Vin sat in Buck's truck, contemplating life and the raw deal he'd been given. He shook his head, thinking that being blind was just another thing on the list of bad things that had happened to him in his twenty-seven years. He'd been mentally going through that list, thinking of the time he dislocated his shoulder in high school, just two days before baseball try-outs, when he heard the gun shot.
"Buck??!!" he cried out, reaching for the door handle.
He got about two feet from the truck before he realized what he was doing.
"What the fuck? Don't know what the hell is going on, where the hell Buck is, and here I am, not only blind but fuckin' unarmed!" he cursed to himself "Buck?" he called out again, tentatively. "Aw, hell," he muttered, making his way toward what he hoped was the store entrance.
He tripped on the curb when he finally got to the sidewalk, but managed to keep from falling down. He got to the doorway, listened and heard arguing inside, but the voices didn't sound like Buck's. He opened the door and called Buck's name.
"Buck? You in here?"
He shuffled into the store, arm out reaching, searching.
"Anybody here? I'm lookin' for my friend," he said. "Buck?"
When his hands came in contact with the first aisle's shelves, he knocked over a bunch of potato chip bags. Then he heard the laughter behind him.
"Aw, lookit that, bro!" the robber said.
"You're getting colder!" the clerk taunted.
"I'm just lookin' for my friend," Vin stammered, knocking down some more merchandise as he searched for Buck. "You could either help me out here, or just get the hell on your way! Buck?!"
"Warmer! No, no! Colder again!"
Vin heard the crunching footsteps come behind him and turned quickly, putting his good hand up to guard himself. But then nothing happened. He was just about to say something when he felt the cold metal on his forehead.
"What do you think, blind man? Should I blow you away like I did your friend?" the clerk asked. "Put you out of your misery?"
"Just leave," he said, hating that he heard the tremor in his own voice and noting the fact that there was a part of him that did want to be put out of his misery. But what if Buck was still alive? He had to be sure. "I can't see ya. Can't identify ya," he added, hoping that that would satisfy the men.
"Come on, man," the robber called. "Things already got messed up. We got places to be."
The gun was removed from Vin's forehead. He heard the crunching of footsteps moving away from him. Vin waited a few more minutes, hoping the men truly had left the store, before resuming his search for Buck.
"Buck? You still here? Come on, Bucklin, talk to me!" he called as he crawled on the floor down the aisle, his good hand searching in front of him.
He was just rounding the corner of the aisle when the shooting began. The clerk had aimed the gun in Vin's general direction, forcing the injured ATF agent to drop flat onto the floor. He heard the glass doors behind him break, sending shards of glass down around him, felt the milk and juice spray all over him as it poured out of punctured containers. And then it was quiet again. Except for the thunderous beating of his heart.
He waited until he heard the doors to the store again before he renewed his quest.
"Buck?" he called, over and over, inching his way through the broken glass, heedless of the cuts he must be getting on his hand and knees.
He felt the milk and juice dripping down through his hair and soaking the bandages around his eyes. He ripped the dirty dressings off and winced at the brightness. He still couldn't see, though. All that was in front of him were light colored blurs.
Finally, he felt the hard sole of Buck's boot.
"Buck? Buck can you hear me?" Vin called.
He inched his way forward, feeling for bullet holes and blood, hoping that his friend was still alive. He found Buck's gun and took it out of its holster and tucked it into his waistband, just in case. He moved his hand up further and felt the sticky wetness on Buck's chest before moving up to Buck's neck. He let out a sigh of relief when he felt the strong pulse still beating. He again put his hand on the big man's chest and found the wound, high up near his collarbone. Reaching into Buck's coat pocket, Vin found his cell phone and prayed that it would work.
One handedly, he managed to turn it on. After a few unsuccessful attempts, he finally was able to dial 911 and summoned help. He was just about to put the phone down when he heard someone come into the store.
"Please, I need some help here!" he called.
When no one answered his call, Vin began to worry that the robber was back to taunt him some more or that maybe there were looters in the store, taking advantage of the situation. He took Buck's gun and held it out in front of him, aiming at nothing and everything at the same time.
"Like I'd be able to hit the side of a fuckin' barn," he muttered shakily to himself, thinking about how ridiculous he must look - a one armed blind man with a gun.
Then Vin heard a moan from Buck. He put the gun back into his waistband and put his hand down on Buck's chest.
"Buck? You with me, pard'?" he called.
Buck groaned again as he opened his eyes. He looked up and saw Vin's scared looking form above him. He tried to talk, but all that came out of him was another painful groan.
"Hang in, Buck, help's on the way," Vin soothed, trying to sound confident.
Buck heard different, though. Even through the haze of pain and ringing in his ears, he was able to see and hear the fear in Vin. It was confirmed when another noise at the door caused the blind agent to bring Buck's weapon out again. Buck saw the tremors in the bloody grip Vin held. He tried to look toward the door himself, to see if there was a danger there he could help with, but his movement only sent waves of pain through him, and the blackness of unconsciousness returned.
"Police! Freeze!" the first command came. "Drop the weapon and put your hands where I can see them!"
Vin did as he was told, sagging in relief as he tossed the weapon away from him. He did not want to make any moves to endanger himself or Buck.
"I'm the one who called!" he told the officers. "Please, you gotta help my friend. He's been shot," he pled.
He heard one of the officers pick up Buck's weapon and then walk toward him.
"Move away from him," the officer ordered Vin.
"No, I gotta stay with him," Vin responded, reaching for Buck.
The officer, having seen the blank look on Vin's face and the way he reached for Buck, waved his hand in front of Vin's face.
"You can't see, can you," he stated more than asked.
"Look, can you just get some help for my friend?" Vin replied, ignoring the question.
"The paramedics are coming," the officer said in a calming voice, opening up a roll of paper towels he'd found on the floor. In the meantime, here," he said, grabbing Vin's good hand and pressing it and a wad of towels onto Buck's wound.
Vin heard several more people, more police officers he assumed, enter the convenience store. Then he felt a hand grab his arm and start to pull him up.
"No, please," he said, not wanting to leave Buck.
"Sir, please, we need to make room for the paramedics," the officer said, relaxing when Vin finally gave in. "Why don't we go outside and then you can tell me what happened."
Vin let the officer lead him through the store and to the parking lot.
"That your friend's truck over there?" the officer asked. When Vin nodded, he continued, "You got any ID on you?"
Vin nodded again and fumbled for his wallet. He handed it to the officer, who opened it up.
"ATF, huh?" he asked, seeing the government ID. "Your friend an agent, too?"
"Yeah. Is he gonna be okay?" Vin replied and asked.
"I don't know, I'm no paramedic," the officer replied. "Why don't you tell me what happened now."
Vin recalled what he knew of the incident for the officer as best he could. Another officer, a supervisor most likely by the way she ordered the officer to take Vin to the station for his statement, interrupted them. Vin was again reluctant to leave Buck and began to fight with the officer, but stopped when the officer asked him if there was anyone he could call.
"Chris Larabee," Vin replied and gave the officer Chris's cell phone number.
+ + + + + + +
Chris entered the police station and went to the desk, his ATF identification already in his hand.
"I'm looking for Lieutenant Beck," he said.
The desk sergeant had been expecting him and gave him directions to the lieutenant's office. Chris walked briskly down the hallway, anxious to see Vin and find out just what the hell had happened.
He'd gotten some preliminary information from the Denver Police officer - found out that Buck had been shot and was enroute to the hospital and that Vin was at the police station giving a statement - but not enough to satisfy him. He'd called JD and Josiah, sent them to the hospital to check on Buck and then Nathan and Ezra and sent them to the convenience store to find out more about what had happened.
He knocked on the door and was admitted to an open office area that housed about six desks and about two dozen filing cabinets. As soon as he walked in, he heard his name called.
Chris looked to his left and saw his friend sitting on a low bench, hand outstretched. He quickly grasped the hand and forearm.
"Right here, Vin," he greeted. "You okay?" he asked.
He saw the dark blood stains that covered Vin's disheveled clothing. He also noticed that the hand he held was crudely bandaged.
"I'm fine, how's Buck?" Vin replied.
"I don't know," Chris answered. "I sent JD and Josiah to check on him and then came here. What the hell happened?"
"I don't know," he responded, releasing Chris's hand and slumping back against the wall. "I was sittin' in Buck's truck, waitin' for him to grab some beer and stuff from the store. Next thing I knew, there's a gunshot. I didn't know what else to do. I went into the store and I...I found Buck layin' there, shot. I found his cell phone and called the cops."
Chris heard the hesitation in Vin's voice, like he didn't really want to tell him what had happened.
"Chris, we gotta find out about Buck," Vin continued. "Get me outta here, please?"
Chris stood up and turned to the lieutenant that had been standing nearby.
"You all done with him?" he asked her.
"Yes," she replied with a nod. "Agent Tanner's been very helpful."
"You think you'll be able to catch the guys that did this to my agents?" Chris asked.
"We've already got an APB out on the store clerk. We think he was involved, since he wasn't at the scene and Agent Tanner said that there were two men involved. But locating the second man, and getting a description on him will all depend on Agent Wilmington, I'm afraid," she replied. "When they came back into the store, they shot out all camera equipment and destroyed the recorders."
"So you think it was supposed to be a robbery set up by the clerk?" the senior ATF agent surmised.
"Until your men showed up and tried to stop it," Lt. Beck replied.
Chris nodded his head and looked again at Vin. The younger man looked absolutely spent.
"Let me get him outta here, now," he said, gently taking Vin by the elbow and pulling him to his feet.
The police lieutenant shook the two ATF agents' hands and then handed Chris her card, telling him that if they needed anything to give her a call. Chris didn't miss the look of pity in her eyes, though.
+ + + + + + +
When they finally got to the hospital, Chris was even more frustrated than before. Vin refused to talk about what happened. He just gave him the basics again - there was a robbery, Buck apparently tried to stop it, got shot and Vin called for help. Chris would call Lt. Beck and request a copy of the reports later on.
Josiah met them at the entrance to the ER.
"He's in surgery right now," the big man announced. "The doctors say that he took a forty low in the left shoulder and lost a lot of blood."
"Can somebody tell me? Is he gonna be okay?" Vin practically begged, frustrated at the lack of any solid information about Buck's condition.
"The doctor said he'd give us an update as soon as he can, Vin," Josiah replied.
"Come on, let's see if we can get you checked out. Maybe get some new bandages put on," Chris put in, gently grabbing Vin's elbow.
"Not 'til I find out if Buck's gonna be okay," Vin replied, twisting out of Chris's grip.
Chris just looked at Vin and then at Josiah, who shrugged helplessly. "Fine," he said.
Josiah led the two men to the waiting room, where they met up with JD.
"The doctors just came out. Buck's out of surgery. But it's still touch and go," the team's youngest announced. "He's in recovery now and will be on his way up to ICU after that.
Josiah put a comforting arm around JD's shoulders. "I'll go up there with you," he said.
"You okay, Vin?" JD asked, taking in the appearance and distraught look on his friend.
"I need a drink," he replied just before his knees buckled.
"Vin!" the other three men shouted at once. JD managed to grab Vin's good arm, breaking his friend's fall. He and the others eased him to the floor before calling for assistance.
+ + + + + + +
When Vin woke up he was lying on a hospital exam bed in the ER. He let out a moan and a groan as he turned his head, trying to orient himself with the sounds around him. He felt a hand touch his arm.
"Easy there, Cowboy," Chris whispered.
"What the hell happened?" Vin asked, bringing his right hand up to rub his head. The bandages he felt on his hand confused him.
"Twelve stitches on your palm. Six on your forearm. Five more on each knee," was the explanation. "That's what happens when you crawl around in broken glass."
"Can we get outta here?" Vin did not miss the fact that the bandages were back over his eyes again, too.
"Yeah, why don't we check on Buck, first, though, okay?"
After another once over from the hospital staff, Vin was released and the two men made their way upstairs to see Buck. When they got there, JD met them at the ICU entrance.
"They just got him in there a few minutes ago," he said. "You feelin' better, Vin?" he asked.
Vin nodded, but didn't say anything.
"Listen, I promised Casey I'd call her," JD went on. "They said only one of you could go in at a time," he added, jacking his thumb back toward the doorway.
Before Chris had a chance to say anything, Vin spoke up. "You go ahead, Chris. Not like I can really see him anyway."
"You gonna be okay out here? I won't stay long," Chris replied.
"Go on," he said, waving Chris on.
Vin felt pats on his shoulders from both men before hearing them go off in different directions. As soon as he felt he was alone, Vin turned toward the elevator. He hadn't been idly following Chris along on their way up to the ICU. He was memorizing the route, counting steps, figuring his way back out of there.
After only a minor mishap in a hallway, bumping into an elderly woman, he managed to find himself on what he hoped was the ground floor. There, a young woman asked him if he needed help. He said yes and asked her to take him outside and flag down a cab. When the cab arrived, he thanked her profusely before getting in.
"Where to, Mister?"
"The Saloon, on West Main," he replied.
+ + + + + + +
He jimmied the lock to the back door with practiced ease. Some day he'd tell Inez that it was he and the boys that came in during off-hours to shoot pool or have a drink. They always left the place cleaner than they found it and left cash in an envelope for her to pay for their drinks. He was pretty sure she knew it was them anyway, but one of these days he'd actually admit to being the one to open the door for them.
Feeling his way past the stockroom and then into the main barroom, he went behind the long wooden bar. Gently feeling the shelved stock, searching for the right shaped bottle, he found the one that he wanted. He unscrewed the cap and gave the contents of the bottle a sniff to be sure. Content with his selection, he grabbed a second bottle and found his way toward the table in the back that the seven usually took.
+ + + + + + +
"So where the hell is he?" Chris asked angrily.
"I don't know!" JD replied, fear in his voice. "He was gone when I came back from calling Casey. I thought he went in with you."
"Shit," the older man muttered, running a shaky hand through his hair. "Alright, let's start searching the hospital. Call the others."
+ + + + + + +
Chris sat in his truck, staring at the front steps to Vin's apartment building. He'd already been up to the sharpshooter's apartment. Vin hadn't been there. He'd talked to the neighbors and kids. Gave them his cell phone number and told them to call if Vin showed up. JD stayed at the hospital. No one there had had any information either.
"Damn it, Vin!" he cursed, pounding the steering wheel. "Even fucking blind, you can fade and disappear into the woodwork!"
He looked at his watch again. Five-thirty. It was starting to get dark and Vin had been gone for two hours already. Putting his head back against the headrest for a moment, Chris was startled by the ringing of his cell phone.
"Larabee," he answered gruffly.
"Agent Larabee, this is Suzanne, from the front desk," a female voice spoke. "I've got a call to transfer, from someone named Inez. She says it's important."
Inez? Why the hell is Inez calling my work number?
"Put her through," he replied, curiosity getting the better of him.
"Senor Larabee?" the young woman called.
"Yes, Inez. What can I do for you?" he asked.
"I think you better come down to The Saloon," she replied. "Vin's here."
"Vin's there? Is he alright?!" he asked anxiously, putting the truck into gear.
There was a brief pause before she responded, "I don't think so."
+ + + + + + +
Chris called the others to let them know that Vin had been found and that he was on his way to The Saloon. When he got there, Inez led him to the back table, where she had found Vin. The sharpshooter was slumped down under the table, his head resting on his right arm in front of him, next to a small puddle of vomit. There was a tablecloth covering up the rest of him.
"I tried waking him, but he just babbled and cursed. And threw up," Inez said, reaching down to clean up the intoxicated man again. "I couldn't understand much of what he said."
"Vin? Vin, can you hear me?" Chris called, shaking Vin's shoulder.
"Go 'way," came the slurred response.
Chris eyed the two empty whiskey bottles on the table and shook his head. He grabbed Vin's right arm and pulled, slinging it around his shoulder, and then grabbed his belt with his other hand and hoisted the intoxicated man to his feet. Inez helped as best she could to guide the two men outside to Chris's truck. After Chris managed to get Vin into the truck, he turned around to face the Mexican woman.
"Thanks, Inez. I appreciate you calling," he said to her.
"Sure," she replied. "Anytime. You just tell him that he owes me."
Chris smiled and nodded to her. "I will."
"And Senor Larabee?" she called, making Chris turn around. "Take good care of him."
"I will," he repeated.
+ + + + + + +
Vin rolled over and let out a groan. Everything hurt. His head, his hands, his stomach... and... just thinking about his stomach... He felt the hands on him guiding him. Heard the former contents of his stomach land in a plastic bucket.
"Easy, Vin," Chris whispered, one hand holding the bucket, the other keeping the hair out of Vin's face.
After he finally finished, Vin eased back onto the bed and put his right forearm across his brow. "Thanks, Chris," he mumbled, feeling a cool washcloth dab at his face.
"Here, open up," the older man urged, putting a couple of aspirin to Vin's lips.
Vin didn't think to argue and opened up. As soon as the two tablets were on his tongue, he felt Chris's hand behind his head, pulling it up so that he could sip from the cup of water at his lips.
Chris sat back and watched as Vin fell asleep again. He wanted to talk to his friend, find out what motivated him to leave on his own and then try to drown himself in the whiskey. He's blind, asshole! Chris berated himself, stating the obvious reasons behind Vin's distress. But that's no reason to commit suicide, he reasoned. But wouldn't you do the same thing? Chris stood up and began pacing the small guest room, trying to banish that last thought. This is Vin. He's different. Stronger. More independent. Tired of pacing, Chris finally left the bedroom to go to the kitchen for some more coffee. It was going to be a long night, and that was just the beginning.
+ + + + + + +
A few hours later, Vin roused again, and again, Chris was there to help him out.
"Damn, you think I'd puked up the whole state of Colorado by now," Vin muttered as he wiped his mouth.
"Two bottles of Jack Daniels'll do that," Chris remarked. "Damn lucky Inez found you, Vin. Coulda killed yourself," he added.
"Maybe that was the plan," Vin whispered.
"Are you back on that track again?" the other man shot back angrily. "Shit, Vin, I thought we'd been through this."
"I can't do anything, Chris! I'm fuckin' useless!" he shouted, wincing as the sound of his own voice sent daggers through his skull.
"Vin, you're not useless," Chris argued back. "Hell, you saved Buck's life in that store."
"I almost killed him, you mean!"
"What? What the hell are you talking about?" the older man asked, incredulous.
"If I wasn't blind, I would've been in that store, backing him up!" Vin got out through gritted teeth. "I wouldn't have been sitting in the damn truck listening to some two bit hoods shoot him! I wouldn't have been crawling through the entire fuckin' store trying to find him, wondering if I was too late because I didn't get to him in time!"
"Okay, Vin," Chris said evenly, absently nodding his head as his anger built. "You want a pity party? Then give it to me. It's all my fault. My fault that Buck got shot."
That stopped Vin cold. "Your fault?! How the hell is it your fault?!"
"I'm the one that said you couldn't get the new rifle, remember?" Chris replied. "If you had gotten the new gun, it wouldn't have exploded and you wouldn't be blind. So it's my fault you're blind, so therefore it's my fault that Buck got shot."
"It ain't your fault that I'm blind, Chris," Vin said automatically. "You didn't know. You couldn't help it."
"Exactly, Vin. So therefore, for the same reason, you're not the reason Buck got shot."
"No, Vin," Chris replied, taking Vin by the shoulders. "Shit happens. We don't know why. We don't know when. Or how. Most of the time there's nothing we can do about it, but just go with the flow. Come on, you're the one that keeps telling me that, Vin."
Vin bowed his head and took a shaky breath. "I ain't never been so scared as I was then, Chris," he got out. He swallowed in an attempt to calm his trembling, keep the tremors from his voice. "When I couldn't find Buck... God, Chris! There was a part of me that wanted those assholes to just shoot me, too! Being an agent - a sharpshooter - hell, it's the only thing I know, Chris."
"That's bullshit, Vin and you know it," the older man whispered in response, still holding onto Vin's shoulders. "You're more than just a sharpshooter, Vin."
"So what if I don't get my eyesight back? What the hell am I supposed to do instead?"
"I don't know," Chris replied honestly. "But I'm sure we'll figure out something."
When Vin still didn't look convinced, Chris cuffed his shoulder and said, "Come on, Vin. At least give it a chance. The doctors are still hopeful, you know that. Why don't you grab some more sleep, then later on, we'll go check up on Buck. JD said he's been improving."
Vin reluctantly agreed and eased back down onto the bed. He slept for almost twenty four hours.
+ + + + + + +
The next trip to the hospital had indeed brought good news with it. Buck's condition had improved greatly in the three days since the shooting. He'd been moved out of the ICU and into an intermediate care wing.
"So you're really okay, Buck?"
"I'm gonna be just fine, pard', thanks to you, I hear," he replied tiredly, hoping he'd be heard through the oxygen mask he still wore.
Vin just nodded, still wishing he could have done more for Buck. Wishing he could have shot the bastards that shot him.
"Don't you get yourself in a tizzy, now, Vin," Buck admonished, with a cough. He recognized the guilt and despair in Vin's features, the way Vin's shoulders slumped. "I'm the one that let his guard down. I put my gun away, trusting the wrong person."
They heard the nurse, calling to Vin, announcing the end of his visiting time.
"Come on, Cowboy," Chris called from the hallway. "Time for Buck to get his beauty sleep," he said, winking at the injured man in the bed.
"Hell, there ain't no way for me to sleep around here," Buck retorted. "Too many beauties around when I'm awake!" he continued, referring to the nurses that walked into the room. "Talk to you tomorrow, Vin."
"Not likely," Vin whispered to himself, putting out his hand.
"Vin?" Buck replied, grasping the hand and giving it a weak squeeze, trying to hold onto it.
But Vin broke free of the handshake and moved away toward Chris's voice.
"Vin?" Buck called again before succumbing to a coughing fit. He tried pleading with the nurses, hoping that he'd be able to alert Chris to Vin's demeanor, but before he could, he felt himself sliding down into the comfort of a drugged sleep.
+ + + + + + +
Chris and Vin walked together through the hospital corridors. Chris looked down at Vin's right hand and noticed that there was blood coming through the bandages on it.
"Your hand's bleeding," he said, lightly patting the hand. "Why don't we stop down in the ER and have it checked out. Looks like you popped a stitch or two."
"Sure," Vin replied, wondering how he had done that.
Chris hadn't let him do anything strenuous since the whole ordeal began, despite the completely opposite pep talks about him being able to do anything he wanted, even if he was blind. And while he occasionally lifted up the bandages on his eyes, checking for any progress, and actually seeing some, he still had a hard time believing that everything would be alright. He could now see light and dark and make out shadows in both eyes. But blurry eyesight would not give him his sharpshooter status back, let alone plain old agent status with the ATF.
Chris led him to a chair in the waiting room for the ER.
"I'll be right back," he said. "I'm just going to talk to the admissions nurse."
Vin nodded and sat back, listening to the sounds around him. He heard a baby crying to his left. Her mother kept trying to soothe her, but it was obvious that there was a reason the baby was in the ER. She was sick and/or in pain - beyond a mother's soothing. Further to the left, he heard an elderly man hacking. Probably had pneumonia or something like that, he thought. He heard another man talking to a woman, asking her about how she had fallen and injured her ankle. Something about falling off the bed. He chuckled to himself. Must have been one hell of a ride. Then his mind froze. Two more voices. Two young men, sitting somewhere off to his right. Maybe fifteen feet away. They were talking in hushed tones, but he heard them mention cops and gunshot wounds. But even more disconcerting was the fact that he recognized the two voices. They were the two men from the convenience store. The ones that robbed the place. The ones that shot Buck. His anger boiled inside him.
He heard their voices get quieter, as if they were walking away. He pulled the bandages off from around his eyes and tried to get some bearing. Everything still looked like blurred shadows, but he thought he'd be able to maneuver his way around without walking into a wall. He followed the voices, not even thinking that he had no other plan than to confront the two and try to beat the hell out of them for what they did to Buck and himself.
+ + + + + + +
After waiting on line for about ten minutes, then talking to the admissions nurse, Chris took the clipboard from the nurse and turned back toward the waiting room, writing as he walked. He stopped short when he looked up and saw that Vin was gone. He looked around quickly for signs of the wayward agent. Fear of Vin pulling another disappearing act and doing himself bodily harm again washed through the ATF agent. He dropped the clipboard onto a table and headed toward the nearest hallway. He spied Vin's discarded bandage and cursed to himself as he picked it up.
+ + + + + + +
Vin stopped at the corner of the hallway. He watched as the two shadows he'd been following headed toward a set of doors. The bright light coming through the open doorway made him blink back in pain. When he opened his eyes again, the shadows of the men were gone.
"Shit, Tanner, ain't like you got anything to use on 'em," he thought suddenly, finally realizing the stupidity of his plan. "But then again, it ain't like you got much to live for anyway."
He headed for the doors and went through. He looked around, searching for the familiar shapes he'd been following, wondering where they'd have headed. He heard their voices down the hall to the left. Saw the shadows near the stairwell. He'd taken about two steps towards them when he realized where they were headed. What their conversation had been about. Why they were at the hospital. The two were headed towards the north wing. Towards Buck.
+ + + + + + +
Chris scanned around the parking lot outside the ER, hoping to catch Vin before he disappeared into the city again. He questioned several cab drivers that were waiting in their vehicles by the curb, as well as anyone he saw outside the building. Then he saw a security guard leaning against a retaining wall, smoking a cigarette.
"Excuse me?" he asked, approaching the guard. "I'm looking for a friend of mine. He might have come out here within the past ten minutes or so. He doesn't see very well."
"Sorry, but the only people that've come out these doors in the past fifteen are you, me and two old ladies," the guard replied.
"You're sure?" Chris asked.
"Yeah. This is my assigned post today," the guard said. "Had a gang fight in here earlier on and I'm watching the people coming in and out, looking for a couple that got away."
"Alright, thanks," the ATF agent replied, shaking the guard's hand. "But hey, if you see a guy, white, five nine or so, shoulder length brown hair, wearing a brown leather coat and blue jeans and doesn't see too good, give me a call?" He handed the guard his business card.
"ATF, huh? This guy a suspect that got away from you?" the guard asked, smirking a bit.
"No, he's a friend of mine," Chris replied, trying not to glare at the guard.
+ + + + + + +
Vin found his way to the stairwell and opened the door. He'd thought briefly about looking for Chris. He'd ditched Chris back in the ER waiting room. And knowing Chris, the older man would probably start his search for him outside, as that's where he'd gone last time. He didn't think he'd have the time to waste, though and started up the stairs. He took off the sling his left arm had been cradled in and dropped it to the floor. He winced as his hands took hold of the handrails, but he needed to hold onto them or a blurry misstep would send him down the stairs.
At the second floor landing, he paused before opening the door. He had to do this right. He couldn't just blast onto the floor and announce to the world that those two were up to no good. He couldn't draw down on them. He didn't even have his boot knife to help him. No, any police proclamation would only force the two hoodlums to either open fire or grab hostages. Or both.
Buck ain't got time for this, dammit! he swore to himself, before finally exiting the stairwell. He quickly oriented himself, remembering the floor layout and where Buck's room was, before heading that way.
He reached the entryway to Buck's room just as the two men did.
"Don't think so, boys," Vin said in a low voice, barring their entry.
"Well, I think this says otherwise, pal," one said, pointing his gun at Vin.
"Right here, in front of all these witnesses?" the ATF agent asked, gesturing to the nurses' station down the hall. "Ain't too bright."
"Hey, you're the blind guy from the store!" the other man exclaimed, finally recognizing Vin.
Before Vin could reply, he felt himself shoved into Buck's room.
+ + + + + + +
Buck opened his eyes, having been woken up by the noise at the door. He struggled to keep his eyes open, fighting the sedative that was in his system. He somehow knew he had to stay awake. There was trouble. He heard Vin cry out in alarm and saw the younger man stumble into his room. Then he saw the two men follow him in. He recognized the shape of the gun in one of their hands. Then he recognized the voice.
"That's right, this here's the blind man who said he couldn't identify us," the store clerk said sarcastically.
Buck moved his hand slightly, hoping not to gain the gunmen's attention and grabbed the wired box on the bed that held the nurse's call button. He was just about to press the button and call for help when he realized that doing so would bring in an innocent. He released his grip on the small box and waited to see how the situation would play out. The injured man did not have high hopes. Vin was practically blind and unarmed, to boot. And he himself could barely sit up on his own, let alone try to stop the men from ridding themselves of the witnesses to their crime.
Angered at the situation, he decided that their only hope would to provide some sort of distraction for his fellow agent. He reached up and grabbed his pillow and tried to throw it at the gunman. The pillow barely made it past Buck's knees, but the sudden movement did the trick. Vin heard the surprised gasp from the gunman and lunged forward, grabbing at the gun as he knocked the man to the floor.
Buck tried to get out of his bed to try to help, but found he couldn't do more than send himself into a coughing fit while he prayed for Vin.
+ + + + + + +
Chris was walking through the hospital, checking all the possible places he thought Vin might have gone off to when he heard the gunshots. He knew they came from the floor above him and knew instinctively that somehow, Vin was involved. He found the nearest stairwell and ran up the stairs, taking two or three at a time. By the time he reached the door, he heard the screams and the commotion. He peered out to check the scene before heading out, gun out and pointing forward. Several people took a look at him and immediately went back to where they had come from. When he had two more corridors to cross before nearing Buck's room, he heard Vin's voice.
"I said, get the fuck down on the floor!"
Chris rushed forward and almost collided with the security guard from outside as they raced to enter Buck's room. When they opened the door, they were greeted with the sight of Vin, bleeding from a gunshot wound to his leg, holding the gun over the two men that had robbed the store and shot Buck. One of the men was not moving. Chris saw that he was dead, a bullet had taken a good portion of his head off. The other man, who might have been having thoughts of fleeing, changed his mind when he saw Chris's gun aimed at his own head.
"Put the gun down!" the security guard barked out, pointing his own weapon at Vin, ready to shoot him if necessary.
"He's one of mine!" Chris quickly explained, putting his hand to the guard's arm. "Take this other guy out."
"Chris?" Vin called, lowering the weapon he held. "They're the ones, Chris. They're the ones that shot Buck," he got out before leaning on the wall and sliding down to the floor.
"Vin!" the older man cried, rushing to Vin's side. He grabbed a blanket off Buck's bed, meeting Buck's gaze as he did so. Buck nodded to him, assuring him that he was alright before waving at Chris, telling him to tend to Vin. Chris nodded back before pressing the wadded up blanket against Vin's bloody leg. "You alright, Vin?" he asked.
"Am now, Cowboy," he replied, gazing at the dead body on the floor to his left. "Guess you was right, Chris."
"Guess bein' blind has its perks," Vin replied, looking at Chris now. "Least ways I don't have to see all the details. All the gory details, you know?"
"That wasn't what I'd been talking about, Vin," Chris retorted. "But this proves that despite your lack of twenty-twenty vision, you can still take care of not only yourself, but the rest of us, too. You saved Buck's life just now, Vin."
"Still ain't gonna have a job," the younger man put in.
"That's this week," Buck called out, having heard the conversation. "Never know what next week's gonna bring. Gotta have some faith, Vin. Just gotta have some faith."
The medical staff that had been cleared to enter the room to take care of Vin stopped any further conversation. Chris helped them lift the injured man up and put him onto a gurney to take him to a treatment room.
+ + + + + + +
"I'm sorry to have to call you down here, Agent Larabee, but I just didn't know what to do," the man said. "I'd heard about what had happened, and didn't think that they should be here, but they kept insisting that they were allowed to be here, and Agent Tanner does have a key to the place and all and..."
Chris stopped the man from further ramblings by holding up one hand and placing another reassuringly on his shoulder. "I'll take care of it, Frank," he said.
Grabbing a set of ear protectors, shatter resistant glasses and binoculars from the storage locker, he walked through the clubhouse and out toward the firing range. He saw the two men down at the farthest section. Vin was sitting against one of the low cover walls, his injured leg splayed out in front of him, his crutches lying on the ground to his left. He was shooting down range with his issued forty-five while Buck sat on a chair just behind and to the right of him, watching the targets through a pair of binoculars.
Chris watched silently as the pair shot and scored. He lifted his own set of binoculars and smiled as he saw the holes fill the silhouette fifty yards away. Center mass. One hundred percent.
He turned around and left, without saying a word.