Again No Words

by A. Stuart

ATF Universe

The following is a work of fanfiction based on the CBS television series, The Magnificent Seven. MGM and Trilogy own the rights to the characters. This story is strictly for entertainment with no intention of monetary gain.

I would like to thank Chris Gantt for reading this and encouraging me to post this sequel to her fascinating story No More Words, even though this differs from her own sequel More Than Words. Thanks also to Mog for opening the ATF AU and to Mady Bay for permission to use the 'Vinnebago'. Apologies are offered for lack of medical expertise, but remember, it is fiction.

Chapter 1

Chris smiled as he saw Vin's Jeep heading up his drive toward the house late on Friday. The sharpshooter had offered to come over and help him work on the barn this weekend and was going to stay in the guestroom so they could get an early start on Saturday morning. Chris had been building up a number of repairs and had steeled himself for a weekend of hammering nails on his own. When Vin offered to help, the older man jumped at it. The Texan said a weekend of hard labor was something he liked now and then and, after all, he did stable his horse at Chris's. He said it was the least he could do to help out. The senior agent was a little worried about Vin's hands; they'd healed from the multiple breaks, but he knew he'd have to watch to be sure the young man, in his zeal, didn't overdo with the hammering.

He was about to head out on the porch to greet his guest when the phone rang. He grabbed the portable as he pulled the front door open. "Larabee."

"There are different kinds of prisons," said a harsh, raspy voice.

'What the Hell?!' "Who is this?" he said as he watched his friend jump out of the Jeep and start toward the house. The line went dead.

Vin had his duffelbag of clothes for the weekend in one hand and a six-pack of beer and his carpenter's belt dangling from the other. "Hey, Chris!" he called in greeting just before a rifle crack had them both diving for cover. Both stayed still a few minutes, but nothing further happened and they could hear a truck engine gun on the roadway.

"Goddamn hunters!" muttered Chris before he noticed something red on his friend's back. He dropped the phone and raced over to help Vin up to the house. When he got close, he realized the red wasn't blood, it was a dart.

The two scrambled into the house, and the younger man stood looking puzzled and trying to reach around to his back. He'd felt a blow to the back of his shoulder and now felt a burning sensation spreading from that point. He shrugged his shoulder and moved his arm deciding that he wasn't injured seriously. He could just see the end of the dart protruding from his back when he peered over his shoulder and he reached for it. Chris stopped him and grabbed a cloth to grasp it as he pulled it out; might have fingerprints. They both looked down at it, mystified and concerned. It was the kind that was used to inject tranquilizer into animals and whatever had been in it... was gone... injected into Vin.

"You OK?" asked Chris as he looked at his friend, trying to see signs of drugging or injury.

"I don't know. Feels funny. Kinda burns."

"Sit down for a minute. I'm calling the hospital and we're taking you in. Don't know what was in that thing," said Chris firmly, as he thought to himself, 'Can't be anything good.' He grabbed the phone and called. While he was talking to someone at the hospital, he saw Vin start to fidget and look around with growing anxiety, and he finished the call quickly, moving to kneel in front of his friend.

"Vin, what's wrong?"

The younger agent looked at Chris, confusion clouding his eyes. "No, no... not again," he said in a low voice that was almost a moan. As Vin looked at the older man, his mind began to jumble. His words were disappearing like words on a ScrabbleÒ board as someone gently agitated it. He struggled to hold on, to keep the words in place, but the tiles slid away anyway. His name...he couldn't remember his name. He looked at his friend, grabbed his arm and whispered, "C-Chris-s-s-s?" Then they all evaporated and he couldn't find words to say more. His thoughts began to twist and turn, like crystals in a kaleidoscope, and he had to struggle to understand the shifting patterns, to follow what was happening. He saw his friend's mouth moving, heard the sound of his voice, but could comprehend nothing of what he was saying. He groaned inwardly; this was all too frighteningly familiar. He knew the feeling, understood it deep inside, but couldn't voice it logically, even in his own head. As he began to lose control of his own thoughts, his breath quickened, and he struggled to control his rising panic.

Watching the mix of emotions -- confusion, fear, panic, then despair -- spread across Vin's face, Chris felt helpless. He listened to what the young man had said and he heard his own name, then silence. "Vin, what's wrong? Are you sick? Tell me what's happening!" When he saw a look of panic followed by profound sadness come into those blue eyes as his friend shook his head, with gut-wrenching clarity, Chris knew, too. Vin had been injected with the drug again; once more he was unable to understand, unable to speak, cut off from the world as effectively as if he had been put in prison.

The senior agent tried to control his reactions, to hide his own feeling of panic and anger. He didn't want to scare Vin further. He grasped the younger man's shoulders and looked straight into his eyes and nodded, letting him know that he understood. He sat down next to Vin and put one arm around his shoulders, feeling a slight trembling. He tightened his grip while he got on the phone to Nathan.

"Nathan, it's Chris. Listen! Vin's just been shot with a dart that seems to have injected him with the same drug he had before! He can't understand me, and he stopped talking again."

"Oh, no!! How is he?!" asked the stunned agent.

"Physically, he seems OK, but I'm taking him to the hospital to get him checked out and get the contents of the dart analyzed. Can you meet us there? And call the others to let them know what happened? But better tell them not to come. He's pretty confused and having all of them there may be too much."

"Yeah, yeah, OK. Chris, how'd it happen? How's Vin taking it?"

"A sniper fired a rifle at him as he walked up to my house, just a few minutes ago. God! Nathan, I watched the drug take it away from him, watched him as realized what was happening! I could see him panic, and there wasn't a damn thing I could do! Right now, he's confused and scared and there's nothing I can say to help him."

Nathan sensed Chris rising frustration and fear. "Chris, remember you can help him! You know he understands you even when you don't talk. Remember that! He's going to turn to you for help."

"Yeah, you're right. I'm just angry and frustrated!" Chris struggled to stay calm because he knew he'd transmit his fear to Vin, who sat looking intently at him, reading his every expression. "Can you look at those files?... See if there's anything about getting the drug a second time? Does it go away in the same length of time? Suppose he doesn't get over it as fast?"

"I'll check. Who do you think did this? Chassen's in jail."

"He may be in jail, but he still runs a powerful operation. And Vin's testimony is the main reason he's in jail. My first guess is revenge!" Chris spat out the words. "Look, we're heading out now. See you in about 45 minutes."

Chris hung up and gathered up the dart, wrapping it carefully. Then he got Vin to look at him, and he angled his head toward the door as he gently pulled on Vin's upper arm.

Vin looked at Chris trying to read his expressions. He didn't know who he'd called or what he was saying, but he understood what was wanted of him. He trusted Chris and he followed.

Chapter 2

Chris glanced sideways at Vin where he sat, leaning his head against the window of the truck, staring out into the gathering darkness. Chris watched his friend and wondered what must be going through his head. Vin had tried to explain to him what it had been like before, and he could only imagine what was happening now. Not only could the young man not communicate with others, but his ability to organize his own thoughts was completely disrupted. His world became a collage of feelings and impressions of what was happening around him. His thoughts, without the benefit of words, were forced into other avenues, images and vague concepts, and these swirled and tumbled without the glue of words to tie them together in ordered patterns. He had had to struggle to make sense of even the simplest ideas, and clear, logical appreciation of complex ideas was impossible. Even processing the day-to-day events happening around him had been a challenge and he couldn't keep up. It had been disorienting and frightening.

Chris reached across to rest his hand on Vin's shoulder for a moment. When his friend turned to look at him, he tried to convey with a smile and a nod that it would be okay. He was met by a sad, wan smile before the Texan turned back to stare out the window.

Chris's cell phone rang and he answered, "Larabee," thinking it would probably be Nathan getting back to him.

He froze when he heard the raspy words, "See, there are different kinds of prisons, Larabee. How's the dummy?" A harsh laugh followed. "Got a longer sentence this time." Again the cruel laughter.

"You bastard!" yelled Chris, but the phone was dead. He looked at Vin, who was startled by the outburst and stared at him, confused. Chris shrugged and gave a half smile to let him know it was okay. To himself he thought, 'Yes, there are different kinds of prisons.' God, he hoped Vin hadn't been put back into this one for very long.


"Buck, it's Nathan. I just got off the phone with Chris." Nathan paused and Buck felt a sudden unease. "Vin's in trouble. Someone shot him with a dart that probably had that drug in it again."

"Son of a bitch!" Buck erupted, then in a more tempered voice, "How's he doing?"

"Well, I don't know for sure. Chris is taking him to the hospital now. He says physically Vin seems fine, but Buck, he's back to the way he was before, and Chris can see that he's scared."

"Damn! How'd this happen!? Why did this happen!? There's no more trial, no more testimony! What good does it do!?" Buck was steaming mad. JD across the room, having realized that something was going on with Buck's first outburst, drew close to listen. He tried to figure it out, but couldn't. Was someone hurt?

"I don't know, Buck, but we're going to have to figure it out. Will you fill JD in? And Buck, best not come down to the hospital yet. Chris says Vin's pretty confused, and he's afraid if we all show up it'll overwhelm him. I'm gong to meet him there now. I'll call you when I know more. Would you call Ezra? I'll call Josiah."

"Yeah, I'll take care of it. You tell Vin... Ah, Hell! You just let us know how he is." With that, he hung up and turned to explain what he knew to JD.


Nathan met Chris as he and Vin approached the emergency area. The ex-medic had already filled the hospital staff in on Vin's condition, and they were all brought quickly into the ER room. The doctor took the dart. "We'll get this analyzed."

"Doc, please handle it only with gloves. There may be fingerprints on it and we'll need to get it checked as soon as you get your sample," said Chris trying to focus on proper procedure despite his concern over Vin.

Chris motioned for Vin to sit on the bed. As he complied, the sharpshooter kept his eyes on Chris, knowing he'd look out for him.

The doctor checked the point of entry while a nurse drew a blood sample. "We'll run a drug panel. This entry point looks all right, but it's early and I don't want to be surprised by an infection. I'm going to give him an antibiotic injection now and send him home with pills. I see he's allergic to penicillin. We'll give him something else. Might upset his stomach a little."

'Oh, God,' thought Chris. 'Might upset his stomach a little' usually meant that the sharpshooter would get sick as a dog. Chris could not for the life of him figure out why the Texan, who could put away any junk food made with impunity, was so sensitive to medications -- antibiotics, pain killers, sedatives -- just about anything made him sick to his stomach. It was no wonder he was so bad about taking his medications. The older agent groaned inwardly; he could just imagine the next few days trying to get Vin to take the antibiotics the doctor had prescribed.

"Mr. Larabee, Mr. Jackson, I'm sorry, but there really isn't anything more we can do. We can check him into the ward if you want for more formal testing."

"No!" Chris responded so vehemently that the doctor took a step back.

Nathan jumped in to explain. "Doctor, you'll see from his records that this happened once before. We know how to take care of him, and he's much more comfortable with his friends. If it's all right with you, we'll take him home tonight. When do you expect the results of the tests? I'd like to compare it to the documentation we have of what he was given before."

"Should have the results tomorrow or the day after. I'll call. For now, I don't see any reason that he can't go with you. If he doesn't show any signs of infection at the injection site by Sunday, you can stop the antibiotics. Call if you see any signs of problems."

As they walked out of the hospital, Nathan asked Chris, "Do you want me to come out with you?"

Chris studied Vin, who looked back at him with sad, trusting eyes. "Thanks, but no, I'd rather you take the time to see what you can find out about the drug. I'll call Buck and JD to come out tonight and help watch, just in case someone tries to have another go at him. I think Vin will be OK. At least this time he understands what's happened, and he doesn't have the added problem of not being able to use his hands. I'll call if I need help. Can you call Josiah let him know what's going on? Buck's calling Ezra. Ask Josiah to come out Saturday morning to help watch out for trouble."

Nathan nodded and walked with Chris and Vin to the truck. Just before he pulled the door closed, Vin rested his hand on Nathan's arm for a minute, as if to reassure him that he'd be okay. Nathan smiled and gave Vin's shoulder a pat.

Watching them drive off, the ex-medic thought, 'The kid's just had the rug ripped out from under him again, and he's worried about how I feel.' Then his brow furrowed in concern as he thought about what he'd read in the documents. A very few subjects had received the drug more than once, and the results for those subjects had been very mixed. For the some, the effect had cleared along the same timeline as the original dose, but there was mention of a few that still had not recovered after several months. Nathan just didn't know how he was going to break this news to Chris...or Vin. He needed to know more before he scared them.

Chapter 3

"Buck? What happened?" JD asked his friend when he hung up the phone. JD knew the expressions, had heard this kind of phone call before. It meant only one thing - something had happened to one of the Seven. Which one?

Buck ran his hands through his unruly hair and sighed. "Some sniper hit Vin with a drug-loaded dart. Chris says it looks like it was the same stuff he got before 'cause Vin has stopped talking and doesn't seem to understand what's said to him again."

"Oh, God," moaned JD. "Who'd do this?" But he answered his own question almost immediately. "Chassen!"

"Yeah, has to be," agreed Buck. "Must be out for revenge."

"How's Vin?" asked JD. The implications of Buck's news were beginning to sink in, and he was trying to imagine what his friend was going through.

"Chris, took him to the hospital to get checked out. He says physically, he seems fine, but Vin seems pretty scared."

"Well, let's go!" said JD hopping up to grab his jacket.

"Hold on! Chris doesn't want us to come to the hospital." When he saw the hurt in JD's eyes, he went on soothingly, "He says Vin's really disoriented, and he's afraid if we all show up we'll confuse him even more. 'Sides, he said Vin seems to be OK physically, and he'll probably take him right on back to the ranch. He'll get back to us later to let us know what's happening." He wanted to do something as much as JD, but there really wasn't anything they could do. He paused a moment. "I gotta call Ezra and fill him in."

He reached Ezra on his cell phone; he could hardly hear the undercover agent for the din in the background. "Mr. Wilmington, this is a most unpropitious moment; I sincerely hope that Mr. Larabee is not requesting my services this evening as I am otherwise occupied." When Buck said nothing for a minute, Ezra sensed trouble and stepped outside, leaving the reception at a local art gallery behind. "Mr. Willimington, pray tell, what is the problem?"

"Vin's in trouble. He's been injected with that drug again."

"Oh, my Lord, no! This cannot be! How can this have happened?"

"Hit with a dart that injected the drug. He's back to the way he was before. Chris is taking him to the hospital to get checked out and then probably back to the ranch." Buck explained the situation succinctly.

"What can I do to be of assistance? Can we do anything to ascertain the perpetrator?" asked the southerner.

"Seems like it might be Chassen out for revenge, but since he's in jail, we're going to have to figure out who in his organization is doing his dirty work."

"Are you at your apartment? May I suggest that we meet at the office to see what we are able to determine regarding what has transpired?" asked Ezra.

"Yeah, JD and I are here. Nathan's studying the files to see what he can figure out about the drug. We'll meet you there."

When he finished making the call, he turned back to JD. "We may not be able to help Vin right now. But we sure as hell can try to figure out who did this and get the guy! Ezra's going to meet us at the office."


On the way back to the ranch, Chris called Buck and JD, asking them to come stay at the ranch as a precaution. He and Vin had only gotten about halfway back to the ranch, when Chris felt a hand on his arm and he looked over at his friend's face. As soon as he saw the distressed look, he pulled the truck over and hurried to get around to the other side, arriving just in time to hold his friend's hair out of the way as he vomited by the side of the road. 'Damn antibiotics!' thought Chris. 'When are they going to find one that doesn't make him sick to his stomach?!'

Vin got up looking a little green, gave Chris an apologetic smile, and climbed back into the truck.

By the time, they arrived at the ranch, Vin had been sick twice more and had reached the point of dry heaves. They got into the house and he headed straight for the bathroom. Chris waited in case he needed help, but shortly he came out, nodded to Chris and indicated that he was going to bed. Chris rested his hand on Vin's shoulder for a moment then watched him head down the hall to his room.


Nathan wasn't looking forward to this call, but he knew he could handle it better than Chris. Although the senior agent was putting on a stoic face, his primary concern being protection of Vin's emotional well-being, Nathan could see that this had hit him hard. He was facing a tough time, trying to keep Vin's spirits up on the one hand and being the main conduit for communication on the other. If Vin had any rough days, Chris was going to blame himself.

The ex-medic sighed. This wasn't going to get any easier with time. He dialed Josiah's number. "Josiah, got some bad news. Vin was injected with that drug again, and he's back to the way he was."

"Oh, Lord, no!... How is he?... and Chris?" said the ex-preacher sensing immediately that this was a problem for both men. "Oh, God," he moaned not giving Nathan a chance to answer. "How did this happen? How is he?" he repeated.

"Physically, Vin seems to be fine, other than they put him on antibiotics for a few days and you know how well he handles those. He and Chris are both pretty upset and Vin's very confused. You know this drug not only affects his ability to communicate with others, but it affects his ability to communicate with himself and that's very frightening for him."

"Yeah, he's so used to staying in control. I imagine he's very disoriented right now." The older agent paused and then went on thoughtfully. "You know, Nathan, Vin is nothing if not resilient. Frightening as this may be, he's been through it before and he knows there's an end. Hopefully, he also knows he's got friends to help. Nathan, we'll get him through it. Should we call Chris to see what we can do?"

"I think they're set for tonight. Chris took Vin back to the ranch with him. Buck and JD will be there, too. Chris asked if you could come over tomorrow morning to help watch out for trouble. Right now, Chris is working hard to keep a positive face on and Vin... he's scared and depressed, but coping right now. He's counting on Chris to help him through this. Best to wait for tomorrow and see what he needs. You're right, Josiah, Vin is resilient. God knows he's proven it over and over, but I'm still worried. From those files that JD called up, I'm not so sure this episode will end on the same time course as the last."

"What do you mean?" asked Josiah, an edge of concern in his voice.

"There were references to a few subjects who had second doses, and some of them took months to return to normal."

"Oh, Lord! Does Chris know this?" asked the ex-preacher.

The ex-medic suppressed a wave of guilt that washed over him. "No, I just couldn't face telling him tonight. Let him -- let them -- get through the adjustment to what happened first. I thought I'd use the excuse of waiting for the results of the drug analysis before I talked to him."

"Well, can't say as I blame you. Chris is like a Mama bear guarding her cub when it comes to Vin. It's not going to make him get better any faster to tell him today, and maybe it will help to have the drug analysis results."

Nathan finished up the call with the Josiah and headed home. He wanted to read those files more carefully.

He was deep into the files when the phone rang.

"Nathan? It's Chris. Anything from those files?" He explained about the phone call and the reference to the 'longer sentence'.

Nathan hesitated. He wasn't quite ready for this. "Chris, I don't know. There's some reference to longer duration of action after a second dose. I've only found partial information so far. I need to read more."

Chris suspected that Nathan wasn't telling him everything he knew, but decided not to force the issue. He knew Nathan would never do anything that would cause further hurt to Vin. "OK, see what you can find, and get the results of the drug test as soon as you can."

"Yeah, I'll do that. Is Vin okay?"

"Pretty much if you don't count his reaction to the meds. He got sick a few times on the way here. Damn antibiotics! But he's okay. He went to bed."

There really wasn't anything else to say. Nathan didn't know what to tell Chris to do. "Chris, I'll call you again tomorrow. If you need me tonight, just call and I'll come right over."

Chapter 4

Next morning, Chris awoke and headed for the kitchen, the smell of fresh coffee reminding him that he had a houseguest, and one who didn't mind taking care of himself, at that. He smiled as he entered the kitchen and found Vin deeply involved in making pancake batter, not needing the recipe on the side of the box to create what Chris believed were the best pancakes anywhere. The young man held out a mug of coffee and raised a quizzical eyebrow. Chris made a face, but reached to take the cup of very strong coffee anyway. Vin's expression said, 'Beggars can't be choosers'." Chris began setting a couple of places at the table, surreptitiously watching the sharpshooter, trying to assess his state of mind without making him self-conscious. He was glad to see that Vin seemed determined not to let his current setback get him down. There had been no trouble that night, and Buck and JD had both crashed in the early hours of the morning. They'd probably be down for the count for a while yet.

After breakfast was consumed with relish, Chris remembered the antibiotic pills Vin was supposed to be taking and got one for him. Vin screwed up his face and shook his head at the proffered medication. Chris insisted, putting on his 'I'm the boss and you'll damn well do as I say' face, and Vin dutifully took it.

He gave Chris a look that said, 'Just wait', and Chris thought he'd probably be better off keeping his distance from the sharpshooter for the next hour or so.

Vin cocked an eyebrow, held up his carpenter's belt, and at a nod from Chris, headed for the barn. His friend followed close behind, practically humming. Today might not be so bad after all.

Together they worked most of the day replacing rotting siding boards on the barn, thoroughly enjoying the satisfying feel of manual labor, interrupted by only brief episodes when Vin reacted to his medication, but even this, he seemed to take in stride. Chris discovered that Vin had no trouble dealing with the carpentry; the measurements he managed to do by simply marking distances and holding his thumb in place on the tape measure. He didn't need to actually read the number to measure out a board. Chris kept a close eye on him to be sure that he wasn't overdoing with the hammer, but if Vin's hands or wrists hurt, he hid it very well indeed.

Buck and JD finally appeared with their usual boisterous interplay and took off when Josiah arrived. The others all checked in at least once during the day, and Chris let them know Vin was doing fine, ending each conversation with a suggestion that they all come out to grill steaks later on. He was pretty sure Vin could handle this; in fact, he sensed that the shy Texan would like it. Chris also wanted to get both Nathan and Josiah aside for a bit to discuss Vin's condition, and he wanted to talk to all of them about finding out more about the 'hit' on Vin. He wasn't going to just let this go.

Late afternoon, Chris hurried to the kitchen when the phone rang, thinking it would be one of the guys checking on them. "Larabee."

"So, how's Tanner? How's it feel to have someone important to you tossed in prison?" asked the now-familiar hoarse voice. "Only Tanner's in isolation, ain't he?" A grating laugh followed.

Chris struggled to keep his temper under control. "Tanner's fine, you son of a bitch! He's just fine!"

"Yeah, I'll bet. If he's so fine, let me talk to the dummy." Again the harsh laughter. "Hey, Larabee, get used to his. Tanner's a long timer with no parole!" The laughter echoed after the connection was terminated.

Chris ran his hands through his hair. Who was this guy? And what did he mean by 'long'? How long? He hoped Nathan could figure something out.


That evening found the Seven gathered at Chris's, satiated with the grilled steaks and baked potatoes, and enjoying a few beers. Vin and Ezra were teamed up against Buck and JD in a game of pool and were, to put it simply, beating the pants off of them.

Chris took the opportunity to steer Nathan and Josiah out onto the porch to talk. It wasn't that he didn't want the others to hear, but that one couldn't hear anything above Buck's and JD's constant, running commentary on the game. The team leader looked directly at Nathan, "OK, what do you have?"

Nathan, at first caught off guard, didn't realized that Chris was asking about the drug analysis, and for a moment felt a wash of guilt that he'd withheld information - his boss did not fail to note the emotion pass across his face. He'd come back to that in a moment. He listened as Nathan reported. "Well, you were right. It was the same drug as before, or at least a variation of it. The profile didn't come out exactly the same so they think it's a very closely related drug."

"Does it act the same?" asked Josiah.

"I don't know. There's not much in the documents about variant drugs. By the way Vin's acting, I'm assuming it does the same thing. Only thing a little worrisome is some notes about them trying to develop a longer-acting drug, but they didn't define what they were doing." Nathan watched as Chris digested this news, then he forged ahead. "There's something else you need to know, Chris." He paused and looked through the window at Vin for a moment. He looked away as he saw the sharpshooter's head come up from his shot and look toward the window - 'uncanny,' Nathan thought. He went on aloud, "You know I told you that they gave the first drug to a few subjects more that once..."

Chris's gaze suddenly became so intense that Nathan had to swallow again before he went on, "and most subjects recovered pretty quickly, same as the first time, but others took longer."

Chris's eyes bored into him, "How much longer?"

"Well, some... after 3 months... some weren't back to normal. Problem is, they didn't figure out why... why some took so long, that is."

"What was the longest?" asked Josiah carefully.

"Six months."

"Oh, shit!" said Chris. "He's dealing with it so well right now, probably because he's been through it before and thinks he knows what's going to happen - that it'll all end in a week or so. Oh, God!" he groaned as he raked his hand through his hair. "What's he going to do when it doesn't end? What's he going to think is happening?" He stopped abruptly and looked directly at Nathan. "Could it be permanent?" He couldn't hide the emotion in his voice.

"Don't think so. First of all, most of the subjects recovered quickly. There were only a few that didn't. Second, the psychiatrist we talked to before thought he could probably be retrained to use language." Nathan wished he could feel as assured as he tried to sound.

"I don't know, Nathan," commented Josiah in a thoughtful voice. "I wonder if it might not be a bad idea to continue to encourage Vin to develop his non-verbal communication skills - signing and the like. You've noticed that he doesn't make any sound at all. It's not just words that are missing; it's all vocalization. No grunts, snorts, growls, no laughs, nothing. It's as if his vocal cords are paralyzed as well. Might be tough to learn to talk. Even deaf children make noise and give you something to start with. But," he went on in a more cheerful light, "Vin does communicate. He naturally uses signs and body language and he's happy to use pictures. I just think we should just keep encouraging him along those roads." Josiah smiled. "And Chris, we all know that the two of you communicate by telepathy. He'll be fine."

Loud moaning and calls of, "Cheat!" signaled the end of the game inside. Chris and the others went back inside to see Ezra gathering the winnings from Buck and JD. Nathan drew Vin aside indicating that he wanted to check his back. Finding no signs of infection, Nathan called over to Chris that he could stop the antibiotics. Chris grinned as he handed the pill container to Vin and indicated that he could shoot it into the wastebasket. The sharpshooter gave a lopsided grin and made the shot with ease.

"Hey, Nathan, would you take a quick look at his right hand and wrist, too? He was pounding a hammer most of the day," said Chris as he signaled to Vin that he should roll up his sleeve. His friend looked at him puzzled a moment and then gave a resigned shake of his head, clearly letting the older man know he was being a mother hen. He held his hand out while Nathan poked and twisted looking for signs of overuse.

"Chris, looks fine to me." Vin raised one eyebrow shot a look sideways at Chris, 'I told you so!'

Chris gathered the group around the large table in the kitchen. His voice was serious now. He told them about the phone call that afternoon. "I want to know about this hit. Who? Why? I want him! What have you found out?"

Buck looked uncomfortable. "Not much yet. We've got feelers out, but so far the info back doesn't point to Chassen. Word is it's someone else."


"Mr. Larabee, my sources provide similar information and do not implicate Chassen."

"Chris, I don't have the who or why, but Nathan and I have gotten a bite," offered Josiah. "One of our informers knew before we said anything that there was some sort of revenge action on Vin. Also knew it wasn't a normal shooting. But he clammed up. Was scared. I think we can get more from a pal of his."

"OK, keep on it. In the meantime, I'd like one or two of you to hang out here with Vin and me," said Chris looking around, hoping that they'd be willing to give up a weekend.

"I'll stay tonight if you want," offered Nathan. Chris nodded.

Buck and JD popped up immediately. "We'll come over in the morning."

"No need for you to remain for the entire day. I shall be happy to relieve you in the afternoon," offered Ezra.

"And I'll come out tomorrow night," said Josiah.

They were all matter of fact. Their help was needed and there was no question that they would provide it. Chris nodded his thanks. Didn't know why he'd worried. "Monday morning, I'll have some marshalls out to guard him because we're all going to have to be at the office."

Buck gave a snort and rolled his eyes. "Well, now, that should be interesting!"

"Got no choice, Buck. If there's any chance he's still a target, we can't leave him alone."

Vin watched the group, noting facial expressions and body movement intently as the conversation moved around the table. He could tell this was serious, and he had little doubt that he was the topic. But this wasn't a pity Vin session. The joking that occurred every once in while left him feeling that whatever the conversation was about, the group was in action mode.

Ezra and Josiah left first. Just as Buck and JD were aiming for the door, Vin motioned that he wanted them to wait a moment. He came back with a calendar and handed it to JD. JD looked at it then helplessly at Chris. "Chris, I think he wants to know how long this is going to last. It's how I showed him last time. What do I tell him?"

"Just shrug. That'll tell him you don't know," said Chris. He went on in a low voice, "I'll let him know what's going on."

Chris took the calendar and waved Buck and JD on out the door. He turned back to Vin, knowing that his actions had raised concerns. They went into the kitchen with Nathan, and Chris sat down at the table placing the calendar in front of them with deliberation. Vin sat down and traced his finger over 10 days and eyed Chris for confirmation. Chris shook his head and tilted a shoulder that he didn't know. Vin traced his finger farther, again looking for confirmation. Chris again had to indicate that he didn't know. Vin looked to Nathan, who repeated Chris's response. Chris looked at his friend, wishing he could do something to allay the fears he saw lurking behind those trusting blue eyes. When he couldn't, he tried putting his hand on Vin's arm, only to have the younger man shake it off and disappear to his room.

Chris leaned forward and ran his hands through his hair, staring at the calendar. "How long's it gonna be, Nathan? And how am I gonna keep our sanity until this over?"

Nathan didn't say anything. Chris knew he couldn't answer the questions.

Chapter 5

Monday morning, Chris made it clear to Vin that he was going to have to go into work. Vin didn't appear to be bothered and indicated that he was going to continue working on the barn. He noticed Chris start to look uncomfortable as a dark blue sedan pulled up and two men stepped out. Vin immediately recognized 'the look' - severe blue suit, bulge for the shoulder holster - Feds, probably marshalls! The younger agent gave Chris a disgusted look, letting him know that he didn't want any part of this. But Chris, was firm, using the Larabee glare to let Vin know that he was to have guards. He took a moment to introduce them as best he could, showed them around briefly, and left for working, grinning as he wondered who was going to be babysitting whom.

Vin paid no mind to the two stiff men in blue as he headed down to the barn. They hurriedly moved to catch up with him, quickly getting their shoes and slacks coated in a fine layer of dust and manure. Vin hid a smile; barnyards were not kind to blue suits and wingtips. As the day progressed, Vin worked hard. Soon he had the two of them in their shirtsleeves holding lumber for him and even hammering the odd nail now and then. But they didn't like having their hands occupied, less available to be ready to draw a gun if necessary. It wasn't necessary.

By the time Chris arrived home in the evening, Vin had his second shift working hard. Their neat outfits were covered in sweat, grime and dust. The two men looked sheepish as they greeted Chris. He dryly commented as he shook their hands, "Hard to say 'no' to, isn't he?" After watching them pull out the drive, he turned and gave Vin a look that said, 'What the hell did you do to them?' The Texan shrugged, 'Can't imagine what you mean,' and headed in to get cleaned before dinner.


A few days later, Buck sauntered into the office, glanced around. "Where's Chris?"

Josiah looked up. "He got called down to personnel about 20 minutes ago."

"Did he say how Junior's doing?"

"Yeah, he's doing pretty well, not moping around at all. Chris said he finished the repairs on the barn and he's started in on the fencing. It's interesting, he can't read numbers, but he doesn't seem to have any problem taking measurements and figuring out how to do the repairs," said the ex-preacher. Then with a deep rumbling laugh and a flash of white teeth, he added, "He's worn out a couple of teams of marshalls. Apparently, he's got an aptitude for being a construction boss!"

At that moment, Chris stormed through the door, his face a dark thundercloud, went into his office, and slammed the door. They all watched, with a few eyebrows raised. After the proverbial pregnant pause, four pairs of eyes fell on Buck, the designated information gatherer. "Hey, why me? Just 'cause I've known him longer don't mean he won't chew me a new asshole if I walk in there." He looked around at the others.

"Mr. Willmington, we are quite willing to take that risk," offered the southerner graciously.

"Shit," muttered Buck as he headed for Chris's door and knocked lightly.

"What!?" barked Chris. Buck cast a martyred look at the others and went in.

"Goddamn it Buck! They can't do this! He's doing good! Got a lot of self-confidence back and these sons of bitches are going to destroy him!" yelled Chris.

"What's going on?"

Chris threw an empty mug across the room watching it shatter against the wall. "Goddamn it!" He stopped to get his breathing under control, and turned to his oldest friend. "They won't give Vin disability leave unless he gets examined by a psychiatrist and, if the guy thinks he needs therapy, Vin has to go." Chris ran his hands through his hair.

"Hey, Chris, we can all pitch in to help with expenses 'til he's better. He doesn't need the leave," offered Buck.

"Buck, thanks, but I'm afraid it's more complicated. If they don't grant the leave, he'll lose his job. They won't let him come back. Buck, seeing the psychiatrist'll kill him. When that shrink examined him before, he just got angry and frustrated. The guy kept trying to make him do these tests that all have words and numbers in them. He can't do them, he can't understand what they're saying to him, and he can't tell them what's going on."

Buck cringed. He remembered well how angry and discouraged Vin had gotten when they'd made him see the psychiatrist before. The guy had been an asshole and hadn't even listened to Chris when he'd tried to explain the situation. "Yeah. I remember. When does he have to go in?"

"I gotta take him in tomorrow morning. Buck, how am I going to explain this to him? I can't do this with pictures and hand signs." He paused, raked his hands through his hair again. "He trusts me and he's going to think I betrayed him."

"Chris, no one can communicate with him better than you. You're just going to have to do your best to help him through this. Maybe they'll let you sit in on the session."

"Yeah, maybe. It's a different guy. Maybe this one will listen."


Chris arrived to find the fence around the corral mended and a dinner waiting for him. Vin greeted him from the kitchen with a small wave, a beer, and a smile. Chris nodded a 'thank you' as he said, "Jeez, Vin you're spoiling me rotten," knowing that the younger agent couldn't understand him. He smiled reassuringly again and raised his beer to the sharpshooter before he took a long drink.

They sat down to eat dinner in silence. Vin kept looking at Chris. Usually, the older agent conveyed impressions of how the day had been through looks and body language. Today, his eyes were hooded and the body language was distressed. The Texan let it go through dinner and clean up. But after dinner, he planted himself in front of his friend and made it clear with his eyes that he wanted to know what was wrong.

The senior agent sighed and sat down with a pad of paper. He was able to let Vin know with pictures, that they had to go somewhere tomorrow, to see a man. Chris tried to draw a doctor, but he wasn't sure he got that message across. Vin understood enough, and gathered from Chris's expression, that this wasn't going to be pleasant and he shook his head, 'No.'

Taking Vin's upper arms in his hands, Chris got the young man to look directly at him. He nodded his head, 'Yes,' and managed to make it clear that it would be okay.

Vin looked back, his eyes filled with trust and nodded, 'Okay.'

Chris cocked his head toward the door and headed outside. He got Vin to show him his work for the day. He marveled at the job the young sharpshooter was doing. Chris wouldn't have gotten a tenth of the work done by three handymen. It wasn't hard to make Vin understand that he was really pleased with what he was seeing.

They moved into the barn and worked with the horses for a while, grooming them, feeding them. When the chores were done and the horses bedded for the night, they headed back up to the house. Vin disappeared and returned with the book from Chris's bedside stand, letting him know that he wanted him to read. Chris had discovered early on that although Vin couldn't understand the story, he liked listening to the sound of Chris's voice. Chris read for an hour before Vin got up, rested his hand briefly on Chris's shoulder as a 'thank you', and headed for a shower before he went to bed.

Chris lay awake half the night, worrying about what was going to happen tomorrow. He knew Vin was apprehensive and had agreed to go because his trusted friend had led him to believe it would be all right. But Chris knew that wasn't likely, and he hoped he could win his friend's trust back afterward.


Next morning, Chris made sure Vin was dressed in khakis and a polo shirt, no blue jeans and a T-shirt, and they headed off for the doctor's office. The younger man began hanging back as they entered the building, and Chris did his best to let him know with reassuring looks that it would be all right. Once in the office, the senior agent could see that Vin was close to losing it. This was too similar to the last time, but when Chris put a hand on his arm and signaled him to wait in a chair, he seemed to calm a little. Chris tried to explain to the doctor about Vin's condition and that he needed to be with Vin when the doctor examined him. The doctor was firm and would not let him in with them. The older agent watched the doctor lead Vin down the hallway to the examination room, his friend looking for all the world like he was heading to his execution. It took nearly 2 hours, and when they came out, Vin's face was tight with anger. He glared once at his boss and headed for the elevator. Chris needed to talk to the doctor to find out what happened, but he didn't know where the sharpshooter was heading. He let the doctor know he'd call him and raced down the hall just as the elevator doors closed on the car with Vin in it.

"Damn!" muttered Chris. He pushed the button and waited. The doors opened almost immediately again. The sullen Texan was standing back in the corner of the elevator, his arms crossed over his chest, glowering. Chris stepped in, looked at the columns of buttons and realized that Vin didn't know which to push. The senior agent punched the button to the third level of the parking garage and stepped back to wait. He tried to get Vin to look at him, but the younger man turned away. Chris sighed and decided to let him cool off a bit.