by Deirdre

ATF Universe

Part 4

Friday was expected to be an easy day, with lots of paperwork to be done. The agents were busy typing on their computers. Buck got up to get some coffee and saw Ezra's worried glance. He knew what the other man was thinking. It was almost nine and J.D. and Vin weren't in yet. Buck couldn't get either of them on their cell phones and he'd already left a couple messages at Vin's. Chris was still semi-pissed about their late arrival two days before; he'd blow his top if they didn't get in first.

He grabbed a bagel and was filling his coffee mug, when he heard Ezra behind him.

"Buck, should I go seek out our missing young friends?"

"Nah...two missing is bad enough. Chris will blow a fuse if you're gone too. We'll..."

"Mornin' Chris, " Nathan said loudly, warning Buck.

"Shit!" Buck gritted.

"Indeed," Ezra agreed and followed Buck out the door.

"I gotta make a few phone calls, get your reports finished. Everybody in the conference room, when I'm finished. We'll go over the shooting and make sure we didn't forget anything."

They filed to their workplaces, in the large room and looked at each other warily, bracing for the outburst. Buck made sure he kept checking for the two youngest, wheeling back in his chair, looking at the doubledoors.

He returned to his report, reading once more and incorporating the final touches. His head starting bopping as a favorite song came through the tiny speakers of his desktop radio. He crooned along, keeping time with his body and tapping his pencil.

"You know the chick that used to dance a lot... Every night she'd be on the floor shaking what she'd got... Man when I tell you she was cool, she was red hot... I mean she was steaming..."

Just as Buck was about to break into the next verse, the phone interrupted his Thin Lizzy impression. "Damn," he swore, turning the radio down, "I was just getting cranked up. You know with the right breaks, I could have been the next Elvis."

"Oh, now there is a visually stunning image, " Ezra crowed, "I can see you now, swathed in white vinyl, studded with cheap, imitation gemstones...middle-aged women throwing large pairs of underwear at your sweating, gyrating hips..."

"Shut up, Ezra..." Buck threatened, hearing Nathan and Josiah laughing, "You don't appreciate my natural talent."

"Au dear Mr. Wilmington," the Gambler grinned at the Ladies man from across the aisle, "I have seen you at your finest hour...wrestling in jello with two rather, well-proportion ladies."

"Damn," Buck grinned, picking up the phone, "I forgot about them. I got their number written down somewhere..." Buck recalled, mouth to the phone, "ATF, Team Seven, Agent Wilmington...Hello? Anybody there..." Buck frowned, and was about to hang up, when he heard a faint greeting. Straining, he closed the other ear off, and concentrated, "Can you speak up? I can't hear you."

"...there?...anybody? God..."

Ezra was about to turn back to his report, when he saw all the color drain out of Buck's face. He saw the mustached-man pull his feet from on top of his desk and sit straight up. He made the short trip to Buck's desk, and saw the apprehension in Wilmington's eyes.

"Buck, What is it?" Ezra whispered, concern washing into his green eyes.

Buck prayed his first instinct was wrong. He sent Standish a fearful look. The faint voice, full of pain and desperation, sounded too familiar. He swallowed back his hunch and tried to keep the fear out of his voice.

"Kid, is that you?"

"...Oh God...J.D?...No..." The voice trailed off, as if seeking someone near.

Buck closed his eyes and bit his lip, "Don't drop the phone!" he shouted, "Talk to me!"

It was only seconds, but to the tall agent, it seemed like hours. He stood and motioned for Ezra to start a trace. Josiah was now fast approaching and Buck was about to motion for him to get Chris when the voice came back.

" you?...s...s..s..cold Bu...Bu..Buck...hurts..."

"Vin?" Buck croaked, using his free hand to rub his aching head, "Jesus..." His voice trembled and his insides turned to ice water, as he heard the frail, painful voice of his young friend. Recovering, he sprung back, covering the mouthpiece, "Nathan...Code Blue...get Chris...NOW!" He ordered, "You still with me, Junior?"

"...think so...need y'all...sum...thin's wrong..."

"Vin...Don't hang up...ya hear me? I'm putting you on the speakerphone...Okay, Vin, ya understand?"


"CHRIS!" Nathan shouted, in Larabee's doorway, "Code Blue...Buck's phone."

Larabee saw the fear on the black man's face and immediately hung up. Racing around his desk, he spotting the alarm on Buck's face, which stopped him cold. Then Buck looked right at him, through the glass wall of his office. He felt his heart sink, knowing instinctively who was in trouble.

"Vin..." he breathed, taking long strides toward Buck's desk.

"Vin...Can you tell me where you are?" Buck asked.

"...uh...uh..." the wheezing voice trailed away and they heard the static and heavy breathing, "...dunno...smells...dark...Buck?...Buck?"

"I'm right here, Junior," Buck winced, at the fragile voice on the phone and the agony on Chris Larabee's face.

"Where are you, Vin?" Chris's voice was remarkably cool, despite the shards of glass that seemed to have filled his body.

" y'all...Chrissss..."

Chris closed his eyes and clenched his jaw, "It's me, Cowboy. You in your Jeep?"

"'t see 'im...Oh God...J.D..."

"Vin, tell me where you are and I'll come get you." Chris's tone remained calm.

"...dunno...get the hell...way...damn..." The frail voice was raised a pitch and the static and silence threw fear in the hearts of the anxious quintet.

"VIN! VIN!" Chris shouted, "Ezra, anything?"

Standish shook his head and continued listening on his extension and downloading a city map on his computer.

"Vin, is someone there? What's wrong?" Nathan boomed.

"...fuckin' rat...the hell all over...damn..." the raspy voice was getting weaker and the breathing more labored.Chris started to speak, but his words died in his throat. He ran a shaking hand over his face and expelled air from his lungs. Buck jumped in; the first to recover from the horrific vision of the slight form of their friend, lying hurt with rats crawling on him.

"Vin, you still with us?"

"...hurry...Buck...Chris?...need Nate...hurts...Oh God..." the weak agonizing cries and labored breathing were torturous to them all, but Buck saw the same haunted look, vacant since the night Sarah and Adam died, on Chris's face.

"We're gonna find him, Chris," he clasped the downcast shoulder.

"Vin, Can you see a window from where you are?" Josiah asked.

"!" The feeble cry went right through Chris Larabee's heart.

"Vin? Vin?...Are you still there?"

" where...go..." he rasped, with a small plea, "...almost here, Chris?..."

"We're coming, Vin, you hold on, now," Nathan tried to control his voice, "Vin, You been shot?"

Chris's head flew up and he stared at the voicebox, heart trembling.

" up...lots...head...bad..."

"Damn, a head injury," Nathan paused, "Vin...Was J.D. with you when got hurt?"


"Right here, Vin, " Buck forced his voice out.

"...'m sorry...Bucklin...I tried...J.D....I tried hard..."

"I know ya did, Pard," Buck urged, swallowing his fear, "Don't you worry none. You just keep breathing, okay?"

"...'ts..hard...wanna sleep..."

"No, Vin!" Nathan scolded loudly, hoping to startle the younger man; "You gotta stay awake. Vin?"

"Vin! Vin! " Chris shouted, banging on the desk, "Fuck! Vin...answer me..."

The only reply was the sound of wind rushing by the discarded phone and heavy breathing, laced with soft whimpers.

"Buck, do you know where they went last night?" Nathan asked, eyeing Chris Larabee's haunted face.

"J.D. said they had hockey practice. He was gonna stay over at Vin's."

"Did Vin say anything to anyone about where they were going after practice?" Larabee inquired.

"Did he say Red Dog?" Buck suddenly sat forward

"Yeah, but Buck, he sounds like he's really out of it. He had to be delirious." Nathan answered.

"No, I think not," Ezra said, pointing to the area where the call was coming from, "If I'm not mistaken, they're are a few abandoned buildings there," he pointed.

" Red Dog..." Buck gripped his oldest friend's shoulder, "Chris, there's an old Brewery down there, named Red Dog. It's got a big red bulldog in a top hat on the side of the building."

"Let's roll!" Larabee barked, "Ezra, get some help to meet us there."

"Consider it done, Mr. Larabee," Ezra said, punching the numbers on his cell phone as they raced to the elevator.

The ride seemed to take forever, and Chris Larabee jumped out before Buck had the car stopped. He was about to rush into the nearest building, when Josiah's large hand clamped down on him.

"Hold on Chris," he shouted, "You ain't gonna do Vin any good running around like some loose cannon. You'd waste a whole lotta time and Vin don't have that luxury."

"Let me go," Chris fought, "Didn't you hear him? Christ, he sounded like he was dying."

"We all heard him, Chris," Nathan said, "But Josiah's right. There's too many places we could waste time looking in, while Vin..."

"Buck, you got something?" Chris pulled free of Josiah, with an angry glare.

"Maybe..." the reply came, as Wilmington stood and looked up at the weather-worn mural of the large dog, "If Vin could see the dog from where he's layin'...said he was cold...we heard wind blowing..." His voice trailed off as he held a hand over his eyes, squinting upward."I hear ya, Brother," Josiah said, following Buck's gaze to the building across from the brewery, "There, fourth floor...lots of busted windows and a perfect view...Lord, stay with the Boy...tell him we're coming."

"I'll go update the police," Nathan said, hearing the sirens approach, "See you up there."

They made quick work of the eight flights of rusted, rickety stairs and entered the large fourth floor, a series of connecting hallways.

"All right, Josiah and I will go this way, Ezra, you and Buck go the other direction. One shot, if you find him. Roll out."

The team spread out and heard the echoes of each other's voices as Vin's names cascaded around the cavernous cavity.

"Vin! It's Buck...give a holler so's we can find you. God, Ezra...I got a real bad feeling."

"Mr. Tanner will prevail," Ezra's voice was thick, "His internal fortitude alone would keep him alive."

Meanwhile on the other side of the floor, Chris was going hoarse, screaming for Vin. Each new empty room sent his mood into a dark tailspin. Frustration reached a boiling point after yet another dead end.

"Damn it!"

Josiah ducked as the broken chair sailed by his head and crashed into the wall. Chris pounded the walls in a frenzied fist-fest. Josiah stood by silently, until he saw the shoulders, cloaked in the dark woolen coat, slump in defeat.

"I can't lose him, Josiah..."

It was a rare time that Josiah ever heard Chris Larabee's voice so small and unsure. He laid a large hand on the defeated body and heard the sharp intake of breath. Not many men were lucky enough to receive a gift such as Chris and Vin shared. Kindred spirits...twin souls...each saving the other.

+ + + + + + +

"Watch your step, Ezra, there's a pile of puke coming up..." Buck's words died, as he exchanged an anxious look with Ezra, who wasted no time in flying by the larger man.

"Mr. Tanner..."


They paused in the last doorway in the grimy, reeking hallway. Both froze in shock at the grim sight before them. A body lay on its side, curled up in a fetal position. In one hand was a cell phone, the other clutching his stomach. The large hockey jersey he wore was torn and filthy, his usually clean and well-kept long hair was matted and dirty. His head was lying in a pool of vomit. Finally, the numbness started to recede and they staggered forward.

"Dear Lord, Mr. Tanner..." Ezra's voice died as he swallowed back his fear.

"Vin, can you hear me?" Buck's voice cracked, eyes darting around the room, looking for J.D.

Ezra and Buck flanked their fallen comrade and tried to lift him. A soft moan escaped as Buck eased Vin onto his back turned his face gently. Vin was the color of newfallen snow and he was covered in blood and vomit. Buck saw movement out of the corner of his eye and reeled back in horror as a rat slithered across the unconscious man's throat. Ezra fell back, startled and Buck released all the internal anger as he fought back tears.

"Fuckin' vermin," he cursed, flinging the beast against the wall and drawing his gun.

With one hand across the back of the lost soul, Josiah closed his eyes and prayed.

"Lord, one of our flock is missing, hurt and alone in the darkness. We need Your light to guide us to him...and bring him back into the bosom of his family...where he's loved and needed. He's already suffered too much in his young life. Please, Lord, give us a sign."

Chris wheeled and gasped as several shots rang out, "Damn, Josiah, I never realized you were so well connected."

"Vin! Buck! Who fired?" Nate's voice echoed in the hall.

"In here, Mr. Jackson, please hurry."

"Jesus! Vin...What the hell happened?" Nate cried, racing in the room and dropping by Vin's side.

Buck was holding Vin in his lap; the unconscious man was resting against his chest. Nathan noticed Buck's hands trembling as they absentmindedly brushed through Vin's matted hair.

"We couldn't find an entry wound of any kind," Ezra offered, noticing Buck vacant eyes, "He has a rather nasty laceration on his right upper head area."

"Uhhh..." Nathan said, gently cupping Vin's chin and turning his head, "Get him out of that pile of vomit and lay him out flat. I can get a better look."

"Well, that might be a problem..." Ezra hedged, handing Nathan the beige scarf he was wearing under his coat.

"Why?" Nathan asked, noting Vin's irregular pulse.

"Bastards got him locked to the radiator," Buck growled.

"Somebody talk to me!" Chris Larabee boomed.

"In here Mr. Larabee," Ezra said waving from the doorway, "He's alive..."

Ezra watched as Chris stopped at the sound of those wonderful words and bend forward, hands on his knees. Josiah rubbed his back and waited until Chris collected himself, watching the man's right hand cover his eyes.

"Vin, can you hear me?" Nathan shouted, slapping Vin's face.

"Jesus, Nate," Buck turned, protecting the slumped man, "Take it easy, hasn't he been through enough."

"Buck, I don't want hurt him," Nathan responded angrily, "But he needs to wake up...and you need to get yourself together. Get up and let Ezra hold him. Go on now."

Before Buck could respond, another voice made itself know. It was low, lethal and deadly.

"Get him off that filthy floor," Larabee uttered, "Let me have him, Buck,"

"He's chained to the wall..." Buck's voice was slow as he gazed up at Chris.

Buck slid out and Chris dropped to sewage-laden floor, oblivious to the foul-stench, stickiness and vomit. He swallowed hard and held Vin across his lap, the younger man's head resting against his left arm and shoulder. He couldn't describe the pain that seared through him, white hot and icy at the same time. He felt the violent tremors, and the gripped the icy cold hands.

"Easy Cowboy, I gotcha..." Chris's calming tone, didn't match the fear in his eyes.

"Holler at him, Chris, get him to open his eyes."

"Vin! Wake up. You wake up now or I'm gonna leave you here. I mean it, Vin!" Larabee's voice grew hard.

Finally, Chris saw Vin's lips moving, as his head turned back and forth. The mumbling turned into frantic cries. Chris felt Tanner's heart hammering rapidly and soothed him, easing his fright.

"Easy Vin, you're safe." Chris's hands moved through the matted hair and tapped Vin's face; "You gotta wake up, Vin."

"Hey Nate, gimme that scarf" Josiah said, eyeing the snow on the windowsill.

Nathan nodded in appreciation as the large man soaked half of the scarf with snow. Chris held Vin's head tucked against his chest, so Nathan could wipe the blood away from the right side of his face and skull. Vin struggled weakly, moaning and pulling back.

"Hold on Vin," Chris's tone reached the unconscious man and he calmed, "Nate's making that sorry face of yours more presentable."

When Nate was finished, he parted the long wavy hair, matted and tangled, to eye the wound. He felt the large lump and patted the injured man's shoulders, hearing the soft moans.

"Sorry,'s a real nasty bugger," Nathan pressed the cloth against the wound causing Vin to jump in Chris's arms.

"Yo, Nate!" Chris's angry glare matched his voice as he instinctively pulled the sharpshooter from the healer, "Jesus...take it easy."

Vin cried out softly, licked his lips and blinked, finally squinting and then opening his eyes. Chris saw Vin stare at him hard and blink several times. His mouth opened and shut, without a sound. He started to tremble violently and Nathan knelt on the other side and took his pulse.

"He gonna be okay, Nate?" Chris finally found his voice, which had to creep past his heart, stuck in his throat.

"Once we get him outta this hellhole," Jackson's face screwed up.

"Where is Mr. Dunne?" Ezra inquired, to no one in particular.

"That's a good question," Chris asked, taking Vin's face and turning it so the urban cowboy could see him, "Vin...Can you hear me?" Chris asked softly, turning the lost man's face. "God, he's really out of it..."

"What if he's already..." Buck choked, not able to say it.

"Not likely..." Josiah mused, hand on Buck's downcast shoulder, "No reason to tote a dead man. If they'd killed him...he'd be here most likely."

"Our wise man-of-the-cloth makes a valid point," Ezra added, nodding at Buck, "Perhaps Mr. Dunne made his escape..."

"Without Vin? way...he'd never him that sick..." Buck glared.

"Unless he was injured himself and unaware of his surroundings," Ezra mused, glancing at Vin, "Why would they leave Mr. Tanner? If they went to such lengths to bring them to this...urban commode...they had some sort of plan. It would appear to have fallen apart."

"There not pro's, " Chris said, without taking his eyes off Vin's pale face, "It's way to sloppy. Could be J.D. and Vin got carjacked by a bunch of hopheads. Vin should be able to tell us something, once he gets to the hospital," The leader squinted at something on the floor and nodded to Ezra, "That ain't Vin's phone...get it dusted...I want these animals."

Vin's eye grew wide, and he started to thrash, staring at some horror, known only to him. Chris

spotted the pale lips moving and leaned in to hear what the injured man was saying. He quickly recoiled, gasping and blinking.


"Chris? What's wrong?" Buck managed, through his haze of pain. "...smell...he's reeking with it..." Chris blinked, eyes burning.

"We'll he's vomited quite a bit," Nathan offered, "That's bound to happen."

"Not vomit," Chris replied, "It's a chemical or something. Jesus, no wonder he was so sick."

Nathan leaned in and inhaled the familiar scent of chloroform, or rather a mixture of the noxious chemical and something else. He felt around Vin's throat and pulled out a rag, soaking in the stuff.

"I'm gonna fuckin' tear them apart," Chris issued, rocking his fallen friend, "Where the hell is that help? Ezra, Dammit, get your ass outside and get a cop...or a fireman with a saw."

"I'll go, Ezra," Josiah said, brushing past the shaken Southerner, "I'll bring back some blankets and water."

"Jesus, he's freezing," Buck exclaimed, touching the younger man's icy hands, "He must have been here all night."

"When I left Mr. Tanner last evening, he was on his way to meet with J.D. at the arena."

"J.D....J.D...get yer hands offa him ya stinkin' animal...J.D." Vin's wild eyes made frantic movement and Nathan grabbed him as he started to thrash.

"Vin...You gotta calm down now."

"I tried...I tried..." Vin rasped, staring at the faces around him."I know you did, Vin," Chris said wrapping his coat around the shivering body, "Do you know where J.D. is Vin?" Chris asked gently, trying to dispel the fear on the younger man's face.

Vin continued to shiver and looked at each face, before meeting those understanding eyes and tender voice. "Chris?" He reached a sticky hand up, touching the other man's shoulder, to make sure he wasn't dreaming, " real?"

"It's me buddy," Chris replied, "Where you hurtin' Vin?"

"...head hurts...axe in there?"

"No," Chris grinned, "Anywhere else?"

"Whole lotta critters... jumpin' my gut...think I might be sick..."

"Can't be much left," Nathan muttered.

"You let me know if you're gonna upchuck, Junior," Buck teased, "Ezra's got a new suit, needs breaking in."

Chris looked up as Josiah returned, bearing water and a blanket. Taking the bottle of water he held it to Vin's lip and encouraged the confused man, "Here ya some water for ya."

"NO!" Vin pulled back..."no more vinegar...want water...please..." he begged Chris.

The others gathered exchanged painful, confused glances.

"What kind of hell did you suffer through, my friend?" Ezra whispered.

"Vin, this is water. Josiah got it for you. He wouldn't hurt you. Go on, take some."

Vin took a small sip and then sighed in relief and drank it slowly. He closed his eyes and took several deep breaths.

Ezra wavered, matching the trembling hands that wrapped the blanket around the smaller man.

"...thanks Ez,"

It wasn't the frail voice, but rather the weak hand reaching up and the lost blue eyes that tore into Ezra's heart. "My pleasure...Vin..."

"...damn...must be bad off...Ezra's getting a mite personal...Chris?"

"Yeah, Vin?"

"...wanna go now...okay?"

"Can't we just shoot the damn lock?" Buck's patience was wearing thin.

"I don't know..." Chris wavered, but Vin's pallor and ragged breathing, added to the pleading eyes, gave him an answer, "Okay, Buck give me your coat, wrap around that chain."Chris lowered Vin onto the ground and placed himself protectively over his injured friend. Buck and Josiah donated their coats to cover Vin and Chris, so only a small part of the chain showed. Buck found the weakest point in the chain and pressed the gun against it. Turning his head away, he fired.

"Damn Buck," Chris's angry muffled voice came from below the pile of coats, "Watch where you're aiming. I might want to have children one day."

"Sorry Pard," Buck managed a small grin and unwrapped the pair, "Ya okay, Junior?"

Vin managed a nod as Buck squatted next to him, unwrapping the broken chain. He noticed Vin eye's darting and heard the frantic breathing. He felt the weak hand on his shoulder and turned to meet Vin's soulful stare.

"...much obliged..."

Buck couldn't find any words; they all seemed to stick in his throat. He reached over and ruffled Vin's tangled hair.

"How about we make tracks, Pard?"

Chris stood and grasped Buck's shoulders, thanking him silently for his reserve. He knew inside his oldest friend wanted to scream in worry over their missing youngest member. But Vin's frail form wouldn't tolerate it, and Buck knew it. Chris was still looking at Buck, when the other man, leaned forward.

"Whoa, there, Junior," he pushed the struggling form back down, "Where you going?"

"Gonna find J.D...'for they do..."

"Where's J.D., Vin?" Buck begged, "Where is he? Is he alive? Is he hurt?"

Vin recoiled, crawling backwards, frightened by Buck's outburst and Chris shot Buck a warning as leaned down to haul Vin to his feet.

"Easy, Buck, you're scaring him."

"I'm sorry, fault...just laid there..." Vin's soulful stare, just about undid the larger man.

"No, Vin, I'm sorry," Buck said, gripping the younger man's neck, "It'll be okay."

"Come on, let's get out of this rat-infested dump," Nathan said, as Vin's knees buckled.

"Buck, grab him, his legs are giving out!" Josiah warned, jumping up and flying by the startled Chris.

"Easy Vin, I got you, Son," Buck soothed, catching Vin.

"Josiah," Chris cried out, grabbing the dazed sharpshooter, on the other side.

"I got you, Brother." Josiah's strong arms lifted him and carried him outside.

Josiah saw Ezra had opened the door to the van, and Josiah sat Vin inside. He looked even worse in the daylight, unable to hold his head up. Chris sat next to him one strong arm wrapped around the blanketed shoulders. Vin's head rested on Chris's shoulder.

" head's really hurtin' something fierce..."

"I know Vin," Nate soothed, knowing that for Vin to mention it, it must be bad, "It won't be long now."

They heard the distant sirens of the ambulance approaching and breathed a sigh of relief.

"Vin, where is J.D? Was he with you?" Chris asked again.

Vin nodded, remaining against Chris, resting his eyes. His head was pounding and his stomach was lurching. He felt his fragmented mind coming back together. The faces around him found names and he knew he was safe. He heard anxious voices and felt his face tapped.

"Man, he needs to go to a hospital," Nathan advised, tapping the pale man's cheek."...worry on me, Nate, I'm okay."

" Do you remember, Vin? How bad was J.D. hurt?" Buck asked.Vin again closed his eyes and leaned back, gasping. Josiah brought more water and the grateful man drank. Nathan noticed the gray-white coloring was starting to leave him. When Vin opened his eyes again, they seemed clearer.

"I'm okay, Nate," the soft drawl was fighting to return, "Some of this here is J.D.'s blood," his hand wavered, resting on his chest, "I tried to keep him warm, it was so cold... I never saw them, Chris," he said apologetically, "One minute I was standing there, waiting for J.D. to get done changing and the next thing I knew was ...a smell...real bad...covering my nose and mouth...choking me. I tried to fight 'im, but my head was all fuzzy...'fore I could warn J.D, they slammed me into the wall."

"Was this at the rink, Vin?"

" first, then I guess they brung us here...I don't know how long they had us...I was so sick..." his voice was hoarse, "I ain't never been so hurtin..." He paused and turned to Buck, "I'm sorry Bucklin, it's all my fault...They never laid a hand on me.. they beat him...made me watch...I couldn' kept looking at me...It weren't bad enough them eyes of his...there he was, blood running down his face...calling for me..begging me to help...Jesus...I'm sorry J.D..."

His slid sideways and sank against Chris, tears running down his face.

"Chris...he can't be dead...Iffen I'd only..."

For a few long seconds, nobody moved. Each man was fighting feelings of horror, rage and agony. Nathan saw that dangerous look on Chris. The dead-eyed stare, cold and calculating. He saw Buck close his eyes briefly and moved so the tall man could kneel next to Vin.

"Vin? Look at me, Boy...come on now," Buck said gently, fighting back tears of rage, and waiting until the matted head rose and the tormented eyes met his. Nobody could punish himself like Vin Tanner could and Buck knew Vin was in agony. "You couldn't ever hurt that kid, we both that. Whatever happens, Vin, good or bad, you ain't to blame. Could be you got J.D. free somehow. So you hold that head up, you hear? Okay, Pard?"

Buck saw the nod and saw Vin's chin wavering. He embraced the smaller man briefly and rose.

Vin started to slid out of Chris's grasp and his eyes rolled back."Whoa, Vin, " Chris called, pulled him upright, "Dammit, where the hell is that ambulance?" Chris hollered, as the flashing lights came into view "What the hell took so long? Jesus, Vin..."

"Don't yell at me," Vin's mind was a mass of confusion and he scowled at Chris, "I don't know how we got here. I remember them leavin' us...crawlin' against J.D...trying to get him to wake up..." Vin started to pant, eye's wide as he recalled the event, " was so damn cold...he was shakin'...I tried to keep him warm. Next thing I recall is rats...throwing up a lot...I kept askin' for him...I couldn't see him, Chris," Vin's eyes were breaking the blond leader's heart, "I didn't know if he was still alive..." Vin's voice broke and he took a deep breath. "I tried to call Chris, Jesus God, I tried...I couldn't remember any numbers...they was mixed up in my head...guess I am a dumb bastard..."

"Don't you ever say that!" Chris admonished, pulling the slight man closer, against the whipping wind. "You rest now, it's okay."

"Ambulance is pulling up, Vin." Nate's said softly, tapping Vin's arm."No, Chris, please don't make me..." His sad eyes pleaded and that raspy voice did the older man in, "...I'll be good...Oh God...."

Chris grabbed him just in time and Josiah leaned in to support him, but they're wasn't anything left. They watched as he painfully endured dry heaves, tears running down his face.

"Vin, you need to be in a hospital. I'll stay with you, Okay?"

"I'm sorry, Chris," Vin rasped weakly, dizzy and very mixed-up, "I tried...Honest to God I did. I couldn't remember the numbers to call," Vin blinked rapidly, his mind muddled with confusing images, "I tried getting up, but then he threw that stuff on was chokin' me. I don't know...Chris, you gotta believe me," Vin's swayed and Buck grabbed him.

"He's had enough," Buck's determined voice ended the questioning as he helped the smaller man onto the gurney, nodding to the paramedic, "You take a nice nap, Junior, and if you're real good, Pa'll bring ya a nice treat, okay?" Buck grinned covering the yawning, blinking man with a blanket.

"...kay...." Vin managed as his eyes fell.

Chris climbed into to the back and rode with him, his face hard.

"Maybe when Vin comes around, he can I.D. the animals that did this." Nathan said, "This just don't add up. Vin remembers them leaving and J.D. was next to him. Where'd the boy go? If they beat him as bad as that...could be he did wander off, all mixed up." "Perhaps," Ezra's voice was strange and distant, as he brushed his fingers across the sniper's shoulder, "I certainly hope the local law enforcers find them before I do. As God as my witness, I won't be responsible for what pieces are left when they are found."

Buck gripped Ezra's shoulder and sent him a silent message and the door shut and the medic's departed. Ezra knew how much Buck was hurting inside. The longer they went without word on J.D. Dunne, the worse the news was likely to be. Still, why would they leave Vin? What reason would they have to single out J.D.?

"I'm gonna keep looking," Buck said.

"Buck, you could look all day in that building and not find him. Cops got it covered. Be easier once Vin tells us what happened. He might shed some need that light."

Buck paused and reluctantly let Josiah lead him back to the car. For some reason, he felt J.D. wasn't in the area.

By the time they got to the hospital, Chris was already wearing a hole in the tile floor. Pacing relentlessly, brushing a hand through his close blond hair. His handsome face, tight in rage. Vin relived some of the horror in his sleep on the ride over. He almost would have preferred a good scream, rather than the heart-wrenching whimpers.

"They boot you out?" Josiah asked, Chris, who merely nodded and continued pacing.

They all jumped up as a nurse came over and looked at them curiously. Chris noticed that she held Vin's ragged jersey.

"How's he doing?"

"They're still working on him. There are no broken bones. He has a nasty concussion and it would appear he's been drugged and is having and adverse reaction. No knife or bullet wounds, just some nasty bruises on his ribcage and legs. Is one of you gentlemen named Buck, by any chance?"

"Yes, Ma'am, I'm Buck Wilmington, why?"

"Well, about three hours ago, the police brought in an unconscious young man, wearing a jersey just like this."

"Where is he?" Buck cried, the other chorused, causing the tiny nurse to back up.

"He's already been assigned to a room. He had no identification on him. He came to once, frantic to find a 'Buck', wanted to get help for someone. He's got a mild concussion, a couple cracked ribs and is bruised just about everywhere. He's going to be stiff and sore for a while, but the Doctor thinks he'll be fine. I can take one of you to see him."

"Go on Buck..." Chris said, embracing his oldest friend.

He knew just how devastated Buck would be if anything were to happen to J.D. They made an unlikely pair, but the kid was good for Buck. J.D., who never knew his father and buried a mother all too young, finally had the family he deserved. Buck looked ten years younger, as he followed the nurse.


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