by Jeanne

Vin lay very still, the aftereffects of the drug making his stomach rebel and his head pound at the slightest movement. At the slight sound of movement beside him he cracked one eye carefully.

"Easy Mr. Tanner. You’re once again are in the hospital"

Vin moaned mentally. "How long?" He finally got out.

Ezra reached over and retrieved a glass of ice chips. Holding a spoon up to Vin’s mouth. "Here, Mr. Tanner, ice chips and to answer your question it’s been almost six hours since we found you and the others at the ranch."

Vin let the ice melt, cooling his dry mouth. "The others?"

"The same as you. They should be waking anytime."

"Ummm." Vin shot up, "Chris? Ez where’s Chris?" Vin’s eyes fully open, looked around desperately trying to find the one friend he knew wasn’t there.

Ezra carefully put a restraining hand on Vins shoulder trying to gently push him back down. "The where abouts of Mr. Larabee are unknown at this time."

Vin groaned.

"Perhaps you could tell me what transpired?"

"I…I heard Nathan on the porch. The thump of him falling I guess. I grabbed my gun and told Chris to get down. Was headin’ for the door, felt a sting on my shoulder and waking up here. Ez it was HIM took Chris." There was such agony and guilt in Vin’s voice that Ezra wrenched at the pain of it.

"Please Mr…Vin it was most definitely not your fault. The three of you were rendered helpless in a matter of seconds and could do nothing. Did you happen to see the culprit?’

"No….his boots when he walked by me.. I saw his boots. I…I heard Chris, he was hollerin’ for us, for me. I couldn’t move," Vins voice hitched, "I couldn’t move, I couldn’t help him. He…he was screaming for…for me.."

Ezra carefully laid his hand on Vin’s arm. "Vin, I repeat, it was not you fault. Mr. Larabee could not know you had been incapacitated. You must get past this in order for us to find and liberate our Mr. Larabee."

"Y’er right Ez. I gotta get it outta my head. There’s too much to do." Vin started to sit up. But when he moved the room spun and his stomach churned. "Oh God."

"Easy Mr. Tanner. The effects of the drug have not entirely left your system."

Vin gulped convulsively. "Y’er right about that." He laid very still eyes closed trying to settle his rebellious stomach.

"Buck and Nathan, how are they?" He asked again.

"I dare say in much the same shape as yourself. Josiah is with Nathan, and JD is of course with Buck. In anticipation of your next question the three of you will be released as soon as the toxin is out of your systems."

‘Ez?" Vin’s hand reached blindly for Ezra’s. "We gotta find Chris soon. Something bad is coming. Something real bad."

7 7 7 7 7 7 7

His feet were cold and the cement radiated a chill that reached into his bones. His arms hurt. By trying to twist free he’d discovered his arms were stretched out straight from his shoulders. The small braided nylon rope digging into the skin of his wrists when he moved.

He was neither hot nor cold and could feel no air movement. He could see nothing, hear nothing but his own breathing and heartbeat. Unable to stand the cold penetrating his feet he lifted one foot off the floor. Immediately he was rewarded with a lash across his knee.

"Ow! Son of a Bitch!" The sound of his own voice was loud and echoing. Instantly he dropped his foot and shifting his weight started to lift the other one. Again the lash fell.

"Who are you?"

No answer.

Minutes passed. Nothing happened. Then he felt it, something, feather light, slick, sliding down his arm from wrist to elbow. Then just as suddenly as it started it was gone.

Then again this time along his ribs down the side to his hip. Then again it was gone. He’d discovered something he hadn’t noticed before, he wasn’t just barefoot, and he was naked. The next feather touch started at his knee inside his thigh, but when he tried to pull away the stinging lash hit again.

"Who are you? What do you want?"


Chris’ heart started to beat faster not knowing where or what came next. He waited trying desperately to determine where his tormentor was. Chris gasped as fingers ran down his spine from neck to tale bone, still the feather light strokes that barely touched his skin, then the other arm, then the back of a leg. On and on with no pattern until in desperation Chris started fighting the ropes as he tried kicking.

His screams of frustration and struggles were rewarded with lash after lash falling on tender flesh. Over and over the switch stung him until he couldn’t find the strength to keep fighting. He stood there, his whole body quavering, the ropes holding him up right.

There was nothing, no sound and then the feather light touch started again.

"No." Chris snarled. "Don’t." But the strokes wouldn’t stop. They kept coming at random, barely there touching anywhere, everywhere just for the briefest second then gone. Involuntary shudders started with each touch and continued long past. He couldn’t stop shuddering had no control over his own body. Muscles twitched and started to cramp.

Shudder after shudder racked his lean body until he slowly sank into unconsciousness. Jerking awake his chest muscles screaming for relief he gasped for air. His only relief was to stand up straight taking his weight off his arms and chest. Help me, Vin, where are you?"

Miles away Vin Tanner stared out the window of his hospital room, We’ll find you cowboy, some how we’ll find you.

Buck glanced up from his own pondering. "Vin?"

"He’s scared Buck. He’s never been so scared."

7 7 7 7 7 7 7

The next morning the six members of Team 7 stood in their office. Each man looking at his own desk, not quite prepared to separate and face the reality of a missing Chris Larabee and no clues as to where he might be.

"Hey kid, your lab friends find anything usable in the van?" Buck’s eyes finally left the door of Chris’ darkened office.

"No, Buck everything was destroyed. All the tapes were gone. No prints. Nothing."

"None of it was recoverable?"

"No." JD looked at the others, "Sorry."

Vin walked past JD, placing a hand on his shoulder "Ain’t your fault kid." Vin avoided looking at the empty office. He made a conscious effort not to limp. He did not want Nathan picking at him, not now.

JD sat down and started checking his e-mail just to have something to do.

Each of the six tried to find something to occupy them that made some kind of sense. Out of the quiet JD hollered. "Damn!!!!" Slapping his forehead as he jumped up.

Buck looked up "JD?"

"Um, I’ll be right back, I gotta check on something." He raced out of the office and down the stairs. Bursting though one of the lab offices he shouted "Gary!!!"

"Hey JD."

"Gary, the back up tape from yesterday. Do you have it? Is it any good?"

"Huh? Oh yeah," Gary dug through a pile of tapes. "Here it is. Don’t know what’s on it though, haven’t checked it yet."

An hour later JD called Buck, "All of you get down here. I’m in Lab 5C."


"Now Buck, it’s important. I think I got something."

By the time the five men were settled around the screen JD was bouncing on his toes.

"Ok JD we’re here, what now."

"When we left Chris’ yesterday I started the surveillance tapes like I been doing."

"We know that JD. And???"

"Well, Gary here is a friend of mine and he’s been running a backup tape for me."

"What do you mean a back up tape?" Vin asked afraid to hope for a break that seemed so easy.

"Gary’s tape shows what happened."

"Play it!" Buck said through gritted teeth."

The tape paned the front of the house and road showing Nathan coming out on the large front porch and then fall. A shadowy figure walked past the fallen Nathan and went into the house.

After a few minutes he came back carrying Chris over one shoulder. He dropped Chris at the bottom of the steps. Several minutes later a small blue Camry drove up and Chris was stuffed into the trunk.

Then the figure walked toward the camera and van. The picture turned to static.

JD stopped the video, "Well?"

Buck reached over and swatted at his head. "You done good kid." Then he looked at the rest. "You see it?"

Vin nodded. "Yep, license plate."

Josiah turned, "Gary, my lad, we shall need you to enhance one little piece of the film please."

Gary looked around his room full of legends. "Uh, sure."

It took some time and fast finger work on Gary’s part but they got it. A clear Colorado license plate, JD called it in to the DMV with instructions that the information was to be faxed directly to their office.

They had their stalker; soon they hoped to have Chris.

7 7 7 7 7 7 7

The house was surrounded. Neighbors watering, mail men, strollers all undercover all ready to pounce. Warrants were ready. Most of Team 7 stood in the back waiting.

An UPS van drove up and stopped in front of the house. The driver got out and with package and clipboard walked up to the door and knocked. Waited and then knocked again.

Nothing. Silence. He knocked again. "Hello UPS. I need someone to sign for this package. Hello." He carefully reached and tried the door. "Ok guys, there doesn’t seem to be anyone here and the door is locked." He spoke into the hidden mike.

He was joined be two uniformed officers. They swiftly forced the door and went inside. Sweeping the small house in a matter of minutes the "All Clear" signal came.

Then began the slow meticulous work of going through the house gathering evidence.

Team 7 walked threw, looking around, but touching nothing, from the front porch to the back. Standing outside in the back yard Vin looked out at the much too long grass. "Chris was never here."

"How do you know Junior." Buck asked.

"Don’t know how, just know." Vin began rubbing his wrists. He’s some where big, empty, dark…"

Josiah watching Vin asked "Vin, what’s wrong with your wrists?"

Vin stopped, looked down at his hands and wrists, "Nothing, why?"

"You were rubbing them."

"I was?’ Vin sounded surprised. He looked back down at his hands "I..don’t remember.." He opened and closed his fingers several times. "Hurts."

Josiah stepped closer. "What hurts, Vin?’

Shaking his head back and forth, still watching his hands open and close. "The ropes are cuttin’ me. My fingers are numb. Can’t feel them move." Vin looked up at Josiah. "Ain’t me, it's Chris. Why am I feeling this Josiah?"

Josiah shook his head, "It’s your bond with Chris, Vin. It’s growing stronger somehow."

"Don’t help us find him."

"No but it tells us he’s still alive."

7 7 7 7 7 7 7

Chris was so tried. His feet were numb and he was starting to loose feeling in his upper legs. But if his knees gave out the pull on his arms and chest would cause his chest muscles to constrict. He wouldn’t be able to breath. He’d pulled and twisted on the ropes that held him so much that his wrists were raw and bleeding.

His tormentor hadn’t been back. Chris almost wished he would come back. The silence was oppressive. He couldn’t tell how long he’d been here. He was thirsty.

Then suddenly Chris knew he was back. His body tensed waiting. The longer he waited in the silence the faster his heart beat. "What do you want from me?"

Fingers gently touched his mouth. He jerked away from the slimy touch. "Why won’t you talk to me? Say something damn you." The fingers traced down his throat stopping briefly at the pulse point, then down, lightly tracing his collarbone just the tips if the fingers lightly touching his skin. He shivered as the hand began its weird dance over his body again. If he moved or in anyway tried to pull away or avoid the light touch he was punished with the stinging lash. It came to the point where it didn’t matter which touched him he convulsed in agony from either one. The fire on his skin from the lash was consuming him. Turning his dark world into fire.

Chris started screaming curses at his silent tormentor until the switch slashed across his lips. He felt them split and swell. Again and again he fought until all he could do was stand quivering and gasping at each silent touch. He couldn’t fight not any more, he just wanted it to stop.

He felt the fingers on his face once more and he fought the urge to pull away. Using all his will power he stood perfectly still. He felt a bottle top press against his lips lightly. Chris opened his mouth and pure cold water was poured down his throat. Then it was gone. His mouth worked trying to find more. "Please, more?" There was a light caress but no more water. Then he was alone in his dark silent world again.

7 7 7 7 7 7 7

Five members of the magnificent seven stood around the table looking over the maps planning what to do next. The sixth stood apart looking out the window but seeing nothing. It had been 48 hours since Chris Larabee was taken from the ranch.

Hold on Cowboy. We will find you.

Without warning Vin Tanner gasped as if in great pain, falling to his knees holding his arms out in front of him, his hands curled into claws. The tendons in his neck and arms standing out, "Oh, God." He rasped out between clinched teeth.

The others turned to Vin startled by the sudden collapse. Buck and Nathan jumped forward to grab him but Josiah stopped them

"No, don’t touch him! Vin? What’s going on?"

Unseeing blue eyes stared straight ahead. " It hurts. Sh…sharp pain, up and down …arms. Can’t move my hands, can’t feel them. Thirsty, so thirsty. Cold, it’s so cold."

Vin raised his face and opened his mouth like a baby bird waiting to be fed. "Water…please…" He swallowed once. "No…more.. NO don’t!" His eyes moved frantically from side to side. He was sniffing repeatedly as if trying to catch an elusive scent. He reached out and down trying to crawl on his elbows pushing with his feet. Grunting with effort until he reached his goal.

The others stood mesmerized as Vin reached his invisible goal. He grasped it between the heels of his hands pulling it closer to him. Almost crying from his effort.

Josiah knelt down beside Vin. "Vin? Can you hear me? What is going on Vin?"

Vin looked up his hands still clinching at something. " ‘siah? It’s Chris. He’s so thirsty. He’s got a bottle of water but he…he can’t make his fingers work." Vin looked back down he has the heels of his hands pressed against nothing. He lifted them toward his mouth. Turning his mouth as if to hold it in his teeth. He twisted his hands gasping at the painful effort. After many tries he spits and raises his wrists, tilting back his head and swallowing. When he finishes his breath is coming in gasps.

"Vin, where is Chris?"

"Don’t know, can’t see anything. The floor is cold so cold. Hurts to move. Where are you Cowboy? I’m so cold, my skin burns." Vin was looking down and reaching out toward something. Lost blue eyes looked up, " ‘siah?"

"I’m here, Vin."

Vin blinked slowly, " Josiah, what the hell just happened?" Vin sat up straighter, "What the hell are y’all lookin’ at?"

Nathan kneeled down beside Vin and reached out to touch him.

"Leave me be Nathan. I’m fine. Josiah I asked you something."

"I know Vin. If I could.. ok, this is going to sound strange. Your bond with Chris was somehow activated earlier. Just now you were truly with Chris for a brief time. Mirroring what he was doing, feeling."

"Yeah? You think he could feel me?"

Josiah shook his head. "I don’t know."

"He’s hurt Josiah, he’s scared and in some dark cold place. He can’t make his hands work. They are all tingly and numb at the same time. We gotta find him soon cause I’m not sure he’s gonna last much longer. He’s so alone."

Vin leaned his head onto his hands Hang on Cowboy. We’ll find you, somehow.

Miles away in the cold and dark Chris tossed in a nightmare. "Vin? Help me Vin."

7 7 7 7 7 7 7

Chris lay curled in on himself. Holding the now empty water bottle as if it would refill itself. His head throbbed, keeping time with the fire in his skin from the flogging. Even though the cement he was laying on was ice cold it felt good to his fevered flesh.

He opened his eyes carefully. He could see, kind of. See well enough to tell he was in a small cage of some kind. There were bars and a blocked off small exit. He tried to move but it only hurt more, and he discovered his hands were tied together with about a foot of rope between them.

Then he felt the hobbles on his ankles. Again the small braided nylon rope, threaded in on itself so that he could move his feet apart only a few inches. He carefully moved his head looking around more. It looked like he was in a kennel, smelled like it to.

Suddenly there was sound. "Hi this is Chris, and Sarah, and Adam we can’t come to the phone right now but leave a message." Then laughter. Chris moaned, first his voice, then Sarah’s then Adams baby voice speaking and laughing. The tape stopped and then started over again.

Chris tried to sit up, "no, don’t. How the hell did you get that? Nooooo!"

Then he wasn’t alone. There was a dark figure standing in front of him. He heard the swish of the whip like switch. "Stop it. Make it stop." He cried barely able to get the words out his mouth and throat was so dry.

The dark figure said nothing just watched. Chris couldn’t stand it anymore, Sarah’s voice, Adam’s. It was too much. He tried to cover his ears but each time he tried his hands were slapped away. He tried once to grab the punishing lash but it was so thin and limber it slipped through the numb fingers..

Over and over the tape played. Chris tried but couldn’t ignore the loved voices. Finally in desperation he started screaming curses as loud as he could to block out the sound. The stinging lash fell cutting into his tender skin but he screamed on and on.

Chris knew if he stopped screaming the beating would stop. But then he’d have to listen to the tape. The beating was preferable to the agony of listening to the tape. Chris curled into himself until he felt and heard nothing.

7 7 7 7 7 7 7

The messenger knocked on the door to the offices of Team 7. He dreaded going inside. Treading on Team 7’s territory in the best of times was scary and this was NOT the best of times. But taking a deep breath he went in.

"Mr. Wilmington?"

"Yo kid." Buck waved from behind his desk.

"These files were sent ASAP.’

"Thanks kid," Buck said, almost grabbing them away from the kid. Dealing the files out like a deck of cards each member of the team opened their file and began to read.

Ezra finished first throwing down the file in disgust. Followed by Josiah, JD, Buck and finally Vin. Ezra shook his head, "There’s nothing of use there. He’s the most innocuous little man I’ve ever read about."

"Ok, what does it say."

"Jeff Holms, 26 years old, born, raised and still lives in the Denver area. A high school graduate, he took some night courses at the local junior college, worked the last eight years for Animal Control. Josiah?"

"What courses did he take?"

JD looked through the file again. "Umm, metal craft, Gothic Lit. Some art classes."

Buck looked up. "What art classes? When?"

"Ummm, sketching one and two, watercolor, and sculpting all around seven years ago."

"Who taught the classes?"

JD looked again. Charleen Vopel, Ned Armijo, and Sarah Connelly." JD frowned, "Hey, isn’t that…..?"

"Yeah. Chris’ wife, Connelly was her maiden name."

Josiah sighed, "Our connection."


7 7 7 7 7 7 7

The high window in the wall out side the little cell slowly became lighter. Chris Larabee lay curled up to conserve warmth watching it get brighter. The outline of the window was almost clear this morning. He blinked slowly his thoughts slow and muggy. This was the second day he was aware of but he knew there had been more. Chris moved his head slightly and saw a new water bottle sitting on the ledge just out of reach. To reach it he had to move.

Chris moved his dry tongue, but couldn’t get it past his teeth. Was it worth the effort to move? He wasn’t sure. But his body’s need for water insisted and he groaned as he sat up pushing himself forward reaching too far and falling when the rope hobble suddenly stopped the forward movement of his right hand. He landed hard on his shoulder grunting as he hit the hard floor.

He held both hands up looking at the rope. The once bright yellow color was dulled where it circled his wrists and he’d bled on it. The smooth nylon bit into his raw wrists with every move. At least the fingers were not as swollen. Chris raised his head and turned and looked again at the water bottle.

Again he got up on his hands and knees, this time remembering there wasn’t enough tether to move more then inches at a time. After what seemed like hours he reached the bottle and grasped it in his hands. Today his fingers worked. Now the trick was to see if he had the strength to twist off the top. After several tries he managed to get it off and took his first drink since yesterday. He sipped slowly trying to avoid being sick again.

He leaned back against the wall holding the water bottle with both hands, and feeling dizzy with the energy he’d just expended. He closed his eyes, drifting in and out of sleep unaware of the passage of time. Hunger had long ago left him only his thirst remained the small bottles being left while he slept never quite satisfying him.

He knew he would die soon unless the others found him. He could sometimes could feel Vin, feel his despair and some how him reaching out for Chris. He smiled at the thought of Vin, sorry that he wouldn’t see him again…

"Stop that Cowboy."

Chris looked up. There out side the bars stood his best friend. "Vin?"

"You gotta keep fightin’. You can’t give up. We’ll find you."

Chris shook his head, the shadow of a smile pulled at his swollen lips. "No, there’s no time, I’m tired, just want to rest. It’s so cold, ca…can’t remember being warm."

"Don’t you give up on me Chris Larabee. We’re coming for you soon. Larabee? You hear me? Don’t you quit on me."

"T..tired, Vin want to rest." Chris drifted his hands relaxing their hold on the bottle. As he slept his body was shaken by little involuntary tremors from the cold.

7 7 7 7 7 7 7

Vin sat on his desk his back to the rest of the room. He popped out and slapped in the clip to his SIG over and over.

"Mr. Tanner, if you do not cease that infernal noise I shall be driven to doing something desperate." Ezra couldn’t stand it another minute and an altercation with Vin was preferable to listening to the infernal clicking any longer.

Vin looked up confused. "What?"

"The gun Mr. Tanner please put it down."

Vin looked down at the gun in his hand seeming surprised it was there. "Sure Ezra sorry."

Josiah was staring at the file on his desk, humming tunelessly to himself. "JD?"


"How long has our boy worked for Animal Control?"

"Uh, eight years."

"Hummmm." Josiah tilted his head. He started humming again. Just before Ezra shot him, he stopped. "Vin?"


"Describe the building where Chris is please."

"Can’t describe it, can tell you how it felt. Big, empty, sound was weird, the floor was cold, cement bare, slick, like it’d been washed and washed." Vin ducked his head, "an’ it was dark. Chris couldn’t tell if it was just dark or if he was blind."

Josiah started humming again.

"MR. SANCHEZ!!!! Please."

Josiah looked at Ezra, "What?"

"The humming, Sir. Are we not tense enough without all these little annoying habits surfacing."

Josiah shook his head. "JD call Animal Control and find out what happened to the old animal shelter when they opened the new one a couple of months ago."

Vin looked hopefully at Josiah, who held his hand up "Wait."

JD hung up the phone and looked around the room. " The old shelter is abandoned. The city has been trying to sell it but no luck. When they opened the new one they just locked the door and left it. Some of the older employees were allowed to keep their keys incase they needed someone to show the building to a prospective buyer."

Vin slapped the clip in once more and hopped off the desk one legged and growled, "Lets go."

7 7 7 7 7 7 7

Chris slowly opened his eyes. He was here again, his tormentor. This time he could almost see him. But in the dim light he appeared to be dressed all in black. To weak to do anything else Chris just stared at him.

The man took a step closer and squatted down. "They found my house. Don’t know how, I was so careful. I’d thought of everything."

"Who are you?"

The young man smiled, "no one you know. I took some art classes once. Sarah taught them."

Chris tried to shake the cobwebs from his mind. "Sarah?"

"Yeah, she’d talk while we drew. ‘Bout you and the kid, ‘bout how great you were. Big tough cop, how wonderful you were, how smart. You're not so tough now are you smart guy? Too bad she can’t see you now." He brought up the switch he had in his hand and tickled the tip of it along the length of Chris’ arm.

The muscles in Chris’ arm convulsed but he didn’t move other wise. He just stared shooting out green fire with the last of his strength.

"They won’t find us you know. You’ll die here, alone ‘cause man I’m outta here." He stood swiftly raising his arm bring down the whip like branch in one last vicious slash across Chris’ face. Laughing he turned away and clanging the door shut locked it and disappeared down the hallway.

Chris watched him walk away not moving, not thinking. Then he doubled over vomiting what little water was still in his stomach, when that was all gone his muscles still continued to contract, over and over, until he was gasping for air curled up into a ball against the pain.

7 7 7 7 7 7 7

Team 7 raced down the interstate looking for the county road exit they needed. Vin, Buck, and JD in the lead car and Josiah, Nathan and Ezra following. As Josiah turned off onto the frontage road Ezra grabbed his cell phone. "This is ATF agent Ezra Standish at interstate 25 exit 343. A blue 1986 Toyota Camry license number Sam, William, Zebra, 842 is heading north. This vehicle is wanted in the kidnapping of a federal agent."

A pause then the voice came back over the phone. "Roger, Agent Standish a state police car has the suspect in sight."

The chase was forgotten as the cars pulled up to the abandoned animal shelter. The men approached the locked gate with caution. Vin jerked at the locked gate and in frustration shot the lock. Kicking the gate open he ran toward the building. Again there was a padlock on the door and again Vin shot it open.

"Oh, very good Mr. Tanner."

"Shut up, Ez." Vin stepped inside the dark building. Taking a shaky breath and closing his eyes he concentrated on the direction he needed to go. He opened his eyes and with confident steps headed down the hall to the large dog kennel.

He kicked the door in and walked down the path looking into each cage. At the last one he stopped, giving a strangled cry. "Chris?"

They saw him lying on the filthy floor curled into a fetal position not moving. Vin grabbed the lock jerking it and then preparing to shoot it also.

"Please Mr. Tanner allow me." Ezra took his lock pick and snapped the lock and the door opened.

Vin rushed in, bending down beside his friend. "Chris?" He whispered, gently touching a shoulder. He felt the muscles tremble at his touch. "Chris?"

Nathan pushed past the others his nose curling at the smell. Without looking up he started issuing orders. "JD, call for an ambulance. Ezra, go out to my car, bring blankets, and my kit." Nathan gently reached out and felt for a pulse. Sighing when he found one. "He’s alive." He then tried gently to straighten Chris out so he could better see what damage had been done.

Ezra ran back in with the blankets. Josiah stepped in. "Here brother let me carry him out of here into a better lit room at least."

Nathan nodded. "Ok, gently though. Ezra spread the blankets out to lay him on."

Once laid more or less flat the injuries were more evident. Growling Buck took his pocketknife and quickly cut the ropes from Chris’ wrists and ankles noting the raw and bleeding circles left behind.

Nathan ran his hands down arms and legs, "nothing broken that I can tell. He’s covered with welts from something. All over, even his face." Nathan reached up and tapped Chris lightly on the cheek, "Chris, come on Chris wake up a minute." There was no response.

JD came in stopped and stared at Chris swallowing "Ambulance will be here in about fifteen." He stopped and looked around at the others. "Guys?"

They all looked at him. "The Camry tried to run, it rolled about 10 miles down the interstate. Just the driver inside, dead."

The news was met with stoic silence. JD looked around the room they were in. Off to one corner was a pile of what looked like tree limbs. "What are those?"

Buck looked over to where JD was pointing. "Damn," He swore, walking over to the pile and picking up one of the pencil lead thin branches. All the fine leaves had been rubbed off so that all was left was the knobby reddish branch. Buck swished it through the air. "These kid are your worst nightmare if you’re in trouble with you ma. Salt Cedar switches. Mamma used to make me pick my own for a whipping and being the smart-ass I was I’d get the littlest thinnest one I could find. Figured it’d hurt less I guess. Only boy, did it sting." Buck smiled at the memory and swished the branch through the air making a louder sound.

"No, don’t, no more…" Came the weak voice riveting everyone’s attention to Chris.

"Easy Cowboy."

"Vin?" Chris shakily reached up and touched Vin’s face. "You real? You here?"

"Yeah, I’m real and we’re all here."

"I didn’t die?"

"Nope. You're gonna be fine. Ambulance is on the way. We got your back."

Chris nodded closing his eyes. "Thirsty."

Nathan got a small bottle of water. "Here, Chris, sip only."

Chris nodded, grateful for the moisture. He moved his tongue around his mouth and then said, "Thanks." He looked around the room at his friends, "you found me. He was wrong I won’t die here." His eyes drifted closed as he reached for and found Vin’s arm. "Not alone." He whispered.

Buck looked at his friends battered body and down at the switch in his hand. "Damn," and slowly methodically he started breaking the branch into tiny pieces.

7 7 7 7 7 7 7

Twenty-four hours later found everyone in the hospital room each man trying to get Chris to eat more of the wonderful Jell-O sitting before him. Chris was slathered from head to toe with ointment for the welts and an IV in his arm was pushing fluids. He looked around at his friends seeing them clearly at last.

"You ok, Cowboy?" Vin’s hand rested lightly on Chris’ arm.

"Yeah I am now." Looking at Buck, he nodded. "Tell me."

"There’s nothing Chris. His whole life doesn’t fill a page of paper. The PD has been through everything in his house with a fine-toothed comb. No journal, no letters, no family, no friends, nothing. Some really weird stuff he might have made in a metal class and some very bad paintings. One we think is Sarah. But it’s hard to tell. His closet was full of black clothes, no offence Stud, and there were some tickets to a gothic nightclub in Denver. Other then that, they found nothing. He died when his car rolled, we’ll never know now."

"You sure it was him?"

"Oh yeah. We made sure this time. Chris?"

"It’s ok Buck, it’s over." Chris looked down at his hands and the bandages on each wrist. "This time it’s finally over." He leaned his head back and closed his eyes.

Vin’s grip tightened on Chris’ arm. It's ok now, we got your back.

Chris Larabee smiled as he drifted off to sleep.

The End

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