Vin shifted slightly in his sleep, just awake enough to feel the ache in his side where Keith Faulk had tried to eviscerate him and nearly succeeded. Thankfully he had gotten hauled out of the jail cell before Keith and his brother Kyle had succeeded in killing him. Between the bruises from the beating he had gotten (most of his body was black and blue) and the long knife wound that crossed his lower abdomen; there was not a part on him that didn't ache. Chris had promised to get him out of the hospital as quickly as possible, but it was still going to be a while. For some inexplicable reason, they didn't want to let him out until his organs all proved they could do their jobs again.

He turned his head slightly; someone was in the room with him. That was a given since Denver's ATF team seven, of which Vin was a member, rarely left one of their own alone in the hospital, but he particularly was never left to face a night in the hospital on his own. Chris was usually the one who stayed by his side, but it was not his familiar presence that was in the room.

"Chris had to go home and get some sleep. Nathan kept telling him to leave and he kept saying he was fine, Josiah finally explained that if Chris didn't go he was going to pick him up like a two year old and carry him out. I guess Chris figured it would be better to leave with some dignity and agreed to Nathan's suggestion that he get some sleep. Do you need something, Vin?"

JD. Their young computer wonk was the one sitting guard tonight. How he could talk that much without stopping to breathe was beyond Vin. Why he would want to was even more mystifying.

"I'm good, JD, just sore everywhere," he answered, yawning.

"Want me to get the nurse and see if she can get you something for the pain?" the younger man asked, wanting to help however he could.

"No, it's only been a couple of hours since they gave me the last stuff, I can wait."

"You'll heal faster if you're not in pain," JD quoted Nathan, the team healer.

Vin sighed. "I watched two friends go through withdrawals from pain killers after landing in the hospital. I take the stuff when I need it, but not until then and I can wait until the nurse comes back."

Vin opened his eyes at the silence; JD was never quiet unless he was thinking. Large dark eyes were staring at him. "You weren't, I mean... I know that kind of thing ..."

"No, I did what I could for Hitch and Connor while they fought it off, but I've never been there. If I had I wouldn't be eligible for federal law enforcement. Watching others was enough, though," Vin shuddered involuntarily at the memory.

"I guess I never though much about getting addicted to pain killers. Never knew anyone that used drugs, couldn't understand why a person would do that," JD mused to himself.

"Known too many people that were," Vin replied softly.

JD stared at him again. Vin never tried to hide the fact that he had grown up on the streets or that he was still more comfortable and at home in places like Purgatorio then the nicer suburbs he could easily afford, he just never talked about those years.

"You can't live like I did and not know `em." Vin pointed out.

"I knew that you would have known people like that, I guess I just never thought about them being your friends," JD admitted.

Vin closed his eyes; JD was still very protected in a lot of ways. He more than held his own on the team, but in a group of men that never seemed to have gotten a break, he had grown up in a very protected world.

"There was no reason not to be friends with them, didn't really think of them as druggies, just like I didn't think of most of the women I knew back then as whores. We were just people trying to get by as best we could and doing what we had to to survive," Vin explained, opening his eyes.

JD didn't say anything, but nodded with a kind of glazed, far away look that he got when he was tumbling things around and sorting out new information.

Vin looked at his friend and smiled. One thing about JD was that he was always open to new views and ways of seeing things. He would listen to what you said and mull it about, sometimes finding that his old way of thinking still felt right to him, but always ready to change his way of thinking if the new way seemed better. Too bad Harrison hadn't had that ability.

"If most of the people you knew were using drugs and selling themselves, how did you avoid getting caught up in that? I mean, it had to be hard living with that all around you and never ..." JD petered out. He didn't want to offend his teammate, who was also a good friend, but was uncertain how to ask what he really wanted to know.

"Had good friends, just like I do now; just have more than the two I had then."

"That kept you from getting in trouble?"

Vin looked at him and closed his eyes. "I use to hang out by a shelter; too scared to go in, though. One of the workers saw me and started bringing food out to me. He would stay and we'd talk while I ate. Started getting cold and he found a couple of blankets and a coat for me. We got to be friends. He told me as long as I didn't start on the drugs, I had choices and a life to use the way I wanted it. One day he took me to the Challengers Club and introduced me to Miz Nettie. They set me up with a room there and got me back in school. I helped them at the shelter or the club in exchange for meals and a room. They made me promise not to drink or use drugs and that I wouldn't get involved in any of the gangs. Didn't want to disappoint them after all the trouble they went to for me, `sides I keep my promises. Gave me a way to stay safe until I was able to join the army and get out of there."

"Are you still in touch with him?" JD asked.

Vin opened his eyes the half way they would allow. "See Josiah almost every day."

JD gaped, "That's how you meet Josiah?"

"Yep, he was convinced I could make something of my life if I was given half a chance, so he made certain I had that chance," Vin mumbled, his eyes barely slits.

"Night, Vin."

Vin snored softly.

JD smiled at his friend and went back to playing his gameboy. Vin wasn't much for sharing personal information, he'd have to remember to volunteer to fill in for Chris more often on Vin sitting.

Chris got off the elevator and headed for his friend's room. He had had a bad feeling all day that something was coming. These hunches of his had served him well in the SEAL's and were rarely wrong. For Vin's sake, he hoped and prayed that this one time he was being delusional.

He stopped at the nurses' station for an update on his second in command's condition, fine was the only word in Vin's vocabulary when it came to saying how he was, when a man passed him.

Ezra, sitting outside Vin's door saw him as well and gave an imaginary tip of the hat to his leader.

The signal was given. Chris was right, trouble had arrived.

Buck nodded from where he was chatting up a nurse at the other end of the long hall.

Josiah looked up from the magazine he was half-heartedly reading in the waiting area.

The boys were familiar enough with Chris's hunches that they had volunteered to join him in watching the room. Nathan was the only one not there, he had been called in to fill in for another ATF medic.

Ezra looked up as the man approached him. A lifetime of making a living reading others told the undercover agent that the man was at least mildly intoxicated. Not stumbling drunk, but far enough gone that he was making bad judgments, like deciding to come here after visiting hours and see Vin. In the interest of not reciprocating on him the beating Vin had received because the recently retired officer had falsely arrested him and put him in with the general population, the team had been avoiding Harrison like the plague. It was hardly their fault he had shown up here. Chris's orders were firm, however, unless he started trouble, or Vin was in danger, they were not to do anything. Hopefully their presence alone would be enough to get the man to leave.

"I want to see Tanner," Harrison growled at the well-dressed man. While not in his usual Armani suit, Ezra was in designer jeans and wearing a shirt that was three steps ahead what the rest of them would wear.

"And I would like to own a casino in Monte Carlo. I'm afraid that as visiting hours are long past and Mr. Tanner requires his rest, we're both out of luck," Ezra responded, smiling pleasantly and arising.

"Let me in!" Harrison demanded getting in the smaller man's face.

Ezra didn't even blink when he had an enraged Chris Larabee in his face threatening to shoot him himself, something that occurred at last once a week, so there was no way that this man was even a blip on his radar.

Harrison grabbed him and began physically moving him.

Buck winced; this was not going to be pretty. Ezra hated being manhandled.

"Unhand my person, sir," Ezra demanded, at the same time that he somehow slid out of the man's grip like a snake shedding skin, grabbed his arm and whirled him around face first into the wall.

Chris grinned. Ezra was a slippery son of a gun in more ways than one. He had lost count of the times he had totally lost it and actually made a grab for the man to simply find that he was holding air.

"Here, let me help you up, brother," Josiah leaned down and nearly yanked the man to his feet. Then roughly patted off any dust or dirt that might have found its way on him, nearly knocking him back on the floor.

"Looks like you might've gotten a bit banged up there," Buck commented with mock concern as he ambled over to join the others.

Chris walked slowly over to join his team and Harrison. The ex-cop glared at Chris, Buck tried not to laugh.

"Harrison, you crossed the line one too many times and got caught. Accept the consequences and let it go," Chris advised.

"Who do you think you are to tell me what to do?" The overweight man sneered, looking the lean senior agent up and down.

"Chris Larabee, I lead ATF team Seven. Vin Tanner, my second in command and shooter, got beaten within an inch of his life and nearly stabbed to death because you wouldn't check his story, wouldn't call me, and didn't even have the sense to put him in solitary if you had to take him in!" Chris didn't yell; his tone was the one JD had called absolute zero. It had no warmth and destroyed everything it touched.

"I had probable cause for everything I did!" Harrison shot back.

"For going to the house, yes; for stopping him and questioning him; yes; but that is where it should have ended. He told you he was a federal agent and even told you where his ID and weapon were. You not only refused to check, but wouldn't let your partner look, either. He gave you two people to call and verify his story with, you refused to call anyone; your partner finally had to. You threw him in with the general jail population, when there is even a question of a suspect being a law officer you put them in solitary if you have to lock them up at all!" Chris snarled, stepping closer to the other man.

Harrison involuntarily took two steps back. Josiah politely moved out of his way.

Ezra smiled, Harrison had just lost and didn't even know it. The southerner was reminded of a documentary he had watched once about wolves. In it the alpha male had found it necessary to remind an older male in the pack of his place. Harrison, like that old wolf, had backed down when faced with the Alpha force that was Chris Larabee. Hopefully, Harrison was as familiar with submissive postures as the old wolf; if not, he would be before Chris was finished with him.

"There was no reason to believe his story. What kind of federal agent goes around unshaven, long haired, and looking half starved?" Harrison snorted derisively.

Ezra sighed, so much for submissive posturing.

"Any that want to as long as their supervisor doesn't care," Buck answer from behind his boss.

"I don't give a rat's ass how my men choose to look as long as they're healthy, get the job done, and are presentable for court. Vin's never failed on any of those counts. And you didn't have to believe his story, all you had to do was make a call or look in the spare room like he asked! Face it, you screwed up," Chris spat.

Harrison grabbed Ezra and threw him at Chris and Buck; then dashed into Vin's room.

Josiah stepped over the three tangled agents on the floor and started after Harrison.

Eyes wide, the graying profiler leapt to the side as Harrison was catapulted out of the room and back into the hall, hitting the wall opposite Vin's room door, hard. JD landed on top of him.

Buck winced in momentary sympathy for Harrison, he had been tackled by JD himself in a few of the team football games and knew how much it hurt. JD might be the youngest and one of, if not the, shortest, but he was heavy and solid and it did not tickle when he launched himself full force into you.

"Aw, hell, I'm the one he hurt and I've gotta' miss all the fun," Vin complained from his bed, seeing the entire thing through the open door.

"Vin, if you put one foot outside of that bed, so help me you'll be staying here for your entire recuperation," Chris informed him. Why was it that conversations with a hospitalized Vin always reminded Chris of dealing with his now deceased four-year-old son?

Vin sighed heavily and leaned back in his bed.

Buck was not gentle as he patted Harrison down for weapons. When he found the wicked twelve-inch bladed knife, Chris thought they were going to have to sedate Buck to keep him from killing the man with his bare hands. Instead, Buck slapped a set of cuffs on him and hauled him towards the elevator. Josiah went with them, since he had the confiscated knife safely sealed in a baggie, as evidence. The others went along since they would need to give their statements and the nurse wanted Vin to have at least some quiet that night before he had the law invading his room looking for a statement.

A man dressed immaculately in white suits had watched the entire scene. He smiled while leaning on his cane. They might be a rough and tumble group compared to the people he normally worked with, but he had to admire their style.

He had just watched a man being forced to face the consequences of his actions the hard way, after choosing not to face them the easy way. It was time for him to face the consequences of past decisions himself, past time, if he was honest with himself. He hadn't seen his son in seven years, the choices they had made then had brought them to the place they were now, perhaps, with seven years more wisdom, they would make a better decision now.

He headed to the nurses desk for permission to see Vin.

The nurse blinked at his request, but led him to the room that had had five vicious guard dogs half an hour earlier.

Vin looked as she entered, he had known that he wouldn't be alone long, it was just a matter of which of his friends came back up to sit with him. He had been guessing that it would be Chris. The nurse made sense, he was a patient and there had been quite a bit of excitement not that long ago. The man following her was not expected and not welcome.

"Agent Tanner? Mr. Briggs asked to be allowed to see you alone," The nurse passed on the request.

"I just want to know that you're okay, and to be heard out before you throw me out," Michael stated his reason for being there and requesting an audience.

Vin closed his eyes. This was not something that he wanted to be deal with right now. He had met his father all of once; a meeting that had ended when he had requested that his father be removed from the hospital room where he was recovering from his last mission.

Opening his eyes, he nodded to the nurse. Looking uncertainly from the patient to the visitor, she turned and left. She had been told to admit NO ONE to this patient's room without getting it cleared by the blonde agent. If the patient had agreed, though, she supposed it was all right.

Vin looked at the tall slender man, leaning on his cane, a patch over one eye. The last time he had seen him he had vowed that he would never have anything to do with him again. He could count on one hand with fingers left over the times he had broken that promise, and every one had been in extenuating circumstances and had not required that he actually deal with the man himself. His current predicament, however, had come about largely from a man that was not willing to get all the facts before passing judgment on a person. He supposed the least he could do for his father was to hear him out this time, maybe there was a reason for his lack of presence in his son's life. It was hard to imagine anything that would justify leaving a child to face life alone as Vin had, but maybe there was a reason of some kind.

Vin indicated with a nod the chair next to his bed.

Michael seated himself.

Silence filled the room as a pair of dark blue eyes met a light blue one.

The older man looked at his son. It was interesting how much of Elizabeth was in the young man, and yet he could see traits that were all him, as well. The light brown curly, wavy hair reminded him a lot of her, and yet they were somehow fitting on her son. The average height was from her side, too. Michael was over six feet tall, but as he recollected from the few times he had met one of the Tanner men, none of them were particularly tall. The blue eyes were from him; Elizabeth had commented on her family's trademark green ones. The broad shoulders tapering down to slender hips were also characteristic of his side, Tanners tending to be short and stocky. The high metabolism and consequent slenderness also came totally from Michael, Tanners tended to be a bit heavy.

"You said you wanted me to hear you out, I'm listening," Vin stated. Just because he had agreed to see him did not mean he was going to try and make this easy on the other man.

"You certainly do have your mother's directness, I'll give you that."

"Always heard I got that from you," Vin responded, a touch less vehemently.

Michael gave a short laugh, "I guess you can blame both sides for that, neither one of us was known for beating around the bush."

Silence fell between them again.

Getting up, Michael went over to the window. "Did you ever hear how your mother and I met?"

"Since neither of ya talked about the other, no I haven't."

Michael sighed. Why was it that he could talk to dignitaries or sub-committee directors, or anyone else in the world, but not his own son? Because, he told himself, you don't give a damn what they think of you, but you do care what Vin thinks of you.

"We ended on a bad note, to put it kindly, but we started out good. She was very pretty and young, only in her mid twenties. She had moved to California, never did say why. She got a job waiting tables at a restaurant. I used to eat there; once I saw her I would arrange it so I was there while she was working and was seated at one of her tables. She always had a smile and a kind word for everybody," Michael reminisced.

"Can't remember much about her, but I know she could always make me feel like everything `d be fine no matter what," Vin replied. "Made you feel real special, like you the most important person in the world."

"It was a rare gift she had. No one was ever a stranger to her," Michael agreed. He could still see her lively green eyes and slow smile that could light up a room. He had never seen Vin smile, but guessed that his might be like that.

"Seems you were, at least after I was around, I don't remember you ever coming by or calling. Mom never mentioned any letters or anything from you," Vin retorted coldly.

"That was not my fault. I was sent overseas, I told Beth I would be back as soon as I could. When I returned, she was gone. No forwarding address, message, or anything. We had had a huge fight before I left; I wasn't surprised to find that she had gone. I was sorry she was gone, but didn't think anything of it until another waitress that was a friend of hers mentioned her having been pregnant when she left." Michael returned to the chair as he spoke, standing on his leg for long periods of time for no reason was not a good idea.

"She never told you about me," Vin stated.

"No, but as I said, I was gone before she found out, and she was angry at me for going."

"Hardly the first woman that had a hard time being second to duty," Vin stated.

"Sometimes duty has to come first, as hard as that can be, something you, I imagine, would understand having been an Army Ranger, a U.S. Marshall, and now an ATF agent."

"Understand it, doesn't make it easier when someone you love won't stand for it," Vin acknowledged.

Michael gave a tilt of his head, for him a nod; it would seem that they had found a common ground they could meet on for the moment.

"Your mother was an honest woman, so I had no doubt you were mine. You would have been about two or three, then. I started looking for her, but it was a challenge since she had been going by Hitchcock, not Tanner. She had mentioned being from Texas, so I guessed that she had gone back there. It was a starting place at least," Michael continued.

"That was her father's name, Grandfather adopted her when he married Grandma," Vin explained, looking away.

"She told me that her parents hadn't married, something about their parents disapproving."

"Don't know, no one in the family ever talked about it, and mom always said I was too young to understand and she would tell me when I was older."

"Is it important to you to know about that?" Michael asked, curious.

Vin leaned back in his bed and thought for a minute. "No, when all is said and done, I guess not, wouldn't change much if I did know the particulars about it."

"I know that he left your mother and grandmother on their own, I don't know anything more than that, I do know that I never meant for you and your mother to be in the same position. I found your mother, finally, through an obituary notice. It mentioned that she had left a child, so that confirmed that I was a father. She had died a year earlier. When I looked into the situation as far as I could tell you had a good home with your grandfather. From what I gathered it was better than anything I would have been able to offer you at that time, so I left you there. You seemed happy and that was what was most important."

Vin blinked at him. "I seemed happy with a grandfather that hated my very existence?"

"How would I have known how he felt about you? All I had to go off of was what I observed and what others said when asked about your welfare, and I DID ask," Michael pointed out sternly.

"Why didn't you ask me? Or talk to me?" Vin asked. He understood how a parent might leave a child with relatives if the child truly seemed happier and better off, but for a parent to not even let the child know that they existed didn't seem right.

"I was going to, but when I talked to your grandfather and a school councilor who was working with you, I was told you were having trouble adjusting and it was best if I didn't get involved, so I didn't. I made a bad decision, but it was the best I could do based on the information I had."

Vin sighed, the years with his grandfather had been a nightmare, or had seemed so since he hadn't known what was coming. "Do the best you can with the Intel you have. Been there and done that."

"Vin, I did check in on you, to see how you were and how things were going. I had reached a decision that it was best to intervene between you and your grandfather, at the same time he died. You seemed to be in a good place with loving family after your aunt and uncle took you in. By all appearances and everything I was told and learned it was better than you would have had with me."

"Aunt Janet was okay, she treated me nice; Uncle Matt was hell, but he started out okay, too. Just kind a' ignored me. Seemed real nice after Grandfather, guess I can see where you thought I was okay there at first," Vin acknowledged.

"Everything blew up there at the same time that I was seriously injured and spent the better part of a year and a half in hospitals and rehab of one kind or another. By the time I was able to check on you again you were in foster care. I started the legal headaches of getting custody of you and by the time that was at a point that I could see you, they were telling me that you had run away and they had no idea where you were," Michael explained.

"You wouldn't have thought to look in Colorado fer me," Vin yawned, his medication making his accent thicker and him a bit tired.

Michael snorted, "No, I had no idea that you headed there, but I had one ear out for the name Vin Tanner and checked on all of them. I finally hit on you about the time you joined the Army. I came to see you, but you were doing well at that point and didn't seem to have much need of me."

"Probably would have told ya to get lost if you had contacted me back then, I was still pretty angry," Vin admitted with a sigh.

The door flew open as Chris Larabee came barreling in, gun pointed at the visitor.

"Chris, this is my father, `preciate if ya didn't shoot him," Vin requested.

Chris slowly lowered his gun, looking form Vin to the other man and back.

"Michael Coldsmith-Briggs," The man in white introduced himself.

"Chris Larabee."

Vin looked at them both and was reminded of two alpha male wolves facing one another.

"The third," Vin smirked.

Michael glared at his son; Chris raised an eyebrow. The face off was settled, Michael was welcome to visit since Vin would vouch for him, but he was no more part of their odd pack at this point than Maude was. If he wanted acceptance, he would need to prove worthy of it.

Vin was fairly certain that Michael wouldn't care one way or the other about that as long as he was able to stay connected in some way with his son. They might have only the thinnest of threads connecting them, but it was something, and more than they had had.

"It was an impressive scene out there, you have good men," Michael commented.

Chris nodded, "They're the best."

"Undoubtedly why you have Vin on your team as well."

Chris smiled. "Picked the team myself, wanted the best and got them."

Michael turned to the younger man, rising. "You're certain that you'll be okay?"

Vin grinned, "Had worse and lived to tell about it."

"I'll call you sometime next week and see how you're doing," Michael told him.

Vin smirked, "I don't need to give you my phone number do I?"

Michael smiled.

"If you have a number I can reach you at, it'll be a bit easier to get hold of you when I need to," Vin pointed out.

Michael handed him a card with a number on it. "My schedule is unpredictable at best, but if you leave a message at that number, I'll get it almost immediately."

Turning, Michael handed another card to Chris. "If anything happens to him, I would appreciate knowing."

Chris took the card and shook the offered hand.

"I'll talk to you later; maybe we can arrange a time to get together," Michael told Vin as he turned back to him.

"I... I think I'd like that, still got lots of questions."

"I would imagine that you do, I'll answer any I can."

Vin and Michael shook hands, and Michael left.

Chris and Vin stared at one another.

"You told me that you didn't know your father." Chris reminded him.

"I didn't, I'd only met him once; that's not knowing someone. He heard I'd been hurt and came to check on me," Vin explained.

Chris nodded; Vin had never lied to him and had not about this, either. "How did he find out what had happened?"

"He's eyes and ears everywhere. He's a deputy director for a division of the CIA, at least I think that's what they are. All I really know is that they're part of the intelligence community and he's very high up," Vin continued.

The younger man stared at his friend, their normal easy communication and balance was off.

"We cleared some stuff up, but I don't expect that I'll see much of him. Nothing has changed."

Chris sat down in the chair by the bed, relaxing as he settled into the familiar spot. They would talk about and sort out the sudden appearance of Vin's father later.

"Thanks for the save," Vin smiled at him, the connection was back.

"Any time," he smiled back, clasping his friend's forearm in a handshake that was unique to them.

Vin sighed contentedly and settled into the bed for the night. Chris situated himself and settled in to watch over the man and battle any nightmares that came his way. For tonight, at least, all was right in the world again.

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