It seemed like only a few seconds after he had closed his eyes that Chris became aware of an annoying, blaring sound beside his head. He smacked the top of the clock and stared at the illuminated numbers showing him it was, indeed, six am. He pulled himself up to a sitting position, knowing if he let himself stay lying down, he would fall back asleep. He wondered about that. Real sleep had eluded him for so long that he had to think about what had changed that had him sure he would drift off again. Suddenly, he remembered and turned to the side to see Vin lying next to him, his open eyes reflecting the dim light coming from the bathroom.

"Morning, Vin," Chris said softly as he rested his hand on Vin's shoulder.

Vin turned his eyes to meet Chris's, the hint of confusion suddenly gone as he saw him.

Chris threw back the blankets and swung his legs over the edge of the bed. He turned on the small bedside lamp and saw the mess his room had become. He stood up, found his robe and slipped it on as he stumbled out of the room and across the hall to knock on Buck's door. It took almost a minute before he heard muffled grumbling noises and then the door swung open. Buck stared at him through squinted eyes.


"Six o'clock. Time to get up."

"Hmmm." Buck rubbed his face roughly with his hand, his sleep clouded mind assuring him Chris was lying.

"You awake, Buck?" Chris grabbed his arm and shook vigorously.

"Yeah, yeah, yeah, I'm awake."

Just to be sure, Chris reached into the room and flicked on the light switch. Buck immediately covered his eyes.

"That was not nice," he whined as his eyes slowly adjusted to the light.

"True. But it is effective. You go get JD up. I'll take care of Vin."

Chris was gone before Buck could ask how Vin was doing. He shrugged and headed to the den where he found JD fully clothed, lying on the couch with a pile of papers on his chest, snoring softly.

******* ******* *******

The four men barely made it out of the house on time. Chris had showered and dressed quickly before he got Vin out of bed. His first thought was to get Vin to take a shower but didn't know if he could manage that by himself and didn't have time to find out. He helped Vin with a 'birdbath' as best he could. He had watched the nurse clean and rebandage Vin's injuries but found he didn't have the right supplies to do it. He made a mental note to pick some up while he was in town. He put Vin in one of his suits, which Vin didn't need words to let him know he hated. It was a little too big but would have to do. They didn't have time to stop at Vin's place.

Buck and JD had handled breakfast for the four of them, leaving the mess to clean up for later.

They were walking out the door when Chris remembered Vin's medication. Vin didn't seem to be hurting too badly but one could never tell with Vin. He gave him the pain pills. He debated briefly about giving him the anti-depressant because Vin seemed all right. He decided he didn't have time to analyze the situation. The doctor had prescribed them so there must have been a need. When he arranged for a new doctor, he'd find out from him if they were still necessary but for now, he made Vin take one.

They took both Chris's truck and Buck's into town and the two rides couldn't have been more different. Absolute silence reigned in Chris's while JD prattled on the whole drive about what he found in Vin's records. Buck wondered why, if JD found them so fascinating, he hadn't chosen to go into medicine. They had brought the file along, to help explain the situation to the judge, and JD kept rifling through it as he described things to Buck.

******* ******* *******

The rest of the team had already arrived and were anxiously awaiting their leader. They had all wanted to be at his ranch the night before to see Vin but had agreed with Chris that it might have been too much for him. It had taken all their restraint to wait.

Buck and JD joined their group and were immediately questioned as to the whereabouts of the other two.

"They're coming," Buck assured them. "Had one last minute thing to take care of as we were leaving the house but they should be here in a few minutes."

"So, how's Vin?" Nathan asked tentatively. They all wanted to know.

Buck shrugged. "It's kinda weird. He looks like the same ol' Vin but he don't talk. And both his hands are in those splint things so he can't do much." Buck shook his head. "Most of the time, all you get is a blank stare. It's hard to make him understand what you're trying to say."

"But, there's ways to do it," JD piped in, flipping open that folder. "It says right here..." JD's voice was cut off by Buck who had wrapped his arm around the kid's head and clamped his hand across his mouth.

"Save it for the judge, huh JD?" Though the other men would have liked to have heard about it, Buck had had his fill and had decided for all of them that that conversation would have to wait for another time.

Even though Vin had been in the courthouse countless times before, he seemed a little tense to Chris. Maybe it wasn't such a bad idea to have given him the mood elevator. They wound their way through the halls and on to the assigned courtroom. Chris saw the rest of his team and steered Vin towards them.

"Mr. Tanner," Ezra beamed as the two stepped up to them. He smiled as he gently patted the man on his shoulder.

Vin smiled back at Ezra and then let his eyes drift from face to face, getting a returning smile from both Nathan and Josiah. They didn't have a chance to carry on any kind of conversation however as the lawyer for the case appeared.

"Thank heavens you're here," he said, directing his words to Vin. "When they called last week and told me that you had disappeared, I was sure the case was over. Yesterday, when they called and told me that you had been found, I couldn't believe it! Just in time for the trial, though they eluded to some difficulty. There isn't going to be any problem with your testifying, is there?"

The team couldn't believe the man had said all that without taking a breath.

"Mr. Cavanaugh," Chris said quietly, the tone alone enough to get the man's attention. "We definitely have a problem. We're going to need a private session with the judge to explain it."

The lawyer began shaking his head animatedly. "No, no, don't say that. We can't have any problems. The judge already said..."

"Mr. Cavanaugh, Vin can't testify. He can't talk." Chris's voice began to rise. "We can go ahead and admit defeat and let Chassen off, or we can try to convince the judge to wait until Vin is able to testify."

"What do you mean, can't talk? You mean he has laryngitis? Surely he can whisper. They'll allow for that."

Chris shook his head. Sometimes this lawyer just got too emotional. "No, not laryngitis. Can't talk at all. Doesn't understand English anymore."

Cavanaugh's brow wrinkled and Chris held out his hand to JD who stuck Vin's file into it.

"Read this."

Cavanaugh took the folder and wandered to a bench to take a seat and read.

Vin stood beside Chris and watched the expression change on the face of the eighth man, Cavanaugh. He knew who the man was, knew why he and the team were at the courthouse. Images of Russell Chassen flashed through his mind. Sounds he heard. Gunshots...seemingly hundreds of gunshots. And two men falling dead. Then laughing, but that wasn't from the same place or time. That was more recent. Taunting him. Vin squeezed his eyes shut but the images playing behind his eyes continued and the laughing continued to echo through his brain.

Suddenly, he was aware of hands on him, supporting him, comforting him. Slowly, he cracked open his eyes and raised them up to the faces of his friends. Concern etched their expressions, concern and just a hint of pity. Several of them were speaking to him, he recognized the sounds of their voices. He forced himself to relax as Chris guided him to a bench to sit down. Once sitting, Vin kept his eyes on the floor, not wanting to see the concern or the pity.

With his friends gathered around him, Vin didn't see the arrival of Russell Chassen. The man paused briefly at the door to the courtroom, a flash of surprise crossing his face as he glared at the ATF team all of them then continued on inside.

Cavanaugh glanced at his watch and stood up from where he had been reading Vin's file. The emotional man from just a few minutes before seemed to be gone and was replaced by a professional, confident attorney. "I'll discuss this with the judge as soon as court convenes," he told the team as he passed by on his way into the courtroom.

The minutes ticked by; nine o'clock came and went. The trial was underway. Seven men waited outside the courtroom doors, some sitting, some pacing. Not a minute went by where one of them wasn't looking at his watch, wondering what the hell was going on inside. No sounds were heard from the courtroom but that wasn't unusual. Only the loudest outbursts could be heard from outside.

Finally, a court officer approached the group. "Vin Tanner?"

Chris grabbed Vin's arm and stood up with him. "He's right here."

"Judge wants to see him in his chambers."

Chris nodded and started leading Vin towards the officer who put up one hand. "Just Mr. Tanner."

"You're gonna need me to go with him," Chris stated flatly.

"If you're needed, you will be sent for." The man took Vin by the upper arm, avoiding the splint at least, and started heading for the judge's chambers. Vin was a little worried over the firm hand around his arm. He wondered what he had done wrong, wondered if he was in trouble. Eventually, the man released him and showed him the way through some hallways he hadn't been in before until they stopped at a large wooden door. The officer knocked and after a moment, was beckoned inside.

"Mr. Tanner, come in. Sit down," the judge commanded shortly. Vin stood still, wide-eyed at the doorway.

"Your honor?" Cavanaugh quizzed as he drew the judge's attention back to the open file on his desk in front of him.

The judge looked at the papers again and finally realized what the lawyer was alluding to. "Oh, yes." He raised his hand and waved it indicating Vin should come forward, which he did. He held his hand out towards a chair and Vin sat down.

The judge leaned forward with his forearms on the desk. "You can't understand anything anybody says to you?" he asked directly of Vin.

Vin narrowed his eyes as he, once again, tried to force his brain to decipher what was being said. This was serious. Vin knew that. He knew who the judge was and knew all the people in the room. The defense attorney was here along with Cavanaugh, the prosecutor. They were looking to him to tell what he knew but he couldn't. Try as he might, he just couldn't.

"Your honor, anybody can pretend not to understand," the defense attorney argued.

"Why would he do that, Mr. Peabody? What would he stand to gain from that? Your client is the one who will benefit from this man not testifying. I would think you would be happy about this."

"He would have something to gain if he'd been lying all along. Fear of being caught and thrown in jail himself for perjury could make a man do this!" The defense attorney eyed Vin as he spoke, hoping to see a telltale change of expression that indicated the man could fully understand what was being said and, better yet, that he was right.

"Your honor," Cavanaugh spoke up. "The medical file details Mr. Tanner's condition and the physician's findings. It's clear he really is ill."

"It seems to be a mental condition, Mr. Cavanaugh. How long is the court expected to wait for him to recover?"

"I understand that, your honor, but if the witness should, say, have appendicitis, the court would wait for him to recover from surgery before he was made to testify. All we ask is that Mr. Tanner have a chance to recover."

"Your honor," Peabody argued, "the prosecution has already been granted two continuances. My client shouldn't have to wait because the prosecution is unprepared."

"Unprepared! How does one prepare for a kidnapping?"

"Gentlemen! Gentlemen!" The judge quieted the room. He rubbed one hand down his face then turned to the prosecuting attorney. "Kidnapping, Mr. Cavanaugh? Care to explain that?"

Cavanaugh opened another file and pulled out a copy of Vin's missing person sheet and copies of several of the reports from the scene around Vin's apartment building the night he disappeared. The room was silent as the judge reviewed the reports.

"There does seem to be evidence of wrong doing, Mr. Peabody. The prosecution shouldn't be penalized because of something beyond its control." He leaned back in his chair and thought for a moment. Finally, he pulled the medical file forward and looked up the doctor's report. The physician's name and phone number were on the report and the judge decided to have a word with the man. He reached over and picked up the phone to make the call.

Vin sat in the chair during the whole exchange, knowing the men were arguing. Their expressions and body language, not to mention the volume and tone of their discussions, told him that. He knew the discussions were about him and his testifying. He wanted to scream out what he had witnessed, what he saw repeatedly flash through his mind but it wouldn't come. Sadly, he leaned back in the chair, lowering his eyes to the floor, knowing a killer was going to be set free because of him.

The judge had to wait on hold for nearly fifteen minutes until the doctor could be located and the two men spoke for another ten minutes before the man hung up the phone. He sat silently for several more minutes before he came to a decision.

"The doctor in Texas admits that Mr. Tanner's condition could reverse itself at any time, however there is no way to know when that could be. I understand Mr. Chassen's desire to conclude this matter but I also believe Mr. Tanner should have a chance to recover before we strike him as a witness. I'll rearrange the docket and shift some of the testimony of other witnesses and give Mr. Tanner until next Monday. If he shows no sign of improvement, I'm afraid we'll have to strike him and move on." Only when he finished speaking did the judge look up at the two attorneys in front of him, his eyes almost daring them to argue with his decision. Neither man spoke and the judge smiled at that. "We will reconvene in five minutes and work out a new schedule." The judge stood up and closed all the folders on his desk, returning Cavanaugh's files to him.

The defense attorney huffed and turned to leave the room. He yanked open the door and stalked off back to his client. The prosecutor followed a moment later, juggling the folders in his arms. The judge moved to the door and only then seemed to notice Vin was still sitting in the chair.

"Mr. Tanner?" he asked, then once again realized speaking to the man did no good. He reached down and touched his arm. Vin looked up. The judge made a motion with his hand that he hope conveyed that he wanted Vin to stand up. It must have worked for he did. The judge called for the court officer over the intercom and a minute later the man appeared. "Take Mr. Tanner back where you found him. Was anyone with him?"

"Yes, your honor, he had several men waiting with him," the officer informed him.

"Must be the whole ATF team," he mused to himself. Speaking to the officer, he said, "Tell them to wait until we recess. They'll be told what's going on then."

"Yes, sir." The officer raised his arm, indicating Vin was to come along and he followed obediently.

******* ******* *******

Chris paced nervously, repeatedly looking at his watch. He inwardly wondered why he was feeling so protective of Vin. They weren't going to do anything to him, weren't going to hurt him. He just seemed so vulnerable now that Chris wanted to guard him from the world until he was better.

Finally, he saw the court officer approaching with Vin. He stepped forward to meet them.

"The judge wants you to wait out here until he calls the next recess. You'll be informed then what to do," the officer rattled off to them mechanically, then turned and returned to his post.

Vin stood watching his friends who were in turn watching him. They had no way of finding out what had happened in the judge's chambers from Vin. They would have to be patient for a little while longer. Chris guided Vin back to the bench to sit down. He rested his hand on Vin's shoulder, hoping he was providing a little comfort to his friend, knowing he needed it by the slight tremble he could feel. Vin once again turned his gaze to the floor.

It was nearing twelve-thirty when the trial broke for lunch. The spectators began filing out of the courtroom and it took several more minutes before Cavanaugh joined the agents in the hallway.

"The judge has given him a week. He's rearranged some of the testimony...Nathan, you go on tomorrow now...and shifted some other stuff around for this. If there isn't at least some improvement in Vin's condition by then, he'll be stricken as a witness and our case gets very shaky."

All the agents shifted their eyes to Vin, who remained staring at the floor. A week. How could he possibly get better in a week? And if he improved, would they be able to tell?

"If that's what we have to do, that's what we have to do," Chris stated matter-of-factly. "I'll start calling that list of doctors that Dr. Lucas gave me, we get him in to see one and we find out what we have to do to get Vin back to normal."

"I know that nothing I say can make his recovery go any faster but the department has a lot riding on this trial. A lot of man-hours and money invested. Whatever you can do..." Cavanaugh shook his head as he saw a lot of hard work going down the drain. He took a deep breath and sighed loudly, then took the folder that he had gotten from Chris earlier out of his briefcase and returned it to him. "Call me if anything develops." He closed his case and wandered off to rethink some strategy.

Six men stood silently casting furtive glances at the seventh as they, too, felt a lot of hard work going out the window. It wasn't their friend's fault. He was just a victim of his position, becoming a target because of what he did for a living.

Chris shook Vin's shoulder lightly to get his attention then reached down and wrapped his hand around Vin's arm to gently pull him to his feet. "I'm gonna take him back to the ranch and then make some calls. I guess you boys need to hold down the fort for a few days."

"Call if you need anything, okay?" Nathan told him, the rest of the men nodding their offers of assistance.

"I will, thanks." Chris started to head for the exit when Josiah stopped him. He reached out and placed a tender hand on Vin's cheek and when the younger man looked him in the eye, he moved his hand to Vin's chin and tapped it lightly with a knuckle, then pressed it gently upwards. A slow smile crept on Vin's face and he nodded slightly. Josiah smiled back and patted Vin's cheek a few times before he dropped his hand back to his side. As a group, the seven men started walking down the hall.

******* ******* *******

The seven men were out of ear shot of the man on the phone and if they hadn't been so involved in their own affairs, they may have been able to feel the intensity of the evil stare that was directed at them as he waited for an answer on the other end of the line. When a connection was finally made, he didn't give the person a chance to say anything before he began speaking. "He's here! I paid you to make sure he wouldn't be able to testify...They are giving him till next Monday. I'm giving you till next Monday to fix this...At this point, I don't care how you do it, just that you do it. Things will not bode well for you if I have to go to prison!" Chassen slammed the receiver down on the switch hook, not the least bit concerned that it broke under the force. He tightened his jaw as he watched the ATF agents disappear into the crowd of the courthouse.