ATF Universe

Three floors up from JD's room, a security guard was standing his ground in front of the prisoner's room.

"No one's allowed in, sir."

The man frowned. "You are aware that the man inside has rights, are you not? He is entitled to converse with his attorney," he reprimanded. Twisting his hand around, he managed to produce a business card, seemingly from thin air, and held it up for the guard to see. "My name is Joseph Bedford and I am Mr. Perkins's attorney. If you don't allow me to enter and confer with my client, I will see you brought up on charges."

The security officer examined the card. It looked authentic. He knew the man in the room should be allowed to see a lawyer so, after a thorough visual scrutiny, he relaxed his stance.

"I'll need to check you for weapons, and your briefcase."

The man nodded as if he fully expected this and set down his case then spread his arms wide so the officer could search him. The officer patted him down, checking pockets, under his arms and down his legs. Next, he had the attorney open his case and he rifled through the papers inside. Finding no sign of any weapon, he signaled the man to enter.

"Mr. Perkins, we have things to discuss before your hearing," Bedford said boldly as the door to the room slowly swung shut. Once it had closed, he dropped his superior air and stepped up to the side of the bed.

Perkins was laying on his side with his right wrist handcuffed to the rail of the bed. His bandaged back was covered by the thin hospital gown. Ezra's bullet had hit him from behind on the outside of his back, lodging inside against his lung. He was sore at the moment but it wasn't anything that wouldn't heal and he was progressing well enough that he would probably be moved to a prison infirmary by the end of the week.

Perkins rolled weary eyes to his visitor. "What do you want, Bedford?" He sounded bored.

"Just dropped by to tell you that I have succeeded where you have failed."

Perkins's eyes snapped wide. "What are you talking about?"

"Tanner. He's out of the way."

Perkins now narrowed his eyes skeptically. "It's too late. He took the stand today. You've wasted your effort on him," Perkins said then rolled his head away.

Bedford shook his head. "No. He didn't finish his testimony. They postponed it to tomorrow."

Perkins looked back, suddenly interested. "Really?"

"Yes. Tanner left the stand in the middle of the afternoon. Some unknown illness."

Perkins let a slow smile grow on his face. He had his suspicions as to what the 'unknown illness' was. "And you've made sure he won't be there to complete his testimony tomorrow?"

"I left him and one of his ATF pals bloody at the bottom of a ravine. It'll be weeks before anyone finds them."

"How far into his testimony did they get?"

"Peabody had only just started his cross. If they can't finish, they'll probably throw it all out. Chassen'll walk."

Perkins rubbed a hand on his chin as his mind raced. "Good. That's very good. You may be worth what I pay you after all."

+ + + + + + +

Chris unlocked the passenger door of his truck and turned towards Vin, pointing inside. Silently, Vin got in. Before Buck could climb in after him, Chris pulled him aside and spoke low.

"A white van. You know what that means, Buck?"

Buck nodded, having already come to the same conclusion. "Vin's still a target. Perkins and Chassen have friends."

"Damn it," Chris muttered under his breath as he ran a tired hand across equally tired eyes. "Hasn't he got enough to deal with." He looked over at his friend sitting dejectedly in the cab of the truck. "You wanna spend the night, Buck?" He suddenly felt the need for back-up.

Buck dropped a hand on Chris's shoulder. "Sure. Can we stop by my place so I can get some clean underwear?"

Chris looked up at Buck and had to smile at the remark. "Yes, we can stop and get you some clean underwear." Chris shook his head as he started around his truck to the driver's side. Buck snickered at Chris's reaction as he got in beside Vin.

The three men rode in silence. Chris glanced over at Vin every now and then and saw the man had his chin to his chest and his eyes closed but knew because of the tightly clenched jaw that he wasn't asleep. He pulled into an empty parking spot in front of Buck's townhouse and put the truck in park.

"Be back in a jiff," Buck said as he got out and quickly disappeared into the shadows around the building.

Chris watched until he lost sight of his friend then turned to look at Vin. He wanted to tell him that everything was going to work out okay, that the bad guys would lose and the good guys would win but both men had seen too much in their lives to know that wasn't true. Sometimes the bad guys won.

Buck returned in less than five minutes and got back in the truck, trying to be quiet. "Ready," he said as he pulled the door closed.

Chris pulled out of the parking lot and headed out of town. If nothing else came up, they should get to the ranch shortly after eleven. He drove through a section of town that seemed to overflow with restaurants and immediately his stomach began to rumble. He'd snacked his way through the day and though he was hungry, he knew he could wait until he got home. It then occurred to him that Vin might not have gotten anything to eat since the small lunch he'd had during a break in the trial.

"Vin, you awake," he asked in a quiet voice.

Though Vin didn't move, a soft "uh-huh" drifted from his throat.

"You hungry? You want to stop and get something to eat?"

Though he never opened his eyes, he wrinkled his nose and shook his head. His stomach was in so many knots he didn't think he'd be able to keep anything down. "No, thanks," he whispered.

Chris wasn't going to push the issue. The three men rode on in silence, arriving at the ranch just when Chris predicted they would. They slowly got out of the truck and made their way to the dark house. Chris got the door open and stepped in ahead of the other two men, switching on lights so they could see their way around. Vin went straight into the living room and sat on the couch.

"Mind if I hit the shower real quick?" Buck asked, not wanting to jump in front of someone if they wanted to use it.

"Fine with me," Chris said. Vin provided a feeble shrug and Buck couldn't tell if it was really a response to his question or not. There was another shower in the house so Buck figured if Vin really wanted to take one right away, then he could. He disappeared down the hallway.

Chris laid Vin's suit down across the back of a chair and sat down on the coffee table in front of the couch. He stared at Vin a moment and then reached forward and silently began pulling the jacket off his shoulders. Vin sat still for a moment then whipped his arm around to bat Chris's away.

"I can do it," he insisted grumpily. Vin had been so passive and quiet all evening that his outburst surprised even him.

Chris drew his hand back quickly, wrapping the fingers of his other hand around it protectively. He stood and took a few steps to the side and it was then that Vin realized his metal splint had contacted hard with Chris's hand.

"Geez...I'm sorry, Chris," he apologized softly, craning his neck trying to see Chris's face and gauge his expression.

"Yeah," Chris grumbled as he alternated holding and shaking out his hand.

Vin sighed heavily and his shoulders drooped low as the events of the day and the passed few weeks weighed on him. "Why didn't they just kill me?" he asked softly, not really expecting any kind of answer.

Vin's question made Chris glance in his direction. His friend looked so defeated that Chris wanted to wrap his arms around him, support him, give him strength, tell him everything would turn out okay. But he didn't. Instead, he squared his shoulders and said, "Never figured you for one who'd want to take the easy way out."

Vin looked up at Chris, startled. "You think dying is easy?"

"Easier than putting up a fight, yeah, I do." Chris turned his attention back to his hand. The stinging sensation had finally subsided and he was inspecting the area where little more than a small red mark showed.

"You don't know what it's been like," Vin nearly whispered.

Chris was about to turn to his friend and tell him that he did know what it was like, that he's read all the files on all the subjects and knew what was going on but after only a moment's thought, he realized all he knew were the words someone else wrote. He didn't have any clue as to what it really felt like.

He looked over at Vin and saw him with his elbows on his knees, his head in his hands with his fingers and thumbs firmly rubbing his forehead and temples. Chris watched for several seconds then silently stepped from the room, returning a couple of minutes later. He sat beside Vin on the couch and gently nudged him.

Vin wearily pulled his head up and saw Chris's outstretched hand in front of him. Chris lifted the hand slightly, drawing Vin's closer attention and he saw two pills sitting in the palm. Slowly, he moved his eyes to Chris's.

"They're the ones for your wrists. You have plenty," Chris explained then shrugged. "Figure they'll work for headaches too. Pain is pain, right?"

Vin looked grateful as he gently plucked the pills off Chris's palm. Chris's other hand produced a glass of water which Vin took. He downed the pills and emptied the glass, setting it on the table in front of him. He dropped his chin slowly to his chest and took a deep breath.

"You wanna lay down?" Chris asked as he started to move off the couch but Vin stopped him.

"Naw, I'll just sit a minute then head on to bed, if it's okay."

Chris nodded. "Sure, it's okay. Whatever you want." He leaned forward and rested his forearms on his knees, looking back over his shoulder at Vin who had leaned back with his eyes closed. "You wanna talk, Vin?" Vin opened his eyes and moved them slowly till they met Chris's but he said nothing so Chris continued. "Tell me what it's been like. Help me understand."

Vin stared curiously and remained quiet for so long that Chris wondered if he'd been hit by another relapse. Gradually, Vin's eyes slid away to stare blankly across the room and he took a deep breath.

"It hurt," he spoke softly.

The words concerned Chris, finding out that his friend had been in pain and he couldn't help, but he remained silent.

"Not like these hurt," he continued, raising both his hands briefly, "but deep inside. I tried so hard to understand. I knew why I couldn't anymore, because of what he gave me. I remember the feeling when it first hit. It was different then when it came back today," Vin paused as he looked at Chris, "or was it yesterday?"

"No, it was today," Chris confirmed. He fell silent again, not really following Vin's train of thought but not wanting to interrupt it either.

Vin nodded once and moved his eyes back off to the distance. It was several moments before he began speaking again. "I couldn't put words to anything, not even inside my head," Vin went on, briefly touching a finger tip to his temple. "It," he added painfully, his voice cracking slightly as a tear glistened in the corner of his eye.

Vin knew he wasn't explaining himself very well. And it seemed strange even to him, him not minding being alone a lot of the time, putting the word 'lonely' as the worst part of his ordeal. But the drug made him feel worse than alone, it made him feel separated from himself.

"That ain't it...I don't know," he added finally. He closed his eyes and turned his face away from Chris. He wrapped his arms across his stomach and let out a low mournful sigh.

Chris watched his friend for a minute. It occurred to him that maybe Vin wasn't ready yet to talk about what he'd gone through. He decided to change the subject.

"How's your headache?"

Vin smiled feebly, "It's doing fine."

Chris smiled sadly at the joke. "Well, it'll probably take a little while for those pills to kick in. You wanna head on up to bed?"

"Yeah, I guess I will." He looked questioningly at Chris. "Where you want me?"

"You can take the spare room if you want, or I don't mind sharing again if you'd rather."

Vin thought about it a moment but he felt the need to be by himself for a while; alone but knowing there were friends close by. "Guess I'll take the spare if Buck don't want it."

"Buck can have the sofa in the den, or this one," Chris said, patting the piece of furniture they were both sitting on. Vin started pushing himself to his feet and Chris reached over to help. The two men wearily made their way down the hallway to the spare bedroom.

Chris reached in and turned on the light switch, stepping out of the way and letting Vin pass. Vin stepped up to the bed and slowly eased himself down onto its edge. He used the toe of one foot to pry the shoe off the other foot, switching feet and repeating the action.

"You need anything, Vin?" Chris asked.

"No, I'm fine."

"Okay, well you get some sleep and I'll wake you up in the morning. And you wake me up if you need anything, okay Vin?" Chris stressed the last part.

"I will. Thanks, Chris."

Vin sat on the edge of the bed and watched as Chris left the room, flipping the light switch as he passed and pulling the door closed.

In the darkened silence of Chris's spare room, Vin sat alone, looking around, waiting, making sure one of the two other men wouldn't pop in for one last check. He waited until he saw the light from under the door go out.

Finally away from all the concern of his friends, his overtaxed emotions demanded release. Vin clamped his throat shut before any sound escaped but the tears overflowed and his shoulders shook with the silent sobs he'd tried to hold in check most of the day. Slowly, he leaned over, buried his head in the pillow and cried himself to sleep.

+ + + + + + +

Perkins rolled over in his bed as he felt the slight tug on the IV line connected to his arm. Slowly, he opened his eyes and saw a new face standing over him.

"Sorry. I didn't mean to wake you," the new face said softly.

Perkins shifted some more and regarded the woman standing beside the bed. "No problem, my dear. Seems a full night's sleep is out of the question in this hospital. Why should tonight be any different?"

The woman looked down at her feet briefly. "Sorry," she repeated.

Perkins watched her a moment longer. "I don't believe I have had the pleasure of seeing you here before."

"Oh, I'm a temp. I fill in when they are shorthanded. My name is Charlotte. I'll be working the next few nights."

Perkins smiled in a way that raised the hair on the back of the young woman's neck. "Pleased to meet you, Charlotte."

+ + + + + + +

Vin was already awake when Chris tapped on his door the next morning. The door opened slowly as Chris peered in.

"Vin? It's that time."

"Okay," Vin rasped. He cleared his throat. "Thanks." Immediately, he pushed back the covers, not remembering when during the night he'd crawled under them, and sat up. Chris was satisfied and headed off to rouse Buck.

Vin looked around the room. He'd been here countless times, staying weekends with Chris to work with the horses or help with the ranch chores that always seemed to pile up. It was practically his second home, but now, it didn't feel comfortable. It felt tense, burdened by the trouble he'd brought with him. He hated that his friends were caught in the middle of his situation but knew he couldn't handle it alone. And he knew if it were any of them, he'd stand by their side. Why did it bother him that they had to stand by him?

Chris stuck his head back in as he passed his door again. "Still up?" he asked even though he could see Vin sitting on the bed.

"Yeah. Just thinking."

Chris stepped into the room. "About... ?"

Vin paused. He knew Chris would understand some of what he was feeling. And he knew he could tell the man anything and not be judged. But right now, he didn't want to talk about anything.

But Chris deserved an answer. He'd stood by him through this whole ordeal and he was still here, still wanted to help. As Vin sat trying to form the feelings into words, Chris beat him to it.

"Thinking, maybe, about getting your sorry butt outta bed and getting dressed?" Vin smiled as he looked across the room at Chris.

"Yeah, thinking about that." Vin pushed himself to his feet and walked the few steps to the door, stopping in front of Chris. "Same drill as yesterday?" he asked.

"Yep. We've got the plastic ready to tape over your splints and then you're on your own to shower and get dressed. Buck and I'll get breakfast going. How's your head?" Chris asked, remembering the headache from the previous night.

Vin gave it a moment's thought. "Gone," he said finally.

"Good," Chris smiled, his casual tone belying the affection and concern he had for the man before him. "All your stuff is still in my room so you may as well use that shower. Come on, let's go get you taped up." Vin followed Chris into the master bedroom and held his arms out as Chris taped old dry cleaner bags over the splints to keep them dry.

Over the passed several days, the men had experimented with various ways of handling Vin's broken wrists so that he could, as much as possible, take care of himself. Wrapping the splints in plastic didn't always keep the elastic bandages completely dry but they did a good enough job of it.

By the time Chris returned to his bedroom to get himself dressed, Vin was pulling his tie around his neck, letting it hang loose until he had to tie it. Chris told him that Buck had breakfast waiting for him and he took off down the hall, feeling hungry.

For the ride back into town, the three men again sat in the front seat of Chris's truck. Vin remained quiet though there was an ease about him that had been missing the night before. Buck kept the other two entertained with his chatter, seemingly oblivious to the fact that neither one joined in on any conversation he started.

Chris dropped Buck off at the ATF office building then went on to the courthouse.

+ + + + + + +

Joseph Bedford followed a small group of people into the courtroom and sat near the back of the spectator's section. He wanted to watch the proceedings so he could report back to Perkins what happened to Chassen. The room was quiet with hushed conversations going on around him. He pulled out a small notebook and opened it up to a blank page. Taking out a pen, he sat poised to take notes.

The court was called into session with the judge's entrance, the jury was let in and the trial was resumed. Bedford thought he was hearing things as the bailiff called out for Vin Tanner to take the stand. He whipped his head towards the opening doors and his heart nearly jumped out of his chest as the man entered the courtroom.

Vin walked up to the witness stand and took his seat. The judge reminded him that he was still under oath and then gestured for the defense attorney to continue his questioning.

Bedford rubbed his eyes, sure that he was seeing things but when the apparition did not disappear, he quickly closed his notebook, stood up and silently left the courtroom.

+ + + + + + +

"How are you feeling, Vin?" Chris asked as he rubbed his hand on Vin's shoulder.

"Tired," Vin replied, letting his eyes slowly fall shut. He tugged weakly on his necktie to loosen it.

"Well, you're done with your part now so relax. All we have left to do is wait." Chris took a seat beside Vin on the wide marble bench outside of the courtroom. Vin had finally finished his testimony and was dismissed. The prosecution rested and the defense had just begun their arguments when the court broke for lunch. The two men were waiting for the prosecutor to come out of the courtroom.

It had been hard for Vin to concentrate on the questioning, plagued by an underlying worry about another relapse happening while he was on the stand. He wanted to make sure that the prosecutor was satisfied with his responses. There were other distractions too. Worry about JD and about the rest of his team, wondering if the end of the trial would bring an end to the attempts on his life. Killing him now wouldn't do any good, unless they wanted revenge. Something else to worry about.

A hand suddenly appeared in front of Vin's face and he looked up. "I think it went very well, Mr. Tanner," Cavanaugh said as Vin reached up and shook as best he could with his hand in a splint. "I appreciate you keeping yourself together till the end."

Vin wrinkled his brow at the statement. It wasn't like he had any say over when or where or if a relapse would hit. "Did my best," he finally said as he lowered his hand and turned a sideways glance at Chris. He smiled slightly when he saw the smirk on Chris's face.

"So, how do you think it looks for our side?" Chris asked.

"Pretty strong," Cavanaugh replied as he shifted his briefcase from one hand to the other. "I don't think the jury will buy his arguments and with your," he nodded towards Vin, "eye witness testimony, I think he's finally headed for prison."

"Great," Chris nodded. He slapped Vin on the thigh, trying to encourage some encouragement out of the man. Vin merely nodded at the action.

"The defense will probably take a couple of days for their arguments and then who knows how long the jury will take." Cavanaugh wasn't actually telling them this information but rather saying it out loud to himself as he mentally ran through his schedule for the next few days. He seemed to no longer realize that Chris and Vin were sitting in front of him as he silently turned and headed down the hall.

"You ready to head out?" Chris asked Vin.

Vin shrugged and Chris took that as a 'yes'. He stood and waited for Vin to follow. When he did, the two men headed for the elevators that would take them to the parking garage.

"So, what's the plan for the rest of the day?" Vin asked in a quiet voice as the two men walked.

"I take you out to the ranch."

Vin looked over at him. "You not working today?"

"I've got some stuff to do but I can do it from home or have one of the guys bring it out."

Vin stopped in his tracks, angering some pedestrians walking too close behind him. "Chris, don't... " Vin raised his hand and rubbed his forehead.

Chris faced him. "Don't what?"

Vin sighed, frustrated. "I don't want you to change your life around because of me."

Chris grabbed Vin by the upper arm and pulled him towards a wall, out of the main flow of foot traffic. "What are you talking about, Vin?"

"You have your job to do. You can't spend all your time baby-sitting me. I'll just go to my apartment and hang out. You can swing by and get me on your way home tonight." Vin thought this sounded like a pretty reasonable plan.

"How are you going to manage alone, Vin?"

"I got home on my own last night." Vin stuck his chin out obstinately, almost daring Larabee to argue.

"Yes, you did. You're very resourceful, no one is arguing that, but there may still be someone out there wanting to use you for target practice."

"Well, I don't want one of you being part of the target."

Chris shook his head, turned towards the wall and began a mock banging motion against the brick façade.

"Chris... " Vin whined as he watched then looked around to make sure the passersby weren't staring. He took a step up to Chris's side and the man turned to look him squarely in the eye. Vin stared back for a long moment before he said, "Okay, I get it. We've done this before. I'll go peaceably."

"Great, let's go," Chris said quickly and started back towards the elevators before Vin could change his mind. The two men walked quietly side by side till they got to Chris's truck. He opened the door for Vin then closed it once he was in. Vin got his seatbelt on while Chris was walking around to the driver's side.

They had been riding for several minutes when Chris finally broke the silence. "I do know how you feel, Vin. I know you're worried about us... "

"Same as you'd be if it were you."

"Exactly. And if it were me?"

"I know, I'd wanna make sure you were okay." Vin shook his head sadly. "Don't make it easier."

Chris nodded his head. "I know." He patted Vin's thigh. "How are you really feeling, Vin?"

Vin slowly eyed Chris. There had been a touch of conspiracy in his tone. "A little tired is all."

"Here's the deal. We go to the office, I work, you rest. If you're a good boy, I'll let you type up a report or two."

"Gee, thanks."


"Yeah, okay, deal."

Chris smiled and headed towards the ATF offices.

+ + + + + + +

"Wow," JD marveled as he reread the report.

"Pretty clever, huh?" Buck asked.

"Yeah, "JD agreed.

"Well, listen kid, we gotta go. I'll be back after work to pick you up. Give me a call if anything changes, okay?" Buck rattled off as he collected his papers and pictures.

"Yeah, sure. Thanks Buck. See ya, Josiah,"

"Rest easy, son," Josiah said as he pulled open the door. He swept his hand indicating Buck should go ahead of him and before he followed, he winked at the young man in the bed. JD smiled as he watched the door slowly fall shut.

+ + + + + + +

"And this is the driver's side... was the driver's side," Buck explained as he pulled the next picture out.

" 'Bout time you two got back," Chris said from his office door. He had heard the minor commotion and knew that it could only signal the return of his boisterous agent.

"Oh, hey Chris. We took a long lunch to check on JD and see what was left of my truck." Buck waved one of his snapshots. "Ain't much, wanna see?"

Chris pushed himself off the doorframe and walked up to the group of men gathered to see the pictures. Vin silently stepped up to where Chris had just been standing.

"Damn," Chris muttered under his breath.

"Appropriately put," Ezra commented as he passed on the next picture to Nathan.

"Oh, and this is the police report," Buck said as he pulled a sheet of paper out of his pocket. He handed it to Chris and went on distributing the polaroids.

"How did you get this?" Chris asked as he held the folded paper up in the air.

"The officer was at the impound yard when we stopped by to see the truck. I called in this morning and told them to check it for white paint. That's what he was doing. I asked if I could see the report and he got me a copy." Buck shrugged, wondering why Chris was wondering.

"Was there?....any paint on your truck?"

"Yeah. White paint." Buck held up one of the pictures. "You can see a little here."

Chris examined the picture closely. This was good. There was evidence that someone had tried to run his agents off the road. Now if they could only find the van and its owner.

Chris unfolded the paper and began to read. It was a pretty routine accident report until he got to the part about how it was discovered. "Morse code?" he said under his breath. Chris turned, about to head back into his office to question Vin about it when he saw the man standing in the doorway. "Morse code?" he asked of him.

Vin shrugged. The rest of the men now focused on him and he was beginning to feel uncomfortable.

Chris quoted the report. "Albert Harrington, age 68, reported hearing a rhythmic noise which sounded like a car horn. He identified the sound as a morse code SOS call for help. He located the origin of the call and reported the location to the authorities." Chris raised his eyes to meet Vin's and began slowly shaking his head in disbelief.

Vin wasn't quite sure what to make of the attention his teammates were giving to the incident. Normally, he would have just waved it off but his emotions were still frayed and it didn't take much to set them off. "It was all I could think of to do," he choked out, lowering his head and turning back into the room. His heart told him it wasn't true but something in his brain was trying to convince him that they were making fun of him.

Buck quickly stepped into the office and caught up to his friend. He got in front of him and grabbed him by the shoulders, holding him at arms' length. He began shaking his head disbelievingly. "Vin, I am damn glad you're on our side. JD is lucky you were looking out for him."

"You did what needed to be done, Vin," Josiah spoke up from the doorway. "And you did it in the only way at your disposal. No one could ask for more of a man."

"True enough," Ezra agreed then added with a smile, "and JD is fortunate that it was you with him. Were it I attempting the same technique, I am certain it would have resulted in the delivery of a pizza."

Vin laughed lightly and flicked his eyes towards the con man. From Ezra's, Vin moved his eyes to meet each of his teammates' and he suddenly felt bad for letting his emotions get the better of him. He knew they wouldn't ridicule him about something like this. He smiled at them to let them know he was okay and that they should carry on with their day. They took the meaning and moved off to work on their assignments.

Vin shook his head at himself and walked slowly over to the couch in Chris's office, lowering himself wearily onto the cushions.

"You all right, Vin?" Chris asked quietly from the doorway.

Vin looked up at him and sighed. "Just feel kinda stupid."

Chris shook his head. "No need. It's just us," he shrugged. Chris walked over and sat beside him on the couch. "What do you remember about how the accident happened?"

Vin slid his eyes over to Chris's. "Not much. I was asleep. Something jolted me awake, may have been someone hitting us, I don't know. Next thing I know we're skidding over the side of the road and rolling." Vin's mind drifted as the event played out again in his mind. "JD was fighting hard to keep us on the road," he added absently.

Chris brought him back to the here and now with a pat on his knee. "Well, you're both okay and that's what's important. Why don't you lay down and try to take a nap. I'll try to type quietly," he smiled. He went to the cabinet he kept the pillow and blanket in and pulled them out for Vin to use. He dropped them beside the couch then went to his desk.

Vin looked at him appreciatively. He hated to admit it but he was exhausted. A nap sounded good. For the moment he ignored the pillow and blanket and stretched out on the couch.

Chris had been working for almost half an hour and had really thought Vin was asleep so it surprised him when the man said his name.

"Yeah," Chris responded, looking towards the couch.

"You think, with the trial over, that I'm still on their hit list?"

Chris knew he wouldn't be able to provide the answer that Vin wanted to that question. He also knew why Vin was asking. He wasn't concerned about himself, it was his team he was worried about. Chris sighed and said, "I wish I knew, Vin. If the whole purpose was to keep you from testifying then I'd say no, your off the list 'cause you've finished your testimony but if they are vengeful people, then yes, they'll probably still try to kill you for it."

Vin remained silent a moment. "Hmmm. That's what I thought." He reached forward and pulled the pillow off of the floor where Chris had placed it. He scrunched it up under his head and closed his eyes. Chris watched him a moment then went back to the report he was working on.

+ + + + + + +

"You imbecile!" Perkins nearly shouted at Bedford. The other man stood sheepishly beside the hospital bed. "I thought you said he was dead."

"He looked dead," Bedford argued.

"Looked? He looked dead? Didn't you make sure?" Perkins shifted angrily under his covers.

"I went to the truck and they both looked dead. It was too damaged to get inside to do a hands-on inspection." Bedford was getting irritated now.

Perkins remained silent as his legs and hands moved spasmodically, his eyes darting around the room. "I have to get out of here," he growled finally, turning his eyes to the other man. "Think you can handle a few small tasks?" he asked with a sneer.

"Certainly," Bedford replied, happy to be able to try to get back on his employer's good side.

"Good. Here's what I want you to do...."

+ + + + + + +

Buck tapped lightly on the door to Chris's office and cracked it open. He peeked over at the couch before he said anything.

"JD just called. They're letting him out so Josiah's gonna take me over there to get him, okay?"

Chris didn't verbally respond but waved Buck up to his desk. When the man reached it, Chris spoke in a hushed voice. "If it's okay, I'd like JD to spend a few days at the ranch. Then he and Vin can kinda watch each other. And he's not so hurt that he can't help watch things so only one of the rest of us needs to be there. With Vin's testimony over, I don't think Travis will let us all stay on guard duty without proof something may happen."

"Sure, that's fine with me and I don't think JD will mind, as long as you have unlimited internet access and plenty of batteries for his gameboy." Buck stole a glance at the man sleeping across the room. "You think Vin's still a target?"

"I don't know but I don't want to take any chances." Chris glanced at Vin as well. "He's vulnerable right now and like it or not, he needs help."

"We'll all help, you know that."

"I know." Chris nodded and looked down at his watch. "You go on and pick up JD. Get him some stuff for a few days and head out to the ranch. I'll finish this up and head there with Vin. We should probably get there around the same time."

"Okay. See you there." Buck turned and started for the office door.

"You can use my jeep," a soft voice mumbled from the couch.

Buck smiled, not surprised the man was awake. " 'Preciate it, Vin. Then we won't have to bum a ride."

"Least I can do since we wrecked your truck."

Buck stopped with his hand on the doorknob as he addressed the body on the couch. "I'll get even with you. I'll make you ride with me when I test drive a new one."

"God, no!" Vin wailed as he pulled the pillow over his head.

Buck chuckled as he pulled the door shut behind him. "Everyone's a critic."

+ + + + + + +

Chris was both surprised and not surprised to see the jeep pulled to the side of the road and the two men standing at the other side looking over the edge of the ravine. Chris slowed down and pulled in behind it. He turned off the ignition and set the emergency flashers.

"You wanna get out?" he asked Vin as he opened his door.

Vin sadly shook his head and sunk down a little into the seat. "No. I've seen it."

Chris understood. This hadn't been an easy thing for Vin to experience and seeing it again didn't hold any appeal. He nodded and headed over to stand beside Buck and JD.

"Tree'll probably die," JD was saying. "Can't lose that much bark and live." He and Buck were looking at the spot where the truck had slammed into the tree, halting its rolling and taking a chunk out of the tree.

"Tore a pretty good path through there, JD," Chris commented as he looked at the flattened brush along a trail beside the road. He could see exactly where the truck went, where it started rolling and the spot where it ended up.

"Actually," Buck began as he scratched his chin, "you may have done yourself a favor going off where you did and hitting that tree. That ravine drops deeper just down that way," he pointed in one direction then turned and pointed in the other direction, "and down that way. You probably found the only flat spot down there."

"Yeah," JD agreed absently as he looked up and down along the drop. It was true. The ravine was quite a bit deeper in both directions. "How come there aren't guard rails along here?" he posed the question to Chris since he lived in the area.

"Guess we just needed someone to go over the edge to let us know we needed them. Maybe I'll write a letter about it."

Chris looked back to his truck, visually checking on Vin. Buck noticed and looked as well. "How's he doing?" Buck asked softly.

"Hard to tell exactly. I know he's tired and I don't think he feels too good." Chris shook his head. "He's taking all this pretty hard. Can't say that I blame him but it's hell to watch."

Buck nodded in agreement and placed a friendly hand on JD's shoulder. "Well, speaking of not feeling too good, this one's gonna be feeling real bad if he don't get off his feet soon." He gave the young man a gentle push towards the parked jeep and JD stiffly hobbled in that direction. Chris and Buck watched the awkward gate for a moment then went to their respective vehicles, started them up and headed on to Chris's ranch.


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