Thanks to everyone for encouragement to get this posted, and thanks especially to Brate for beta-ing for me!
Disclaimer: No money is being made here, I'm just having fun playing for awhile in a wonderful universe created by Mog with terrific characters created by people who are not me.
Notes: First fan fic - use that information as you will...
I can't believe this! Vin thought, pulling his coat close around his neck, his eyes shifting around defensively. "Of all times and all places to breakdown," he said aloud, comforted a little by the sound of his own drawl. He walked with purpose, with confidence. But this was not his territory - he was outside his block in Purgatorio, where his reputation was not an asset. Two more blocks, he thought. Two more blocks and he'd be in home territory, his place, his "kids".
He spied another shadowy form moving his way. A businesswoman, from the looks of her tailored suit and no-nonsense pumps. She gripped her purse in a white-knuckled clasp, and seemed to increase her speed until she could go no faster without running. Suddenly she stopped short when she spied him. Vin winced, thinking how his worn coat, now smudged with oil and grease from his attempt to get the jeep going, and long hair might look to a stranger walking through this neighborhood. He saw the look of panic as she bolted toward the alley to escape.
"Lady!" Vin called, moving into a full run. "Lady, wait! Don't...don't go down there!"
He rounded the corner, his eyes adjusting to the greater darkness of the unlit alley. At the far end he could make out her silhouette struggling against three others. He raced forward, pile-driving into the stocky one holding her. The three of them fell to the cold, broken pavement, but at least the woman was knocked free, Vin noticed as the other two figures pulled him up by the collar of his leather jacket and slammed him against the nearest building.
"Run, lady!" Vin ordered hoarsely. "Get help! Hurry!"
The woman, who had struggled to her feet - dazed, but still holding onto her purse - stood frozen for an instant. One thug slammed a beefy fist into Vin's stomach, causing him to gasp and gag. "Run, lady!" he rasped again.
The first mugger lunged at her again, breaking the spell and spurring her into a run. She glanced back breathlessly as she rounded the corner, just in time to see a flash of metal. She raced toward the corner, screaming for help.
Her cries were faint and metallic as they echoed back into the alleyway. Vin had no more time to consider her - he had problems of his own. He should've called Chris for a lift right away, but he couldn't think of that now. With the chokehold the attackers had him in, he found it difficult to think of anything clearly.
"You better hope your lady friend is fast, buddy," the stocky middle guy threatened from behind a ski mask. The metallic gleam of a knife appeared in his hand. "Maybe she'll get the cops here before you bleed to death."
Despite his strength, Vin's lean frame was no match for the three heavyweights that held him. Still, the direness of the situation forced a reaction. He kicked a heavy boot toward the man holding the weapon, shrugging away from the two that held him. As he crashed forward and the knife flashed toward his face, Vin's hands found the yarn mask and ripped it free, exposing the attacker's face. For an instant, time froze as Vin memorized each detail. Then, ducking at the last instant, he felt the jagged slice cut a gash across his high cheekbone on the right before falling into the grit on the ground. Hands pulled at him as he struggled to his hands and knees. Before he could get to his feet, several kicks plunged high on his side near his ribs. He rolled the opposite direction causing the third mugger to stumble.
"C'mon, Brink! We gotta get outta here before the cops come!"
"He saw me, man. I ain't goin' back to no jail. We gotta kill him."
"Here, this'll take care of 'im," another voice said.
In the dark and confusion, Vin had no way to make a move, and wouldn't have had time anyway. The blackjack thundered fast and heavy at the front and side of his skull while the knife plunged into his side. His thick, tawny curls offered little protection. He didn't even realize when beefy hands tossed him over and divested him of his wallet. Distant sirens and running feet were the last sounds he heard as black silence rolled in.
Somewhere in the dark fog, sounds echoed loudly. Vin opened his blue eyes just a slit to be greeted by blinding light that caused his eyes to roll to white and close tightly. Feeling hands on his coat, he struck out with a holler, despite his aching head and side.
"It's okay, buddy. I'm with the paramedics - we're here to help you, pal. You just lay back and take it easy. You stay with us, okay? Can you tell us..."
The fog rolled back in.
The businesswoman now glanced worriedly over to the place where blue-coated paramedics worked on the stranger who had saved her from a sure death. She answered the officer's questions distractedly with what little she knew. She had run as fast as she could, finding a patrol car a block away. Still, things did not look well for the man. Blood crusted on his cheek where a jagged line had been drawn. The other side of his head bled freely from a gash just behind the ear. With his head and neck braced against further injury and covered with blankets to prevent shock, the paramedics raised him to the low gurney and hoisted it to its full height. Both gentle movements solicited a low groan of pain from the semi-conscious man.
She finished her interview with a promise to answer any further questions that afternoon, then pushed through the throng of emergency personnel under flashing lights. She had to thank that man. She'd never be able to thank him enough, but she had to do something. She found herself by his still form.
"Is he a friend of yours, ma'am?" a paramedic startled her by asking.
"Ah, no, he-he-he just came into the alley wh-when he-he saw I...uh, I needed help. I-I've never seen him b-before..."
"Would you like to come with us in the ambulance, ma'am? We could check you then at the hospital, you could call your family or someone from there."
"S-sure. I'd appreciate that. I-I feel...just a little shaky myself. Everything ha-happened so...so fast."
"No problem. Hey, Marty - " he called to a fellow medic, "this lady was involved in the attack, too. Let's get her checked out."
She clambered to the bench beside the cot in the ambulance with some assistance. "Is...is he gonna be alright?" she asked, eyes wide as she recalled his rescue.
"He's lucky. Some bruised ribs, but the knife only grazed his side. He'll be mighty sore and have a whale of a headache, prob'ly some stitches on that cut on his face, but it seems he'll be okay, barring any complications," the medic, formerly addressed as Marty, replied.
"I'm so glad...Thank you mister - mister... Do you know his name?" the woman asked the medic taking his blood pressure.
"Uh, no," the medic answered, pulling her stethoscope from her ears and writing something on a paper on her clipboard. "Seems the guys that did this got away with his wallet. We'll have to wait 'til he comes around."
The ambulance blared toward the hospital, the patrol cars completed a preliminary site investigation, and the alley returned to the quiet slumber of the night.
JD rubbed his eyes, looking away from the computer screen. His other teammates wouldn't arrive for another hour, but JD hoped to finish some preliminary hacking for an up-coming case. Vin must be busy today, he thought. He was usually the first one in, making his special tar-blend coffee before any of the other guys wandered in. Of course, he'd be getting plans into place, too. JD figured maybe he'd missed him on his way out.
"JD, you seen Vin this morning?"
"No, Chris," the voice startled him slightly in the early-morning quiet. "He must be sleeping late - his jeep wasn't parked out front when I drove through last night on my way back to the apartment, and Cuervo was still in the lot this morning with an empty milk tin. You're here early."
"I have a meeting with Mary. 'm surprised Vin's not in yet." Where could he be? Chris wondered silently.
"You know Vin, probably had to help some kid pump a bicycle tire. I wouldn't worry about him, Chris." JD lowered his glance back to the computer screen, already distracted.
A slender blond form peered around the doorway. "Good morning, gentlemen. I know I'm a little early, Chris, but I was hoping to wrap this up so I can get back to the office. Busy day and all."
Chris forced a smile. "Sure, Mary. Make yourself comfortable in my office and I'll be with you in a few minutes. Vin's not in yet this morning. Thought I'd give him a call." He loosed a sigh he didn't realize he'd held. Vin never got sick, but that was probably all it was. Still, with the enemies Team 7 had made with their bust record, anything was possible. "And JD, do me a favor? Go down and give Cuervo some milk, would ya?" he asked.
"Sure thing, Chris."
He heard JD's footsteps move in the direction of the ringing phone on his way out. "ATF Offices, Team 7 Headquarters...This is JD Dunne, may I help you?"
Chris was about to follow Mary through his door when JD's panicked voice met his ears.
"Chris!" he called from the open doorway. "That was a call from Denver Memorial Hospital - they admitted Vin last night. He's been mugged."
"Let's go, JD - you can call the guys on the way."
"Right away, Chris. I'll leave a note for Buck just in case, and meet you around back."
"Make it quick." He called to JD's retreating footsteps as he started praying silently for his best friend. Suddenly remembering, he turned abruptly into the slender reporter on his heels. "Uh, Mary, can we reschedule? Maybe later today?"
"Whatever," she tossed back, "I'm coming along."
With a short nod, Chris moved to allow her to slide ahead of him as they made their way out the door.
Whether it was the pain in his side or the throbbing of his head that pulled him from the fogginess surrounding him, he couldn't be sure. A sea of faces rolled before his unfocused eyes before his sight adjusted to take in the four people before him.
His vision was quickly shattered again when a balding man in a white coat shone a penlight into each eye.
Squinting sharply at the streaks of pain shooting across his eyes, he murmured in a tight, raw voice. "Whe...where...where am I?"
"This is Denver Memorial Hospital, sir, you were brought in very early this morning. Do you remember what happened?"
JD gave the sharpshooter a big, loopy grin. Vin's wide eyes searched his and Mary's faces blankly.
"N-no." A strange confusion came over Vin. He could not remember why he was here, why he hurt, or even why these people were staring so expectantly at him. A hollow nothingness rushed up to fill a place in his mind where he felt something very clear and definite should be.
"Can you tell me what day it is?" the doctor asked, jotting some notes on a clipboard, and double checking the stitches neatly lining the cut just an inch or two below his right eye.
"Today's Tuesday. Do you know who the President is?"
Eyes widened in panic as the hollowness consumed him. He forced a wry grin to his face. "Not you, is it? Who...who a-are you?"
"I'm Dr. Morrison. What's your name?" the doctor asked, his slim eyebrows curled in question as he continued his notes.
There was a long pause. His friends held their breath in the wait, uneasy at the fear flooding to his clouded blue eyes, the shaking hand rubbing his bandaged head. "I-I don't know, Doc! Who am I? Why can't I remember my name?"
"Calm down, Mr. Tanner - Vin," the doctor ordered, placing a hand on Vin's shoulder to ease him back to a resting position. "You've had a lot of excitement and a hefty hit to the head. It's not at all unusual to feel some confusion."
"Why? Wha-What happened?"
"We can talk about that later, Vin." Dr. Morrison said, handing him a glass of water and a pill cup. "Take this for now, visit a little with your friends before I kick them out. Relax and get some rest. I'll check back later." With that he turned toward Chris and Mary on his way out, holding up his beefy hand. "Five minutes, then you're out."
"Sure thing, doctor." Mary's velvety voice followed.
"Thank you," Chris whispered.
"See me on your way out." Dr. Morrison called back into the single-occupant room.
"You're friends of mine?" Vin questioned. His head and side felt better, but his eyelids were already starting to droop. "How'd ya know I's here?"
"Well, actually, we work together, Vin. You know, the ATF. They found an ID card in your coat pocket." JD began his eager speech. "Anyway, me and Chris work with ya. Miz Travis, here, she's a reporter, works pretty close with the Team."
Vin's confusion only grew as he struggled to stay awake. He had to know who he was, and these people seemed to know him. "T-team, ATF. B-but you write up what we do for the newspaper, Miz Travis?"
Surprise lining every tone in her voice, Mary responded, "Well, yes, Vin. But you know..."
"'m sorry. Can't stay aw..." Vin answered, sighing deeply as sleep claimed him.
"But...but Vin," Mary protested.
There was no use. The sedatives had taken affect. Chris, Mary, and JD listened in silence for the even breathing of sleep from the patient before leaving. They had to talk to that doctor.
Dr. Morrison stood at the nurses' station just outside Vin's room. Without turning around as he signed off with a flourish, he asked, "Mr. Tanner asleep already? Figured it wouldn't take long." He turned to look into concern personified in the faces of the lean blond man, petite woman, and the young man who'd brought them.
"What's wrong with him, doctor?" Chris demanded, the edge barely hidden in his voice.
"Simple rundown, we're looking at a concussion, some bruised ribs, that cut on his face and under his ribs. A few odd bruises and scrapes. A week or two of rest and lots of aspirin, he should recover fine."
"And what about his memory?" Mary questioned.
"Hard to say without some further tests and a little time. I was telling the truth that an experience like your friend's been through is likely to bring some confusion. But," he paused with reluctance, "it does seem a little more profound than any of the usual cases I've handled. Lucky for him he didn't keep all his ID in his wallet."
"When will he be released?" Chris wondered.
"Not until tomorrow morning at the earliest. We'll need to monitor his concussion. We'll let him sleep now and see how he feels this afternoon."
"Okay, uh, what should we do?" JD asked, eyes wide.
The doctor slid his pen back into his cloak pocket. "Does he have family - wife, kids, parents? They should know what's happened, of course, but it can also help for those people to be around him. Kind of give his memory a kick start, so to speak."
"Team Seven is the closest thing he's got - no living relatives that he knows of. I wanted to see him first," Chris explained, "before I made the call to the others. I'll call them right away. They're his only family. Them, and us."
"Good. We'll monitor him closely and if you have any questions, feel free to call." Dr. Morrison offered. "Now, if you'll excuse me..."
"I'll stay with him, doctor." Chris insisted. It wasn't a request.
"Chris, I'll stay," Mary argued. "You need to get to the scene, talk to the officers who went on the call, get a lead on whoever did this. You have to catch them."
"Ms. Travis, Mr. Larabee," the doctor paused, "he'll sleep most likely until early evening. We'll call if there's any change. There's really no need-"
But Mary would not be put off so easily. "Just in case, Dr. Morrison. Please. We just hate to think he'd wake up, confused, hurt, and alone. Someone he knows should be there..." Her voice faltered slightly,"...whether he remembers them or not."
"That's fine, then, Ms.Travis - if you're sure. I'll stop in to check on him after I finish my rounds. The nurses at this station will be around as well, in case there's any change." With a kind squeeze on her arm and a nod to Chris and JD, the doctor dismissed himself.
Mary turned around toward the men. "I'll find a phone and call the guys, let them know what's going on. JD, you head back to the office to work on that end while Chris gets the police report. I'll keep you posted."
"Is that it?" Chris couldn't help but smile at her take-charge attitude. He wanted to be there for Vin, but he knew he'd be even more useful at catching the thugs that did this.
"You know it's for the best, Chris," she insisted. "Go on, now. You're wasting time. The trail will get 'cold', right?"
"Ah, Miz Travis - I can wait, kind of hang out here with you..." JD protested.
But Mary was firm. "No, Chris needs you, JD. Besides, you can bring some of Vin's stuff here - maybe it'll help him remember. I'll call you and let you know what's going on from this end."
Chris wasn't convinced. "Are you sure, Mary? I mean, you have a job you need to do, too..."
"I'm sure, Chris. I'm reporting - just waiting to speak with the victim. Now, let's find that phone."
Dr. Morrison's prediction wasn't entirely accurate. Too many doctors, nurses, and other hospital personnel interrupted Vin's coma-like slumber to allow him continuous rest until nightfall. Each time he woke, regardless of the reason, the questions were the same: Where am I? What's my name? Why am I here? Who are you? My head hurts. What happened? Do I know you? I'm so tired...
It hurt Mary to hear the confusion in his raspy voice. Frightened her to wonder how serious this was. What if he never regained his memory? She quickly pushed that thought aside before it could expand in her brain.
The call to his missing teammates had been more difficult than she'd thought, made worse because she got the answering machine for Ezra and Nathan. She'd kept the message brief and as up beat as possible. She desperately wished she could talk with them in person, but left the number for the nurses' station where she could be reached. She expected they'd drive into the city immediately - until she remembered Chris saying something about a conference Ezra, Nathan, and Josiah were attending. Josiah must have forgotten to set his answering machine.
Buck had been the easiest. "Be out as soon as I can, Mary. And don't worry - he'll remember it all as soon as he lays eyes on my handsome face." Buck assured her.
Mary wanted his assessment to be accurate. Yet - she was there each time Vin woke.
Shortly after an aide had taken the barely-touched tray, thoughtfully brought in for Mary, a soft shuffling drew her attention to the doorway.
"Pardon me... I was looking for Vin Tanner..."
Mary could detect a shaken confidence in the voice. "Yes, this is Vin's room. Can I help you?"
"Uh, no... no, thank you. I was just hoping to catch him awake. I - I, that is, he's the one who rescued me last night. But if he's resting, I'll try back later."
"Wait!" Mary said, getting up. "I thought you had rescued him?"
"Uhm, no, ...I'm Alice, Alice Yates," she introduced herself and slid further into the room, casting a look over her shoulder at Mary as she explained what had happened. Her focus, however, was on Vin. He looks much younger here, like this, she thought to herself. Innocent.
Vin roused to yet another strange face. Where was the other one? What was her name again?
"Who - who are you? Wh-where's, ah, Mare...Mary?"
"I'm right here, Vin." Mary said, standing up and moving to his side. "This is Alice. She stopped by to see how you were doing after last night. She says you rescued her last night...that's how you got hurt. Do you remember what happened?"
Vin squinted his eyes tightly, as if the added pressure could push the start button on his memory. The stitches below his eye puckered the bluish bruise. He groaned low in frustration. "No, no. I'm sorry. I don't remember at all." He tried to sigh, but his sore ribs made him wince. "'m glad you're okay, then, though, ah, Miss..."
"Just call me Alice, and thank you. I don't know what would've become of me if...if you hadn't, well, stepped in. Thank you so much. And...and I've talked with the police and if there's anything, anything I can do to help, please, please, just let me know. I'll leave my number with your friend here, for when you're feeling up to it. And please don't hesitate, if you need anything at all, Mr. Tanner. I owe you my life."
Vin mumbled a "Welcome" briefly before his eyelids became too heavy.
Mary re-tucked the covers carefully up over his shoulders, then turned to thank
Alice as she led her to the door. Alice turned in the doorway and placed her hand over Mary's. "Your boyfriend is a special man. I'll be praying for his rapid recovery."
"Thank you. I mean, he's not my boyfriend, but thanks for stopping by." Mary smiled in spite of herself as she settled back into the plastic chair to resume her vigil. "That was a first," she said to no one in particular. She had truly never considered Vin in that way, and thought the whole idea rather amusing.
Oh, she knew many women considered Vin handsome. She knew he was smart, strong, and had great compassion for people. She enjoyed his dry voice. But she also knew he was stubborn and fiercely independent. She also knew the tension it could create if she were to choose any one of the seven ATF agents she'd come to love and respect. And the tension it would create in her, being involved with someone in such a dangerous occupation.
Especially Vin. He seemed to have a knack for taking the greatest risks, going to any lengths to give the team the advantage. She supposed that was part of the reason he'd been so determined to learn to work through his dyslexia. She'd been happy to help him practice the different study skills that could improve his reading and writing. But what should she say about it to Vin? Could that help jog his memory, or would it only compound the problem?
Hearing him mumble in his sleep and sensing his restless movements, she realized it would be several days before she'd have to decide - and Vin's teammates could make the choice.
"Ma'am, uh, Ma-Mary?" Vin's groggy voice broke into her thoughts from across the room.
"Yes? Can I get you anything, Vin?" Mary asked, moving to his side.
"We're friends, right?"
"Right. For quite a while now," she answered softly.
"Do I have family, ya know, lots of brothers?"
Mary's eyes brightened with excitement. "Your teammates on the job, Vin - they're your only family. They're on their way, Vin. Do you remember them?"
"What are their names? What are they like?"
Mary's hopes crashed. The fear, uncertainty, and bewilderment in her friend's voice tore through her heart.
"Please," Vin whispered at her pause. "Tell me about them. I - I don't want them hurt when they get here because I don't know them."
"Vin, I don't know. They're going to understand, and the doctor said telling you everything so soon puts too much pressure on yourself. He thinks it's best to let it come back on its own."
"Please." Vin said desperately, grabbing Mary's hand. "I don't know what I 'as like, but right now 'm alone. You're the only soul I know, and ...and I'm... I'm, well, a mite nervous, I guess. Please."
"Well, Vin," Mary began, feeling behind her for the chair, "that's part of it. They're great people. You're their friend, teammate - I mean, you guys are like brothers. The fact that you're considering their feelings at a time like this, when you don't even know them really, well, that's part of how you guys work. Oh, you all like to harass each other and fuss and fume, like brothers do, but you always watch each others' backs. And, you will remember them, Vin," Mary asserted, squeezing his hand in hers, "You'll remember. This is only temporary."
"Listen," Vin pleaded again, sitting up suddenly. Mary heard him groan at the motion. She placed a calming hand on his shoulder, easing him back against the pillow.
"What is it, Vin?"
Vin's breath forced out in ragged puffs as his ribs cried out against the sudden movement. Finally, he lie still, eyes closed. "I...I just... What is it that I do? I... I mean, why was I in that alley late at night? And...and when I sleep, I see images...flashes of what must be my life. Ex-except the flashes don't fit together. They...they don't...they don't make any sense. Just flashes - crazy flashes. And I'm so tired. Just wanna sleep and wake up knowin' myself..."
Mary waited as his voice got soft and slurry. There was a long pause before he added, softly, as his brain and body edged into sleep, "Tell me about m'self."
There was no need. She could tell from the relaxed grip of his strong hand on hers, from the tension leaving his shoulder where her other hand rested, that he was really asleep now. They'd have to tell him something, but not now.
"Just rest now, Vin," she whispered. She leaned over and kissed his cheek, running her tapered fingers over his thick waves of hair - as she might have a small child. "It'll all come back. Just rest."
"This is the place, Vin - your apartment building," Mary said, her arm in his as she led the way from the curb.
Two days after the attack, and the doctors had run every test known to man. Finally Dr. Morrison had said, "The only thing you need now is time and rest, Mr. Tanner - and to be around familiar things. We're going to release you, provided you check in with us for follow-up and have someone stay with you for a few days so you're sure to rest until those ribs heal up."
Vin had blanched at those words. The hospital environment, however antiseptic, had become the only familiar one. The thought of going out into the world beyond was terrifying. Often late in the night at the hospital he would get up to stare out the window, trying to imagine himself out moving with the pace of the bustling city below. Trying to remember places he might have gone, people he would have associated with.
The men he worked with had been in and out of his hospital room over the past two days. He had a hard enough time staying awake, let alone keeping up with all their conversations.
Now he glanced up at the dingy brick building. My apartment, he thought, trying to let it sink in. The place did not look all that impressive. And the neighborhood they had driven through to get here looked downright dangerous. Why would I live in a place like this?
He glanced down at the woman beside him who waited patiently at his side. He wondered about her, about their relationship. He could easily see she was beautiful, graceful. And it hadn't taken long for him to learn how strong she was, thoughtful, intuitive. She had ended the policemen's interrogation, kindly and firmly, just before Vin realized how exhausted he was; comforted the men introduced as his teammates; assured everyone that she could look out for him until Chris returned from his out-of-town court date, where he was testifying for an important case. All this, Vin assumed, while still reporting daily for the newspaper.
"Vin," she spoke now, gently tugging him toward the door. "Let's get you settled in. JD's the only one here now, so you can kind of look things over for yourself before all the guys get here. And if you remember something, great. But don't force it. Don't expect too much of yourself. It's only the first day, and you'll need to concentrate on resting and healing up your body, too. But it'll come, Vin. I know it."
Vin smiled briefly, rubbing his thumb over her smooth cheek. I wish I had your confidence. Sighing deeply as his sore ribs would allow and gently rubbing his bruised eye, he shuffled toward the door. "'kay, Mary. And, hey, thanks - for everything."
"That's what friends are for, Vin. So no more thanking. C'mon." She pulled him now, through the double doors into the warmth of indoors.
"Vin! You're home!" JD's exuberant voice greeted as he made his way from behind the bar dividing the small living room from the even smaller kitchen. Vin scanned the sunlit room, sparsely furnished with solid but well-worn wooden pieces. Lost in thought a moment, he was almost startled to find the young agent standing before him expectantly. "Would you like me to get your bag or something? Show you around? I mean, it might help jog the ol' memory, you know, give it a kick start..."
Again, it was Mary who stepped in to block the onslaught. "Ah, JD, don't you think Vin should probably be resting for awhile? I'll just show him to his room, then come help set up things for the guys after he's settled."
"Oh, yeah, of course, well, okay, you do that, and take it easy - just, you just let me know, and I'll get whatever you need. It's just great to have you back around, Vin." JD paused in his tirade catching Mary's look. "Yeah, well, I'll be around if you need anything."
With that Mary pulled a tired and bewildered Vin toward the hallway. She felt the cool leather of his jacket slip from her fingers as he paused and turned.
"Does he ever slow down?" Vin asked softly.
Mary's eyes lit. "Vin?"
"Nothing." Mary tried to hide the disappointment in her voice. "It's just that you guys are always saying that when it comes to JD. I thought maybe you were remembering something."
"Hey, it's okay. Right now I'll bet you're exhausted. You need to rest. Let's introduce you to your home."
Vin was a little surprised at how well Mary knew her way around his apartment. He liked the looks of the place, though is was rather bare, but he felt like an intruder. He set down tentatively on the bed and Mary sat comfortably on a nearby chair, facing him.
He read the concern in her eyes and heaved a sigh, wearily rubbing a hand over his face. And she's right, he thought to himself. I am tired. His head ached profusely, and he gave in and leaned back onto the headboard, careful to protect his ribs. In a subconscious move, he stretched his arm across and took Mary's graceful hand in his rough one. "You must be a good friend, Mary. Don't know how I'd've done all this without ya."
"Vin, you're stronger than you think. Just ask Chris when he gets back, how many times you've looked out for him. Just ask any of the guys, for that matter. You're a good friend, and now you just need to let all of us return the favor."
Stretching a hand to his shoulder, she said, " I'd better get out there to give JD a hand. You sound ready to go to sleep, and that'd be good for you. The doctor said you need rest above everything right now."
Vin found himself reluctant to be alone in this strange place. But he doubted he could muster the energy to cross to the doorway, let alone make it to the living room. "You'll be here, though? Out in the room?"
"Right - helping JD. Do you need anything?"
"Just so strange, is all. Everything's new. I feel like I'm livin' someone else's life, but mine's only two days long. And then there're these flashes. Just blurs of things I don't understand and can't sort through."
"I know it's not easy, Vin," Mary began, squeezing his shoulder and sliding her hand up to the side of his face. "And, well, you've never been terribly patient with yourself. But we'll help you get through this."
Panic rose in Vin as he thought of all the extra unfamiliar faces returning. "When - when will the others - uh, Buck, Ez-Ezra,...uh, Craig..."
"Chris," Mary corrected.
"...Chris, right. When'll they be back?"
"By tomorrow evening, I'd say, maybe earlier. Why?"
That short phrase spoke volumes. Mary found it difficult to hear the uncertainty, the fear and confusion, the vulnerability in her friend. "Don't worry, Vin. A lot could happen. Maybe you'll remember it all by then."
"But no pressure. Look, I've got to go and give JD a hand, but I'll be back to check on you later. We'll look at photos or something. In the meantime, try to get some sleep. I can hear how tired you are."
"But you'll wake me?"
"We'll see. But I won't leave without checking on you, okay?"
Vin felt his eyelids becoming too heavy to bear and sleep started to take over. His words slurred slightly. "Jus', jus' don't l-leave me, Mary, okay? Jus' don't leave me alone..."
"Hey - you get away from her! You let my mama alone!" Suddenly he felt himself being pulled away by arms stronger than he could fight against... "No! Mama!"
"Vin? Vin, it's okay..." Mary soothed. She had returned early in the evening to find him still asleep, though restless. She heard him calling out as she made a cup of tea in the kitchen. Now she saw him bolting upright, with a groan as his ribs fought the sudden movement. "Whoa, there. It's alright, Vin. You're dreaming."
Vin released a long, slow breath. "Yeah, yeah, dreaming..." he rubbed his eyes. "Just seems so real."
"What was it about?"
With a careful shift as he leaned back to rest against the headboard, Vin flatly described the strange scene. Nothing in his tone suggested that he held even a faint memory of the death of his mother. Mary bit her lower lip, tempted to explain everything. But good sense ruled.
"It's another piece for you, Vin, and that's good..."
"That's all I seem to have, Mary. What's the story with me? Why can't you tell me the key to how it all fits together?"
"You know what the doctor said, Vin. Right now it's too much. You need to rest - stop putting pressure on yourself. Listen," she continued, reaching a hand out to pat his knee and looking directly into his wide eyes, gaining his attention, "Let's make a sandwich and finish exploring your apartment. Maybe we'll find something familiar."
How does she do that? he wondered for not the first time. Figures out something I can put my mind to that makes me feel like I'm doing something 'sides just waitin' for my memory to kick in. Struggling somewhat to turn his feet to the floor and sit upright, he tugged Mary's hands with a gentle squeeze.
"'kay," he huskily resigned himself. "'m sorry I snapped at you. You've been nothin' but nice, helping me like you've done. This's all so strange, frustratin', but it ain't your fault. I know you're just tryin' to help. 'ppreciate all you're doin' here, really I do."
Mary slowly slid her hands from his. A smile spread across her face just as slowly. "Well, I don't suppose it'd be giving away too much to tell you I'm not easily put off by little snaps or blazing glares. Come on - let's explore your fridge."
The clock on the bed stand read 12:30 a.m. and found Vin and Mary surrounded by Vin's western memorabilia collection and odd configurations of loose photos retrieved from a back closet. The few oldest ones were scanned quickly, as Mary could offer little clue as to anyone from his childhood. Actually, she was surprised he had any, from what Chris had told her of his foster care background. Vin guessed which little kid was himself by the sheer number of appearances.
"Which of these are my folks?" he asked quietly.
Mary blanched. "I-I'm not sure, Vin. Your ma died when you were very young, you've said, but you never have mentioned anything about your father. Not to me, anyway. I'm sorry."
"S'okay. Not your fault I don't remember anything."
"Not yours, either, Vin. Remember that."
For Vin, the most helpful clues came from a shoebox of more recent photos. "Here I am with a short-haired brunette," he described.
"What are you wearing?"
"Gray suit, tie..."
"Charlotte - former girlfriend."
That had caught him slightly off-guard. He hadn't thought of former relationships. He was having a hard enough time figuring out the ones he had now.
"I loved her, didn't I?"
"Well, the relationship lasted only a short time, but yes, you hurt for a long time afterwards."
A sudden flash of the woman climbing into a red sport car caused him to start. "She - she left me for another man. What was it over?"
"She did, Vin. She was a married woman, went back to her husband." Mary said, her smile widening sadly at the glimmer of memory.
"I ran around with a married woman?"
"You didn't know, Vin. She was a... she didn't deserve you, Vin. She cheated on him to get his attention. We were all just sorry we didn't see it sooner. She didn't deserve you, and you certainly didn't deserve what she put you through."
"And I have a son?"
"No, no children, Vin."
"Who's this blond little boy, then?"
Mary smiled, taking the picture. "That's you with my son, Billy, at a cookout at Chris' ranch last summer."
"I reckon you should be getting back to the little fella before it gets too late, Mary."
"No, no, Vin, he stays with his grandpa, AD Travis, your boss, during the school year. It's closer to the private school we're sending him to."
"You're divorced?" he asked unthinkingly.
Mary swallowed hard. "No, Vin. My husband died two years ago."
"'m sorry, Mary," Vin's eyes pleaded for forgiveness. "Didn't realize. Shoulda thought 'fore I go askin' things that ain't even my business."
"It's okay, Vin. You didn't know." She breathed deeply. "Listen, Vin, it's late. Don't you think you ought to rest?"
"C'mon, Mary. I've done nothin' but rest for days - just a few more? Can't help thinkin' maybe the next one will be the one to click."
Mary heard fatigue plainly in his dry voice, saw it in the dark circles around his eyes and in the flushed cheeks on the otherwise pale face. But she also sensed a desperation. She sighed. "Okay, a few, then to bed with you. Chris and all the guys will be here tomorrow, so you'll need to be rested up."
And so they had gone through several more. Finally, though, the pounding in his head increased and Mary convinced him to pack up the photos and get some sleep. She would sleep on the sofa bed, since the doctor ordered him to have someone to stay with him for the first few days. She insisted he keep his own bed, though it seemed wrong to him somehow. But she said even something as simple as the feel of his own bed might trigger his memory, so he gave in and gratefully fell into bed.
Mary lay in the soft darkness of the apartment, listening for the soft, even breathing that would tell her Vin was asleep. It was quiet for some time when Vin called huskily out to the living room, "Ah, um, Mar, uh, Mary? Y-You awake?"
"Yes, Vin. What do you need?" she asked, concern lacing every word.
"I - I was just w-wondering, I guess. Ah, were, are, uh... w-we're not a...a couple or anything, are we?"
Mary smiled in surprise to herself in the darkness. She could practically hear him blushing. "No, Vin. We've just always been good friends. Great friends. For a good while now."
"Shame to know I'm not any smarter a man then that," he joked.
Mary didn't reply. It wasn't long until she heard him finally still and asleep.
Vin woke late to the clinking of cups and smell of rich coffee. Soft whispers filtered through...
Vin shivered in the musty closet. If he'd only worked harder they'd've never put him in there. His stomach growled loudly and he heard the heavy tread of feet coming to the door. A beefy hand swung it open and grabbed him roughly. He saw the other thick-fingered hand swing toward his head...
Rolling suddenly to his side, the flash disappeared in a low groan as he fully awoke. Pain rocked him back against the soft pillow, palms pressed to his eyes.
"Son? Vin, it's, it's me - Josiah... How're you feeling? Can I get you something?"
Vin glanced up, gasping softly as the pain subsided. He took in the man sitting by his bed - tan face with evidence of deep smile lines, a thatch of salt-and-pepper curly hair, and smallish eyes of pale blue. Now those eyes looked expectant, concerned, hopeful.
"Ah, hello," Vin said woodenly. "I, uh, no. I, I don't need 'nything. S-sorry to interrupt your trip."
"Interrupt?! Vin, I'm just glad you're okay, you're..." he paused, sitting up with a start. "You don't remember me, do you?"
Vin fell back, stared at the ceiling a moment, then focused on the man, the stranger beside him. "I - I'm sorry..."
"Hey, don't worry, it'll come, Vin," the man said, though worry smudged his eyes.
A myriad of people seemed to appear before him. Vin eased up to sitting position, scratched his hand through his brown hair. Chris, JD, Josiah, three other guys...he craned his neck beyond them...
The black man moved to the edge of Vin's bed, turning his chin to check the cuts and bruises on his face. "She's wrapping up a story - she'll be back this evening. Can I get you anything? You're due for a pain reliever - I'll bet you're still sore. Did you rest well? Mary said the two of you were up late looking through photos. Any luck? Ezra and I..."
"Ah, listen - N-Nate," Vin interrupted, remembering his face from one of the photos Mary had shown him. "I'm doin' okay, really, but I, I just can't remember much a' anything. It's just all so strange. 'm sorry."
"C'mon, Vin," the third person jumped in, "You gotta remember this beautiful
mug - "
Confusion whisked across Vin's weary face. "Uh, Buck, right?"
Laughter spilled lightly from the other men in the room. "Yeah, Junior, it's me - Buck Wilmington!"
Vin remembered the things Mary had told him about Buck. She had him laughing until his ribs could take no more about the crazy things Buck had done and gotten the team involved in. He must be quite a character - and still, a character Vin couldn't force his mind to recall. His head throbbed.
"Sorry. Mary told me 'bout you."
"Yes, I'd wager that she did." Ezra deadpanned.
"No, really," Vin tried to cover, not understanding Ezra's sarcasm. "Said you were a good friend, she..."
"We know, Vin, we know. Mary and I are always harassing each other, but we're okay. Man, you did take a whack, didn't ya?" Buck insisted. Then he asked, to no one in particular, "Judge says we have ta let the local boys handle this one, can't be 'oversteppin'' our bounds. So, have the locals caught any leads on the guys that did this?"
"Ah, no," Chris answered, finally getting a chance to speak. "No leads."
"Whadda ya mean, no leads?" JD demanded. "They found the mask at the scene, so Vin had to see them - one of them, anyway. Geez, Vin, don't you remember anything about that night even?"
"No, no, he's right!" Vin rasped, climbing out of bed, cradling his sore ribs. "I saw somethin' out there that should be able to help everyone, an' here I sit, can't even remember m' own name, my life... but 'm tryin', believe me. ...Believe me, nobody's more frustrated with me right now than me." By now his voice had risen to the point where his ribs were strained. "I'm - I'm - I'm goin' to take a shower." He finished more quietly, "'m sorry... 'm sorry."
The next few days proved to be difficult for everyone, but no one more so than Vin. While the pain in his head and side had slowly started to lessen, the stress of continual questioning by the mob of unfamiliar, unknown faces mounted. Nathan hovered and fussed over his every move. He woke after frequent naps to find Chris's concerned eyes boring into him. And JD's and Buck's questions were never-ending. What were you doing out there? Remember the time we...? Vin found it hard to keep up.
There were many things he found strange about his life. Like, just what did he do for the team? He observed Chris completing paperwork, going to meetings with AD Travis. JD worked a lot on computers at the office, Ezra organized information and setup stakeouts. Buck, he'd guessed, did much of the legwork and interviewing of suspects, and it was easy to figure Josiah for the psychoanalyst and Nathan for the physician. Even Mary worked among the group with ease, like she was very accustomed to it. He searched his apartment, but found nothing that would point to his place on the team. He felt as if the pieces of his life were in a jumbled pile before him, and the shelf they were arranged on was missing. At times it became too overwhelming.
Vin tried to concentrate on getting better, on getting his life back. He spent a large part of his day poring over the photos he and Mary had found. Somehow they served as a tangible connection to the life he had forgotten. He watched a lot of television - mainly the news and westerns. He sat staring from his window at the people below, but hadn't ventured beyond the walls of this corner building he occupied. And he slept often from sheer exhaustion, only to be confronted by strange, violent, and hollow images he didn't understand.
Mary made a point of finding jobs for everyone to do in the evenings so Vin wouldn't feel smothered and overwhelmed but she wasn't sure she succeeded. He would often seek her company as she did cleanup after one of the guys had cooked. Mary found she looked forward to this, because, in many ways he was the same old Vin. But this Vin, unencumbered by his past, talked more freely and even laughed a little more.
It was the third evening since his release from the hospital when he wandered into the kitchen, where Mary was going through his supplies. He drained the remainder of the coffee into his mug and sat on a high stool in the corner.
"How are you feeling today, Vin?" Mary asked, closing the cupboard of seasonings.
"My head feels much better, thanks," he said wearily.
"But nothing familiar in it yet, huh? Don't try so hard, Vin. The doctor said it could be a few weeks or even a couple months before it all comes back."
"Yeah, well, by then whoever did this could be long-gone... maybe even done something worse! An' here I sit, the one person who can ID them, an' not a chance of me doin' it."
"Vin, you can't..."
"An' the team, and... and Chris, 'specially, well, they... they just want their friend back, whoever he is, and then, JD, he..."
"JD talks before thinking sometimes, and the others, well, they are very worried and want you to be okay, but it's just because they care about you Vin." She walked toward him and cupped the side of his face in her tapered fingers. Her fingers met the edge of the bandage on his forehead. "We all do - especially Chris, though the way he shows it..." Mary felt Vin's face tighten slightly in a smile.
Vin pulled Mary's hand into his two, noting the long fingers. Graceful, he thought briefly. Strong - just like the rest of her.
"I know, I know, I'm the one with the pressure - from m'self, not from y'all. Just feel like I stole someone else's life. No one's fault - I, I just need ta give it time, I know. I know. Just not that easy."
"Enjoy the break, Vin - you deserve it," Mary smiled, squeezing his hand as she slipped hers from his.
Vin's blue eyes searched hers for a clue. "Why? Why, Mary? What is it about my life that makes me deserve 'nything?"
"Well, everyone needs a break now and then," she covered with a disarming smile. Okay, so how much do I tell here? "You really don't have any idea? None of those flashes give you a clue?"
"Nah... not really..." Vin sighed deep and shuddering, wincing slightly at the catch along his ribs. How did he ask the question he half-dreaded the answer to?
"What is it, Vin?" Mary asked, squeezing his broad shoulder.
"Well, it's just... puttin' all these bits an' pieces together, I was... w-wonderin' - I mean, maybe ya don't even know..." Vin sighed as deeply as his tender ribs would allow, gathering courage. "A-Am I on the take? In my flashes, I see m'self workin' with a lot a' suits, but that's for sure not these guys. An' 'm always handlin' the weapons, seem ta know a lot about guns and such..."
Mary gasped and would've laughed if Vin hadn't sounded so anguished. "Is that what you've been thinking? My gosh, Vin, why didn't you say something?"
"Wasn't sure I wanted ta know the answer," he mumbled.
"Vin, what you do is...is - demanding, to say the least. But you're in the business of... helping people, working with the ATF. Important ways."
"But doing what?"
"Well, Vin, primarily, you're the sharpshooter. You also work undercover as backup for Ezra a good deal."
"How good am I?"
Mary turned to close the trash for the night and get a fresh bag, hoping to close this topic. "You're good, Vin. Very good...rumored to be the best here in Denver, maybe in the whole regional division. But you're more than just that to those men, Vin..." she wished Chris were fielding this question. The doctor didn't want Vin to be told too much about the violent nature of his work, concerned that it might conflict with his memory of the night he was attacked. "So just concentrate on getting well, Vin. And take this out to the dumpster, will you?" she said, handing him the trash. "It's late. You need to get to sleep, and I do, too. JD's to be here in a few minutes to give me a ride and drop Buck off to stay with you. I just have these last pans to put away, then we can look through a few more photos if you want. Okay?"
Vin's relief was palpable in the room. Running thick fingers through his hair as he slid from the stool, he surprised Mary with a quick hug before grabbing the trash. "Thanks, Mary - I really worried there fer a while, thinkin' m'ybe I was a - a dirty cop. Thanks - for everything yer doin'. An' - an' here, I'll run this out and be right back."
Mary waited until she heard the back door close before she let go a soft laugh. "Right. Vin Tanner, cop on the take. Hope that settles you for awhile."
Mary made a shopping list for Ezra for the following day, cleared the counter, and still didn't hear the door open announcing Vin's return. She silently shrugged into her coat and was ready to go out to the front to wait for JD. The faint, muffled crash coming through the window from the alley drew her. "Vin...?" she whispered, racing down the stairwell to the back door of the building.
Opening it tentatively, her heart in her throat, she called out. "Vin?"
No answer, just the sound of labored breathing coming from the direction of the cans. "V-Vin? Vin, are you there?"
Nothing. Mary edged along the wall, stretching her hands toward his quaking form.
"Uh!" Vin startled at her touch, grabbing the bandage on his head in pain. "Mar - Mary!?" he groaned. She heard the quiver in his voice.
"Come on, Vin," she soothed. "Let's get you inside - you'll freeze out here." She struggled to pull him to a stand, where she felt him wobble slightly against the wall. "I'm here, Vin, come inside. You're okay. You're okay..."
About 20 minutes later, Vin found himself back in his room surrounded once again by concerned faces. His breathing had slowed to normal, his pulse throbbed less in his head, and the deep pit of cold that had suddenly froze in him had started to thaw. He wanted to bury himself in his covers and shut everything away, but all the expectant eyes defied that possibility. He supposed he should be thankful for the time they'd given him to pull himself together.
"So, Vin, what happened out there?"
Leave it ta the guy with the mustache ta come right out with it... Vin had quickly discovered Buck's directness, and hadn't yet decided whether or not he liked it.
"I, uh... I was... t-takin' out the trash, an'... an' the, the light was out... was dark. I heard somethin', or... 'r seen a flash... I don't know. Everything started spinnin', an'... an' then everything just kinda faded out."
"Well, I just got off the phone with Dr. Morrison." Mary announced, walking into the room. "He says Vin should take two of those pain pills before going to bed. And, Vin, he said this is actually a good sign. Your memory just shut down after the - the injuries you received. But the fact that you suffered a panic attack means that something you saw or heard out there triggered something. Something your subconscious doesn't want to remember, but it will. Dr. Morrison says it's just a matter of time now, Vin. He said to get some rest tonight and he'll see you tomorrow to run some follow-up tests."
Josiah slapped Vin's leg with a wide grin. Chris squeezed his lean shoulder in support. "Well, Vin," Ezra added, "you'll be seeking out the criminal agents of our fair metropolis, saving fair damsels in distress, protecting humanity from drug lords and illegal arms dealers in no time."
"Yes, Mr. Larabee?"
But Vin had zoned out, aided by the effects of the medication Nathan had brought him. What had happened out there, he couldn't be sure. He was tired of feeling confused, of feeling...
"'Scuse me," his gravelly voice broke into the debate he was too tired to follow. "'m awful tired, I'll - I'll see y'all in the mornin'. If y'all'll excuse me, I'm going ta bed."
Josiah popped up by his side as he slowly stretched upright, swaying slightly. "Here, Vin, I'll turn..."
"NO!" The sudden force of air still twinged slightly between his ribs. "No, really - I'm right as rain. I - I just need to - to sleep. Thanks y'all, really, I'm just - tired. G'night."
JD crumpled back into the couch, his disappointment obvious.
"Someone's a little crabby..." Buck broke into everyone's thoughts, eyebrows arched.
"Easy, Buck." Chris countered.
"Yes, you'll just have to be patient with him," Mary's low voice asked. "He's just tired, confused..."
Chris darted a meaningful look at each of his men. "...and I imagine embarrassed. No one likes to lose control like that."
"I know, I know, Chris," Buck said. "Just trying to... Ah, I don't know..."
Chris hunched forward, asking the question on everyone's mind in hushed tones. "So what happened out there, Mary?"
Mary sighed and slid into Vin's spot on the couch. "I'm not really sure myself, Chris. We were talking in the kitchen, I was getting ready to go home, he took the trash out, and I found him out in the alley, all curled up on the ground, shaking - kind of 'shut down.' I've never known anyone to be so terrified. But," she continued, determined to put a positive spin on things, "the doctor said it shows all the typical symptoms of an extreme panic attack, and given what Vin's been through, not all that unexpected. Part of his brain is remembering something - it's in there, anyway. Now it's just a matter of time."
"I don't know, Mary...Vin's dealt with a lot of stuff worse than this in his life. Certainly been injured worse in just the years I've known him," Chris protested. "Can't imagine a panic attack like that."
"But he's always had himself to rely on to get through it, Chris. Now, he doesn't have that - he doesn't know who he is. He thought he was a dirty cop, for goodness sake. Doesn't know what's expected of him. I think he has a right to be afraid."
"Every right." Ezra agreed, the other men nodding in understanding.
This thought settled into the little group for a moment, then Nathan spoke up. "Hopefully the doctor will be able to tell us more tomorrow. About when we'll get our sharpshooter back. I hate to see him like this, but it should soon be over... Soon..."
After all that had happened, Mary was reluctant to leave Vin. Instead, she sent JD home, and Chris back to his ranch, and she shooed Nathan, Josiah, and Ezra out the door. She didn't feel sleepy, so she sat reading in a chair next to Vin's bed. Her eyes skimmed the pages aimlessly, her mind wandering often to her friend's condition in the alley. She had never seen him so... but then, she had to remind herself, he wasn't the same Vin. His restless movements and mumblings drew her out of her reverie.A black, shadowed alleyway loomed before him. He moved slowly, as though crossing a deep mud pit, toward the figures outlined at the other end. Metallic sounds echoed in his head, hurting his ears. A crumpled newspaper swam before his vision, just before he was pulled off balance and felt himself rolling, rolling. Suddenly, a narrow metallic slice gleamed bright in the night, slashing point-down toward his face...
Vin sat up straight with a groan and gasp, wincing slightly as his hands fingered the butterfly bandages across his cheekbone. It took a moment to get his bearings as he ran his fingers through his silky hair. His breath came in short, aching gasps.
"Vin? Vin, it's Mary. You're okay. You're safe, Vin."
He turned toward the voice of comfort on his right. "Mary! Yeah, I'm - I'm okay. Just a...strange dream. 'm awake now. 'm okay," he panted.
He noted the concern in her eyes and stretched his arm across to clasp her hand. His ragged breath began to return to normal as he swung his legs over the edge, facing her. He wondered for a moment if she even realized how beautiful she was, glazed in the faint moonlight that filtered through his window and reflected in her blue eyes. She had done so much for him. His wide gaze caressed her face, then he gently touched her face with one rough finger.
"Glad yer here, Mary. S-sorry for all the trouble I been causin' ya. I don' know who Vin Tanner is, Mary - not really... but I hope he realizes what a - a good friend he has in you." Without a conscious thought, his thumb tenderly traced her full lower lip.
"Just... just get some rest, Vin. Tomorrow could be the big day for you."
Vin seemed to snap out of a brief trance. "Right. Maybe this'll all be figured out. 'm tired of not knowin' m'self."
"I know, Vin. Just rest. Be patient just a little longer."
"'m trying, Mary," Vin mumbled drowsily. "Tomorrow maybe we'll get this all straightened out, catch the guys who did this. That's the thing 'at bothers me most. What else they might do to hurt someone, just 'cause my brain refuses to put it all t'gether."
"No - JD's right. I watch the news - I know 'm the key. It's not just me I need ta remember for. Lot of people going ta get hurt, and there ain't a thing I c'n do about it. Not so long as 'm like this."
"It's frustrating, Vin. You do so much to help others, and now when you need help, there's nothing anyone can do." Mary's voice broke slightly. "But we'll get the guys who did this - before it's too late. We will. Tomorrow we'll see what the doctor has to say. Maybe you'll remember something you can put your finger on. But for now, there's nothing you can do except get some sleep."
Reluctantly, Vin settled back into bed, easing onto the side opposite his bruised ribs. "Strange dream I had, Mary. Maybe it's m' mind rememberin' some clues." He sighed softly, edging quickly back into exhausted sleep. "People dyin'...screamin'...
hard to sleep..."
Mary almost choked, waiting for him to continue. But his breathing fell into a relaxed and even pattern, telling her he was asleep again.
She softly ran her hand over his thatch of hair. "Oh, Vin," she whispered aloud, smiling slightly, "you'll be okay. With all these friends of yours to watch your back, you'll be fine. I promise."
Across town the next morning, early sun shone high and cold into the alleyways. These narrow aisles remained murky, merely disguising the dangers of the city until nightfall. Brink and his cronies skulked against the walls here, casually awaiting the dark over cigarettes. Tuller offered his bottle of bourbon around, but Brink refused. He rarely drank, insisting he stay sharp.
Leaning against the dark brick, he stopped to pick up a few sections of abandoned newspaper. He glanced through casually as Tuller and Rex droned on, until a bold headline about halfway through made him bolt. He flicked the remnant of cigarette and grabbed Rex by the collar, all with one swift motion. "Man, what is this?" he demanded, thrusting the paper into the faces of the other men. "'This'll take care of 'im'....'This'll take care of 'im?' You're not able to take care of yourself, now we gotta problem." POW! A sudden right hook swung out and caught Tuller on the side of the head.
"Wha - whad ya do that for?"
"Cause yore an idiot! Remember the lady from last week, the one who had the guy give her a hand all of a sudden? This is them - Good Samaritan Injured in Attack..."
"So, this guy pulled off my mask..." Brink gritted, forcing Tuller back with a sharp poke to the chest.
"So, this guy can ID me. So, I ain't goin' back to no jail. So, you were supposed to kill him." Each 'so' became more like a growl, each punctuated by another stab of his thick fingers.
"Give me that," Rex said, grabbing it unexpectedly. Skimming the words, he turned back to the argument. "Says here the guy suffered head trauma. I'm telling you, his brain is oatmeal!"
"And how do you know?" Brink turned like a dog on his crony. "You his doctor?"
"No, but I guess I can read - says here 'the victim was unable to identify his attackers due to injuries sustained in the incident. Police Chief Jack Watson stated during a brief statement: Tanner is the key. We feel certain that, given time to recover from his trauma, he will be able to provide information we need to make some arrests in this case...'"
Brink growled in frustration. "I feel certain, too. With the big gig coming up, we can't afford the risk. Tuller, you and Rex find out where he hangs out. Check out that address we found in his wallet. Where was that address listed on the card?"
"Purgatorio, yeah, right... rough neighborhood, a little 'break-in' won't catch a lot of heat there. Check that out, see what the word is on the guy's little memory problem. This time we do it right. I can't have him fingering me - not now. Meet me back here tonight, we'll get this taken care of. And boys," he said, his voice low and graveled, "come ready - we rise and fall together, so don't mess up."
With that the little group disbanded, preparing to clear up the nuisance before it developed into a full-fledged liability.
Convincing Chris and the guys that she should accompany Vin to the hospital solo was not an easy feat. Mary understood them wanting to be there, and under other circumstances Vin would want them there. But now Vin - this Vin - seemed weary of their concern and attention. Mary had always sensed that Vin valued her opinion and friendship. But now he relied on her even more. Maybe it was because he knew she sensed the vulnerability that Vin now felt. Maybe it was simply because, in those first days while Chris and most of the team were away, she had been there with him. Either way, Mary had convinced them to take a break, too. They were becoming worn out from the strain themselves of keeping an eye on Vin, working on his case, as well as handling their regular caseload without the sharpshooter.
The tests had taken longer than expected, which alarmed Mary slightly as she waited. But the results were worth it. Vin's ribs were healing fine, the stitches on his face could come out by the end of the week, and his bruises were fading. And, while Dr. Morrison could offer little specific information as to when his memory would return, he was assured that the brain swelling and bruising was diminishing, and that Vin was out of the woods for a threat of seizure. The doctor cautioned him to continue getting as much rest as possible, but finally gave the okay for Vin to get back to his life. "Have a friend show you some of the places you used to hang around. Work a few hours at the office. A little each day, and don't overdo it. But your tests and that panic attack all indicate you're near a breakthrough. I'll set up an appointment with a psychiatrist for early next week. They have more experience with this sort of thing. But all in all, what you need now is time and rest."
It was mid-morning by the time they walked out of the hospital. With the sun bright and the air brisk, they decided to walk to a nearby restaurant for a light brunch. After they arrived back at his apartment, Vin had gone in his room to rest, at Mary's insistence. She could hear the fatigue in his voice; let alone what she could read on his face. They made plans for a little celebration for everyone at the Saloon, a restaurant where Vin and the rest of the Seven enjoyed hanging out. Mary smiled through the afternoon, and was only too happy to share the news with the others. After days of worry and wondering, it would be just what they all needed. It might even be just the thing Vin needed to bring his memory back.
The dinner had been delicious and the group sat around the cluttered table, sipping coffee and finishing off various desserts. A roar of laughter went up as Buck ended his latest story of conquest. Chris had reluctantly announced his need to return for further testimony in the out-of-town trial, and Vin wholeheartedly encouraged him not to put it off. It made no sense for everyone to put their lives on hold waiting for his memory to return. Chris stood to leave, pulling Vin up by grasping his forearm tightly, carefully.
"Take care of yourself, Vin. I'll be back day after tomorrow at the latest. Call the minute you need me - break in the case, your memory comes back, you just want to talk - anything." Chris glared until he got Vin's nod. "Now," he said, turning to the others, "if you'll all excuse me, I think I'll call it a night."
"I, too, am afraid I shall have to call it a delightful evening and turn in myself." Ezra nodded to Vin, saying, "I trust you will acquire a good night's repose, Mr. Tanner. We'll expect your presence at the office early tomorrow morning."
"Sure thing, Ez," Vin grinned. "I'm looking forward to it."
"Hey!" Nathan came back from the phone in the hallway. "Can I catch a ride with ya, Ezra? Thought maybe you'd drop me off at Rain's."
"Surely, Mr. Jackson."
Nathan made one last check on Vin's stitches, and with a warning not to overdo it, followed Chris and Ezra out the door.
"I'm going to try to catch a dance with that luscious blond before I leave," Buck announced. "C'mon, kid, I'll show you how it's done. Oh, and Vin, I'll stop over in the morning to give you a ride to the office."
"No problem, Junior. Hey, JD, you comin'? Can't let Josiah have all the fun out there!"
As Buck and JD walked away the band began a slow number and the lights dimmed slightly. Vin and Mary saw Buck start dancing with the blonde he had mentioned, and JD with her friend.
Vin observed them as any stranger in the restaurant might have. "Buck really loves women, don't he?" he asked, almost to himself. Then he smiled. "I...I must be a lucky man, blessed with such a great bunch a friends like I am."
Coming out of his reverie, her turned toward Mary. Her hair was swept up in soft curls, emphasizing her slender neck and soft cheeks. "How 'bout it, Mary? Do - do ya dance?"
Mary smiled broadly. "Why, yes, I love to dance."
"Do I?" Vin grinned, taking her hand and guiding her onto the floor and holding her in a soft embrace.
By now Vin was not amazed at Mary's gracefulness as they swayed over the floor. He was a little surprised at his own, though. "It's so funny, strange, ...I remember how ta dance, make coffee, stuff like that, but can't remember what I 'as doing a week ago." He paused, thinking on that a minute.
Mary couldn't summon a response so she didn't interrupt the brief silence. Instead, she enjoyed dancing. Having never danced with Vin, she was surprised when he asked. Even more surprising was how smoothly he moved. She wondered how long it would be before his memories returned - or even if it would. She had to wonder what Vin might be like if it didn't come back. This Vin...well, was different, in a way even Mary couldn't put her finger on. She missed the Vin she knew.
"Ya look beautiful tonight, by the way."
His voice broke into her thoughts. "I'm sorry, what did you say?"
"I said ya look very beautiful tonight. And, and it was nice of ya to think a' this. It's great t'see the guys relax a little. 'Specially since things've been so tense, chasin' and fussin' after me. An' this's been fun fer me, too."
"You're welcome, Vin. It's nothing. I had fun, too."
"Good. Ya've helped a lot, Mary. B-but, 'm kinda tired. Hope 'm not just a lazy person," he grinned down at his friend. "Get tired so easy these days."
Mary smiled widely and blinked. "No fear of that. Believe me, you're very...on-the-go. Your body's probably been waiting a long time for this much rest. You're just in recovery - take advantage of it."
"Thanks fer the dance, but I think 'm gonna sit the rest of this one out."
Mary felt his hand at her waist tremble ever so slightly, his shoulder sag just a little. "Let's get you to a chair."
"No, no, just gonna go out, catch a cab, go home ta bed. You stay with the others - don't want to spoil the fun just 'cause Vin needs a nap."
"Actually, it's been a long day for me, too. I'll come with you, make sure you get home okay, and then head home myself. It's on my way."
Vin protested. "I'm okay, really. No reason for you ta have ta tuck me in."
"Humor me. I've always wanted to be a nurse." Mary insisted.
Vin sighed in resignation to her stubbornness. "Fine. 'm too tired ta argue."
"Good," Mary replied. "You wouldn't win anyway." She smiled innocently.
They made their way to the door, catching Buck and Josiah on the way and convincing them to stay and enjoy themselves. Vin hailed a taxi and held the door for Mary before gratefully sliding in beside her. He had the start of a headache and felt light-headed. He would be glad to lay his head on the pillow for the night. Mary said nothing as the car began to pull out. Vin's hand lightly touched hers as he let his head rest on the back of the seat. His eyes began to get heavy as they drove along still-busy streets. Mary felt drowsy herself. Still, it was she who tapped Vin awake when they arrived at his apartment building.
"Ey, Mr. Tanner," a young boy greeted them with a lopsided grin from the shadows surrounding the building. Vin leaned heavily against the outside doorframe and loosened his tie. "Whoa, Mr. Tanner - you look wiped!"
"To tell the truth, 'Nando, I feel it. I'm going to bed." Kid sure takes an int'rest in me - first one at my door first day I's home.
"Well, everything's under control here. Don't worry about a thing, Mr. Tanner. Your gang's keeping it right in our 'hood. And if there's anything I can get..."
Vin smiled tiredly. "No. No, 'Nando, I'm okay. Just need sleep right now."
"I'll walk you up, Vin." Mary offered.
"No need, Mary. I'm perfectly capable..."
"I can tell your headache is back, and you're still none too steady on your feet. Let me just be sure you don't fall down the steps."
"That's right, Mr. Tanner," 'Nando agreed. "It's like the whole city is pulling for you. Bunch of guys been asking around 'bout how you're feeling. Course, after all the folks you've helped..."
"Ah, good night, 'Nando." Mary cut him off, following Vin up the stairway.
Vin turned back to the boy from the doorway. "'Nando, you keep an eye out for Miz Travis when she comes back through, 'kay? Make sure she gets to her car nice 'n safe."
"Sure thing, Mr. Tanner," 'Nando said with a wave. "'Night, Mr. Tanner, Miz Travis."
Mary listened to Vin's heavy tread on the dark stairway ahead of her. The banister creaked and she saw his jacket brush against the wall. "Vin?"
"'m okay, Mary." Vin stopped just outside his own door, leaning against the jamb and pressing the heel of his hand on his pounding head. He winced at the concern in her face and stiffly stood upright. He steadied himself on her shoulders, forcing the exhaustion from his voice.
"I'll be fine, Mary. You should stop worryin' about me. I'll remember everything, any day now. We'll catch these guys, and everything c'n return to normal." His tired voice grew husky as he continued, "I just have to remember what that is."
"Just get some rest, Vin."
"I will, I will." Vin replied. His blue eyes intently searched her face, taking in her wide eyes, her creamy white skin. Even now, after all she had done during this long day, she was beautiful, 'together'. "You oughtta do the same. And thanks for everything. I can't ever stop sayin' that, Mary. Don't know what woulda become a' me if it hadn't been for you."
Her eyes caught the moonlight and reflected it as Vin slid his hands along her slender neck and leaned toward her. Tenderly, he brushed his lips to hers, his hands moving into the thickness of her hair. He broke away with a minute step back, then moved in again, searching her eyes for any sign of protest as he kissed her again with more pressure, more insistency. Just as he sensed her returning his kiss, she pulled away, gently but firmly.
His first kiss had caught her completely by surprise. Vin would never have... but then, she reminded herself once again, this was not Vin. Not her Vin. And yet it was. She sensed his loneliness, his vulnerability in the second caress of his lips. For an instant, she found herself returning his kiss, wanting to share in what he was feeling, to comfort her friend. But just as quickly she pulled away. This wasn't the way to help. It would only add to the confusion.
Without a trace of anything that might make him feel embarrassed, Mary smiled kindly. "Thank you for a wonderful evening, Vin. Now, you need your rest. You're still under doctor's orders. Get some sleep."
"Yes, ma'am," Vin whispered, brushing his fingers back against her cheek. "Thanks for a wonderful evenin'. For everything. Be careful on the way home."
"I will," Mary began.
"I'd - I'd take ya m'self, but, but I don' think I'd do ya m-much good. I'm goin' ta bed. 'm beat."
"Night, Vin." Mary whispered, voice smoothly following him through the door of his apartment. "Sweet dreams."
Mary slid down the dingy stairway, thoughtful about the events that had just transpired. To her mind, it seemed so strange, and yet part of her felt it was so innocent. She sighed, digging in her purse for the mace canister she carried. Wouldn't hurt to be ready, just in case. She needed to meet with Chris yet about that interview. She didn't know what to make of Vin herself, and was too tired to sort it all out tonight.
Outside, a few cars and some loud rap music filled the night air. Mary felt her own head start to pound as they cranked up the volume from a neighboring street. She wondered how much rest Vin would get tonight. But then, as tired as he had been, she knew he would sleep soundly.
"You need anything, Miz Travis?" 'Nando inquired, stepping out on the walk in front of her.
"No, thank you, 'Nando. Just, keep an eye on Mr. Tanner, will you? Call me at this number if he needs anything." Mary handed the boy her card.
"Don't worry, ma'm. We look out for our own here, and Mr. Tanner belongs to Purgatorio. We make sure he's okay. How is he? A lot of people been asking about him."
"Really? They must've read about it in the paper."
"I guess they were maybe reporters themselves, some of 'em, ma'am. Didn't much dress like you, but they sure asked enough questions about Mr. Tanner's, well, his accident..."
"Really?" Mary interrupted.
"Yep. Wanted to know how 'e's doin', where he was, which apartment was his. I figured they wanted to talk with him."
Mary was racing back the walk before 'Nando had a chance to finish. If reporters were still nosing around, just what did that mean?
Tearing through the apartment building doors, her hands fluttered over her open mouth. They couldn't be reporters, which meant...
"Vin!" she managed to rasp, racing toward the back stairway. A heavy crash from the other side of the closed door greeted her at the top. She screamed uselessly for 'Nando, and grabbed the mace can tightly.
Calm, Mary, she mentally demanded herself to think. Go in, kill the lights, draw the attention away from Vin and give yourself and Vin the advantage...
Mary turned the doorknob with a deep breath, mace at the ready. She heard the sickening sound of flesh smacking flesh, heard a gasp that could only be Vin's, just before another crashing sound from the area of his living room. Reaching for the switch, she almost tripped over a body just inside the doorway. At the same instant she heard Vin rasp, "Mary! Get outta here!" She hit the lights, and heard the protests immediately.
Okay, there's more than one, but Vin's taken care of one at least. She listened, ears straining over the sound of her own ragged breathing. One, no, two - two more against Vin. Over in the corner. She could barely make out their dark shadowed forms. Two on one, some kind of weapon, something heavy... Gun? She couldn't tell, but she knew they hadn't fired it. Not yet.
A horrendous crashing sound, the heavy thud of a body falling to the floor, and she knew something had come to a standstill. She held her breath, hoping against hope for the soft drawl in Vin's voice, telling her he was okay.
Instead, she heard an unfamiliar, grating voice. "He's down. Find her, Brink - we'll take care of them together. Where's Tuller?"
Mary tightened her grasp on the mace. Whatever had happened to Vin, she couldn't think about it now. She had to concentrate on getting out. Apparently it was too dark in the room for them to spot her, and they couldn't be familiar with the layout. She was. It was her best advantage. She felt around, quickly getting her bearings. And she moved toward the place where she had last seen their vague outlines. Please, 'Nando, please, please get help. Vin, be okay...
With the stealth of a cat, Mary made her way along the edge of the room until she felt her foot slip over the ridge into the kitchen area. Here she ducked below the counter, out of the line of sight. She could hear the other two tramping about clumsily, tripping over things in the dark in their search of her and their friend and the light switch. From all Mary could tell, the friend was still unconscious by the doorway. At least she hoped that's where he was. If she could only find her way over to Vin.
An indistinguishable sound came from the back part of Vin's apartment. Mary heard the intruders wander in the same direction. Silently, she slid along the floor around into the living room area, until she bumped into another still form. Vin.
Hands trembling, she searched for his face. He was lying on his back, one arm out to his side, the other slung across his chest. His face was turned to the side, and she felt something warm and sticky along his hairline. His breathing was shallow but steady. There was no response to her gentle shake.
Voices returning from the back startled Mary back to the situation at hand. She couldn't let them get away, she couldn't leave Vin. It was up to her. She slid to the edge of the couch and crouched behind, mace held tight in her grasp.
Time moved slowly now as she listened intently for the approaching feet, waiting for just the right moment to strike. She knew she couldn't catch both of them, yet she didn't know what else to do. If she could take one of them, then make a dash for the door, she might have enough time to scream again for help, then make another hit at whoever came next. Would it be enough? She didn't know, but no other plan came to mind.
Footsteps treaded heavily toward her. She stood quickly, surely, and sprayed straight at the face. Her reward was a low howl and a rumble of a body sinking to the floor.
She raised the bottle for another spray, prepared to run to the doorway, when she felt the canister pulled from her grasp from behind. Cool, smooth metal was pressed to her throat as she felt her feet being lifted from the floor. She dug her fingernails into the arm around her throat, trying to pull it away from crushing her.
"You picked the wrong fella to help out, lady, and the wrong time to do it." She felt the circle of the pistol barrel shoved at her jaw line.
"He's my friend, please, please, just let me check on him. He needs me, I..."
At that moment, a loud crash came from the door. "Police! Freeze!"
Mary slumped to the floor and made her way over to the still-unmoving Vin. There was a jumble then of strange lights and sounds. Relief washed over her and she could not concentrate any further than that. The number of people in the room grew, but Mary could not think any further than her friend, still unconscious with his head on her lap. It seemed like a long time passed as she sat like that, although thinking back on it later, she realized it could only have been a few minutes before Chris was there, pulling her off to the side.
The paramedics worked quickly on Vin, preparing him for transport to the nearest hospital. They asked her a few questions about the old bruises they found, which Mary answered numbly. "How is he? Will he be okay?" she asked.
The paramedic looked to Chris before answering. "He's - he's pretty banged up, Miss. Nothing he won't recover from, though. Looks like he's fared better this time than last, anyway."
Police officers made arrests and took Mary's statement there at the scene. "We've been looking for these guys for awhile now, Mrs. Travis. I'm sorry this had to happen, but rest assured, we have enough dirt on them now to get a conviction and make it stick - for a long time," the officer in charge explained. "You'll come downtown to sign this statement, maybe answer a few more questions for us?"
"Ah, can't it wait until tomorrow?" Nathan spoke. "I mean, they're not going anywhere tonight, right? Miz Travis has been through a lot, and right now we're worried about our friend. We'd like to be at the hospital."
Mary's eyes widened with pleading and the officer gave his assent. In no time, she and Chris and the rest of the team were once again headed to the hospital to check on Vin.
Time dragged by slowly. The team had arrived long before, and they now sat waiting for the test results. Mary felt a horrible sense of déjà vu. Usually she was able to maintain composure, but all the events of the past few hours, not to mention the past few days, had worn even her calm spirit down. Two attacks in one week's time...and who knew how he'd be this time?
The doctor agreed to allow the Team, a few at a time, to see Vin before they took him for a CT scan to assess the full extent of the damage to his brain. The guys insisted Chris take Mary in first. No one was sure who would be helping whom, but Chris needed to see him, and Mary was frantic, continually mentioning things she could have done - should have done - to keep Vin safe. Buck and JD, then Josiah, Nathan, and Ezra, would have to wait their turns.
Mary could hardly see Vin through the bandages covering his face, but Mary had a sinking feeling in the pit of her stomach that the extent of his injuries were less widespread but more severe than the last time. Chris's audible gasp as they entered the room left little room for doubt about what he thought.
The detective from the Denver Police assigned to the case stopped by to see how Vin was doing and to update the men on the case. "They've turned on each other, which makes everything a lot easier. Seems they were afraid Mr. Tanner would ID them and planned to take him out before a big heist this weekend. They're smarter than they look, and very dangerous. We've been able to connect them with several murders over the past year, and many robberies. Mr. Tanner, and Ms. Travis, here, too, were very lucky to tango with them and come away."
"I heard about Vin's memory problem," the officer continued on a more personal basis. "The whole precinct has been thinking about him, praying for his recovery."
Chris had thanked him on his way out, and still the team sat. It seemed like an eternity.
Finally, Dr. Morrison came out to talk with them. "The bad news is, he has a severe concussion near the location of the first. He hasn't come around yet, but the brain activity is consistent. He'll be restricted from high-risk activities and have a whale of a headache, but - once again, barring any complications - he'll recover. I don't suspect any permanent damage, though we'll have further tests when he regains consciousness."
"Anything else, doc?" Chris asked the question on everyone's mind.
"Well, there are no other injuries, no further damage to the ribs, though I don't know how he escaped that," the doctor clarified. "It's just a little touchy until he comes around."
"And what about his memory?" Nathan added.
"I'm sorry, there's no way to know that until he can talk to us. All I can say is that all indications are good from the brain activity we can measure now. We just have to wait it out."
"How long will that be?" JD asked, a slight hitch in his voice.
"Could be by morning, could take a few days. Right now, his brain and body know he needs this deep kind of rest he's getting, and when he's ready, he'll wake up. That's all I can tell you now. But I would consider his condition 'hopeful'."
With that, the group thanked him and let him be on his way. Then they settled in to wait.
The early morning was quiet, even among the busy pace of the hospital staff. Chris had gone to change and rearrange his schedule. There was no way he would fly out now, not when Vin's health was in danger. The trial would have to wait. Buck and JD had gone, at Mary's insistence, for a "stretch," and promised to bring back coffee. Ezra and Josiah, highly involved in a case with Team Six, were forced to report for duty. Nathan went to find the doctor for a more technical discussion of Vin's injuries. Mary found herself alone for a brief time, waiting for her friend to recover just as she had waited several days ago.
None of the group had done more than dozed through the night, but Mary had been wide-awake to hear every movement made. The moment her heavy lids would close, the sounds in the darkness she had heard in Vin's apartment that night would screech into her mind, catching her attention.
Mary crawled out of the soft chair she had been laying in and cautiously found her way back to Vin's room. Soft breathing and the steady grate of the IV machine were the only sounds coming from the bed in the early morning stillness. She stretched one hand to his and the other smoothed across his tousled hair. Her fingertips slid across a gauze patch. "Oh, Vin...please, please, wake up. Please, just be okay this time. We all...we all need you so much. Oh, God, please..."
Tears slowly formed and spilled of their own volition. Mary moved a chair close to the edge of his bed, and buried her face in the woven blanket at his side as the tears flowed. She was tired, and weary, and scared, and...
The steady breathing caught with a muffle in Vin's side. He was murmuring incoherently, his head swaying slightly side to side, but to Mary it was like the warmth of sunlight on a cloudy day. She lifted her head and wiped her hand across her face. "V-Vin?"
Familiar voices seemed to be instantly at the door. "Mary, what is it?" Nathan asked. Mary could sense Chris, Buck, and JD standing in the doorway behind her without turning.
"Get the doctor! I think he's waking up!"
Vin noticed his friends standing off to the side, worry evident in every line of their faces, for just an instant before his view was so unceremoniously interrupted by the flare of a penlight shining directly into his eyes. Dr. Morrison was examining him as Vin tried to pull things together around the crushing and pounding in his head.
"Can you tell me your name?" the doctor asked.
Vin looked up, his pale eyes wide. "Well, yes, I'm - I'm Vin Tanner."
"And do you know what today is?"
"Uh, hmm - Tuesday?"
The doctor grunted to himself, checking charts and making notes. "Do you know what happened? Why you're here?"
"I, uh...I was out-outside, and there, there was...a-a woman, she was being mugged at the end of...at the end a' the alley. I went to give 'er a hand, and she-she got away, went runnin' fer the police. The one guy, he-he had a knife, and...and I was cut. I pulled his mask and he - one of them called 'im 'Brink', I'm pretty sure. Yeah, Brink. I...dodged, but then someone - there were, ah, three of 'em...yeah, three - one of 'em must'a knocked me pretty good. Everything went black, an', an' that's...that's all I 'member." Vin blinked, scratching his head in confusion.
"Actually, Mr. Tanner, that attack happened a week ago." Dr. Morrison informed him. "You didn't remember anything after that attack - you had amnesia. The same guys attacked you and your friend, Ms. Travis, again last night in your apartment. Does any of that sound familiar?"
Vin blanched, his gaze seeking Mary, concern for her evident in his expression. "N-no, it don't. Mar-Mary? You okay?"
"Yes, Vin, as long as you're awake now, I'm fine. Everything will be okay now. They caught the guys who did this."
"And, and that other woman, from before - is she..."
"She's fine, Vin," Chris assured him, squeezing Mary's shoulder in relief that his friend was truly on his way to recovery.
"You're the one that's been causing all the trouble, walking around not knowing anything. What a pain you made of yourself!" Buck chimed in, teasing in his usual jovial voice. "I mean, we thought Vin Tanner was a pest, but the other guy who took your place, geez..."
Vin caught on immediately and laughed, feeling the catch in his side. He groaned softly, grabbing his ribs. "Yeah, guys, nice to see you again, too."
Vin crawled out of Mary's car and turned to look at the federal building on the corner - ATF Headquarters, his office. He sighed lightly, softly, so glad to be back, even if it was just to soak up the atmosphere again. The past three days in the hospital had felt like an eternity. He took Mary's arm in his. He studied her face, still for a moment in the frosty morning air. He had never really noticed before how beautiful she was - strong, graceful, confident.
"Mary, can't thank ya enough for all you've done, helping the guys through all this." Vin rubbed his head gently. "I can't believe I'm missing a whole week of my life. Was I really walkin' around here, not knowing who I was?"
"Yes, and it was strange... You were Vin, but yet, you weren't, not - not really." Mary agreed.
"Hope I didn't do anything too strange. Did I, Mary? I mean, I'm still okay with everyone, right? The guys, you, AD Travis? Didn't do anything to embarrass myself, right?"
"No, no, Vin. You were basically your same old self..." She trailed off, remembering the soft pressure of his full lips on hers. "Well, maybe not quite, but we all knew it wasn't 'our' Vin. We all understood, and well, let's just say, it's good to have the real Vin Tanner back."
"Thanks, Mary, for everything." Vin leaned down and pecked her cheek shyly. "Don't know how we could a' done it without you. Just wish I'd a' been conscious to see ya goin' after that guy."
"Well, Vin, that's what friends are for. So, no more thanking." She smiled up at him. "Come on, let's get you inside. You'll freeze out here. Besides, the guys are anxious to have you back, and I can hear in your voice that you're tired. I'll bet your head hurts, too. You really took a hit that night, Vin. I was so - so scared for you..."
Vin squeezed her hand. "But we're all okay now. Everything's back ta normal."
Cuervo darted from the doorway of the parking garage, curling around Vin's legs. "Well," he amended, "normal as things get 'round here."
"Well, c'mon, Junior," Buck's voice called from the opened front doors. "Ya just get back after two weeks' vacation an' ya think ya can start with yer breaktime, or what?"
Vin looked up to see his teammates - his family - waiting for him.
"Get in here, Tanner," Chris bellowed. "More than just your head's been getting' soft."
Vin smiled broadly, shuffling toward the building, toward his friends. Yeah, fellas, it's good ta be back.