ATF Universe

When Vin had left the waiting room, he headed straight for the exit, the red illuminated signs were easy to follow even without being able to read them. The evening air was cool and Vin began shivering almost immediately. He paused to tug on the suit jacket he had draped over his arm. It was a little large for him to begin with and with only an undershirt on underneath, it hung even more loosely.

Draping the stained shirt he had been wearing earlier over his bent arm, Vin headed towards the street, stopping at the curb and looking up and down the road. He didn't know where to go but he was sure he couldn't stay in the hospital, not with one friend dead and another hating him for it. He slapped his arm impatiently against his leg as he thought and felt a lump in his jacket pocket. He reached in and pulled out his wallet. Twisting it around in his hand as he examined it, his mind replayed the moment JD gave it back to him that afternoon and his stomach tightened.

Vin flipped open the wallet and saw his driver's license picture staring back at him. He looked for a moment before it occurred to him that his home address was printed on it. He couldn't tell what it said but knew which line represented it. He tapped his hand against the jacket pocket again and felt his key ring still inside. Then, he opened the billfold and saw there was money in it. He pulled out a few bills and wished he could remember what face belonged on what bill. Stuffing the bills back inside the wallet, he looked out over the traffic that ran by. A car with the lighted box on the top, that's what he was looking for.

It took a few minutes before he spotted a cab and frantically waved it over. The car pulled up and Vin fumbled with the door handle for a few moments before he was able to get the door open. He climbed in and pulled the door shut.

"Where to, mister?" the driver asked as he switched on his meter.

Vin stared blankly for a moment and the driver turned around to look at him. Vin raised his wallet and opened it so that the license was facing the driver. He pointed to it, tapping the surface nervously.

"What? Yeah, that's real nice but I need an address."

Vin turned the wallet to where he could see and put his fingertip on the second line, knowing that said where he lived. He turned it back around with his finger still in place and held it for the driver to see. The man squinted at the address.

"This where you want to go?" he asked. He looked at Vin suspiciously for a moment, taking in his appearance. "From here, that'll run you about six bucks. You got that much on ya?" he asked. When Vin didn't respond other than with his wide-eyed stare, the man slowly reached forward and took hold of the wallet. "I'm just gonna have a look see and make sure you got enough, mister, okay. I ain't gonna take nothin'." The driver kept cautious eyes on his passenger as he opened the wallet then quickly glanced inside. He saw that there were several bills there, none of them ones so he knew the man in the back seat could at least pay his fare. He handed back the wallet. "Okay, mister. Here we go." The driver clicked on his turn signal and merged with the flow of traffic.

+ + + + + + +

"Damn it!" Chris cursed as he darted around another corner. He'd looked everywhere he could think of to find Vin but hadn't seen a sign of him. He'd checked rest rooms, the cafeteria, every waiting room he could find, even went to the courtyard, knowing how much Vin liked to be outside. Now, he was back in the emergency room and heading for the room JD had been taken care of in, hoping Buck was still there. "Buck!" Chris called as the man in question came out into the hallway.

"Hey, Chris. JD looks pretty good, considering. They're getting ready to move him now. He wants to see Vin." Buck looked all around but didn't see the other man. "Where's is he?" he asked.

"Hell if I know," Chris fumed, losing his temper. "He disappeared from the waiting room just after you laid into him." Chris's tone was accusatory. "I haven't been able to find him."

Buck stood stock still for a moment, his brow furrowed. Then, the scene from the waiting room popped into his head. He slowly closed his eyes. "Fuck," he said though gritted teeth. He shook his head a few times then looked to Chris. "We'll find him. I'll go tell JD what's going on then start looking myself." Buck turned to go back into JD's room, turned back and added, "I'm sorry, Chris."

"Save it for Vin," Chris told him curtly as he resumed his search.

JD was none too happy about what Buck had to tell him but insisted that he go look for their friend immediately, told him that he'd be okay and that Vin needed him more.

Buck raced up and down one hallway after another, never seeing any sign of Vin. He cursed himself the whole time he was looking, knowing he had acted rashly and Vin was paying the price.

Once he was satisfied that Vin was not in the hospital, Buck went outside and began circling the building. Outside, he felt less inhibited about calling Vin's name so he did. He knew Vin wouldn't know it was his name and wouldn't be able to answer, but he might recognize the voice. Then, Buck scoffed at himself, thinking that Vin may stay in hiding if he did recognize the voice.

Everyone he saw, he asked if they had seen Vin but no one had. It was dark outside and Buck had to look carefully to make sure Vin wasn't sitting in a shadow somewhere that he could just walk right by without seeing him.

Buck came around to the side of the building that faced a busy street. There was a bright streetlight perched high on a pole that illuminated the whole area. A low concrete wall separated the sidewalk from a row of shrubbery and there were two men sitting there talking and smoking cigarettes. Judging from the collection of crushed out butts on the sidewalk at their feet, they had been there a while.

" 'Scuse me," Buck interrupted them, "I'm looking for a friend of mine, 'bout so tall..." Buck held up his hand indicating a height. "Shoulder length hair. Wonderin' if you've seen him?"

"Hands all wrapped up?"

Buck nodded excitedly. "Yeah. You seen him?"

One man nodded back. "Yep. He rode off in a cab a little bit ago."

Buck couldn't believe that. "Naw, I don't think my friend would leave."

"Well, a fella like you described left a little bit ago, had a hard time opening the door 'cause o' them wrappings. Almost got up to help him but he finally got it open. Must a had some trouble 'cause he was showing the driver his money. Guess the guy didn't think your friend could pay."

Buck stood scratching his chin in thought, trying to figure out what could have been going on. Suddenly, a thought occurred to him and he started to rush to the curb. "Thank you fellas," he said before he got too far away. Standing at the curb, he hailed a cab of his own. It was a long shot, he thought to himself, but he wasn't having any luck here.

A cab pulled up in front of him and he climbed in. He told the driver the address then pulled out his cell phone and dialed Chris's number.

On the second ring, Chris answered. "Larabee."

"Chris, don't yell, but I gotta hunch."

"Buck," Chris groaned wearily, "we don't have time for your hunches."

"A couple of guys outside of the hospital," Buck went on, "saw someone who looked like Vin get into a cab. If Vin couldn't tell the driver where to go, he'd have to show him. He had his wallet with him and his work and home addresses are in there, and Vin would know that."

There was a long silence at the other end of the phone. "These guys who saw him, they say what cab company he was supposed to have used? We could try and trace him through their dispatcher."

", they didn't but there aren't a whole lot of places he would go. I'm in a cab heading for his apartment right now."

"I don't know, Buck." There was apprehension in Chris's voice.

"Well, I'm on my way anyway. I'll check his place and, if he's not there, the office. You keep looking for him there and call the cab dispatchers. Let me know if you find out anything and I'll let you know if I find him."

Chris wasn't used to taking his instructions from Buck but since the man was already in the middle of his own plan, Chris decided to go along with it. He agreed with Buck then hung up his phone, only then realizing what he'd agreed to. There must be dozens of cab companies that operated in Denver. Tracking one fare could take him hours. He sighed and went in search of some yellow pages and a quiet corner.

+ + + + + + +

Vin was lost in thought when the cab pulled up in front of his apartment building. His wallet rested between his fingers and thumbs, his thumbs moving slowly over the soft leather surface.

"Here we are, mister," the cabbie said as he shifted his cab into park. "Damn, I'm good," he muttered under his breath as he checked the meter and it read exactly six dollars. He turned towards the back seat and spoke louder. "Just like I said, mister, six dollars even."

Vin continued to stare at the wallet in his hands.

"Mister!" the driver said firmly as he tapped his knuckle on a part of the plexiglas separator between the driver's seat and the back seat. Slowly, Vin raised his head. "We're here," the driver informed him, pointing out the window at the building they were in front of.

Vin shifted his gaze out the window and looked sadly at the building then turned back to the cabbie. He flipped open his wallet and held it up for the man to see. The driver stared for a moment and, shaking his head, he reached forward and took the wallet from Vin's hands. "You see all kinds in this job," he muttered as he spread open the wallet and rifled through the bills till he found a ten. He pulled it out, set the wallet down on the seat beside him and pulled out his own wad of bills. He stuck the ten in it and fished out a couple of singles. He put his wad back, stuck the two singles in Vin's wallet and handed it back to the man. "You look like you'd be a good tipper so I kept a couple of bucks for me, okay mister?"

Vin stared blankly as he took back his wallet. He reached over and gingerly pulled on the door handle but found he couldn't move it. He grit his teeth and yanked harder, withstanding the painful stab in his wrist that the action caused. The door came open and he pushed it wider.

The driver watched as Vin clumsily climbed out of the back seat, used his foot to push the door closed, walked up to the entrance of the building and disappeared inside. He shook his head again as he shifted back into drive and pressed his foot on the accelerator.

It took Vin a long time to climb the stairs up to his apartment. The hallway looked the same as it always did, barren, dimly lit and badly in need of fresh paint. Vin plodded to his door and reached into his pocket for his key ring. He separated out his door key and slid it into the lock. Twisting the key made him cringe at another stab of pain in his wrist but he turned until the lock disengaged. He pushed the door open, stepped in and nudged the door closed with his shoulder. He suddenly felt completely drained and stood still for several minutes.

Eventually, slowly, Vin moved to the coffee table where he dropped the ruined shirt. He pulled off the jacket and let it fall on top of the shirt then he wearily put one foot in front of the other heading towards the small bathroom adjoining his small bedroom.

Vin lowered himself by bending his knees until his shoulder was lower than the light switch, leaned back against the wall and stood back up, flipping the switch on with his shoulder as he did. He stared at his reflection in the mirror over the basin. His face was streaked with dirt and blood, lined through with the tracks of his tears that had fallen when frustration overtook him. Now, he felt like he could cry again. His friend was dead; all because he couldn't get him help fast enough.

Vin looked away from the mirror and down to his hands. They also had dirt and blood on them though the hospital staff had attempted to clean them up. There was nothing they could do, however, for the elastic wraps that held the splints in place on his wrists. They were still stained red, soaked through to the skin with JD's blood. Suddenly not able to stand the contact anymore, Vin tore angrily at the bandage on one arm. He unwound it furiously and let the metal splint clatter to the floor, the elastic falling on top of it. The other arm was unwrapped just as rapidly and the second splint fell to the floor just as noisily but Vin held the elastic between his fingers and thumb, rubbing it tenderly as his eyes finally let loose the tears that had been threatening.

Vin felt himself falling backwards and did nothing to stop his descent. If the wall hadn't been there, he would have ended up flat on his back on the floor. As it was, he slid down the wall until he was sitting on the floor, rested his arms across his bent knees, dropped his head to his arms and let the tears fall.

+ + + + + + +

Buck leaned back in the seat and watched the city go by. He had a feeling he was on the right trail. Vin would go where he felt safe which would be either work, his place or one of the guys' residences. He'd have no way to relay the locations of the team's addresses to a cab driver so Buck quickly discounted those options. Showing his ATF ID would probably get him to the office building but Buck really didn't think he'd go there.

He'd know soon enough as the cab turned into the part of town known as Purgatory. The driver pulled to an abrupt stop in front of Vin's building, throwing Buck forward in the seat. He scowled at the driver and pulled back the one dollar bill he was going to give as a tip. He paid the man and got out. The driver scowled in return at being stiffed on the tip and sped away.

The street was dark and Buck had to squint to see the few steps that led up to the front door of Vin's apartment building or he'd end up tripping over them. He got to the door and pushed it open.

Buck was panting heavily as he leapt up the final flight of stairs, two at a time. He rushed down the hall towards Vin's apartment door and knew he had made the right choice when he saw Vin's keyring still dangling from the lock. He stopped at the door and pulled the keys free. Putting them in his pocket with one hand, he twisted the knob with the other. The door creaked a little as he pushed it open.

The apartment was dark and Buck stood by the door for a moment as his eyes adjusted and he eased the door closed. Once his sight settled, he could see a faint light coming from the bedroom so he walked that way. He softly said Vin's name, not wanting to startle the man with a loud call.

In the bedroom, Buck could see the light was coming from the small bathroom. He stepped up to the doorway of the room and there he saw Vin sitting on the floor with his back against the wall, his legs pulled up and his arms resting on his knees. Vin had removed the splints from his arms and Buck saw that one of the elastic bandages that held the splint in place was dangling loosely from one of his hands. He looked closer and saw the red stains on it. Blood. JD's blood. He also saw Vin's shoulders rocking as the man silently wept.

Vin's mind had registered the sounds of the front door opening and someone coming in. He assumed Chris would come looking for him but didn't think he'd catch up with him so soon.

Buck knelt down beside his friend. "Vin," he said quietly, not wanting to scare him. He eased his hand to rest lightly on his shoulder and Vin raised his head up a little but didn't look over. Buck could feel the tension and the trembling in his friend. He lowered himself to a sitting position on the floor and gently pulled Vin over, resting Vin's shoulder and back against his side, leaning him back against his chest. He scooted backwards a little until he could lean back on the door frame behind him then wrapped his arm firmly around Vin's chest. Vin slowly lowered his head to rest on Buck's shoulder.

"Shhh," Buck soothed as he rested the side of his face against the back of Vin's head and gently rubbed his hand up and down Vin's back. He tightened the hold his other arm had of the man. "It's okay, Vin. Everything's okay."

Vin stiffened in Buck's arms as the man finally said enough that he could recognize the voice. He had thought it was Chris with him. Now he was resting on the chest of the man who hated him, who had yelled at him at the hospital because their friend - Buck's best friend - had died while he was tending to him. Vin half expected Buck to keep squeezing harder and harder until he could no longer breath but the arm that held him was supportive but gentle.

Buck reached into his jacket pocket and pulled out his cell phone. One handed, he pushed the buttons to speed dial Chris's phone, raised it up to his ear and waited impatiently for Chris to answer. His first attempt was met with a busy signal but on his second try, he heard it ringing.


"Hey, Chris. I found him. We're at his place."

"He okay?"

"Upset. Probably scared...probably of me, but he seems to be okay. You comin' to get us?"

"Yeah, I'll cancel the trace from the cab company and head on over. Be about fifteen minutes."

"Okay. We'll be here."

Buck hit the end button and slipped the phone back into his pocket then resumed sliding his hand up and down Vin's back and tightened his hold across Vin's chest a little more. "I know you don't understand me, Vin, and I'll tell ya all this again when you can but I want you to know how sorry I am for hollerin' at ya back at the hospital. None of this was your fault. I was just...well...I was just being me. Hoverin' too much over JD and having to blame someone for his hurt. It was an accident, Vin. I know that. And I know you did all you could to help JD." Buck kept his hand slowly traveling the length of Vin's back as he spoke.

'...all you could to help JD...' The words sounded clearly in Vin's head. He knew he heard them. He began focusing on his own thoughts and realized that they once again made sense to him. Just that quickly, it came back. The ability had returned while he was asleep before. He didn't realize how it happened. He focused again on what Buck was saying, just to be sure.

" there to help you as long as you need us. All of us. You got my word on that, Vin."

Yes, he could still understand. He smiled weakly. He thought he should speak up and let Buck know he could understand him again but the strong arm across his chest made him feel secure, the gentle rubbing on his back calmed him and Buck's voice quieted the frayed nerves. He sank lower against his friend. He'd just rest a minute before he let Buck know.

As Vin sat there, images of JD bleeding resurfaced and Vin squeezed his eyes shut tight. His breath caught in his throat and Buck felt the hitch. He patted Vin's back and gave his neck a reassuring squeeze.

"Shhh. It's okay now, Vin," he continued with the reassuring chatter.

How could Buck not be mad at him anymore, Vin wondered. And, would the rest of the team be as accepting as Buck seemed to have become. Vin turned his head into Buck's shoulder, took a deep breath and let it out slowly. He focused on the strong heartbeat he could feel coming from deep within Buck's chest.

Finally, when Buck heard the front door open, he turned his head away from Vin. The man had been quiet and still in his arms for nearly ten minutes and Buck didn't want to disturb him. He heard Chris heading his way and said his name softly as he saw the shadow of the man enter the room. Chris came around the doorway into the room and saw Buck sitting on the floor. He didn't see Vin until he stepped further into the room.

"How's he doing?" Chris asked as he squatted beside the two men on the floor.

"I think he's asleep," Buck replied.

A moment later, Buck felt a gentle shake against his shoulder and turned to face Vin.

"You're awake?"

Vin nodded.

Buck cocked his head to the side and squinted his eyes. "You can understand me, can't you, Vin?" Buck's voice was soft but held his relief.

Vin nodded again.

"Are you okay?"

There was a long pause and Vin didn't move. Buck was about to repeat the question when Vin barely moved his head. Yes, he was okay. Buck glanced at Chris briefly, both men noticing the hesitation.

"You ready to get off the floor now?" Buck asked, though he would sit there as long as Vin wanted to.

There was another long pause before Vin pushed himself off of Buck's shoulder, keeping his eyes downcast. Buck let go of his hold once Vin was sitting up.

"You sure you're okay, Vin?" Chris asked from behind him.

Vin nodded once more. He took a deep breath and opened his mouth to speak but no sound came out. He licked his dry lips and tried again.

"JD died, didn't he?" His voice was soft, sad.

"No," both Chris and Buck replied quickly. Buck returned his hand to Vin's shoulder.

Vin was surprised at the answer. He was sure their young friend had died because of Buck's reaction to him at the hospital. He turned disbelieving eyes towards the man beside him. Buck squeezed his shoulder and nodded vigorously.

"A bump on the noggin, nasty cut on his arm and his left side banged up and bruised, but he's gonna be just fine. They're keeping him overnight at the hospital and tomorrow, he'll join you on sick leave."

Buck smiled and Vin tried to believe him. He looked back over his shoulder to Chris who nodded his agreement with Buck's assessment.

"JD's okay, Vin," Chris told him.

Vin closed his eyes and, even though he felt like a weight was lifted off of him, he sagged and dropped his chin to his chest.

"C'mon, Vin. Let's get you cleaned up." Buck got to his feet and guided Vin to his. He sat him down on the commode, grabbed a washcloth hanging on a rack and wet it under cool water.

Vin sat passively and watched as Buck and Chris worked to wash the blood off of his hands and arms. He examined his unbandaged arms, the worst of the scrapes still not quite healed yet. Fresh bandages were applied and Chris moved to rewrap the splints in place but as he raised one of the elastic bandages, Vin pulled away and shook his head, almost fearfully.

"Maybe we should get him some new ones," Buck said, seeing the dried blood flake off onto the floor from the bandage he held. Chris nodded his agreement. Buck looked absently out the bedroom window and asked, "Is there a drug store near here?"

Chris looked to Vin but it didn't appear that he was going to answer so he ran a mental check of the neighborhood. "Yeah, there's one down on Chamberlain, couple of blocks over towards Munsey."

Buck held out his hand. "If you loan me your car keys, I'll go get them." Chris fished his keyring out of his pocket and handed it to Buck. "Anything else we need?" he asked as he started out of the room, eyes darting between the two other men.

Chris watched Vin, waiting for a reply but Vin said nothing. "I think that's it. Thanks, Buck."

"Sure thing. Be back in a bit." And Buck was gone.

Chris eyed Vin for a long time. Vin still sat on the commode with his chin low. He was still dressed in the suit pants and dress shoes he'd put on before court that morning but had just an undershirt on up top. The rest of the suit was in a pile on the coffee table where Vin had dropped them when he came in.

Chris stepped up, knelt down in front of Vin and began untying his shoes. He slipped them off and set them aside to take home with him when he left, since they were really his shoes. He tugged off the socks then eased the undershirt off over Vin's head, being careful of his unprotected arms. He needed Vin to stand up to get the pants off of him and Vin complied without comment. Chris got the pants down around his ankles and Vin silently stepped out of them, Chris adding them to the pile with his shoes to take home.

Chris rewet the washcloth and wiped the sticky areas where the cherry flavored drink had soaked through to the skin. The clothes had absorbed most of it but there were several areas that needed cleaning. When Chris was done, Vin walked over to his dresser and stopped, standing with his back to Chris. He pulled his underwear off then pulled open the top drawer of the dresser and stared inside.

"May not be any left in there, Vin. Most of your stuff's at my place," Chris told him softly with a sad smile.

But Vin found what he was looking for and gently slid the clean pair on. He picked the other ones up and tossed them in a nearly full laundry basket that rested on the floor by the wall. Vin stared at the pile of clothes inside, wondering how long they'd been there, thinking that maybe he needed to wash them. Vin stood staring so long that Chris almost came over to him to see if there was a problem but finally he moved and grabbed a clean undershirt. Chris did step forward to help him get it on and then dug up a pair of sweatpants, Vin's casual attire of choice, and helped Vin into them.

While Chris was pulling out a sweatshirt for him, Vin went to the side of the bed and climbed on. Chris turned back in time to see Vin crawl across it on his hands and knees and almost had to slap his hand over his mouth to keep from yelling at him. Without the splints, his injured wrists were unsupported and Chris was afraid he'd do more damage, but it occurred to him that right now, Vin's heart was hurting more than his hands. He said nothing and watched Vin curl up on the opposite side of the bed, his back towards him.

Chris set aside the sweatshirt and sat on the end of the bed and waited. He knew if Vin wanted to talk, he would, but only in his own time.

Chris didn't have to wait long.

"I'm sorry about your suit, Chris," the soft voice came from the other side of the bed.

"Don't worry about it, Vin."

"I'll pay for it," Vin went on.

Chris reached over and laid a gentle hand on Vin's lower leg. He knew that now was not the time to argue with his friend. "Okay, we'll work something out."

"And Buck's truck, too."

"Well, now, you probably have enough loose change around here to cover Buck's truck. You know he's going to love going out and finding the next piece of junk to call his own. I think you did him a favor there." Chris thought he heard a breathed out laugh followed by a long silence.

"What happened with the trial?"

"Reconvenes at nine tomorrow morning and you finish your testimony, if you're up to it." Chris paused and rubbed Vin's leg a little. "Think you'll be up to it?"

Vin shrugged half-heartedly. "I guess, again." There was a hint of a catch in Vin's voice.

Chris knew how hard the whole experience had been for Vin and they all had thought it was over. Now, with the occurrence of the relapse, Vin had to be afraid about if and when it would happen again.

"How are you feeling, Vin, really?" Chris asked.

"My head hurts," Vin replied with no hesitation. Very un-Vin-like.

"Did you hit it in the accident? Do we need to go get you checked out?"

"No, they already checked me out. It's just a headache."

"Do you want to take something for it? You have anything here?" Chris was about to get up and rummage through the medicine cabinet in the bathroom when Vin answered.

"Naw, I'm out. I'll be okay without."

Chris nodded. The two men were quiet for several minutes, only the sound of their breathing could be heard.

"JD really okay?" Vin broke the silence.

"He will be. He's pretty banged up but nothing too serious."

"I couldn't get the door open," Vin began, his voice breaking. Chris moved up behind him and rested his hand on Vin's arm. "I tried kicking it but it wouldn't move. I couldn't kick the windshield out either. I..." Vin turned his face down into the pillow.

"You did fine, Vin. You took care of JD until help showed up."

"It wouldn't stop bleeding."

"JD's fine, Vin. He's fine." Chris emphasized his statement with a squeeze of Vin's arm.

Vin nodded that he'd heard and that he believed it but that didn't take away the images that constantly flashed through his mind, nor did it stamp out the residual anxiety that would take some time to dissipate.

Vin remained silent for a long while, Chris staying by his side and giving the occasional reassuring squeeze of his hand. Chris knew how hard this whole experience had been for Vin and the past several hours may have been the worst of it.

The two men heard the jingle of keys and knew Buck was back. Chris turned slightly towards the bedroom door.

"Hey, Chris," he said softly as he approached the bed. He couldn't tell if Vin were awake or not so kept his voice low. "I didn't know what length to get so I bought a couple in a couple of different sizes. I'll go measure them against his old ones." Buck didn't wait for Chris to say anything and stepped into the small bathroom. The two blood-stained elastic bandages were still piled on the floor where Vin had left them. Buck reached into his bag and pulled out the new ones he'd bought. Unwrapping two of them, he stretched them out and held the new ones against the old one. "These are closest," Buck told Chris as he handed the two new bandages over to the man on the bed along with the metal splints that had also been left lying on the bathroom floor.

Chris gently rolled Vin over onto his back and began situating the splint in place on his arm. He noticed that the wrist was a little swollen and wondered what Vin had done to aggravate the injury. He reminded himself that Vin had been involved in a car accident and though he said they had checked him out, that didn't mean he didn't get hurt. Vin watched without emotion as Chris began wrapping the new elastic bandage around his forearm stopping from time to time to readjust the position of the splint.

Buck stood and watched what Chris was doing a moment then picked up the other splint and bandage and began wrapping Vin's other arm, watching intently how Chris was doing it.

"Does that feel all right?" Chris asked once he had secured the elastic. Vin nodded slightly. "Not too tight?" Chris knew that Vin probably wouldn't complain if it were. Vin shook his head. "Is it tight enough?" Chris continued with the questions. Vin nodded again and Chris decided to be satisfied with that.

"How about this one?" Buck asked as he finished the arm he had been tending.

Vin slowly rolled his head to look at his other arm for a moment. "It's fine," he said softly.

Chris glanced up at Buck and the two shared a sad smile.

"You ready to head out to the ranch?" Chris asked.

Vin didn't look up. "I can stay here."

"Do you want to stay here?" Chris thought he knew what Vin was doing. He knew the man hated to have to be helped, tended to. He hated feeling like he was inconveniencing someone so he would go out of he way not to, whether he really wanted to or not.

Vin glanced around the room, purposely avoiding both Chris's and Buck's eyes. The room was dingy and, like the hallway, needed a fresh coat of paint. It was his home but right now, it felt foreign to him. He surprised them all when he spoke.


Chris smiled a little. "Come on, then. Let's get you up and dressed." Chris reached up and tucked his hand under Vin's shoulder and helped ease him to a sitting position. He reached behind him and yanked the sweatshirt up, shifting it around so that he could slip it over Vin's head. Vin helped as much as he could but for the most part let Chris and Buck get it in place.

"What do you say while we're here that we get you your own suit to wear to court tomorrow," Chris suggested.

Vin's eyes opened wider and he opened his mouth to speak but remained silent and finally nodded. Chris could tell he was feeling overwhelmed at the moment and wouldn't have been surprised if he were suffering some from shock from the accident and the relapse. He gestured to Buck to help him to his feet as he moved off to gather up some of Vin's belongings. He hadn't been kidding earlier about most of Vin's things being at his ranch. Many of the dresser drawers were empty and only a few things were hanging in the closet. He grabbed Vin's suit, remembering to get his dress shoes too.

"You might as well wear these, Vin," Chris said holding out his dress shoes. "Your sneakers are at the ranch." Chris handed the shoes to Buck who got them on Vin's feet then got Vin to a stand slowly. He made some adjustments on the fit of the sweatshirt as he made sure Vin would keep his feet. Vin's eyes remained low.

"It's getting a little cold outside. You might want a jacket, Vin," Buck suggested. Vin bobbed his head a few times but never looked up. "That blue one you got should be about right. You want me to get it for you?" After he saw Vin nod again, Buck went to the small coat closet between the living room and kitchen and found what he was looking for.

Chris was looking for something to carry Vin's suit in so it would stay clean and relatively wrinkle free. Unfortunately, anything that was appropriate for such things had already been used for it and was out at Chris's. He decided to check the kitchen and see if Vin had any garbage bags. A hole cut in one end for the hanger and it was as good as a garment bag.

Buck had Vin in his jacket and Chris had collected all of the stuff that he thought Vin needed so the three men headed for the door. Chris had decided to leave his own suit and shoes and get them another time. There wasn't much he could do about getting it cleaned then anyway. Buck pulled Vin's keys out of his pocket and locked the door behind him. He offered the keyring back to Vin but the man didn't take them, keeping his eyes on the floor in front of him. Buck decided not to press it and instead handed the keys to Chris who dropped them in his own pocket. He'd give them back to Vin later.

Buck grumbled about the elevator still being broken as the three climbed down the flights of stairs. The dark stairwell fit in with all the dark hallways of the nearly crumbling building. Buck refrained from again questioning Vin as to why he insisted on living there.

It was dark outside, the nearby streetlight having been broken out. Chris headed for his truck, fishing his keys out of his pants pocket. Vin stopped on the first stair at the entrance to the building and looked up and down the street.

"What's wrong, Vin?" Buck asked as he stopped and turned to his friend.

Vin was silent for a long time, continuing his appraisal of the street. "Where's my jeep?" he asked finally, softly.

Buck grinned, relaxing, thinking the problem had been something critical. "After it looked like you were gonna be away for a while, we moved it over to our townhouse, just to keep an eye on it."

Vin looked at Buck, into his eyes, and stared a long moment. "Thanks," he said softly.

Buck nodded happily. "Sure, Vin." Buck looked down at his feet a moment as he ran his thumb and finger across his mustache and continued them around from the corners of his mouth to meet together above his chin. "Uh, listen Vin, I don't know how much of what I said upstairs you got but I told ya I'd tell ya again so... " Buck paused as he looked up sincerely into Vin's eyes. "I want you to know how sorry I am for hollering at you at the hospital. It wasn't your fault and I had no call to take out my anger on you. I know you'd do everything you could to help JD."

Vin's eyes glistened with newly formed tears. "I tried," he squeaked out. "I... " He lowered his chin to his chest, shaking his head.

"I know you did, Vin, I know you did," Buck began as he stepped forward and slid his arm across Vin's slumping shoulders. "And JD is gonna be fine because of it." Buck waited, squeezing gently and eventually Vin nodded slightly. "You ready to go?" he added softly. Vin nodded again and the two men started towards Chris and the truck.

Chris had gotten Vin's stuff inside and stood waiting by the driver's door. He wasn't close enough to hear what was being said between the two men but decided whatever it was, it was between them so he stayed back. When they approached, he got behind the wheel and pulled the door closed.

Buck opened the passenger door and Vin stepped up and reached down to pull the lever that would flip the seat forward but Buck stopped him.

"We'll all fit in the front, Vin. Just slide on in there."

Vin didn't reply but did as Buck told him. He slid into the center of the seat and Buck climbed in after him. Buck pulled the seatbelt on and then dug the center lap strap out and attached it across Vin's lap. Vin said nothing and kept his eyes low the entire time. Buck looked over at Chris and the two men shook their heads and shrugged, neither knowing how to help their friend.

"You wanna go home, Buck?" Chris asked as he started the engine.

"Yeah, uh... " Buck began but stopped when he realized his truck wasn't there. "I was gonna go over to the hospital to see JD. Vin, can I use your jeep for that?"

Vin was silent as he nodded his consent then spoke in a soft, almost fearful voice, "Can I go too?"

Chris looked over at him. He had thought about suggesting they all go see JD but thought Vin may have already had too full a day and needed to get him home.

"You sure you're up to it, Vin?"

Vin again nodded his reply. Chris looked at his watch and figured that even with a quick trip to the hospital, they could get home before it was outrageously late.

"Okay. Hospital first, then your place, Buck?" Chris asked as he pulled away from the curb.

Buck nodded. "Fine with me."

The ride to the hospital was a quiet one. Vin was naturally quiet and even more so when he was distressed. Chris and Buck knew that there was nothing they could say that would make their friend feel better so they chose to remain silent.

The parking lot was relatively empty as Chris pulled in. Most visitors had already gone home.

"Visiting hours may be over," Chris observed as he parked.

"Don't intend to stay long, just want to check in, make sure the kid's settled in okay." Buck grinned as he stepped out of the truck. "Besides, they know better than to discuss visiting hours with us."

Chris chuckled as he too got out of the truck. There had been enough times that one or more of the team had been in this particular hospital that they practically knew the entire staff by name. The three men approached the main entrance and walked in. Weaving their way through halls – wondering again why they always laid out hospitals in such bizarre ways – they found their way to the room JD had been moved to.

The door was slightly ajar and Buck tapped lightly as he stuck his head in. "JD?" he called softly, just in case the young man had a roommate. He saw JD in the first bed, lying half on his back, half on his side with a long pillow wedged under his left hip and thigh. There were several ice bags in place over the area.

"Hey, Buck. Did you find Vin?" JD pushed himself into a more upright position, wincing slightly at the rapid movement of his head.

"Yeah, he's right behind me. How're you doing?" Buck asked as he stepped up to the side of the bed followed by Chris and finally Vin.

JD craned his neck around to see Vin as he answered Buck. "I'm fine, Buck. Just a little sore." He made eye contact with Vin but directed his question to the other two men. "Is he okay? They checked him out, right? He get hurt?"

Before either Buck or Chris could say anything, Vin spoke up. "I'm okay, JD."

JD pulled his head back, surprised, then a wide smile crept on his face. "You're back."

Vin returned a weak smile of his own. "For now." His eyes moved to the large bandage on JD's forehead and then to the one on his arm. "Are... " Vin clamped his mouth shut and swallowed hard. "Are you okay?" He knew JD had just answered that question but he had to ask.

The three other men all heard the anguish in Vin's voice.

"Aw, you know me, Vin," JD piped up. "I bruise like a grape but I bounce back quick." He hoped Vin took him at his word. He really was going to be fine. He'd gotten hurt worse falling off a skateboard as a kid.

"Shoot, a youngin' like you, yer bones ain't even set yet," Buck joked, overdoing a mock hillbilly accent.

That even got a slight smile out of Vin.

"So, what were you thinking, JD? Driving cross country in my pick-up." Buck wasn't mad. He was overjoyed that his two friends were still with them. He just felt a little ribbing was in order. "You know it isn't used to that kind of terrain."

"Sorry, Buck, I... " JD stopped mid sentence. He had been so consumed with the aftermath of the accident and whether or not Vin was okay that he hadn't really thought back to how it happened. "... white van," he mumbled, his eyes focused on some distant spot.


"There was a white van. It forced us off the road."

"White van... you mean, the white van?" Chris asked, moving a step closer to the head of the bed.

"Well, I don't know if it was the white van. I never saw that one but it was a white van and he did force us off the road."

Vin closed his eyes. He had never seen the white van either but he'd heard all about it from his friends who had. The person in the white van was after him and now JD had gotten hurt, and might have died, because of it. Suddenly feeling the need to sit, he looked for a chair and saw one by the wall. He walked to it and plopped down, resting his arms across his knees and lowering his head to his arms.

Chris watched Vin but didn't move to his side right away. "You get a plate?" the policeman in him had to ask.

JD shook his head. "He came up from behind so fast and then hit us from the side. Never had a chance." JD eyed Vin, concerned. "Is he okay?" he whispered so only Buck and Chris could hear.

Chris took a step over and knelt down beside the chair. He put a comforting hand on Vin's back and patted gently. "You all right, Vin?"

Vin's head moved in a feeble nod. "Can we go home now?" he asked in a hushed voice.

Chris patted his back a few more times. "Sure." He stood up and went back to the side of the bed. "You ready to go, Buck? Vin's beat." He kept his voice low.

"Yeah, okay." Buck glanced over his shoulder and knew there was more to it than just Vin being 'tired'.

"You sure he's okay?" JD whispered.

"He's had a long day, JD. Testifying, the relapse, the accident. He's gotta be exhausted." Chris was as concerned as JD was because, knowing Vin as well as he did, he knew the man was suffering a lot more than any of them could tell.

"I got my cell phone so you call if you need anything," Buck instructed.

"I will. You guys drive carefully." JD said, waving a hand over his bruised body as evidence of what could happen if they didn't.

Chris got Vin to his feet and he gave JD a half-hearted wave goodbye as the three men left the room.


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