Chris cursed his stupidity as he slammed shut the door to Buck's truck, having dug his vest out from all the debris behind the seat. He moved up to the car loaned to him from the agency and stuck the key in the lock to open the trunk. The shuffling noise behind him lasted for only a second and Chris never had time to turn around before he felt an intense pain at the base of his head and a second later was consumed by darkness.

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

Buck hurried into the bedroom where Vin laid curled up on top of the blankets. He tried to keep his tone calm, though wanted Vin to know they needed to hurry.

"C'mon, Vin, time to wake up. We need to take a little trip," Buck said as he shook his friend's shoulder. Vin shifted around lazily but didn't open his eyes. Buck shook his shoulder harder and spoke a little louder. "C'mon, Vin. We've got to get out of here."

Finally, Vin groggily opened his eyes and looked around, confused. Buck pulled gently on Vin's upper arm and got him to a sitting position. He let Vin sit for a moment to wake himself up while he groped around on the floor by the bed, trying to find the man's shoes. They had somehow gotten kicked under far enough that Buck had to get down on his knees to reach them. He pulled them out and began tugging at the laces.

Vin was awake enough now that he sensed something was wrong. He tried to read Buck's face but all he saw there was the urgency of the situation. He tried to cooperate when Buck began thrusting his sneaker on his foot but the tongue had gotten shoved up into the toe of the shoe. Buck cursed as he pulled back the sneaker and adjusted the tongue. He tried going slower and managed to get it on Vin's foot this time. He quickly tied the laces and repeated the process with the other foot, the tongue of that shoe staying where it belonged.

With the footwear in place, Buck got Vin standing and herded him down the stairs. He figured Chris would be back in the house by now with the vests and when he didn't see him in the living room, he pointed Vin in the direction of the kitchen.

Buck had only gotten a couple of steps into the living room before he was struck by something hard across the back. He fell to his hands and knees as he gasped, trying to reclaim his breath.

Vin heard the sound and spun around to see a man standing over Buck, readying to hit him again. Vin moved forward to block the hit but froze when he saw who it was that was standing over his friend.

"Vin, get out of here," Buck shouted as tried to push himself back onto his feet. The man swung his weapon again, a two-by-four that he had picked up somewhere, and hit Buck across the shoulder blades. Buck fell to his stomach on the floor, unconscious. Finally, the assailant looked up at Vin.

"Well, well, well, Mr. Tanner. We meet again." The man dropped the board as he began advancing on Vin. Vin wanted to go to Buck and help but found himself backing away from the man in front of him, keeping his eyes locked with his.

Vin backed up until he felt a wall behind him and glanced to the side to see how far away the door was. When he turned back, the man had gotten within arms reach of him. The man quickly thrust out his arm and slapped Vin's right wrist with a hard blow. Vin cringed and cradled the limb against his chest.

"You weren't supposed to come back so soon, Mr. Tanner." He struck out again and hit Vin's other wrist. "I was trying to do you a favor and not kill you. You were supposed to stay out of the way till it was too late for your testimony." He lashed out and slapped the side of Vin's face.

Vin started sliding slowly along the wall, trying to escape the abuse but he never got out of the man's reach.

The man thrust out an arm and wrapped his hand tightly around one of Vin's wrists, squeezing firmly and smiling as Vin gasped at the pain. He pulled Vin away from the wall and, with a strength Vin wouldn't had thought he had, he threw Vin hard to the floor, the jolt of hitting the hard surface with his hands sending spasms of pain up his arms.

While trying to right himself, Vin felt himself being flipped over onto his back and before he could fight back, the man was sitting on his chest and maneuvering his knees onto Vin's arms at the elbows to hold them in place. Vin squirmed under the man but didn't have the strength to throw him off.

"Now, Mr. Tanner, I'm forced to use more extreme measures to ensure that you do not appear before the court again." The man reached into a pocket and pulled out a syringe. Vin's eyes grew wide when he saw it and he tried to wriggle harder. "Actually, you're quite lucky, Mr. Tanner. You get to test two of our little experimental concoctions. Few ever survive their first trial." The man flicked his middle finger off his thumb to tap on the side of the glass syringe as he looked at it fondly. The yellowish liquid inside didn't move. "This little creation has a bigger kick to it than what you last got. Pain. Lots of it." The man pulled the protective covering off the needle and looked down into Vin's eyes. "And then you die."

Vin didn't know what the man was saying but he knew what happened the last time he stuck him with a needle. With a final effort, he put all his strength into trying to buck the man off of his chest but the man had too good a hold on him.

The man took his free hand and gripped Vin by the throat, squeezing just enough to make breathing difficult. "I could inject this into the jugular, get it circulated fast, but you know how I like to prolong the fun." He twisted the needle around in his hand and drove it into Vin's arm, just below the shoulder. Slowly, he began squeezing the plunger and the liquid began flowing into Vin's system.

Vin twisted his body futilely as he watched the liquid in the syringe disappear.

"Really, Mr. Tanner. Fighting this just makes your blood flow faster and thus spreads the drug out faster. If I'd had known you were in such a hurry, I'd have gone for your jugular," the man followed his words with the laugh that haunted Vin's dreams. He froze at the sound as tears formed in his eyes.

Suddenly, a loud booming sound reverberated through the room. The man sitting on Vin jerked upright and his eyes grew wide. His hand still held the syringe, the upward movement having pulled the needle out of Vin's arm. Vin watched as the man slowly fell sideways to the floor and only then could he see Ezra standing just inside the door, Chris behind him.

Vin squirmed his way out from under the fallen man as Chris stumbled up to fall at his side. Vin looked up at his friend and could see a small trail of blood flowing from the back of his head.

"Vin, are you okay?" Chris asked, looking to his eyes to get his answer. He saw fear and reached up to put a reassuring hand on his shoulder. He glanced over to where Ezra was reviving Buck. The man seemed to be coming around okay.

Chris's attention was drawn back to Vin as he tapped his shoulder and then pointed to the needle still held by the unconscious man on the floor. When Chris saw it, his eyes grew wide.

"Did he give it to you?" Chris asked as he started searching Vin's body for a needle mark. Vin stopped him and gingerly pulled up the sleeve of his shirt far enough to expose the spot where the needle had been. "Shit!" Chris cursed, then looked to Ezra. "We need to get him to the hospital now!"

"I can drive him," Ezra said.

"You go with him, Chris," Buck began. "I'll stay here and make sure the garbage gets taken care of then meet up with you at the hospital." Buck was rotating both arms, trying to ease the soreness from the blow he took.

"You sure you're okay, Buck?"

"Yes! Go!"

Ezra handed Buck his weapon as Chris leaned forward and retrieved the syringe. He found the cover for the needle and replaced it before he and Ezra helped Vin to his feet and, as quickly as they dared, got him to the car. Ezra started the engine and they were moving in seconds.

Buck grabbed Chris's cell phone off the coffee table where it had been left earlier and called in for help. He leaned back against the wall, keeping the gun trained on the man before him as he let out a sigh and waited.

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

Ezra sped through the city streets and Chris was silently offering his thanks that they weren't all the way out at his ranch when this had happened. As it was, they could be at the hospital in ten minutes.

Five minutes into the ride, Vin began to tremble and Chris could see a thin sheen of sweat forming on his face. He gently wrapped his fingers around Vin's and put an arm across his shoulders, pulling him in to rest on his chest. "It's gonna be okay, Vin. We're almost there. Hang on," Chris soothed, hoping that once they got him to the hospital, they could do something for him.

A tiny moan escaped Vin's throat as he squeezed his eyes shut and buried his head in Chris's chest.

"Faster, Ezra," Chris coaxed as he tightened his hold of Vin. Ezra merely nodded, knowing he was already going as fast as he dared. The hospital was now in sight and he relayed that information to Chris which Chris incorporated into the murmurings he was continually saying to Vin.

Ezra screeched to a halt in the emergency zone and leapt from the car to get help from inside as Chris slowly began to shift Vin into a position where he could be removed from the car easily. Chris couldn't tell whether the tiny grunts and groans that Vin was letting out hurt him worse than when his friend had been silent.

A gurney was brought to the car and two orderlies helped get Vin onto it. It was then wheeled inside followed closely by Chris while Ezra jumped into the car to move it to a proper location.

Chris pulled the syringe out of his pocket and told the doctor what had happened. He immediately sent the syringe to the laboratory to have the contents analyzed.

Vin had curled onto his side on the gurney and the doctor was attempting to get him to lie out straight so he could examine him. Chris finally convinced the nurses that Vin was unable to communicate and that he should be in the examination room to help.

Chris rattled off all the information he could on Vin's condition while the doctor examined him. He showed him where the needle mark was in his arm, which the doctor probed curiously. They started Vin on an IV, though, until they knew what they were dealing with, it just supplied Vin with fluids.

The pain was intense and seemed to be hitting Vin everywhere and it was an agonizing thirty minutes that Chris sat beside his friend and watched until the results came in from the lab. The doctor read the results and shot out a number of instructions to several nurses before he addressed Chris.

"We've identified it. There's good news and bad. The good news is that, though we really can't counteract it, we can render it inert in his system. That means it'll do him no more harm. The bad news is that we can't completely get rid of what's already taken hold so he'll have to ride it out until his body flushes it out on its own." The doctor paused as he let the information sink in.

"What's it doing to him?"

"It's stimulating the nerves of his muscles which are in turn signaling to his brain that there's pain. It seems to be non-specific about what it attaches to so long as it's muscle tissue. Basically, everything hurts him." The doctor knew he was over-simplifying his explanation but didn't think the man before him wanted all the gory details. "Another thing, Mr. Larabee. He's very lucky he didn't get all of what was in that syringe. He'd probably be dead by now if that were the case."

Chris nodded his head absently as he turned his attention back to Vin.

Because of the arm splints he wore, they opted to insert the IV in his lower leg and because the pain caused him to jerk his limbs violently, his leg was restrained with a thick leather strap. When they started a second line in his other leg, that one had to be strapped down as well. An oxygen mask had been placed over Vin's nose and mouth to help compensate for his shallow breathing.

Chris sat beside his friend, wanting so badly to be able to change places. Vin writhed with the pain and rolled his head from side to side. Chris circled his arm around Vin's head and ran his fingers through his hair.

"Fight it, Vin. A little while longer and it'll be over." Actually, the doctor hadn't told him how long it would take for Vin's system to flush out the toxin, but he felt better giving Vin something to shoot for...not that Vin understood him, however.