a year ago. Vin had been thrown through a plate glass window during a bust. The jagged edge of the glass had lacerated his left leg from the hip to the ankle. His back had also been cut when he hit the glass covered ground. It had taken them a few hours to get him stitched up. The doctors had told them he would have to spend at least three weeks in bed as the stitches healed. Vin had been an extremely difficult patient and didn't follow the doctors' orders resulting in a bad infection that put him back in the hospital. Vin ended up fighting a fever of 105 that left him delirious. The only two who could keep him calm were Chris and Ezra, which had surprised Chris. They ended up spending four days sleeping at the hospital until Vin's fever broke. The infection had left a terrible scar on Vin's leg.

"Hey, Josiah, are we there yet?" asked an enthusiastic JD

"The island is about eight hours off shore. We'll go about half way and anchor for the night," answered Josiah. "So, I better not hear that question every ten minutes."

Chris sat next to Josiah, in companionably silence, while the others argued on the best methods for deep-sea fishing. After an hour had passed and Vin hadn't come back on deck Chris went to go check on him. He started to rise from the chair when Josiah stopped him.

"Let him come up at his own pace Chris" advised Josiah

"I reckon you' re right" agreed Chris as he leaned back in the chair.

Another five minutes went by and Chris heard Vin emerge from below. He had on a pair of faded cut offs and no shirt. It always amazed Chris just how lean and wiry Vin was. He was all bone and muscle. Chris watched as he went to join the others. As he passed Chris could see the scars on his tanned back. There were five thin white lines scattered on his back, varying in length from one inch to ten inches. Chris watched as Vin unconsciously sat so they couldn't see the scar on his leg. They all pretended not notice. JD had gone below to get everyone beers. He handed one to Chris and Josiah, as he passed, and continued back to the others. Chris watched as he handed out the beers. JD couldn't keep his eyes off the long white line that went from Vin's ankle up along the outside of his leg to disappear under Vin's shorts. JD sat but kept looking at Vin. Chris could tell Vin was getting antsy, and was about to say something, when Buck cuffed him in the back of the head.

"Jeez Vin, I'm sorry," stammered JD

"It's alright JD," said Vin as he unconsciously ran is hand along the scar "It is rather noticeable."

"That's an understatement," Buck laughed. "but I'm sure you get all sorts of sympathy from the ladies."

Buck said this with a bunch to Vin's shoulder. He went on to explain how he would use the scar to get the ladies. Chris watched as Vin began to relax. Every so often Vin would look up to catch JD looking at his leg and then quickly look away. Nathan took this opportunity to scold the others to do as the doctors said next time. After that comment they decided to pick on Nathan and Chris knew everything would be fine. He faced forward in his seat but not before he saw that, "I told you so", look on Josiah's face. They drove until lunchtime when Josiah stopped the boat and told JD to throw over the anchor. He did as he was told and they had some lunch. When they were through they decided to do a little fishing. After about an hour Ezra seemed to be the lucky one, and had caught three blue fish. Chris looked around at his team. Nathan and Josiah were towards the front of the boat talking and occasionally checking their lines. The dynamic duo was on the starboard side. As Chris watched JD had a pull on his line. Buck quickly started to give the kid advice as he reeled in his catch. Chris just shook his head at the banter between the two. The teams' undercover agent sat by himself along the port side. Ezra patiently waited and was rewarded by a pull on the line. He efficiently reeled in a small tuna and smiled. Chris figured he had a bet going on with Buck on who could catch the most fish. Chris was at the back of the boat with Vin. When he looked over the sharpshooter had his legs propped up and was leaning back with his eyes closed. Chris knew he wasn't asleep because every once in awhile Vin would play out some line. They all seemed to be enjoying themselves and Chris was glad he had threatened the Denver office to quit if they didn't let them have this vacation.

They fished for a few more hours then decided to push on. Ezra had caught the most, three blues and 2 tuna. JD had caught a small shark but decided to let it go. The others weren't as lucky and Chris laughed as Buck handed Ezra a twenty-dollar bill.

They drove for another two hours when they hit the half way mark and Josiah again stopped the boat. This time Nathan grabbed the anchor and threw it over. During the ride Vin and JD cleaned the fish and they were ready for diner. JD held them out to Buck and he grumbled as he took them and headed for the galley. Chris cocked his head at Ezra.

"That was part of the wager, Mr. Larabee," Ezra said with a smile.

"I think I'll go help him," commented Josiah "I prefer my fish not burnt."

An hour later Buck and Josiah emerged bearing a plate with the cooked fish and some beers. They ate in companionable silence, enjoying each others' company. After dinner was over they told war stories until late when Buck noticed JD nodding off.

"Well I think I'll hit the sack," announced Buck.

"Me too," said JD with a yawn.

"I do believe it is time for the sandman to pay me a visit also," Ezra said with a smile.

They all finally headed for their respective cabins and called it a night. During the night Chris woke up from a sound sleep. Something was wrong. He turned on the light to find Vin's bunk empty. Chris swung his feet to the floor and headed on deck. He found the sharpshooter at the back of the boat staring up at the stars.

"Something wrong. cowboy?" Chris asked

"Sorry to wake you Chris. I'm just not used to it being this quiet. I'm used to the occasional sirens and gunfire around the apartment."

"That's not all, is it?" Chris could read Vin like a book. Vin sighed and looked at him.

"The cabin is too small. The walls were starting to close in, besides it's a great night to watch the stars."

Chris figured that might be the problem. Vin wasn't exactly claustrophobic but he was close. Vin liked his space and the others usually respected it. That's why Vin made a lousy surveillance man. Chris usually left that job to Josiah who was content to sit and let things happen. Vin just couldn't sit still for long. Other than JD, Vin had the most energy and it usually took a lot to burn it off. That was one of the reasons he had taken up karate. Vin was a black belt and Chris had watched him during his sparing matches. He was glad he could call Vin a friend. He didn't ever want to be on his bad side.

"Well, it doesn't look like rain so why don't we sleep out here?" suggested Chris

"Don't be crazy, Chris," disagreed Vin "Nathan would have my hide if I let you sleep out here with your healing wound. I'll come back inside."

"I'm fine," snarled Chris

"Yeah but by morning you will be stiff from being out here," Vin stated "Let's go"

Vin head for the stairs and Chris followed shaking his head. There was no arguing with Vin once his mind was set. They both climbed into their bunks and Chris remained awake until he heard Vin's even breathing. Chris looked over at Vin and smiled. He looked a lot younger when he was asleep. Chris could never figure out why their bond was so strong. He remembered when it happened. Vin had been going after a bounty on a guy the ATF had been watching also. They were about to make the bust when the guy had a sight on Nathan. Chris watched in horror as he realized he was too far away to do any good. The perp was about to fire when a shot rang out and he went down. Chris remembered swinging his gun to cover a young man that emerged from behind some boxes. He had on a tan duster and was dressed in jeans, T-shirt and cowboy boots. Over his right shoulder was a rifle that he carried with ease. His left hand he held out from his side to indicate that there wasn't another gun. Nathan thanked him and that, as they say, is history. Chris closed his eyes and was soon asleep.


In the morning Chris awoke to the sun shinning through the porthole. He checked his watched and it read 5:30. He groaned and rolled out of the bunk. He pulled on a pair of shorts and headed for the galley. Chris heard someone banging around and wasn't surprised to find Vin up this early.

"Morning," greeted Vin. "Coffee?"

"Not if you made it."

Vin only smiled at Chris's remark. He liked his coffee strong. The stronger the better. Vin poured a cup and headed on deck. Chris grabbed an orange juice from the fridge and followed the younger agent. They sat quietly on deck for an hour before they heard a noise in the galley.

"God damned, that's awful!" hollered Buck, "Vin! Did you make this coffee?"

Buck stomped on deck with a mug in his hand and joined them at the back of the boat. He took a seat and sipped his coffee with a grimace.

"If you don't like it then why are you drinking it?" asked Vin.

"Because he's too lazy to make his own," replied Chris

"That hurt," said Buck with a smile as he finished the coffee.

An hour later the peace of the morning was shattered by the whoosh of a cappuccino machine. Vin looked at Chris and rolled his eyes. A short time later the rest of the team emerged.

"Vin, are you sure you aren't my old partner from Vice?" asked Josiah. "He used to make coffee just like this. Strong enough to keep you awake during any stake out."

"At least someone appreciates real coffee," said Vin, "not that fancy stuff Ezra drinks."

"I prefer coffee that does not hold a spoon upright after it has been stirred," quipped Ezra.

"Or dissolve it," added JD as he drank his cappuccino. Ezra raised his mug in a salute.

"I'll get you for that one, JD," vowed Vin.

"What do you mean?" asked JD.

"Lets just say when you least expect it, expect it."

"Oh boy, you're in for it now," laughed Buck.

Vin had become notorious for his practical jokes on the team. You wouldn't expect it from his reserved nature but he had gotten them all. Including Chris. Josiah finished his coffee and took the others mugs back to the galley.

"So what's our plan for the day?" asked Nathan.

"It's only three more hours to the island," answered Josiah as he came back on deck. "Figured we'd fish here for awhile then head on out."

"Sounds good to me," agreed Chris.

"So, Mr. Wilmington," began Ezra. "Same bet?"

"You're on fancy pants," Buck grinned.

They each took up different positions on the boat. Vin and Chris claimed the front. The dynamic duo took starboard, while Ezra took port. That left the back for Josiah and Nathan. After about twenty minutes Vin got the first nibble and reeled in a Blue. The morning went by slowly as the team enjoyed the fishing. Vin looked back at the others and noticed everyone was beginning to doze. They hadn't caught anything for about an hour and they were all relaxing in the sun. Vin got up quietly and went below to get his snorkel and mask. When he came on deck Chris just raised a blonde eyebrow in question. Vin put his finger to his lips, placed the mask on and quietly entered the water. Chris had no idea what he was up to. Ten minutes later JD shouted as he got a pull on is line.

"I got one!" he yelled as he pulled.

"So do I!" yelled Ezra.

The two of them struggled as they tried to land their fish. The others started giving them advice. Vin hauled himself back aboard and lay out in the sun. Chris looked down at the sharpshooter and knew something was up instantly. Vin had a cat-that-ate-the-canary smile on his face. Chris turned back to the struggling Ezra and JD and he knew what Vin had done. He had tied both their lines together when he went into the water. Chris almost laughed out loud but caught himself in time. Well Chris thought He warned them.

"Come on JD!" yelled Buck, "pull!"

"Man this one must be huge!" shouted an excited JD.

"Need some help, Ezra?" asked Josiah.

"No thank you, Mr. Sanchez," said Ezra. "I enjoy a good fight."

Chris had to turn away or die laughing. The two of them looked so comical pulling on their fishing poles. They were using 150-pound line but it was only a matter of time before one of them went in. Chris watched as Ezra gave a determined pull on his pole. It was enough to pull JD of balance and he teetered on the edge. Buck tried to grab him but he wasn't fast enough and JD went for a swim. Ezra landed in a sprawl against Josiah as the weight on his line was released. Chris looked down at Vin who was curled in a ball trying not to laugh out loud.

"You OK, JD?" asked a frantic Buck.

"Yeah, I'm fine," he answered. "What happened?"

"Vin's, what happened," said Nathan who heard him laughing with Chris.

"He did warn you," stated Josiah as he helped Ezra up.

Vin stood up and wiped tears from his eyes as he went to help JD aboard. As he reached to give the kid his hand, Chris saw a glint in Buck's eyes as he went to push Vin. Vin had an incredible sixth sense and grabbed Buck as he pushed, causing them both to go over. The others rushed to the side to see Buck and JD trying to catch Vin, who kept eluding them.

They had chased him about ten yards from the boat when they gave up and headed back. Vin saw they'd given up and was determined to beat them back to the boat. When Buck and JD realized Vin was gaining, a race was on. Ezra called ten dollars on Vin. Josiah and Nathan called figuring it was an easy bet seeing as Vin was behind. Nathan kept encouraging JD who was in the lead. Suddenly Vin put on a burst of speed and beat JD to the boat by a hand.

"Ah, gentlemen," sighed Ezra. "It would appear I have won all bets today."

"What do you mean Ezra?" asked Nathan. "You won from me and Josiah but who else?"

"Why from Mr. Wilmington, of course," said the southerner.

"Not this time fancy pants," disagreed Buck as he helped JD on board, while Chris helped Vin. "I caught three fish. How many you get?"

"Only two," he smiled.

"Ha!" cried Buck in triumph. "Why are you smiling?"

"Because one of my fish was JD," began Ezra. "I believe he's the biggest one we've bagged so far."

"You got me there," Buck laughed heartily. "I guess I cook again tonight."

"Who gets lunch?" asked JD.

"I'll do it," said Vin. He grabbed a towel and dried his hair. After he was finished he wrapped the towel around his waist and pulled off his wet shorts. He laid them in the sun to dry, then headed to the galley.

"Well that was considerate of, Mr. Tanner," commented Ezra. "Mr. Dunne would have tracked water everywhere."

"Are you saying I have no manners?" asked JD.

Chris laughed at the banter between them but didn't hear the answer as he went to help Vin. In no time they had a plate full of sandwiches which they brought on deck. When they'd finished lunch Vin grabbed the empty plate to take below. He caught movement out of the corner of his eye.

"Don't even think it," he warned JD who had tried to reach for the towel as he walked by and went below.

"How the hell does he do that?" wondered JD.

"Beats the hell out of me," smiled Chris. "But when Vin gets a hunch I usually go with it."

"Because nine out of ten times his right," agreed Josiah.

"Yes, and if I could only get Mr. Tanner to use that talent at blackjack," sighed Ezra.

"You want to try her out?" Josiah asked Vin as he emerged back on deck.

"Yeah, sure," Vin agreed eagerly.

"Good Lord!" cried Ezra, "everyone grab onto something. Better yet, where's the seat belts on this bucket?"

Vin shot him a dirty look and climbed into the captain's chair. Josiah explained all the controls and Vin gave it a try. He started out slow and began to speed up as he gained his confidence. The ride to the island took about three hours. As they got closer Vin noticed something in the water.

"Hey, what's that?" he asked pointing, as he slowed the boat.

"Where?" asked Josiah as he shaded his eyes.

"Starboard, about ten o'clock."

"I don't see anything," commented Nathan.

"It's right there!" said and exasperated Vin.

"Just take us closer," said Chris. "You see better than the rest of us. That's why you're the sharpshooter, and not us."

"I see it!" cried JD as Vin moved them closer.

When they were about twenty yards away they could see it was a capsized boat. Vin pulled up along side and cut the engines. Ezra grabbed the anchor and threw it over board.

"Wonder what happened?" asked JD.

"Only one way to find out," suggested Vin. As he grabbed his damp shorts and pulled them on.

"Not alone," said Chris. "Take JD."

Vin had asked that SCUBA gear be included on the boat. When JD had found out he told Vin he knew how and they had ordered two sets of gear. They went below and hauled the equipment out on deck. The others watched as they strapped on the tanks and weight belts. Vin also strapped a knife to his left calf. Vin sat on the back of the boat to put on his fins. He had pulled on the mask as far as his forehead. He checked the air supply and regulator. He turned to JD to make sure he did the same. JD joined him at the back and they both pulled down their masks and were about to put in their mouth pieces when Chris step in front of them.

"Be careful," he warned them.

"Sure, boss," Vin said with a smile.

"Aren't we always?" asked JD innocently.

They both smiled and put in their mouthpieces. Chris scowled at them and pushed them in. They landed in the water tanks first and Chris watched the trailing bubbles leading to the boat.

+ + + + + + +

The clear water made it easy for Vin to inspect the boat. He noticed a small fish swimming around the wreckage and knew it had been down here long enough for the fish to feel safe. Vin tapped JD and he faced the older agent. He signaled to look for away in. JD nodded and swam along the port side while Vin took starboard. JD found a way in and was about to enter but thought better of it. Vin would skin him alive. He saw bubbles towards the back of the boat and went to get Vin. He tapped Vin and motioned him to follow. JD headed back to the opening and started to enter the dark interior. He had just entered when a ghostly face, with no eyes, appeared in front of him. It was unexpected causing JD to scream and jerk back violently. When he did he hit his head on the frame of the hatch knocking himself unconscious. Vin had no idea what was going on. All he saw was JD hit his head and go limp. He grabbed the younger man and placed his hand over his mouth as he headed for the surface.

"Something's wrong," said Josiah as he noticed a lot of bubbles breaking the surface. Just then Vin appeared holding a limp JD.

"What the hell happened?" screamed Buck as he watched Vin swim towards the boat. When he was close enough they pulled JD on board.

"Something scared him," explained Vin, "and he hit his head."

Josiah helped Nathan pull off the SCUBA gear Buck tried to help but was more of a hindrance so Nathan shooed him away. Once the gear was off Nathan checked JD over. Chris motioned to Ezra to help him with Vin.

"Come on Vin, we'll give you a hand up," called Chris.

"I'm going to go see what scared the kid," said Vin. "I just need the flash light."

"Not alone," disagreed Chris.

"Look," Vin said checking the time on his tank. "I have 45 minutes worth of air. I swear I'll come back up in 30."

"Alright," agreed a reluctant Chris as he handed him the light. "If you're not up in 30, I'll come down there and kick your ass."

"Sure, boss," Vin smiled as he put in the mouthpiece and disappeared below the water. Chris watched until he could no longer see him.

"How's JD?" asked Chris as he turned to the others.

"He's got a good lump on the back of his head," said Nathan. "That's all."

"It's enough," said Buck as he cradled the kid's head in his lap. Just then JD stirred and slowly opened his eyes.

"Take it easy JD," soothed Nathan as JD started to sit up. "You might be a little dizzy."

"What happened?" asked Buck as JD blink and his vision started to clear. Suddenly JD's eyes widened as he remembered.

"A body!" he cried.

"What?" asked Josiah.

"We found an open hatch and went in," Explained JD. "Then this thing floated towards me. It was a face with no eyes. It scared the hell out of me and I pulled away. Guess that's when I hit my head."

"Damn!" Chris exclaimed. "I wish we could warn Vin."

Vin swam back to the boat and cautiously made his way to the hatch. He turned on the light and shinned it inside. When he didn't see anything he slowly entered. When he did he felt something brush against his leg and he turned the light on it. That was when he saw the body. He wasn't surprised that the kid had been scared. Vin could see that the fish had been eating it. When he turned it around to look at the face he noticed the bullet hole in the back of its head. That's all Vin needed to know. He pushed the body away and began to explore further inside. He swam towards the galley and found two more bodies. They had also been shot in the back of the head. The execution style shooting led Vin to believe that this might be a drug deal that turned ugly. He continued to explore the boat when he noticed something odd. A crab had emerged from behind a wall that shouldn't have a space. Vin swam towards it and noticed the weight of the water had revealed a secret compartment. He grabbed a piece of wood that went floating by and prided open the compartment. Hidden inside was a stash of cocaine. He grabbed one of the bundles and headed for the surface.


Meanwhile, from a hill on the island two men watched the others search the boat. One of the men, a young Hispanic, looked through a pair of binoculars at the boats below. When the diver with the long hair emerged holding a white bundle he cursed.

"Shit!" Daniel Morales cursed glaring at his partner. "I thought you searched the boat?"

"I did!" cried Mike Saprano defensively. "I found nothin'. What the hell do we do now?"

"We wait 'til tonight. Then we hit them on their boat," Daniel said as he watched the men. "I don't see any guns. Just fishing junk. Let's get back to the boat and tell the others."

+ + + + + + +

"I'm going to kill him," muttered Chris as he looked at his watch. Vin was five minutes late. Chris was about to jump in to get him when he surfaced.

"Look what I found," he called waving the white bundle. He handed it to Chris then unhooked his tank and handed it to Josiah.

"Damn" Chris swore. "How much is down there?"

"I'm guessing a 100 kilos," answered Vin as he climbed on board. "How ya doing kid?"

"I feel like an idiot," JD answered. He was holding an ice pack to the back of his head. Vin walked over and pulled it away to have a look.

"Ouch," he said in sympathy. "Heck JD they probably would have scared the hell out of me to if I wasn't expecting them."

"Them?" asked Nathan.

"Yeah, there's three bodies below," he elaborated. "I'm guessing they've been down two days. The fish have started to eat them but not much. They were all shot in the back of the head, execution style."

"I'll radio the Coast Guard," offered Josiah.

"It figures," said Ezra cryptically.

"What?" asked Buck.

"It would appear that even on vacation we can not elude work."

"Hey, Chris," Vin called "Should I go down and bring the rest of the coke up?"

"No, leave it," he decided. "It's getting dark. The Coast Guard can handle it."

"They can't handle it until sometime tomorrow morning," said Josiah as he appeared on deck. "They don't have a boat in the immediate area."

"Well that settles it," said Buck. "I guess we are stuck here for the night."

"I reckon," agreed Vin. "So, Buck, when's dinner?"

"Damn!" he cursed. "I was hoping you would forget."

"Nope," smiled Vin.

"Vin, how can you eat after finding those bodies?" asked a queasy JD.

"You get used to it kid," he smiled in sympathy.

"I sure hope not."

"Amen," agreed Josiah.

Vin headed below to put on dry clothes. Ezra decided to pity Buck and gave him a hand with dinner. Vin came back on deck and stretched out along the back seat and dozed. An hour later Buck and Ezra came up carrying dinner.

"Hey, cowboy," Chris said shaking Vin. "Dinner."

Vin sat up and stretched. Chris shook his head at the loud cracks from various joints that protested the move. Vin laughed at Chris's expression and joined the others for dinner. They had a relaxing meal that was followed by a game of poker. Around ten o'clock Buck noticed JD starting to doze off.

"Well I think I'll call it a night," said Buck.

"Yeah me too," said JD.

The others decided it had been a long day and they all headed for bed.

+ + + + + + +

Around midnight Vin woke with a start when he heard the approach of another boat. He looked over to see Chris had heard it to. Chris nodded and they both headed on deck. They cautiously walked up the short flight of stairs and were met by two gunmen.

"Hold it right there!" one of them shouted. "Put your hands on your head and get up here."

"What's going on?" asked a sleepy JD as he emerged from his cabin.

"GET OUT!!" cried the gunman as he grabbed JD and pulled him out of the cabin.

The commotion woke up the rest of the team and they were ushered on deck. Chris checked his team to make sure everyone was OK. Buck had taken up a position close to JD. Ezra gave the gunman a dirty look but kept his mouth shut. Josiah and Nathan were together and Vin was next to him. Chris then turned his attention to the gunman. There were four of them and they were all armed. Three of them had Glocks and the fourth had a small Uzi.

"You," Daniel indicated Vin, "I want you to dive down and get our merchandise."

"And if I don't?" Vin asked

Daniel signaled to one of his man and he hit Ezra in the face with his gun. Ezra went down hard. Josiah went to help but was stopped by a gun to his ribs. Ezra looked up at his assailment with a defiant scowl. The gunman put the gun to Ezra's temple and waited for instructions.

"You go or I kill him," he said.

"I'll go," agreed Vin. The SCUBA equipment was still on deck and he went to put it on. There was a full moon shinning and it provided enough light for him to see what he was doing. Once he was geared up he looked at Chris who nodded. Vin knew Chris wanted him to go along with whatever they wanted until an opportunity provided itself.

"You got fifteen minutes or I start shooting your friends," warned Daniel.

Vin nodded and jumped in the water. Chris didn't like that he was diving alone at night but what choice did they have. He looked at the others and saw they were ready for anything their leader decided. Chris was relieved to see Ezra back on his feet.

"You OK?" he asked.

"I'm fine."

"Shut up the two of you!" shouted Mike as he moved closer to Ezra. "Daniel how do you know we can trust that long-haired hippie?"

"Where can he go?" he asked. "Besides I doubt he'd leave his friends."

"What the hell is taking him so long?" one of the others asked after ten minutes.

"Well he's got five more minutes then we shoot one," said Daniel "Antonio, you pick which one gets popped first."

"Thanks bro, I think I'll take out the kid," he said as he moved closer to JD.

"Like hell you will," Buck said defiantly as he moved in front of JD. Antonio slammed the butt of the Uzi in Buck's stomach and knocked the air out of him. Antonio was about to shoot him when Daniel stopped him.

"Wait," he said, "Times not up yet. Let's be fair."

"What the hell for we had planned on killing them anyway," disagreed Mike. "Why not now."

"Because I said so," growled Daniel.

Just then they heard Vin break the surface. Daniel went to the side of the boat and took the mesh bag holding his coke. He covered Vin as he unhooked the tank and let it sink, then pulled himself back on deck.

"Ah just in time," he said. "I was about to shoot your little friend."

Daniel bent down to check on the coke and turned his back on Vin. That's when he made his move. The others were ready when Vin went after him. Daniel sensed something was wrong. He raised his gun and fired at the diver. Chris watched in horror as Vin was hit and went over the side of the boat. He grabbed Daniel and they both struggled for the gun that ended up between them. The gun went off and Chris stepped back to see a crimson stain spread across Daniel chest. Chris didn't waste anytime and jumped overboard to save Vin. The others easily took out the reaming gunmen. Once they were secure Josiah went to help Chris. He found him clinging to the side of the boat with an unconscious Vin held tightly in his arms.

"I got him Chris," Josiah said as he took a hold of the younger agent and pulled him on deck.

Nathan was immediately at his side checking him over. Josiah went to get some towels and blankets to dry him off. Buck helped Chris back on board and he went directly to Vin. Ezra and JD had securely tied the other two gunmen and deposited them at the back of the boat.

"How bad?" asked a worried Chris.

"It's tough to tell," began Nathan. "There isn't an exit wound but I don't know if it hit any vital organs. All we can do is get the bleeding stopped and wait for the Coast Guard."

Chris watched as Nathan and Josiah worked on Vin. Josiah was drying him off while Nathan put pressure on the wound. Vin had been hit in the left side just below the rib cage. Chris tried to remember what organs were on that side but was coming up empty.

"Let's get him below," suggested Nathan.

Chris grabbed Vin under the arms while Josiah took his legs. Nathan kept pressure on the wound until they got to the hatch. He had to let go because there wasn't enough room. They put Vin on his bunk and Josiah pulled off his wet shorts, then headed out.

"I'm going to call the Coast Guard and tell them what happened," said Josiah. "Maybe they can get here quicker."

"Chris hold pressure on this while I get the first aid kit," said Nathan

Chris took Nathan's place and did as he was told. He pushed back the hair from Vin's forehead and sighed thinking this couldn't be happening. He kept is hand there to reassure Vin as well as himself. Suddenly Vin stirred and opened his eyes.

"Easy, cowboy!" Chris warned as Vin tried to rise.

"Damn!" He cursed through gritted teeth. "That hurt!" Chris watched as Vin rode out the wave of pain that accompanied the move. "Everyone OK?"

"Everyone but you," Nathan pointed out as he re-entered the cabin.

"I figured that part out on my own," Vin said with a weak smile. Chris moved around on the other side of Vin as Nathan sat on his left. He opened the first aid kit and frowned.

"Well this is useless," he muttered. "Good thing I grabbed some towels." He folded one up and placed it over the wound then applied pressure.

"Shit!" Vin cried out as he grabbed Chris's hand.

"Damn, Nathan, do you have to push so hard?" Chris asked as he watched Vin try to ride out the pain. Vin's eyes were shut and his breath was coming in short gasps.

"'Friad so," explained Nathan. "It's the only way to stop the bleeding. Just try to relax Vin."

"," gasped Vin.

"Coast Guard's sending a chopper," said Josiah as he entered the cabin. "It's still going to take three hours to get here."

They all looked at Vin. He was holding so tight to Chris's hand that his knuckles were white. His breathing was becoming labored from the pain. Chris looked up at Josiah and he saw the pain in his eyes. Josiah couldn't decide which one this was harder for, Chris or Vin.

"Don't....worry. I'll be..." Vin never finished as he passed out.

"He's alright," Nathan assured Chris. "Actually it's better this way."

"How's he doing?" asked Buck as he put his head in the door.

"Not too bad," said Nathan. "We just have to keep an eye on him until the chopper gets here."

"Well, Ezra and the kid put the body on the other boat," said Buck. "We got those other three tied up and under control."

"How's Ezra?" asked Chris. He didn't look up from the younger agents pain-filled face.

"Madder than hell" answered Buck "It's starting to bruise and he said purple just ain't his color."

"I better go take a look," laughed Nathan at Buck's attempt at humor. "Josiah hold this would ya?"

"My pleasure" he said as he took Nathan's place. Chris watched as he laid his big hands gently, but firmly, on the younger agent. Nathan followed Buck back on deck.

"Damn you Vin!" Chris finally cried. "Why the hell do you listen to me."

"Chris," said Josiah. "This isn't your fault."

"Isn't it?" he accused. "I gave him the go ahead. If it wasn't for me he wouldn't be lying there."

"You know he would have done it anyway. Vin's a grown man. Responsible for his own actions."

"I know, but it still doesn't mean I have to like it."

Josiah watched as Chris ran his fingers through Vin's damp hair. He knew how much Chris cared for the younger agent. Heck he knew Chris cared for all of them but Vin was special. The quiet young man filled a hole in Chris's life. After the death of his family Chris had sunk into despair not caring about anything until the ex-bounty hunter had come along. Josiah knew that if he died Chris wouldn't stick around either.

+ + + + + + +

The others took turns applying pressure to Vin's wound. Nathan was relieved when they finally got the bleeding under control. He wasn't happy that there were three towel soaked in Vin's blood lying on the floor. Chris hadn't left his side, but around 2:00am had finally dozed off. It was Buck's turn to be down with Vin and he looked at the younger agent and sighed. Buck truly liked Vin, but sometimes he was jealous of the relationship he had with Chris. Buck used to hold that position of confidant and friend. Not that he and Chris weren't friends, it was just different since Sarah and Adam had been killed. Buck glanced at Chris and frowned. Even in sleep he didn't relax all the way. Buck felt Vin stir under his hands and glanced back to the ex-bounty hunter. He watched as Vin opened his eyes and appeared disoriented until he looked around the cabin. He noticed Chris sleeping then finally faced Buck.

"How ya doing. Cowboy?" asked Buck, using Chris's favorite nickname.

"No too bad considering," answered Vin

"Considering what?"

"I could be dead."

"True," smiled Buck. "Want some water?"

"Yeah," answered Vin. Buck gently raised his head and placed the cup against his lips. Vin drank what he could then laid back.

"Thanks, pard," he said with a crooked smile.

"Anytime, but you know, you sure know how to ruin a vacation," Buck teased. Vin laughed and instantly regretted it. The pain caused him to squeeze Chris's hand, waking the older man.

"Oh God Buck!" cried Vin. "Don't make me laugh."

"What the hell are you doing Buck?" accused Chris in a deadly voice. "Can't you see he shouldn't get excited."

"I got eyes, Chris!" Buck shot back angrily and was about to leave when Vin grabbed his hand.

"It's not Buck's fault Chris" Vin stammered. "He made me laugh, that's all."

Vin knew he had replaced Buck in Chris's life and he hated it. Buck never said anything except that one time when he got drunk and told Vin he was grateful he had saved Chris's life. Even if it had made him second fiddle. Vin held onto both of them until he felt them both relax. He breathed a sigh of relief that became a gasp of pain and he clutched both their hands.

"Take it easy Vin," advised Buck.

"Breathe slow," said Chris simultaneously.

"That hurt," he said after the pain subsided.

"How much longer for that damned chopper?" Chris demanded.

"Should be here soon," answered Buck. Just then they heard the chopper fly over. A few minutes later a medic entered the cabin followed by the others.

"You're going to have to wait outside" the medic told them.

"He's right," agreed Josiah as he shepherded the others back on deck.

Buck had joined Chris on the other side of Vin. The medic put down his bag and opened it. He pulled on a pair of surgical gloves and gently peeled the towel away. Vin arched his back in pain and clutched Chris's hand hard. The medic saw the reaction and reached into the bag and pulled out a syringe and a vial.

"Mr...." he began.

"Tanner" supplied Chris and Buck in unison.

"Are you allergic to any medication?" he asked with a smile. Vin shook his head no.

"Penicillin" contradicted Chris.

"Well this is Morphine so we're OK," He rubbed alcohol on Vin's arm and gave him the injection. Vin immediately relaxed.

"Whoa!" he slurred. "That's some stuff."

"I bet," Chris laughed.

"Yeah the legal way to get high," added Buck.

Chris watched as Vin slowly sank to sleep now that the pain was gone. Now that Vin's features were completely relaxed Chris noticed just how young he really was.

"Damn, he looks as young as JD," Buck had also noticed.

"Yeah we forget sometimes don't we?" said Chris as he pushed the hair out of Vin's eyes.

"Yeah I guess it's because Vin's had a harder life than JD, " said Buck. "He appears older."

They watched as the medic cleaned the wound and placed a pressure bandage on it. They helped hold Vin as he wrapped the bandage around his abdomen. When he was done he went out into the hall to get the Stokes. He placed it by the bed and they lifted Vin into the metal carrier. They covered him with blankets then securely strapped him in. Carrying him up on deck proved a little awkward but they finally managed. Once on deck the medic signaled the chopper to lower the cable. While they waited the others all gave Vin a pat on the shoulder or a squeeze of his hand to reassure him as much as them. As the cable got closer they all backed away and he hooked up the Stokes. Once hooked he gave a tug and they watched as Vin was slowly raised up to the chopper. The medic turned to the team.

"I can take one of you with me," he yelled over the roar of the rotors. Without hesitation the others pushed Chris forward.

"We'll meet you at the hospital," yelled Buck and the others nodded.

"The Cutter should be here in about two hours," he told the others. "You'll be OK until then?"

"We'll be fine, son," answered Josiah.

He smiled then helped Chris into the harness. The cable was lowered again and the medic hooked Chris on first then himself. When he was sure everything was secure he gave thumbs up and they began their assent. The team watched as Chris was helped into the chopper along with the medic. They watched as the lights from the chopper disappeared into the early morning sky.

+ + + + + + +

Corpus Christi General Hospital, ten hours later.

Chris was going insane. He hated waiting. The three-hour chopper ride had been bad enough. He had tried to stay out of the medic's way. He watched helplessly as he started an IV and placed an oxygen mask on Vin. When the medic was done he moved next to Vin and took his hand. Chris told himself it was to let Vin know he was there but it was also to reassure himself. The chopper finally landed and Vin was whisked away into the emergency room and he was left alone. Chris checked his watch and wondered where the others were. As if his thoughts summoned them they walked in the door.

"So?" demanded Buck.

"He's still in surgery," explained Chris.

"What?" asked a concerned Nathan.

"Ah hell!" he said. "I'm not explaining myself very well."

"Have you gotten any sleep?" asked Josiah.

"What little I could on these back-breaking sofas" said Chris as he kicked one.

"Kicking them won't helped," pointed out Ezra "I say we shoot them."

"You're right. Purple isn't your color," said Chris as he saw the bruise on Ezra's cheek.

"Abominable," he agreed.

"What about Vin?" asked an anxious JD.

"He's only been in surgery about three hours." Chris explained. "When we got here they wanted to get his vitals stabilized before they took him up to surgery. That took a couple of hours."

"And you've been left to play the waiting game," said Nathan in sympathy.

"So what happened with the drug dealers?" he asked.

"The Cutter finally came around 5:00am," answered Josiah. "We quickly dumped everything in their laps and left."

"But they are expecting us to elaborate more on our adventure tomorrow," pointed out Ezra.

"Well, Ezra, we'll let you explain to them for us," laughed Buck. "they'll love all them fancy words."

The others laughed and some of the tension was broken. Just then the doctor walked into the waiting room. She quickly stepped back when the six men advanced on her. Josiah noticed and smiled at her.

"Don't worry," he said, "we don't bite."

"Much," Buck winked.

"That's good to know," she laughed. "Your friend is in recovery. The bullet nicked the large intestine so that took us a little longer than expected. He lost more blood than I'd like but with rest and quiet he'll be fine."

"Can we see him?" asked an eager JD.

"Alright," she agreed reluctantly. "Only for a few minutes." She led them down a hall and stopped at a door. She went to open the door then stopped. "He's coming out of the anesthesia and he's a little disoriented. So don't be surprised if he seems out of it."

She finished opening the door and they all filed in. The room was dimly lit and they walked closer to the bed. As they got closer they could see Vin's eyes were open but he wasn't tracking very well. Chris took the hand that didn't have an IV attached and gave it a squeeze.

"Hey, cowboy," Chris called. Vin turned towards the voice and smiled crookedly.

"Hey," he lisped.

"Don't talk. We just came to say hi."

"Good Lord! He's as high as a kite," laughed Buck as he noticed Vin's dilated pupils.

"Jealous?" asked Vin sleepily.

"Mr. Wilmington doesn't need drugs to act like an idiot," said Ezra causing Vin to laugh, then hiss in pain.

"Gentlemen," warned the doctor.

"'Sokay," lied Vin.

"I think we'd better go," said Josiah patting Vin's leg. "Via con Dios, my friend."

"Take it easy Vin," called Nathan as he moved towards the door.

"We'll be back tomorrow," promised JD.

"Yeah and leave some of the nurses for me," advised Buck.

"You take it easy, cowboy, we'll be back," said Chris.

"Yes, Mr. Tanner, do try to stay out of trouble," said Ezra as he touched his hand.

"Ezra!" Vin cried as he clutched his hand. "Stay."

"It's alright Vin," he reassured the younger man. "I'll stay."

Vin settled back with a sigh and closed his eyes. Ezra looked to Chris who nodded. Ezra raised two fingers to his forehead and saluted. Chris didn't care who stayed as long as it made Vin happy.

+ + + + + + +

Corpus Christi Airport one week later.

Chris couldn't wait to get back to Denver. He silently vowed that he would never go on vacation again. This had been the week from hell. Most of his time and, a lot of Ezra's, had been spent at the hospital trying to keep a very reluctant Vin in bed. They didn't want a repeat performance of what happened last year. Vin was not the easiest person to be around when he had been cooped up for over a week. He became down right surly. It hadn't helped that Buck and JD would visit and tell them what they had been up to all day. Surfing, lying on the beach and watching the girls. At one point Vin begged Ezra for his ever present ankle gun so he could shoot himself. Ezra said he had a better idea. Shooting JD and Buck. Finally towards the end they stopped coming. Nathan and Josiah had visited some museums but wisely told Vin they had done nothing. Chris was brought back to the present by a curse.

"Damn, Buck!" cursed Vin. "Watch where you're going." Buck was pushing Vin in the wheel chair but was being distracted by all the pretty women and ran into the newsstand. "That's it, I'm walking."

"Oh no you're not," said Ezra as he pushed Vin back in the seat and took control from Buck. Chris smiled at the undercover agent. He had on his Armani sunglasses but it didn't help hide the now green bruise on his cheek.

They continued walking towards their gate. People watched them as they passed by. Chris wasn't surprised. They did seem to be a mismatched bunch. Vin in jeans, T-shirt and cowboy boots, being pushed in a wheel chair by Ezra in a Broni suit. The kid and Buck were dressed in matching Hawaiian shirts. Nathan in clothes that the others teased made him look preppy. A polo shirt and matching shorts. Josiah in ragged jeans and a tie-died T-shirt that made him look like a hippie. Last but not least, him, dressed all in black. As they got closer to the gate Buck stepped up to the stewardess and explained the situation. The plane was ready to board and she took them on right away.

"What did you tell her?" asked Chris suspiciously.

"That Vin was a big movie star that was hurt doing a stunt," he smiled.

"Don't come running to me when he kills you," warned Chris.

They pushed Vin down the ramp and to the door of the plane. He started to rise and they all moved into help and he growled at them. He slowly moved onto the plane when one of the stewardesses took his arm and helped him to his seat. Buck just winked at Chris who scowled at him. They all got settled in first class and waited for the rest of the passengers to board. Chris was sitting next to Vin. He looked at the younger man and he could see that the short walk had tired him. Chris buzzed the stewardess and asked for a blanket and some water. She brought the items and Chris thanked her. He rummaged in his carry-on looking for Vin's pills. When he found them he offered them to him. Chris could tell he was hurting because he didn't argue. He popped them in his mouth and took a drink. Vin settled back and Chris laid the blanket over his legs. Vin finally rolled his eyes and looked at Chris.

"Do me a favor?" he asked.


"Next time I ask to go fishing. Shoot me!"

"Amen!!!" the others cried.


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