Magnificent Seven ATF Universe
barCollecting
Collecting

by Mary Ann

Main Character - Ezra

Thanks to Rosalee for catches

Not mine.. Sure wish they were though ...

Some violence


Chapter 1

Saturday morning dawned with the roar of gunfire in the large concrete block warehouse that sat shrouded in dark shadows. Homeless in the next dilapidated building listened to the shooting then yells of "ATF Freeze" before hunkering back into their old blankets and boxes satisfied it wasn't going to spill over into their 'home.'

Flashing lights reflected off the buildings and sirens screamed in the grey dawn as several ambulances pulled up to the doors of the block building.

ATF Team Seven gathered around the back of one ambulance as one of their teammates was loaded into one of the ambulances. Josiah Sanchez climbed into the vehicle and seated himself beside the gurney where an unconscious Nathan Jackson lay. Within moments the EMT was seated next to Nathan, the back door was slammed closed and they headed for the hospital.

Chris Larabee, head of Team Seven looked at the tired faces of his team, knowing none of them would go home until they knew how Nathan was.

"Let's go boys. We'll drop the van and equipment off at the department and pick up our rigs. Get loaded up," he ordered and with a few words to Team One, whose bust it was, they headed for the van they'd arrived in, parked a block away, turning their head gear over to Team One's communications man. They would have paperwork to do, but after they checked on Nathan.

Forty five minutes later five agents descended on the Emergency Department at Denver General. The main desk notified them that there was no word yet on Nathan Jackson, so the men headed to the waiting room where they found Josiah holding a corner for them.

The men were barely seated when an ER doctor came in, "Family for Jackson?" He gulped when six men rose and came towards him. Words of the nurses working with him crossed his mind, … 'This is one of the best ATF team's member. They all will be here for him. Don't let them scare you.' … 'You're new here, we know them all pretty well, and they really won't tear you apart if you have bad news for them.' … 'There will be six now waiting, they added a new man a few weeks ago, I heard. Don't be scared of them, they are just concerned and they're pretty close, just think of them as all brothers.'

Doctor Warren stiffened his back and looked at the men in front of him. Several of them towered above him, but the blond in black, he couldn't miss the green-eyed glare that shot his way.

"Well?" the blond growled.

"Sorry. Mr. Jackson will be fine. He has a gunshot graze across his upper arm that required a couple stitches, and a minor concussion. He can be released as long as he has someone to be with him for the next six hours. He has to be awakened if he goes to sleep."

Before Chris could say anything a pretty woman in scrubs stepped forward. "I will be with him Dr. Warren. I am off duty in 10 minutes, I'll take him home," she told him.

Chris nodded to Rain, Nathan's fiancι who had appeared in time to hear what the doctor had said.

Warren looked at Rain and smiled, "I know he'll be in good hands with you Rain. His release papers and prescription will be ready when you are. The bandage on his arm should be changed daily for the next 3 days. Watch for any infection or other problems. You know the song and dance."

"I do Dr. Warren. I'll be back shortly." With a squeeze to Chris' arm she left.

"Can we see Nathan before he leaves?" JD Dunne, their computer and communications tech, asked.

"Yes, he's in room 2 just to your left," Warren said and led the way. In the room he saw his patient sitting up, buttoning a scrub shirt. His ATF jacket lay beside him, there was no sight of the shirt he'd worn that day. Nathan glanced at his teammates as they filed into the room. Dr Warren paused then headed towards a nurse beckoning at him by another ER room after nodding to the men.

The tall black man stood and looked at their sharpshooter, Vin Tanner who had stopped beside the exam bed.

"Vin, are you all right?"

Pink crossed the long-haired young man's face. "I'm fine Nathan."

Dark eyes narrowed as Nathan looked their new man up and down. The sharpshooter had been hidden in the rafters of the warehouse for over 9 hours.

"I am fine, Nate. I drank the water and ate the sandwiches y'all brought for me."

"Okay, good," Nathan said and turned to his leader. "I'm ready to leave."

"You're going home, but not with us," Chris grinned. "Looks like Rain is off in a few minutes and told your doctor she was taking you home."

"Rain?" Nathan's dark face lit up and the men laughed at his reaction as he grabbed his jacket.

"You've got a couple more minute's brother, so don't get into an all fired hurry. How's your head?" Josiah asked.

Nathan leaned back against the tall exam bed and grinned. "I have the headache from hell and my arm hurts but I will be fine. I can get my report done before I go home." He said looking at Chris.

Chris shook his head, "No, yours can wait until Monday. Get some rest and if you feel like it Monday morning will work. We were backup; Travis won't get all the reports until then anyway."

At that moment Rain walked into the room, her gaze fixed on Nathan, looking him over without saying a word.

Nathan smiled at the pretty woman still counting his blessings that she had agreed to marry him. Before he could say anything Chris spoke.

"All right, your beautiful ride is here, we'll leave you in her capable hands. Let's go. See you Monday."

Chris turned and gave Buck Wilmington a shove to get him moving. Once the tall mustached man took a step the men all headed out with good wishes to Nathan.

Vin automatically got into Chris' black Dodge Ram, as the men headed back to the office to do their reports. He grinned at Chris as the blond leader started the truck. Chris just grinned back and shook his head.

"Didn't want to worry Ez with me riding in his fancy car," Vin said.

"His driving is something else. I don't think he's ever been in a rush in that Jag of his ever. Well as long as I've known him, which is only a year," Chris answered.

"Drives like an old woman," Vin snickered.

Chris chuckled as silence fell between them. When had he started to smile and laugh so much? It took him only a moment to answer, about a month ago. His quick glance to the right showed that the sharpshooter had relaxed and dozed off. Yes, about the time that Vin Tanner dropped into his life and shuffled it all around.

The team needed a sharpshooter, a bust gone bad took Carl Johnson, their temporary shooter out. Unbeknownst to them, one Vin Tanner had been in the warehouse, chasing down a bounty and ended up helping team seven take down the dealers, though his bounty had escaped in the gunfight.

Team Seven came through the bust with just the one man down thanks to Tanner getting involved. He had a graze on his forearm and had saved Nathan's life when two men went after him. Nathan had been impressed how Vin had easily handled the two men. He'd thanked him as he treated his arm even though the long-haired young man wanted to leave.

Later, back at the office Chris had talked to AD Orin Travis, their CO and told him about Tanner, that he wanted him on his team.

It was several days later before the young man strolled into the bull pen, a folder in his hand. An old battered, wide brimmed cavalry hat on his head. Clothed in a dark blue flannel shirt under a sheepskin lined leather jacket, faded worn jeans and cowboy boots, he looked like someone out of the Wild West. When Chris and Tanner's gazes met again it was like they'd known each other forever. The blue eyed young-old gaze went straight to Chris' heart, melting the lump of ice that it had become. For the first time in three years he felt alive. When Vin's hand gripped his forearm in a warrior's grip, it felt like an electric current had gone through him and his heart melted more.

By the time the short interview was over, Vin had become a member of ATF Team Seven and Chris smiled widely when he'd introduced him to the rest of the team. Several men exchanged surprised looks and Ezra had held out his hand to collect the bets that had been made.

"We're here," Chris said as he pulled into his parking space.

Vin stretched as he got out of the truck and fell in step with Chris as they walked to the parking elevator. They heard the other rigs pull in and waited for the rest of the team to reach them. Vin held his breath as they all entered the enclosed space but the talking around him distracted him until they stepped out on their floor.

Several hours later most of the reports had been filed; Vin was struggling to finish his. When he sighed Ezra looked across at him.

"Mr. Tanner, can I be of assistance? I do understand you not wanting it, but as you discern, I am willing to help. I am not busy right now."

A slight blush colored Vin's cheeks as he glanced at the dapper undercover agent, then at his report on the computer. Once the men realized he struggled with dyslexia, without a word JD had made a program for him that eased the reports he needed to make. Ezra understanding what he was going through, thanks to a cousin who had it, offered to help Vin when he seemed to get stuck.

Moving back from his desk, Vin let Ezra move in and look at his computer screen. Within minutes Ezra hit the print key.

"All finished Mr. Tanner, only a couple mismatched inaccuracies. It looks like this program is working nicely for you."

"Thanks Ezra, 'preciate your help," Vin said, hiding a yawn behind his hand.

Chris walked out of his office, Buck took one look at his face and remarked, "Hey stud, what's wrong now?"

"Meeting in five minutes; Travis will be here."

The news was greeted with groans and hands slapping desktops with a few 'damns' mixed in. One by one they made their way to their conference/lunch room, taking their seats and waiting for Travis to arrive.

Chris kept an eye on Vin, who was sprawled in the chair to his right, knowing how tired the younger man was. Vin had been going since the day before, and stuck in the warehouse all night with no sleep. He saw long lashes drop over the tired blue eyes, a moment later they fluttered once then stayed closed.

Buck noticed and quieted the others, letting Vin get a few minutes of sleep, knowing it wasn't enough for the man.

Minutes later Travis walked into the room and JD nudged Vin, who woke instantly alert.

Travis looked at the men, noting the tired faces and that Nathan wasn't there as he placed a large file on the table.

"I'm sorry to keep you longer. But I wanted to give you a heads up. Carlos Mendez is back in the area," he paused hearing the groans from several men. "We have a couple agents watching his moves. There has been an undercover FBI agent in with them for the last five months. It took him over six months to get accepted by Mendez to get to this point." Travis passed around several pictures indicating the first one was the undercover agent.

"Right now you will only be backup to Team Five and the FBI. But if something comes up … You need to study the file and be prepared in case Mendez needs to be taken down right away. He is set up just north of Denver this time, here is the layout of his place." Travis pointed towards the file. "He has a small warehouse in northwest Denver that is under observation 24/7. So far only one load of guns have come in. We had been warned it was a test run, and set up if it was taken. Mendez is planning several large loads of guns and alcohol to be brought in, possibly this month. That is where you will be needed, when that goes down," Travis glanced over the men and continued.

"There will be a meeting Monday afternoon with Team Five, and Tuesday both you and Five will meet with the FBI agent." Travis looked at the men, "I do not want to hear any complaints from the FBI after this meeting. Agent Cornell is in charge, I think you should be able to work with her." Travis grinned when he saw Buck perk up as he mentioned the FBI agent. "Forget it Buck, she is happily married for 25 years now. But I want you all to work together on this. We want to get Mendez this time and make it locked up tight so he doesn't get away. Now any questions?"

"When is this meeting with the FBI?" Josiah asked.

"Cornell wanted it today, but with the bust this morning, it's put off until Tuesday, 10AM. Conference room 3."

"Good. Nathan will be back on Monday," Chris said.

"Any other questions?"

"How long y'all been after this Mendez?" Vin's rough voice asked.

Travis looked at the sharpshooter. "Technically six years. He appears for a time then is gone. One and a half years ago we thought we had him. He'd taken over an old store in town, opened a business and was legit for a few months. Things started appearing on the street and were traced back to him. He'd already been under surveillance, we finally got someone inside, but when the bust was set up and went down, Mendez had slipped out, taking everything with him, leaving only twenty guns and some underlings who were arrested."

"Why does he keep coming back here?" JD wondered out loud.

Travis turned to the young man and shook his head. "That's one thing we keep wondering too. But we think it mainly is because Denver is more or less centrally located, he can go in any direction he wants, including Mexico and Canada. Beside there are many warehouses and buildings for sale or lease here, and with his connections he has access to them. We are hoping the undercover agent can give us those connections along with Mendez."

"Does he have internet service?"

"I believe so. It's possible he does some contract work on it. Why?"

"Just wondered," JD hedged noting the look Chris shot at him.

"If he is online it should be in this report," Travis tapped the file. "You can read it over and see. Anything else?"

"I think that's enough Orin. We'll read it over and I'm sure we'll have questions for Agent Cornell when we meet with her," Chris said and saw the nods from several of his teammates.

"All right. I think many of your questions will be answered once you read through the file. Go over it and I'll see you at the meetings." Travis told them and with a last nod to the men he left the room.

"Do we need to study this now or can we go home and come in early Monday?" Buck asked yawning.

"I think we better go through some of this now, then refresh it Monday with Nathan here." Josiah said before Chris could say anything.

"At least go through some of it," Vin added.

"All right," Chris handed each man several pages stapled together that had been in the folder. Quiet descended on the room as the men looked over the pages.

Vin was exhausted and many of the lines blurred together to where he could barely make out a few words. Frustrated he flipped through the sheets until the last page, layouts of the house and grounds Mendez lived in and on the back side, the layout of the warehouse. Studying the grounds Vin found places that would give the best coverage if they had to take the house. The house was a sprawling ranch style building, everything on one floor and well marked rooms with doors and windows notes. The warehouse was a smaller building, less than 5,000 square feet and again well laid out on the page. Height, length and width noted, with doorways, windows and office marked.

Vin studied the layouts as much as he could, knowing he had to get into the warehouse to look at it personally to find where the best place for him to set up in the rafters. If there were rafters he thought, if not he'd have to find another place to watch the backs of his teammates. With a tired sigh Vin pushed the papers back and stretched, he was too tired to think anymore.

For a minute he let the quiet of the room flow over him as the others read through the information. A small smile formed when he felt eyes on him. Opening his eyes he looked at Chris, whose gaze was on him.

"I'll take this home and read through it tomorrow. Just need some sleep" Vin told Chris as he tapped the pages.

"You need a ride home?" Chris asked.

"Got my rig. I can make it fine."

A laugh barked out, "Junior, I'll drop you off. JD can bring your jeep behind us. We'll pick you up tomorrow to go to Chris' for the day too," Buck said.

For a moment Vin thought it over, he really did feel too tired to drive. He nodded his head and dug out his keys. "'preciate it Buck, I am tired. Here's the keys, just crank her two times and she should start JD."

"We'll get it in the morning if she doesn't," JD replied.

"Bring an overnight bag, just in case. You can ride in Monday morning with me," Chris told him.

"I will. Thanks. See y'all in the morning," Vin was on his feet and looked at Buck who rose and followed the slender sharpshooter out of the room.

Grabbing their jackets, they headed for the stairs as the other men carried the papers into the bull pen to

gather their own coats and shut things down. Silence fell over the room as they all left, heading for home and needed rest.

Chapter 2

"Wake up Vin. Almost there … You get a good rest tonight Junior. We'll pick you up at 8:30 tomorrow morning. Don't worry about getting something to take to Chris', we got plenty of snacks, chips, dips, salsa, cookies and potatoes to go with the steaks. Got beer too, so you don't have to pick up anything." Buck told Vin as they drew near Vin's apartment building. He had seen JD with Vin's battered blue jeep turn in behind them and was glad the youngster had caught up with them.

Vin rolled his head to sleepily look at the mustached agent. "We can stop and I'll get a box of donuts on the way out."

Buck laughed as he turned onto Vin's street, "Yeah, we can stop. You have a secret good bakery don't you?"

Vin smiled, "Sure do and they make the best donuts in the state."

"Now we'll know where you get those good ones you bring in now and then. Here's your place. Boy, one of these days the city is going to condemn this whole area," Buck said as he pulled into a parking spot across from a sorry excuse of a brick building that soared 4 stories high. "Most of these buildings look like they're going to fall down on their own."

Glancing at the buildings and the few people on the street, Vin answered, "They look pretty bad, but some are a lot older than downtown and will last a lot longer than those will. Thanks for the ride Bucklin," Vin smiled through a yawn as he got out of the older red Chevy pickup that Buck had lovingly restored. "I'll see you two in the morning."

JD had pulled into the empty space behind Buck's truck and parked. He was out of the jeep as Vin walked around the pickup.

"She started right up Vin. Here's the keys. I'll see you in the morning," JD said in one breath as he handed the keys to Vin.

"Thanks JD, glad she started for you, sometimes she rebels."

"Not this time. See you later," JD replied then got into the truck. Buck and JD watched Vin cross the street and enter the front doors of the apartment building. Knowing he was safely inside they drove away, heading for their condo, fifteen minutes away in a better part of town.

Vin headed up the stairs too tired to think of anything more than a hot shower and bed. As he trudged up the four flights of stairs to his apartment he smiled to himself, thinking of the chance meeting of Team Seven in the warehouse where his bounty had taken refuge. He'd ended up in the middle of a bust and saving Nathan's life when one of the gun runners grabbed him as a shield. He had suffered a gunshot wound to his upper arm and his bounty had escaped, but he'd gotten to know the team and then Chris came looking for him, wanting him on his team.

It took a month before he was able to join Team Seven, thanks to Chris' insistence and help. He was surprised over the depth of their 'friendship?' Vin wasn't sure what to call it, this feeling was deeper than friendship. Vin shook his head as he mounted the last set of stairs. He never had a brother, but Chris could be his brother, or even closer. He didn't understand the feeling but he knew there was something deep between them, ever since their eyes met the first time across the warehouse. They seemed to instantly know each other, their lives, thoughts and hearts, and would do anything for the other.

With a small smile on his lips, Vin walked to his door. Seeing that it was open he pushed in, thinking one of the building's teens was using his computer for their home work.

"Juan? You here?" Vin asked as he entered the apartment and glanced towards the small dining table where his computer sat, the printer on a chair beside it. No one was there and the hair on his neck instantly rose. Before he could draw his gun someone hit him from behind and he heard the apartment door click shut.

Stumbling forward Vin half fell over the only stuffed chair in his house. Twisting he kicked out at the blond muscle man that came at him. The man grabbed his foot and twisted it, turning Vin's leg, forcing Vin to turn and try to stay upright.

Vin had to twist with his leg as pain shot through his hip and lower back. He started to fall while he continued to try to get his gun free. A large hand snared his arm as his fingers touched the revolver and it was jerked away.

He didn't fall; the tight grip on his arm held him upright, enabling Vin to swing his left fist at the man. The man took the blow on the side of his face and blood began to well from his cut lip. Vin was yanked upright hard. His arm went numb from the man's strong grip, and a large fist struck him in the side of his head. Shaking his head, Vin struck back, hitting the man in the nose and blood spurted, splashing across the old coffee table in front of Vin's threadbare couch. Vin dodged the next blow and twisted his arm away from the blonds' iron grip.

Staggering backwards, Vin shook his arm, trying to get feeling back so he could draw his gun. He knew if he could get into his bedroom he could escape out the window, as it opened onto a fire escape. The blond came at him again and Vin took another step back. He was in the short hallway that led into his bedroom with the bathroom door to his right. He swung his fist at the man's face but this time his fist was blocked as a muscular arm rose. It was followed so fast by the man's other fisted hand that Vin didn't have time to duck away. The solid blow landed in Vin's stomach and he jack-knifed. Air exploded out of him as his arms wrapped around his middle.

Gasping for air Vin shifted back another step. A fist caught him on his jaw and straightened him upright again. Hurting, he took a deep breath, and lashed out with his booted foot catching the man solidly in his groin area, stopping him dead in his tracks.

Vin turned and stepped towards his bedroom only to stop a half step from its door. In surprise he looked at the scruffy thin man whose long stringy, greasy hair hung to his shoulders.

"You!" Vin blurted in astonishment, before launching himself at the bounty that had slipped away from him several months ago.

Eli Joe Jones met the younger man's attack with one of his own, and for several minutes they exchanged blows. Jones realized the bounty hunter was tougher than they thought, and glanced behind Tanner to where his partner, Clark, finally was coming towards them. He motioned to the big man, and received another hard blow from Vin's fist that knocked him to the floor. Blood poured from his mouth and nose. After spitting the blood out of his mouth he rolled and gazed up at Tanner.

Vin stood above Jones, slightly swaying as he again reached for his revolver. His ribs hurt where they'd got pounded, and his hip and leg were aching from being twisted. His mouth was bleeding and dripping onto the floor and his shirtfront. He saw Jones grin at him as he grabbed his gun. At the same instant his arms were tightly pinned to his sides; his revolver went flying. With a curse Vin kicked back trying to connect with the man's legs. The arms tightened, then crossed, hands reached and gripped his wrists tightly. Then they were dug into his chest, making it hard to breath.

Jones rose in front of Vin, who gasped for air as he was held, his arms immobile and crushed into his chest. The man laughed as he stepped closer. With a calculated look at Jones, Vin lashed out with both feet. His weight knocked back into the man holding him. His feet connected with Jones, one striking him on the side of his head, the other to the center of his chest. Jones fell backwards bouncing off one edge of Vin's bed to hit the floor hard.

The muscle man holding Vin was off balance and Vin took the advantage. His feet pushed off the edge of his bed, shoving hard enough that it crashed into the wall as he pressed hard into the blond.

When the muscle man stumbled backwards, his arms relaxed around Vin as he tried to catch his balance. Breaking free, Vin whirled and hit the man in the throat with the edge of his hand. The man went down in the small hallway, blocking the hall.

Before Vin could jump over the man he was struck on the side of his head, across his left temple above his ear. He dropped to his knees, his hand rose as he shook his head, his dazed mind wondering what happened. He looked at the blood on his fingers as the attack memory washed over him and he put his hand on the wall to get up from where he was kneeling.

Another hard blow to the same side of his head had Vin dropping into blackness as he plummeted to the floor, striking his head a glancing blow on the door frame.

Jones kicked the downed bounty hunter to be sure he was unconscious and watched as Clark slowly rose, rubbing his throat and coughing.

"Tough son of a bitch," Clark rasped as he massaged his throat. He looked at the blood pooling under Vin's head.

"Make sure he's alive. We need to get moving," Jones said as he stepped over Vin and entered the small bathroom. Finding a towel he wiped the blood from his face and tossed the towel into the shower stall. Stepping back into the hall he saw the nod from Clark.

"He's alive. Where's the duct tape and I'll get him wrapped up."

Jones walked into the living room and grabbed the roll of tape that had fallen out of his jacket when Vin had attacked. Tossing it to Clark he looked out the window. They needed to get Tanner down to the car, and he didn't want people standing around watching them haul Tanner outside. He saw that darkness was settling over the city, and noticed there were very few people on the street beyond the building. It was almost 6 PM and he hoped most people would be busy with dinner. Turning he went to help Clark.

Vin's ankles were taped together. Clark was finishing with his wrists, taping them together behind Vin's back.

"He's still bleeding, should maybe put something on it or he will bleed all over the car," Clark said looking up at Eli Joe.

"Yeah, I'll look for something." The man went into the bathroom and rummaged around in the medicine cabinet, spilling the few items into the sink, as Clark dragged Vin closer to the living room. Finally he found a roll of gauze and some old white tape and carried it to Clark. "Use this," he said dropping the items beside the man and handing a damp wash cloth to him.

Jones watched as Clark used the cloth to wipe blood from Vin's face then tore off a long piece of gauze, which he made it into a pad. Once the pad was folded, and in place over the cut on Vin's temple, he tore another piece off and tied around the shaggy head.

"He's ready," Clark straightened. He stood up, and wiped the blood from his mouth and nose with another cloth Eli Joe tossed to him.

"Get him ready to leave. I'll go get the car and be back in about 10 minutes. Watch for me. I don't want to have to wait long for you to get down to the doors. Be sure to wrap him up good, we don't want busybodies to know we have Tanner with us."

Clark smiled. "I'll dump him on the back seat until we're out of the city. No one will know its Tanner."

Jones nodded, turned and left the apartment, closing the door silently behind him.

Clark threw the cloth into the bathroom and moved into the living room. He shoved the small coffee table and two chairs back out of the way. He picked up the heavy, dark blanket he'd tossed on the couch when they entered the apartment. He unfolded it, and laid it out on the floor, then moving to where Vin lay. Picking up the unresponsive body and placed Vin on the blanket. With practiced movements, he wrapped it over the insensible body.

Once he was satisfied no one could see Tanner he moved to the front window and looked out. Dark had fallen and a few street lights were flickering into life. He spotted only three people on the street and watched as they disappeared onto the next block. He had a few minutes before Eli Joe showed up so he went around the body on the floor to the tiny kitchen, and opened the refrigerator. Clark shook his head as he grabbed the only beer in there, opened it and drank half of it down in one long swig. Bread, lunchmeat, some left over pizza and half a container of milk was the only things that were in there. He closed the door and wandered around the small living room while he finished the beer and tossed the empty into the kitchen. Clark walked back to the window and saw headlights come up the street. They flashed once and he knew it was Jones. Picking up the blanketed Tanner he placed him over his left shoulder and walked out the door, flipping off the lights as he left. Clark was happy that Tanner didn't weigh much, he had to carry the man down four flights of stairs having found the old elevator didn't work.

Clark reached the glass doors and paused as he glanced outside. He spotted the car parked in front and saw Eli Joe getting out of the driver's side. Pushing through the doors he carried his burden down the five steps and across the sidewalk to the car. Eli Joe had the back door open for him. Clark leaned down, pulling the figure off his shoulder. He laid Vin on the back seat on his side and shoved Vin's blanketed legs up so he could close the door.

Moments later the car pulled away from the curb and headed for the highway. A curtain fell into place over a front window overlooking the quiet street.

Jones drove carefully through the evening traffic and finally turned onto the highway ramp. After a few miles they saw the sign for Highway 25 north, and took the exit joining the traffic heading north to Cheyenne, Wyoming. Eli Joe gave out a laugh as they fell into the line of traffic.

"Made it," he exclaimed.

Clark laughed too, as he wiped his still bleeding mouth and nose on another handful of tissue before tossing them out the window.

"Hey don't do that!"

"It's alright, I made sure no one was close enough before I did it. You still have some blood coming from your mouth, here, hold these against it for a minute," Clark handed Eli Joe some tissues before he rubbed his throat.

Jones wiped his mouth, checked the mirror then tossed the tissues out. "We'll stop at the next rest stop and make our passenger more comfortable for the drive," he laughed.

Clark grinned. "In the trunk? Or just leave him where he is?"

"Not sure yet. We'll see when we stop."

An hour later they turned into the rest stop, and Jones parked as far from the brightly lit rest room area as he could. Making sure the cars inside light was dismantled, the two men got out. They stretched then opened the back doors and uncovered their prisoner. They found that Tanner was still unconscious, the bandage on the side of his head had a blood stain on it. It seemed to them it had stopped bleeding since there was no fresh, wet blood. There was some dried blood on his chin and mouth but nothing fresh.

"Well, what do you want to do with him? Trunk or just leave him here?" Clark asked looking at Eli Joe.

"Put him on the floor and cover him with the blanket so no one can see him. When he wakes up we'll move him to the trunk." Eli Joe said as he started to move Vin's legs to the edge of the seat.

Working together, after a couple of minutes, the men had Vin on the floor between the seats, knees bent so his long legs fit into the space. They covered him with the dark, heavy blanket that blended into the color of the seats, making him almost impossible to see.

Moving the car closer to the rest rooms, Eli Joe and Clark took turns using the facilities before they returned to the car, then continued on their journey north.

They stopped at Cheyenne for gas and some food at the station's mini mart. Clark took over driving as Jones took a break and after eating, slept for awhile. Four hours later Clark reached Casper, WY and woke Eli Joe. He was tired and wanted to get some rest himself, traffic had been heavy for many miles.

"Come on EJ, your turn to drive. I'm beginning to fall asleep."

Eli Joe sat up and looked around. "Find a mini mart and gas station. We'll top the tank off and find out if there's a park we can stop at for a couple hours."

Clark took the first exit and within minutes found an all-night station and pulled in. Both men got out of the car. They stretched and walked around a bit then Eli Joe filled the tank. Clark kept an eye on the back seat watching for any movement from Vin. Finally he went into the small market, used the facilities and washed his face in cold water. He bought some snacks and drinks, not liking the looks of the sandwiches. He headed for the car as Eli Joe entered the building and walked to the counter to pay and ask about a park.

After a quick check on their quiet prisoner they drove away. Having heard that the only park in the area shut down at night they continued for several miles. Finding another rest stop they pulled in, again moving far to one side, staying well away from lights around the restroom area. Both men had been on the road for hours, then waiting for Tanner and then fight. They were tired, and having to head out right away on the long return drive, they both needed some rest.

Once more making sure Vin was breathing and not bleeding, they settled down in the front seat. With their jackets over them they quickly fell asleep, exhaustion taking over.

Eli Joe Jones tried to roll over into a more comfortable position and came into contact with something cold, hard and unmoving. With a curse he opened his eyes and realized where he was. Clark stirred beside him and looked around.

"Oh, thought I was dreaming," the blond muttered. Clark stretched his arms out then looked at his watch, several hours had passed.

"Guess since we're awake we might as well hit the road. Only three or so hours to go, we could be there in time for breakfast." Eli Joe scrubbed his hands over his face.

"Sounds good to me, I'm getting really tired of this mini-mart food crap, a good, hot breakfast would be great. Want me to drive for awhile, or are you awake?"

"I'm good. Guess we better check Tanner before we head out. Can't believe he's still out," Eli Joe said as he got out of the car. Checking on Vin they found that he was still unconscious. It did looked like he had maybe awakened for a bit, he had shifted into a different position. His arms were trapped under him. Clark lifted Vin high enough to reach his wrists and cut the tape off his wrists, he pulled Vin's arms around in front of him and re-taped his wrists together. Covering him once again with the blanket. Driving closer to the restrooms, they took care of pressing business then got in the car and continued towards their destination.

Chapter 3

At Buffalo WY a couple of hours later, Eli Joe turned the car onto Highway 90, heading north towards Sheridan.

"Let's stop at Sheridan, I can use a good cup of coffee this morning. We have what? An hour from Sheridan to the ranch?" Clark asked.

"Yeah, at least an hour. I could use a strong cup of coffee to. Good idea. I think there's a truck stop near the city, we'll stop there. Should check Tanner again too I guess," Eli Joe said.

"I think you hit him too hard. He's probably got a concussion, since he doesn't seem to be waking up yet."

"Well Guy's got a doctor in his pocket, he'll take care of Tanner. We just have to get him there alive."

Clark twisted in his seat and reached over the console between the seats and lifted the blanket then touched the man on the floor between the front and back seats.

"He's still alive, but pretty warm, almost too warm I think."

"Guess I did hit him pretty hard. But the son of a bitch wouldn't go down. Well, too late to worry about it now," Jones replied, remembering how he'd struck Tanner on the side of his head twice. With a shrug he concentrated on the road and traffic again.

Dawn was just breaking when they pulled into the truck stop. Eli Joe drove over to one side of the large parking area. While Clark checked on Tanner, Jones walked to the restaurant and got them large cups of coffee to go. For a few minutes the two men walked around their car and worked kinks out of their backs. After ten minutes they loaded up and were on their way. It wasn't too far now and they were glad about that.

An hour later they turned off at the small town of Ranchester and drove through it in the early morning sunlight. They followed one of the roads south out of town. After a few miles on the road they turned onto a long, dead end dirt road with a few farms far between each other. A river could be seen in the distance. At last a gate with a small guard house beside it appeared. A man stepped out, waved at Jones and opened the gate.

"You're almost in time for breakfast guys. Got about 15 minutes before it's served," the man said as Eli Joe drove slowly through the gate.

"Thanks Mark, we're headed there now," Eli Joe told him with a smile as he drove past.

EJ kept the speed down as he followed the dirt road around several large fields and through a stand of cottonwood trees near the river. Coming out of the trees they saw buildings laid out ahead of them. A huge three story white house, with trees around part of it, stood on a small rise overlooked everything. They drove past several huge hay sheds then a large machine shop, and several other sheds. Continuing past two long buildings, stables, barn, and bunkhouse, they finally reached the drive that went up to the stately white house.

Instead of parking in front of the dwelling, EJ drove to the side and parked under a shade tree near the door. Several tall men walked out, ranging in age from 40 to around 60 years old. The oldest man smiled as Eli Joe and Clark got out of the car.

"Well EJ, did you get him?" The man asked.

"Of course, with Clark's help, we got him last night." Eli Joe assured the man as he straightened and flexed his back.

"What'd you do? Leave him in the trunk?" The youngest man asked with a grin.

"No sir, not in the trunk. He's going to need to see your medical man Mr. Royal. Think he's got a concussion."

"Hit him too hard? By the looks of you two, he didn't come easily," the man called Mr. Royal said and then turned to the third man beside him. "Yates, go tell Doc we have a customer for him, meet in the clinic."

"Yes, sir," the craggy faced man said and turned back to enter the house.

"Well, get him into the house. You know where the clinic is. His room is ready for him too. Darcie has him in room 7 when Doc is finished with him." Royal told the men as Eli Joe, Clark and Royal's nephew, Jeff, pulled Vin out of the back of the car. Clark cut the bindings on Vin's ankles and wrists as he was lifted.

Clark muttered a few words and ducked down, and Vin's limp body was draped over his right shoulder. He rose and went up the two steps and across the short porch following Jones into the building.

Following Eli Joe, Clark walked down the long, wide hallway, past the kitchen where the smell of breakfast cooking made their stomachs rumble. A huge dining room was passed then a living room area that looked like a huge den, and wide staircase with several offices on the other side of it. Finally they reached an open doorway with a sign hanging above the door that had the words "CLINIC" on it.

Eli Joe and Jeff helped lay Vin on the examining table as Doc came out of his office.

"Hey Doc, brought you a customer," Jeff told the short balding man.

Doc, Alexander Barnes MD., adjusted his glasses and looked Eli Joe and Clark over.

"Yates told me. Looks like you two met the same meat grinder this fellow did. You alright EJ, Clark?"

"We're doing fine Doc. This is Tanner, he's been mostly unconscious since around 6PM last night," Eli Joe told the doctor. "He moved at least once, maybe twice, didn't really notice it though."

"Hmm, that's not very good," Doc said as he cut off the bandage that was wrapped around Vin's head, exposing the large lump and cut over his left temple. The side of Vin's head and face were bruised from forehead to chin.

"Katy, bring the x-ray machine please," Doc called as he probed Vin's head.

A minute later a woman with long grey streaked, brown hair walked into the room pushing a portable x-ray machine.

"You boys might as well go eat. Going to take a while to check him over and do the x-ray. Come back later," Doc said as he eased off Vin's flannel shirt then started taking a tee shirt off. He ignored the three men as they shuffled out the door. "Katy get this hooked up. I need a head x-ray," he told his wife as he took another shirt off Vin, a small smile quirked his lips as he took the third shirt off. He sighed when he saw the dark bruises on his patient's chest and back before he eased him back down.

"Katy, we'll need one of his ribs too, here and here." He pointed out the areas.

 "Yes dear. Ready for your first set to be taken," Katy told her husband.

Doc adjusted the machine and Vin's head and stepped back, snapping several pictures. Katy moved the machine while her husband laid out bandages and other items he would need.

"Ready Doc," Katy said stepping back.

More pictures were taken and while Katy worked at the computer, Doc disconnected the machine and moved it out of the way. He cleaned the blood from the head wound and put in a few stitches before placing a bandage over the cut. Checking his patient's eyes he then continued to clean other cuts on his lips and chin making sure none were infected. He looked up when his wife came to stand beside him.

"He's really battered isn't he honey?" she said as she looked at the bruises on the young man. "The x-rays are ready for you to go over. I'll watch him until you're done."

"Thanks." Doc said as he washed his hands, gave her a kiss on her cheek and went into the other room.

While Doc was gone, Katy spread a soothing salve over the worst bruises that she could reach, talking gently to the unconscious man, telling him what she was doing.

"Well?" she asked when her husband walked back into the exam room.

"Small hairline fracture as I thought, by his left temple, and two cracked ribs. He should have a CAT scan but we don't have that available, so we'll have to hope nothing more is wrong with his head. Let's see if we can wake him, he's been out too long I think," Doc moved to a cabinet that had several drawers in it, pulling one open he took out several capsules.

Katy began to tap the cheek of the unmoving young man, calling to him to open his eyes.

"Time to wake up … Tanner," she said when Doc gave her the man's name. "Wake up we need to see your eyes opened …"

Doc broke one of the ammonia capsules and held it under Vin's nose; he was unprepared for the violent reaction.

Vin's right fist flew up catching the doctor on the chin and knocking him back into the cabinet along the wall.

"Easy son, take it easy. We aren't here to hurt you," Katy said soothingly as she placed her hand on Vin's hand. "You're in a doctor's office, take it easy."

One blue eye opened wide, the other a narrow slit, and looked wildly around the room. Vin's gaze finally fell on the brown haired woman standing beside him, her hand on his arm.

"Wh … where am …I?" he rasped, his head feeling as if it was going to explode.

"You're in the Royal's clinic. You were injured," she calmly answered as her gaze looked over his battered face.

As Vin's gaze wandered around the room again, Katy looked at her husband who had risen and was moving his jaw back and forth. She decided it wasn't broken but he was going to have a pretty bruise.

"Sorry," Vin muttered when he spotted the doctor.

Doc smiled, "Not the first time I got knocked around, won't be the last. How do you feel?"

"Head hurts …sore."

"You have a hair-line fracture of the skull where you were injured and a concussion. Also two ribs are cracked. You're going to have to take it easy for a few days," Doc saw that his patient was fighting to stay awake. "You can go to sleep, but we will be waking you up every two hours. Just remember, don't throw that fist when we wake you. Katy doesn't look good with a black eye."

"Sorry … try to rem …ber …" Vin's eyes slid closed, he didn't see the slap Katy gave her husband on his arm.

Doc covered the patient with a blanket as he sent Katy to prepare a bed in the small ward they had on the other side of the office. He decided to keep the young man in the clinic until he came out of the concussion. When the men came to check on Tanner he would have them help move him to the other room.

Twenty minutes later, Jeff Royal, Eli Joe, and Clark walked into the clinic. They instantly noticed that Tanner was still out, although his head had been bandaged. An IV port was stuck in the back of Tanner's hand, a bag of fluid was dripping into the line.

"Doc?" Jeff looked at Doc who was typing notes.

"Good to see you boys. I need help moving Mr. Tanner to a bed in the ward."

"He's supposed to go to his room. What's wrong with him?" Jeff asked.

"Mr. Tanner has two cracked ribs, a hair-line fracture to his skull, and a concussion along with many bruises. We have to wake him every hour for the next few hours, then every two hours for the next 24 hours. He needs to get over the concussion before he can be moved. He's not going anywhere for a day or two."

"Uncle isn't going to be too happy over this."

"Nothing I can do about it. This boy should be in a hospital, but I am doing everything I can to keep him out of one."

"What do you mean a hospital?" Eli Joe spoke for the first time.

"He should have a CAT scan. An MRI probably wouldn't hurt either."

"Oh. His head is that bad?" Eli Joe asked.

Doc shrugged, "I don't know for sure. We managed to wake him for a couple of minutes. All we can do is keep an eye on him and hope he doesn't get worse."

"Where are you moving him to Doc?" Jeff cut in, impatiently.

"Help me push this and I'll show you," Doc replied as he released the exam bed's brakes so it could be moved and grabbed the IV pole.

Jeff and Clark helped Doc move the bed into the other room. Doc, with Jeff's help, transferred Vin to the ward's bed while Eli Joe and Clark took the exam bed back into the main clinic area. Doc settled Vin and followed Jeff out.

"Thanks. I'll let you know when he will be released. His name is Tanner?"

"Yes, you call him Tanner. Let me know as soon as he's ready to leave. Uncle has things for him to do."

"I will." Doc watched the three men leave then went back to his patient. He needed to get him out of his pants and more comfortable.

As he entered the ward room he heard a choking noise and hurried to grab the bowl off the small cabinet beside the bed. Doc managed to get to Tanner and roll him onto his side before the young man threw up. Doc expected this with the concussion Tanner had. He was a little puzzled over Tanner not having this reaction sooner, but knew everyone was different in their reactions to injuries.

When the dry heaves stopped, Katy, who came in having heard the coughing and moans, took the basin away. She left a glass of cool water in its place. Doc cleaned the patient's face then gave him a drink of the water before resettling him on the bed.

"Just rest. You will be alright," Doc told Vin when one blue eye gazed at him.

Vin's head hurt and all he wanted to do was sleep. He had no idea where he was and for a moment frowned at the man who spoke to him. He tried to remember what had happened but thinking made his head pound harder. Confused he watched the man adjust the blanket covering him and moments later he closed his eye and slid into sleep again.

"We need to stay close for him don't we?"

Doc looked at his wife when she entered the room with a clean basin. His gaze went back to the man on the bed. "Yes, I'd expected him to do this before now but they said he hadn't. I don't like how he could have this concussion, being unconscious for so long. I just hope it isn't something else."

Katy stood behind her husband, her hands massaged the tense muscles in his shoulders as she gazed at their patient. "He is very young looking. I wonder why he is here. Guy usually doesn't have such young men hired."

"I'm not sure, but …" Doc glanced at the doorway."I'd say this man didn't want to come. This was a bad beating. EJ and Clark are beat up too, not as bad of course, but they have bruises also."

"I noticed that. Well, we will just have to do our best for this young man," Katy said as she watched Vin move restlessly on the bed.

"Guy won't like it, but if this, Tanner, hasn't improved by tomorrow, he's going to the hospital. I don't think he's bleeding internally, but … We'll get him there sooner if he gets worse though."

"You go eat Alex, I'll stay with him. Fill Guy in on what's going on too. Jeff is good, but Guy appreciates the full scope of information," Katy told him as she adjusted the IV then sat down beside the bed and placed a cool cloth over the young man's swollen eye.

For a moment Doc hesitated then planting a kiss on his wife's forehead he headed for the door. "I'll be back shortly. If you need me," he patted the pager on his belt and at her nod he hurried out the door closing it behind him.

Twice Katy held the basin for Vin when he woke coughing and gagging. The first time he was awake long enough to look around the room and Katy with total confusion. The second time lasted a couple minutes, he asked her where he was and what happened. She replied that he was on Royal's Ranch, but she wasn't sure what happened to him, other than he was injured. His last words before he fell asleep again chilled her.

"Who am I?"

+ + + + + + +

"Maybe he's in the shower Buck. By the time we get there he'll be ready to go," JD told his roommate as Buck hung up the phone again.

"Yeah, he probably is," Buck answered as he walked into the kitchen and picked up some of the things they were taking to Chris'. JD had an arm load already.

As they loaded beer, snacks, chips and dips into the fire-red Mustang JD smiled and licked his lips as he slid into the passenger seat. Buck started the car and pulled out of the parking area, thinking he probably should have used his truck if Vin had many more goodies to take.

"Can't wait to see where Vin gets those donuts. I'm going to go in with him and help pick some out."

Buck laughed. "You and Vin are going to lose all your teeth the way you both eat."

"Naw. It's good for us growing boys."

"One of these days all that sweet stuff will catch up with you and you both will look like blimps."

"Not us. We're too active to have that happen. We're not like you old men are."

"Old! You calling me old?" Buck exclaimed.

"Well if the shoe fits …" JD ducked a bit to get away from Buck's long arm heading towards his head.

"Hey, both hands on the wheel. We're almost to Vin's."

Several minutes later they turned onto the street Vin lived on, both men wishing that he would move out of the area. The rundown buildings, many empty and mostly covered in graffiti or worse, some livable but others falling down or condemned were the hangouts of several street gangs always at war with each other.

The apartment building they finally stopped in front of was very old. It looked cleaner and the parking area beside it was garbage free. Thanks to Vin's influence on the inhabitants of the building and most of the block to make things presentable. The kids in the area liked and respected their young teammate, and most worked with him to keep the building area cleaned.

Buck parked in front of Vin's jeep. JD jumped out and raced inside and up the stairs to Vin's apartment.

JD knocked and turned the door knob at the same time, knowing Vin was expecting them. He opened the door and froze at the scene in front of him.

Chapter 4

"Vin?" JD said quietly as his gaze raced around the empty room in front of him. The old arm chair was knocked over as was a table chair. Something was sprayed on the wall of the short hallway. He backed out of the door and closed it with his shirt sleeved covered hand, turning he raced back the way he had come.

Buck smiled when he saw JD come flying out of the building. His smile changed when he caught sight of the look on his roommate's face. He was out of the car when JD stopped.

"Vin's … trashed .. Not there …" JD gasped and turned back to the building.

Buck was already running, heading across the street, his cell phone in hand. JD hurried up behind him.

By the time they reached the fourth floor, JD was winded and leaned against the wall for a minute as Buck went into Vin's apartment.

Buck talked on his cell phone as he checked out the apartment. "Chris, something's happened at Vin's. His apartment looks like a battle was fought and there's no sign of Vin. Blood on the wall and floor going into his room. Looks like he didn't go without a fight."

Listening a moment, Buck replied, "I'll call the police then the guys. Okay. We'll be here when you get here. People in the building know you better … Little while." Buck closed the cell then with a look at JD opened it and dialed 911. As he talked he noticed that JD was calling Josiah and Ezra, he knew that Josiah was picking up Ezra and would catch both men. Nathan was at home but he thought he should let him know what was happening.

Moments later both men hung up their phones and Buck looked at JD.

"You want to wait at the car? I'll stay here until the cops arrive."

JD nodded, "I'll come up with the guys when they get here." He said as he glanced at the room again with a shudder before turning and heading down the stairs.

Buck looked carefully around the apartment, taking great care not to touch or disturb anything. Whoever had taken Vin, he didn't think they left unmarked. He spotted Vin's wallet under the corner of the coffee table and picked it up. The cops didn't need it he thought, but he'd tell them where he'd found it. He kept looking around, wondering where Vin's gun was. He finally spotted it under the edge of Vin's bed, at the same moment he heard his name called.

"Buck?" Josiah's deep voice sounded in the apartment.

Buck eased back into the living area and looked at his teammates. Josiah and Ezra stood just inside the apartment door.

"Found his wallet and just spotted his revolver under his bed." Buck told them.

"It looks like Mr. Tanner put up a sizable fight." Ezra looked around the room noting the blood splatters and overturned chairs.

"Yeah, hope he is alright. Guess we should wait in the hall until the cops get here, if they ever do."

"You told them it was an agent …" Josiah started to say but stopped seeing the look on Buck's face, and just nodded his head.

They stepped into the hall and waited. Several minutes later Nathan and Rain joined them. They were ready to start going door to door when the police arrived with Chris and JD on their heels.

Team Seven moved away from Vin's door so the police could get inside. Chris glanced at Buck as he followed the officers into the apartment, stopping inside the door.

"Damn," Chris muttered looking around his friends small apartment.

"Sir? Do you live here?" An officer from the forensic team asked.

Chris showed his badge and explained who he was and that it was one of his men who lived there and was missing.

As the forensic team worked their way through the apartment taking pictures, dusting for prints and collecting blood samples they tried to work out what happened. Buck told the officer in charge that he had picked up Vin's wallet, and where they'd find his revolver.

Detective Danner returned Vin's wallet to Buck after he checked it. Picking up the revolver, he had it dusted for prints, finding only one set, he turned it over to Chris.

Chris told him that there were several rifles and other guns locked in a hidden compartment in Vin's closet and Danner checked it out. He was unable to find the guns and had to ask Chris where they were. He was surprised when Chris pointed to the hidden place. They found it was still locked and he figured no one had discovered it. The guns could be moved to a safe place until Vin returned. Chris would take them home with him and lock them in his gun safe.

Josiah, Ezra, and Buck went door to door asking Vin's neighbors if they'd heard or seen anything. Only one woman in the apartment next to Vin's admitted hearing some noises coming from Vin's apartment, but she didn't see anything.

Chris observed as evidence was carefully gathered, labeled, and packed. He watched as two towels were bagged and blood samples were taken from the floor, wall and coffee table. He hoped it all wasn't Vin's blood. A movement by the door caught his attention and he spotted Buck motioning to him.

Buck saw the fear building in Chris's eyes, but had no way to reassure him that Vin was alright.

"Mrs. Santos said if anyone had seen anything it'd be the Novellas who live in apartment one. They seem to know everything that goes on in the building."

"Okay. Ezra, you and Josiah make sure the cops don't take anything that isn't evidence. We'll be back." Chris turned and headed down the stairs with Buck beside him. He should have thought of the Novellas before. Vin had told him if something was up, they would know. They were a couple in their late 60's or early 70's, who watched over the tenants and building faithfully. They never interfered but if something was happening they'd tell the manager or Vin. Mrs. Novella, Maria, would stop Vin and scold him for being too thin and give him something she'd made for him. When she met Chris she scolded him too and plied him with hearty treats as she did Vin.

Chris knocked on the light green painted door with the fancy '#1' painted in brown on it, knowing Vin had painted the door for the couple.

The door opened a tiny bit and a brown eye in a wrinkled face pecked out the one inch opening.

Smiling, Chris said, "Hola Mrs. Maria. Can I talk to you and Ignacio a moment?"

"Hola el senor Chris, Buck," the door opened wide as the tiny woman recognized them. "Pase por favor, Ignacio move, let senors Chris and Buck sit there. I bring coffee and donuts." The long black, grey streaked braid swung as Maria turned toward their kitchen.

"No, that is alright Maria, we just have a few questions then must be on our way."

Maria Novella stopped and looked at the blond, seeing the worry on his face and a matching look on Buck's. She glanced at her husband then back at Chris.

"Es about my Vin hey? Something happened last night at dark," she said. At Chris' nod she shot something at Ignacio in such rapid Spanish that neither man could pick out a word. Ignacio moved over to a small bookcase beside the front window.

"Late afternoon, dos extraρos (two strangers) come to this edificio. They look all around before coming inside. Ignacio watch them go upstairs and follow them. He see them go in Senor Vin's apartment. Quiet and then later almost dark Vin venir a casa, ah, come home. Senor Buck dropped him off, ιl se veνa cansado, ah, he looked tired. Awhile later one skinny hombre leaves, walks down the street very rapido, then comes back in a car. Lights flash. Other man come out with something wrapped in dark colored manta over his shoulder. They put it in back seat of the car and drove away. Here is the nϊmero de licencia. We don't know these hombres. One is big, blond hair," she puffed herself up, her arms out to the sides as if she was full of muscles.

"Muscles? A man with lots of muscles?" Buck asked.

"Si, yes, muscles. He tall as Ignacio. Other man feo, ugly, skinny, long dirty looking hair, not pretty like my Vin's." She paused a moment as her husband said something quickly to her. She replied and shook her hand at him.

Buck glanced at Chris as both men hid smiles, it sounded like Maria was putting Ignacio in his place.

"Big hombre gets in car and feo man drives away. Ignacio writes down number in case, when it stops out front," she paused as Ignacio handed a piece of paper to her. Maria looked at it then handed it to Chris who glanced at it as he showed it to Buck. Small smiles crossed their faces.

"This helps, yes?" Maria asked seeing he smiles.

Buck turned to the tiny woman who barely reached the middle of his chest.

"Oh Mrs. Maria, this is just what we needed. We can trace these men using this. Gracias this is what will find Vin," Buck replied as he hugged the surprised woman a moment. Maria's face flushed pink when he turned her loose. Ignacio smiled as he stepped forward and placed his arm around her waist.

"Ignacio, this is perfect. Thank you, we will find Vin through this. Thank you both." Chris said and held out his hand to the older man.

They shook hands as Ignacio said, "Dios velockidad. (God speed) We need Vin back. Find him Senor Chris, Senor Buck."

"We will. Thank you both," Chris told them. After dropping a kiss on Maria's cheek they left.

Making their way up the stairs Buck took out his notebook and wrote the license number on a page. He shook his head as he handed Ignacio's paper back to Chris, the license number on it was almost a duplicate of the license plate, down to the picture on it and the state. Wyoming.

The team gathered together outside Vin's apartment. Chris handed JD the paper and asked him to go to the office and see what he could find. Ezra and Josiah offered to go with him, since JD had arrived with Buck. Minutes later the three were on their way. Chris told Nathan and Rain to head out, Nathan was supposed to be resting. They reluctantly left.

As Buck spoke to Detective Danner he passed the paper he'd written the license on. He told him who gave them the information, advising him that they were an older couple with trust issues, they only talked to them because they knew Vin.

At first Danner said they'd have to be interviewed, then one of his men came up at that moment and told him that he couldn't get anyone to even admit they knew Tanner. He changed his mind.

Danner made more notes from what Buck told him he'd received from the Novellas' knowing no one in the building would talk to his men. Once he'd gotten everything he could from Buck, he went into the apartment to see how his team were doing.

Chris and Buck waited just inside the door, watching as many things were being put into evidence bags. Almost everything in the small apartment had been dusted and prints lifted. Chris saw that the computer, keyboard and printer had been dusted and called out to Danner.

"Danner, Vin's computer is used by several kids in the building." At Danner's look Chris shrugged and continued, "He lets them use it to do their homework. He told me there's up to six or seven who use it off and on during the week."

"They have keys to this apartment?"

Buck shot a look at Chris before the blond shook his head and said, "Not that I know of. Vin leaves his door unlocked, the last kid locks up after they're finished. Vin keeps the bedroom locked and you saw how well his guns are hidden. He's got nothing of value to steal. Besides the kids like Vin and wouldn't steal from him, they sort of protect him and his belongings. His friends too."

"What do you mean, protect him?"

Chris grinned, "Well you wouldn't want to park in this area at night, but we've been doing that now and then with no damage or missing things off or from our vehicles."

"Vin introduced us to his 'kids,' who watch our cars. No matter if it's Vin's battered jeep or Ezra's fancy Jag. Only because we met them," Buck added.

"Yeah this part of the city is not safe for cars or people. Several gangs working here. Do you think any of the kids would talk to us?"

Buck looked at Chris a moment, "I don't know. One might talk. The only one who might is Juan or his sister Madonna, but," he looked at Danner, "don't know where they live. I don't think going door to door would gain anything from the kids other than they used the computer and left."

Danner nodded his head. He'd seen how quiet the building was. As old as it was, they should have been able to hear a loud TV or radio, children laughing or parents correcting their children. The little things that made an old building a home. This building was totally silent, as if it were abandoned, just waiting for them to finish and leave. He looked at the two ATF agents, he could see the strain on the blonds' face, if it was one of his men that'd been kidnapped, Danner had a feeling he wouldn't rest until the man was found.

Glancing at the team working in the apartment, Danner could tell they were almost finished. Evidence had been gathered, pictures taken and the last fingerprints were being lifted. A partly crushed beer can was placed in a bag, sealed and noted where it had been found. The man stepped out of the kitchen and began gathering the other bags. Forensic was finished.

He turned to the two men beside him, "We'll be out of here in a few minutes. I'll call you with anything we find."

"If you can't reach Agent Larabee, call SAC Orin Travis, he will know how to get a hold of us," Buck said with a glance at Chris.

Chris was watching the forensic team pack up everything and all he could think of was that they were leaving Vin's home dirty with powder all over everything. It was a mess since they didn't replace things they'd moved or opened. To him it screamed as an invasion of Vin's privacy which he knew Tanner protected. The dust covered what furniture he had, even the wall where blood had splattered showed dust on it. He felt anger twist through him and fought to get it under control. It had to be done he told himself, they had to find out what happened and where Vin was.

With a deep sigh, Chris pulled his gaze from the apartment and looked at Detective Danner.

"Let us know as soon as you can. We have to find my sharpshooter," Chris growled.

"I will," Danner promised as he ushered his people out the door. In minutes all of the police were gone and Chris, with a last look around Vin's apartment, closed and locked the door then followed Buck down the stairs.

Buck followed the black Ram to the office. He knew Chris was not only worried but that the disappearance of Vin had deeply affected him. Somehow the easy spoken, long haired Texan had gotten to his old friend. Since meeting and getting Tanner to join the team, there was a new Larabee around. His oldest friend had changed, for the good, they all noticed it. Chris was happier, smiled more, even was beginning to tease then back a little. His drinking had surprised them the most. He didn't come in on Monday's looking like death warmed over, and he didn't drink himself into oblivion on the weekends any more. What surprised them most of all, Chris had invited them to come out to the ranch the last several Sundays to watch football and have a barbeque.

With a shake of his head as he turned into the federal building's parking lot behind Chris, Buck thought in the short time Vin had been with them Chris was almost totally back to his old self before the deaths of Sarah and Adam. He still wore dark clothes, but he was in a better mood and it seemed there was some sort of connection happening between Chris and Vin as they became closer.

Very close, it felt like he was left out now, Chris looked to Vin for many things. Buck frowned, pulling into his parking spot beside the Ram. He hit the lock as he got out and stepped to Chris' side as he waited for him. Without a word they walked to the elevator and stood shoulder to shoulder waiting for it to arrive. He could see the strain on his friend's face. As the silver doors opened he saw Chris glance at him, a crooked little grin on his lips. Buck smiled back and shook his head as he placed his large hand on Chris' shoulder.

It was alright, Chris was there for him and he would be there for Chris. That look spoke volumes to him, it wasn't like the connection growing between the blond and their sharpshooter, it was the friendship they'd shared for over 12 years, felt like a lifetime. He was suddenly happy that Vin had been able to bring Chris back from the edge he'd been walking for the last several years. He squeezed the black clad shoulder under his hand and felt the tense muscles relax a little. A sigh passed his lips, their friendship was deep, he knew they would always watch each other's back as they had for years. As the elevator doors opened, he could see down the hall into their bullpen and added to himself, all of them would watch each other's backs they were becoming a tight team.

"Let's find Vin," Buck said with another squeeze to the shoulder before dropping his hand.

Chris' green gaze met Buck's blue one, "Let's get our sharpshooter back where he belongs," he stated.

Together the two walked into the glass fronted bullpen where JD and Ezra were trying to perform miracles on their computers, and contacting snitches.

Chapter 5

"Mr. Larabee, the vehicle belongs to the 'Royal Ranch' of Ranchester, Wyoming. It's northwest of Buffalo. Right now we don't know if it was stolen." Ezra informed Chris moments after he and Buck entered the room.

"It's been almost fifteen hours, they could be anywhere," Buck said.

"Correct Mr. Wilmington. Mr. Dunne is trying to access the street cameras to see if the vehicle had been picked up by one. To give us an idea which way they went."

"Good thinking boys!" Buck exclaimed and moved to JD's desk where the young man was typing and glaring at his 30 inch monitor.

"How's it going Kid?"

"Slow, leave me alone," JD answered without looking up.

"Chris, I think you ought to call Travis and let him know what happened and that we're two men down now." Buck said glancing at his boss.

"Damn! Yes, I better do that before he hears something on the news." Chris reluctantly said and headed for his office. He realized he needed to tell Travis what was happening. He also knew the older man wouldn't be too happy to have to pass the assignment off on another team, if they couldn't find Vin. Two men down today but tomorrow there'd be six again. But without their sharpshooter, their angel in the sky, he didn't think it would be good for his team.

Twenty five minutes later Chris walked out of his office and four men glanced at him then quickly looked away. The look on his face told them that things did not go well. Chris stopped beside JD, his furious gaze on the picture on the monitor.

Ezra looked up from his computer where a similar picture was rolling across his smaller screen. "Mr. Larabee, I have spoken to an overseer at the Royal Ranch. He informed me that one of their vehicles had been taken several days ago. They contacted the local law enforcement agency to alert them to keep a lookout for the vehicle. He informed me he thought it was one of their hired men who had appropriated it. I have ascertained a communiquι in the police files to that affect in the Ranchester Police Department."

"Thanks Ezra." Chris said then took a deep breath. "We have to go through with this meet and bust, it is supposed to go down Wednesday or Thursday. Travis said we'd have Team One's sharpshooter along with Team Five's. We are all to meet in the large conference room at 10AM tomorrow, change of time. Once this is finished we can look for Vin. Although he advised that we ought to turn it over to the FBI as they have a Missing Person's Unit, and handle things like this."

"No!... Never… No way! … God Forbid.." came from the men in the room.

"That's what I told Travis. The FBI can't find their hands in the daylight. He did say that since Vin's a federal agent, the case is probably already in their hands via the police department. We have a week of vacation coming and I told him that as soon as this case is over, we are taking it."

"Good idea Stud," Buck slapped Chris on his shoulder as the others agreed.

"Sorry, I hope you didn't have other plans."

"Other than putting up some wallboards, I have no plans," Josiah smiled.

"We can help you Josiah," JD said, never taking his eyes off his monitor.

"A good book and fine wine can wait until we have retrieved our missing member," Ezra added.

"Carolina is off to Europe for several weeks, and the twins can wait a little longer," Buck grinned.

Chris shook his head and smiled, "Well, let's see what happens tomorrow."

"Hey look, the car!" JD's excited voice rang out.

Four men crowded around JD's chair, their gazes fixed on his monitor, as he backed the view up and restarted it. "See," he pointed at a car and circled it as it moved in and out of the view.

"Where's this from?" Chris asked.

"At the Fort Collins on-ramp, he was turning. His blinker was on and he's in the turn lane."

"Looks like they're heading north. Is there any way you can …" Buck stopped when JD spoke.

"I'm trying to get into other cameras."

Ezra returned to his computer and after a moment of deep thinking he began to type. He wasn't as good a hacker as JD was, but he could get around some things, like getting police reports. He tried to see if there were cameras in the towns that the car could have passed through.

"Mr. Dunne, I believe I've found a camera in the area of Ranchester. If you would be so kind as to check this out," Ezra inquired awhile later.

JD glanced at Ezra as he saved what he was doing. With a few deft strokes of the keys he pulled up what Ezra was looking at on his screen.

"Good work Ezra. I didn't think to try that area yet. I was working my way north. Let's see what we've got. Hmm."

Ezra leaned back in his chair and watched as JD worked his way through layers to find what he was hunting for.

 "Got you. What the hell?" Ten minutes later JD's mutterings drew the men to his side again. JD backed the picture up and pointed.

"There's the car, can sort of see two men in the front seat. One's skinny, the passenger is larger. But the license is different."

"They switched plates, this looks like the same car that turned north," Josiah said.

"Yes, it fits the description the Novellas' gave us too. So somewhere they switched plates. Why? And do they still have Vin with them?" Buck said thoughtfully.

"They've got him." Chris stated. "This has to do with something before he joined us."

"How do you know that Chris?" Buck frowned.

"He's been with us a month. When we met at the bust his bounty got away, when he helped save our lives."

"Revenge?" Josiah replied.

"My guess."

"Well at least we know where to start looking for him," Buck added.

"If he's still alive when we do." Chris stated as he tried to curb his anger by pacing around the room. His team glanced at each other not sure what to do. Josiah looked at the man in black and stated, "Chris we have to believe he is alive. You have to. We should give what we found to the police and see if they can find him while we are busy. We'll take over as soon as this bust is over, if our Brother is not back with us by then."

"It is the best we can do in this situation," Buck added.

"I know," Chris snarled. "Just … this having to wait so long, no telling what is going on with Vin. If he's badly hurt and why he was taken in the first place. Is it something to do with the upcoming bust, or something completely different?"

"We will get the answers Mr. Larabee. It is just going to take us a little more time," Ezra said his eyes still on his monitor screen. "Mr. Tanner will be found."

"We'll find him, if he isn't home before we get this bust over with. While we're here, shall we go over the info we have on Mendez? We'll be one up for tomorrow and we can fill Nathan in on it better too," Buck said trying to get Chris thinking of something other than what might be happening to Vin.

JD looked at Chris, his thoughts flying. "I can get into some files; see if I can find something while Vin was working as a bounty hunter. Maybe it's one of those who took him."

"Mr. Dunne, I have found some of those records. Though I do not have the expertise you have to get into them without alerting someone or something. If you would connect with my computer," Ezra said. "I will show you."

For a moment everyone looked blankly at Ezra and then a smile crossed JD's face and he turned to his computer, his fingers flying.

As the others talked about the upcoming bust, JD worked his way through several layers to access Vin's bounty cases. He was shocked by what he saw in Vin's records. His teammate should be a millionaire by the amounts of money Vin had been paid. Vin didn't spend much on himself, his apartment or vehicle; he worked often on the battered old jeep. He owned a 22" TV, older computer, furniture which was far from new, and some clothing. JD shook his head as he worked, the only thing Vin had of any value were his guns, and an old Harley motorcycle in excellent condition.

'What did he do with all that money?"' He thought to himself.

"He gave most of it to a couple of orphanages," Chris answered.

JD looked up in surprise, and then blushed. He hadn't realized he'd spoken out loud.

"Sorry. I didn't know I said that out loud."

"It's alright. He told me when he came to work that he didn't have much money. He just kept what he needed and gave the rest away."

"He could be a millionaire, or at least have a really nice place to live and drive a nice car." JD shook his head as the men crowded around him looking at what he'd found.

Buck whistled as he read some of the names. "Junior's been really busy. Looks like he brought in all the big names. Hey, there's 'Billy Vegas' that man was really bad. I felt sorry for whoever went after him when he jumped bail. Three hundred grand for bringing him in. What does that mean?" he asked pointing to a few letters after the date the man was turned in.

"I believe Mr. Wilmington, that means Mr. Tanner was in the hospital for several days before he picked up the bounty payment," Ezra informed him.

"Damn! That boy was hurt several times," Buck said as he scanned the list of names.

"The last name on the list is, Eli Joe Jones, but look at the date. It wasn't completed and he quit two months after he took it on," JD pointed out.

"Yes, after the bust where Brother Vin saved Nathan's life. Ten days after we first met him," Josiah said.

"If it's this Jones guy, why would he want Vin?" JD asked as he continued to type.

"Oh no! It looks like the car's driver," JD exclaimed minutes later as Eli Joe Jones' mug shot appeared. JD split the screen and pulled up the car's picture from the Ranchester clip they'd seen. Zooming in on the driver, the men watched as the driver's face came into view.

"We know where to look for our missing Brother now." Josiah muttered.

"Yes, the cops won't know where to start." Chris added.

"I believe you are correct Mr. Larabee. Who of them would think as we do and look outside the box?"

"Is that a bet Ezra? Because we all agree. Now we just have to get through the next few days before we can go after Vin," Buck frowned at Ezra.

"A bet, yes, but not a monetary one Mr. Wilmington. We all know how our police force works and the FBI is worse..."

"Enough. JD see if you can find anything on that ranch, get us maps. As soon as this bust goes down we're headed north," Chris cut in with a look that sent the men back to studying the information they had on Mendez while JD worked.

By mid-afternoon the five men had completed preparations for the Mendez case and JD had found some information on the Royal Ranch. He shared it with the men. It was well over 100 years old. The original Guy Royal having moved into the area in the late 1800's from an area around a now ghost town called Four Corners in the southwest. He'd married late in life and produced three sons, two who stayed in Wyoming and worked to enlarge and improve the ranch Royal settled on. Over the years the ranch grew to it's now 30,000 acres. Several years ago it had been named a century old, a one family business. News articles written about it showed the owners received a plaque to celebrate the milestone in their history. There were several pictures of the old homestead and the house built in 1920, which still housed one of the family members. During interviews and a couple of tours, Guy Royal mentioned he had plans for the ranch in the new century. He was very proud of what his ancestors accomplished over the years.

JD dug through everything he could think of but hadn't come up with any information about what had happened to the ranch in the last 12-15 years, other than it was a thriving business.

Frustration was mounting as the men tried to gather more info, and was unable to find anything. Finally Chris decided they needed a break.

"Hey guys, let's get out of here, to the ranch. Nathan is already there with Rain, resting. I'll call and let her know to get the BBQ fired up and ready to go. Grab your things and let's hit the road."

+ + + + + + +
~~

Vin gazed around the room, noting that there were two empty beds beside him and it was quiet. A couple of high windows let in light and he could see a partly tree covered hillside outside one. He wondered where he was and then his gaze flashed around the room in alarm.

Who was he? He tried to think of his name and how he got there, wherever 'there' was. The more he thought the more he felt a headache building. Once more his gaze went around the room as he forced himself to calm down so he could let whatever memories he had flow over him.

After several minutes Vin gave up. He could remember nothing before waking up in this room. Panic was overtaking him as he threw the blanket back and sat up. Swinging his legs over the side of the bed, he swayed as dizziness crashed over him in waves. Vin slammed his eyes closed as he gripped the edge of the bed to keep from falling.

Not sure how long he'd sat there, Vin slowly opened his eyes and held onto the bed as he glanced around.

A noise behind him had Vin's head turning to see what caused it, then reaching for the blanket he'd tossed back. A nice looking woman with grey streaking her long brown hair smiled at him as she carried a tray into the room.

"Hello Tanner. I've got some light lunch for you. I'm glad to see you awake. I'm Katy Barnes, if you don't remember my name," she said as she placed the tray on the bedside table. It was good to see that their patient woke up without her having to wake him, as she had been doing.

"M… Ma'am. My … name is Tanner?" Vin looked at the older woman in confusion.

"Yes. I don't know any other name for you. Now why don't you lean back against the pillows and eat while it's still warm? You must be hungry." Katy placed pillows against the bed's headboard then held the blankets so Vin could get adjusted. She saw the blush come up on his bruised face as he realized that he wore nothing but a pair of briefs. To distract him she started talking.

"You can call me Katy. I help Doc here in the clinic, he is my husband. I'm a registered nurse. Everyone calls my husband Doc, he sometimes doesn't answer to anything else. He'll be in to check you in a half hour."

Once he was settled, Katy lifted the tray and placed its padded bottom across Vin's lap. She uncovered the large bowl, cup and small plate to reveal a thick creamy soup, toast and coffee.

The smell of the food had Vin's stomach growling. He picked up the spoon and tasted the soup, it was thick with diced vegetables and pieces of meat.

"Is it alright? Don't eat too fast, I think it's been awhile since you've eaten," Katy advised as she watched the young man eat, his hand shook as he fed himself.

"It's very good ma'am. I am pretty hungry. I don't know how or when I got here, or where I am … I don't remember anything before waking up in this room."

"From what I was told, you and a couple other men got into a fight with some locals in town and there were more of them. You received the worst beating, and ended up here. You have a bad concussion with a hairline fracture on the side of your head and two cracked ribs along with bruises and cuts. I'm afraid you're going to be sore for several days, and probably have headaches." Katy told him as he ate.

"Why can't I remember?"

"You were hit in the head very hard. The concussion knocked you out for many hours. Doc believes your memory was affected, and if so, it might take a few days for it to return. Would you like some more soup?" she asked seeing he'd finished everything.

"No ma'am, not right now. Could I get some sugar for the coffee?"

"Of course. Just a minute, I'll get some for you," Katy went through the door next to Vin's bed.

Vin watched her and saw that the room looked like an office. He could see another door across the room and wondered where it led. Leaning back he tried to think, this didn't feel right to him. Though he couldn't remember anything, he didn't think he would have been in a fight. In frustration he slapped his hand on the bed beside him, he needed to remember, he didn't like this helpless feeling and not knowing his name bothered him to no end.

Katy re-entered the room carrying the sugar bowl she kept in the office. She could see the worry on the patient's face and wondered why they had to lie to the young man. She knew he hadn't been in a barroom brawl, a fight yes, but not in the local bar.

She watched silently as Tanner put several spoonfuls of sugar in his coffee and stirred it. Taking the tray from him, she sat it aside until he finished his coffee.

"Oh I forgot to tell you where you are. You work on the Royal Ranch, just outside of Ranchester, Wyoming. I'm not sure what you do here, but once you're feeling better you'll be back to work. You've been in the clinic since early yesterday morning, and seem to have come out of your concussion alright. While your head is healing, you will have headaches. But if all goes well, you can get back to work tomorrow." Katy told Vin as he looked at her in confusion.

Chapter 6

"I don't remember what kind of work I was doing," Vin rubbed his head a little; feeling the bandage, he gingerly touched it.

"I'm sorry, I don't know what you do on the ranch, so I can't help you there. The Royals do raise a lot of hay and wheat; also have cattle and horses, so it could be any of those." Katy told Vin. "Would you like something more to eat or drink?"

"No ma'am. This is enough. I think I'll rest for a bit."

"Doc will be back soon and will examine you once more for the night. He'll talk to you then," Katy said as she picked up the coffee cup and placed it on the tray. "If you need anything more, after Doc sees you we'll get it for you." Picking up the tray Katy headed for the door.

Vin laid back against the piled pillows and looked around the room once again. There were two more doors in the long room and he wondered which one could be the bathroom. He needed the facilities.

Katy walked into the room and glanced at her patient, noting the look on his face as he eyed the rest of the room.

"The bathroom is the first closed door. Let me disconnect you from the IV and you can go," she said as she took his left hand.

Within moments she stepped back to allow him room to get out of the bed. "I'll be in the office, just call me when you're back in bed, or if you have a problem. I'll reattach this when you return."

"Do I really need this?" Vin asked.

"It is to rehydrate you and it has antibiotics to fight off any infection that you might have gotten. Doc will probably disconnect you when this bag is empty. Now I'll leave you," Katy patted his shoulder and went into the other room.

With care, Vin swung his legs over the side of the bed and straightened up. This time he was able to sit there without getting dizzy so he rose and slowly made his way to the door Katy had pointed out to him.

Entering the room he paused in surprise at the size of the room. There were two shower stalls along with other bathroom facilities. It was a bright and airy room with a long narrow window above the sinks. The ends of the window were open letting in fresh air.

Vin quickly took care of pressing business and as he dried his hands, he stared out the window at the hillside beyond. Trees partially covered the hillside, he could see that the top was sparsely covered with various sized trees.

With a shake of his head Vin turned from the sight and made his way from the room. Once back in the bed and covered he called to Katy who returned and reconnected him to the IV. Several minutes later he fell asleep.

Something startled Vin awake and he quickly turned his head, heart pounding.

"It's okay son, just checking you and unhooking you from this IV." Vin heard as he blinked awake. He saw a 50 something, salt and pepper haired man standing beside his bed. The man had uncovered his left hand and was unhooking the IV line.

"I'm Doc. Not sure you remember me from earlier, but Katy and I have been caring for you."

"Thanks Doc. I kinda remember you," Vin felt his face turn pink.

"How does your head feel?" Doc asked ignoring the embarrassed blush on the young man's face.

"I'm fine."

Doc grinned as he took the needle from the back of Vin's hand. "I really need to know, you had a bad concussion. I wasn't sure for awhile, we might have had to transfer you to the hospital."

"Oh. Sorry. Got a headache and my side hurts."

"How bad is the headache, on the scale of one to ten, ten being the worst?"

For a moment Vin thought then said, "A six I guess."

"That's what I thought. I can give you some Tylenol and that should help. Let me check those bruises and your ribs, then you can go back to sleep."

Vin laid still while gentle hands moved over his chest, abdomen and head. He vaguely remembered feeling the hands on him earlier. He was happy that they weren't causing him any more pain.

"Well Tanner, I think tomorrow you can go back to work. Everything seems to be healing. The bruising is changing colors. You will have headaches off and on for awhile due to the concussion. You need to be careful of your ribs so you don't break them. I'll let Guy know you can return to work, but nothing to strenuous. We'll give you one more night here before duties tomorrow."

"What do I do here?" Vin asked looking up at the older man.

Doc pushed his glasses up and shrugged. "I'm not sure what you do. It could be working in the hay fields, or with the cattle, maybe some horse work. There is quite a few different things done here and Katy and I don't know what each man does unless he tells us," Doc paused a moment looking at Vin. "We usually only get a man or two once in awhile in the clinic. I work four days a week in town at the hospital, unless I'm needed here."

"How long have I been here?"

"Since early yesterday morning. You were unconscious for many hours. I'm not sure why they waited so long to bring you to me, but you are healing and doing a lot better today."

"So I'll return to whatever I was doing before landing in here," Vin replied glancing around the room.

"Tomorrow. I'll keep you here tonight and let you get some more rest. So on that note, would you like to sit in a chair awhile? Start getting your legs and all working again," Doc smiled.

Vin glanced around the room, "I don't see any chairs."

Doc chuckled, "Yeah this room doesn't have any, but I can get one in about two shakes of a horse's tail."

"I would like to sir, even walk around a little. I need clothes too," Vin said with a little grin.

"Got that all covered. You just stay put, I'll be right back." Doc headed for the office door, the empty fluid bag, and other IV things in his hand.

Vin sat up, placing his legs off the side of the bed. He kept his eyes closed until he felt the dizziness leave. Opening them he jumped seeing a tall older man standing at the foot of his bed. He had a feeling this didn't happen often to him, that he was always aware of what was going on around him. He wondered for a moment how the man had entered and moved so close that he didn't hear a thing.

The tall, grey-haired man looked him over. A smile that didn't reach his eyes crossed his lips.

"Well Tanner, I hear that you should be able to get back to work tomorrow, though Doc tells me light duty only. I think we can find something for you, since someone else is doing your work right now."

"S … sorry sir. I don't remember what I've been doing." Vin said looking up at the older man having no idea who he was.

"You usually work around the barns with the horses. It's rough and not suited for you now, so you'll be working in the hay fields, bringing in the hay. Driving one of the hay trucks should be easy enough for you to handle. Jeff will be here in the morning to show you where to go, be ready." The man said and turned around, heading for the door.

"Sir … I don't have clothes to wear."

Pausing, the man half turned to him with a smile, "Jeff will bring what you need. I want to hear nothing but a good report for your work tomorrow night." With that he left.

Vin stared at the door, not sure what to do. He had no idea who the man was or who this Jeff person was either.

Doc walked in pushing an armchair ahead of him with a pair of jeans and a shirt across his arm. He noticed the confused look on his patient's face and setting the chair in a corner, he moved to Vin's side. "Here you go Tanner. These are yours. You had three shirts on but the other two were ruined, we were able to get these cleaned."

Frowning Vin looked at the clothes. "Three shirts? Why would I be wearing so many?"

"I'm not sure. Maybe you were chilled that evening."

"But why not a coat?"

"I don't know Tanner. Are you cold now?"

Vin looked at Doc, "A little."

"Well let's get you dressed so you can move around. The chair is comfortable and reclines."

Within a short time Vin had dressed in the jeans and shirt. He ran his hand over the shirt, trying to remember anything.

Doc watched the bruised face of Tanner as he dressed. Emotions crossed the battered features and he knew the young man was trying to remember his past. It would be awful not to remember anything from today back. He glanced around the ward room and through the open door into the clinic and thought of his wife, and for a moment he wondered if Tanner was married or had a girlfriend missing him, not to forget co-workers for whatever kind of work he use to be doing.

"Let's get you into the armchair for awhile," Doc said as Vin stood up to button his jeans.

Vin looked at the easy chair in the corner of the room next to a small end table with several books and magazines on it. With a nod he made his way slowly to it and sat down without any help. His ribs pulled when he sat down and he ached in various places but he felt he was getting better.

Blanket over his arm, Doc opened it and covered Vin, bending down to cover Vin's bare feet thoroughly for him.

"There, you're set for awhile."

"Thanks Doc. Who was the man that was talking to me? I don't know … anyone here…"

"That was your boss, Guy Royal, he's the owner of this ranch. His nephew Jeff keeps the men in line and oversees everything for his uncle."

"Oh. What kind of ranching do they do?"

"Mostly they grow some of the best hay in the county. There's usually three good crops of hay. They switch fields every two years and raise oats or wheat so they don't wear out the ground. Royal loves good horses and raises a few each year, they have a couple of racing Quarter Horses that do very well. They also raise some cattle. I think around 75 to 100 head of cows with calves." Doc told him.

"He said I usually work with the horses. I don't remember."

"Maybe once you get back with the horses you will remember some things. You had a nasty bump; it will take time to remember things. At first it might be flashes of people or places. Don't try to force it. All that will accomplish is to cause you a bigger headache." Doc didn't tell the man there was a 50/50 chance that he would never remember anything. He hoped that Tanner's memory would return though, it was a horrible thought that someone so young would have to go through the rest of his life with no memory of his younger years.

Vin nodded his thanks as Doc smiled at him. "I need to do some paperwork. If you need anything just call out and I'll come."

"Thanks Doc. I'm fine, I'll just rest here awhile," Vin said and reached for a magazine on the table beside him.

Doc patted Vin's shoulder and headed to his office and the work he needed to finish. Vin looked at the magazine and studied the words for a few minutes. Blinking his eyes he opened the magazine and began to read it slowly having trouble with many of the words.

A half hour later Doc glanced into the room and saw Vin snuggled in the chair asleep, the magazine on his tucked up legs. The blanket was tightly wrapped around Tanner's chest and arms; his head tucked down into it until just the top of his head was visible.

Doc smiled, the young man tugged at his heart, and seeing him this way, even more. He decided to let him sleep and went back to his paperwork. A bit later Katy walked into the office carrying clean sheets and another blanket.

"He's up, good. I'll change the bed so he'll have fresh sheets," she said as she moved through the office, a warm smile for her husband on her lips.

Doc rose and followed Katy quietly into the ward room, "I'll help you," he told her in a half whisper.

Together they had the bed stripped and remade within minutes and moved back into the office after a quick glance at their sleeping patient.

"I'm going to take this down to the laundry. I'll bring some fresh coffee back for us, see what Daisy is making for dinner," with another smile at Doc she left.

With his work complete, Doc checked on Vin, who was still sound asleep in the easy chair. He noted on Tanner's chart that he had walked around and was getting the rest he needed. Back in the office he accepted the cup of coffee from his wife when she returned. Once his files were put away and his desk cleared a couple hours later, he leaned back in his chair and gazed at his wife reading in a nearby chair.

"I have to work tomorrow at the hospital; I guess it's good that Tanner will be working also."

"He's still hurting Alex, and he can't remember who he is …" Katy's gaze went to the door then back to her husband as she closed the book. "What does Guy want him for? He's a nice boy, nothing like EJ or some of the others. I wonder what kind of work he was doing before this happened. Will someone miss him? Why is he here?"

"Katy, you know Guy doesn't tell us anything, just expects us to keep his men healthy, and take care of them when needed. That's one reason we have a place to live and aren't paying for anything except necessities and anything special we want or need. We get paid and have no worries. We listen to the men if they talk to us in here, we don't ask Guy questions. The sheriff and Guy wouldn't be friends if it was something against the law. Guy is popular with the other police and the businessmen in town too. If he was doing something illegal, I'm sure the sheriff would be out here, he follows the law to a T."

Katy sighed, "I know. Sometimes I just wonder. And Tanner …" she rose and rubbed her husband's shoulders. "He … I don't know. I guess he's just gotten to me, he's so lost. It makes me want to help him find his family or friends, and to get his memory back." She shuddered and rubbed her hands over her arms.

Alex wrapped his arms around her and pulled her down into his lap. Giving her a deep kiss he looked into her eyes and brushed his hand over her long braid.

"I love you sweetheart. I am sorry we never had any kids; you would have been a wonderful mother. I think Tanner has brought out your mothering instincts. But remember, yes, he is young, but he works for Guy, so he does have a place. Even though we haven't seen him before, it doesn't mean he hasn't been here for awhile. Now my dear, why don't you see about dinner for our patient? I'm starved, so I'm sure he will be too when he wakes up." Alex gave her another kiss and a pat on her butt as she rose.

With a playful slap on his head Katy headed out the door, a mischievous smile on her lips.

With a grin Alex watched his wife leave then pushed his rolling chair to where he could check Tanner, seeing that he was still sleeping he rolled back to his desk just as the phone buzzed.

"Clinic, Doc here," he answered. He listened then nodded. "We figured 7AM. Guy told us …He's on light duty … Severe headaches, if they get bad he could pass out. All right … See you in the morning."

Doc clicked the phone off and rising looked in at Tanner, a smile crossed his lips seeing the young man had burrowed down farther into the chair. The blanket totally covered him except for an inch or so of his long hair. He wondered what the next day would bring for Tanner, hoping the cracked ribs and his head injury wouldn't bother him. With a sigh he returned to his desk.

Morning dawned, the sun rising slowly over the hills in a clear blue sky, promising a hot day.

Vin had been up for some time and Katy brought a tray loaded with all kinds of breakfast items that he'd eaten, not sure when his next meal would be. He was dressed in the jeans and shirt from the day before with added clean socks and his boots that he didn't recognize.

None of this felt right to him and his nerves were stretched thin, he had no idea what was right. He was sure he didn't know any of the people he'd seen, though Doc and Katy treated him kindly. Doc had checked him earlier and upon Vin's request, he ran strips of tape over Tanner's cracked ribs to help support them, hoping nothing would happen that would cause further injury.

After making the bed he walked around the room waiting. Vin hoped once he was working his memory would come back. He moved his head around, how did he know broken ribs were very painful? Several minutes he thought on that idea, feeling a sharp pain in his head he stopped, he didn't want to work with a bad headache with his other aches and pains. He wondered if Katy had any aspirin he could get, then thought, how'd I know that about ribs?

"Tanner, you ready to go to work?" A gruff voice asked.

Chapter 7

Vin followed the tall man out of the clinic and down the hall to the closest outside door. Leaving the clinic Vin had glanced the other way and saw the wide hall stretching a long way to another double door. He saw an open area, then the smell of bacon wafted to him and he figured the kitchen was down that way.

Outside Vin took a deep breath of the fresh warm air. Glancing around as they walked around the huge white house he saw buildings laid out below them with tall trees shading many of them with green areas under the trees. He saw a large barn to the left with large rail and post corrals and paddocks laid out in three directions from it, several horses wandered in some of the paddocks.

With a frown Vin gazed at the sleek animals in one large pasture, unaware that he had almost come to a stop. Horses, he knew horses, but this was wrong.

"Tanner! We don't have all day," a voice yelled at him. Startled, Vin jumped and then hurried forward as Jeff Royal paused a moment waiting for him.

"Sorry," Vin mumbled as he fell into step with the man.

They continued past the huge barn, and then a large shop where someone was working on a tractor. The roof extended out from the 50 foot long building 10 feet around the three sides. Another tractor was parked in the shed beside the first one.

Vin glanced behind the shed as they headed to the next long 3-sided one, spotting some sort of farming equipment. Not sure what all the pieces were called, he realized he'd seen them somewhere before.

The next shed held a couple of large trucks and Jeff headed for the closest one, motioning for Vin to get in the driver's side. Vin stepped up the one step and sat down looking over the gears. Hearing what sounded like a chain rattling his gaze shot to the man standing outside the door.

Vin hissed when something clamped around his left ankle and he jerked his leg from the other man's grasp.

"What the hell are ya' doing?" he growled.

Jeff looked up at him, stepped back and slammed the door. A moment later the passenger door opened and he climbed in and sat down.

"You're on work release from the jail in town," he lied easily. "The fight you got into the other day added four more months to your sentence. The only way you can be working on this ranch is to be controlled. Rather than hand cuffs or ankle shackles, since you'll be driving this truck, this is the easiest way to go. Now start up and pull around to the back to get the trailer."

Taking a deep breath, Vin did as he was told, he couldn't remember so had no idea if this was the truth or what. The truck fired up and he shifted it into gear, feeling he knew how to drive a truck, though it was a smaller one.

Following Jeff's directions he drove around the end of the shed and found a large area holding several kinds of trailers and to one side gas and diesel pumps. Jeff directed him to back up to one of the trailers and a few minutes later Jeff had the flatbed trailer hitched to the truck. Back in the cab he told Vin how to get to the hay fields.

Jeff rode with Vin to the fields, finally telling him his name as he guided him through the loading of the first load of hay. Once loaded, he directed him to the hay shed where the hay was unloaded by a tractor and piled inside. When it was unloaded Vin was told to return to the field for another load, and do it until 5PM. Jeff would meet him near the hay shed and show him where to park and release him from the truck.

Vin nodded, he was still stunned and mad that he had been chained in the truck. He tried to understand how he had become a prisoner, a criminal. As he drove back and forth to the field his thoughts raced as he tried to remember what crime he'd committed. Nothing, he pounded the steering wheel in aggravation. His head was blank, he could think of nothing, remember nothing. Blinking back tears of frustration, he finally veered away from trying to remember things as he felt the tingle of a headache building. How could he remember happenings when he couldn't even remember his own name?

Yes, Tanner seemed familiar, but that was the only thing in this nightmare that seemed right. Horses, those too were familiar, and he had a feeling he'd worked with them, but this place? He didn't think so.

Finally he stopped thinking, trying to recall who he was and where he came from, and concentrated on just getting through the day without a headache. By late afternoon all Vin wanted to do was get a shower, eat and go to bed. His head ached, the cracked ribs made his whole side hurt from the constant movement from his arms fighting the wheel and the rough ride of the truck.

Spotting Jeff coming towards the hayshed where he was parked while another load of hay was being unloaded, he let his head lean back on the headrest. He was exhausted and Vin hoped all that was left was to park and get out of the truck and to the, room? He frowned, where was he sleeping?.

Jeff Royal climbed into the truck and looked at Tanner. The young man was sweaty. Dust and hay seed dust covered him, the bruised face was pale and lined, he could see his arms trembling. Instead of smiling as he wanted to, he nodded and said,

"You did pretty good today. We'll drop the trailer and park. In the morning you will check the oil and fill the tank before heading for the fields again."

"Okay," Vin replied, then sneezed several times.

"You'll have time to clean up before dinner. Head over there," Jeff pointed when the truck and trailer were empty and Vin put it in gear.

Fifteen minutes later the truck was parked and Vin was unchained. Jeff showed him where the pumps were then they headed for the house on the small hill. This time Jeff headed up the driveway on the right side of the house.

As they walked Vin wiped the sweat off his face and let his gaze wander around the compound, as Jeff called it. He wanted to ask questions but decided to wait and see what he could hear about the place first.

"This door and the one at the other end of the building by the clinic, are to be used at all times. Use these stairs when you come in looking like you do now. There is another set of stairs inside that you use to get to your room and to meals. This set is the closest for you," Jeff said as he lead the way inside and up the staircase just inside the door. A long, wide hallway stretched to the end of the building with numbered doors on each side and interspaced with several bathrooms. Jeff stopped in front of a room with a "#7" stenciled on it. He opened the door and motioned to Vin.

"You're lucky, you have your own small bathroom. Many rooms share one. Some have to use the main bathrooms. There're some clean clothes for you, provided by the ranch. Room numbers are on them so they aren't mixed up with others and they get to the right man. You take your dirty clothes to the laundry to be cleaned. Bottom of the stairs and first door on your right when you go down. The kitchen and dining room is just beyond the laundry. Dinner is served from 6 to 7:30PM, breakfast from 5 to 7AM. Work starts at 7:30 sharp. Don't be late," Jeff turned to go, and then swung back. "Oh, lock down is at 10:30PM, you have to be in your room by then." With that he left.

Vin gazed after the tall man a minute in confusion. Lock down? What kind of place was this? How did he get here? Why couldn't he remember? With a shake of his head Vin entered the room that was assigned to him.

He stopped and looked around as he pushed the door closed. A single bed with a nightstand was in front of him. An open window with cream colored curtains and screen was on the left side of the bed. A comfortable looking arm chair with a lamp sat in the corner beside the window near the bed. An open closet with a dresser inside was on the right side of the bed, set into the wall. To his left was a partly open door and he looked into the room. It was the small bathroom, a sink, toilet and shower were set into the small space. A narrow window was next to the enclosed shower stall with several shelves under it holding towels, washcloths, soap and shampoo. A couple of shelves under the sink held toiletries and extra toilet paper. Above the sink hung a mirror, there was no medicine cabinet.

Moving back into the bedroom Vin kicked off his boots and went to the dresser. Opening the drawers he found T-shirts, jeans, socks and underwear, all with a 7 on them. In the corner of the closet a jacket and sweat shirt hung. He was surprised to find they were all his size. Sneezing he stripped and gathering clean clothes headed for the shower.

Clean and hungry, Vin picked up the pile of dirty clothes and headed downstairs. He found the laundry and dropped off the clothes. The man and woman behind the counter greeted him. The woman took his clothes asking him what room he was in and wrote the number on the sack she put the clothes in. The couple told him to bring his dirty clothes, used towels and washcloths to them. If they had time they would return the laundered items to his room, otherwise he could pick them up the following day, with the exceptions of Sunday's.

Thanking the couple he left the warm room and headed to the dining area, his stomach growling from the smells coming from the kitchen. He paused and looked around him.

On his right was a huge kitchen. He could see several men and women working in there. Ovens, stoves, huge refrigerators, a steel looking door that he thought was a walk in freezer, counters lined the room. A wash area with a dishwasher and shelves with pots and pans on them, were placed around the room. A heavily screened door opened to the outside, another door opened to a large pantry, one corner was piled with dishes, bowls and cups. Two long counters were in front of the work area, the longest one in front of him, and the slightly shorter one behind it. At one end of the front counter a pile of trays and a box of napkin rolled silverware were stacked. He figured people went through a line to get their food. A milk dispensing machine was at the end of the counter against the wall with a tray of glasses beside it.

To the left was a large dining room. Tables were set up with six chairs each. The far wall was mostly windows looking out over the ranch buildings below. The wall beside him had a heavy wooden table with several large coffee urns that held 30 cups of coffee each. Coffee mugs were stacked between two of the coffee pots, the third pot held a hanging sign with 'tea' on it. There was sugar and cream by the cups. Both coffee pots were gurgling, not quite ready.

Vin walked across the dining area and halted. A huge open area on both sides of the long hall was filled with couches, arm chairs, floor lamps, end tables with lamps, and the one wall featured a long desk with several computers on it. There were two large flat screen TVs hung on the other walls, one on the wall opposite the desk, the other on the left wall facing him.

The walls at the side of the room had windows that looked out over the ranch or the back hillside. Under the bank of windows were bookcases full of books and the wall at the end of the desk held more shelves of books and magazines.

Several men glanced up curiously looking Vin over as he stood in the hallway before turning back to what they were doing. Vin heard the coffee pots gurgle a last time and turned to glance back at them.

Opposite the open area the wide hall continued. He knew the little medical clinic was at the end of the hall, and figured between here and there was more rooms.

Two men entered the room from the direction he'd come from. He could tell they'd just showered. Their hair was still wet, they walked to the coffee pots and began to fill a couple mugs.

Vin watched until the men moved away then stepped to the pots and got himself some coffee, automatically dumping several spoons of sugar into it. He followed the two into the living area and took a seat in the closest armchair.

Although Vin received curious glances and a few nods, no one spoke to him. Before long there were 15 men in the room, some seated others stood around talking to each other.

A man walked through the room and Vin's gaze followed him, thinking he looked familiar. He watched the skinny man with the long greasy, mousy colored hair stop beside a muscular blond. Vin glanced away, not wanting them to know he was studying them. From the corner of his eye he did watch them, sure he'd seen them before but not where. They talked together ignoring everyone else.

The sound of a gong had the men moving to the dining room. Vin fell in line as they lined up by the long counter, taking a tray, plate and silverware. Smaller plates were set out with salad on them and were picked up by the men as they moved along the counter. Cooks ladled out the food generously on each place as the men passed them. At the end of the counter several different kinds of bread were piled with bowls holding butter and several kinds of jams and jellies.

Vin's plate was loaded with several pieces of fried chicken, potatoes and gravy, two vegetables and some fruit. The lady who gave him the chicken told him seconds were available.

Moving to a table he sat his plate down and went to refill his coffee cup. Returning he began eating hungrily. He heard footsteps and a plate then arm came into view as someone sat down across from him.

Glancing up Vin saw the blond sit down, then the greasy haired man placed his plate on the table and joined his friend. Vin nodded and continued eating, ignoring them.

As they finished eating Clark grinned at Eli Joe and looked at Vin.

"Well Tanner, how are you feeling?"

Hiding his surprise Vin looked at the muscular blond. "You know me?"

Clark laughed at the confused look on the younger man's face. "Yes, sort of. We went partying together the other night. I'm Clark."

"We didn't win. I'm EJ or Eli Joe. It was a good fight but we were outnumbered and you shouldn't have thrown the first punch." The second man said staring at him.

Vin shook his head as his gaze went back and forth between the men, something seemed off. "Sorry I don't remember anything. It's just blank."

A quick grin crossed Eli Joe's lips before he turned serious again; his pale grey eyes moved over Vin. "You tried to take on the whole bar singlehanded and we tried to back you up. You got the worse end of the fight before we managed to get you out of there. No wonder you don't remember, you were hit pretty hard several times on your head."

Vin's hand touched his head where the large bruise covered his temple and hurt when touched. "Why would I start a fight?"

"Don't know kid, but you owe us for backing you and getting you out of there," Eli Joe told him.

"I … I don't have any money. My wallet is gone."

Clark laughed, "We don't want your money."

"Yeah, we'll think of something you'll have to do for us, and let you know later." Eli Joe added

"I don't know what I can do. I don't remember what I did before."

"We know something," Eli Joe exchanged a grin with Clark before he went on. "We'll let you know later." With that Eli Joe rose, gathered his dinner plate, nodded to Vin and left, Clark followed him.

Vin wandered into the living room a bit later but after a short time he headed upstairs to his room. A headache had started pounding in his head and he was tired.

In the room Vin pulled the curtain closed and a short time later he was in bed and asleep. He had found an alarm clock on the nightstand and set it for 5:30AM, not sure if he would wake in time.

He didn't hear the door lock at 10:30, he was lost in dreams. Riding on a dark blue colored motorcycle weaving through traffic at a high rate of speed … an ugly looking man in handcuffs … receiving money from someone behind a large brown desk.

In a warehouse, a shootout, bullets flying everywhere, and a green eyed glare from a lean, dark clad blond man. An electric shock went through him, his hand reaching out to the man, hands gripping each forearm. Not a handshake, but a warrior's grip. Heart pounding, something inside him soaring, he knew this man, his heart, his life, his soul. Their lives were bared to each other, his soul connecting with the blonds', his soul welcoming the other, becoming one. Heartbeats becoming one shared between them. Joy flooding them, they had long last found each other.

Vin woke to the noise of the alarm clock going off. For a moment he laid there, no idea where he was. The shrill sound of the alarm pulled him to a sitting position and he grabbed the clock and turned it off. For a time he sat on the edge of the bed, his thoughts working over his dreams. Who was the blond that he felt so close to? Where was he?

Shaking himself, Vin rose and entered the bathroom. He looked in the mirror, studying the bruised face that stared back at him. Who are you? He dragged his gaze away from his reflection and quickly got ready for the workday. Checking the tape over his ribs he decided it would last for the day, he'd check it tonight.

Before leaving the room Vin pulled his bed together and straightened his pillow, then headed downstairs. He had over an hour to spare before having to go to work, plenty of time to eat breakfast and see about getting something for lunch.

Vin was surprised to see a variety of wrapped sandwiches and other lunch items on one of the tables. Paper sacks were stacked by them, and he figured they were to be used to pack their lunches. Bottles of water, juice, tea and cans of Pepsi and Coke products were there too. Seeing a couple of men packing things into the bags, he joined them and made up a lunch.

Once that was done he sat the sack on a table and got in line for breakfast. He was again surprised over the variety of breakfast foods available. He didn't think anyone could go to work hungry after this spread.

Once finished Vin wandered into the living room and found a seat near the window and for a little while relaxed. His lunch was on the end table beside him, and he let his arms go limp in his lap. He could feel the tight muscles across his upper body and hated the thought of having to wrestle with the truck again; it was not an easy one to drive for hours on end. He glanced at the clock and sighed.

Chapter 8

Men were rising and making their way toward the door. Vin rose, stretched, picked up his lunch and followed, grabbing several bottles of water as he passed the beverage table. He didn't know if Royal would be at the truck or not.

Vin was checking the oil in the truck when he felt a presence behind him, and replacing the dip stick he turned around. Jeff Royal was watching him. With a sigh he turned and closed the hood, and without a word climbed into the cab as Jeff entered the passenger side. Starting the truck he drove it around the building to the gas and diesel pumps and parked. Before Jeff could get out he was out and reaching for the diesel nozzle.

Jeff stayed in the cab and Vin was glad. He didn't have anything to say to the older man. Looking around he spotted the trailer he had to pick up next then jumped when another truck pulled up behind him and honked its horn. Vin ignored the other truck and finished filling the tank. A couple minutes later he was backing his vehicle up to the trailer.

Jeff watched as Tanner expertly hooked up the trailer and then pulled away. He directed Vin to the field he wanted him to work in today and then had him stop by the last building. He quickly got out and walked to the driver's door, opening it he hooked the shackle around Tanner's ankle and stepped back closing the door. With a wave he sent Tanner on his way and watched as the young man drove off.

With a smile Jeff walked back to the house. His uncle would be happy with the report of his new acquisition, the bounty hunter. So far the young man didn't know that he was really a free man. The head wound was working for them right now but he wondered how long it would be before Tanner remembered who he was. Chuckling, Jeff walked into the house and toward the private rooms where he'd find his uncle.

His first stop was his uncle's office, in case Guy was there. The office was comfortable with a large L shaped desk that faced the windows at an angle, it sat on a carpet that looked like wood flooring. A new flat screen monitor stood on the short part of the desk, a keyboard in front of it. Two comfortable arm chairs faced the desk. A bookcase covered most of the wall behind the chairs, loaded down with various collectable items, many dating back well over 130 years. Another bookcase extended from the door to the corner, and a lower one went down the wall behind the desk almost to the windows, filled with different items, some collected over the last 45 years.

In the one corner by the windows was a saddle stand with a well kept old saddle that belonged to the first Guy Royal from back in the 1860-1880's, before he moved to Wyoming. In the other corner was another stand with the present Guy's father's silver show saddle on it. The dark wood walls that weren't covered by bookcases were covered with pictures. Several were well preserved, some of the first Guy Royal and a few of his family. One was of his wife Annie, 30 years younger, and their sons, another of Annie's parents. Other pictures were of this Guy's parents and other relatives dating back and forward through the years, a few at horse shows they'd shown and won at, and relatives who now worked on the ranch. Several were of the ranch at various stages over the years. The 100 year plaque had been mounted to stand and was sitting on Guy's desk.

The door stood partially open as Jeff knocked and Guy called for him to enter. The big man was standing in front of the windows drinking a cup of coffee and looking at the view. With a smile Guy turned around and motioned for Jeff to close the door and sit down.

"Another beautiful day. How is our newest acquisition doing?" Guy poured another a cup of coffee for Jeff, refilled his own from the silver decanter at the end of his desk, then lowered himself into his leather desk chair.

"Thanks," Jeff took the filled mug. "Tanner is doing the work, though he really doesn't like being chained in the truck. I think we'll have to watch him close, when he remembers he's going to fight to leave. We're going to have to drug him before that happens."

"I have been thinking about it. I want him to know who he is, and that I chose him on Eli Joe's word. Once we start to drug him, he will lose his desire to leave. After a few weeks he'll be like my other possessions, he'll have no desire to do anything but please us." Guy took a drink of his coffee as he gazed out the windows a minute.

Turning back to Jeff he continued, "Let's give Mr. Tanner a couple of days to remember. Watch him closely. He was exhausted yesterday, as well as probably hurting. He was in bed a little after dinner, well before lights out." Having heard the report from Jeff the night before, and knowing that Jeff had looked in on his new property after Tanner had left the lounge area, he had read the report on Tanner earlier.

Guy stopped again then smiled. "Work him another day in the field, then put him on the fencing crew. With the shackles, in case he remembers, he can't escape from either. With one more hand on that crew, the old fence should be out and replaced well before winter."

"Yes sir," Jeff smiled. He couldn't wait to see Tanner's face when he was shackled and forced to work on the fence line. The five man crew had barely gotten started, it'd be weeks before they were done.

For a while the two men talked. They went over ranch expenses and other things that needed to be taken care of in order to keep the ranch running smoothly. Jeff had a list of supplies that they would need in the next few days, and Guy told him to place the order. Finally an hour later, Jeff went to his office on the second floor to make phone calls and check on the workers.

Guy's quarters were located at the end of the hall on the first floor, with his office next door, Jeff's office was right above them. He could see most of the hay fields, the barn area and truck sheds easily. The corner windows provided him with the perfect view, and with the expensive, powerful binoculars, he could see most of the drivers of the trucks and other equipment working in the fields. His corner office opened onto a covered porch, though it shared the landing with the wide door that opened onto the long upstairs hallway that bisected the upper floor of sleeping quarters and bathrooms for the incarcerated men.

Jeff's quarters were next to his office, which opened into the hallway. He enjoyed his 'home.' It was comfortable and had everything he needed or wanted. A bedroom, large living room, good sized bathroom and a small kitchen in case he wanted to cook for himself. He could lie in his bed and through the double bedroom door, watch his big screen TV, or watch it from his comfortable leather couch in the living room. Air conditioning kept it cool in the summer and the heater worked well in the winter.

Entering his office he switched on the air conditioner, the day was heating up, 100 degrees was predicted. August was becoming their hottest month. Settling into his desk chair Jeff began his phone calls with looks at the fields through his binoculars as he talked.

Watching the field he spotted Tanner's truck being loaded with the last bale of hay. He saw a wave then the truck headed for the hay sheds. Jeff smiled, it was already hot out in the open fields, and he could see shimmering heat waves dancing across them. He knew by afternoon all the drivers would be looking forward to the end of the day. His gaze followed the truck until it passed into the shed area and out of sight. Jeff turned back to his work.

Vin was hot, sweat poured off him as he drove the truck toward the shed for the seventh or tenth time that day. He couldn't remember how many trips he'd made. Lunch had been eaten in the truck while it was loaded a long time ago. Though he had brought several bottles of water, he was out of water now and his head throbbed with a massive headache. The pain went from the side of his healing head across and behind his eyes where it exploded all across the top of his head.

Squinting his eyes, Vin maneuvered the truck behind the truck garage and stopped where the trailer was to be dropped. He hoped Jeff would be there soon, he felt he needed to lie down. The late afternoon sun was so bright and hot coming through the windshield that he dropped his head onto his clinched hands on the steering wheel. He wondered if he could even walk as far as his room.

The passenger door opening surprised Vin and he jerked upright, blinking the blackness away as he looked to his right. Jeff motioned him to drive on. For a moment Vin stared at the man, his mind trying to figure out what he was suppose to do. It suddenly clicked and he nodded, started the truck and slowly drove to the truck's parking place for the night.

Vin managed to park without hitting another vehicle and waited to be released. The blurry shape of Jeff moved around the front of the truck and Vin fumbled to get his door opened.

Jeff knew something was wrong with Tanner. The young man was very pale, his clothes soaked with sweat, though he didn't seem to be sweating now. The bright blue eyes were squinting and his hands were shaking badly. When he was released and got out of the truck Tanner almost fell, if not for his quick grab onto the truck he'd of gone down. Jeff thought he'd heard a moan coming from him.

"You all right?"

"Think so…" Vin stubbornly straightened and slowly gathered his lunch bag and empty bottles from the truck seat, as they left the truck he dropped them into the garbage can at the corner of the shed. With a glance at the house that seemed miles away, Vin started walking.

Get to my room, Vin thought as he placed one foot in the front of the other. He was aware of Jeff walking beside him and several other men heading in the same direction. All of them thinking of the coolness waiting for them inside the big white house.

Vin was almost to his goal when his vision suddenly blurred and he staggered. He ran a hand over his face and pushed wet hair behind his ears. Vin wasn't aware that he was reeling, or that Jeff was almost touching him. Another man appeared on his other side a step behind him.

Fifty feet from the beckoning door, Vin staggered to a stop. His head seemed to be breaking in half and he was shaking, hot and cold, licking his dry lips he tried to take another step. Blackness descended and he slipped into unconsciousness.

Jeff grabbed Vin's arm as he started to go down. Harper, the other man, grabbed his left arm, catching him before he hit the ground. With a few words, Harper followed Jeff's directions and they half carried Vin into the house and then down the hall to the clinic.

Katy started out of the clinic and spotted three men coming towards her. The one in the middle hanging limply between the other two. She stepped back into the room and called to her husband.

Doc entered the clinic as Jeff and Harper walked through the doorway with Vin.

"What happened?"

As they laid Vin on the examining table Jeff replied, "I think heat got to him. He had three water bottles with him, but maybe not enough." Harper, with a nod to his boss left the room.

"Katy, cool compresses and water, he's too hot …" Doc went to work stripping Vin's shirt off and loosening the rest of his clothes then felt his forehead.

"Will he be able to work tomorrow?"

Doc scowled at Jeff. "Don't know. Heat exhaustion isn't something to play around with. You know that Jeff. He's also still getting over that concussion and his head and ribs are still healing. He's probably not feeling too well right now."

"Let me know. He's got work to do."

Ignoring the tall man as he walked out the door, Doc continued to check Vin over. Katy went for more cool water and smiled when she returned, seeing blinking blue eyes looking around the room in confusion. Doc placed a cool towel over Vin's chest then a cloth over his forehead and smiled at his wife.

"He'll be all right."

"Hey Tanner, what are you doing back with us so soon? We thought you had enough of being in here," Katy teased as she traded basins and pulled a bottle of Gatorade out of her smock pocket.

"Chris?" Vin asked wetting his lips.

Doc gave Vin a sip of water. "No son, its Doc and Katy, no one named Chris here."

For long moments Vin gazed up at the man and woman in bewilderment. Something was wrong. The harder he tried to think the worse his head ached. Gasping in pain he ran his hands over his face and head.

"Chris should be here, something's all wrong," he muttered.

"Does your head hurt Tanner? Tanner, look at me." Doc ordered the young man whose head was rolling back and forth on the pillow, hands clenching into his hair then releasing the long strands.

Pain-filled blue eyes opened and Vin looked at Doc. "Head hurts."

"A headache?"

Vin nodded as Doc replaced the towel for a cool one, and then checked Vin's head and eyes.

Katy opened the bottle of Gatorade and placed a long straw in it. As soon as Doc finished checking Vin's head, she held the straw to his lips.

"Drink slowly, this will help you," she told the longhaired man.

Vin sipped slowly as ordered, and was relieved as the cool moisture filled his mouth and cooled his throat, settling his stomach that had been tied in knots since he came to. When the bottle was empty Katy took it away and told him she would get him a normal drink. He already felt a lot better, but Doc wanted him to stay longer to be sure he was over the heat exhaustion. Vin agreed, he felt better but he was still shaky and not sure he could make it to his room without help.

Doc made him lay still and continued with the cool cloths on his chest and head. Vin dozed, vaguely aware when he heard the dinner bell go off. He was hungry but the coolness drew him more.

Smiling when he heard Tanner's stomach growl, Doc replaced the towel over his chest and stomach. He knew Tanner was still suffering from the concussion and didn't want to give him any drugs for the headache he had. The young man was tough to have made it through two full days in the hot hay fields in the battered condition he was in. He decided he would talk to Jeff and try to give Tanner another day off, to give him more time to heal.

Katy came in and asked if she could get Tanner some dinner and Doc told her what to bring for him to eat.

It was almost 9PM when Doc released Vin to go to his room and get some rest. He insisted that Vin stop in before breakfast to be checked out, he wanted to be sure that Tanner was well enough to be out in the heat. He'd been unlucky in convincing Jeff to let him off another day.

Vin made his way to his room and after a cool shower he took the Tylenol pills Doc had given him and crawled into bed. He was drained and had no desire to do anything but sleep.

Dreams once more crowded into Vin's head and he saw the blond and again felt a connection with the man. Five other men appeared and he saw himself with them, at some kind of a bar then some sort of meeting. He was in a warehouse, in the rafters dressed in black watching over something happening below, a rifle cradled in his arms.

The dream switched as they do, and he was riding a motorcycle after a car that disappeared into an older warehouse. Entering the building he realized something had been going on, and the bounty had crashed into it.

'Bounty,' the word swirled around in his dream as he saw himself taking various men into custody and collecting money. A man held a tall black man in front of him, his gun pressing hard under the man's chin, holding off several other men in Kevlar vests with 'ATF' printed across them. When the gunman's head exploded sideways, he knew it had been him taking the killer out with the shot and saving the man's life. The bounty he'd been after had long disappeared.

The tall black man's name was Nathan. He'd come out of his hiding place, holding his rifle in the air with his hands above his head. He was checked out, his credentials closely checked before he was released. ATF Team Seven SAC Chris Larabee, the blond with green eyes, the man he instantly knew. His soul mate. Peace flowed between them along with the knowledge of each other. Another man came forward, dark haired Buck, and beside him a short young man named JD then Ezra and Josiah. Teammates. A bond building between them all in the short amount of time they'd known each other.

A face suddenly appeared, one he knew. The man he'd been chasing. One who had been hiding in his apartment. He knew that skinny, narrow faced man. He was here.

The loud clanging of the alarm clock woke Vin before he could put a name to the man. But he finally knew he didn't belong in this place, he had to leave. Though he wasn't sure where he needed to go to get back with the men in his dream.

Taking a quick shower, Vin dried and dressed knowing he had to see Doc before breakfast. Minutes later he was heading downstairs, hoping he wasn't too early. The headache was still present, but not nearly as severe as the day before, it extended from behind his eyes over to the left side of his head.

Doc greeted him and instructed Vin sit on the exam table. As he examined him and asked questions. After checking the blue eyes again he leaned back and looked at Tanner.

"You didn't sleep to well last night did you?"

Vin looked at the kind doctor not sure what to tell him of the dreams. "Dreams, lots of dreams."

"Are you remembering things?"

Vin hesitated a moment, and then nodded his head. "Yes, I don't belong here."

Doc watched Tanner's face. "Many men say that but Mr. Royal has paperwork on them. They are from the local jails. He probably has paperwork for you too."

"Not sure," Vin looked at the man. "How loyal are you to the Royals?"

"I am hired help, and we live here. I work part time here and part time at the hospital. Why?"

"I think I'm an ATF agent... and before that, I was a bounty hunter."

Chapter 9

Doc stared at the young long-haired man in shock. How could he be an ATF agent? A bounty hunter? He tried to get his thoughts around the man's words. Tanner was too young to be an agent, wasn't he? Anyone could be a bounty hunter; he knew you'd have to be real good to make money. This young man was nothing like what he pictured as either an agent or a bounty hunter.

Looking at the colorful bruises on the man's face, Doc saw that his patient was very serious, the blue eyes watching his reaction. Doc slowly shook his head.

"I don't know what to think Tanner. You are new here. I don't know all of the workers. Only ones that are injured, once they are better we usually never see them again. None of them talk about themselves or their previous lives. I have no idea how long any have been here, unless I see them again in the clinic. You, we met the other morning, and all we know about you is that you were badly beaten in a bar fight. Your name is Tanner and there was two other men in the fight with you, but not injured as bad as you were."

Vin nodded his head. "I can't remember who I am. Tanner, is my name I'm sure, but there's more to it." Vin rubbed his head as the headache began to pound harder. "Chris Larabee, he's my boss, soul brother? I was after a bounty and he crashed a bust, or something. I was chasing him, seen him somewhere else …" Head pounding Vin closed his eyes for a minute and began to rub his eyes as he tried to calm himself.

Concerned, Doc said, "Tanner, lay down here for a few minutes. Let's see if we can get rid of your headache."

As Vin laid back on the exam table, Doc got a cool wet cloth and placed it over Vin's forehead and eyes. Going to a cabinet, he got two Tylenol and a glass of water.

"Here Tanner, take these, it's Tylenol and should help with the headache. I'd give you something stronger but I don't want to irritate the concussion you had."

Holding the cloth to his head, Vin sat up and took the two pills in his other hand, he popped them into his mouth then drank down the water.

"Okay, lay there for a bit and let's see if that headache goes away." Doc told him as he lay back down.

Doc changed the cloth to a cool one and realized Tanner was asleep, the pain lines around his eyes were gone. With a sigh Doc moved to the clinic doorway and gazed down the hall to where men were going through the breakfast line. It was barely 6AM and many were yawning. There was still plenty of time for Tanner to eat.

His thoughts turned to his patient's dream. Could he really be an ATF agent? He knew he couldn't get anything from the Royals other than they had paperwork on every man on the ranch. Could it be they were forged or false? Yes, he knew that some men were from the jail, and working off their sentences rather than sitting behind bars. But were all the men from the city and county jail? He and Katy had worked here for years and never questioned Royal's policy, or the way he ran the ranch. Many men had come and gone over the years, though he knew a few of the men had been here for 5 years or more.

Footsteps drew Doc's gaze to the hallway and the man coming his way. Jeff arrived wanting to know about Tanner.

"Morning Doc. Is Tanner here? He's not in his room or at breakfast."

"Doc glanced behind him. "He's here. I really would like to keep him in today. The sun and heat got to him yesterday and he's still fighting a headache from that concussion. He gets in the sun and he could end up in the county hospital."

Jeff stared at the figure on the exam table. He knew Guy wouldn't want Tanner in the hospital. If he remembered, he could escape and bring trouble to them. He thought over his words the night before to Doc, maybe he had been too hasty to tell him Tanner had to work.

"Will he be ready to work tomorrow? He's to go with the fencing crew, harder work but they're mostly in the trees."

"I think so. A day of rest will help the concussion and help him get over the heat exhaustion. His head is healing, but he really shouldn't have worked the last two days."

"He has to work. None of these guys are here to sit around twiddling their thumbs."

"I know Jeff. But none of them were beaten like this man. I'll keep him here today and he should be good to leave by dinner time."

Jeff looked at the shorter man. "This is his last day off, until Sunday. I'll check on him later," with that he left.

Doc went back into his clinic and changed the cloth on Tanner's head. He wondered how he could check on his story, or if it was really one of Tanner's dreams. Did the ATF have a web page? Guess he'd find out, he thought as he closed the clinic door. For a moment he debated whether to wake Tanner or let him sleep until he woke himself. Deciding to leave him alone he walked into his office, Katy would be there in an hour or so. He had a little time to check out what Tanner had told him.

Making sure his computer monitor couldn't be seen from the doors, Doc sat down and booted up.

Almost an hour later Doc leaned back in his chair. He had worked his way through the FBI and then found the ATF web site. The closest large office was in Denver. There were eight teams of seven or eight men located in Denver. Team Seven had been decorated several times for the work they'd done. Doc wrote down the name and phone number of a couple of head men listed on the page, thinking he'd make a phone call to some of them when he went back to work at the hospital.

Glancing at the time, Doc shut down the computer and went to check on Tanner.

Vin felt a cool cloth being placed on his forehead and blinked his eyes open. Doc was smiling at him.

"Stay still Tanner, you have the day off. How do you feel?"

"Headache's not so bad now."

"Good. Would you like to move to a bed or to your room? I'd like to keep you here for at least another hour or so, see if we can get that headache totally gone. And I want to get another X-ray of your head.

Make sure it's healing."

"I'll stay …" Vin started to say but was interrupted by a loud grumbling coming from his stomach. Vin's face turned colors as Doc chuckled.

"Don't worry, we'll feed you. I'm hungry too."

The door opened and Katy walked in, spotting Vin her smile widened. "Good morning Tanner. Are you boys hungry?"

"Ma'am… I'm hungry, but I can get my own food."

"No, you stay put and relax. I'll get it. We want you to get better. I'll be right back. Doc, get the coffee going," Katy ordered as she left.

"Yes Katy. Bossy woman! Come on Tanner, let's get you into a more comfortable place and I'll get the coffee going. Doc moved to the door into the ward room, Vin followed him a smile on his bruised face at Doc's grumbling.

The three enjoyed the breakfast that Katy brought and visited while they ate. Afterwards Doc insisted Vin rest while they got the X-ray machine set up.

Vin laid on the bed until he was asked to come into the exam room. Within minutes he was back in the bed and dozing, having had the X-ray taken quickly and expertly. As he drifted into sleep he again saw men he thought he knew. Suddenly the green-eyed blond dressed in black was there gripping his forearm and giving him a rare smile. Happiness flooded him as he gripped the strong forearm a moment. He followed the man into a room with desks that changed into a barn with horses in it. He and the blond were talking with just a few words between them.

"Chris," Vin mumbled as the man clapped him on the shoulder and nodded. Again the dream changed as quickly as it had appeared. He was now in a small, sparsely furnished room… and he was fighting for his life … two men, one a stranger the other the bounty he was tracking. As something crashed into the side of his head he called out, "Chris" before blackness took him.

"Tanner, wake up please!" A female voice said as a hand tapped on his leg.

Vin's eyes snapped open in confusion, and he looked at the woman standing beside his legs. "What? What's wrong?"

"It's alright Tanner. You were dreaming and calling out to someone. I didn't want you to get upset. Are you okay?" Katy asked. "You called out several times."

Vin sat up and held his head in his hands, eyes closed.

Katy glanced at her husband as he came through the door; at his nod she left the room. Doc sat in the chair beside Vin's bed.

"You remember more?"

"Chris. Close friend. Think … he is someone special. Not sure, boss? Chris, blond, always in dark clothes."

"Anything else?"

"Nathan, black man, doctor? Not sure. Josiah, big man, nice voice. Buck and JD, brothers? Ezra, gold tooth, cards? Friends … umm," Vin rubbed his head. "Teammates maybe."

Doc made a mental note of the men's names and descriptions as he reached for Tanner's shoulder, stopping him from rubbing his head.

"Stop pushing yourself Tanner. Your memory will come when it's ready." He looked into the puzzled eyes that gazed back at him. "Your head is doing well, it is healing. The lump is almost gone, which I am happy about," Doc grinned at Tanner. "Don't push, you are getting better and your memory is beginning to come back. But the more you try to force it, the more headaches you'll have and that will set you back. Now, you have the day off to get over the headache and the heat exhaustion you had yesterday. I want you to keep resting, drink more fluids too. You can stay here or go to your room. Jeff said you'll be working tomorrow no matter what, so you rest and relax today."

With a nod Vin said, "I'll go to my room so y'all don't have ta' worry 'bout me."

"All right. Come back after dinner, I'll examine you once more. If you need anything, Katy will be here. I have to go to the hospital for awhile, but she can take care of you. Now off you go." Doc stepped away from the bed and waited for Vin to get up, then opened the door and let Vin through. Doc watched the young man make his way down the hall through the quiet building.

Vin paused at the breakfast area and picked up several bottles of water before continuing up to his room. Once there he pulled off his boots and shirt and laid down, within minutes he was asleep.

Doc walked into the Emergency Department of the hospital a half hour later. He couldn't believe how warm it was outside and it wasn't even 10AM. He brushed sweat off his forehead and thanked the powers that be that he didn't have to work outside in that heat. Checking in he went over the few charts of the people who'd been attended to during the last twelve hours. Once he finished, he spoke to the nurses before heading to his office within feet of the ER area.

After catching up with his paperwork he went through the emergency room, making sure it and the staff were ready for any emergency that may arise. He stopped in on the two patients who were still in the hospital from the night, the other three having been treated and released.

Finally he was back in his office and was glad to see that the department was still quiet. Closing the door he glanced through the door window making sure no one had come in.

Pulling the piece of paper from his pocket that he'd written several phone numbers on he picked up his phone and made the first call. After being transferred several times he was waiting for someone to answer again.

"Larabee." A gruff, harassed voice snapped.

"Agent Larabee?" Doc asked, unsure of who he'd gotten this time.

"Yes." The voice snapped.

"I'm sorry to bother you. I'm trying to find a man named Chris or Josiah or Buck …"

 "I'm Chris Larabee," the voice sounded impatient.

"Sorry, I need to ask, are you blond, have green eyes and wear dark clothes?"

For a second the voice hesitated then, "Who wants to know? What's this about?"

"I'm Doctor Alexander Barnes. I have a patient who lost his memory and is starting to get it back. He's not sure about many things."

"Alright Doctor Barnes …"

"Call me Doc, everyone does."

"Doc, I do wear dark clothes and the rest describes me. Is this about Vin?"

"Vin? The name we have is Tanner and that's all."

"Skinny, Texan, long hair, blue eyes? He disappeared Saturday night. We found his apartment trashed and a lot of blood. He's my team sharpshooter."

Doc could suddenly hear other voices asking questions behind Larabee's, then Larabee's demand, "Quiet!" and silence fell.

"His first name is Vin? We only have Tanner. It seems he is the same person. He is remembering some things, gave me names; Josiah, Buck, Nathan, Ezra and JD."

"They're the rest of my team, they're all here. Where is he?"

"He's at the Royal Ranch outside of Ranchester, Wyoming. Tanner was badly beaten, we were told in a bar fight, the two who brought him in were bruised. He has a hairline skull fracture, it is healing. A concussion, they said he'd been out a long time. Cracked ribs. He is doing well other than headaches and had heat exhaustion yesterday. Today he's resting, but he has to go work tomorrow."

"What kind of work is he doing?"

"Hay hauling the last two days, but tomorrow he'll be on the fencing crew. It's hot. He'll be in the shade somewhat tomorrow. But if he is ATF he doesn't belong here at all. The workers here are mostly prisoners on work release."

"We'll be there for him, as soon as we can. We have a big bust going down in the next couple of days and can't leave until it's over with. Was one of the men who brought Vin to you named Eli Joe Jones?"

Doc blinked in surprise, "Yes, as a matter of fact. He and his friend Clark. Do you know these men?"

"Only Jones by reputation. Too long to explain right now."

"I'll give you directions to the ranch, there is a manned gate on the main road here …"

"We know where it is, and the ranch layout. Where will Vin be?"

"Oh, okay. His room is upstairs in the big white house, room seven. Clinic is downstairs at the opposite end of the building, if not in his room. If he's working, I'm not sure where he'd be. Everyone works from 7:30AM to 5PM, Monday through Friday, sometimes Saturdays too. So he'd be at the house after five. When will you be here?"

Doc heard a disgusted sigh and curses from someone, before Larabee's voice was back.

"We're not sure, once this bust goes down we can leave, but until it is done there's nothing we can do. We're in the middle of it. How can I get a hold of you?"

Doc gave him his number at the hospital and days he could be reached here. "I don't think it's safe to contact me at the ranch. I usually don't get calls there, unless it's an emergency at the hospital."

"We'd like to keep in touch …"

"Why don't I call you when I'm here?"

"Alright, here's the number without going through the switchboard and all that mess …" Chris gave Doc his office number, and then added, "Here's my cell phone number too … If anything happens to Vin, no matter what time of day or night it is, call me. The only reason I won't answer is if we're in the middle of the bust."

"I'll do that Agent Larabee. I'll give you a call Friday when I get here, if that will work?"

"It will, call me Chris. Thanks doctor, we appreciate you caring enough to contact us about Vin. We really need him for this bust but are making do. We'll be there to pick him up as soon as we can."

"Thanks Chris. I'll be in touch," Doc said and hung up. A knock on his door drew him to his duties as he tucked the phone numbers safely away.

"Chris what's going on?" Buck asked when Chris sat back as he replaced the receiver.

Chris glanced up seeing his team crowded in his door way, and grimly smiled.

"Definitely know where Vin is. That was Doctor Alexander Barnes. He's taken care of Vin for the last several days and will update me Friday. Vin's at the Royal Ranch and hurt. We'll be going after him as soon as this bust is done."

"Is Vin alright?" Nathan asked.

"He was beaten, cracked ribs, skull fracture, concussion and memory loss. He's improving and remembering some things. Doc thought he was in a bar fight, and is on a prison release program."

"What? ... He's never been in a bar fight … Prison release program? … No way … Lord, that boy!"

"Okay guys. He is where we can get to him and we will, as soon as this damn bust is over. Get back to work," commanded Chris.

Chapter 10

Vin woke up with a start. For several minutes he lay still listening, his eyes closed. It was a motorcycle. But where was the other street sounds he wondered. Something was off. He opened his eyes and looked around. This was not the room he thought it should be.

Sitting up, he saw it was after 4PM and with a sigh he rose and moved to the window. Glancing to the left he spotted several motorcycles parked under the large shade tree at the end of the house. Gazing at the motorcycles he suddenly had a vision of him on one traveling down a highway following a large black Dodge pickup. They traveled along, then were pulling to a stop at a sprawling log and stone house. He saw himself helping the blond carry bags of groceries into the house. Horses in paddocks wandered around, there was a large barn and a large fenced field beyond the paddocks.

A covered deck extended from the back of the house with a large stainless steel barbeque near the sliding glass door leading into the kitchen. Lounge chairs and other comfortable chairs were scattered under the overhang and a large handmade wooden table sat near the grill.

Chris' ranch, his home, Vin thought. They had gathered there a couple times for dinner and to watch a ball game.

Vin blinked. He suddenly remembered a shabby, small apartment and entering the room extremely tired out and having to fight for his life when he was jumped by two men.

'Eli Joe, that's who it was,' Vin thought seeing the man in his head. 'He's here;' he thought as he gazed at the view from the window.

'Why am I here? I need to be somewhere else. Chris, need to help him an' the others. Do what? Something important. God I hate this! I need to remember.' Vin rubbed his head as he felt another headache coming upon him. He turned his thoughts to something else, and watched several loaded hay trucks arrive from the hay fields. Heat waves moved across what little he could see of the fields through the branches of the trees. He was glad he wasn't out there. Movement near the corrals drew his gaze and he watched several horses trot around one of the enclosures.

Two black horses crowded his mind with several other horses. A lake, tree lined with mountains rising beyond it. The seven horses grazing in knee high grass near the lake, men setting up tents then going fishing.

The figure in black was beside him as they looked out over the pristine lake. 'Chris' Vin muttered as the blond smiled at him.

A bell sounded and the vision disappeared. Vin glanced at the clock and was surprised that it was dinner time. He looked around, wondering when he'd sat down on the bed. Rising he grabbed his shirt and pulled it on as he took a look out the window again. There were more rigs parked in the parking area near the motorcycles, a few men were hurrying towards the house from the sheds below. Tucking in his shirttail he pulled on his boots then headed out the door. His stomach reminding him he hadn't eaten since breakfast.

Downstairs he joined the line of men getting their dinner. He was still surprised at the variety of food they could choose from. His stomach growled at the smells as he filled his plate and picked a salad. Placing his food on an empty table he went for his drink.

As he ate he watched for Eli Joe but never saw the man come in. When he finished eating, he disposed of his plate and headed for the clinic per Doc's orders. At the clinic he spent some time talking to the doctor and his wife, after Doc checked his head and ribs. He told them what more he'd remembered.

Doc didn't want Tanner to get his hopes up about someone coming to get him so he didn't tell him about his conversation with Chris Larabee, in case it didn't happen. He encouraged him not to push his thoughts, reminding him they would come when they would without giving him more headaches.

After checking the living room area for Eli Joe, Vin made his way to his room. The man seemed to have disappeared, and his friend Clark also.

The next morning Vin had just finished his breakfast, when he saw Jeff Royal walk into the dining room and pause, looking around. When the man headed his way he wondered what now.

"Tanner, you'll be working with the fencing crew. Collect your lunch and I'll take you to the foreman."

With a nod Vin rose, gathered his breakfast dishes and carried them to the end counter then picked up a lunch and four bottles of water before following Royal.

Leading the way, Jeff stopped at the laundry for a moment, he pointed at a table with various kinds of hats on it.

"You'll need a hat out there. Pick one, see if it fits then keep it."

Vin looked over the hats and picked one, it didn't fit so picked another, an older looking western slouch hat with a wide brim. Trying it on he found it fit his head perfectly and had long leather straps that prevented the hat from falling to the ground if it fell off.

With the hat in place Vin followed the tall man out the door to a two man four-wheeler with a cab-over. Jeff got in and started it as Vin slid into the passenger seat.

Several minutes later Jeff pulled to a stop at an open building in the trees behind the corrals. Five men were already there, sitting on the porch. A battered one-ton, four-door pickup sat beside the porch at one end. Vin saw metal and wooden fence posts, wire and other fencing tools needed for putting in a new wire fence in the truck bed.

"Yates, here's your new man," Jeff said as a tall square faced, muscular built man stepped out of the shed, a chainsaw in his hands.

"Ah, Tanner huh?" Yates said as he looked over the young longhaired newcomer.

 Looking up at the man, Vin wondered if he knew the man. "Yes, sir."

"You ever work on a fence?"

"Think so, guess we'll find out when we get started." Vin replied.

"That we will." Yates moved to the truck and placed the chainsaw in the bed then walked to Vin's side.

"Let's get you set up, we're leaving shortly," and entered the building not waiting for Vin to respond. Vin followed Yates inside not sure what was needed.

Vin halted inside the door seeing Yates take something off the wall. The man turned to him and he saw the leg shackles in his hands. A flash of anger raced through Vin when the man motioned for him to sit down on the only chair in there.

"You don't have to do that. I'm not going to run or anything. I'll work with the others without a problem," Vin said as he stood in place.

"Sorry Tanner, orders. New men on the crew always have to wear them. Prove to me how well you work today and maybe tomorrow we won't need them. For now, you will wear them so just accept it as your due."

Vin sat down, anger bubbling through him and watched as Yates knelt down. He then clamped the shackles around his ankles, over his boots, tight enough that there was no way he could remove his boots or the shackles.

"Put your name on your lunch and drinks and put them in the ice chest in the back of the truck. Here's a marker," Yates handed him the pen.

For a moment Vin paused, not sure what to put on the sack. Deciding, he put a large 'T' on it and his water bottles. Dragging the two-foot long chain between his ankles he walked out to the truck, his face turning colors as he passed the four men. A fifth man stood beside the truck and pointed over the side to an ice chest, a small smile on his face as he looked down at his own feet.

"Name's Dixon. Some of us here are in shackles too, don't feel like you're the only one today."

"Tanner," Vin shook the hand held out to him.

"We'll be leaving in a minute so might as well load up," Dixon told him as Vin placed his lunch in the chest . He noticed a large insulated water container, and thought it could be holding 10 gallons of water.

"Thanks," he said and climbed into the back seat of the truck. Dixon slid in beside him and moments later the other four men climbed in. Yates got behind the wheel and they were off.

Vin figured they traveled close to two miles along a narrow, roughly cut out trail alongside the new fence before the truck stopped.

Yates told the men what they were doing, though they already knew. Vin was working with Dixon, taking out old posts and putting in new ones. Two others took down old wire, while the last two strung the new. One man cut braces and trees out of the way when needed. Yates watched from where the truck was parked, giving them directions or advice and moving the truck ahead when they finished a section of the fence.

Wiping sweat from his face, Vin sat down under a tree with his lunch and two bottles of water. He was tired and one hand was trying to cramp. As he ate he looked back along the fence they'd put in. He was happy for the leather gloves that Yates had passed out when they started. Pulling out the old metal posts wasn't a problem, and some of the wooden ones they just pushed over or had them cut off at ground level. Pounding in the new metal posts went very fast, every fifteenth post was a wood one. He and Dixon took turns digging the hole for them and tamping it into the ground. Gazing along the fence line he figured they'd put in a good half mile of the 4-strand wire fence.

Vin wondered how many miles of fencing had to be replaced as he finished his lunch and relaxed against the tree for a short rest. He was happy that they were working mainly in the trees. The sun was very hot and though the breeze was hot too, the shade made it feel cooler.

Fifteen minutes later they were called back to work and Vin slipped his hat on his head, dropped his empties back into the chest and with Dixon beside him went to the next post.

The fencing crew reached a steep ravine with a creek in the bottom when Yates called it a day. He turned the truck around and waited as the men loaded tools and wire into the back. He was pleased, they had built over a mile of fence and it was good and tight. He would have to go around the ravine the next day so the men could build the fence down and across the creek. It would have to be good, as the creek usually filled to flooding during the snow melt off.

Yates was pleased at how well young Tanner worked. As he drove to the ranch, he glanced in the rearview mirror and saw Tanner somehow dozing on the bouncing truck seat. All the men were tired but none complained, and other than a few bruises and barbed wire scratches no one had been injured.

Back at the shop, Yates released Vin and Dixon from the shackles and watched as they helped unload the old posts. The men loaded new posts and wire, preparing for the next day. They would pick up the old wire when the job was done, the tight coils were hung on some posts along the new fence.

Once the truck was re-stocked, Yates let them load up and he drove up to the house, not wanting to walk that far himself. The men headed in to shower and eat.

Vin went directly to his room after eating. He was too tired to sit around. At least he didn't have to haul hay in the heat of the fields, with that sun pounding down on a hot truck. He had worked hard, but the shade and little breeze helped kept all of them cooler.

With a last look out the window he noticed that the motorcycles were once again parked under the big tree, he stripped and crawled into bed.

Hampered with the shackles between their ankles, Vin and Dixon had a difficult time working the ravine. Yates stayed above and called out directions to the crew as they worked the fence down one side, across the creek and up the other side.

It was almost noon by the time Vin clambered out of the ravine, glad to have that part of the fence done. His feet were wet as were the other men's. They all had worked together in the hole and had to cross the creek several times. The men were complaining as they made their way to the truck for a drink of water.

As he drank, Vin had a flashback of a similar scene of having helped work on a fence over a creek. The difference though it was through a stand of maple and aspen trees. Not various sized pine trees and sagebrush. Finishing his water he saw in his mind the blond, 'Chris' Vin thought as he discarded the bottle. A sudden vision had him grab onto the truck to keep from falling. Chris calling an all clear and him coming down from a rafter where he'd been with a sniper rifle.

"Great shooting Vin," Chris said.

"Good shot, Junior." Buck clapped him on his back.

"You're the best sharpshooter I ever saw!" JD's enthused words rang out.

As fast as it came the vision was gone and he was back beside the old truck. Dixon was standing beside him, an odd look on his face.

"Are you all right?"

"Yeah. I'm fine. Just a memory hit me," Vin answered as he straightened and let go of the pickup bed.

"Oh, you're the guy who's got no memory of who he is," Dixon stated. At the puzzled look on Vin's face, he continued. "Someone told us that a man was here who'd gotten into a fight and lost his memory. There were two new men this week. We didn't know who it was, the other guy has bruises like you do."

"Oh." Was all Vin could think to say as Yates called for the men to get back to work.

Later that afternoon Vin could hear water, and hoped they didn't have to work in it, his feet were still damp from the creek. A half hour later he could see a river through the brush that they were working their way through. 'Now what?' he thought as they slowly approached the river.

Yates called a halt when the workers reached the river. The clear water rippled over exposed rocks and the bottom could be seen. He knew they would cross it there; it wasn't very deep and he could easily drive across it. He'd have to check with Guy Royal as to what he wanted to do about the crossing. The cattle could easily end up out of the area if they didn't go straight across. He was pleased with his crew though, they were hours ahead of where he thought they'd be at this time. These six men worked well together, and he hoped to keep them all for now.

Tiredly the men loaded up their tools, then dragged themselves into the truck. Yates drove back to the headquarters area. Parking he unshackled the two men, and waited while things were unloaded and new supplies were loaded for the next day. Once everything was finished he drove them up to the main house.

After cleaning up, Vin headed downstairs to see the doctor. It was a bit early for dinner, the crew had finished earlier than expected, now he had some free time.

Katy smiled at him when he paused inside the clinic door, and Vin nodded at her.

"Come in Tanner. How are you feeling? Is your head all right?" Katy asked as he took a seat on the exam table.

"I'm fine Ms Katy. My headache has been minor."

"Your ribs?"

"Forgot 'bout them," he answered sheepishly.

"Well let me check, then you can go. It'll only take a few minutes."

True to her word, she checked him over and then stepped back and said, "Your ribs seem to be doing very well. The lump on your head is finally gone. Your bruises are getting better also, though you are still pretty colorful." She gently teased.

Vin smiled and nodded. "I am several colors that's for sure. But they don't hurt as much as before."

"Good. Another week and the pain should be totally gone. I'll let Doc know you stopped in today. Have you remembered anything more?"

"Yes, I remembered a few things. One thing … I think, I'm a sharpshooter for a team of men. Not sure but in a big city. I've helped build some fences too, but different country than this. Know with this Chris, a friend I think," he paused running a hand over his face.

"Don't push it Tanner. You've remembered a lot in a short amount of time. It will come on its own, don't force it. No sense giving yourself a migraine," Katy advised him again, trying to prevent him from having more headaches.

With a shy smile Vin agreed, "They hit at odd times."

Katy laughed, "Yes they do, sometimes at the worse time imaginable too. Now you go get your dinner, the bell just rang."

"Where is Doc?"

"He had a shift at the hospital, he gets off at seven. He also has to work there tomorrow. But if you need to see him …"

"No, no! I don't need to, just wondered."

"Well he'll be here all day Sunday and Monday, just in case."

"Thanks Ms Katy. I'll remember that." Vin followed Katy to the door and with a nod to her he headed down the hall to dinner.

That night Vin was plagued with dreams and an urgent feeling that he was badly needed. A gunfight and yells of pain, someone calling for help. He saw the men he had befriended shot down in front of him. Chris, bleeding from a large hole in his chest was being held in his arms, green eyes loosing focus as he said with bloody lips, "We needed you Vin, where are you? Can't find you … you were needed … before … this happened …" The blond head fell limply over his arm the green gaze dulled.

Vin cried out and woke in a panic, shaking and sweating. He had to get out of here he thought as his heart pounded in his chest. Tossing blankets back he rose and shakily paced the room. Chris and the others needed him, he had to leave. Dawn was breaking, he'd make plans while he worked he decided.

Chapter 11

Friday dawned overcast but hot. High clouds moved across the sun blocking its light, though not enough to cut back on the heat it generated over the countryside.

The fencing crew crossed the river. Yates advised them they'd work a half day on Saturday to fence across it. Work went quick after the lunch break as the wind came up, and everyone sighed in relief. Vin turned his face to the breeze and let it blow his damp hair off his wet shoulders. He had to stop several times to try to cool off, because of spots dancing in front of his face.

Dixon watched his partner pause again and realized that the heat was getting to the younger man. He let Tanner rest a few minutes as he went for some water. Yates, who was watching them, had been told what was happening. Knowing Tanner suffered from heat exhaustion earlier, he told Dixon they were far enough ahead that they could slow down. He didn't want to have to take anyone back to the headquarters before quitting time.

By the end of the day the crew had reached an open field and would be fencing along the tree line the next week. In the distance could be seen the highway that they were working towards.

Vin was exhausted when he climbed into the truck for the trip back to the house. He knew the heat had gotten to him today, and he was happy when the wind picked up. He thanked Dixon for letting him sit by the window and closed his eyes as the truck bounced over the trail. He caught some of the breeze blowing in from the open window.

Slipping into a light doze, dreams instantly rushed into his head and Vin was carried away. A flash of a tall building with the words, 'Denver Federal Building' on it. An older man with grey hair was talking to him and shaking his hand, 'Welcome to Team Seven, Vin Tanner, I hope you will enjoy being here.'

Vin's eyes snapped open with surprise as the truck hit a hole or rook hard, his dream was gone in a flash. Blinking he glanced around at the men around him.

Dixon smiled at him and kept talking to the man beside him. Vin shook his head, his full name was Vin Tanner. It washed over him and with a sigh of relief he turned his head and watched the passing view. He had his name back.

Still gazing out the window, Vin listened to the talk going on around him. His attention riveted on Yates when Jake, the man sitting next to the big man asked, "Are we fencing clear to the highway?"

"Yes, we'll follow it north a ways, before we turn and go back to fencing along the edge of the trees. We'll come back north of where we now are, cross the river and follow the edge of the hay field back to the headquarters."

"How many times do we have to cross that damn river?" Another man asked in disgust.

"Once more for sure after tomorrow morning. But it could be two more times. Depends on how much of the fencing needs to be replaced."

A man growled, "By the looks of what we've run across, all of it needs to be redone."

"Probably. The fence has to be done by October too, so you boys need to work faster."

Grumbling ensued before the men fell silent for the rest of the trip. Vin's thoughts went back to planning his escape from this place.

The truck stopped at the supply shed and they unloaded the old posts and then loaded supplies for the next day. Once again Vin and Dixon were released from the shackles before everyone loaded up for the trip to the house.

Vin noticed that the motorcycles were parked under the trees again and his plan fell into place. Now he had to figure out how to get out of his room before lockdown began.

Stopping long enough to pick up his clean clothes from the laundry, Vin went to his room and showered. As he dressed he looked out the window and tested it to see how far it opened. He found it was not enough even for his thin frame to slip through. Glancing back at the door he tried to think of another way out, and wondered how it was locked at night. Looking the door over there was no way for him to tell. It had a handle and some kind of deadbolt and no way to get to the bolt. He thought it was similar to a prison cell, he paused a moment, how did he know that?

Making his way along the hall to the stairs his gaze checked every door out as he passed. At the one marked 'Bathroom' he turned in, knowing it was used by several of the locked rooms that didn't have bathrooms in them. He smiled. The door was a swinging door with no handles or locks of any kind. There was an open shower area, several closed stalls, sinks and urinals. Pretending he needed the use of a stall he entered one and listened as the two men who were shaving, left.

If no one checked too close he could hide in a stall on top of the toilet, he thought. With a grin, Vin exited and followed a couple of men down to dinner. He would have to hide awhile in the bathroom, he figured could do that. He didn't think getting out from the first floor would be too difficult, but he'd have to wait until later in the night, when it was totally quiet.

After dinner Vin wandered through the downstairs. He checked escape routes and found himself by the clinic. The door was open so he walked in.

Katy smiled at him and motioned to a chair.

Vin sat down and grinned at the friendly woman.

"What's going on Tanner? Are you all right?"

"Yes ma'am, I'm fine. Just … Well, I had another memory flash today. I think my name is Vin Tanner. It feels right too."

"Oh that's wonderful! You have your name back," Katy exclaimed. "And it really fits you, Vin Tanner, a very nice name. I'm so happy that you remembered your full name Tanner, err Vin." She paused noticing that a blank look covered Tanner's face. She realized a memory had overtaken the young man.

Vin listened to the smiling woman. When she remarked on him remembering his full name, a vision overcame him. In a pristine white hospital room, a young woman with long wavy brown hair lay in a white bed. He sat beside her on the bed gripping her hand in his small ones as tears slid over his cheeks. In a hoarse voice she told him, 'Remember you're a Tanner, and you will always be. You're a Tanner.'

Pain washed over Vin as he remembered her, and being man-handled out of the room when all kinds of alarms had gone off. "Momma," slipped from his lips as he relived his last view of his mother from the arms of a large male nurse. Pale faced, her eyes slightly open but dull, her long hair spread out around her head, her hand that had held his, now limp and cooling, machines blaring out loud noises. He never saw her again. He'd been taken to a children's shelter not understanding what was going on. Always wondering why she didn't come for him. "Momma," was whispered again as an anguish look crossed Vin's face.

Katy watched as Tanner was lost in the memory. When the first 'momma' slipped out she held herself still, then the second one came and she saw the pain filled look on his face. Without thinking she gently took Vin's hands in hers and rubbed them.

Warmth came over Vin and he blinked as the memory dissolved. With a shudder he turned his face to Katy. Feeling the grip on his hands he glanced down then up. Her eyes were filled with concern for him.

"Sorry," he mumbled.

"It's all right. You had a memory, and I don't believe it was a good one," Katy patted his hands and released them.

"No ma'am, it wasn't. My Momma died when I was five years old and … Well, I ended up in a shelter. She was all I had."

"I am so sorry Vin… May I call you Vin?"

"Yes ma'am."

"It is always sad to lose your mother. I am sure she is proud at how you've grown up. Though I've only known you a short time, you seem to have done her proud."

"Thank you Katy, 'preciate your words. I've always tried to do as she told me." Vin said with a glanced around, wondering how he knew that, and with a shake of his head he stood up.

"I best let you go, I need to get going too," Vin said.

"I'll tell Doc, he'll be here shortly. I am really glad you are remembering things." Katy rose beside him.

Vin smiled at her, "Just wish it would make better sense."

"Oh it will. All of a sudden it will all drop into place. It takes a little time, but you are remembering things daily, which is very good. Don't push it and it will come."

"I won't push. Thanks for everything," Vin smiled and nodded to her as he left the room.

"Take care," Katy half whispered. She had a feeling something more than memories were up with the young man. She would discuss it with Doc when he arrived but right now a bad feeling was flowing through her.

Vin paused long enough in the dining room to pick up several bottles of water and some snacks. In his room he wrapped them in a shirt making a pack that was easy to handle. He'd seen saddlebags on several of the motorcycles and figured his few belongings would fit into one. Vin knew he had no ID or money, and no way to buy gas. He would have to fill it here before he left, at least he knew where the gas and diesel pumps were. He didn't think they were locked.

With a look around the room, Vin checked the time. Seeing it was barely past 7:30PM, he laid down to rest. Moments later he was asleep. A fast as he'd fallen asleep Vin woke and glanced at the clock. It read 10:05PM, which meant he had to get ready to move and quick.

In the dark he swiftly used the bathroom then picked up his bundle and opened the door a few inches. Watching a few men make their way to their assigned rooms, Vin waited as minutes ticked by. Finally the last man disappeared and Vin stepped into the hall just as the lights flashed in the hallway then dimmed. Moments later he heard doors lock.

Not knowing if someone was going to check the hall, Vin sprinted to the open bathroom and entered the last stall. The room was dimly lit with deep shadows everywhere. Leaving the stall door partly open Vin fit himself on the flat tank top with his feet resting on the toilet rim and settled in for a long wait.

A short time later he heard footsteps and held his breath. A flash of light lit the floor and moved under the stalls then over the doors. The light flicked off and the footsteps faded away moving down the long hall. With a sigh Vin took a deep breath as relief poured through him. One step was over, the next ones were to get safely out of the building without being seen, get the motorcycle gassed up and leave.

It wasn't comfortable sitting on the toilet tank and Vin was relieved when he decided it was probably late enough that he could leave. Climbing down he stretched and worked the kinks out of his back and legs. With a last stretch he picked up his bundle and went to the door. Easing it open he checked the hall then silently stepped out and made his way down the stairs. A quick glance down the main hallway revealed no lights. He knew Guy Royal's apartment was at the other end of the building, across from Doc and Katy's but he couldn't tell if there were lights on in the rooms. Glancing at the clock on the laundry's wall, he saw it was almost 2:30. He had to hurry; sunup was in four hours or less.

Easing the outer door open, Vin prayed that it wasn't hooked to some kind of alarm. Nothing happened and he closed the door and trotted across the parking area. Reaching the large shade trees he stopped by the motorcycle he'd previously picked out. With deft fingers he packed his bundle into the saddle bags then kicking up the kickstand he pushed it to the edge of the slight hill. Mounting he pushed off, balancing himself on it as it started rolling down the incline. He was glad he didn't have to push it all the way to the gas pumps.

The momentum carried him to the equipment sheds, where he had to get off and push the heavy bike the rest of the way. A bit later he stopped at the pumps and found there was no lock on them. In the dim half light from the floodlight on the nearest shed, he filled the tank.

Once again pushing the bike he headed for the barn and beyond it to the supply shed. He parked the bike around the corner of the shed and in the low light, from the night light in the building, he hotwired the bike. It started with a low roar and he quickly mounted and headed away, following the fencing trail, to the north, to where they'd seen the highway.

In the dark the river looked black and menacing as Vin stopped on the edge. Turning the front wheel this way and that to shine the headlight over the area, he checked to see where he was. Satisfied he was at the crossing they'd used earlier, he gunned the motor and crossed.

Wet feet didn't stop him on the other side and though the bike sputtered a few times it kept moving. The trail in the dark was taken slow, with just the headlight to light the way, it picked out the rocks, roots and other things that the truck had passed safely over.

Going so slow, it was almost an hour before Vin reached the area where they stopped working for the day. From that point Vin crossed the field and into the edge of the tree line that headed towards the highway. When the trees stopped Vin found himself above the river, with a steep drop into it. He stayed back from the edge and continued north, finding another dirt trail that went through another stand of trees and into another field.

Finally he went up a rise and across the fence saw the grey ribbon of the highway ahead of him.

"Damn," Vin said as he eyed the highway fence that disappeared into the darkness. He didn't have anything to cut the wire with and would have to follow along the fence until he found a place to get through. For a moment he looked at the highway and wondered which way to go. With a snort he turned to the right and gunned the motor, south was calling to him.

For almost two hours Vin followed the fence line, several times he got off and work his way around or through obstacles that the bike couldn't maneuver through or over. When he saw headlights on the highway he'd stop and turn his off until the vehicle passed. He finally dropped into a deep culvert and on the other side found the opening he needed. Working the bike through the opening he crossed over onto the highway.

With a whoop in the early dawn, Vin steered the bike onto the southbound pavement and picked up speed. He didn't know how far he needed to travel to get to Denver, and hoped he had enough gas to get there. But mainly now, he was free. Free of something he didn't really understand but, he wasn't a prisoner anymore. From what he was remembering, he'd never been in any kind of jail and the fight he was told about, wasn't in a bar either, it was an apartment that he saw. He belonged elsewhere, the pull was strong, he had to find the six men he saw in his mind and remembered.

The sky was getting brighter when he saw the city of Sheridan coming up. He watched for a sign for Denver or something heading south and when he saw it he exited, heading for Buffalo, the next large city south.

Between the two cities he stopped at the rest stop he came upon and used the facilities, and checked the map that hung on the wall between the two drinking fountains. Vin found where he was and carefully followed the highway with his finger to the next city, Casper. From there it was Cheyenne then south to Denver. He had a ways to go.

Mounting the motorcycle, he wished for a helmet. He hadn't seen any of bike riders wearing one and none were tied on any of the bikes. He felt uncomfortable without one. He had a feeling that he wore one as he kept reaching to adjust it only to find nothing but his hair. With a shrug he buttoned the last button of his jacket and started the bike, moments later he was heading towards Buffalo, joining the early morning traffic.

The sun rose in the sky, blindingly bright, with a promise of the hot day to follow, just before he reached the first Buffalo exit.

Vin squinted his eyed against the brightness and cursed not having a helmet as most had sun visors. He slowed with the traffic and watched for his turnoff to Casper and south. Once on the highway to Casper he breathed a small sigh of relief, though the sun was rising higher it was on his left and he could see the road better. He would have to stop somewhere when it got too hot to ride, he didn't want to chance getting heat exhaustion again.

South of Casper Vin looked for a rest stop or someplace he could pull over for a few hours. He was tired and his body ached from riding the motorcycle. He could feel a headache coming on also, and knew it could change into something worse if he didn't stop for awhile. The morning sun that beat down on him wasn't helping at all.

Vin spotted a sign for a national monument ahead and watched for the turn off. A short time later he slowed and turned at a small town. Making his way through the town he found the old fort along the Platte River and pulled into the parking area.

Glancing around, Vin saw a picnic area and drove slowly to it. Finding a table under some trees he pulled close to it and parked. Only one other table was being used, closer to the fort. Two children were playing in the river under the watchful eyes of their parents.

Vin stepped off the bike and stretched, it felt good to stand and move around. He walked around a little, enjoying the shade of the trees as he pulled off his jacket. At the edge of the river he knelt down and using his hands as a cup poured the cool water over his head and face. Shaking wet hair out of his face, Vin rose and walked back to the bike and opened the saddlebags. Soon he was drinking a bottle of water and eating some of the granola bars he'd brought.

As he ate his thoughts touched on what was going on at the ranch, knowing he'd be missed and wondered what they would do about it. He hoped the cops weren't looking for him yet. His thoughts turned to the bike and he prayed he had enough gas to make it to Denver. And get to wherever he needed to go when he arrived there he added. He knew some of the names of the men he remembered and wondered if he could contact them somehow. Another thought slipped in as he stretched out on the cool grass beside the motorcycle. He might remember phone numbers by the time he got down there, and then wondered how he could make the calls.

With that thought he dropped off to sleep.

Chapter 12

Chris Larabee looked over his tired team and shook his head. None of them were up to a nine or ten hour drive tonight he thought.

The bust finally went down late that afternoon. Following hectic days of planning, surveillance, meetings and computer work, Cornell, with JD's help, was able to nail down when Mendez would be at the warehouse. Mendez had been there, welcoming the guns and liquor delivery. For once the FBI came through and everything went down like clockwork.

JD managed to hack into Mendez's computer on Wednesday afternoon and copied emails that Mendez sent to several buyers stating their time to pick up the merchandise. Thanks to JD's computer skills, other teams were able to apprehend men who JD located, and they never make it to the warehouse. Chris didn't want to ask the younger man about how he'd done that.

They needed to get their sharpshooter back, now. All of them felt naked going into the warehouse without Vin watching over them, their own angel in the sky. Team Five's shooter was on watch, but it didn't feel right to any of them. Vin, only with them a month, but the six men trusted him totally.

Chris was thankful Travis had held the FBI off hunting for Vin. The local department was drastically understaffed, their workload overpowering them. Kidnapping fell under their jurisdiction but they would have to call in reinforcements from out of state. Travis convinced them that Team Seven would be able to handle this situation. Chris felt lighter when he learned that his team were officially in the hunt for Vin, not that they wouldn't have looked for Tanner anyway.

"Okay guys, go home, get a good meal, and sleep. We meet here at six and we'll go get our sharpshooter," Chris said to his weary team.

"Mr. Larabee, why don't we leave now? We could be in that town by that time." Ezra yawned and looked down embarrassed at his behavior.

"We are all worn out. We wouldn't make it to Cheyenne without some sleep or rest. We're all too tired to drive very far. So go home where you're comfortable. Get a good six hours of sleep and we'll be able to take on this Royal guy. Now go." Chris ordered and watched as Ezra brushed off his jacket, rose and headed for the door followed by Josiah and Nathan. Buck paused and looked at Chris, one eyebrow raised.

"Yeah, I'll crash on your couch if you don't have other company," Chris grinned at his oldest friend.

"Just JD and he's got his own room. Let's go," Buck clapped Chris on the back.

Ten minutes later Buck unlocked the door to his and JD's loft condo and led the way inside.

"Anyone want anything?" Buck asked.

"Sleep," JD muttered as he headed for his room.

"No, too tired to drink or eat," Chris replied as he pulled off his duster and toed off his boots then headed for the couch.

"Hold on a minute, I'll get you a blanket and pillow." Buck said as he moved to the closet near the bottom of the stairs.

Within minutes Chris had spread out the blanket and plopped down on the couch, pillow tucked under his head. "See you later," he told Buck who was heading up the stairs to his room. Minutes later silence fell over the apartment.

Six men gathered in the Federal Building parking lot before 6AM the next morning. All were armed and ready to go. Buck and JD rode with Chris in his black Ram. Ezra and Nathan, who had brought his first aid emergency bag, climbed into Josiah's Suburban. Besides the emergency bag each carried his preferred weapon under light jackets. With radios they headed out, beating the early morning traffic.

They were past Fort Collins when Chris' cell phone rang. Chris pulled it out and gave it to Buck who was sitting in the passenger seat.

"Larabee's phone, this is Buck talkin'," Buck answered with a grin at Chris.

"Is Agent Larabee available?" A distant voice asked.

"He's right here but driving. Can I help you?"

"Oh .. This is Doctor Barnes at the Royal Ranch. This is important."

"Hold on Doc, let me see if I can put this on speaker," Buck looked at Chris to see if he could.

"Doesn't always work, push that button to try. Find out what's up."

Buck turned on the radio and handed it to JD in the back seat. JD turned and waved it at Josiah who was following right behind them. Ezra, in the passenger seat, waved back with their radio and they heard the crackle of it coming on.

"Go ahead Doc, what's going on?" Buck asked.

"Tanner, err your Vin, took a motorcycle early this morning and left. There's at least eight men going north and eight south hunting for him on the highways. Royal had the dogs out and they trailed him to the freeway. They think he's headed south but are not sure so sent men both ways." Buck relayed the doctor's words to the others then asked.

"Any idea what time he left?"

"No, but my personal guess would be sometime between 2 and 3AM. That's when it's the quietest. Not sure how he got out of his room, they are locked at 10:30PM. I think he was out of the room before lockdown."

"Yeah, he would have figured it out," Buck replied.

"He's on a Harley. No helmet and I feel he's heading south. He remembered his name yesterday and about his mother. Also that he's from Denver. I'm not sure of the hunters, they are after him and … Well I hope he can stay ahead of them and not get caught. He doesn't belong here."

"Thanks Doc. We'll keep an eye out for him. We're on the highway heading north, we'll be looking for him and we will watch his back."

"Good. I have to get back. I think everyone is being watched closely today, I can only get so many things out of my car," Doc chuckled.

"Thanks again Doc for taking such good care of him. We'll talk to you later."

"Take care of Tanner, my wife and I like that young man."

"We will Doc."

The line went dead and Buck looked at Chris who glanced at him then back to the road.

"Now what?" JD asked.

"Looks like we watch for a motorcyclist being chased by a bunch of others."

"Buck you are so …"

"It's about the only thing we can do right now," Chris cut in, hands gripping the steering wheel tightly.

The radio crackled to life and they heard Ezra's voice, "Mr. Tanner could be anywhere on this highway. We have no idea how long he's been traveling. The only thing we can do is watch for him in the other lanes."

"Yes, that's all we can do," Chris stated.

"I would think he's still pretty far north. Maybe by Sheridan or a little south of there, depending on what time he hit the highway," Buck added.

"We are assured Mr. Tanner doesn't have any money, and we have his ID."

"When we get farther north we'll have to keep an eye out for him," Chris replied.

"We will for sure Mr. Larabee," Ezra's voice assured them as the radio was shut off.

"Buck, get the map out and see if there are any other roads coming south that Vin might be on. I don't think he would take a secondary road unless he's forced to." Chris stated, noticing that Buck was already reaching for the maps on the console between them.

'We're coming Vin, hang on,' Chris thought as he maneuvered around some slow moving traffic.

+ + + + + + +
~

Vin woke with a jerk and was on his feet before he realized where he was. Two teenage boys stood beside the motorcycle for an instant longer, then turned and raced across the parking lot and disappeared into the line of trees.

Glancing around, Vin spotted a water faucet near the next picnic table. After making sure there had been no damage done to the bike and seeing there was no one else around, Vin made his way to the faucet and turned it on. Ducking his head under the stream of water he let the coolness flow over his warm head and face, rubbing the sleep from his face. Drinking, he then straightened, wrung his hair out and went back to the bike.

Pulling on his jacket he buttoned it and then started the bike and rolled out of the parking lot. Minutes

later he was on the highway headed south again. Judging from the sun he thought he'd slept close to an hour and a half. He was still tired but not as worn out as he had been. Glancing over his shoulder he looked over the traffic hoping he wasn't being followed.

He kept to the speed limit when he was in traffic but once it thinned out to a few vehicles he sped up, the urge to get to Denver pushing him along.

He was 60 miles from Cheyenne when he got a feeling that someone was behind him. Vin glanced over his shoulder and saw the few cars he'd passed and some motorcycles catching up to them.

Looking forward, Vin tried to figure out if the bikers were after him or just out for a sunny ride. His gaze swung ahead as he looked for a side road or an exit where he could get off the highway and onto another road going south. For miles the land stretched out flat with some patches of brush. He'd dropped down a slight hill into this vast openness.

A quick glance behind him, Vin saw the bikes getting closer as they passed the slower cars. There were six motorcycles coming on, and he thought the white pickup behind them was with them. He again looked over the countryside for a place to go. Flat land for miles was flying by and he pushed the gas harder. Far to his left he could make out low hills, but there was no exit within what he could see. Narrowing his eyes he looked to the right and made out something that looked like a fold in the land a mile or so away. The highway curved a little to the west and then south as it crossed a ravine and he knew it was the only chance he had of getting away from his followers.

At 75 mph the crossing came up quick, and at the end of the bridge Vin pulled over onto the edge of the road. Brakes threatening to lock up he glimpsed a trail heading west across the flat expanse and no fence to get through. Gunning the motor he flew off the highway and onto the dirt trail. Hearing the screeching of brakes behind him he poured more power to the big bike and shot off, a dust rooster tail forming behind him.

+ + + + + + +
~

The black Ram pickup was doing 85 mph, followed closely by the dark Suburban. JD, in the back seat of the truck, was watching the oncoming traffic through a pair of powerful binoculars as he braced himself between the front seats. Suddenly he stiffened.

"I think I see a motorcycle coming," he exclaimed.

Buck lifted the binoculars he was holding and aimed them at the other lane of traffic. "There's more behind that single one," he said.

JD watched the motorcycle, trying to see the rider. They were almost a mile from the oncoming biker.

"He's got no helmet, long hair."

"Has to be Vin," Chirs stated seeing the dark dots in the other lane.

"It's Vin! He just looked back at the others. I saw his face. He's looking forward again."

"Buck, is there a turn through or exit to get to the other lane?" Chris asked.

Buck turned his glasses onto the median strip between them and the southbound lanes. After a moment

he replied, "Nothing coming up other than a bridge across something. But it's pretty flat and no fences, we should be able to get across and in behind Vin and the others."

"He's turning. He slowed down this side of that bridge and … there he goes. Vin's heading away from us. The bikes are stopping; no there they go, turning after him, a big white pickup too."

Chris could see the bike and truck ahead of them turning, at 85 mph he was only a minute from them.

"Warn Josiah we're turning …"

"Best slow down some stud, or we'll be wiped out …" Buck said as Chris flipped on his blinker.

With a scowl Chris took his foot off the gas pedal. He glimpsed Josiah's Suburban slowing behind him, blinker on. Down shifting Chris braked and moments later turned into the median. The rough expanse and speed bounced the three men around. JD yelped as he was thrown back then sideways. Then they were on the other lane of the highway and before JD could get his seat belt on, across it and onto the trail Vin and the others had taken.

For a moment Chris fought the wheel as the big Dodge hit the hard trail and wanted to spin out. With a controlled effort Chris slowed a bit more as he followed the dust trail ahead of them.

With a sigh of relief, JD quickly belted himself in and looked through the glasses again. In frustration he turned away from the dust ahead of them, he couldn't see anything through the dirt being thrown up. Looking through the powerful binoculars he studied the countryside on each side of the dust hoping to figure out where Vin was heading.

Buck glanced behind them and saw Josiah's rig hit the dirt several yards to their left, out of the dust cloud they were making. A grim smile crossed his face as the powerful Dodge picked up speed again. It wouldn't be long before they caught up with whoever was ahead of them, Buck thought.

+ + + + + + +
~~

Vin spared a second to look back over his shoulder as he sped along the trail that widened to a car's width. He scanned ahead hoping to find a way to lose his pursuers, but the land stayed flat. His keen eyes picked up the glint of sun reflecting off houses in the far distance, he figured they were close to three miles or more away.

All of a sudden a noise made him duck and swerve a little. Vin felt anger wash through him, realizing it had been a gunshot. He couldn't see anything but dust behind him and knew his followers couldn't see him any better. Not sure if they were trying to get him to stop or what, which he wasn't about to do, he sped up.

Going 60 mph Vin tore along the wide trail, easing the bike back and forth across the ruts as another shot rang out.

"Damn idiot, that's not going to stop me. Gonna' havta' do better." Vin gritted out as he gave the bike a little more gas. He scanned the countryside again wishing for a paved road or something that would help him get away from the men behind him. He noticed that the trail was beginning to curve to the south and he hoped it would connect with the highway.

As the trail kept curving, Vin glanced back in hope that the bikers behind didn't notice. His heart sank

when two bikes came out of the dust to his right, 100 feet from him. Looking in the other direction he saw two more on his left.

With a curse Vin leaned farther down over the handlebars and gave it more gas. He didn't want them to get in front of him, to cut him off or turn him back to the following men.

Vin shot ahead of the bikers again and prayed he could stay there. The land was still fairly flat, grass and weeds covered the ground in various heights with sagebrush scattered throughout. The trail was still mostly dirt with rocks and gravel scattered here and there in places along it. He wasn't any closer to the houses and was glad, with the bikers shooting at him he knew the bullets couldn't reach that far.

Another gunshot sounded and Vin gasped as a sharp burn creased his left leg. Glancing to the left he saw the other bikers fanned out behind and almost paralle with him. One of the men brandished a revolver.

"Shit!" Vin exclaimed as he again gave his bike more gas. His thigh throbbed and he ignored it as the cycle hit 75 mph. He knew he couldn't keep this speed up on this kind of road. It was too dangerous, but for a few moments he was ahead of the bikes flanking him.

Several different things all of a sudden happened at once.

Vin was watching ahead when he noticed a dip coming up. He started to brake. But wasn't fast enough when he saw the drop off. With a wrench he laid the bike down. Hoping to stop before going over the edge.

He heard a scream then crash. Vin's wild gaze glanced up for a moment A large dust covered black truck almost slam into a biker, forcing him into the one next to him. Then he and the bike dropped over into the ravine.

"Chris!" Vin screamed as he slid over the lip of the ravine. Turning loose of the heavy bike's handlebar, he reached for anything that he could grab to stop his fall. Only dirt and rocks filled his hands, then larger ones as he dropped closer to the bottom.

He heard the motorcycle crash below him but he couldn't slow his momentum fast enough. Moments later he landed partially on the hot cycle and partially on the rocky ground. His head hit some rocks and blackness closed in on him.

+ + + + + + +
~~

Chris saw the two bikes streak out of the dust to the right of Vin's dust cloud. They'd heard the sharp cracks, knowing they were gunshots, but couldn't see what was happening.

Narrowing his eyes, Chris growled, "Hang on," to his passengers and turned off the track going after the two bikers. Buck let Josiah know as they flew across the ground.

Moments later they were behind the bikers and then alongside. The closest rider looked at them in shock then yelled as the Dodge swung towards him. He turned sharply and crashed into the man beside him and they both went down.

"Chris!" JD yelled as he saw Vin go over the edge of something and disappear.

Another cry of 'Chris' rang in Chris' head as he slid the truck into a turn and stopped by the spot where Vin and the motorcycle had disappeared.

Chapter 13

The black Dodge Ram was still rocking when Chris, Buck and JD jumped out. Guns in hand they aimed at the oncoming motorcycles and the white truck that pulled to a stop in a swirl of dust 50 feet from them. Two of the bike riders had guns pointed at them.

A dark Suburban pulled to a stop behind the white truck and three more men stepped from it and spread into a half circle behind the truck and bike riders.

"ATF. Drop your weapons and leave or we'll take you in." Buck called from the other side of the Ram.

Two men got out of the white truck, hands held away from their bodies to show they weren't armed, and moved up alongside the motorcycles. At a word from one man, the two armed men put their weapons away.

One of the men stepped forward, his hands rising into the air. "Sorry you got into this. We are after an escaped prisoner from our work camp. He stole a motorcycle and took off last night. We're here to take him back."

"So you shot at him?" Chris growled, his glare and the revolver pointing at the man's head freezing him in place. The look on Chris' face daring the man to take another step.

"Where's the official document to verify what you gentlemen are doing?" Ezra asked from the left.

The men exchanged glances and the speaker said, "Well we left in such a hurry our boss forgot to give it to us. But that is Tanner. He's on prison release and suppose to be working it off at the Royal Ranch. We have orders to bring him back no matter what. He still has time to serve."

"He's ours first. We'll get this straightened out and let you know. Now pick up your men and get the hell out of here," growled Chris.

Glancing around, the man saw two of his men walking towards them from where their motorcycles had crashed together and now were beyond riding.

"All right. You've got the firepower, we don't. But you better get Tanner back to where he belongs and fast."

"He's where he belongs. With us," JD yelled at them, unable to hold back any longer. He was about to add more but shut up seeing the look Buck shot at him.

Finally the man turned away, "Come on boys, let's get out of here." The bikers started their cycles and followed the truck over to where the crashed bikes were. The ATF team watched them closely as they loaded the two bikes into the back of the truck before heading away.

"Nathan …"

"Already on it Chris," came the reply from Nathan, who had jogged over from where the suburban sat. He was already working his way down into the ravine, medical supply bag hooked over his shoulder.

Remembering a rope under the Ram's back seat, Buck stepped around JD and reached in for it. Moving

to where he could see Nathan working his way down the side of the ravine, Buck shook his head seeing Vin motionless below and hoped he would be all right.

"JD, see if you can find another way down," Chris ordered as Josiah and Ezra watched the hunters leave then quickly got into Josiah's rig and joined them at the edge of the ravine.

When the dust in the area settled they could see a trail of dust moving steadily back towards the highway. Chris holstered his gun and hurried to the edge and looked over.

Nathan had made it safely down and was kneeling beside Vin, tender hands moving carefully over the still form.

"Nathan?"

"Just a minute Chris," the handsome black man said.

Buck tied the rope off to the hook on the underside of the Ram and was making his way down to help their medic.

Ezra headed in the other direction, along the top of the ravine checking as JD did, for a way down into it.

Chris and Josiah, keeping an eye on the dust cloud, watched from above as Buck helped Nathan move Vin from his position over the motorcycle. Once settled beside it on a strip of sand, Nathan pulled his pack over and rummaged through it, pulling bandages and other items out. Buck smiled and stood up, his gaze rising to the men above.

"He'll be OK. Couple of broken ribs and a knock on his head. Some cuts and bruises and a graze on his thigh," Buck paused a moment listening to Nathan. With a shake of his head he looked up again.

"Nate says he might have injured his hip in the fall, he needs to see a doctor to have it checked. Need to get him up there."

"We're working on that," Chris called back and looked around for JD and Ezra.

Unable to see the two agents, Chris redirected his gaze to the three below. He saw a sudden movement from the man on the ground when a blue sleeved arm moved at Nathan, hand reaching for his throat. Nathan grabbed the hand easily and started speaking to Vin.

Chris was too far away to hear what Nathan was saying but saw the blue clad arm drop limply to the ground and Vin's head nod. A loud whistle caught Chris' attention, and he turned towards it, noticing that Josiah had moved to his Suburban and was gathering blankets.

Ezra appeared and Chris went to meet him.

"Found a way down. It'll have to be your truck Mr. Larabee."

Josiah placed the blankets in the truck and untied the rope from the front of it.

Chris yelled down to Buck, "We're coming," before getting into his truck with Ezra. "Get JD back Josiah," he ordered as he turned the key.

Chris didn't hear the "Already on it," from Josiah who already had turned and moved to his vehicle, as Chris turned his truck around and set off. In his Suburban Josiah drove in the direction JD had gone, sure the young man was already coming back.

Ezra pointed Chris to where a rough road dropped into the ravine hugging the steep side. With no hesitation Chris put the truck into low fourth gear and crept down the road. Ezra held on wondering if they'd make it back up the steep slope. Both men seemed to hold their breath as the truck rocked and bumped its way over rocks and washes down into the ravine.

At the bottom, both men let out a sigh of relief. Chris maneuvered over the rocks and brush that littered the ravine bed, heading to where Vin, Buck and Nathan were. Several minutes later he stopped beside the wrecked motorcycle. Chris was out the door and to Vin's side before Ezra could step down from the passenger side.

Chris knelt next to Vin, his green eyes gaze traveled over the young man, his heart thundered with joy at finding him alive. He saw fading bruises on Vin's face, however the blue eyes were open and their gazes locked.

"Chris, I'm okay," Vin said with a pain-filled smile.

"Yes, I can see that. We'll get you checked out and head home."

"No. I want to find out why I ended up in that place. A prisoner." Vin replied as he was helped to his feet. Hissing in pain he wrapped his arm around his ribs.

"After you've been to the ER and are okayed to leave. No arguing."

"I'm fine …" Vin rasped then grabbed his head as he dropped to his knees.

Chris and Buck grabbed Vin before he could hit the ground. Gently they held him up as he moaned in pain.

"Get him in the truck," Nathan ordered as Buck bent and lifted Vin, cradling him in his arms as if he were a child. Walking to the truck he placed Vin on the back seat when Ezra opened the door. Making sure Vin was seated he stepped away.

Nathan tossed his medical bag into the truck as Chris opened the other door and climbed in beside the injured man.

"What's wrong Vin?" Nathan asked after climbing in on the other side of him.

"Head … Rush … I remember … everything … Damn that hurts …" Vin leaned back against the warm body that half supported his back.

"Chris, I remember everything now. Eli Joe and another guy were in my apartment. Had a fight, woke up in a strange place. Doc and Katy helped me. I was chained in a truck I had ta' drive, then shackled when I had to work on fences. Felt I didn't belong there an' only Doc and Katy believed me. They're the only ones I trusted."

Nathan felt Vin's head and his nimble fingers found a small lump and stitches. Vin hissed when he touched it.

"Sorry Vin. Looks like it's almost healed. You had a concussion didn't you?"

"Yep. Big lump, it's almost gone. I started to 'member things the other day."

"I believe you have a slight concussion from this accident. Let's get you to a hospital so they can check and make sure there isn't anything I'm missing. We don't want you to have a relapse or something," Nathan told him, concern in his voice, and hoping Vin would go without a fight. "Need to get those ribs and hip checked too, so you can get back to work, with us." Nathan grinned as he said that.

"Guess so. M' ribs 'n hip do hurt some."

Nathan nodded to Chris who steadied Vin as they settled him more comfortably on the seat. Buck took Chris' place beside Vin. Nathan stepped into the other side, sandwiching the ex-bounty hunter between them. Their larger bodies would hold the slight one in place so he wouldn't be bounced all over the truck for the trip to the highway.

Ezra went through the saddlebags on the downed motorcycle and found Vin's shirt, a couple bottles of water and a few snacks. He climbed in the passenger seat and held them until they got to the top of the ravine.

Chris turned the truck around and headed back to the trail they'd come down on. Buck and Nathan glanced at each other when they saw the 'road' they were going to use to get out of the ravine. They locked their seatbelts around themselves and without Vin noticing, placed their hands in a way they could hold him in place if it was needed.

With a quick glance at Ezra, Chris started up the narrow road, keeping as close to the bank as he could without tearing off his folded in mirror. Ezra kept his eyes forward, not wanting to see how close they were to the edge of the 'road'. With a last spurt of gas they reached the top and eased up onto the flat. Josiah, with JD, stood beside his suburban, not far from where the Ram came out of the ravine. Chris stopped beside them for a minute. Ezra got out and Nathan moved into the front seat.

In minutes the Dodge was headed for the highway almost two miles away with the suburban following them as close as possible through the dust.

Vin shivered and felt Buck pull the blanket around him tighter. "Thanks Bucklin," he said as he snuggled into the warmth. He felt safe for the first time in a week and was glad that the fuzziness of his thoughts was finally easing. More things were awaking in his head, it seemed like a kaleidoscope of people and places.

Shaking his head in frustration, Vin's gaze and thoughts turned to Chris who was watching the dirt road as he drove along it. 'He came for me, they all did,' he thought.

Chris felt the gaze and glanced back at Vin in the rearview mirror, his green eyes met the bright blue ones and he nodded to him. He could read the look as easy as if Vin was talking to him. With a smirk he thought, **We'd have been here sooner for you, sorry, the bust interfered.**

Vin blinked in surprise as words came to him. He saw the smile on Chris' face as he turned back to his driving. **What in the world?**' ran through his head as he relaxed more into the seat as his memories settled into a headache. Vin thought his memories had all returned to him. He remembered his childhood, joining the Rangers, to working as a Marshal then as a bounty hunter, finally joining the ATF, and up to now. He relaxed more and his eyes slid closed, he was where he was supposed to be.

By the time they hit the highway Vin was sound asleep, wrapped in the blanket. His head rested on a jacket Buck had stuck against his shoulder for Vin to rest on. In that position Vin wouldn't hurt his ribs any more. Buck smiled at Chris when he glanced at him in the rear-view mirror.

"He's sound asleep. Think Junior's pretty tuckered out."

"Being on the run most of the night and morning, I'd think so," Chris grinned. "We'll be in Cheyenne in a little while, let him sleep."

An hour later they were parked in the Cheyenne Community Hospital emergency parking lot. Vin limped slowly towards the glass doors with Chris on one side of him and Nathan on the other. The following four men formed a loose half circle behind them.

Vin was lucky, the emergency room wasn't very busy, and within fifteen minutes he was taken into a cubicle to be checked out. Nathan went with him.

Hours later, an exhausted Vin Tanner limped out of the ER once again. Surrounded by his friends.

A Doctor Maxwell had, as Vin told his friends, 'put him through the ringer, with X-rays, CT scan and a total check up.' He did have a mild concussion and two broken ribs. His hip had been wrenched but nothing was out of place or broken, just a large bruise that Nathan needed to keep an eye on. The graze on his thigh was cleaned and bandaged. A prescription for pain pills had been filled, with instructions to use them when pain got too bad. He would be stiff and sore from the fall and the graze on his thigh, and the uncountable bruises.

Outside the building the men paused. Knowing that everyone was tired, Chris decided they would spend the night and tomorrow would continue.

"Mr. Larabee, I'm sure this city has a 4-star hotel downtown that we perhaps could make use of," Ezra said as they walked towards their parked vehicles.

"I saw a sign for a Best Western when we turned off the highway. That is plenty good for one night," Chris growled as he unlocked his truck.

They all heard the sigh that came from Ezra and chuckles and laughter rang out.

Buck slapped the smaller man on the shoulder. "It's OK Ez, just because they don't have room service and all that fancy fluff stuff, it's still clean and mostly comfortable."

"Inferior accommodations, rooms, and food," Ezra grumbled as he got into the suburban.

"I saw the sign Chris. We'll meet you there and see about getting several rooms." Josiah said as he opened the driver's door, seeing JD slide into the backseat.

"Try to get four rooms. Ezra can have one alone," Chris instructed as Vin slowly climbed into the passenger seat of the Dodge. Nathan close behind him in case he required help.

Josiah waved and left. As soon as Vin was settled, Buck and Nathan got into the back seat. Chris slid under the wheel and a minute later they were heading out of the parking lot a ways behind the suburban.

An hour later, rooms had been acquired and Vin was asleep in the second bed in the room he and Chris were sharing. He'd taken a pain pill as soon as they entered the room.

There was a restaurant next to the motel and the team decided to meet there at 6PM for dinner. Chris didn't want to wake Vin, but figured the younger man hadn't eaten much of anything that day other than a few snacks.

At 5:45PM Chris gently shook Vin's leg, not sure how he'd wake up. He wasn't prepared for what Vin did.

Vin felt the hand on his leg and flashes of his time in the Rangers as a sniper snapped through his head. He had to wake up and go - now! Ignoring the pain that shot through him, he leaped from the bed and was frantically reaching for his rifle, knowing it should be close to him.

"Vin, it's OK." A voice cut through the haziness. Freezing in place, Vin looked around the room, heart pounding. His blue gaze flashed around taking in the furniture then landed on the blond dressed in black, standing several feet away from him.

Straightening slowly Vin asked, "Chris?"

"You alright?"

Sheepishly Vin glanced down then up. "'m OK now. Sorry. Used to be woken like that when in the Rangers. Thought … I'm fine. What's wrong?"

"Dinner time thought you'd be hungry."

"I am," Vin grinned and sat down on his bed, reaching for his boots. As he worked them on he glanced at Chris.

"Why'd y'all come for me? I … I.."

Chris' hand squeezed Vin's bony shoulder a moment before he stepped away. "You are one of us, our team. You were taken violently. No one kidnaps anyone from my team, no matter what or who they are. We would be looking for them and whoever did it, we'd get our man back. And whoever did it, well they'd pay." Chris paused as Vin stood up and looked him in the eyes. Chris blinked as once again he felt the connection to the long-haired sharpshooter, that he'd known him forever. That Vin knew everything about him down to his deepest thoughts and life.

Vin gazed into the green eyes and felt his heart tighten, his thoughts similar to Chris'. That the blond knew everything about him from the day he was born.

Without conscious thought Vin's hand came up as Chris' moved and in an instant their hands clasped the other's forearm in a warrior's grip. Both men felt the electricity of knowledge of the other flow through them. They grinned at each other before releasing the arm grip.

"Let's go eat," Chris stated as he handed Vin his jacket.

The two men met the others in the lobby of the motel and together made their way to the restaurant, their steps matching the deliberate gait of Vin's as his limp slowed him down.

Vin couldn't believe the extent they'd gone through to find out who had taken him, and how they'd figured out where he'd ended up. When Chris told him that a doctor Alex Barnes had called him, Vin smiled and told his friends about the couple.

How nice and helpful Doc and Katy were to him and everything they did for him. He wanted to thank them personally. "When'er we going back there?" Vin asked.

"We'll head out in the morning. You need to rest and we need some too," Nathan answered.

"Was a long week, Mr. Tanner," Ezra added.

Grinning, Vin nodded. "It sure was. I know I don't like hauling hay or building fences in the heat with shackles on. 'least I got fed good food." With a pause, Vin looked from one man to the other. "I'm really glad y'all came lookin' for me. Don't know what those men chasin' after me would've done. I wasn't about to go back to that ranch."

Chapter 14

Buck, sitting next to Vin at the table, reached over and threw his arms around the smaller man's shoulders and squeezed them gently.

"Junior, you're one of us and we take care of our own, no matter what. You know the old saying in the service, 'Leave No Man behind,' well we leave no teammate behind or lost or whatever. Besides, we all like you, you're the only one who can keep 'ole Larabee in line anymore." Buck released the blushing man an instant later and leaned away from him, seeing the blonds' hand coming towards his head. He smiled around Vin at Chris as Chris leaned back in his chair.

"Are we done here? I think Vin needs to lay down again," Nathan's calm voice cut through the laughter.

"Let's go," Josiah said as he stood up. Even though they had been on the road five hours, it had been intense, and a relaxing shower and good night's sleep sounded good to him.

The men paid their bill, Ezra paying Vin's portion as he didn't have his wallet. Plans were made to meet at 6AM for breakfast as they walked to the motel. They would head north after that. Josiah wouldn't think of some of them heading home. They all wanted to, not only see where Vin had been for the week, but to be there as backup for him when he confronted the men who held him prisoner for a week.

A knock on the room door early the next morning had Vin hobbling to answer it. Vin knew Chris just got out of the shower. Opening the door, Vin grinned at Buck, who stood there with the morning newspaper in his hand and a sack.

"Mornin' Bucklin, what's up?"

"Hey Vin, thought you'd like a decent pair of pants, since the ones you have are a little worse for wear." Buck stepped past Vin into the room then turned to look at Vin.

Closing the door Vin looked down at his jeans. He'd forgotten that the bullet graze on his leg had cut through his pants. Blood was stiff around the hole and caked to his knee. Another hole exposed his right knee, torn in the fall. They were also dirty, not only from the long bike ride but the dusty road he'd cut off on.

"Guess I could use a decent pair of jeans. Got a shirt, but nothing else."

"Did they make you wear your same clothes all the time?" Buck sounded surprised.

"No. Clothes were provided for us, but I wasn't takin' anything that weren't mine. The water and snacks," Vin shrugged. "Figured they owed me."

"Sounds like you worked for those. Here, I hope they're close to the right size. You're a bit taller and skinnier than JD, well, try them. Hope they fit." Buck handed the jeans to Vin, who already had set to work to take off the old ones.

Chris walked out of the bathroom, freshly showered and shaved, in time to see Vin step into the new jeans and pull them up. His gaze met Buck's. They both seen the bruising on Vin's legs, and one huge one that covered his left hip. Chris shook his head at Buck who started to say something.

"Thanks Buck, 'preciate you getting these for me," Vin said as he buttoned the fly.

"Least I could do Junior. Just a Wal-Mart special. Was way too awake last night to sleep and that store was just a couple of blocks away. Glad they fit," Buck smiled widely. "We'll see you boys in a few minutes," he said as he waved and moved to the door.

As Chris finished dressing, Buck left to make sure JD was ready. It was almost 6Am and time to meet the others. With a last glance at Vin, who was sitting down and gingerly pulling on his boots, he silently closed the door behind him. The jeans were a little big in the leg, he could see the outline of the bandage under them. There was enough room so it wouldn't be pressing on the wound or Vin's bruised hip.

A short time later the seven men met in the motel lobby, paid their bill and walked across to the restaurant. After a filling breakfast, they loaded up and headed north. They all wanted to confront this Royal guy. Travel distance to the Royal ranch was over 300 miles. It was closer to go home, but they wanted answers.

In the passenger seat next to Chris, Vin slept off and on during the trip north. Buck and JD were in the backseat. Buck kept his promise to Nathan to make sure Vin took his meds and drank water. Between them an ice chest rested on the floor with the water bottles tucked into ice. A sack on top of it held a variety of snacks. JD had insisted they needed them for the trip. Buck buckled when he saw the look on Vin's face, he couldn't resist the sad blue eyes that had been turned on him.

Vin gave them the names of a few of the men he'd worked with, and JD, who'd charged his high powered lap top during the night, began checking records for them. Of Yates and Jeff Royal, he'd found nothing about them, other than they worked for the Royal Ranch, and that Jeff was one of the co-owners. Dixon had a short record, two DWI's and a disorderly conduct. He was sentenced to two months community service at the ranch, and was now serving it. With a sigh, JD closed his computer and glanced at Buck.

Together the two men began to tell Vin all that they'd found out about the Royals and the ranch. Vin asked about the doctor and his wife, and if they found anything about them.

"They are totally legit. He's worked there for years as the ranch doctor, since it's such a large ranch, and so many people work there. Doc also works as an ER doctor. He also fills in when needed at the hospital. It's a small hospital and once in awhile he goes to Sheridan if there is an emergency and need for him . His wife is a registered nurse and helps him at the ranch. She no longer works at the hospital as of two years ago. She's his right hand and fills in when Barnes is working in town," JD informed them.

"They're a nice couple. Wonder how they got tied up with Royal," Vin replied.

"We'll ask them when we see them later." Buck said as he stretched, then added seeing the look on Vin's face,."Doc is the one who let us know where you were. He somehow got Chris' name and called him the other day. We knew where you were and who you were working …"

"Found out you couldn't remember most things," JD cut in with a smile.

"He also talked to Chris yesterday morning, to let us know that you'd taken off on a motorcycle. Thought you probably headed south, without knowing eight men were trying to catch you. Barnes was worried about you and did say you didn't belong there."

"I talked ta them. Don't think they told Royal anything we'd talked about. They helped me to remember, Doc wouldn't let them work me too hard at first. When I had the heat problem and passed out from it, they insisted I had time off again."

JD looked at Vin in surprise. "You got heat exhaustion? Boy Vin, I thought you and heat were related!" He ducked as Buck slapped at his head.

Through a yawn, Vin grinned. "Yeah, I like heat, but don't think I was in good very shape at the time …" Almost mid sentence Vin snuggled down into the seat and fell asleep.

Chris shot a grin at Buck and JD as he weaved his way through the heavier traffic by Casper.

A couple of hours later the two rigs stopped at Buffalo to fill their tanks. While stopped Nathan checked on Vin, making sure he didn't have a fever and the bullet graze wasn't bleeding. He found the younger man a little warm and sore. Nathan made sure Vin took his antibiotic's and got a promise that he'd take a pain pill in an hour. Satisfied, he returned to Josiah's car as Ezra, Buck and JD returned with cups of coffee and sandwiches.

Minutes later they were loaded and on their way again. Less than an hour later they turned off the highway at Ranchester and stopped in front of at the police station. Chris, Buck, and Ezra went in, inquiring about Guy Royal's ranch and their connection. They were lucky, finding the police chief on duty at that time, having just returned from a lunch break. They learned he did have papers on men who were doing community service and work release at the Royal ranch. They checked each man's record, but didn't find Tanner's name on either list. The chief knew nothing of Vin or a man named Eli Joe Jones, or Clark.

After receiving received directions to the ranch they left. Vin was awake and watched the road with interest. Never being on it, he wanted to see where he'd spent the last week. He was still getting his head around the fact that Chris and the others traveled a long ways to come for him, since he'd only been with them a short time. He was thankful they did, and though they'd become a team, it seemed to him that they had a deeper connection. More like brothers and grinned at the thought. Brothers did sound right. It seemed they were becoming as close as brothers, and he was one of them. One so close that Chris could be his twin of hearts. Vin's gaze found Chris whose green eyes connected with his for a moment. A small smirk tugged at Chris' lips as he nodded his head, understanding what Vin was thinking before he looked forward again.

Chris began to slow when he spotted a gate across the road and a sign, 'Private Property, Royal Ranch,' then pulled to a stop as a man stepped from the small building and asked his business there.

"We have Tanner," Chris said and the man smile widened, he moved to open the gate. Motioning the truck and suburban through, the gate was closed behind them as the guard radioed to alert the house.

They passed filled hay sheds, machine shops and the long truck and tractor parking sheds; a barn and bunkhouse where a number of men were sitting outside in the shade of some trees. Vin pointed to the huge white house ahead on the green rise. Four men stood watching them at one end of the building.

"The one in the cap is Jeff Royal. Beside him's Yates, the fencing guy. Don't know the other two. Would guess the older one is Guy Royal though." Vin remarked.

The Dodge parked near the four men, Josiah stopped beside it. The six men got out, leaving Vin sitting where he was. Chris and Buck stood in front of and between the two vehicles on the passenger side, where Vin sat in the truck, protecting him from the Royals. The rest of the team automatically spread out to each side of Chris and Buck, all eyes turned onto the four men.

Guy Royal and Jeff stepped forward. "Welcome to the Royal Ranch, and thank you for returning Tanner. He went missing the other night without permission. It means he will have a longer sentence."

As Royal talked, a dark colored car drove from the back to the building, no one paid any attention to it as it left.

Chris' glare hit the man. "Sentence? For what?"

Jeff glanced at his uncle and answered, "Disorderly conduct, fighting in public, damages to a bar and owing for those damages, which were added to his time. Now he escaped."

"I want to see the paperwork, and want to know where this took place," Chris inquired.

Smoothly the older Royal replied, "Happened last weekend in town. The police have the records and all the information. He was released into my custody to serve his sentence for the damages, and as soon as the hearing is conducted for the rest of the charges, he will be here longer."

A grin crossed Chris' face as he leaned against his truck, his green eyes glittered. "Now that is really odd. We were just at your police station and had a lengthy talk with Police Chief George Powers, and he's never heard of a Vin Tanner, or a fight in his town that had extensive damages to any business there. He has no record of anything like that happening. Do you want to try again to tell me why you have Vin Tanner here? That he was brought in unconscious, and not knowing of any charges to him."

"Well, that's a lie. He has the paperwork. Tanner came from town, he's jail bait," Royal retorted.

"Then how did he get here from Denver, where he lives and works?"

"How should we know? Probably visiting someone."

"Sorry to disappoint you, but that wouldn't happen when he knew he had a job to do last week." Chris was enjoying himself, and Buck knew he was waiting for the right response from Royal to spring who Vin worked for. Buck glanced at the young man watching from inside the truck and winked at him, glad to see a small smile cross his lips, before his gaze went back to the man in black.

"No one knows what sets another man off. Maybe his job wasn't exciting enough, and he wanted more in his life. Who's to know what was in his mind when he ended up here."

"Here with no money? Or memory?"

"Doc said he'd been beaten pretty good, and had a hard knock on the head. Not my fault."

"Who brought him here?"

"A couple of my men brought him from town." Guy Royal put in.

"How long did that take?"

"Not long. Now why all these questions? Tanner is in that truck, so just bring him out and you can be on your way back to wherever you came from." Guy retorted.

"No. He's going home with us, you have no proof he belongs here. That he was arrested or anything."

"He does belong here, and I will get the paperwork to prove it," Guy insisted.

"Who from? Eli Joe and his partner? By the way, where is Mr. Jones? He's wanted in Colorado and New Mexico, we can happily deliver him to the marshals who would love to have him."

"I don't know what you're talking about mister. EJ's worked for me for several years, he's never been out of the state."

Chris grinned evilly. "Then why is there a bounty on the man?"

"No idea. Not my EJ, he's clean. Now back to Tanner, he isn't, and you can just bring him out and then leave."

"Oh, we'll leave, but you see, Vin Tanner is on my team, and is an ATF agent. He was kidnapped from his apartment in Denver, and brought here against his will. After being badly beaten. Yes, WE have proof of who he is, where he works and who took him. You best tell your men not to fool with us again. I'm sure we, ATF agents and the US Marshalls can find more against you, enough to shut you down."

Four men had surprised looks on their faces, one overcame it quickly and with narrowed eyes replied, "I'm Guy Royal, this is my ranch and we've nothing to hide. We are on the up and up. So go ahead and see if you can find anything out of order."

"Well, Mr. Royal, I'm sure we just did. Vin Tanner, ATF agent from Denver. You don't have a thing on him. Can't prove a thing," Buck injected.

Royal, the agents had to admit, thought fast before answering, "Vin Tanner? Never heard of him. The man who we were to have was Albert Tanner, who we were told was called just Tanner. If this isn't Al Tanner, then I will admit we have the wrong man and I'm sorry for the mistake."

Buck rolled his eyes and glanced at his friends, before looking back to Chris who had a grin that looked more like a snarl on his face. He saw Vin easing from the passenger seat and quietly move.

"So that's your lie and you're sticking to it…" Chris stopped when he felt a hand grip his right arm. He looked right and frowned at Vin. He hadn't heard him come up.

"No sense standing here talking. He'll have all kinds of excuses to what he did," Vin said quietly.

Chris stared at Vin a moment knowing he was right, and sensed the man would worm himself out of anything. A small feral grin crossed his lips as a thought crossed his mind. He saw a matching grin cross Vin's for an instant before Vin glanced back at the Royals. It was as if they'd read each other's thoughts again.

Chris turned back to Royal. "Looks like you have an excuse for everything. Fine. Have it your way, but I am turning this over to the US Marshal's office for a full investigation of what is going on here. They will check your records, against police records, regarding every man working for you. So if you're on the up and up, everything should be well. If not, I'm sure things will change." With a nod to the tall man who's face had turned red and an angry scowl on his face, Chris glanced at his team. Nodded his head, and one by one they moved to the waiting vehicles.

Buck waited as Vin limped the few steps back to the door and got into the truck. Once Vin was in, Buck and JD moved to the back seat as Chris casually moved to his door. Ezra, Nathan, then Josiah eased into the suburban, and followed the black truck down the driveway, leaving the angry Royals looking after them.

Glancing back, Buck saw the elder Royal waving his arms after them then at the big house before stomping towards the door.

"Old Royal isn't happy," he grinned.

"Will be less happy when the marshals show up. Call it in." Chris said.

While Buck made the call, they reached the gate and passed through with no problem. Though they were prepared just in case.

A mile from the gate, under a small clump of towering shade trees they spotted a car parked on the side of the road. A man climbed out and waved at them.

"Head's up," Chris said spotting the man.

Vin opened his eyes and looked up, a smile crossed hit lips. "That's Doc, he's a friend." His smile widened. "There's Ms Katy too." He remarked seeing a woman get out of the car.

JD radioed the others that all was okay as Chris stopped beside the older man who stepped back but kept his gaze on the truck.

Vin opened the door and stepped out, and a warm smile crossed the doctor's face. Katy moved quickly to his side smiling at Vin.

"You look happy Vin," Katy remarked as Doc shook hands with the younger man.

"Doc, Ms Katy, this is m' team. Chris Larabee, Buck Wilmington …" Vin introduced the six men to the couple, a smile on his face and a gleam in his blue eyes.

Doc and Katy shook hands all around and then Doc looked at Chris. "We're happy to meet you. And Agent Larabee, we're really happy that you came for Vin. He was having a rough time remembering things."

"I remember everything now Doc, thanks to you and Ms Katy's help." Katy smiled at Vin and took his arm to give him a quick hug. His eyes widened as she looked up at him.

"Well, this is all well and good, and I'm happy you are with your friends Vin. But what did you do to yourself again? You're running a fever."

Chapter 15

"Aw hell… Sorry ma'am... I'm fine." Vin replied feeling his face begin to change colors, unable to move as Katy reached up and placed her hand on his forehead.

"Doc," Katy said as she took in the handsome, flushed face and the way Vin was standing. Her instincts were on full alert, the young man was hurting and she had to do something about it.

Doc and Nathan stepped to Vin. For an instant they looked at each other, with a grin Nathan stepped back. "You're the doctor. I'm the EMT for the team. Please check him. He might listen to you better than me," he said.

Doc placed his hand on Nathan's arm a moment, "You know your team better."

"Not Vin as well, he's been with us only five weeks. He's got a couple broken ribs and a gunshot graze across his thigh. I think that might be causing the fever." At the look Katy gave him, Nathan continued as the rest of the men moved to give them more room, smiles on their faces. "He slid into a ravine and landed badly. He's wrenched his hip as well."

"Nathan, Doc... I's fine," Vin stuttered and then fell silent under the looks he got from the two men and woman. He leaned back against the truck and glanced at Chris for help. Chris smiled a little and shook his head.

"Let me check you Tanner, then you can head home." Doc said, and turned, "Katy get my bag."

Vin gave in, knowing he would never get to leave until Doc checked him. With a nod to Chris he looked back at Doc. His face flushed deeper as Doc pointed to his jeans. Making sure Katy wasn't in view he dropped his jeans so the older man could check the wound.

Katy, knowing how shy the young man was, handed Doc's bag to the blond who stood closest to her. She realized the man, Larabee, had moved to block her from getting closer to Vin, or to see what was going on. She smiled at the blond as she moved back, appreciating the man's concern.

While Doc changed the bandage on Vin's thigh, Katy's gaze went to the other men standing back from Vin but still surrounding him from prying eyes. The way they were standing she got the impression they were guarding Vin. The tall dark haired, mustached man grinned at her and moved to her side.

"Ma'am," Buck said.

"Mr. Wilmington, I believe?"

"Yes ma'am. Please call me Buck. Want to thank you and your husband for taking care of our sharpshooter. He's been with us only a short time but he's indispensable to us now."

"For his skill?"

"That, and …" he moved them a few steps farther away from the men around Vin. Katy moved with him wondering what he was doing. Buck looked at her then at Chris a moment and then back to her. Katy had followed his gaze then looked up at him again.

"Yes, he's our sharpshooter. The best there ever was, but he's brought Chris back to life again. In the short time they've known each other Chris, who was on a one way road to destroying himself is back. He even laughs and smiles again, and it's all thanks to Vin. Something about that boy…Well, he's the best thing to have happened to us."

Katy looked at Vin, her husband, then at Chris. She caught sight of the gentle smile on his lips as he listened to his friend and Doc going back and forth. Katy smiled as she turned back to Buck.

"It seems you are all very close friends."

"Yep. Though we already think there's something more between all of us. We think there is some kind of connection between Chris and Vin too. Josiah says they're soul brothers, two hearts, one soul, and he thinks they're connection will be deeper than even brothers. Not sure how he knows, but we'll see as time goes on I guess."

"That could be. I've heard something like that happening before, between some people. It is good and I guess as long as they are alive it will always be with them. Looks like Doc is finished. It has been nice to have met you and the rest of Vin's team. I'm truly happy he is all right and well, and he will be with his teammates."

"Us too, we were really worried when we found his apartment in the condition it was in. Didn't know if he was alive or dead. Thanks to you and your husband he is very much alive," Buck blinked quickly then smiled at the women whose cheeks turned pink under his gaze.

They moved back to the truck and Katy stepped to her husband's side. Doc's arm went around her when she halted beside him.

"That salve will help it heal and now that the infection is cleaned out of there, your fever should go down," Doc was telling Vin who leaned against the truck's passenger seat, his face pale.

"Thanks Doc," Vin said taking the small jar Doc handed him.

Nathan, standing beside Vin, took the jar when Vin passed it to him. "I'll let Nathan be in charge of this," grinned Vin.

"Well, you all better be on your way home. It is a long ways to Denver," Doc said as he held out his hand to Vin. "I'm glad you are with your team again, and it's good to know everything is all right with you now. Take care son." He shook Vin's hand and then turned to Chris and the others.

Katy stepped forward and hugged Vin tightly. "Take care of yourself."

"I will ma'am," Vin gently hugged her back before sliding carefully onto the truck seat where he watched Doc and Katy say their goodbyes to the others.

Chris shook Doc's hand, telling him that the Royals were going to be investigated. Doc smiled, "Good. I'm not worried for Katy and me, but it needs to be done."

"If you ever think of moving south to the Denver area, let us know," Nathan said as he shook their hands. "I know a hospital that is looking for a good doctor and nurse."

Katy smiled up at the tall black man, "Thank you Mr. Jackson, we will remember. Who knows?" She turned to Chris, laying her hand on his arm she added, "Take care of him Mr. Larabee. He is special to us."

"Yes, ma'am, I will and he is special to us too," he answered her as she smiled at him.

Doc's arm went around his wife as they watched the agents get into their vehicles, and with a last wave the seven men were gone. The couple got into their car and slowly drove back to the ranch discussing a plan if they decided they would have to leave.

Several hours later Chris pulled into a gas station at the edge of Casper and stepped out of the truck to fill one of the truck's two tanks. He knew Josiah's suburban needed gas, the thing was probably close to running on fumes by now.

As he and Josiah filled their tanks the others made their way inside to use the facilities and pick up snacks and coffee. The day changed quickly after leaving Ranchester. Outside of Sheridan, black clouds rolled in and within minutes the sun disappeared and it had gotten darker. Minutes later the sky opened up and rain poured down.

The downpour slowed them down, splashing over a foot off the ground. The water sprayed up from tires to leave greasy windshields that needed constant cleaning. Many times the windshield wipers could not keep up with the rain. To make it even more miserable, a half hour earlier the wind had swept in. Gusts of wind that were powerful enough to shake them and move smaller vehicles almost a foot or more sideways.

Chris moved his shoulders around, easing the cramped muscles. He watched the rain blow in under the overhang soaking anything inside four feet of the edge. He was tired of fighting the wind and rain and wondered how far the storm extended. He wasn't sure he wanted to continue to fight the weather another six hours. Hanging up the nozzle, he turned and smiled at Vin who was coming from the mini-mart, pant legs damp from the splashing rain.

Vin grinned at Chris as he limped to the side of the truck carrying two extra large cups of coffee.

"Got'cha one. Well, Buck did. He's bringing my snacks."

"Thanks. How are you feeling? Honest," Chris looked at the drawn face.

Cocking his head a little to get the long hair out of his face, Vin smiled, "Honest? Not too bad. Tired, don't know why I feel so tired ta' day. Yeah, stiff an' sore too. Why?"

Turning to the fuel pump, Chris took his receipt and turned back to Vin. "We're still a good six hours from Denver. This weather will add another hour or two, or more to the trip. We'd be lucky to get there by midnight or one. Might be best to spend the night somewhere. Let this storm pass and leave early in the morning."

"I think that's a good idea Chris," Josiah said having come up while Chris was talking. "Come on Vin, let's get you into the truck before you're soaked. I don't think you should be on that leg so much. I'll hold this for you," Josiah told Vin as he reached for the coffee cup in Vin's hand.

Vin suddenly shivered and handed the cup to Josiah. He moved to the passenger door and a moment later was seated in the truck. Once Vin was settled, Josiah handed the cup back to him and pulled the blanket over his damp legs, and tucking it around his narrow hips.

Closing the door Josiah walked beside Chris into the mini-mart to use the facilities. A short time later they were pulling into parking places in front of several motel room doors. Ezra tried to steer them to a fancy hotel but it didn't work, as usual. Chris pulled into one of the first large motels he seen with a vacancy sign. A 24-hour restaurant across the street boasted the best steaks in town. Once the rooms were paid for they drove across to the restaurant, not wanting to get soaked in the rain that was still pouring down sideways.

Though it was barely 6PM by the time they returned to their rooms, it was dark and stormy outside. The lights flickered a couple of times. After taking his meds Vin laid down on his bed and watched the news with Chris. When the news finished, Chris glanced at his young friend and saw that he was sound asleep. Seeing Vin had pushed the blankets down, Chris rose and pulled them back over him. Chris grinned as Vin snuggled down into them savoring the warmth. He shouldn't get cold that night now.

Chris took a hot shower to ease the knots in his back and shoulders from the hours of driving through the storm. Dry, he climbed into his bed and left the TV still going, sure he wouldn't fall asleep for hours.

By 8PM Chris was asleep. The TV, on low, barely loud enough to hear over the outside storm.

Vin woke and lay listening to his surroundings. He knew he was safe but for a moment he wasn't sure where he was. He heard voices talking and it took him a minute to realize it was the TV. Opening his eyes he looked around the room, spotting the TV that lit the room. A glance at the bedside clock showed it was a few minutes after 5AM. The figure in the other bed moved, rolled over then stretched and sat up.

"Sleep good?" Vin's raspy voice asked.

Chris groaned as he ran his hands through his hair. "Bed too early. Stiff, but slept like a log. How do you feel?"

Pushing himself upright, Vin got up and limped towards the bathroom. "Feel good, need the bathroom. Want 'ta get home."

Chris laughed as the slender figure hurried into the other room. Seeing that the early morning news was on, he found the remote and turned the TV up louder.

Vin walked into the room and began to strip off his jeans. "I want'a take a shower. Need to get this bandage off my leg."

"Here I'll help you. Nathan left some supplies with me last night." Chris said as he grabbed the bag from the chair near the door, then moved to Vin's side. He helped Vin take off the bandage then covered the wound with a piece of plastic, taping it in place.

"Nathan wants you to keep this dry and he thought you'd want a shower," Chris said as he finished taping the plastic. "Okay you're ready."

"Thanks. You better get in there while I finish undressing." Vin said as Chris stood up.

By 6AM the seven men were seated in the restaurant, ready to eat and get on the road. The weather finally changed, for the better they thought. The rain stopped, even though the wind still blew.

The two rigs made their way south, passing several fields covered with several inches of water, and rivers out of their banks. Only a few roads in the countryside they saw were impassable but the highway was fine. They all were relieved when Denver was within sight.

Vin smiled, he'd never thought he'd have friends like the six men with him. Someone who would travel hundreds of miles to come after him. He shook his head when he saw Chris shoot him a quick little smile. He was reading his thoughts again. He thought for a moment he'd heard in his head, "You belong with us," and thought, "I know it now." He saw Chris' lips twitch as he nodded his head slightly acknowledging the words.

Slouching deeper into the comfortable seat, Vin glanced out the side view mirror and saw Josiah's suburban right behind them. He could make out the three figures in the dark vehicle and knew them and the three in the truck with him, would always be there for him no matter what happened. He was surprised about the feeling that washed over him, no one else had ever touched his heart as these men were doing. He was comfortable with them, at ease and at home with all of them. In just over a month's time they'd showed him that he was one of them. And the feeling growing in him was that they were family.

A tiny grin crossed his lips as his eyes slid closed, 'I'm home. I'm finally home.'

Epilogue

A week and a half later, AD Orin Travis walked into Team Seven's bullpen and announced, "Conference room, now."

Chris who was leaning against Vin's desk, as he read a report, looked at Travis and nodded his head. He laid the report on the desk and moved towards Travis.

The other men rose from their desks and followed. Vin had been off work for three days, but was back and anxious to work, he hated being confined to desk work. His bruises and leg were pretty much healed, although he still limped slightly on his hip. Nathan thought it was almost back to normal and shouldn't affect his work. He would have to prove himself on the firing range before he could do his job though.

Taking their seats around the table in the kitchen that doubled as their conference room, gazes turned to Chris who shrugged. He didn't know what was going on. Seven sets of eyes turned to the older man standing beside Chris and a smile crossed Travis' face.

"Well boys, I have some news to pass along to you. Agent Tanner, due to your kidnapping and subsequent retrieval <<Ezra grinned at the use of the words he'd have used himsel>> the investigation of the Royal Ranch by the US Marshals, has netted several wanted men. One, Eli Joe Jones, whose real name is Eli Joe Rugart, wanted in Arizona and New Mexico. I believe, a bounty you were after when you ran across Team Seven Vin," Travis looked at the sharpshooter, eyebrows raised in question.

"Yes sir, I was following him. I helped Nathan when some men grabbed him at that bust I got mixed up with. I lost Eli Joe in the fight."

"Your help saved several men's lives then. Anyway, he's in jail and a Clark Hennison, wanted in

Washington and Oregon is also in jail. Several other men were found to have been kidnapped, like you were Vin. They were released. It was found that Royal is sort of eccentric. He likes to collect people of various backgrounds and force them to work for him for months, or years in some cases. They found various records on different men, one was yours, as a bounty hunter. And none of them knew you were ATF. Yates, his right hand man has quite a few interesting records, some weren't current. The nephew, Jeff Royal, didn't know everything that his uncle was doing, except for you. He thought everything else was on the up and up."

"What about Doc Barnes and his wife?" Vin questioned.

"He and his wife worked with the marshals, they are clean. They checked the ranch out before accepting the job and moving out there. The records they were shown and given, showed everything about the ranch was very legal. They were all falsified, which they didn't know. They agreed to stay for a couple of weeks while everything is cleaned up. I heard that they have sent out applications."

"What's going to happen to the ranch? It's been there for over 100 years," Ezra inquired while everyone grinned.

"I think Marshal Reeves said there is a couple other Royal's around; they're contacting them to see if any of them want to take over the ranch. If not it will be sold," Travis looked at his favorite team, though he wouldn't tell them that.

"The men who were working there legitimately, one is back in jail. A few that had been 'collected' decided to stay on. The real hands are staying until everything is settled. The marshal's office wanted to thank you men for breaking this open. They will be keeping an eye on the ranch and whoever takes it over, unless it's sold. That's it. Now you all can get back to work. I'll have some information for you on someone moving into the area that's connected to illegal alcohol coming into the state." Travis grinned at the groans as he left the room.

"It's over," Vin thought at the same time that Buck said it out loud, and Chris nodded to him as if he'd heard his words. Vin shook his head with a small grin, then jumped when Buck's hand landed on his shoulder.

"Hey Junior, looks like that Royal mess is over and we might have a new doctor in the area to take care of you. All thanks to you. Guess it was a good thing what happened, but we're happy you're back with us. We really need you."

At the other men's boisterous agreement, Vin felt his cheeks turning red and he dropped his head. He breathed a sigh of relief when Chris called to them to get back to work and five men filed out the door. Vin looked up, Chris was a couple of feet away, his green gaze locked on him.

Rising, Vin's blue gaze met green as what felt like a small electric shock went through them both.

Chris held out his hand and Vin, instead of taking it, gripped Chris's forearm. Hands locked on each other's arm and Chris said, "You're my sharpshooter, friend and brother. You have a place with us and always will, never forget that."

Vin nodded in accord. Brother, Chris said, but it felt like more and he wasn't going anywhere. He was home.

FINI - or is it?

Chris' cell phone rang a couple of weeks later. He automatically reached for it, though his eyes remained on his computer monitor.

"Larabee," he barked into it. Not wanting to be distracted from the report in front of him.

"Agent Larabee, this is Doc Barnes, from the Royal Ranch. Do you have a moment to talk?" The voice on the other end of the phone asked.

"Doc! Yes. I have time. What can I do for you? How is Mrs. Barnes?"

"We're both fine. I won't keep you. Do you, or any of your men, know of any apartments or condo's within a couple of miles of Denver General Hospital?"

A huge grin crossed Chris' face. He couldn't wait to tell his team.

FINI - Yep this time for sure :-)

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