Buck tapped lightly on Chris's bedroom door and called his name softly. He didn't think he'd wake Chris up with that but he didn't want to wake up Vin if he didn't have to. What he finally decided all he was doing was, if he was awake, giving Chris warning that he was coming in. Slowly, he twisted the knob and pushed open the door.

Inside, he saw the opposite of what he expected to find. Chris lay sound asleep while Vin sat awake at the end of the bed. Vin looked up as Buck entered the room and Buck flashed him a big smile.

"Mornin', pard," he greeted jovially, unconsciously enunciating the words as he would for someone hard of hearing. He crept around the end of the bed and took a look at Chris's sleeping form. Boy, even after the whole night, the man still looked tired. Buck debated waking him up and decided the news JD had to share was too important. "Chris," he spoke sharply, though not much louder than a whisper.

Chris shifted under the covers and his eyes fluttered open. Even that was unusual for the ATF leader. The man's senses were on alert even when he was asleep and any unusual sound would cause him to bolt awake. He looked around and spotted Buck.

"I hope this is important, Buck, 'cause I really was looking forward to sleeping in today," Chris told his friend as he glanced to the other side of the bed. He saw Vin already up and pulled himself to a sitting position.

"JD found something on his little hacker mission last night. I really think you ought to hear this."

Chris turned back to Buck. "What 'hacker mission'?" he asked. He didn't know JD was planning to hack into anything, though normally, he didn't want to know.

"Just get up and get dressed. You really need to hear this." Buck turned for the door and then paused and looked back at Chris. "You want me to take Vin?"

Aside from looking at Buck when he entered, Vin hadn't moved. Chris couldn't see his face so couldn't read in his eyes if he was okay.

"Yeah, he might be hungry, and he's probably hurting so if you could give him his pills?" Chris pointed to the bottles on the dresser and Buck reached over and snatched them up. Then, he stepped over to Vin and tapped his shoulder. When Vin looked up, Buck motioned for him to follow. Vin stood up and the two men left the room.

Chris watched his friends leave. What he hadn't been able to see in his face, Chris could see by the way Vin carried himself that the whole affair was getting to him. His shoulders drooped and his chin hung low. Chris told himself he would have to think of a way to keep his spirits up until he got better. He threw back the covers and dragged himself out of bed, heading for the bathroom.

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

Buck led Vin to the kitchen where JD had already gotten into the coffee. He had JD fill a glass with water as he dug the required pills out of the bottles. Vin seemed to be expecting them and opened his mouth to receive them as soon as Buck faced him. Buck dropped them on his tongue, retrieved the glass from JD and held it while Vin drank. He drank the glass dry and when Buck raised it with a questioning expression, Vin nodded. He wanted more.

As Buck held the refilled glass for Vin, JD began pulling all sorts of things out of the refrigerator and cabinets. He placed all the items on the table and, when Vin was done drinking, pulled his attention there. He had grabbed eggs, bacon, bread, cereal, assorted meats and cheeses, bagels and a box of pancake batter. He pointed to Vin and then to the individual items in front of him. He wanted to let Vin decide what he wanted for breakfast.

Buck stood back and marveled at how JD was handling this. When Vin needed his attention, he dropped everything and focused on communicating in such a way that Vin could understand. Maybe his reading that medical file incessantly had taught him something about the best way to deal with Vin.

After JD had displayed everything for Vin, however, he just stared blankly at him, not seeming to understand. JD would not be deterred so easily so he grabbed a cookbook off of a shelf and opened it. He knew he wouldn't find pictures of things like scrambled eggs or cereal but he may find French toast, eggs benedict or maybe an omelet. He flipped through the pages until he found some breakfast items and turned the book for Vin to see.

Again, Vin stared.

JD looked concerned. He was pretty sure Vin understood what he was asking, but maybe he was wrong. Maybe Vin was misinterpreting what was going on.

"Vin, you gotta eat," JD whined, disappointed. He was sure he'd had this figured out.

Vin seemed to notice JD's distress and knew he was the cause. He wanted to cooperate but the whole situation just made him more depressed. He sighed softly as he willed himself to remain composed in front of his friends.

"Maybe you should pick something, JD," Buck interjected, seeing both men getting upset. "You've eaten with him enough to know what he likes."

"Yeah, okay," JD nodded. He gently rubbed Vin's upper arm and then pointed at a chair. Slowly, Vin took a seat. JD turned to Buck. "It's hard seeing him like this, Buck. I mean, to know people and things but not be able to understand them. He's basically trapped in his own mind."

"Did anything in those files you read say if this was permanent, JD?" Buck asked, wondering why that had only just now occurred to him.

"Not that I've read so far, but there's a lot more pages I have to go. And there's a lot more files to down load. I was just afraid to get them all at once. I'll get back in there later and get some more."

"Get some more what?" Chris asked as he entered the kitchen, his hair still wet from the quick shower that he had taken. His expression turned questioning as he saw all the stuff sitting on his kitchen table.

"That's the thing we wanted to tell you. JD got into some company's files and, well, it looks like Vin was drugged, like that's why he can't talk."

Chris froze and looked at Buck, then shifted his eyes to Vin, then to JD and back to Buck. "What?"

"Yeah," JD continued, "I read in Vin's records from Texas that they'd found a drug in his system but didn't know what is was there for. All they really managed to do was identify it. I got online and tracked it down to some company doing research on it and then I got into the research doctor's files. It seems in large enough doses, this drug cuts off the brain's ability to process language."

Chris stared at JD as his mind sorted through this information. His eyes shifted to his friend. "Vin?"

"It describes exactly what Vin's experiencing...well, the best we can tell he's experiencing."

"And get this," Buck went on, slapping the back of his hand against Chris's chest, "the company doing the research is one of Chassen's."

It was Chris's turn to drop his mouth open. "You're sure?" he asked finally.

"Oh, yeah. I tracked it through three different sources. It's Chassen's all right," JD confirmed.

"So this drug ...it'll wear off eventually, won't it?" Chris asked tentatively, not wanting to believe that once the damage was done, it was forever.

"I haven't gotten that far into his research. And I don't know if I've downloaded the files with that information. That's what I said I'd get more of, his files. I just can't stay online too long at any one time or they may be able to trace it back to here," JD explained.

Chris was stunned. He couldn't decide if this was good news or not. It really only confirmed that Chassen was involved, something they had suspected all along. Unfortunately, because the information was gotten illegally, they wouldn't be able to use it against the man but there had to be a way to use it to help Vin.

Chris turned his eyes to Vin. The man sat still at the table, not looking at anyone or anything. Chris felt his heart tighten in his chest.

"You got that stuff on the computer or did you print it out?" Chris asked.

"I printed out everything I got. I'll go get it." And JD was gone, returning a minute later with a stack of papers. Chris grabbed the papers, split it into two smaller stacks and handed one to each of the two men before him. "Read. Find out what you can. I'll make us breakfast." Chris looked once again at Vin. "Were you able to find out what he wanted?" He had finally figured out what all the stuff on the table was for.

JD shook his head. "He just stared at me when I asked. I guess maybe he's not hungry or he doesn't care."

"I'll fix something I know he likes," Chris said consolingly, reading JD's change in demeanor. He went to the table and gathered the ingredients that he would need. The rest of the stuff was shoved to one end.

Vin remained still as he watched the activity of the other three men with little interest. Buck and JD scanned the pages they were given to read. Even though JD had said he hadn't gotten very many files downloaded, there was a lot of information contained in what he did get. The two sat quietly as they worked through the information.

Chris busied himself at the stove making ham and cheese omelets. He knew they were one of Vin's favorites. It concerned him a little when JD had told him that Vin didn't seem hungry. Just by looking at the man, Chris could tell he was depressed. Hopefully, they would be able to find some information in the files JD got and find a way to pass that information on to Vin.

When breakfast was over, JD and Buck were still reading as Chris stood to clear away the dishes. Vin had only eaten a small part of his omelet despite all of Chris's encouragement. Chris tried not to get upset over it. Vin had eaten well enough the day before so maybe he was overreacting. Maybe Vin just wasn't hungry.

"I got something," JD called from his seat at the table. He and Buck had hardly looked up from their work as they ate.

"What is it?" Chris asked, coming back to the table.

"There's a reference here to a sample study group, fifty subjects. It says that the length of time before returning to normalcy ranged from ten to thirty days and that there's a chart somewhere that details each of the subjects." JD looked up. "I don't have that chart here...do you have it, Buck?"

Buck shuffled some of his papers but saw nothing that looked like a chart. "No," he replied.

"Must be in one of the files I don't have yet."

"Ten to thirty days, that's quite a gap. I wonder what makes the difference," Chris thought out loud.

"It doesn't say here. I guess that could be part of the subjects' files."

"Well, if Vin was in the hospital in Texas from last Monday, we know it's already been more than a week. If he's one of the ten day people, we should be okay I mean as far as the trial's concerned and we know he'll get better within a month. If we can convince the judge of all this, we may still be able to put that piece of dirt away," Buck speculated.

All the men knew that the information they had so far was sketchy at best but if this initial news held true, they knew that Vin would eventually get back to his old self. The trial shifted back into a higher priority, especially since the very man they were working to get off the streets was the one who had done this to Vin.

"When can you get into those files again, JD?" Chris asked.

"I like to do that kind of stuff at night when there tends to be fewer people working in places like that. They may have an automated system that checks for tampering but I can usually skirt those for a little while. It's when someone is online there that they notice extra people logged in."

"So, not 'til tonight?"

"It's probably best. It'll keep them from tracing it here so easily and since it is illegal "

"You're right. Tonight's good enough. Get as much as you can downloaded. We need to find out how to treat this, what to expect, maybe how to tell Vin what's going on. If they've tested this on that many people, surely someone figured out how to communicate with them."

"I thought we were doing okay with that?" JD looked puzzled.

"We are, I guess, but there are a lot of things to tell him that we just can't make a picture for. It'd be nice if there was another way, some way we can let him know he's gonna be okay." Chris placed a protective hand on Vin's shoulder. Vin glanced at it and turned away to look out the window.

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

Vin stood at the kitchen sink with the glass he'd drunk from earlier gripped tightly in between his thumb and forefinger. The rest of the breakfast dishes took up space on the counter beside the sink, to be tended to later, as was becoming habit with breakfast dishes at the Larabee house. Gingerly, Vin bumped at the water faucet trying to turn it on. He couldn't press it hard enough without hurting himself and thought if he hit it, it might start moving. Unfortunately, the faucet refused to budge.

Vin closed his eyes and took a deep breath. It was hard enough not being able to communicate with anyone but having to have all but the simplest things done for him was making the whole situation nearly unbearable. He took another deep breath, tightened his jaw and left the kitchen with the glass still in his hand. Maybe the faucet in the bathroom sink was easier to move.

Chris was walking into the hallway from his bedroom when he saw Vin step into the bathroom. Since he didn't close the door, Chris peeked in when he reached it. He saw Vin struggling with the faucet and immediately stepped in to help.

Vin looked both relieved and irritated as Chris was filling his glass. He filled it only halfway and held it out for Vin to take, hoping it wasn't too heavy. Vin wrapped the fingertips of both hands around the glass which promptly slipped through to fall to the floor. If it hadn't hit the small area rug there, it probably would have shattered into dozens of pieces. As it was, it broke into four large chunks that Chris easily scooped up off the floor. The rug did a good job of soaking up the spill so all Chris had to do to clean it up was pick up the rug.

Vin stared at the spot even after Chris had picked up the glass pieces and the rug. If he thought he could scream, he would have. As it was, he just bit his lip firmly.

Chris reached out and gently rubbed Vin's arm as he smiled warmly. "It's just a glass, Vin. An old one at that. It's not a big deal." Chris wished some of his words would creep into Vin's mind, would let him know there was no problem but he could tell by the look on Vin's face that he was upset.

Chris guided Vin out of the bathroom and back into the living room where he had him sit on the couch. Then, Chris disappeared into the kitchen and returned a couple of minutes later with a squirt bottle filled with ice water. It was far too heavy for Vin to carry but because it had a plastic straw sticking out of the top, Vin could drink whenever he wanted to. Chris set the bottle down on the table in front of Vin who smiled weakly at the idea and leaned forward to get a drink. The water felt good going down and Vin drank nearly half of the bottle's contents. The whole time he was in the hospital, he tried not to drink too much because someone had to help him go to the bathroom, or, worse yet, make him use a bedpan. The less he drank, the less he had to go. Now that he knew he could handle the task himself, he could drink all he wanted.

Chris smiled when Vin pulled away from the bottle. "Guess you were thirsty." He picked the bottle up and went to refill it. He set it back down in front of Vin who had leaned back into the couch. Chris raised his arms out to the sides, then put his hands on his chest and finally pressed them towards Vin. "Anything I can get you?" he asked, hoping his gestures said that.

Vin looked at him a moment then shook his head. He wasn't sure what Chris meant but he thought no was as good an answer as any. Chris smiled at him and moved off to the kitchen to tackle the dirty dishes.

Vin looked around the room for a few minutes. He'd been here so many times, it almost felt like home to him. Finally, he leaned forward and looked down at the remote control for the TV. He couldn't read any of the button descriptions but if he closed his eyes, he could picture in his head where the button that turned on the set was. He reached out and pressed it, happy when the TV came to life. Next, he wanted to turn the sound off it was just annoying noise anyway. He knew which button was the volume control and pressed it. The annoying sound went away. Now, he just had to find some pictures to watch. Hitting the channel select button repeatedly eventually landed him on a football game. He didn't know what day it was so couldn't tell if this was an old game or not but he recognized the insignias on the teams' jerseys and he knew the game whether he could hear the announcer or not. He leaned over and grabbed the squirt bottle between his elbow and his side and, bringing it with him, he twisted himself around until he was laying on the couch, the straw from the bottle in easy reach. Turning his attention to the game, he tried to forget what was happening in his real life, if only for a little while.