The two men ran into Chris on their way down the hallway. He was on his way to the bedroom to see if he could convince Vin to join them but just by the look on their faces, he knew they had already tried that and failed.

"You try to get Vin to come eat?" he had to ask.

"He says his stomach hurts," JD told him.

"What?" he asked, more concerned.

"Don't think it's anything serious. Just a little stressed these days," Josiah said. Chris was about to push past the two men when Josiah held out a hand. "But, I think our boy genius here may have gotten through to Vin about what's going on." Josiah swooped his arm around and dropped it across JD's shoulders. JD ducked his head nervously.

Chris narrowed his eyes. "What do you mean?"

"JD got Vin to understand that what he's experiencing isn't permanent...that sometime in the near future, he'll be back to normal."

Chris shifted his eyes to JD. "You're sure he understands that?"

JD raised a shoulder slowly, tipping his head towards it. "He sure seemed to. Of course, there's no telling what he's really thinking. He may have come up with something completely different than what I was trying to tell him. But he sure seemed relieved."

Josiah nodded in agreement. "That he did."

Chris sighed heavily. "I would think that would make him feel better and he'd want to be around his friends. Why does he still want to just lay there?"

"Well, knowing he's getting better doesn't help the way things are now. Maybe it makes him uncomfortable to be around us," Josiah speculated.

JD turned disbelieving eyes to the big man. "But, we're his friends. How can being around us make him uncomfortable?"

"Imagine you're sitting with friends and they're talking about something you know nothing about, or don't really care about. You feel left out for that time. Extend that to not even understanding the language used and you'll be in Vin's place, only the conversation never moves on to something you can join in on." Josiah shook his head. "We may actually be making him feel more alone by trying to stay with him." Josiah knew he was contradicting what Nathan had said earlier. It may be a good idea to do things to keep Vin from being completely alone but he didn't think throwing him in with all six of his friends was necessarily good.

Chris nodded his head absently as he thought of situations he had been in that were similar. "Alone in a crowd," he said softly. After a moment, he changed the subject and added, "Well, boys, the pizza's getting cold. Why don't you go on and dig in. I'm gonna pop my head in and check " Chris shrugged at his last statement, as if it were inevitable. He had to check.

"Okay. We'll try to save you some," JD joked as he and Josiah headed down the hall.

Chris entered his room and saw Vin sitting up on the bed, gingerly pulling at the laces on his shoes. His hands had recovered quickly from the fall yesterday and he was almost back to where he had been as far as being able to use his forefinger and thumb, though he couldn't hold them together tightly without causing himself pain. He had the knots undone but couldn't pull the laces hard enough to loosen the shoe to get it off easily. Chris came forward and took over the task without comment. He took off both shoes and dropped them at the foot of the bed, making sure they were out of the way and wouldn't trip anyone up.

Chris looked over to the items JD had left. An atlas and a calendar. Chris couldn't imagine how these things helped him get through to Vin but he'd be sure to ask. He noticed the smaller picture and leaned over to pick it up. He could tell right away that it was a pizza and knew how they let Vin know dinner was there. Chris turned the picture around so Vin could see and pointed over his shoulder, raising his eyebrows questioningly.

"You sure you won't come and eat something, Vin?" Chris didn't know why he voiced the question.

Vin looked at the picture a moment as if he were contemplating it but finally shook his head no. Chris knew it wasn't because he didn't like pizza; it comprised nearly half of the younger man's diet.

Chris laid the picture flat on his outstretched palms and swung his hands from the direction of the door to Vin's lap. "What if I brought you some here?" Chris moved a hand up to his mouth and pretended to chew, then pointed to Vin and then downward. Vin watched him and thought for a moment as he tried to determine what Chris was telling him. When he thought he knew, he again shook his head no.

Chris sighed as he pursed his lips slightly. He laid a gentle hand on the side of Vin's face for a moment, nodded once then turned to go.

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

Dinner was a quiet affair, the absence of their friend weighing heavily on all of them. Buck and Ezra had chosen a variety of toppings, covering everyone's favorites but for the most part, no one noticed.

After the meal, the men all hung around the kitchen as they cleared away their own plates and napkins. There were several pieces of pizza left over and Chris hoped he could get Vin to eat some of it later. He hadn't realized he had said the thought out loud until Buck answered him.

"Can't say as I blame him. I'd be kinda embarrassed to need help with ...that ...myself," he said, nodding his head and making a face that told Chris he'd better figure out what Buck was talking about on his own, because he wasn't going to say it out loud.

"You mean . . . ?" Chris was making the same 'you-know-what-I'm-talking-about' face.

"That's what I mean. The less that goes in, the less that comes out."

Josiah closed his eyes and shook his head with a smile at Buck's explanation. The man did get to the point.

When the room was clean, they all took places around the table and shared thoughts over coffee. Ezra finally got a chance to see the computer files.

"One thing I can't figure out is why Vin doesn't make any sounds at all," Buck said out of the blue.

"What do you mean?"

"No sounds. No moans. No grunts. Nothing." Buck paused as he tried to get his thoughts in order enough to explain his words. "Babies don't know English. They don't have any language skills yet, but they can still make noises. You know when they're unhappy. They cry. When Vin fell, landed on his broken hands, he didn't make a sound. Not a cry, groan, moan, gurgle, nothing. That doesn't make sense with what I've read here." Buck indicated the files.

"You know, I remember reading something about that. It said that most of the subjects started trying to talk, to make sounds within the first week," JD agreed.

"He's well beyond a week."

"You don't think there was someone at the hospital that kept pumping that stuff into him, do you?" Nathan asked.

"Anything's possible, Nathan. The people I met seemed awfully concerned with his recovery but there were a lot of people I didn't meet."

"You said most of the subjects," Josiah began. "What about the others?"

"Well, there were a couple reports I read that said the subjects just didn't make a sound until the drug had worn off. They really didn't explain why in the files but it was something with the subject, not the drug. But as far as I can remember, there's no reason he can't make sounds. It's almost like he's choosing not to." JD rattled off information he remembered reading.

"Maybe he just doesn't know he still can," Buck guessed.

"Maybe. Maybe we need to start teaching him how to talk again."

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

Vin figured something was going on this morning. They had gotten him up and dressed him in real clothes, jeans instead of sweatpants. He sat at the kitchen table waiting for something to happen. Buck was straightening up the last of the breakfast mess as Ezra wandered in. He was picking at a stray thread on his new jacket, hrumphing at the shoddy workmanship under his breath. He finally gave up on it as he reached the table and took a seat.

Vin watched the man with an amused look on his face. Ezra noticed and donned his famous 'what?' expression. Vin's smile grew as he glanced to the spot Ezra had been working on on his jacket.

Ezra realized what Vin meant. "Oh, so my doling out hard earned wages on poor quality amuses you, Mr. Tanner?" His face showed his irritation.

Vin's expression went to one of innocence at Ezra's tone of voice.

Ezra narrowed his eyes and the sound that emitted from his throat was not quite a groan but definitely wasn't a sigh. He reached into his vest pocket and pulled out his trusty deck of playing cards. He shuffled them a few times and then fanned them out face down in his hand. He offered them to Vin.

Pick a card, his expression said.

Vin dropped his eyelids closed purposefully and opened them slightly wider as he opened his mouth a bit and let out his breath. You've got to be kidding.

Ezra pulled back, opened his eyes wide and placed a palm on his chest. You don't trust me?

Vin pressed his jaws together as the corners of his mouth pulled back a little, drew his eyebrows together and straightened his back. Hell no!

Ezra sat still for a moment before he closed the deck and replaced them in his vest pocket. "I find your lack of faith disturbing."

"Face it, Ezra," Buck spoke from behind him where he'd been watching. "There isn't anything wrong with that boy's brain. He's still got your number." Buck began laughing at Ezra's disgruntledness and that started Vin smiling. Ezra turned sour eyes to Buck then looked back to Vin.

"Et tu, Brute?" he asked. Vin lost his smile for a moment and his eyes grew wide but as Buck's laughing got louder, his smile returned.

Chris entered the room as Ezra's offended demeanor broke down and he too started laughing.

"So, what'd I miss?" Chris asked as he stepped up beside Buck.

"Vin's just teaching Ezra a lesson about faith."


"Seems Ezra ain't the cheat he thinks he is."

"I was merely attempting to offer our companion a distraction. An amusing little slight of hand to pass the time."

"Well, speaking of time," Chris began as he moved to stand beside Vin, and break up any arguments before they began, "it's time to leave for Vin's appointment." Chris wrapped his hand gently around Vin's arm and pulled him to a standing position.

Ezra remained at the ranch as Buck, Vin and Chris left for the doctor's appointment that Chris had arranged for Vin earlier in the week. The doctor had been recommended by Dr. Lucas in Texas and Chris hoped the man could help his friend. He was bringing Vin's medical files plus all the files JD downloaded from the computer. Chris didn't know if they could convince this doctor that Vin's condition was due to drug testing by sick minds rather than trauma induced

They arrived at the medical building and Chris and Buck led Vin inside. They could feel him tensing and tried to let him know everything was okay.

"Vin Tanner, here to see Dr. Stevens," Chris announced to the receptionist as the men entered the office.

"Yes, sir. I'll let the doctor know you're here." She nodded towards the seating area as she picked up her phone and buzzed her boss.

Several minutes later, the door to the doctor's private office opened and a tall man appeared in the entrance. He looked around the room and saw the three ATF agents. There was no one else in the waiting area. He stood silently for a moment before he asked for Vin to enter. All three men stood up and walked towards the door.

"Just Mr. Tanner, gentlemen," Dr. Stevens said as he held up one hand.

"Doctor, we have some new information concerning Vin's condition that we think you really need to hear," Chris explained.

"And you are ?" Dr. Stevens asked as he held out his hand.

"Chris Larabee. I'm a friend of Vin's and his boss," Chris explained as he shook the doctor's hand in greeting.

"And you ?"

"Buck Wilmington. Just a friend, here for moral support." Buck shook the hand that was offered him.

"Gentlemen, I really do need to see Mr. Tanner alone to properly evaluate his condition."

Chris held up the stack of downloaded computer files. "I really think you need to see this first."

The doctor looked at the paperwork for a moment then into Chris's eyes. "Very well, Mr. Larabee." He stepped aside and Chris led Vin into the office. Buck stood still and watched the door close then turned to retake his seat. When he noticed that he was the only one in the room, he smiled slyly and sauntered up to the receptionist's desk.

"Well...howdy, ma'am," he drawled as he leaned onto his forearms on the desk. "My name's Buck Wilmington. What's yours?"

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

Chris was ushered out of the doctor's office fifteen minutes later and he stepped up to his seat and took his place beside Buck. Buck waited but Chris never said a word so he was forced to ask.

"So, what went on in there?"

"The doctor doesn't think much of our 'theory' about Vin being drugged."

"Theory? You showed him all those files?"

"Yeah, I showed him. He'd contacted Dr. Lucas in Amarillo and had Vin's records from there faxed up here. He was pretty wrapped up in those, didn't seem to want to hear any other possibilities." Chris was irritated, Buck could tell, so he tried to choose his words carefully so he didn't agitate him any more.

"Well, if we believe that Vin was drugged, and we know it'll wear off, then we just play along with this doctor until Vin proves him wrong. At least it'll show the court that we're doing something to help him get better. That may help in the trial." Buck was just rambling his speculations at the end but they were things he had thought about so decided to give them voice.

Chris seemed to calm some. "I guess you're right. What harm can this guy do?"

An hour and twenty minutes later, Vin was still in the doctor's office and Buck was pacing nervously. "I thought his appointment was only supposed to be an hour long," he complained.

Chris shrugged. "Maybe he's making some progress."

At that moment, the door opened and Vin appeared beside the doctor there. He stepped out into the room without looking at either of his friends. The doctor asked that Chris join him in his office for a minute. After Chris stepped inside, the doctor closed the door and it was then that Buck looked around. He didn't see Vin in the room.

"Where'd he go?" he asked the receptionist as he spun in circles looking around the room. She pointed towards the door and Buck bolted to the entrance. He stopped in the doorway, seeing Vin down the hall, and spoke to the receptionist again, "When he comes back out," Buck began, pointing towards the doctor's office door, "tell him we'll be somewhere between here and the parking lot." He didn't wait to hear what she replied, or if she replied, as he jogged down the hall.

Vin had pushed the down button for the elevator and Buck arrived just as the doors opened up in front of Vin.

"Whoa, there, pard," he began as he grabbed Vin's arm and pulled him out of the elevator car, letting the doors shut again. "Where do you think you're going?"

Vin yanked his arm out of Buck hold and moved to press the button again. Buck blocked the move and Vin turned angry eyes on him a moment before he spun around and stomped to the windows to stare out. Buck moved up beside him and placed his hand on Vin's shoulder. Vin jerked his body away and went back to the elevator door and stood, pushing almost frantically at the down button.

Buck threw his arms out in frustration as he walked back over to stand beside Vin. He didn't touch him this time and, when the elevator door opened again, he let Vin get in and followed. Vin purposely kept his face turned away from Buck. He started to raise his hand to push the button for the ground floor but couldn't tell which button did that. He gritted his teeth and waited. Buck pushed the button and the elevator started moving.

"Can't tell me what's wrong, can you, pard?" Buck asked softly, shaking his head. Vin was obviously mad about something but there was no way for Buck to find out what it was.

Vin felt like he was inside a pinball machine the way his emotions were bouncing around. He was mad one minute, scared the next, hurt, confused and sad. He realized he must have misunderstood JD the day before about him getting better. They had brought him to a doctor who had conducted many of the same tests that had been done in the hospital in Texas and Vin was sure they were going to send him away to another one. It wasn't the idea of being sent to a hospital that upset him but rather it was the notion that he wouldn't be getting better that scared him.

The door opened and Vin recognized the lobby of the building and got off, Buck following. His pace towards the main entrance was almost panicked and Buck had to jog to keep up, getting to the heavy door just as Vin did. He debated for a second on whether he should stop Vin and wait for Chris and decided they'd better wait for the man inside the building. He steered Vin away from the door and, although Vin didn't fight him, he definitely wasn't happy about it.

By the time Chris showed up, Vin had worked his way into a corner of the room, his back towards Buck and his chin on his chest. Buck kept back though he hovered nearby and turned to Chris as the man approached.

"What's going on?" he asked, taking in Vin's posture.

"I don't know. He's mad about something," Buck relayed, but Chris could tell that just by looking at Vin.

He leaned forward and tapped his hand on Vin's shoulder several times. "Let's go, Vin," he said. Vin recognized Chris's voice and knew that now that the man was with them, they would be leaving. He turned and started walking towards the front doors but still refused to look at either man. Chris and Buck flanked him and opened the door for him when they reached it.

Once through the door, Vin picked up his pace towards where he remembered the truck being parked. He stepped out into the parking lot without even looking to see if a car was coming and though there wasn't one this time, Chris was worried that there might be the next time. He caught up to Vin and grabbed his arm.

"Now, hold on a minute, Vin," he said as he pulled him back. Before he could say more, they all heard the sound of glass shattering nearby followed closely by the distinctive sound of a gun report. Shots continued to be fired as Chris instinctively put his hand on the back of Vin's neck and forced him low to the ground, crouching beside him and leading him to cover behind a parked vehicle. He had his gun in his hand in a second, as did Buck, and even Vin was reflexively feeling the small of his back for his weapon.

"You got him, Buck?" Chris called, keeping his body covering Vin. He looked around and made sure Buck was okay.

"Just general. Over by the Bradford Pear trees, I think."

Chris peered up over the top of the car he was behind towards where Buck had indicated and saw a white van pulling away rapidly. Squealing tires attested to the speed with which the van was moving. Chris straightened up and looked more closely at the vehicle, almost positive it was the same one that was following him after court several days earlier.

"Damn it," he swore and glanced down at Vin huddled against the car, looking around like he was trying to figure out what his next move would be. Chris was now positive that Vin's life was in danger.

"You two okay?" Buck asked as he jogged up to their position. He had watched as the van had torn out of sight but was unable to get a plate number. He looked around the area to see if there had been any innocent bystanders caught in the gunfire but saw no one.

"Yeah, I think so," Chris replied as he squatted beside Vin and checked him over to make sure he hadn't been hit. Finding no bullet holes, he cautiously lifted Vin to his feet and walked him back into the building.

"I'm gonna go call it in. Reckon we'll have some pretty unhappy car owners here," Buck said as he ran on ahead after they had gotten safely inside the heavy glass doors at the entrance to the building.

Chris guided Vin to some benches at the side of the lobby and sat with him. He was still checking his friend for injuries as Vin was alertly looking around, his ATF training superseding his current condition.

Buck rejoined them and squatted in front of the two men. "Team's on their way," he reported as he looked from Chris to Vin. "He okay?"

Chris nodded. "He appears to be. Nothing's bleeding anyway."

"You know, Chris," Buck began, then rubbed his hand over his face.

"I know, I know, Vin's a target...for real."

"We need to move him to a safe house. Don't think your ranch'll cut it anymore."

Chris bobbed his head in agreement as he thought. "You're probably right. Stay with Vin. I'll go arrange it with the agency."