Vin felt terrible. He was curled up on his side on the couch in Chris's living room. The doctor had come into his room just before noon and told Chris that Vin could be released. After a quick conference with the team, it was decided to take Vin back to the ranch and that the whole team would stay there to help protect him. They knew Perkins no longer provided a threat but they didn't know what else Chassen may have up his sleeve. Within two hours, they were on the road out of Denver.

Vin wrapped his arms tighter across his stomach. He felt nauseous and his whole body was sore, like he'd gone to work out for the first time in two months and stayed at the gym two hours too long using weights twice as heavy as he should have. His back hurt from laying flat on it for so long and his hands hurt too, but he figured if he'd stop falling on them, they'd stop hurting. And somewhere along the way, he'd picked up the hiccups. He tried to fall asleep but each time he was about to drift off, he'd hiccup his way back awake. He tried holding his breath, but that would only work once in a while and only for short periods of time.

He felt the hiccups rise again and heavy lids peeled themselves open. He realized he must have fallen asleep because there was now a pillow under his head and a thin blanket covering him. He glanced around groggily but didn't see anyone, though he could hear voices. He took a deep breath and held it until he couldn't any longer and, when he let it out, the hiccups didn't return. He didn't want to move, knowing that would only awaken his sore muscles so he let his lids fall shut and sleep draw him back.

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Buck tiptoed into the room and leaned over to get a good look at Vin. He appeared to be still asleep so he stepped lightly through the room and on into the kitchen. Chris was there taking stock of the cupboards. It wasn't quite as bare as old mother Hubbard's but it wasn't enough to feed six or seven grown men. A poll was taken of the men, a list made, money donated and shoppers dispatched. Within an hour, they men were back with a large number of plastic grocery sacks.

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

Vin remained motionless as he tried to figure out what the noise had been that had woken him up. He listened but it was silent around him and he began to think he had dreamt it. Slowly, he opened his eyes and moved them around the room. There was only a little light coming in from around the shades over the windows. Seeing nothing, he relaxed a little and took a deep breath.

As he woke up a little more, he realized the nausea was gone. It felt so good not to feel like he was going to throw up at any moment. Daring to check on more, he tentatively stretched out one leg and found that all but the tiniest bit of soreness was gone as well. He moved a little more. Nothing hurt like it did. His hands weren't even as painful as they had been. He thought maybe he'd been asleep longer than just a few hours, like days maybe. He took another deep breath, only to be revisited by his hiccups. He smiled to himself and shrugged. He guessed he couldn't expect everything to go away all at once. He drew in a deep breath and held it until they went away again.

He pushed himself up to a sitting position, letting the blanket fall to a bunch at his side. His sneakers were off, he noticed. That must have happened the same time the pillow and blanket showed up. After sitting for several moments, Vin pulled his legs under him and lifted himself shakily to a stand. His legs felt so weak but after a few moments, they steadied themselves and he felt like they'd hold him up. He slowly stepped over to one of the windows and pulled back the shade. Dusk was settling on the ranch but Vin could still see a couple of Chris's horses.

As he stood watching, he was hit with a sudden realization and let the shade fall quickly back into place. Hadn't they put him in a bulletproof vest before he ever left the hospital? And made him keep in on all the way home? And didn't they walk him into the house in a protective circle of their bodies? He was still a target and here he was standing in full view in front of the window. He shook his head angrily at himself. He knew better than this. He stepped back away and waited for a minute, half expecting a bullet to come shattering through the glass. When none did, he sighed softly and turned his head towards the kitchen. There was a light on in there and he could hear voices. He slowly headed that way.

Vin stood in the doorway to the kitchen and watched his six friends eat. They were keeping their conversation quiet, though they seemed to be enjoying themselves because they all were smiling. It was a long time before one of them noticed Vin was standing there but while he watched, he felt the camaraderie, the sense of family that had bound the group almost since its inception. When his eyes did lock with Ezra's, the two stared at each other for a long moment. A slow smile grew on the southerner's face as he crooked his index finger towards him a few times and gently eased out one of the chairs that sat around the table. None of the men noticed the 'come here' motion of his finger but they all saw the chair move and all looked to Ezra, followed his eyes and saw Vin standing in the doorway.

Vin hesitantly stepped forward, glancing timidly up at the eyes of his friends, hating to be the center of attention. He sat where Ezra indicated and a few seconds later, a bowl of Spanish Rice was placed before him. He looked at it for a moment as Ezra picked up a spoon and dipped it into the bowl. Vin raised his hand and stopped him, then took the spoon away and, after a few seconds of trying to get a good hold on it, dipped into the food himself and slowly raised it up to his mouth. As he chewed, he glanced around the table and saw that everyone was still staring at him, no one talking anymore. He ducked his head lower and tried to will the discomfiture away. It took a moment, but finally his friends realized that he was uncomfortable and began conversing again.

Vin finished the food slowly and Chris was happy that he both ate and fed himself. He took it as a sure sign that Vin was getting better. He had been somewhat disheartened when Vin woke up in the hospital unable to speak or understand anyone after he had spoken his name but he was determined that he would do whatever it took for as long as it took to get Vin well.

Even after the food was gone, the men sat around the table, talking. For the first time in a long time, Vin didn't feel isolated from them, even though he couldn't understand what was said, he felt a part of the team. He would read their expressions, smile when they smiled, laugh when they laughed.

The ringing phone brought a halt to all conversation. Chris wondered who would be calling him since he usually only received calls from the members of the team and they were all there. He got up and went to the phone.

Idle chat filled in the time until Chris returned. When he did, they could tell by his expression that something had happened.

"So, what's up?" Buck asked what they were all thinking.

"Nothing. That was Cavanaugh. Wanting to know if anything had changed in Vin's condition or should he start working on conceding the case."

The men cast furtive glances at Vin, glances that didn't go unnoticed by him. He knew something was up.

"What did you tell him?" Nathan broke the silence.

"That there was no change in Vin's condition. That if the trial was held right now, we'd have to strike him as a witness. And that there was still a day and a half and anything could happen."

"And . . . what was his reply to that?"

"Just something along the lines of we should all become praying men 'cause we need all the help we can get."

Vin read the faces of his friends and knew that the whole attitude of the room had deflated and he somehow knew that he was at the center of it. He tried to fight the feeling of depression that seemed to be rapidly overtaking him but he'd spent so long in its clutches that he couldn't fight it off. His shoulders slumped, his chin fell to his chest and he clenched his jaw tight.

Chris reached over and rubbed Vin's arm. He could tell that Vin was starting to feel bad and thought maybe it was time to put him to bed for the evening. He got Vin up and silently led him to his bedroom.

Vin didn't resist Chris in any way. Chris got him cleaned up, changed and into bed without the slightest hint of refusal from him. After Vin settled down into the bed, Chris pulled the blankets up to his shoulders. He sat on the edge and locked eyes with his friend. Vin took slow, deep breaths as the two shared feelings through their eyes. Chris raised his hand and placed it on the side of Vin's face, rubbing gently with his thumb.

"As long as it takes, Vin," he said softly. Vin blinked a few times but otherwise didn't change his expression. Chris smiled sadly, then stood, turned and left the room, hitting the light switch as he reached the door.

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Dawn was breaking, Vin could see it on the horizon as the car moved down the highway. He was half-laying across the back seat of a car with his head resting against the window. He had given up fighting his captors long ago and was just trying to remember some landmarks so he could get home when this was over.

He felt the car slowing some and the man in the front seat said something to the man sharing the back seat with him. He was pulled off of the window and shoved towards the door. He looked around confused for a moment when the man next to him leaned over and opened the car door. A moment later, he was pushed out. He threw his arms out to try and slow the approach of the pavement that was coming towards him so fast...

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Vin bolted upright in bed, gasping sharply, his eyes open wide.

Chris woke up at the sharp sound and turned on his bedside lamp. Turning back, he saw Vin sitting up, breathing rapidly. He moved over beside him and placed a hand on his shoulder.

"Vin? What is it?"

Vin continued to breathe in deep, panicked breaths, his hands held out in front of him.

"It's all right, Vin. You're all right," he soothed and he rubbed Vin's shoulder.

Slowly, Vin began to calm as his eyes cleared and he focused on Chris. He lowered his head, embarrassed.

"It's okay, Vin. I'm here to take care of you," Chris said with affection to and for his friend.

After a few minutes, Chris tried to guide Vin back down onto the bed but Vin pulled away and remained sitting up, turning his head to the side. Chris reached up and grabbed his chin, turning his face back to his.

"It's okay, Vin. You're safe here," he said, looking Vin in the eye. There was a fear there that scared even Chris. He wrapped his arms around his friend and held him. Vin was trembling as Chris rubbed soothingly with his hands. He lowered himself down to the bed, pulling Vin with him. Once he was laying down, he shifted himself and Vin until Vin's head was resting on his shoulder, Chris's arm wrapped around his back.

After laying for a moment, Vin slowly raised his hand up to rest his finger tips lightly on Chris's lips.

"What is it, Vin?" Chris asked, reaching up and taking his fingers in his hand. Vin pulled his hand away and then gently tapped his hand on Chris's chest. He turned his head so that he was looking at Chris. He raised his hand and moved his fingers so that they mimicked a mouth that was talking, much like JD had done for him earlier in the week.

Chris watched the motion for a minute, trying to figure out what Vin was trying to tell him. His mind wandered back to the last nightmare that Vin had had and how listening to Josiah talking had calmed him.

"You want me to talk to you?" he asked, not knowing how Vin was supposed to respond to that.

Vin tapped his fingers on Chris's lips again and then nestled into the man.

Chris wasn't sure what he was supposed to say. Vin wouldn't understand him anyway and it finally dawned on him that it was the sound of his voice that Vin found comforting, not the words he said. He could read him nursery rhymes and Vin would be happy. He reached over to his night stand and picked up a book lying there. It was a novel by Richard North Patterson that he had started probably a year ago and had maybe gotten a quarter of the way through. He opened the book to a random page and began reading aloud. Almost instantly, he felt Vin relax.

Chris read for nearly half an hour but couldn't have recalled anything about what he had read. He concentrated on keeping his tone steady and reassuring. Finally, he had to fight to keep his eyes open. He tried to shift to see if Vin was still awake when the man raised up off of his shoulder and leaned forward. He pressed his lips gently against Chris's cheek for a moment, then, without looking up, moved back to the other side of the bed and shifted into a comfortable position.

Chris watched him, a little bit stunned at the action for a moment, then reached over and pulled the blankets up to his shoulder. He put the book back on the night stand, turned off the light and settled back into the bed.