Wow…. I absolutely cannot believe it took me this long to post this. I've had it written since 2007, but real life caught up and everything just kind of spun out of control. First off, thanks to MOG for letting everyone play around in her AU. Second, anything you recognize isn't mine.
Last, but certainly not least, a HUGE UBER-BELATED THANK YOU to retirw and pookwana for being the ones to beta this for me. Any mistakes are mine, not theirs.
Finding Family Chapter Three
Team Seven stood in the Miami Dade parking lot in front of the rental van from the airport. Vin looked anxiously from person to person. "We're stayin' together tanight?" His attempts to hide the nervousness in his voice failed miserably.
"Mr. Tanner, if it not too much trouble, would your domicile contain us all? I do believe we have sleeping bags in our packs." Astute as always, Ezra had realized that Vin wanted his team on what he would consider 'his' territory. Surely one night of discomfort is worth the peace of mind Vin needs right now.
"Y'all grabbed yer hazard bags?" The team had taken to keeping a small bag with a set of clothes, a sleeping bag, and as much instant coffee as they could carry at the office in case they got called out suddenly. They'd come in handy several times before.
Ezra paused for a moment, appearing to consider what he was going to say. "We were all in a quite 'ungentlemanly' rush to get to the airport."
"I'll second that," Buck snorted, a grin pulling at his lips. "Chris nearly ran over a couple of little ol' ladies that were taking to long to cross the street!"
Vin glanced at the ladies man for a moment, too out of it to appreciate the joke, before he ducked his head.
"I'll warn y'all right now, my 'partment ain't much. Hell, it's barely fit ta be called livable, but it'll fit all 'a us for the night."
"Then we stay there, Cowboy." Chris had also seen Vin's need to have them all in one place, and, even if Vin hadn't offered, Chris had absolutely no intention of letting Vin out of his sight for a while.
The seven of them piled in the van. Josiah drove and Chris gave up his shotgun seat when Vin still hadn't moved more than an inch from his side and didn't show any signs of changing that soon.
The ride was short as Vin directed Josiah to an old apartment building in what everyone agreed was Miami's version of Purgatorio. When they walked in the door of the lobby, Vin didn't even bother with the elevator, just headed straight to the stairs and everyone followed.
"Mr. Tanner," Ezra said as the door to Vin's apartment opened. "I am currently finding myself on the lookout for low flying swine. I do believe I like your apartment at home better."
Vin's 'apartment' was comprised of one small kitchen/living room, and another room off the side. The only furniture in the entire apartment was a small twin bed, a cheap wooden dresser, a ratty old sofa, and, of course, a gun safe.
"I told yah it ain't," Vin broke off quickly and everyone turned to look at him. He had abruptly turned a pasty white color and was clutching the wall to keep upright. "Oh shit," he got out before dry heaving painfully as Chris supported him and Nathan rubbed circles on his back.
"What's going on, cowboy?" Chris's voice was sharp when Vin stood up again.
"I don't suppose ya'd believe it was jist a dizzy spell?"
"Not with those dry heaves," Nathan interrupted dryly. "That wasn't a normal dizzy spell."
The thin sharpshooter looked at him for a moment and sighed. "Damn it. Yer gonna go 'n git all papa bear on me when I tell ya, ain't ya?"
Nathan just looked at him. There was silence for a moment before Vin sighed.
"Kin we at least git inside first?"
"As soon as we get inside, you're letting me do a full exam." There was no mistaking the iron hard tone in Nathan's voice.
The solemn procession filed into Vin's living room and managed to find seats around the ratty sofa. Nathan was grabbing the med kit from his bag as everyone settled in and Vin still refused to move from Chris's side.
"Vin, why don't you go ahead and take off your shirts while I get my stuff together?"
Surprising everyone, Vin did as he was told without comment and began unbuttoning his shirts. Chris began to get apprehensive after the third shirt; his friend only wore baggy clothes when he wanted to hide something.
"Damn Vin!" JD blurted at the fifth layer, "How many shirts do you have on?"
Vin looked down uncomfortably. "This is tha last."
When the shirts were finally off, Chris dug his fingernails in his palms. Buck put an arm around JD and Nathan closed his eyes as the physical proof of the hell his friend had been in became apparent. Thin didn't even begin to cover the way Vin looked. Every rib stuck out and his myriad scars contrasted starkly with the too pale skin.
"Vin," Nathan struggled to keep his voice level. "How much do you weigh right now?"
The sharpshooter had folded into himself, unconsciously moving closer to Chris. "Last month I weight 'round 110 pounds."
"And now?" Nathan prompted gently.
"I reckin' I weigh 'bout 95 give 'er take a few pounds."
Nathan sucked in a breath. For his height, Vin needed to weigh between 130 and 170 pounds. Swallowing, he continued questioning; knowing Vin wouldn't volunteer any information, but now was probably the only time he would get straight answers. "How much are able to eat?"
"I'se ain't been able ta keep nothin's solid down fer least a month." Nathan paled. "An old, um, friend, of mine from the Army sent somethin' the docs used ta give us when we came back from a mission."
Nathan closed his eyes, fighting down the horror he felt at Vin's state. "Sleep?" He finally managed to get out.
Vin looked down and mumbled something.
"Vin?" Chris prompted, nudging him to speak up.
"I'se only been sleepin' 'bout an hour a night 'fore the nightmares come."
"Damn it, Tanner!" Nathan exploded. "Do you realize how dangerous that is?! There is a reason agents are supposed to be in good health, and there's no way in hell anybody knows how little you actually weigh! You could have been killed!"
"I reckin' so." Something in Vin's voice halted Nathan in his tracks.
"What do you mean 'you reckon so'?" His voice was sharper than he had intended it to be.
Vin turned his full attention to Nathan and let what few guards he had left down. The sheer agony in his eyes staggered the group. "I'se thought y'all were dead! I had ta go 'n identify yer guns because yer bodies were to badly charred to be identified!" His voice broke. "All I could smell was burnin' flesh. It's still all I kin smell now! I wasn't gonna dishonor all that ya did by eatin' a bullet, but I jist," he trailed off, willing them to understand, "Jist didn't care anymore." He looked at Chris, "Reckin it was kinda like when ya lost yer family, cowboy. It ain't livin' without 'em."
Buck came forward, unashamed of his tears and swept Vin up into a bear hug. He was shocked at how frail the Texan was. "Junior, we're all right here, and ain't moving for a long time."
At six o'clock, JD got on his cell phone and ordered Chinese when it became apparent no one had any desire to do a grocery run. Nathan happily noticed that JD had asked for plain white rice instead of fried, and the food was suspiciously plain and semi-healthy compared to the usual order at the seven's gatherings.
While Team Seven waited, they didn't talk about anything serious, just caught Vin up on what was going on in Denver. Lisa down in PR had finally had her baby and the Johnson case had been wrapped up by Kelly's team.
In the car ride over, Vin had asked if the question part could wait until they got home to Chris's ranch. Six ears trained to search for every clue with the least amount of information gleefully noted that Vin had referred to the ranch as home.
Finally, the food came and the delivery boy was paid a large tip after he was greeted at the door by six guns and a pair of blue eyes watching warily from the couch in the center of the room. Nathan kept a worried eye on Tanner as he ate dinner.
An hour later, Nathan approached the subject. "Vin, you full?"
"Yeah." He eyed Nathan carefully.
"Tanner, all you ate was a couple bites of rice and a piece of steamed broccoli," Chris pointed out. Apparently, Nathan hadn't been the only one on the lookout for the slim Texan.
"More 'n I been able ta keep down fer a month." The voice was soft and wary as he pointed this out.
"God Vin," Nathan's eyes pleaded with him to understand. "I don't want to do this, but I have to put you on a drip. You're over thirty five pound underweight!"
"No!" Vin scrambled back, accidentally moving right into Chris's chest. "No needles! I ain't doin' it again! No this time. Never, never again," he vowed frantically, trying to get out of Chris's gentle grasp.
//Cowboy, you have to calm down! No one's going to force you to do anything.//
The trembling eased a bit. //Ya promise?//
"I promise." Chris said it out loud, making sure the others heard. "No one will make you do anything you don't want to."
Blue eyes locked with green. "It happent a long time ago, cowboy."
"Junior, you ain't got nothing to be ashamed of," Buck spoke, guessing the quiet sharpshooter was ashamed of his outburst. "If you don't want to explain, you don't have to."
"Y'all need ta know. Nate 'specially. It has ta do wit' tha reason I hate IVs when I'm in tha damn hospital." He paused. "I kin usually handle it, but… " The voice trailed off, but he didn't need to continue.
"But not when you are so worn down?" Ezra finished for him, leaving off his usual grandiose vocabulary. Vin nodded.
The frantic struggles had finally ceased, but the Texan refused to move from Chris's grasp.
Vin took a deep breath before he began speaking with his head bowed. "It happent right after a really bad mission. It was real quite like; we weren't never there." Covert Ops. The words he didn't say echoed noisily in the still room. "When we'se got back from…tha place…, I weight jist over 100 pounds 'n tha docs wanted me on a drip, but they'se didn't have all tha reports from tha mission." Vin looked up suddenly, his eyes wide and full of pain. "I tolt 'em no, Chris! I tolt 'em no, but they didn't listen," his eyes pleaded with Chris to believe him.
"Hey Pard, we know you told them. It's OK," Chris soothed, turning Vin around to face him and pulling the trembling man into a loose hug. Vin didn't fight it, and rested his forehead on Chris's shoulder
"They'se 'termined ta put in tha drip, sa they jist ignored all a' us when we told 'em tha we'd sign any damn forms they needed, jist no IV." He gulped. "When I said no, they tied me down. I fought 'em, but there was too many of 'em, Chris! The restraints were big, 'n leather, 'n wouldn't let me move, 'n"
//Pard, you aren't there anymore, you hear me? Everything's O.K.// Chris soothed his friend, his heart hurting for what he suspected had happened on that mission.
"On tha mission, tha one tha docs didn't know 'bout, we'se been… Well, you kin prob'ly guess what happened… At night, they kept all 'a us tied down, jist like they'se did in tha hospital. Ever since, I'se been mighty afraid a IVs, specially without one a y'all there wit me," Vin revealed quietly.
Cold fury burned in Ezra's heart. He didn't care how long it took; once everything was calmer, he would find those doctors and make them pay. And from the raw looks on the other's faces as Vin hid his head in Chris's shoulder, he wouldn't be short of help.
Nathan's suspiciously misty eyes were devastated. If there was any other way, he'd take it, but Vin needed that drip. There was a good chance severe organ damage could occur if Vin didn't gain some of his lost weight back in the next few days.
"Vin?" JD's quiet voice was a surprise.
"Yeah, JD?" Vin still didn't move from his position in Chris's arms.
"You won't be alone this time." The softly uttered sentiment was spoken with absolute and utter conviction. "Please Vin, I know you're scared, but I'm scared too. You're family, and I don't want to…to lose you. My mom was as skinny as you are when she died. The," he took a breath to calm himself. "The doctors said that if she'd just had a little more weight, a little more strength, she might have made it." At this, JD's voice broke. "Please don't leave me, Vin."
Vin got up like a big cat, and moved silently to envelop JD in a bear hug. He looked over at Nathan. "Do I need tha drip?"
Nathan wanted nothing more than to be able to tell Vin that no, he didn't need the drip, but he forced himself to nod shakily. It wasn't just a precaution to put him on a drip, it was the only thing that would work now.
Vin lowered his head onto the top of JD's forehead before he spoke quietly. "I'll do it."
For the next few hours, everyone sat in the living room and talked quietly while Vin was on the drip. No one said a word when Vin refused to let go of Chris's hand even when he went to go get a cup of coffee. Vin simply picked up the bag of fluids and followed Chris.
When the drip was finally done, Team Seven laid out their sleeping bags and tried to rest.
Chris woke up with a gasp as something moved nearby, his hand automatically reaching for where his gun should be. Long hair lying on his arm halted his hand in its tracks. Vin was curled up against him, arms wrapped around himself and head buried in Chris's chest. Aw hell, cowboy. He quietly stroked Vin's back and got both of them moved into a more comfortable position. The Texan's head ended up tucked under Chris's chin and the blonde didn't move when Vin wrapped his arms around him as silent sobs rocked his body. His heart broke as Vin unconsciously burrowed deeper into him, shaking so hard he was almost vibrating.
Instinctively clutching the slim man closer to him, Chris gently rocked his friend until the shaking lessened and he eventually fell asleep.
Buck woke up early the next morning, surprised he wasn't smelling the battery acid Vin passed off as coffee. He turned over to wake up Chris and pulled short. He and Vin were wrapped around one another, and even in his sleep, Chris was unconsciously rubbing Vin's trembling back. The so-called "bad-ass" team leader's cheek was resting on Vin's hair and Buck could see Vin's face buried into Chris's shoulder. No way in hell am I waking those two up, he thought, smiling happily at how peaceful his friends looked at that moment.
Movement registered in the corner of his eye, and he turned slightly to see Josiah, Nathan, JD, and Ezra squeezed onto the ratty couch, drinking coffee and watching Vin and Chris sleep. When Josiah saw he was awake, he motioned over to a pile of sleeping bags that had been laid out against the wall to resemble a chair of sorts. Quietly, Buck grabbed the waiting coffee and slipped into the chair to watch his friends.
Nathan's voice was quiet when he finally spoke. "Vin has been having nightmares on and off through out the night, so don't be surprised if Vin seems to be a little closer than usual. He'll probably need to reassure himself we're all still alive."
"Even if he needs a god damn group hug in the middle of the street, he'll get it." Buck's voice dared anyone to contradict him.
"Why are they sleeping so late? Usually they're the first ones up." JD was worried about Chris and Vin. The alert sharpshooter would normally be awake at even the sounds of a blanket shifting, somebody talking should have had the effect of a bullhorn on him.
Josiah sighed and put a fatherly arm around the boy. "Vin's been having nightmares almost every night for the past four months, and God knows Chris ain't been much better."
That sobered them for a moment. Nathan had actually resorted to drugging Chris's coffee to get him to rest.
"This is probably the closest either of them has had to a real nights sleep since the night before that bust."
They all fell silent as Vin shifted and started shaking violently in his sleep, caught tight in the throes of another nightmare. The five men watched as Chris pulled Vin closer to him and started rocking him gently, letting the lean sharpshooter burrow his head further into his chest and hold onto him in a death grip.
Thirty minutes later, when Chris and Vin finally woke up, no one said a word about the unusual sleeping arrangements. An unspoken decision among the others agreed that they would all be staying at Chris's when they got back to Denver. Family stays close when one of them is in trouble.
As they had expected, Horatio, Eric, Calleigh, and Wolfe were all waiting in the office when Team Seven walked in the door.
The two leaders stood there for a few moments, neither one breaking eye contact. Finally, Horatio looked down. Realizing what was going on, Vin waited until Horatio broke eye contact before stepping forward.
"Lt. Caine, this is mah team." Vin smiled widely, still overwhelmed from finding out everyone was alive. "Y'all, this is Lt. Horatio Caine, Eric Delko, Ryan Wolfe, 'n tha pretty one is Calleigh Duquesne." Instinctively, Vin had introduced the others first to give his team the advantage in knowledge without even realizing it. Stepping back, he continued the introductions. "The one wit' tha mustache is Buck Wilmington, tha one in tha suit's Ezra Standish, tha short one," Vin ignored the small squeak of protest, "is JD Dunne, tha two standin' in tha back are Josiah Sanchez and Nathan Jackson, 'n finally, the one tha's scowlin 'n dressed 'n black is Chris Larabee."
Chris stepped forward, his eyes glittering coldly, "Lieutenant Caine, Agent Tanner is being permanently transferred back to Denver."
"The paperwork has already been started."
Chris blinked in surprise and Lt. Caine smiled softly. "Detective Casey was kind enough to stop by last night and fill us in on the basics."
"Detective Casey?" Chris growled.
"Detective Casey's brother, Agent Justin Casey, was visiting yesterday and he saw Agent Tanner in the shooting range. He told his brother generally what was going on and got the first available plane to Denver."
"I'll have ta thank 'im," Vin said softly. "He did a good job lettin' you guys know instead of jist comin' up 'n tellin me first. I probly would 'a decked 'im 'n run."
Horatio changed the subject, sensing that it wasn't a comfortable one. "All the paperwork needs is Agent Tanner and yourselfs signatures."
Josiah stepped forward. "Thank you for your foresight. As you can imagine, we all want to go home right about now."
Horatio nodded as Chris and Vin stepped forward to sign the papers.
"Tanner, you're free to go. You'll need to be back here for the Weeks case, but it probably won't be for over a month."
As all this was happening, the team from Miami surreptitiously watched Vin; they'd never seen this side of him before. The lean man was right in the middle of the odd group of seven. Not only that, three of the agents were standing behind him. Vin never let anyone stand behind him. It was one of the unspoken rules about Tanner that everyone had learned, and learned quickly. No one walked behind him. No one came close to him. No one crowded him. And most importantly of all, no one touched him. These seven men had just broken everyone of those rules. Dear Lord, if Tanner and Larabee got any closer, they'd be standing on top of each other!
"Do you need any help finding a flight, Agent Larabee?"
"No. Thank you, but we found one last night. Actually," Chris looked at his watch, "we should probably be heading to the airport about now since we have to check in our weapons."
Ezra nodded. "I would have to agree. The airport security in Denver is used to the amount of weaponry we generally secure on our persons, however, I doubt that the Miami airport will be as accommodating."
After a few more moments of well-wishing, Team Seven was underway to the airport.
Miami- Dade Airport Security
Officer Kane looked at the seven men on front of him and gulped silently. Between the group, they could supply an army in a third world country with the guns hidden somewhere on their bodies.
So far, everyone but a thin, lean man with long hair hanging down to his shoulders had laid their various guns on the counter. Each man had had a minimum of three weapons. God, even the kid, Dunne, had that many!
"Vin?" The leader, a tall, whip cord lean man, nudged the seventh member.
//You OK?// Chris prompted when Tanner still hadn't moved.
//I'se carryin' more guns then even y'all are used ta, not ta mention tha officer behind tha counter.//
Now Chris knew why Vin had been so hesitant. The lean sharpshooter was forever afraid of causing a scene, mortified at the attention of anyone but his team members.
//He won't say anything.// Chris promised with a slight growl and a warning glare to Kane.
Silently, Vin acquiesced and started placing his weaponry on the surface. Two Colts, a Glock, a Sig Sauer, and three knives were laid out in less than a minute. No one could figure out where the third Colt and the last two knives came from though.
"Damn Junior!" Buck's startled statement seemed to sum up the feelings of everyone present.
Vin ducked his head and mumbled something.
"Kid, only Chris can hear you when you don't talk," Buck said softly, trying to get the younger man to speak louder.
Vin looked up and locked eyes with his friends. "Y'all weren't there ta watch mah back."
The quiet statement sobered the group, awed at the amount of trust Vin had given them. The Texan had a powerful streak of independence in him. To willingly allow himself to trust in them to keep him safe was something even they didn't know they'd earned. Granted, the team knew he'd given Chris the privilege of protecting him when he was vulnerable, but to have him actually verbalize that they had earned that trust was something they thought they would never hear.
//Pard, we have your back now.//
Turning their backs on the terrified Officer Kane, Team Seven strode to the terminal, people scattering before the seven men who had unconsciously formed the familiar flying arrow.
I still haven't decided if I'm going to write another chapter for this. There's a few ideas floating around in my head, but I'm not sure I want to add anything else. However, that's dependent on reviews. . . I love them and the more I get, the more likely it is for me to write more. Also, since I haven't written anything else yet, if you have a plot bunny that you want to come next, let me know and it may just find its way into the story. (Rest assured, credit will be given.)
Happy Writing! (And Reviewing!!!)