by Tonny

Chapter 1 - 3 | Chapter 4 - 6 | Chapter 7 - 10 | Chapter 11 - 13
Chapter 14 - 16 | Chapter 17 - 19 | Chapter 20 - 22


He'd come, the bastard really had showed up at the ranch! He'd hidden his car and had prowled around carefully, before settling in to wait for whatever would come in the early morning. He'd seen Ben Watson and the foreman Rob Cleveland take care of the horses. He'd seen Ben's wife come out to ring the ranch bell and warn everyone breakfast was ready.

Buck and Mark had seen the same things, but only from the corner of their eyes. Their attention wasn't focused on the happenings at the Southern Breeze Horse Ranch; it was riveted on the killer and his antics. Through their binoculars they'd gotten a good look at the murderer and had whispered how uncanny it was to finally see this phantom.

Not even a week. They weren't even a week on this case, but it felt to Buck as if it had been months now. So much had happened in that week, information had poured in at a rate a lot higher than he'd been used to when they had been an ATF team and he was still stunned by it. Much of that had to do with CASSIE, he knew. He wasn't that much a fan of computers, but he had to admit that what CASSIE gave them had been priceless. In this case and in their first case as well. CASSIE was what made it possible for them to catch this... this monster, CASSIE and JD and Pam. Those two were wonders with that program or whatever it was.

It made him realize that yes, he had lost JD as his main partner. Not that JD had gone in on a bust very often while they were still ATF, he was mostly the one operating the communications and observation equipment. But now he didn't even get to go and investigate or round up snitches with the kid either. JD was needed behind the computer.

It had been strange to ride out with Mark instead of one of the original seven, instead of JD, the first few times he'd done it. He knew that JD was where he needed to be and truth to tell, he liked Mark. Mark was as eager as JD had always been, as naïve in some ways as well. The difference was that Mark came from the academy fully qualified and schooled for field work, where JD had to be trained for his license when their team had started seven years ago. A lot of JD's training had fallen on him, while Mark already knew what to do. That didn't mean the new kid on the block couldn't use some smartening up though, Buck smirked. Especially in street smarts.

Be that as it may, it sure took some getting used to and losing JD to the computer, in a way, wasn't the only thing he needed to get used to. Josiah was another. He had been stunned by the ex priest during this case. The way Josiah had pieced together the person from the statistics given to them by CASSIE had been uncanny. Josiah had made a cold and brutal picture out of all the data. He'd brought the killer to life for all of them and it had made Buck realize that the man had been wasted on their original ATF team. He'd been a great agent and even a greater teammate, being able time and again to get tempers back under control and traumas out in the open, but damn... he was a really terrific profiler! He had been so RIGHT about everything!

It hadn't been something they had needed very often as an ATF team. Going undercover to get drugs or arms dealers was different, they knew their targets.

Buck sighed and moved a bit backwards from the rise where they were keeping an eye on their subject, so he could stand up to do some stretching exercises. Man, he was stiff from all the crouching and lying around on the cold, damp ground! What he wouldn't give for one of Inez's massages right now. Or for a little romp with Sarah and Maria. Looking at the sky he sighed wistfully. The kids would be up by now, and around this time they would be running through the kitchen, screaming for pancakes and making a mess with the syrup once they finally got seated at the table. He knew Inez only had to look at them and say very distinctly 'Sit!' to get them to behave, but he always had to chase them, pick them up and dump them in their chair. Well hell, it was just so much more fun that way, he didn't care how much it made Inez shake her head in desperation!

He and Mark had left the office the moment Vin had told them the killer was going after Linda and had taken over from the two cops keeping an eye on the farm. Those two were now hiding on the other side of the ranch as back up. It had been about an hour later when the killer had turned up. Mark had been so exited about it all, but Buck had felt his gut clench. This was a guy you wouldn't look at twice when passing him on the street. He was slight, kind of small and his whole posture spoke of a nobody. But he had murdered, no, tortured and butchered countless women in nine years time. It made his blood boil just thinking about all the women who had suffered so much from this guy. His hands had clenched into fists when he saw the killer for the first time, he so much wanted to pound and hammer on him, hurt him, make him bleed, until he was begging for mercy like all his victims probably had done as well.

He wanted to make the son of a bitch hurt so much that he would beg to be allowed to tell them where Chris was.

God, Chris, what had the bastard done to Chris? And why was he after Linda now? Why Linda? Did he know Linda was connected to Chris? They had been speculating about how the killer found out where he could get Chris and they were pretty sure it was because of the specials on the television about him. Linda had been in those specials too, getting a lot of attention. It had taken him by surprise and he thought the others as well, to see that the media were pretty interested in her and her lover. The woman turned out to be regular jet set. It had struck Buck as pretty hilarious and he'd stowed it away to rile Chris with it after the case, because he knew how Chris hated everything that had even remotely to do with fame, richness and everything the gossip columns loved to write about.

Then Chris had been taken, Linda's life had been endangered as well and it just wasn't funny anymore.

He knew that throwing Sam Reed off the team had something to do with those shows on TV. If he ever found out that it had been Reed who leaked all the information, he was going to look that son of a bitch up and have a little heart to heart with him. With his fists. Only, how would Reed have found out all the dirt on Chris? It just didn't make sense, no sense at all.

A hiss made him look up. Mark was waving for him to come back. The kid was as fresh as if he'd just jumped out of a bed, instead of having been up all night. God, he was suddenly feeling his years. Not feeling old, he would never feel old as long as he lived, more... well, like his bones had had a bad night. Stealthily he climbed back up and took his binoculars out.

"He's moving," Mark whispered. "Look, I think he's giving up!"

"Yeah, well, he must've finally understood that seeing no Linda anywhere probably means there is no Linda here," Buck whispered back. "Yep, you're right, he's heading for his car. You keep an eye on him until we really have to roll, I'm gonna get the motor running." Hastily he scrambled back down and put the car in gear, ready to tear out. Not long after that Mark came tumbling down the low slope in a heap of twigs and leafs.

"He's... he's really going! He's backing away towards the road!" he gasped when he jumped in breathlessly beside Buck. They kept waiting, their car concealed off the driveway towards the Southern Breeze Horse Ranch. After a while a beat up truck passed them and took a turn towards Denver at the end of the driveway. Carefully they turned the same way.

"Buck, don't you have to get closer?" Mark asked anxiously when they kept so far behind he couldn't see the car they were following.

"Relax kid, relax, I know these roads like the back pocket of my pants. Besides, look, that small transceiver we managed to get on his car is working like a charm. See, there is its signal. Now, warn Vin... eh, headquarters, that he's on the move! And that the tracking device is working."

"Oh, yes, yes!" Hastily Mark took out his cell phone and dialed Vin's number. When he'd gotten his message through and listened, he put away the phone again with a frown on his face.

"What did he say, kid?"

"He yelled that we better not loose him. Like we would do that!" Mark said indignantly. "He sounded angry!"

"Yeah, well, I think he ain't too pleased to be in Denver instead of here chasing the baddy, Mark. That's his best friend we're trying to get back."

"But yours too, isn't he? JD said you and Chris, you practically grew up together?"

There was a clear question in the youth's voice and Buck looked aside for a moment. Damn, there it was again, like he'd seen in JD and in lots of other young agents. That hero worship for Larabee the legend. He sighed. He wasn't in the mood for grand story telling, he just wasn't.

He never realized that the whole original team, Team Seven, was a legend by now. His thoughts were centered too much around his missing unit leader and friend. Shit, Chris had been such a big part of his life for so long now, he couldn't imagine losing him, he just couldn't. Especially not now, when Chris had finally opened up his heart for a possible new love.

He just couldn't.

+ + + + + + +

The moment Vin had gotten Mark's phone call that the killer was on the move he was yelling orders. Within seconds Paul and Katrina were taking Linda to the hospital where most of the family was before joining the chase, Pam and Ross were grudgingly agreeing to defend the home front and Justin was off to the Denver PD to coordinate their actions with MCAT. The rest took cars and headed out. Vin jumped in his truck with Nathan beside him and JD in the back. The young Bostonian was holding on tight to his lap top and the second receiver they had for the tracking device, trying to pick up the signal from the small transmitter. Ezra was already taking off in his prized Jag with Kelli. He had given her a murderous look when she had tried to get behind the wheel and had left the building first, diving into the traffic as if he was the only one on the road. Vin was close behind him, cursing him in two languages and finally flipping open his phone, one hand on the wheel despite driving way above speed limit, to curtly inform the undercover agent what would happen to him if he ended up in a car accident with his wife.

Soon Mark phoned again and told Nathan, who took the phone, that the suspect was heading along Pat Creek Road. "Damn, that's north! What's north?" Nathan asked frustrated.

"Ranches, houses. Lots of places to hide," Vin said somberly. "JD? You got a signal?"

"Yes, yes I've got it now, Vin. But it's very weak. Damn, it's gone! Oh, good, it's back. It was back as soon as we got from under the overpass and I can see it again! West is about right."

"Tell Ez and Kelli we better go due west from here."

After a while another call came through. "Brook Hollow", Nathan yelled.

"Shit! He's heading for the Interstate!" Vin cursed. "Warn Ezra!" Immediately he made a sharp turn that almost caused an accident. That led to a phone call from Kelli, scolding him soundly for taking unnecessary risks.

"Where?" Nathan was barking in the phone, not bothering to switch his connection with Mark off again. JD was trying to make sense of the signal on the receiver, while at the same time talking to Paul and Katrina, telling them where they were all heading. Vin ignored it all. He was too busy neglecting every traffic sign to get them on the Interstate in record time. He had his police siren on to make sure they would get away with his blatant disregard for every rule.

"Vin, you're right. He's reached Interstate 70, he's goin' further into the mountains!" Nathan yelled.

Vin floored the car but was still passed by the flying Jaguar of Ezra who could go over the speed limit a lot more than his truck could.

"They're reaching Idaho Springs and... Hell, the guy's gone off the Interstate! JD, warn Ezra!"

"Yes, that's about right with the signal I'm getting. He's slowing down now as well. Nate, what are they saying? He's really slowing down. Are Buck and Mark close to him, can they see anything?"

"I'll ask, you warn Ez!"

Fast talking in the back seat was suddenly drowned out by Nathan's agitated voice. "He's WHAT! BUCK! BUCK, TALK TO ME, WHAT'S GOING ON? BUCK!"

Then, softly, "Dammit!" while at the same time JD yelled, "He stopped!"

"WHAT?" Vin shouted, trying to get more power out of his vehicle. "Nathan, WHAT?"

"The bastard! He... he got out of his car and shot a girl with his tranq gun."

Vin swerved and almost made them dive off the road. In the back seat JD shrieked in surprise, barely able to keep his lap top and receiver safely on the seat beside him.

"He... what?" Vin asked, stunned. "What else? What did they tell you?"

"Nothing Vin. That's what Mark managed to get out before breaking off. That the bastard had shot a girl and they had to stop him from taking her."

"Oh shit!" Vin groaned, his face suddenly gone very pale.

+ + + + + + +

"HALT! POLICE!" Buck yelled, jumping out of the car, leaving it standing right across the road, not bothering to close the door. He was waving his badge and his gun, making sure the bastard saw them. The killer looked up through the lank tresses of black hair hanging before his face. Buck would afterwards swear that despite the hair and the distance he saw the eyes of their suspect grow wide.

Come on, run you bastard, run! he thought, letting Mark get into the lead and ready to turn around back to his car. Escape, idiot, you gotta escape!

It seemed the shooter finally saw the light, because with a cry of rage he jumped off and raced to his car. Mark immediately aimed his gun.

"MARK! NOOO!" Buck yelled and to his immense relief he saw the gun waver and drop to Mark's side. "Get the girl, get to the girl and help her!" he yelled to his partner, turning around to go back to his car. He had to follow the bastard and convince him somehow that he'd lost the trail. Then, when the killer felt confident enough, he would go back to Chris, Buck was certain of it.

"You bastard," he hissed. "You fucking bastard! You're not going to hurt or kill anyone ever again!"

He hadn't run more than a few paces towards his car, when he heard it. Sirens, police sirens and screeching tires. When he turned around to find out what the hell was going on, he swore savagely. A police car was blocking the old and battered truck of the killer, ordering him to put down his weapon. The other agent was keeping his weapon aimed in the general direction of him and Mark, wavering between them.

"No," he whispered. "No!"

The killer had dropped his weapon and had stuck his hands in the air. He had surrendered. With a howl of frustration Buck hurled his weapon into the grass, holding up his badge once more, so the police could see it.

What a mess, what a fucking mess this whole action had just become!

Mark had lowered his gun as well and kept his arms away from his sides. "Police!" he was yelling at the top of his lungs. "We're police officers!" Buck waved his badge to emphasize Mark's point. A moment later one of the agents came from behind the police wagon and went to the killer with handcuffs ready. Soon the murderer was kneeling down with his hands cuffed behind him and the cop came over to Mark, who was nearest. After having checked Mark's credentials he waved to his partner.

Buck sighed and claimed his gun back from the still wet grass. It would mean cleaning the thing, but damn, he had been so angry about what had just happened. Had these idiots not gotten all the messages sent out about this case and the stern warning not to apprehend this subject? Despondent he walked over towards Mark and the policeman, curtly showed his ID and walked over directly to the killer, who now had the other agent beside him. He didn't look back, he knew that Mark and his Idaho Springs colleague would take care of the girl. He had another priority now.

Holding out his badge, he told the other cop curtly, "MCAT, which means I outrank you. This prisoner is mine."

"Really?" the cop smirked. "Seems to me we made the arrest, while you were running away."

Buck suddenly saw red. He grabbed the young man, no more then a cocky rookie, by his lapels and pulled him close. "You have just interfered with an important investigation, you moron!" he hissed. "An interference which just might get a man killed, a man who's worth fifty of you!" He shoved the gurgling kid away, not bothering to react to the shouts behind him of the rookie's indignant partner and turned towards the prisoner.

"Where is he?" he hissed.

The bastard had the nerve to smirk, a smirk that was gone fast when Buck grabbed him, hauled him up and slammed him against the police car.


"If you let me go, I might tell you."

"If you tell me, I might let you live," Buck hissed, getting a good grip on the prisoners collar and squeezing.

"HEY!" someone yelled behind him and he felt hands tugging at his arms. He didn't care and he certainly didn't let go until the lips in the face before him turned blue and the eyes panicked.


When nothing came out of the man but some wheezing he squeezed again. Now the eyes were rolling away before he finally released his hold, again ignoring the yelling and the hands at his arms. He didn't even acknowledge the gun he vaguely felt against the nape of his neck. He didn't care and he knew the rookie wouldn't shoot anyway. Dropping the coughing prisoner he took one step back.

"Want me to start kicking you?" he asked menacingly.


Without turning around Buck said softly, "I told ya, kid. We're MCAT and that means I outrank you so far you don't even know what hit you when I decide to take your badge. Understood?"

"I'm calling the Chief of Police!"

"You do that, son. And don't forget to tell him you and your partner screwed up our case. There were enough warnings sent out that this guy was NOT to be apprehended! Now, for the last time, where is Chris?" His whole focus was on the prisoner again. The man had stopped coughing, but his breath was still wheezing. He looked up through the lank, black trashes that were falling over his face and his smile was almost angelic.

"Dead," he said softly. "He's dead, so I dropped him in a river on my way to get his blond bitch. That's what I promised him, that I'd let his lady follow him in death soon, after making her suffer of course." The smile grew. "You should 've seen the fear in his eyes when I told him that. And that's when I killed him, cut his throat."

"You're lying," Buck whispered. "You're fucking lying!"

"Why? Why should I lie? You wanna find him? You have to drag the river I threw him in. Well, more a creek. One of them wild creeks I passed on the way to the blond bitch's farm or ranch or whatever it is." Cool, pale eyes held his while Buck staggered.

He vaguely heard more cars coming and then a soft voice asked, "Buck? What... what is he saying? Is he saying that Chris... that he killed Chris? Is that why he needed another victim, because he had f... finished with Chris? Buck?"

"NO!" he spat. "No, I don't believe you!" His hands grabbed for the prisoner again, while he yelled, "Tell me! Tell me where he is!" He couldn't reach the bastard though, because suddenly another body came between him and his prey, the body of a uniformed cop. The rookie was trying to interfere again, even though he had to have heard that Buck had just been told that his friend, his brother, was dead.

"S... sorry sir," the rookie told him with trembling voice. "I... I just can't let you do that. He's got rights."


"B... Buck? Please?"

This time it was Mark who was talking to him. Suddenly very tired Buck looked at the young agent, his new partner. He could see that Mark was trying very hard to keep up a brave front.

"Buck, what do I tell Vin? I... I... what do I say?"

That was one phone call he couldn't let the kid make. Vin was his friend, his family and he should tell him.

Tell him that Chris might be dead after all, that that was the reason this vermin had gone hunting again. With a deep sigh he turned away and took out his phone. Before he dialed he looked at the still form of the girl. She was covered in blankets now and someone was holding her wrist, seemingly taking her pulse.

"That a doctor?" he asked Mark.

"Y... yes."

"You told him what kind of sedative the bastard uses? No? Better go do it then, I'm gonna call Vin."

Mark looked at him for a moment, then he sighed, nodded and walked away. Buck flipped open his phone. This was one conversation he didn't want to have. Suddenly he fervently hoped he wouldn't be the one who had to tell Linda. Telling Vin would be bad enough.

+ + + + + + +

He couldn't do it, he just couldn't do it. The ropes were too tight, biting into the flesh of his wrists and even with all the blood making his wrists slick he couldn't get his hands free.

He felt so weak, so very weak. Thinking of Cleaver coming back after he had found out he couldn't get to Linda made him shudder and he hated that. It was just that he didn't want to go through it all again, all the cutting and the things that had been even worse.

Looking up he noticed that the light outside had become brighter. The morning was steadily moving on. He didn't think he would have much time left before Cleaver came back.

He had to get free!

Again Chris tried to get his hands out of the ropes, pulling and pulling until the pain became too much to bear. He never noticed when he lost consciousness.


Three cars screeched to a halt on the pavement before Idaho Springs City Hall Building, ignoring the 'forbidden to park' zone. Soon five very agitated men and two equally frantic women who had no eye whatsoever for the beautiful old building or the glorious mountain peaks around them, were hurling themselves up the short stairs and through the main entrance, flashing badges and demanding to be brought to the Chief of Police. There were a few tense moments between their longhaired leader and the Idaho Springs Chief, but finally the edgy group was looking into a room that held a man with lank, black hair half concealing his face, handcuffed to a table. Two men and one cop in uniform were guarding him, one of the men staring hard at the prisoner, never taking his eyes off him.

"The girl?" Vin asked, tense.

"She's still sedated and was sent to Denver Memorial. That's heavy stuff he used, isn't it?"

"Rompun, or Xylazine," Nathan answered softly. "Used to put animals down."


"She's not hurt in any other way?" Vin wanted to know for sure.

Randy Newcastle, Chief of Police of Idaho Springs, was still a bit stunned that a notorious serial killer had just tried to kidnap a girl within the boundaries of his jurisdiction and had been apprehended there. He took a deep breath and shook his head. "Julia 's alright in any other way. Bumped her head a little when she fell down, but otherwise it's just the sedative."

"Good," Vin said softly. He looked at the man they had arrested and knew they had blown it. According to the Chief of Police he'd just laughed when asked where Chris was and told them to find the nearest river.

Why the hell didn't they let him escape? We had the transmitter on him! God, now what do I do? Chris? Please Chris, where are you?!

For a moment he had to turn away from what he saw in the room and take a deep breath. Punching a hole in the wall wasn't going to help Chris, he had to keep it together. Briefly he looked at Kelli. She didn't come over and hug him, she knew better than that, but her smile and the love in her eyes made him feel a little better.

Newcastle was talking to him again and he turned back to Idaho Spring's Chief of Police. "... very sorry that we weren't on time for your man. I guess we should at least try and find out what river or creek he dumped the body in. We could take him down the route and make him point it out."

"I... I can't believe it," JD whispered. "I can't believe that Chris... that we're too late!" There was a look of utter incredulousness on the young man's face.

"I guess that's why he went after Linda,'' Nathan said softly. "He needed his third prey. Only... Vin, how did you know he was going after her? Chris, did you feel Chris...." The medic fell silent.

"Chris knew that's where he was goin', Nate. And nope, he ain't dead yet. He's in a lot of pain and he's getting' weaker every moment we're wastin' here, but he ain't dead! So, let's go and get some answers!"

"But...," Newcastle started, only to be passed by Vin who almost shoved him aside in order to enter the room. In there he met the eyes of a very tense Buck Wilmington. Keeping Buck under wraps was going to be hard, Vin feared. He practically radiated anger and the need to inflict violence. It was something Brad Cleaver knew as well, because there was unmistakably fear in his eyes when he looked at the mustached man.

"Why did ya fuck up our investigation?" Vin asked the policeman in the room softly.

"We... we didn't know you were following him, sir," the policeman said anxiously. "We were warned by someone that a girl was shot and when we came to the area we saw a girl down and we saw three men with guns. What else could we do but stop them? He fit the profile the caller gave of the girl's attacker, so we focused on him and made sure we would at least get him. We didn't know about your man, we never received the information on this case, I swear!"

Vin stared at him for a moment, feeling sad. The man had only done what he thought was right, but it might cost Chris his life if they didn't get Cleaver to talk. He looked back at the captive and a deep anger started to burn inside him. That bastard had wanted to capture Linda and take her to Chris, probably to kill her in front of Chris. Or maybe he figured Chris was already dying. And when Linda wasn't there, he'd picked up another girl.

It was something he hadn't expected at all. That angered him as well. He should have anticipated this!

"If you'd wait outside," he said softly to the policeman and turning his eyes on the Chief of Police who had followed him in, he included him as well. "Me and this piece of shit have some business together." He didn't know it, but at that moment his voice sounded almost as lethal as Chris' voice could be. The two men nodded briefly and hastily left the room. Vin looked at the killer, who looked back a bit uncertainly.

"Where is he?" he asked.

"Dead!" Pale grey eyes looked at him with triumph. "He's dead and floating in some creek I crossed on the way to get his blond bitch!"

Vin moved instantly, grabbing Cleaver by the neck and banging him forward on the table. The man yelped in pain. There was some commotion at the door, but a brief look assured Vin that no one would be able to pass Nathan and Ezra. He slammed Cleaver against the table again, trying to keep his red hot anger in check.

"I know he's still alive, so where - is - he?"

"Told you, he's dead!" the captive wailed. "You can't do this, you hurt me!"

Vin bowed low. "Yeah, well, I don't see any witnesses. Or maybe I do. Maybe that's just what I want, for you to complain and get released. That way I get to hunt you and kill you. You see, you little weasel, that's what I'm good at, huntin' people. Have done it for a lot of years. But I do it for real! With a real gun, a real rifle and I always get my prey, always!"

"Yup, best bounty hunter the West has ever known," Buck confirmed, setting himself at the edge of the table and looking down on the man squirming in Vin's grip. "Oh, and in case you haven't noticed," he flashed his badge, "we are kind of a very new branch of law enforcement. Means everyone's gotta listen to us, do what we tell 'm. We tell them in what kind of penitentiary we want you put, that's where you're put. And I know exactly where I want you. I know this one penitentiary in Colorado, got this special wing for rapists where you'll fit just right. Boy, they gonna love your ass over there."

The man blanched.

"So you better tell us where he is," Vin said softly.

"Yup, or I'll start this rumor that you're a police informer and that's why you probably gonna walk on some cooked up thing like police brutality. You think he'll leave the Canyon State Penitentiary alive? I know it'll spoil your fun Vin, but he would die so much more brutally there. Those inmates only got their hands, some self made knives and plain brute force to kill him with. No nice, fast bullets there!"

They felt Cleaver waver, felt how he radiated fear. Then suddenly he spat and laughed. "Better than to be locked up for the rest of my life without... without ever a chance to see an animal again! So I don't care! At least I'll know that the one who's responsible will be dead as well! Yes, you're right that he's still alive right now! Who knows how long he'll be laying there in that...." He suddenly stopped talking. Then he said softly, "He's in a lot of pain, you know. He'll die really miserable."

Vin slammed him back in his chair. "JD!" he hollered. "Get that machine of yours hooked up! Ez, get someone here who knows the real estate, more 'n one if ya have to! We have to find us a cellar!"

He saw the eyes of Cleaver widen at that statement. God, he wished Josiah was here, he was fairly certain the profiler would've known exactly what buttons to push to make this guy talk. He had him pegged down from the beginning. "Get the real estate websites of this area on line, JD," he told the young man softly. "Ezra's gonna find someone to help."

+ + + + + + +

It took a long time, a lot longer than Vin could stand to make a list of all the abandoned houses with cellars. Three real estate agents had finally shown up, all with specific knowledge of the area. Newcastle had shaken his head over it all, but had cooperated in every way. He now had his patrol officers hunt down an old man who knew the area around Idaho Springs better than anyone.

"No, no neighbors," JD told the real estate agents again. "I told you! No neighbors and they have to be of stone! Stone cellars. Oh, and he also uses houses where the residents are on vacation, but he prefers abandoned ones. Ruins too sometimes. As long as the cellar is still good."

With everything JD said, Cleaver was getting whiter and whiter. "Who are you people?" he finally asked, bitterness edging his voice. "How do you know all that stuff? How did you find out about me?"

"Courtesy of CASSIE, asshole, and of Josiah!" JD mumbled. "Vin, the list is ready! I have categorized them in ruins and really abandoned houses, in empty houses for sale that are good to live in and in houses where they know the tenants are on vacation."

"Good!" Vin all but snatched one of the copies from JD's hands. "Me and Nate do the abandoned ones. Buck, you divide all them empty houses for sale with Paul and Kat, 'cause they are really spread out and Ezra and Kelli, you take the ones with them owners on vacation. JD, you're our spider in the web here, we all keep y' updated and if any new possibility comes to you, you let us know! Call Justin and get out as many men as you can to join the search! We don't succeed in this area, then we're gonna expand. Come on, we gotta hurry! Nate, let's go!"

Vin ran off, holding the list tightly. He hadn't taken the abandoned houses for nothing. He had this sense of broken windows high up in crumbling walls and some kind of... door through which he could see the sky. A sense of oldness and abandonment he couldn't really explain. As usual he went with his gut, he just didn't dare to put all on one card so he had the other houses searched as well. Before he left the hallway he briefly looked back at Kelli. No matter how much he wanted her by his side at this time, he didn't switch partners. He knew he had the best chance of finding Chris out there and when he did, it was Nathan he was going to need. Nathan or Katrina, but, well, Nathan was familiar. Familiar to Chris as well.

Running for his car, Nathan close behind him, he tried to reach Chris, tried to tell him to hold on. He didn't feel anything and he knew Chris was unconscious again. Damn, that wouldn't help!

Don't do this Cowboy, don't leave us like this! You gotta let me find you! he thought desperately. Please wake up, help me find you!

+ + + + + + +

Something fluttered at the edge of Chris' awareness and slowly he opened his eyes. Sunbeams were falling on the floor not far from him, dust dancing in the golden rays. Nearby a rat was sitting, staring at him and suddenly he felt himself go cold all over. The blood, he knew it would draw them if he lay quiet long enough. He felt something, a sharp pain at his left leg. Trying to relieve some of that pain he moved and rolled on his back.

Small bodies scurried away and bile rose in his throat. He looked back to where the first rat had been. It was still there, looking at him and he felt the panic rise up. Sit, he had to try and sit, so he could look around the cellar better. At the very least he had to try and get the wall at his back.

He didn't know if it would help, but it would sure make him feel better.

Desperately he tried to sit up, only to discover he didn't have the strength. When he had worked himself on his side again, unable to stop from crying out in pain, he could hardly raise himself. At least all his moving had made the rats disappear. He heard small, scurrying noises fading in the distance. The rat that had been looking at him was gone now and that made him feel a lot better, despite all the pain.

Shit, he felt himself slip away again. No, he couldn't, he just couldn't! Not with rats around. With a deep moan he tried to curl up on himself, in the hope he wouldn't feel the pain so much, or the nausea. It didn't help, nothing helped.

Not knowing anymore what else he could do, he did the only thing left to him, he reached out with his mind, reached out farther than he ever had before to try and find him, the other half of him, to try and find Vin.

There, he felt a flutter almost at the edge of his awareness. Vin. Worried as hell. He smiled. Vin was looking for him and Vin almost always found what he was looking for.


Chr... Chris? Chris....

Something else seemed to follow, deep emotions of fear, fear for him and desperation, a deep desperation. No words... Vin was too far away. Only that fear and desperation deep inside his best friend. It made him feel sad. So he tried to send some kind of reassurance to Vin, tried to tell him not to worry, that he would hold on until Vin was here.

Suddenly laughing green eyes surrounded by beautiful long blond hair rose up in his mind. Linda! God, how he wanted to see Linda again, talk with her, hold her in his arms.

Yes, he would hold on, he simply had to.

+ + + + + + +

After they had searched five abandoned houses and one almost unrecognizable ruin, Nathan knew that this maddening search better not take too long, because Vin was slowly losing it. There was something about what he was feeling from Chris that had the young man worried, almost in a frenzy and it scared Nathan. It made him fear for the state he would find Chris in.

Not that it could be very good, considering that that monster had had Chris for quite some time before he decided to go on the move.

He looked at the list of addresses and at the map they had been given of the area. "Next one left, Vin."

Vin nodded. They weren't searching alone anymore. It was late afternoon by now and the whole area was crawling with cops, many with dogs.

Looking at Vin's tense features Nathan again wished that that bastard Cleaver would finally open his mouth. He'd had a quiet phone call with Rain after the last house they searched, to give the homefront an update and to find out how Josiah was doing.

"Josiah's stronger than he was yesterday, Nathan. But Linda.... She scares me, the way she is just sitting there. It's like she isn't alive anymore. God, Nathan, she's taking this really bad! I've ordered some Valium for her and at least she's laying down on the couch in the hall now. I better go and check on her. You find him Jackson, you hear!"

"Rain, we won't stop until we do."

"Good. Now, I better go take care of Linda and Mal."

"Just... don't overdo it, you hear? You're pregnant, remember?"

"So? Pregnant doesn't mean sick, mister! In case you have forgotten history, women have been pregnant and running around for centuries."

"Just take care of yourself as well, Rain. Promise?"

A deep sigh, then he just knew his lovely wife was smiling that beautiful smile of hers, the one that had made him fall instantly in love with her so many years back and she told him, "Alright, mother hen, I will. You take care too."

Mother hen! She was always telling him he worried too much and maybe he was. Sometimes he gave himself a headache thinking of all the things that could go wrong, trying to anticipate them and take care of them before they happened, trying to keep everyone healthy. He just couldn't help it, too often he'd been on the brink of losing one of this strange, ragtag family he'd one day found himself a part of.

Everyone worried about Chris right now and about Josiah, but he couldn't help worrying about Linda and Vin too. It just... happened. He saw that anxious face beside him with the deep shadows under those normally so vibrant blue eyes and the worry was there. And then he had to try and make things right, or if he couldn't do that at least make them better.

If he was truthful with himself, he knew why he was doing it. He'd lost too many people in his life when he was young and he just couldn't bare the thought of losing anyone else, he just couldn't. In a way he was as bad about that as Chris. It's why it had taken him ages before he finally dared to ask Rain to marry him. Ages and Josiah, he remembered with a smile.

Josiah, thank God Josiah was going to stay alive!

Suddenly Vin's head jerked up and he looked around himself desperately.

"Vin?" he asked. "What's wrong?"

"I... I thought I felt...." Abruptly Vin hit the brakes, causing the police car behind them to almost crash into them.

"SHIT!" Nathan cried out. He would have made a dive forward if it hadn't been for the safety belt he luckily always wore. Those belts had saved his life a time or two and had certainly saved his head from a lot of bumps. Vin didn't react to the horn behind him or to Nathan's exclamation, he had flipped open his phone and was speed dialing.

"JD? JD, that old man they found, the one who knows this whole area? He still there? Good, I need ta know somethin'. We're on...."

"Ouch," Nathan hissed when Vin hit him on the shoulder before pointing impatiently at the map.

"Yeah, wait a moment, Nate's lookin' it up. We're at a small road called Alps Mountain Road. There's supposed to be a house on the end of it, but is there somethin' halfway this road as well? Anythin'?"

Nathan looked at Vin apprehensively. What was going on now?

"Yeah, a what? Some small farm, from a long time ago? Where the road makes a sharp turn, somewhere over there? Nope, I don't care if there's almost nothin' left, I'm gonna check it out, thanks."

The phone ended in Nathan's lap and Vin made a sharp turn, after which he raced back. There were some heavy gestures from the cops in the police car following them, but it turned around as well.

A small track run off to the left in the turn of the road. Vin stopped for a while, holding his head to the side as if he were listening to something. Then he nodded once and headed up the track.

It made Nathan shiver. Especially when they found a small farm house at the end of it, with the roof fallen in. Vin jumped out and was at it in a flash, calling out for Chris. Nathan followed more slowly, looking around himself and noticing the beauty of the place. The Denver Mountains were all around them, beautiful peaks with snow glittering at the top. Where he stood beside the car the grass was a lush green, dotted with numerous wild flowers. Bees were humming and in the distance he heard a bird call out with a wonderful melodious voice. Something scurried through the grass close to a terrain full of brambles, some yellow roses gone wild and other bushes. Wondering what it was he moved over to it. Rabbits probably.

"OH YIKES!" Disgusted he jumped back.

"Sir? Sir, are you alright?"

"Yeah, I'm alright. Rats, there's rats here is all," he shouted back to the concerned cop.

"RATS?" one of the other cops yelled, jumping back as well. "Shit, I hate rats!"

"Yeah, well, lets look this place over real quick then."

They followed Vin inside the house and Nathan followed. In it they saw Vin working at a half rotten wooden door.

"Think this is the way down the cellar," he told them, attacking the wood again.

"Maybe, but it don't look like it's been opened in a long time, Vin."

"I know Nate, I ain't blind! He could've found another entrance though, so we better check."

"Sir? I got a crowbar."

"Smart boy, go at it!"

While the cop attacked the door with a vengeance Nathan looked aside at Vin. "What's goin'on with you, Vin? Why you actin' like this? Like you know...." He couldn't say it.

"Yeah, well, I do Nate. You see, I can 'talk' with him now and that means he's close, he's real close." He pushed back his hair with one hand and Nathan saw the slight shaking of that hand.


"He ain't hearing us work on the door, Nate. How could he be in there and not hear that? It worries me."

"He gotta be in a bad state."

"Yeah, well, he is, the hardheaded mule. Can't hardly form a coherent sentence. YES! The door's down! FLASHLIGHTS, WHERE?"

Vin was down the stairs first, hardly looking around at the dark space he found himself in. He was playing the flashlight over the walls as if he was looking for something specific and didn't look at the floor even once. "CHRIS? CHRIS, YOU HEAR ME?"

No answer, nothing. Nathan let his flashlight play over the floor, but it was soon clear that this cellar hadn't been disturbed in a very long time.

"Damn!" Vin swore, again playing the lamp over all the walls.

"This ain't it, Nate. It just ain't it! He's got light where he is! But I don't see a door or anythin' that might lead to another part."

Thank God Chris has light, Nathan thought fervently. Just picturing Chris in something so dark and dismal as this place, hurt and in pain, tied up probably, made him feel nauseas.

"There's nothing here," one of the police officers who'd come down with them called out from the far corner.

"SHIT!" Vin was storming up the rickety stairs and for a moment Nathan thought the whole damn thing would collapse with his captain on it.

"CHRIS!" he heard Vin holler and the frantic running of footsteps.

"Nothing here, sir. We checked the whole house. Truth is, there's nothing much to check, most of it has collapsed.


Gingerly Nathan climbed the stairs, glad they held him until he was through the now broken down door. He heard a curse behind him. "You okay?" he yelled.

"Yeah, one of the steps cracked in half when I put my foot on it, gave me a scare is all."

"Just be careful, it's real old!"

Outside he saw Vin, standing very quiet now in the mountain meadow surrounding the house, his face tilted to the sun. With a sigh he walked over to his friend and stood beside him, waiting, offering his silent support.

After a while he couldn't stand the silence anymore. The cops behind them were getting restless and so was he. Chris was out there somewhere, probably hurt and they needed to move, to find him.

"Vin, you alright?"

"Sssh," Vin hissed, opening his eyes and looking around him. "It don't make sense, Nate. He's here, I just know it! In a cellar! But where? He says there's some windows close to the ceiling and a trap door, a broken trap door he sees the sky through. And something yellow, small and yellow. Oh Christ!"


"Rats," Vin whispered. "He says the rats are back. Nate, we gotta find him quick, he can hardly move and if those damn creeps find that out...."

"Oh my God," Nathan whispered. He didn't question the truth of Vin's statement, he'd seen that weird connection between his two friends too often to doubt it. He didn't like it, it was something that just couldn't exist, but it was there and he'd decided years ago to never talk about it, never think about it and just live with it.

God, rats! "Is he... is he bleedin'?" Stupid question with what they knew about the killer.

"Yes," Vin whispered. The answer that was to be expected.

Someone cleared his throat behind them and when Nathan looked back he saw the suspicious looks in the three pairs of eyes that stared at them from under the police hats. He shrugged them off and looked over at the brambles and bushes he'd been admiring before he entered the house.

"I know there are rats here, saw one over there."

Vin looked where he pointed and suddenly grew very, very quiet.


Vin gave him the oddest answer. "Yellow," he whispered, almost reverend.

Yellow? "Yeah, some roses that went wild. They're lovely, ain't they?"

"Yellow," Vin now said very distinctly and then he was running, right into the bushes.

"DAMMIT! Here, look here! Tire marks! Why the hell didn't I see those? God, it's here!"

"Where?" Nathan was right behind Vin, who suddenly stopped, staring at the fundaments of what once must have been a barn. No way in hell Nathan could distinguish any tire marks in the lush grass that was growing behind these bushes, but he did see a trap door in what once must have been the barn floor. A broken down trapdoor, half of it gone. There were rosebushes here as well, yellow roses softly swaying in the calm breeze.

Vin was already there, banging open the door and running down some deep, stone stairs. When Nathan came over, he saw something that looked suspiciously like blood on the steps.

That's when he heard Vin cry out brokenly, "Chris! Oh God, Chris!"


Not good, Chris wasn't good at all, Vin thought and almost laughed aloud. God, he could hardly see Chris, all he saw was blood, blood and... raw meat here and there, he couldn't describe it any other way.

Shit, he was getting hysterical!

That's when he found the clear green eyes, eyes that despite the pain in them radiated calm. Running the last steps towards the corner where his friend was lying, tied down, naked and bloody, it made him almost angry. There was nothing to be calm about!

Yes there is. You found me.

Damn it! Even your thinking is weak!

But I'm still thinking... God, sick!

A moment later he was carefully cradling Chris' head, supporting the heaving body. His knife was already sawing through the ropes around his friend's wrists.

"Oh God," he heard beside him. Nathan was there, trying to get through the ropes around Chris' feet with his Swiss pocket knife. The little knife kept slipping in the blood on the ropes.

"Here." Vin thrust his own big knife at Nathan. When he did, he saw Chris look at it, a shudder going through the lean body. "Shit, keep it out of his sight!"

"I need my stuff," was all Nathan said.

"Yeah, I'll...,"

At that moment they heard a yell coming from outside. "HELLO! You two in here? Did you find something?" Footsteps could be heard coming nearer and Chris stiffened. Vin looked down at him. The green eyes pleaded and he nodded.

"Watch him, I'll be right back," he whispered to Nathan, carefully lowering Chris' head back down, making sure his jacket was under it. He couldn't resist brushing away some of the blond hair hanging over the forehead and then he hurried off.

"Keep out!" he barked when he saw two booted feet descend. "Get back right now!" The boots hesitated and he saw that the owner was preparing to lower himself anyway.


He was already running up the stairs and the police officer had no choice but to back up. "Get Nathan's medical supplies, all of it," he ordered. "NOW! It's in my truck. MOVE!"

"Y... yes sir. He's... he's there?"

Relenting a little, Vin nodded. "Sorry, but he don't want anyone ta see him like... like that. He's bad, so please hurry."

"Yes sir, sorry sir." Wide open eyes were looking at him. N

, not at him, at.... Looking down at himself Vin saw that he was covered with blood, Chris' blood. It made him feel sick and he swallowed, trying to keep himself calm and functioning. While Chris....

Oh God!

Vin, it's alright...


"No," he said to the young cop. "No, I'm sorry, you couldn't know."

Nathan's voice hollered from below. "VIN! I can't get a signal on my mobile! Can you, out there?" He immediately grabbed for his phone, only then remembering that he'd left it in the truck. He'd thrown it at Nathan. Stupid, stupid!

"Phone!" he yelled at the two cops still standing there, watching him and the trapdoor behind him uncertainly. One of them looked up, a bit dazed.

"He's... he's really in there? But... how? How did you know? How did you know what to look for?"

"Yes, he's in there and he's hurt bad! Now give me yer phone!"

It was the other one who moved and soon Vin was talking to JD. "Yeah JD, we did, we found him. Yes, yes, he's still alive, but... DAMN IT, JD! SHUT UP AND LISTEN! He's bad, real bad and you gotta keep it together! Shit, are you still there? This line is weak. Thank God, there y' are. Listen, you gotta get a medical chopper here, fast! Yeah, yeah, that road I called ya from, Alps whatever. Alps Mountain, that's it. When you get on it from the main road, it's to the right of the curve, to the RIGHT! There's a track there that ends in this meadow with this ruin. Plenty of room to land. Just get them here fast! Tell them he's cut a lot and has lost a lot of blood . And JD, Cleaver sk... skinned him, the bastard actually did it. Don't lose it now, dammit! Alright, I'm giving the phone to someone else now, you have to coordinate with him. Just hurry!"

Thrusting the phone, still open, back to the cop he told him, "You're in charge here now. No one, and I mean no one, gets in there except the Flight for Life people, is that understood? Now, you talk with my man on the other end of the line, he's got them calling for a chopper already and you help him get it here fast! Understood?"

The young police officer nodded and, suddenly all business, put the phone to his ear. He looked capable, Vin decided. Glaring a 'what took you so long' look at the cop who was gasping hard from having run all the way to the cars and back with the medical equipment at top speed, he took the bags and ran down the stairs again.

"Remember, no one in here but that medical team!" he yelled back one more time to be sure. It had been too important to Chris and after having seen that mangled, naked body he could understand his friend's feelings too well.

"Here Nate."

"Thank God. I... I need to stop the bleedin', Vin. Lots of wounds luckily ain't bleedin' anymore, but there are so many who still are. And I need to clean the wounds. That bastard let him lay here in all this filth. Shit, I don't know where to start.... What... what that bastard did to his chest and back...."

"Nathan?" Vin didn't like to hear his friend talk like that. He needed Nathan right now, he needed him to keep Chris alive! "Nathan, please. You're all he's got!"

"I KNOW THAT! Ya think I don't know that, dammit?"


"N... Nate?" The voice was so soft that both men thought they had imagined it. Still, to be sure, they looked at Chris. They saw his pain filled face while he opened his mouth again. Nothing came out this time, but he looked steadfastly at the black medic. Nathan stared back for a moment and then he heaved a deep sigh. Calmer now he looked back at the wounded body of his unit leader.

"I ain't got nearly enough water with me to clean him and there's nothing here. I'm gonna concentrate on stopping as much of the bleedin' as I can. Vin, try and get him to drink."

Mutely Vin accepted the bottle of mineral water and then he tried to carefully lift Chris against his chest, so he could help him drink some of it. In the end Nathan had to help him get Chris in a comfortable position and Vin was very grateful for that. There just didn't seem to be a place where he could touch Chris without hurting him.


He looked down in his friend's face and saw him look up steadily, asking him with those expressive eyes not to worry so much. Yeah, well, and how was he supposed to do that? Then the green eyes suddenly closed and a hiss escaped his friend.

"Dammit Nate, you're hurtin' him!"

"You think I like doin' that? Shit!"

"Nate? You alright?"

"No! Now shut up and let me work!"


"God, how long 'til that chopper gets here? Shouldn't they be here by now?"

Vin felt Chris' hand suddenly grip his arm hard. "Oh hell! Please Nate, can't you give him somethin' for the pain?"

"I don't dare. What if it interferes with what the Flight for Life team wants to do? Why ain't they here yet? I can hardly do anythin'. He needs a hospital for cryin' out loud!"

A commotion at the top of the stairs made them both raise their heads. They heard Ezra's distinct drawl and then Kelli's angry voice.

"I don't care! That's my husband inside, so I'm sure he didn't mean for you to stop us! And you seem to forget it's our boss and friend who's laying in there, hurt and wounded!"

The hand on his arm tightened again and Vin looked down into pain filled, worried eyes of the man resting against his chest. He smiled reassuringly. "Nate? I think one of us gotta tell them to really keep everyone out, Ez and Kelli too."

Nathan looked up. "I'll do it. It's better not to move him and I've stopped most of the bleedin', well, where I can. It'll also give me a chance to find out where that chopper is and yell at 'm to hurry up. Chris, you hold on tight, we'll get you out of here."

"Th... thanks," Chris managed to whisper. Then Nathan was gone, climbing the stairs. Soon they heard his familiar deep voice in what sounded suspiciously like reprimands. It made Vin smile for a moment. Nothing and no one would ever change Nathan, he was sure of that. He gazed down at his best friend's face, avoiding a look at all the ravaging one deranged human being with a knife had managed to do to that lithe body that always had been in such great shape. He thought about the last time they had been sparring in hand to hand combat and how exhausted he'd been afterwards. Chris had teased him mercilessly about that. God, the shape that man always was in! He knew he was in great shape himself, but sometimes it still made him exhausted just to think about running with Chris.

Nope, he wasn't gonna cry!

That's when he realized that not all the sadness he was feeling was coming from inside himself. A part of it was coming from Chris.

Chris? What's wrong?

How can you ask? Josiah.... I c... couldn't stop him, Vin!

Stop who? Josiah? OH!

Suddenly it dawned on Vin what Chris was so sad about. "No, no! Listen Chris, Josiah ain't dead! It was a close call, but you know Josiah, he fought and he pulled through."

Josiah ain't dead Chris, he ain't! And today he was a lot better than yesterday, JD checked with the hospital right before we found you.

Profound relief radiated with such force from Chris, that it amazed Vin how Nathan, who was just coming down again, could miss it. Softly he squeezed one of Chris' hands and then he looked up expectantly at Nathan.

"Man, but Kelli can be a handful when she sets her mind to it! You better prepare yerself for some tough moments when you're home again, Vin. She ain't pleased at all."

"But she stays put?"

"Yep, I told her and Ezra they ain't important in this, only Chris. But she was angry enough to eat my hide 'bout not getting to see him, I can tell you! And Ez' wasn't much better about it."

Vin sighed, although he also had to grin inwardly. He felt a chuckle inside Chris as well and was glad of it. "And the medical chopper?"

"Can be here any second now. JD is keepin' contact with them and they're close." Nathan settled himself beside Chris and took one of the limp hands in his own big black one. "So you hold on tight, boss. Any minute now and you're outta here."

+ + + + + + +

It took Flight for Life another two minutes, but then finally they heard the unmistakable roar all the way into the cellar. Before long a very efficient medical team rushed down the stairs with a gurney and all the equipment necessary. An IV was soon hooked on, plasma going into Chris' body to try and replace some of the blood he had lost, pain meds were given and a start was made cleaning some of the worst wounds, while at the same time dry cloths were put over Chris' trembling body. Vin and Nathan hadn't dared to cover their friend, afraid anything they would lay over the blond would get stuck into the many wounds.

"I can't believe it," one of the medics said softly, "these ones over here are no knife wounds, they are bite wounds."

"The rats," Vin whispered, feeling sick. He hadn't left Chris' side for a minute. Neither had Nathan, not even when they had heard Buck's unmistakable roar upstairs.

"Rats? Don't think it looks like rats. It's as if something has been gnawing on his flesh."

The killer, Vin immediately knew from Chris. The image he got from his friend finally was the one that made Vin violently sick. "Human, made by a human," he managed to get out before he ran off and threw up in a corner. Vaguely he heard the flight nurse saying, "These here, on his left leg, they could be from rats. We have to give him shots, get the Tetanus." It made him throw up all over again.

In what seemed an endless time to Vin, but was in reality only minutes, the efficient medical team had Chris ready for take off. "You did good," the nurse told Nathan. "You already stopped some of the bleeding. We did notice bruises, where you can see anything else except... except...." She looked away, her emotions taking over for a moment. "In all my years I've never seen something like this," she whispered. She shook her head once and the professional flight nurse was back. "Luckily it doesn't appear there is anything broken. As of now there's also no sign of any internal wounds, but to be honest it's really hard to tell. He has lost a lot of blood though and is very weak. And infection is a very great danger right now, especially for... for the skinned areas."

"We'll get him to good care fast," her colleague told them. He had adjusted the last straps so Chris was safely attached to the gurney, taking extreme care with his patient, trying not to add to the hurt. Vin saw the compassion in this paramedic's eyes whose name he hadn't gotten at all and nodded.

"I'll help," he said softly, taking one side of the gurney, while Nathan positioned himself at the other side. The medic team took their own positions and finally they could take Chris out of that dreadful cellar. Soon they were carefully lifting Chris through the trapdoor, where Buck and Ezra won the competition of who would take hold of the gurney and help lift Chris out.

It was Nathan and Vin though who immediately took over again after they had climbed out as well and no one denied them the right. They helped hurry Chris towards the waiting blue, white and orange helicopter, the big door open and waiting. Soon the flight nurse and the paramedic had secured the gurney and were ready for take off.

"I'm coming too," Vin said softly. "And me," Nathan added, looking at Chris who was groggy now from the pain meds and not really aware of what was going on. He was still in a lot of pain though, but what worried Vin more was that he felt his friend fading, fast.

The nurse and the paramedic looked at each other, at Chris and then at the two men. "Only one can come, if he sits quietly in the back," the medic decided. "We have too little room to work in here as it is." Frowning when he saw both men make a movement to get inside he pointed to Nathan. "Him, he's a medic after all, he can be useful if something happens."


"Him or no one."


Nathan will be here, Vin. I'll be alright.

It's just.... Damn it Chris, I just found you again!

You saved my life, pard. You....

A wave of pain stopped any other thought and it made Vin realize again that speed was of the essence here. He stepped back, his eyes glued to the still figure on the gurney.

"They'll take good care of 'm, Vin," Nathan said softly before hopping in.

"They better," Vin whispered, keeping his eyes on the too quiet figure until the door closed. Then he hastily backed off so the helicopter could lift off.

It was for the best, he knew when he looked at the waiting group of people that had found their way to this lonely spot in the mountains, following JD's directions. Nathan could keep them all informed the best and also had a wife waiting in the hospital. While he had someone who was looking at him very anxiously from between the small crowd of onlookers.

For some reason there was no festive air amongst the people silently standing there, waiting for Vin to update them as to how Chris was doing. They had all seen the amount of blood on Nathan and the medics, were still seeing it on Vin. Vin looked down at himself with disgust. He was glad that he was here with his own truck, at least he had a reasonably clean sweater in the back.

"Well?" Buck grated. "How is he? And why didn't you let anyone of us in there? Dammit Vin, he's our friend too!"

"He was a mess, Buck. He was naked and ch... chopped up. He didn't want anyone seein' him like that. You know Chris, you know how he is. God, that monster really did a number on him. He's been cut in so many places." He didn't want to go on, but when the eyes kept riveted on him he sighed and reluctantly told them more. ,,The bastard did use a skinnin' knife on him. His chest, God... I never seen anything like it. I think he'll need skin transplants or something. And he's lost a lot of blood...."

"I can see that," Buck said, still angry that he'd been shut out, looking Vin up and down.

"Buck, Chris really didn't want anyone to see him like that! He knew how he looked and... and...." Looking around at the group of people, many who were cops he had never met but were put on the search, he raised his voice slightly.

"I want to thank each and every one of you and yes, we found our man, our friend and colleague, so I'm really grateful to all of you. We found him in time as well! He's lost a lot of blood and has been cut up, but I for one think he's gonna survive. Chris Larabee is a fighter, so he'll fight this as well. Thank you all very much and let's go home!" Or to the hospital, he thought. Soon only the people of his own unit who had made it to the meadow were standing around him. Paul and Katrina had been too far away and were told by Ezra to head to the hospital, because they would probably arrive on the meadow at a time when everyone hoped to be gone from there.

"And the other things that maniac did with his female victims?" Ezra asked softly when it was just them.

"No, not that, Ezra. The bastard didn't do that. Chris couldn't have hidden that from me. He tried to hide that the bastard had been drinking his blood, but it was there, in his mind."

They all looked shocked. "What?" Buck asked, incredulous. "Drank his blood?"

"That is really revolting!" Ezra stated, shuddering.

In fact it had been even more revolting, Vin knew. He wasn't going to tell them about the other type of wounds though. Not ever. If Chris wanted them to know, it was his story to tell.

He shivered, thinking about those 'other wounds'. "I wanna go," he said softly. "I never wanna come back here again, ever!"

A hand was put on his arm and he found the loving eyes of Kelli on him. "I'll drive you," she said softly.

Mutely he nodded and let her take him to his truck, the rest of his friends, his family following close by.

Mark was keeping his distance, probably feeling like an intruder until Buck took him by the arm and pulled him along. "We two will get JD," he said roughly. "You and Kelli just hurry up to the hospital, alright?"

"Thanks Buck," Vin said softly. "I know you wanna be there to."

"That's why Buck goes to the hospital immediately as well, I will get JD," Ezra stated firmly. "With my Jag we might even beat you in getting there. Buck, no, I'll go. I better hasten, the kid will be frantic." Ezra hurried away and soon his Jaguar was speeding over the dirt tracks.

"He didn't even complain when we had to ride through all that mud to get here," Kelli said softly.

"He's as worried as we all are. Come on Mark, I wanna be at the hospital as soon as I can."

Buck left with his partner and then Vin and Kelli were alone. She immediately wrapped her arms around him and held him close. He sighed, shuddering in those loving arms, needing them, needing her.

"He's such a mess, Kelli, such a mess. It was just aweful to see what... what that maniac had done to him. It's... it's hard to believe it when you haven't seen it, Kel."

"We've all seen the pictures in the files on his victims, so we can make a good guess. But the main thing is that he's still alive. He's alive Vin, you found him in time."

"We all did."

"No, you did and don't you try and deny it! Those cops told us all about it, they still couldn't believe what they had seen happening, how you just... knew and seemed to be talking to him." She grinned softly. "I'm afraid the legend about the Magnificent Seven and about you and Chris has just grown again."


She kissed him, soft sweet lips caressing his. It made him finally break down and in her safe arms he let go of all his pent up emotions. When he finally pulled back he looked at her beautiful face and he knew he was blessed.

"Thank you, wonderful lady."

She smiled. "You're very, very welcome Vin. Now, let's go to the hospital. I know you need to be with him, see him. Come on."

A moment later the meadow was silent and undisturbed once more. The only signs of all the recent activity were the tire marks, the scars in the ground where the helicopter had been, the downtrodden grass around an open, broken trapdoor and for anyone who looked really carefully, tiny flecks of blood from that trap door all the way to the clumps of clay the helicopter had dug up from the meadow.