Beta/Fluffer (because she added to this to make it so much better, but is too humble to be a co-author): Mog (or mogue): A true friend freely, advises justly, assists readily, adventures boldly, takes all patiently, defends courageously, and continues a friend unchangeably.
Warnings: Swearing. They are men involved in law enforcement. I'm leaving it at that.
Disclaimer: Magnificent 7 does not belong to me and must give credit to MOG for creating the ATF- it is still shiny.
Notes: I will apologize for my lengthy notes and number them. (1) This is a new fic based on information from AOL's Home of the Brave series and the book American Sniper. (2) It was mog's idea to commemorate 9/11- to those who lost their lives, for their families and for those first responders who are now ill. (3) Thank you to the US military. Please support our veterans-they need jobs, homes and opportunity. (4) At one point there is description about the foster care system. This is based on a real case. Think about helping foster kids as they age out of the system. (5) This is Vin centric, but the others are there and I wrote it because of my nostalgia trip along with wanting a Vin who is not broken, not feminine, not childlike and not uneducated. (6) If you have not read mog's (or mogue) new fic, The Cutting Demon please do so along with Sin City by slakalot (AJ). These are stories that are not to be missed. (7) Yes, I made it to seven and had to save it for my friends who I met from this fandom all those years ago. They know they are my true friends and have always had my back. To those I lost touch with-please reach out to me since I loved to hear from you. If you are a past fellow fanfic writer from M7 then I encourage you to archive your works with blackraptor or at fanfiction. net – we do not want to lose the wealth of writing from this fandom.
If this is my initial enlistment, I must serve a total of eight (8) years. Any part of that service not served on active duty must be served in a Reserve Component, unless I am sooner discharged. Military Enlistment Contract
The envelope in Vin's hand made it all real—the U.S. was at war. A very small part of him had even anticipated this. Before Thanksgiving, when he had visited Chanu, his old friend had brought up this possibility. That conversation had stuck in his head. He didn't have to open the letter—he knew what it said.
In the months following September 11, Vin had felt an unexplainable desire to reconnect with a few of the men he has served with in the Army. He and Chanu had half-joked about how even the Ute Indian—an ex-Ranger released on an honorable discharge for medical reasons—would be brought back for duty in the Middle East. That night they had drunk their beers and remembered mostly-forgotten stories of their military time. And they left some thoughts unspoken.
Now, Vin stood in his living room, staring at the return address of an organization that had not sent him anything in almost five years. He carefully pulled up the flap, trying not to tear it, and slipped the white stiff stationary from the tenacious grasp of the envelope. He gave it a quick review, then folded the pristine letter back into thirds, careful to make the folds crisp, and returned it to the envelope. He placed it on the coffee table, leaning it against the remote control holder where he would see it from every point in the room. His life was about to change again.
Outside, streetlamps filtered the neighboring buildings in an amber glow. It was never truly dark in the city. At that moment, Vin was happy to add to the artificial light source. The Douglas fir standing in the corner seemed to physically warm the room when he plugged in its Christmas lights. Illuminated in blue, red, green and white, the tree offered a gentle light that helped Vin relax.
The tree had gone up right after Thanksgiving, giving the apartment a fragrant scent, bringing a little of the outdoors inside his Purgatorio apartment. Intermittently hung were ornaments made by the kids in the building, which he proudly displayed.
With a soft sigh, he pulled his hair from its ponytail and roughly ran a hand through it. He stood for a moment, staring at the Christmas tree. Then, as if it was just another evening, he traded his work clothes, ATF badge and sidearm for sweats, a t-shirt and leftovers with a Broncos game.
Morning came and he started his normal routine with a run. The workout had a twofold result—keeping up the cardio and assessing the neighborhood. The sun would not officially rise until close to seven a.m. but the early morning revealed things that the night tried to hide.
Back at his apartment he worked with the hanging heavy bag; tomorrow would be free weights. And any workout finished with stretching. Strength and flexibility had saved his ass on the job more than a few times.
He cracked a window to let some cold air into the now-stuffy apartment. He knew he could work out at the gym in the federal building but the kids in his building liked the access to his equipment, so he kept it available for them. He planned on eventually creating a gym in the basement of the building, but it would require time and permission from the idle, absentee landlord.
The letter still sat on the coffee table, deterring Vin from reaching for the remote to turn on the television. He chose the radio for his morning news before taking a quick shower. As the reporter gave numbers on the December job report, Vin made himself a peanut butter and jelly sandwich for breakfast. By the time he got to filling his Sigg water bottle, the polite-sounding man offered the latest crime in the Denver area just in time for the holiday season.
Since that Tuesday morning in September, new protocol had been implemented at the Federal Building. The parking garage had a security guard that personally checked who entered the underground lot versus just trusting a swipe card.
"Hey Rob," Vin said, as he slowed to a stop by the guard, "bit cold this morning." He mocked a shiver, not hard to do when he had yet to put the hard top on the Jeep. He told people he used just the soft top in the hope of an early spring. His friends said it was simply laziness on his part. He had not put up much of an argument to that reason.
Rob smiled at the old winter joke and recorded Vin's entrance as the agent scanned his access card through the slot to open the gate. From the lack of certain cars, it was clear that none of his teammates were there yet. Will, from Team 3, however, was in early or had never left, since his car was in its usual parking space.
The break room was silent except for the hum of the refrigerator and the gurgle of the coffee pot. His coffee pot. The boys had given him his own; crowded break room countertop be damned. So he liked strong coffee; he didn't think it tasted bad. At least Josiah appreciated it. Vin had promised not to touch the other coffee maker. They would just have to make their own.
He stood, watching the dark liquid stream into the glass carafe. Sometimes he would slip the bulbous container out of the way to fill up his mug directly. This morning, however, he wanted to take in every second of this simple ritual. Wanted to ingrain it in his memory.
He closed his eyes and inhaled the pungent-sweet scent. He could feel the cold still clinging to his toes. During the drive in, it had seeped past his boot tips and socks. His skin felt clean and energized from the workout and shower. No matter where he was a month from now, he knew that if he brought this memory back up, a part of him would be transported back to this day, this moment—making coffee in the ATF break room, waiting for his team to arrive on a cold December morning in Denver.
Usually, Vin had about forty-five minutes to himself for relaxing into the workday-organize his agenda, take a concentrated look at whatever case the team was working on. Sometimes he used the quiet to review his reports.
Writing had never been his strong suit. Hell, in his mind it was pretty much just a single card, and a low one at that. His strength was anything mechanical. How good your spelling was didn't do jack toward helping you estimate the factors that influenced a bullet's trajectory. He would study up more on sentence structure the day it helped him calculate range to the target, wind direction and velocity, ambient temperature, and his elevation compared to that of his mark. Till then, he would keep his reports short with simple sentences. And try to remember the tips Ezra fed him.
Chris came in first, gave him a morning nod and a, "Hey", before heading into his office. Their leader had a mountain of paperwork, which Vin didn't envy. Josiah and Nathan were next, about five minutes apart. Nate headed into the break room to start on the coffee. Josiah took a cup from Vin's pot. Buck and JD were next, with JD holding a white box with blue lettering that spelled out "Dutch Boy". And then Ezra would come in, eventually.
Second cup of coffee in hand, Vin made a beeline for the doughnut box now resting on JD's desk. He opened the box, snatched a blob smeared with gooey pink icing and raised it like a toast to JD. "Perfect timing. I needed this today."
JD smiled. " 'Course, they're not as good as-"
Buck cut him off while Vin and Nathan rolled their eyes. "Yeah, yeah, not as good as Dunkin'. Don't you be putting down the Dutch Boy, kid." He slipped his hand in the box and came out with a powdered sugar doughnut that he knew was filled with jelly. "I'll take ten past nine," he stated, starting off the morning pool.
He put a 'B' in the corresponding square on the chart that was taped inside his lower desk drawer. The bet was one dollar for a square, and if none of them won, the cash rolled over to the next day.
"Gimme 9:30," Vin said. "Oh, and Frankie in records said last night that they want in on the action."
"Too complicated," JD said around a mouthful of one of Denver's best applesauce doughnuts. With his free hand he gathered up a few larger crumbs that had fallen on his desk and popped them in his mouth. "I'm going for 10:15," JD said. "He was looking tired yesterday."
"He's better off not coming in at all at that point." Nate raised his eyebrows at Vin before looking at Buck. "I'll take 9:35."
"Quarter to nine," Josiah said, "because someone has to have some faith."
"Dream on, Josiah." JD chuckled. "It's never going to happen, unless we have an early meeting with Travis."
Chris did not participate. Standish's lateness was a sore point; one the rest of team picked at repeatedly even though they all had their own issues.
They each filtered back to their desks after pillaging the Dutch Boy Donuts box. Vin was reviewing angles for Team 3. From time to time the other sharpshooters—Ryan, Conner, Marcus and Jon—got together for second or third opinions. They also spent time on the range, practicing their skills. Plus, they were their own breed, like the undercover operatives that the other agents didn't fully understand and gave a wide berth too.
Buck's phone rang, slicing through the other office sounds. Vin looked up at the clock, 9:45.
"No winner," Buck announced. "Stu says he should be up in a minute."
Ezra was quiet when he entered; as usual, his sunglasses remained on until he reached the desk that abutted Vin's. "Mr. Wilmington, was there a winner this morning?"
"Almost. Nate came awful close."
"Horseshoes and hand grenades, gentlemen," Ezra replied. "Better luck next time." He slipped out of his overcoat but paused before heading to the coat rack by the small conference room. "Oh, and I would rather this stay amongst us and not stray to the rest of the building. A little discretion is warranted."
JD managed a furrowed brow and wide-eyes all at once. "How do you know about that?" Vin had only just told them about the request from Frankie. "You have us bugged?"
The Texan shook his head. "Ez knows everything."
"Not everything, but I am working on that." Ezra flashed a smile.
Vin noticed when they had down days in the office Ezra was never at his desk, and he had a handle on what was going on in the Federal building most of the time. "Not everything," Vin murmured in agreement. He could feel the letter in the back pocket of his jeans. Ezra would know soon enough, but first he had to inform Chris.
Chris glanced at the clock. He was working through lunch to put a dent in his paperwork before an afternoon meeting with Orin. The team was working on their cases with a priority on terrorism at home. It had always been a mandate, but recent events, combined with the lack of departmental cooperation, had left the Federal agencies with a lot to prove.
He had broken away from his desk just long enough to grab something to eat from the cafeteria. He typed with one hand while eating with the other. The tuna fish sandwich was heavy on the onion; he got through half of it before absently patting around his desk for the can of Pepsi One to wash down the tang.
"You got a minute?" Vin asked, as he came in and took a seat on the leather couch.
Chris looked up and then glanced to his paperwork. He didn't have time for a chat; unfortunately, he had been told that his office couch was too comfortable and beckoned the others when they needed a break. Not for the first time he thought about getting rid of the broken-in brown sofa and replacing it with folding metal chairs. The idea was immediately dismissed as he pictured himself or any of the others trying to sleep on those when they pulled a long night.
"I know you're busy." Vin shifted on the sofa just enough to pull an envelope from his back pocket. He withdrew a letter, opened it while trying to flatten out the folds, and leaned forward to lay it on Chris's desk. "I've been recalled."
Chris's brow wrinkled, he hadn't heard Vin correctly. "What?"
Vin nodded to the letter. "The Army. They've called me up."
Chris still could not comprehend what he was hearing but edginess crept in when he watched Vin exhale and sink back into the couch. It took him two readings of the letter, his blood pressure going up exponentially with each one, before he could speak.
"This is bullshit." Chris tossed the letter on his desk. "You still work for Uncle Sam protecting this country."
"I guess it doesn't work that way with the Army. I signed up for eight years, left after six." Vin rested his hand on the arm of the sofa and focused on his fingers, as he stretched them. "I owe them two years and they can recall me anytime if they need me." His clenched his hand. "They need me."
"You're needed here." Chris stood up; the letter swooped off his desk but he ignored it. "There's a war going on right here." He knew the words sounded cliché but it was true.
Vin shrugged. "Can't be in two places at once."
Chris came around to the front of the desk, leaning against it. He folded his arms and briefly rubbed his forehead with one hand. "Christ, first the NSA tries courting JD, and I thought I handled that, only to have this come out of nowhere. This is my fucking team."
"I guess the Army thinks that Osama bin Laden has a higher priority than Chris Larabee's bad guys," Vin replied with a tight grin.
"This isn't funny." Chris rubbed a hand down his face.
"Didn't say it was. I just know I was a Ranger before I was an ATF agent and I owe the Army."
"Don't get all self-sacrificing. You left the Army the first time." If Vin wanted back into the service then Chris would have an uphill battle convincing the sharpshooter to stay. Chris didn't even know if convincing him would be the right thing or the selfish thing.
Vin dropped his head back against the cool leather. "I thought I was going to be lifer, then I changed my mind. I can't say anything more than that—too many people have made a sacrifice for this country for me to start complainin' about time served."
The Texan had never talked much about his time as a Ranger. Chris and Buck didn't talk about their military days either, but they weren't heavily involved in special operations either. It was all in the past where it belonged.
"Well, I'm complaining," Chris countered. "This has got to be some kind of colossal mistake. I'm willing to fight for you to stay, Vin. But, if you feel some misguided sense of duty that you need to go, then I'm not going to stop you."
"When you put it that way…" Vin shook his head. "Look, Chris, I can make a difference over there. I'm working on some cases now, but nothing that will make an impact like if I go back."
Chris closed his eyes for a moment. It was the same conversation he had had with JD, all gung-ho to be on the front lines and avenge a friend he had lost when the Towers fell. "This team has been damn successful at keeping guns off the street. There's been an uptick on the international players—you know that. And those guns, we stop them from getting to kids in places like Purgatorio. That isn't making a difference?"
Vin raked a hand through his hair in frustration. "So alcohol busts and cigarette sales to minors…You want to tell me how that stops Al Qaeda?"
"Check the ego, Tanner. You think you personally are going to bring them down? One extra gun?" Chris knew enough to know that this war was going to be for the long haul, not just some quick Desert Storm action.
Vin leaned forward to rest his forearms on his knees. He studied his hands. "All I know is I got that letter, and I have a duty. I gave my word."
"You have a duty to watch my back, and the rest of the team, too." Chris hoped he was getting through to his friend's sense of honor. "You have to let me do something."
Vin looked up, holding Chris's gaze, and then sighed. "Do what you can as long as you don't have to sell your soul to make it happen."
Chris was relieved. He wouldn't sell his soul, but he would pull as many strings as possible. "I'm going to go talk to Orin."