With a satisfied grin, Chris swiveled his chair around and looked out the window at the Denver skyline as he listened to the Monday morning banter in the outer office. Some things never changed. Since the formation of the team, every Monday morning was the same. Lifting his arms and folding his hands behind his head, Chris smiled and closed his eyes. Inhaling deeply, he smelled Ezra's cappachino as the aroma drifted through the office. The sounds of roughhousing signaled that Buck and J.D. were reenacting a play from one of the previous day's football games. The low tones of Nathan and Josiah, oblivious to the antics of the others and deeply involved in conversation, followed.
As usual, the team's sharpshooter had not made his presence known until....one...two...three...Ah... Chris smiled broadly. There he is. Chris shook his head in amusement. Yep, Vin had forgotten his computer password again. He silently chuckled as he listened to the muttered curses while Vin attempted to log on to his computer.
"Mr. Tanner, I don't understand, how in the space of two days you always manage to forget how to log on to your computer." Ezra smirked as he successfully logged the Texan on.
Chris continued to eavesdrop without turning around. It always went the same.
"It never ceases to amaze me, how you are able to conquer the most formidable opponents, and yet...are rendered incompetent by a virtually idiot proof computer system."
Without looking, Chris knew what Ezra did not. As he returned to his desk, Vin was mimicking him behind his back, Chris was sure of it. Stretching as he stood, Chris let out a low groan and worked the kinks out of his lower back. Grabbing his mug he headed for the door leading to the outer office.
"Children," he teased, "ready to get down to work? We've got a lot of work and a short week."
Pouring himself a cup of coffee, he turned and smiled as he watched Vin rifling through a pile of papers on the disaster he called a desk.
"Mr. Tanner, what are you doing?" Ezra inquired with an exasperated tone as he stood and leaned over in an attempt to stop a pile of papers from cascading on to his own desk.
"My pencil. Can't find m' damn pencil 'n I jus' had it..." Vin muttered absently without stopping.
"Vin," Chris smiled as he reached up and touched his own ear.
Frowning, Vin reached up and smiled as he arched his eyebrows and pulled his missing pencil from behind his ear.
"Hey, that's right," J.D. responded enthusiastically. "Thanksgiving's this week!"
Chris turned away and began studying the bagels on the table in front of him. Another holiday. Chris had never really enjoyed the holidays. First time he'd ever really celebrated them, had been with Sarah. Now, here he was living through another one without her. Existing through would be a more appropriate description. Damn. Why can't we just skip Thanksgiving altogether? Got nothing to be thankful for anyhow.
"What's everyone doing for Thanksgiving?" J.D. asked. His brow creased and he scowled as he waited impatiently for an answer he didn't get. Since everyone had suddenly become intent on their work, J.D. decided to pry a conversation out of them. He'd worked with these men for a while, and assumed he knew what they'd be doing to pass the holiday.
"So...Josiah, guess you'll be serving dinner down at the soup kitchen again?"
"No, J.D.," Josiah frowned as he looked up. "I've never served dinner before, hadn't really given it any thought...doesn't sound like a bad idea though..."
"Mr. Sanchez, you should," the southerner offered. "Mother and I do it every year, and then we go out to a dinner of our own," Ezra lazily drawled. "This is the first year we aren't spending the day together, and surprisingly, I find myself missing her already."
J.D. sat down in his chair, surprised at this information.
"Buck, you must have a hot date."
"Yep, I do."
J.D. smiled triumphantly.
"With a turkey," Buck continued.
J.D.'s eyes widened incredulously.
"Cook me a big ol' turkey every year, have some friends over..." Buck added as he patted his stomach.
So, he still does that, Chris frowned and continued to listen without turning around.
"Nathan, your whole family must all get together?"
"Nope. Not since we've all grown and moved out."
J.D. looked around the room in disbelief at each of the men until his gaze settled on Vin. Vin had stayed out of the conversation and was frowning intently as he pecked at his keyboard with two fingers.
"Vin, you ever get a chance to celebrate Thanksgiving at the orphanage?" J.D. wondered.
Oh, good lord, when will he ever learn to keep his mouth shut? Chris's jaw tensed as he waited for the Texan's response.
"J.D.," Vin let out a tired sigh. "I hate ta disappoint ya...but I ain't Oliver Twist..."
Josiah snorted, and covering his mouth with his hand, turned away chuckling.
"Always had a nice dinner waiting right after I got home from playing in the game." Vin stated.
"Oliver Twist?" J.D. asked.
"Christ, J.D." Buck cuffed the back of the boy's head. "Thought you were smart, went to Boston Latin and all."
J.D. continued to look at the others, not getting the point of what Vin had said.
"You know Oliver Twist," Buck insisted. "Please sir, may I have some more?" he offered.
"Except in Vin's case, it would be," Josiah began as he tried to hold back the laughter threatening to erupt, "please sir can I have some more...but don't let any of my food touch," he finished in a high pitched voice. Wiping tears of laughter from his eyes, Josiah leaned back and smiled as he remembered the dinner they had all shared a few nights earlier.
J.D. smiled as he also remembered the dinner and watched to see how Vin would respond to the good natured teasing. Turning around, Chris found himself idly wondering what position Vin had played in high school. He didn't have long to wait as he watched Vin launch a wad of paper in a perfect spiral, directly at Josiah's forehead.
Buck clapped his hands and rubbed them together.
"So, what do you all say? Want to all have dinner at Chris's house?"
"Buck..." Chris's eyes flashed.
"Don't worry about it Chris, I'll cook it all." Buck turned and whispered loudly to Nathan, "I always do."
Sighing, Chris tipped his head back.
"Come on Chris, your place has the most room..."
Lowering his head, Chris looked at the members of his team. All eyes were looking at him expectantly, settling his gaze on two blue eyes looking at him hopefully, he made up his mind.
"Okay, what the hell..."
+ + + + + + +
Thanksgiving morning dawned crisp and clear. Six members of the team descended on Chris's ranch bright and early, followed by Nettie and Casey Wells. After stretching his initial plans for dinner on Thursday into a weekend get-together for the team, Buck had offered invitations to the team's extended family. Chris put his legs up on the railing as he settled in his chair with a hot cup of coffee. The smell of the roasting turkey awakened memories of happy times, and rather than feeling angry, he was content. He smiled as he watched the members of his team playing touch football on the lawn below him. If you could accurately describe what they were doing as touch football.
"Josiah, put Vin down before you break him," Chris laughed as he watched Josiah run across the goal line with Vin over his shoulder.
Chris looked up and behind him when he felt a hand rest on his shoulder.
"How are you doing, Chris?"
Nettie sat down and smiled at the men running and laughing on the lawn below them.
"Holidays are the hardest...always are," the older woman stated without looking at Chris. "Hard to be thankful when you're busy hating the world that snatches the ones you love," Nettie added.
Without turning his head, Chris directed his gaze at her.
"I've lost loved ones too, Chris...someday...you'll learn to cherish the memories that can't be taken away, and be thankful for the ones you're creating now." The small woman smiled wistfully at the men running on the lawn. "Sometimes, love has a way of sneaking up on you when you least expect it."
Chris followed her line of vision and saw that she too was watching a certain sharpshooter, sprawled flat on his back as he laughed.
"Takes a whole lot less energy to appreciate your friends than it does to hate yourself for still being alive."
Swallowing the lump that had formed in his throat, Chris silently nodded while he watched Buck dancing after scoring another touchdown.
+ + + + + + +
"Okay, everyone got everything?" Buck asked as he started to sit down.
"Vin,stop playing with your food," Chris ordered. "It's not gonna kill ya if the gravy touches the cranberry sauce."
"VINCENT MICHAEL TANNER" Nettie thundered as she glanced up and caught the last part of Vin's hand gesture to Chris.
"Hah! Bagged!" J.D. chortled around a mouth full of food.
"And you, keep that mouth shut when you have food in it," Nettie ordered as she pointed a finger at J.D.
+ + + + + + +
"Damn. I forgot the whipped cream."
"Something wrong, Buck?" Chris asked as he walked around Buck's backside as it protruded from the refrigerator.
"Oh, nothing," Buck muttered. "I wanted to serve strawberry shortcake and forgot the damned whipped cream."
Chris's brow furrowed as he looked at his oldest friend. Reaching around the other man, he grabbed a beer and cleared his throat.
"I'm worried about ya, Buck. When exactly did ya develop these Martha Stewart tendencies?"
"I just wanted everything to be perfect..."
Twisting the bottle, Chris threw the cap in the trash and smiled before taking a large swallow.
"Well, the mini-mart down by the interstate is open, go get some."
Buck smiled as plan started to form in his head.
"After how the Pats just did in their game, I reckon J.D. owes me...I'll get him to go. Think Vin would give him a ride? He looks like he's got a case of indigestion brewing about the Cowboys, might like to get out and get some fresh air..."
Leaning back casually against the sink, Chris smiled. "Think again. Didn't ya notice he came with Ezra? Transmission in his jeep went."
"Okay, I'll send J.D. and he can fill my tank while he's at it."
Chris quirked his eyebrows and snorted.
"You're gonna let him drive your truck?"
"Junior can go with him...keep him outta trouble."
"Great," Chris muttered as he shook his head. "Vin 'Lead Foot' Tanner and J.D. 'What Stop Sign?' Dunne...now there's an unholy alliance."
+ + + + + + +
" 'kay J.D. ... you fill 'er up and I'll run inside and get the whipped cream and pay for the gas."
Vin jumped down from the truck and trotted inside.
Finishing his task, J.D. climbed behind the wheel and buckled his seat belt just as Vin opened the door and jumped in. The next few moments seemed to pass in a blur of slow motion. In the next few weeks, neither young man would be able to recall what had happened. J.D. felt a jarring thud as the rear glass suddenly showered the interior of the cab.
"Oh..." he winced and reached out instinctively as he watched Vin bounce off the windshield and fall back, unconscious.
+ + + + + + +
"Sir...can you hear me? Where do you hurt?"
What? J.D. turned and cast an annoyed glance in the direction of the insistent voice.
"M' chest, neck.." he rambled.
"Okay, hold on there...don't move. Let us do all the work."
J.D. groaned as he was eased from behind the steering wheel and helped on to a waiting stretcher.
"Oh...shit." J.D. tried to sit up as realization came to him. "Buck's gonna kill me."
"No...no...stay put," the medic instructed as he tightened the straps across J.D. and checked the soft cervical collar he had applied earlier. "It's not your fault...it was an accident...this Buck's not gonna 'kill' ya."
"VIN" J.D. again tried to sit up when he remembered he hadn't been alone. He started to panic as he felt his heart pounding and his throat constrict. "Vin...where's Vin?" He started to squirm, his eyes searching wildly for the other man. "Oh...no," he choked out when he finally located his friend. Squeezing his eyes shut, he started to hyperventilate.
"Hey...hey...take it easy...it's okay..."
J.D. opened his eyes and looked over at his injured friend again. He felt his heart sink as he watched the paramedics working on Vin. From where he was, he could tell that Vin was unconscious. He was also strapped to a board, and wedges were strapped beside his head. When one of the paramedics moved to start an IV, J.D. saw the bandage on Vin's forehead and the blood caked on his face.
"Okay. we're ready over here." The paramedic walked over and checked J.D.'s condition again. Don, you guys take this one, he's more stable... Steve and I will take the other one."
"No...no...let me stay with Vin," J.D. pleaded and resumed his struggle.
"Listen...it's okay kid...your friend's going to the same hospital...not enough room in the same rig for both of you."
J.D. didn't want to hear this, he was frightened and didn't want to leave Vin alone.
"Hey...now listen...we can't help your friend if you don't calm down...we need to get him to the hospital..so you need to settle down, now..."
Reluctantly, J.D. relaxed and sadly watched as Vin was loaded into the back of an ambulance that left with its sirens blaring.
+ + + + + + +
"Where the hell are they?" Chris demanded.
"Easy, Chris...they probably lost track of time..." Josiah soothed.
"It don't take no two and a half hours to buy damned whipped cream!" Chris thundered as he looked at the wall clock for the umpteenth time.
"That kid puts so much as a scratch in my truck, and I'll kill him," Buck threatened.
The room instantly silenced as the phone began to ring. They all found themselves wondering how the phone could sound so ominous that you just knew bad news was on the other end.
"Ya...I know...I got it."
Chris felt the stares of the other men as they silently watched him holding the receiver.
"Yes...yes...where?...okay...we'll be right there."
Putting the receiver down solemnly, he sadly looked at the members of his team.
"There's been an accident."
+ + + + + + +
"All right...where the hell are they?" Buck slammed his hand down on the counter to get the receptionist's attention.
Seeing the irritation on her face, Josiah stepped forward. Ordinarily polite to a fault, tact was not a strong point of the members of the team when they were worried.
"Ma'am, I must apologize for my friend. We're friends of J.D. Dunne and Vin Tanner. We got a call from the police that there was an accident and they were taken here..." The young woman looked up at Josiah and started to open her mouth. Raising his hand slightly, Josiah continued. "I know...we're not blood kin. But ma'am, we're all the family those two boys have, and I personally would be mighty grateful if you could just tell us how they're doing."
The girl looked up at Josiah and smiled. She knew exactly who he was talking about. The two good looking young men had been quite a visual distraction on a busy holiday afternoon. She flushed slightly as she recalled overhearing the nurses discuss their physical attributes as they chose their favorites of the two. Leaning slightly to the side, she peered around Josiah and smiled. No one liked working a holiday, but these seven men sure made for nice scenery. Noticing the stern faced small woman behind the men, she gulped and righted herself and quickly checked her computer screen.
"Sir, they're in x-ray...I'll let the doctors know you're here and want to see them."
"Patty, can I see 'em yet?"
Josiah moved aside as a uniformed police officer stepped up to the desk.
"No, Tom...but these men are their friends."
As the officer turned around, Chris pulled out his wallet and opened it to reveal his I.D.
"We all are," Chris nodded. "I'm their supervisor."
"Well, can you tell us how they are?" Buck stepped to Chris's side. "How are they, and what the hell did they do to my truck now?"
The officer looked at Buck and grinned. "You must be Buck."
Buck shot a confused look at the man and raised an eyebrow.
"First off, you gotta promise not to kill J.D.," the officer chuckled as he shook his head slightly. Reaching into his pocket, he pulled out a small notepad and cleared his throat. "Okay, I want you all to know this wasn't their fault...that Dunne kid got pretty agitated thinking you were gonna be mad at him."
"Okay,okay...can you get to the point?" Chris hissed. "What happened?"
The officer looked up and wiped the grin from his face when he saw Chris's expression.
"From what witnesses told me...your two friends were at the pumps. The Dunne kid pumped the gas and Tanner ran inside. Just as Tanner climbed back in, they were rear-ended by a drunk driver." The officer looked up before continuing. "Dunne had his seatbelt on when we found him...looks like that's what kept him from hitting the steering wheel. Tanner never got a chance to get his on...he hit the windshield...was unconscious at the scene."
"Jesus," Chris exclaimed softly. Sudden memories sprang to his mind. He felt the hairs on the back of his neck raise as he remembered the last time he stood before a police officer and heard there had been an accident.
"Gentlemen, Mr. Dunne's back from x-ray. The nurses just called and said you could come out back..."
+ + + + + + +
Buck's shoulders sagged with relief as he stepped around the curtain and looked at J.D. The nurse with him was removing the cervical collar and helping the young man to a sitting position.
Seeing Buck and Chris, J.D.'s eyes welled with unshed tears. No one had told him about Vin, except to say they were taking good care of him. But as he looked at the solemn faces, he knew it had to be bad news.
"B...B...Buck....I...I'm sorry," he stammered.
"J.D., ya scared the hell outta me kid," Buck quickly moved to J.D.'s side and wrapped him in a gentle hug. "How is he?" Buck asked the nurse standing to the side.
"X-rays came back okay...doc's gonna release him...he's gonna be stiff and sore for a couple of days, but he should be fine. Here's a prescription for some pain-killers and a mild sedative. Any problems at all, you give us a call."
"Okay...okay." Chris dragged his hand through his hair before settling it back on his hip. "Tanner. Vin Tanner. We were told he was brought here too."
The nurse smiled at the anxious men. "Looks like he's got a concussion. His x-rays were okay, we sent him for a CT scan just to be on the safe side. But it looks like he was pretty lucky too.."
Chris sighed as relief spread through him. He turned and gave a half smile to Nathan as he sensed the medic's entrance.
"Can we take him home?"
A look of doubt crossed the young woman's face.
"Well...I," she hedged.
"Nathan here's a paramedic," Chris offered hopefully. He didn't want Vin to spend the remainder of Thanksgiving in the hospital.
With a small smile, the nurse gathered her paperwork and turned to Chris as she pushed the curtain open for J.D. to leave.
"I'll tell the doctor and you can discuss it with him," she smiled as she left.
+ + + + + + +
Chris smiled down at the sharpshooter as he stroked his head. he winced when Vin hissed and opened his eyes as his fingers brushed the dressing on the Texan's forehead.
"S'okay," the younger man slurred. He helped Vin turn on his side quickly when he noticed the panicked expression as Vin suddenly gulped.
"Oh...no...don't feel good," Vin gasped and swallowed as he finished retching into the bucket Buck held by his head. Looking up at Buck, Vin frowned.
"Gotta get the whipped cream," he sighed tiredly as he tried to sit up.
"Shh....it's okay Junior, don't worry yourself about the whipped cream." Buck whispered as he gently kept the younger man from rising. Buck and Chris turned as the curtain parted and the doctor and Nathan entered.
"Gentlemen, I've spoken with Mr. Jackson, and I feel comfortable releasing Mr. Tanner to his care. The CT scan looks okay, but you understand, he's sustained a concussion? I want him kept quiet and you get him back here if there's any change in his condition." The doctor stopped and studied the men surrounding him. "Here's some instructions. Call if you have any questions or concerns...any at all." Seeing the men nod their understanding, he left them alone to get Vin up and dressed.
+ + + + + + +
"It's okay Vin....that's it....there ya go....one foot in front of the other." Chris kept his voice low and calm as they half walked, half dragged the dazed man inside the house. He and Josiah stood in the doorway as Nathan and Buck deposited J.D. on the recliner. Looking at each other over Vin's head, they grunted in agreement as they headed for the couch and gently eased him down.
"Mmm...hmmmmm....." Vin nodded as he slowly blinked and looked around, obviously confused. Squinting, he tried to make sense out of the blurry forms dancing before his eyes.
"Y'already ate, Vin." Nathan smiled as he sat on the couch beside the lean young man. Pulling out a penlight, he checked Vin's pupils and smiled. Taking hold of Vin's hands, he placed his fingers in the palms. "Squeeze," he ordered. "How many fingers?"
"Uh..." Vin squinted and then closed one eye as he frowned at the hand in front of his face. "Three? No...four."
Chris frowned as he looked at the two fingers Nathan held up.
"It's okay Chris," Nathan stated. "His brain's been rattled some...he'll be okay."
+ + + + + + +
The beer long gone, Chris handed Buck a glass of wine before turning to sit down. Gently lifting Vin's legs, he carefully slid under them. The two old friends sat silently, listening to the slow rhythmic breathing of the two youngest team members. They were both exhausted and physically drained. The hours of worry at the hospital and then the return home had taken its toll. J.D. was stiff and sore and the painkillers had left him wobbly and woozy. On top of all that, Vin was also confused. Ordinarily stoic, Vin was disoriented enough that he answered all their questions honestly. They knew in no uncertain terms how nauseous he was and that he had a headache the size of Texas.
Buck snorted as he watched the flames dancing in the fireplace. Glancing at the sharpshooter, he smiled. "Funny how thick his drawl gets when he's tired or sick...sounds worse than Ezra." A few more minutes passed as Buck watched Vin sleeping. Shaking his head, he laughed softly as Chris looked at him, trying to see what was so funny.
"I don't think I've ever seen Junior asleep before. Looking at him in the firelight, with those tiny freckles on his nose, and that little drool in the corner of his mouth...shoot...it's hard to remember he's the big, bad, ATF sharpshooter he is..."
Chris looked down at the sleeping young man.
"Hey, how old is he, anyway?"
Chris scowled as he did some mental figuring before he answered.
"I don't know...twenty-three...twenty-four..."
"Damn...makes me feel old..." Buck sighed.
Chris smiled without answering. A few more minutes passed before either man spoke again.
"Been a long day."
"That it has..."
"Not like the old times, but it makes me think of them again."
Chris looked up and met Buck's eyes as he nodded in silent agreement. He felt a slight stab of guilt as he realized Buck felt and shared his loss as well.
"I've wasted a lot of years hating the world...trying to forget. Thinking I had nothing to be thankful for."
Buck glanced at Vin and smiled as the younger man mumbled incoherently and pushed at the heavy quilt covering him.
Chris looked down at his sleeping friend and gently pulled the covers back up before he looked down and stared at the rim of his glass.
"Nettie's a smart woman."
"That she is," Buck agreed as he took a sip from his glass.
"Said that someday...I'd learn to cherish the memories and appreciate what I have now."
Buck looked up and nodded as he agreed with Chris. The memories of old times with Chris's family still weighed heavy in his heart.
"Today...makes you appreciate how fragile things can be...and how lucky we are to have them," Chris nodded at J.D. and Vin. "Guess I do have more to be thankful for than I thought...don't know what I'd have done if we'd lost either one of them."
Sitting up straighter, Buck held his glass up and reached out to Chris.
Chris nodded as he smiled in agreement.
"To old memories that can never be taken...to the new ones we're adding now..." Buck began.
"And to these friends of mine..." Chris smiles as they touched glasses and each took a sip.
Putting his glass down, Buck rubbed his hands together and smiled mischievously.
"So what are we doin' for Christmas? I'll cook..."
Leaning his head back, Chris closed his eyes and shook his head.
"Buck..." he warned.
"Aww....come on Chris...I won't forget the whipped cream this time...I promise..."
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