Culmination

By Kate Standish

Universe: ATF / Word Count: 2221

 

Vin woke with a start. Groggily glancing at his alarm clock, he tried to figure out what it was that had awakened him so abruptly.  He knew that he hadn’t set his alarm the night before and after the hectic week that Team 7 had just completed, he had planned on sleeping in. 

 

There it was!  Listening intently, he heard sounds coming from the other room. Someone was in his apartment!  Rolling noiselessly out of bed, he reached for the gun that was on the bedside table. 

 

Sidling along the wall to the door, he gently turned the handle.  Soundlessly he slipped into the adjoining room.   It was empty.   Heading toward the kitchen, he rounded the corner and pointed his gun; and then just as quickly pulled it up when he recognized the intruder: Ezra!

 

“Aww hell, Ez!” he shouted, lowering the gun to his side, “I just about shot ya!”

 

The undercover agent turned from where he was placing several packages on the kitchen counter. “Good morning, Mr. Tanner,” he replied, eyeing the gun that was in the Texan’s hand.  Raising his eyebrows a fraction, he continued with a smirk, “Unless you plan on shooting me, you might want to put the gun down.”

 

Glancing down and seeing the gun still in his hand, Vin placed it on the counter.  Running his hands through his hair, he questioned his friend.  “What are ya doin’ here, Ez?  How did ya get in here anyway?” 

 

“Our illustrious leader was kind enough to loan me his key.”  Ezra looked at the sharpshooter quizzically. “As for why I’m here, you do remember what today is, don’t you?”

 

Vin leaned back and rested his hips against the counter behind him. Deciding to ignore Ezra’s question, he asked one of his own.  “Didn’t Chris want to know what you needed the key for?” 

 

“Of course he did, and I obligingly told him.”

 

Hanging his head, Vin sighed.  “Now what did ya go and do that for?  I told ya I didn’t want anyone to know.”

 

“Now, Vin,” Ezra spoke softly, walking over to stand beside the Texan, “you and I have expended an exorbitant amount of time and energy into completing this endeavor and today is the culmination of all our hard work.  You didn’t really think you were going to get out of it, did you?”

 

Vin glanced sullenly at his friend.  They had had this same conversation more than once over the past few weeks and his answer was always the same, but the southerner wasn’t taking no for an answer. Looking away, he saw a box sitting on the counter.  “What’s in the box?”

 

Ezra grinned. “That, Mr. Tanner, is your breakfast.”

 

“Gee, Ez, that was real nice of ya, what’d ya bring?”  Tanner asked as he hastily grabbed the box and opened it.  “Fruit? Ya brought me fruit?!”

 

“Indeed, Mr. Tanner, I thought that today of all days it would be prudent for you to have a decent breakfast.” Ezra rolled his eyes at the expression on Vin’s face.  All the members of Team 7 knew of the sharpshooter’s penchant for anything and everything sweet.  “However, if you keep looking, I’m certain that you will find something that will satisfy your inner beast.”

 

Vin dug to the bottom of the box and pulled out a cherry Danish. “Sweet!" he sighed as he sank his teeth into the sugary confection.   Looking around, he asked the southerner, “Ya didn’t happen to bring any coffee, did ya?”

 

“Of course, Mr. Tanner, have you ever known me to be without?” Ezra smirked as he pulled two brimming Starbuck’s cups from the other bag. Handing one to the sharpshooter, he leaned back against the counter and took a sip of the steaming hot liquid.  “Now, Mr. Tanner, I believe we need to discuss our plans for the day.”

 

Vin stopped in mid-chew and scowled at his friend.  “I already told ya, Ez, I ain’t doin’ it!”

 

Placing his hand on Tanner’s shoulder, Ezra stated calmly, “I understand your hesitation, Vin, but trust me when I say this, if you don’t, there will come a day when you will wish that you had.  You worked long and hard to get to his day and I, for one, want to see you reap the rewards of all your hard work.  Hell, I want this as much for myself as I do for you.” Suddenly realizing what he had just said, Ezra turned away in embarrassment.  He hadn’t intended to air his personal feelings like that.   

 

Vin eyed Ezra curiously and then he asked, “Ya missed yours, didn’t ya?”

 

The southerner looked at his friend guardedly and seeing only genuine interest in the blue eyes, he answered briefly, “Yes, Mr. Tanner, I did.” Quickly changing the subject, he continued, “Now, I suggest…”

 

“How come?” Vin interrupted before Ezra could finish.

 

“Maude,” the southerner answered succinctly.

 

Shaking his head, the Texan chuckled.  There was a wealth of explanation in Ezra’s one word answer. Knowing he wasn’t going to get any more out of the southerner on that particular subject, he pushed himself away from the counter. “Reckon I’ll go take a shower now.”

 

Ezra grinned, realizing that Vin had silently agreed to fall in with his plans. “Excellent idea, Mr. Tanner, and when you have concluded your morning ablutions, we can begin this day in earnest.”  Turning away, he proceeded to clean up the mess that Vin had left from his breakfast.

 

Patting the southerner on the back, Vin walked out of the room.  He knew that Ezra had spent an excessive amount of his spare time helping him accomplish the goal that he had set for himself, and as an undercover agent, Ezra didn’t even have a lot of that.  If this day meant so much to his friend, then he would do it.  He didn’t have to like it, but he would do it. 

 

<><><><><><><>

 

He came close to changing his mind when he walked, fully-dressed, into his living room after having a shower.   

 

Upon seeing the sharpshooter, Ezra spoke ruefully, “Mr. Tanner, please don’t tell me that you intend on wearing that, today of all days?”

 

Vin looked down at himself and spread his arms wide. “What’s wrong with what I’m wearin’?” he asked in confusion.  “It’s clean.”

 

“I’m sure it is, my friend, but today is an auspicious occasion, and I believe it should warrant more appropriate attire than jeans and a t-shirt.” Even as he was speaking, Ezra pulled a garment bag off the back of the couch.  “I was afraid this might happen, so I took it upon myself to procure for you a more suitable addition to your wardrobe.”

 

“Now hold on there, Ez, I ain’t wearin’ no monkey suit, so you can just forget it,” Vin replied grimly, crossing his arms over his chest. 

 

“I’m well aware of your aversion to suits, Mr. Tanner, however, I think what I have provided will be acceptable to you.” The southerner calmly produced a pair of sharply-creased black pants and a crisp, white, button-down shirt from the garment bag. 

 

Vin eyed him suspiciously, not sure what else Ezra would pull from the bag.  When he realized that there was nothing more, he released a pent-up breath.  Taking the clothes from his friend, he sighed, “Just this once, I reckon I can agree to that.”  He regretted not being able to wear his own more comfortable clothing, but decided it wasn’t worth arguing about. 

 

“Excellent, Mr. Tanner, we have just enough time for you to change before we need to be on our way.”  Ezra gently pushed his friend toward the bedroom. “Hurry along, now, we have a lot to accomplish today.”

 

Vin sighed.  He hoped this day didn’t get any worse.

 

<><><><><><><>    

 

He should have known better. 

 

After leaving Vin’s apartment, Ezra informed him that he needed to stop by his condo to pick up a few items that he had inadvertently left there.  Vin looked at his friend suspiciously.  It wasn’t like Ezra to forget things.  Seeing the gleam in the undercover agent’s eyes, he knew that something was definitely up.  Realizing that he had little choice in the matter, he decided to ride it out and see what happened.

 

Upon arriving at the condo, the two friends walked to the front door.  After unlocking the door, the southerner stepped aside to allow Vin to enter the room before him. 

 

“Surprise!”

 

Tanner stopped in his tracks at the unexpected response to his entrance.  Looking around he realized that the place was decorated with balloons and streamers and a sign heralding *Congratulations, Vin* hung over the opening into the main living area. The room was crowded with people. 

 

Backing up a step, he glared at the undercover agent.  “Aww hell, Ez, did you have to tell all of ‘em?”

 

“Well, of course I did, Mr. Tanner.  You didn’t expect an occasion like this to go by without a celebration, did you?”  Ezra laughed as Vin punched him in the arm.  As a matter of fact, he hadn’t really planned on having a party, but after asking Chris if he could borrow the key to Vin’s apartment, and explaining why he needed it, he realized that JD had overheard the entire conversation. 

 

Well, once JD got wind of it that was the end of that.  JD had told Buck and the rest of the team, and before he knew what had happened he had volunteered his condo for the ensuing party.  Nathan had told Raine, who in turn had told Mary, Inez and Casey and finally Miss Nettie.  Well, once the women were involved, there was no stopping it.

 

As Vin walked the rest of the way into the room, he was immediately surrounded by all his friends offering their congratulations.  Mary, Inez and Raine all stepped forward, each giving him a kiss on the cheek, causing him to flush in embarrassment, and then he was wrapped in a big bear hug by Miss Nettie.  Whispering in his ear, she said, “I’m real proud of you, son,” and then stepped back so Casey could give him a hug as well. 

 

Once the ladies had moved away, Chris stepped forward and held out his hand to take Tanner’s arm in their familiar forearm clasp.  Slapping him on the back, Chris just smiled, his eye meeting Vin’s.  The sharpshooter knew exactly what his best friend was thinking; there was no need for words.  I’m proud of you, cowboy, good job.

 

Stepping back, Chris allowed the rest of his team access to the sharpshooter.  Buck reached around and pulled him into a headlock, tousling his hair much like he was always doing to JD. Vin glared at the ladies’ man, but accepted the gesture in the spirit in which it was given.  Josiah and Nathan each offered a hand in a congratulatory shake.  The ever-exuberant JD decided he may as well follow the example of the ladies and gave Vin a big hug…without the kiss on the cheek, of course. 

 

Embarrassed by all the unexpected attention, Vin stuffed his hands into his pockets and stared at the floor. 

 

Ezra stepped forward, allowing the Texan time to regain his composure.  “Please, everyone, may I have your attention.  Now that the man of the hour has graced us with his presence, perhaps we could partake of the lovely repast that has been prepared for us by all these delightful ladies.”  

 

As everyone laughed and spread out to head for the table that was bulging with food and drink, Vin whispered quietly in his ear. “Thanks, Ez.”

 

“My pleasure, Vin,” Ezra winked at the sharpshooter.  

 

<><><><><><><>

 

The party continued on for several hours until Ezra glanced at his watch, and realized that if they were to make it to their final destination they would need to leave soon.

 

He moved to the center of the room. “Ladies and Gentlemen, if I may have your attention, please.  I hate to break up the party, but if we are to make our next scheduled engagement on time, we need to be leaving shortly. But before we leave, I would like to propose a toast to our own estimable sharpshooter, Mr. Vin Tanner.”

 

The room dwindled into silence at Ezra’s announcement. “Mr. Tanner, four years ago you set for yourself a course of action that reaches its final conclusion today.   I’m sure that I speak not only for myself, but for everyone else in this room, when I say how proud we all are of you and your commitment to this worthwhile undertaking.  I congratulate you, Vin, on becoming Team Seven’s newest college graduate.”   Ezra raised his glass into the air in a salute as the room erupted with cheers and applause.

 

<><><><><><><>

 

“Vincent Michael Tanner.”

 

The Texan started across the stage at the announcement of his name. He could hear whoops and hollers coming from the audience as he accepted his diploma.   Looking up to where the members of Team 7 were seated in the balcony, he made eye contact with the undercover agent.  Grinning from ear to ear, he offered a two-fingered salute to his friend.  Ezra was right; he wouldn’t have missed this for the world. 

 

 

The End


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© Kate Standish 2010