Hazel '04: You Wouldn't Believe Me If I Told You

He'd thought he could kill time.

He really had. It seemed innocent enough; the woman was a civilian aide, here on loan for three weeks to help out while JD's busted finger healed--and damn, how much of their work had the kid been doing all this time? Vin for one couldn't wait till JD got back to the keyboard at full speed.

She'd only been here a few days so far, and already had started giving him those doe-eyed looks that generally, he tried to avoid. But there was nothing to do in the office and--he checked the clock--three hours to do it in. So maybe a little conversation was in order.

"Hey, Tanya. You want some coffee?" He handed her a cup and settled into the chair by her desk.

"Thanks!" she perked up, but immediately stiffened a little and drew in on herself. "That's very nice of you," she added in a small, quiet voice.

Vin frowned, concerned. "You all right?"

"Yeah," she said still more gently. "Yeah. Can I help you with anything, Vin?"

"Just thought we'd get to know each other a little. We've got some time," he added, pointing to the clock. "Chris and Ez and Nate won't be back until four, and Josiah's out all day." He grinned. "So we either get to know each other, or you have to talk to Buck."

She giggled at that. "He's a fine man," she said quietly, glancing Buck's way.

They all said that. Vin still wondered how Buck managed to string so many women along so well when he wasn't even in the market anymore, but everybody had to have a hobby, and Buck's was still making women smile.

"Yeah," he said, willing not to argue the point for the moment. Buck was all right. "So, where're you from, anyway?"

"Fargo, North Dakota."

"Fargo?" He didn't know why he was surprised, but he'd had her pegged as some sweet little Georgia peach.

"Yeah. My mama was raised in Athens--that's in Georgia--" he smiled a little more broadly, "and lived there for the first half of her life. Never even got as far as Atlanta, not even once. She was a housewife, you see. After that, we moved around a lot, lived in seven different states. Me and four other kids, I was the youngest, and..."

She was really pretty friendly, with that young, peaches-and-cream, girl next door look. Really charming. It was weird, now that he thought of it, that Buck hadn't been putting moves on her. He looked around to locate Buck, who was at his desk and who actually looked like he was working... maybe he looked too much like he was working, Vin thought with no little suspicion. He shook his head; whatever practical joke it was, Buck wouldn't spring it until he was damned good and ready, and Vin had a backlog of counter-attacks he'd been saving up.

"What? Oh, sorry." He smiled, flashing all his teeth. "So your family got to Wyoming, you said." She actually told an interesting story, filled mostly with new people and new cities, and a small-town, wide-eyed attitude about the world.

It really was easy to get to know her. Surprisingly so. He wondered again why Buck wasn't on her, but really he was kind of glad the guy had steered clear. This little girl seemed... gullible. Fragile maybe. She'd start out big and bright, then catch herself and draw in, get quieter, before continuing far more subdued. He watched it happen several times, a little curious and a little repulsed, but she built confidences like Ezra built card houses, quickly and with great dexterity.

Soon enough she told about her ex-boyfriend, and her problems with the way he kept trying to push his way back into her life.

Wounded too, maybe. He pulled out one of his business cards and grabbed a pen, scribbling a number on the back. "Here's my cell phone number. You call me if he gives you too much trouble. Hell, I don't live two miles from your house."

He watched her eyes light up and felt all warm inside for the good deed. Probably, she'd never call anyway, so it wasn't like it cost him much.

"Well Vin," she started, then paused and looked furtively around. "I uh..." she leaned closer. "I wouldn't want to stir up any... well... *trouble.*"

Vin sat up a little straighter. "Huh?"

"I mean, Billy, he's from Texas."

"So? What is he, a linebacker for the Oilers?"

"Oh, now, now, I just," she looked around again, "I know that brings back bad memories."

Buck, not ten feet away, cleared his throat.

"Bad memories?"

"I just think you're real brave, to have folks know, and to deal with it like you do. Not many men have that kind of courage."


"Oh, yes! I don't think I'd have survived some of the things you've had to go through, and the fact you encourage folks to talk about it, maybe learn something from it... well, I could never do that either."

He cast a covert look at Buck, who was staring at his computer screen like there was porno playing there. The bastard. "Yeah," he said, trying like hell to affect the same hangdog expression Buck used on Chris when he'd really fucked something up, "I reckon. They say it's good for me to talk about this stuff. What have folks told you?"

When she started rattling off a list of damage and disease, ill fate and persecution that nobody who wasn't a sociopath could live through, it was hard not to let his jaw drop open and just hang there, agape. Between dead parents, corrupt foster homes, and childhood sexual abuse, he'd have failed the psychological entrance exams to the ATF. And not even the good old U.S. of Army would have given him a long-range weapon.

"Wait." He held up a hand to stop her, just until his brain could catch up. "I ran off to where?"

"An Indian reservation," she repeated. "Well, a Native American reservation, but we still call them Indians in North Dakota."

"Uh huh." He smiled weakly. "Go on."

She did, getting more excited as the monologue continued. Indian Reservations, Typhoid fever, broken bones (usually more than one at a time, just to make it interesting), multiple bullet wounds, betraying partners--that one was a doosie. Apparently he'd been exemplary at everything he'd ever done, a real superguy, the best crack shot in all the U.S. military and ready to be promoted from sergeant to general, when his sniper partner got him to shoot a friendly target. Vin wasn't exactly sure how that guy had passed the psych tests either, but it didn't seem relevant to her story. "And he's still out there," he repeated dumbly.

She nodded, her head animated like one of those little bobble-head dolls.

"Anybody say why I haven't hunted him down and had him arrested for murder, now that I'm with the feds?" he asked, feeling like somebody's real-life soap opera.

That seemed to bring her up short, just for a second. "Oh," she said then, looking relieved, and internally Vin groaned. "Because of that restraining order that Mr. Larabee had placed on you."

"Oh, yeah." He felt a little queasy, like gravity wasn't quite working right. "That was to..."

"Keep you from killing him and destroying your career here."

"I'm glad they're thorough," he said, straight-faced. "About my career here. Have you seen my file, by any chance?"

"No, sir."

She wouldn't have. If she had, she'd have seen that he'd never re-upped in the army after his first stint, and that his vision was 20/25, and that his father was listed as his next of kin. "You ever fired a weapon before, Tanya?"

"Uh huh. That's how I know that you really must be the best, Vin." And she sounded so... eager. "Because I'm a pretty good shot, but I'd never be able to hit a target 200 yards away without even using a scope! I'll bet nobody in the world can do that."

Well, she was right about that; nobody could. "I'm good," he conceded, "but nobody's that good, Tanya."


Vin sighed. "What else do you know about me?"

"Just your reading problem." Great. He was a fucking illiterate? "Dyslexia," she was quick to add. "It's a hard thing to struggle with, Vin. You should be so proud."

"Yeah." He swallowed thickly, a little nauseated by all of this. "Thanks." Personally, he thought he should be more proud of the time when he'd shot two targets with the same bullet-- "it just went through the first one and lodged in the second one's chest," she'd said-- or when he... hell, what had he done? Shot the balls off a gnat on a pitch-dark moonless night, blindfolded, from five hundred yards away?

"I have one question." He tried to make it kinder than "what kind of idiot are you that you'd buy all that," and came up with, "How do you reckon I didn't get locked up Leavenworth for murdering a military officer?"

She frowned. "Well, the way Mr. Wilmington tells it, you were just lucky I guess. I mean, you lost your career and all your friends, and you did worry about prison... because you're claustrophobic and all... but in the end, the folks who knew you just knew you wouldn't do something like that. So they let you go."


"Uh huh."

"Ol' Buck said that?"

She nodded.

"He say why me being gay didn't get me the dishonorable discharge even without the murder?"

"No. Just that, like I said, people respected you 'cause you're such a good man." Then she went on. And on.

Why hadn't they given him a fuckin' cape and a bat signal? Finally, he gave up; he just couldn't listen to any more of it. "Uh, Tanya?"


"You know none of that stuff is true, don't you?" he started gently. "I mean, listen to it... the abuse, the self-hate, the total lack of confidence in that little--" he stopped before he said 'worm you're describing.' "You know they give us psychological examinations, right?"

"Uh huh."

"And you know nobody in their right minds would ever give someone like me a gun, if all that shi--stuff--had happened to me? I mean, I'd be at risk of going postal, don't you think?"

"But you're not! Vin, that's why I just have so much respect for you. You got through all of that and you're still okay. You're better than okay, Vin," she said, like she was coaching some new-age groupie, "you're wonderful. You're a hero, for turning out so well and using all that god-given talent to help people."

He would be, that was for goddamned sure. He was tempted to pull out his cell phone and speed-dial his father, just to let his old man set this girl straight. "I'm serious," he said a little more firmly. "It's not true. None of it. I grew up, my mom died when I was a kid, yeah, but my dad was still around and he's a good man. No social services. No orphanages. No foster homes or rape or--or any of that shit. And I started reading when I was three. I'm fine. Just a normal guy, you know?"

She nodded her head with increasing seriousness and her eyes got wider and wider. Vin knew he was in trouble. "Mr. Larabee said you might do this," she said, leaning forward and speaking in even more confidential tones. "But you don't have to, not with me. I understand, Vin! Really I do. I know you're shy, but you don't have to be embarrassed, not around me."

It looked like he had a hell of a lot to be embarrassed about, from her list of bullshit. And "Mr. Larabee" had gotten in the gag, had he? He'd pay too.

Vin spent a couple of minutes trying to explain to her that somebody had just been pulling her leg, that nobody--nobody not in a comic book, anyway--could have done, or been, or succeeded, or failed, at so much in one lifetime. But she wasn't buying his denials; if anything, they seemed to be cementing her opinion of him. He was gonna kill whoever had started this. "Okay. Okay," he tried. "Did Mr. Larabee tell you anything else?"

"Oh, no. He respects your privacy. He just-" She shrugged, "He just told me you get a little overwhelmed sometimes, that you try to distance yourself from all that trauma. And I can understand that. Truly I can. But you don't have to."

Chancing a glance up, Vin honed in on Buck with his "eagle eye"; Buck was turning blue, he was laughing so hard and so silently, his faced puffed up like a wrinkling grape. You'll get yours, Wilmington, he swore silently. You and your boyfriend, too.

"Look. Is there anything I can say... show you my records, call my dad, anything that'll convince you that all that bullshit isn't real?"

"Well, Vin," she chided, "I don't think so many people in this division would lie about something like this. Do you?" Those wide eyes looked so innocent and adoring, Vin wondered if he could retrieve his cell phone number from her.

"So many people? What people?"

"The admins in personnel, the admins on this floor, Mr. Miller and John Basso, Cheryl in accounting, and all three of the attorneys I've talked to in legal..."

Hell yes, all of those people would lie about something like this! It was what agents and staff did, because there was precious little to break up the paperwork and case management between the rare bouts of violent confrontation with bad guys. They'd made him the agency hazing toy. No wonder new people always looked at him so funny. He was gonna kill his teammates. Then he was going to find a way to get back every single person who'd participated in this scam.



"Did you... you have kind of a funny look on your face. Is there something you want to tell me?"

He looked at her hand where it touched his wrist, and sighed. "You wouldn't believe me if I told you," he assured her. "Well, I guess I'd better get back to work. Sorry to have bothered you, Tanya. Obviously, you can see why probably we shouldn't talk anymore."

"But I want to help..."

"It's beyond help," he muttered, and stood up.

Buck, unsurprisingly, had disappeared.

But that was all right. He didn't have a plan for paying back an entire building of yet, but he'd start close to home and hope for inspiration on the rest. As for Chris and Buck, well, he'd always thought this particular idea of his was just too cruel. But no longer. They had ganged up on him, so he was sure as hell gonna gang up on them.

He went to his desk and emailed an old buddy with a personal request for cimetadine. His plan was simple: grind up a couple of the ulcer pills and sprinkle them into Chris's coffee every morning, right along with the sugar. They wouldn't hurt him. The man probably had an ulcer evolving, frankly, so maybe they'd even help. And the unfortunate side effect of impotency, well... Vin hit the "send" button and leaned back in his chair, satisfied with his first act of revenge.

"Whatcha doin'?" Buck had snuck up on him, and breathed the words just off his left shoulder.

Vin, who was at no risk of getting caught today at least, leaned back in his chair and smiled a little, feral. "Don't you think you ought to steer clear of me for a little bit?" he asked, low.

"Nah. You aren't throwing things, so I reckon I'm safe. Whatcha doin'?"

Vin glanced over to Tanya's desk, but she had disappeared, along with the stack of files that had balanced precariously on the corner of her desk. "Thinking about how much work you must've put into this one, Buck," he said.

"Hey, it wasn't me that started it!"

"Uh huh. You just 'improved' it, huh?"

"Yeah." Buck bounced on the balls of his feet, insufferably proud of himself.

"And I'm the test case for new staffers. See how much of that wounded-hero horseshit they'll swallow before they figure out it's all a gag?"


He swiveled a little, feeling very much like the spider with the fly. "Now I know you're the one made me gay. It just has your fingerprints all over it." Buck just nodded, still grinning. "I'm the queer? You and Chris practically fuck each other in the broom closets around here and I'm the queer?"

"Yeah. Kind of poetic, ain't it?"

Vin had a few other things he'd call it. "What made you do that?"

"Throw folks off the scent," Buck said, still puffed up with pride. Oh, the bastard was enjoying this.

"Well what the hell are you gonna do about folks like little Tanya, who haven't caught on that it's all bullshit?"

"Come on, now, Vin," Buck said, sniggering, "don't talk yourself down like that!"

Something in his eyes must've given him away, because Buck sobered a little and cleared his throat. "Somebody'll break it to her if she still doesn't catch on."

Didn't look like she was going to catch on any time soon, with Chris's added layer of embarrassed denial. "I want you to do it. You tell her yourself, if she doesn't figure it out. Okay?"

"Cross my heart and hope to die."

Buck would be hoping to die before Vin was through with him. Vin grinned easily, absorbing Buck's amusement like a sponge taking on water; he'd need to remember this, when Chris and Buck were suffering a month from now.

"Fair enough," he lied. "So who did start it, if you didn't?"

"Now that'd be tellin'." Buck grinned from ear to ear, his blue eyes twinkling.

"You'd best start tellin'," Vin warned.

Buck sighed, still amused. "Ernie Parker over on Team 4."

Vin groaned at that. The little shit... "Sometime after I beat him out of that inter-division marksman's competition, right?"

"Yep. Vin, you just don't know how to get along with people, son."

Vin ignored that line from the man who sent half the admin staff scurrying for cover just to avoid him. "You gonna help me make him pay?" Vin hazarded, giving his teammate one chance to redeem himself.

"Hell, no! I'm not gonna get on his bad side."

"But you don't mind being on my bad side?" he demanded darkly.

"That's different, pard; you're a good sport."

"All right, all right," Vin muttered, holding his hands up in feigned surrender. "Just one more question. How did y'all get new folks to keep quiet, after they figured out that they were being had?"

Buck shrugged. "You've got to admit, it's pretty good, Vin. Would you have messed up such a good gag if it had been on me or Chris or Ez?"

Vin sighed. Probably not. "It's gonna take me awhile to come up with somethin' to get you back for this. You know that, right?"

"I know you'll try." Buck reached to ruffle his hair and Vin just barely ducked and swatted in time. "But nobody beats the master."

Vin watched him walk away, eyes narrowed. The master was gonna be beating himself in the very near future. He could easily feed Chris the meds for two months, maybe more, with nobody ever finding out. Chris would be too embarrassed to go to a doctor. He'd suffer his sudden limp dick in silence, making up excuses to Buck for at least the first couple of weeks. Buck would worry first if Chris was getting old, and second if Chris just didn't love him anymore. Then Buck would do God knew what to try and help Chris get over it--Vin sidestepped the gory and slightly disgusting details, even in the privacy of his own brain--and nothing would work. Buck, who had sworn off women for some time now, would get the world's worst case of blue balls and go quietly insane while Vin watched.

It might be too cruel. Normally, he wouldn't think of going so far. But all Vin had to do to overcome his streak of decency was think of the never-understood pitying looks he'd gotten from practically every new employee in this building, at one time or another, followed eventually by friendly amusement and weird grins. It was cruel, but there was no better way to get back at Buck, and anybody who had been orphaned, passed around so many foster homes, banged in more than one of them, run away, taken an oral GED test and joined the army, become a top sniper in less than three years of service, killed an innocent and been outed but still honorably discharged, hunted an ex-partner intent on revenge, and shot better than Annie Oakley--well that man would be cruel. He'd have to remember to point that out, if either of them caught him.

And Chris? Well, Chris had helped. And even if his role in this hadn't been as big, he'd just have to be a casualty of war.


My pet peeve: that combination of traits that turns wonderful Vin into Super!Vin....