ATF Universe

JD and Vin stood in the center of Chris's living room and watched as the two other men scurried around setting things where they wanted them, getting things out of cabinets and cupboards that they thought they would need and generally trying to organize. The two shared a smile as Buck whisked passed them with clean sheets from the laundry room for Chris's bed, the spare bed, and the two sofas that would be used as beds.

"How come you don't work this hard cleaning up at home, Buck?" JD called over his shoulder as he moved to take a seat on the couch.

Vin grinned at the remark and was about to take a step to join JD in sitting down when the whole room tilted sharply to one side. Vin threw his arm out, trying to find something to hold on to before he fell over when the room swirled drastically in the opposite direction. His arms flailed widely for the short moment it took him to decide he'd be better off if he sat down before he fell down.

"Not aga...." his mind started to scream before words left him again. He dropped to his knees in the center of the room and squeezed his eyes shut. His breathing turned ragged and he crossed his arms over his midsection as he tried to calm his suddenly churning stomach.

"Vin? What's wrong?" JD asked alarmed. He stiffly pushed himself to his feet and stumbled over to drop beside his friend. He put his hand on Vin's shoulder and leaned over to try and look into his eyes. When he saw the expression, he was pretty sure he knew what was going on. He straightened up a little so he wasn't shouting in Vin's ear. "Chris! Buck!" He didn't have to say any more. He knew calling their names would be enough.

JD was right, the urgency of his tone was enough and it was only a few seconds before the other two men came racing into the room.

"What happened?" Buck asked and he knelt down beside JD and Vin.

"I'm not positive but I think he's having another relapse. He just dropped down and shut his eyes," JD explained as he looked into Buck's worried face.

Chris lowered himself down beside Vin and gently pulled him onto his lap, rubbing his back. "Damn it," he swore under his breath.

As soon as his friends started gathering around him, Vin clasped onto them, trying to stop his sensations of movement, sure that even flat on the floor, he was going to fall. As Chris pulled him over, he gripped as tightly as his hurt hands would allow onto Chris's arm.

"It's okay, Vin. We'll take care of you," Chris soothed. He wondered if it really was a relapse. They had never caused him pain to the point of having him curled up on the floor before.

Slowly, gradually, the twirling room settled down but Vin's nausea remained. He opened his eyes a slit and looked at the men surrounding him. They all wore concerned expressions and he hated that their concern was focused on him. He pushed himself up to a sitting position but kept his eyes on the floor and took slow deep breaths.

"Feeling better?" Chris asked as he leaned forward to get a look into Vin's face. If he was having a relapse, Chris would be able to tell just by the look in his eyes. When they finally connected, Chris knew for sure. "Yep, it's a relapse," he informed the other two men. "Let's get him up onto the couch."

Chris and Buck started to rise and help Vin to his feet. When JD tried to help, Buck gently, yet firmly prevented it.

"Uh-uh, kid. You don't need to be doing anything strenuous for a few days."

"I'm fine, Buck," JD insisted, even though there were several uncomfortable groans associated with his getting to his own feet, not to mention a little light-headedness.

"Sure you are, kid. We'd kinda like to keep it that way," Buck said as he and Chris guided Vin to the couch. Once he was sitting, Vin leaned back against the cushions and sighed as he pressed an arm against his stomach.

"Think he's going to be sick?" JD asked, recognizing the posture from the day before.

"Looks like he thinks he is." Chris knelt down in front of his friend. "JD, did you get him anything yesterday for it?"

"Yeah, that ice-thing you told me about. It seemed to help, at least, he seemed to relax and, I think, fell asleep after he had some of it."

"You got anything like that here, Chris?" Buck asked, ready to go hunt it up if need be.

"Naw." Chris shook his head, "Just some chocolate ice cream."

"What about crushing up some ice?" JD asked.

"I'm on it," Buck said as he left the room. It was several minutes later when he returned with a large glass filled with broken pieces of ice. "I used your blender to crush it up. Thought if you had some booze and some salt, I could make us up a batch of margaritas," he joked as he handed the glass and a spoon to Chris.

Chris got Vin's attention and handed him the glass of crushed ice. Vin stared at it a moment then took it. He scooped out some of the bits of ice, raised the spoon to his lips and began chomping on it quietly. The cool sensations slid down his throat and like the day before, immediately began dulling the nauseous feelings in his stomach. He kept eating as he relaxed back into the sofa cushions.

Chris got back to his feet and, along with Buck and JD, stood over Vin and watched. They all could tell he was settling down a little.

"Come on, Buck. Let's finish getting things set up. I think these two are going to be having an early night," Chris said, indicating the two younger men.

"I'm fine, Chris. Don't do anything special for me," JD balked.

"You'll do what you're told, kid," Buck informed him, placing a strong hand on his shoulder. "You may feel okay but you still need to rest."

JD really didn't feel like arguing the point so he reluctantly gave in. "Is there anything I can do to help?" he asked.

"Just stay here, keep an eye on Vin and let us know if he needs anything," Chris instructed as he and Buck moved off to finish their chores.

+ + + + + + +

"Did you get them?" Perkins asked almost excitedly from his bed.

Bedford grinned as he pulled the small key out from under his watchband and handed it over.

"Excellent," Perkins said as he took the key and tried it out in the lock of the handcuffs. The cuff released and he pulled his hand free. Shaking his wrist out for a moment, he then re-secured it in the cuff. Now was not the right time. "And the other?" he asked.

Bedford pulled a plastic box out of his briefcase. The box held breath mints plus one added tablet. Bedford picked it out from the others and handed it to the man in the bed.

"Excellent," Perkins sang again.

+ + + + + + +

Vin was lying in bed, curled on his side on the very edge of the mattress. He was sharing Chris's bed again. He felt the mattress move slightly as Chris climbed in on the other side and he could feel the man's eyes upon his back just before the room turned dark.

Vin remained awake long after the light went out. He could hear Chris's breathing behind him and took comfort in the fact that his friend was there. He wondered for the umpteenth time how long he would continue to be there.

+ + + + + + +

"I can't do that!" Charlotte objected, ready to turn and leave the room.

"But you could do it so easily and I would pay you handsomely," Perkins enticed the young woman.

"It's illegal."

"Don't you think it's a crime what they are doing to me?" Perkins asked as he tugged on the handcuffs. "It's supposed to be 'innocent until proven guilty' but they have me chained up like I've been convicted." She wrinkled her brow and he knew he was getting to her. He pulled a check out from under the box of tissues on the side table. "I'll pay you this much now and an equal amount when you've accomplished what I ask."

Charlotte's eyes grew wide as she looked at the amount that the check was made out for. She'd have to work five years to see this much money and he was willing to double it. She felt herself weakening.

"No one will be able to trace the money. I'll make sure you remain completely anonymous." He had her, he knew it.

She flipped her eyes up to his and a slow smile grew on her face.

He pulled the tiny pill out of the pocket on the front of his hospital gown and held it out to her. "Just put it in the guard's coffee, tea, soda, water, whatever he drinks, tomorrow night, around midnight. All it will do is make him drowsy and fall asleep. I'll slip out and then you'll get the other half of your money."

She held out her hand and he let the tiny pill fall to her palm.

+ + + + + + +

Chris awoke to unusual sounds and his eyes shot open. He scanned the room before he moved a muscle and just a few moments passed before he realized the light was on in the bathroom and Vin was not in the bed. He remained still and waited. A minute later, the light went out and Chris heard the sounds of someone moving through the room. When he heard the bedroom door open, he spoke up.

"You okay, Vin?" he asked, knowing that if Vin couldn't understand his words, the sound of his voice would at least stop his friend. He sat up and got out of bed.

"Sorry, didn't mean to wake you up," Vin told him softly

Chris nodded both at the statement and the return of Vin's speech. "Anything wrong?"

"Wicked headache. Was looking for those pills. Are there any left?"

"Yeah. I left 'em in the kitchen, I think. You go back to bed and I'll get 'em."

"I can get them."

Chris reached the door and gently pushed Vin towards the bed. "Go. I'll get 'em."

Vin stepped slowly to the edge of the bed and sat. Chris returned several minutes later, having woken up Buck on his trek to the kitchen. He had to take a moment to convince the waking agent that he wasn't a burglar, terrorist or assassin.

"Here you go," Chris said as he held out two pills in his fingers. Vin reached up and Chris dropped them in his hand. He put them in his mouth and grabbed the glass Chris offered, downing the pills in one swallow. Chris took the glass back and set it on the dresser behind him. "You need anything else?"

Vin shook his head slowly, the movement aggravating the pain. "No, thanks. You go back to sleep."

"You too," Chris insisted, pointing to the bed.

"I will, in a few minutes," Vin replied.

Chris wrinkled his brow. "Anything else wrong?" He sat beside Vin on the edge of the bed.

Vin didn't look up when he shook his head. Chris bobbed his head as he turned his eyes to his own lap. He knew Vin would not volunteer anything.

Chris took a deep breath. He wanted to ask so many questions, tell his friend so many things but nothing sounded right at the moment. He lightly placed his hand on Vin's knee and held it there for several seconds before he stood and moved to the opposite side of the bed. He lay down and pulled the blankets up to his chin.

Vin sat still for a while then slowly climbed under the covers on his own side of the bed. Chris heard the long, low sigh before he drifted off to sleep.

+ + + + + + +

Chris was still amazed, even half an hour after Ezra had shown up on his door. The man had arrived before he and Buck had left for the ATF offices when he had expected Ezra would be late. Mornings were not his domain.

"Tell me the rules," Chris commanded Ezra as he waved his hand in a circular motion.

Ezra smiled as he began to recite, "No physical activity more strenuous than an excursion to the facilities, all medication is to be taken on schedule and precisely as prescribed, meals shall consist of a quantity substantial enough and be of a quality necessary to keep an adult male healthy and, specifically for Vin, no visiting the livestock."

Buck started snickering and Chris couldn't help but smile at the dissertation the simple instructions had turned into.

"Did I omit anything?" Ezra asked.

"No, no, I think you about covered it. Vin's sleeping in my room and JD is in the spare room. I'll be home around six unless something comes up. I'll call if it does." Chris was walking towards the door with Buck in tow as he gave Ezra this last minute information.

"Rest assured, Mr. Larabee, I will be able to manage our two associates for the day."

"I'm sure you can, Ezra."

"But just to be sure," Buck put in, "I'll be calling to check up on things."

"I never doubted it for a second," Ezra replied and tipped his head to the two departing men. When the door was closed behind them, he turned and headed for the kitchen. He wrinkled his nose at the smell of the grocery store coffee brewing in the coffee maker. Reaching into his pocket, he pulled out a small bag of a special blend of coffees he had combined especially for him. Rummaging around a few kitchen drawers, he found the utensils he required to prepare his morning beverage.

"Are they gone?" a hoarse voice whispered from just outside the room.

"Yes, Mr. Tanner. You are now under my watchful eye." Ezra never looked up as he spoke to the man. Vin stepped into the room and leaned back against the counter as he watched his friend.

"So, you got stuck with the duty, huh?" Vin asked softly.

Ezra stopped what he was doing and looked up. He was momentarily stunned by how tired Vin looked and inwardly vowed that he would make sure the man rested today. "I would never refer to it as 'stuck', Mr. Tanner. I consider it an act of friendship to help."

Vin sighed. "I didn't mean it that way, Ezra. I just meant it's no fun hanging out with sickies."

Ezra straightened his shoulders. "I'm not here to have fun."

Vin rubbed his forehead a moment. "Tell you what, I'll go out and come back in and we can start all over again, okay?"

Ezra was about to tell him that it wasn't necessary, that he was fully aware of what Vin meant but the man ducked out of the room too fast. When Vin didn't return after several moments, Ezra went looking for him.

Vin had plopped down on the living room sofa and was sunk low in the cushions, his fingers rubbing at his eyes.

"Mr. Tanner?" Ezra questioned softly.

Vin let his hand drop to his lap and looked up. "I'm so tired, Ezra."

Ezra nodded. "I noticed. It's written all over your face," he quipped, referring to his opinion of the man from a few minutes earlier.

"All I seem to do is sleep, so how come I feel completely wiped out?"

Ezra glanced down at his hands. "You have endured quite a bit these passed couple of weeks."

Vin shook his head and leaned over to rest his cheek against the arm of the sofa. "Doesn't seem to be stopping any time soon either."

Ezra moved to take a seat beside the other man. He took a deep breath before he spoke. "I know it's been difficult for you. Just remember, as you would do for the rest of us, we would do for you. Just as you would have it no other way, neither would we."

Vin twisted his head to look at the man beside him. After a moment, he nodded slightly.

Changing the subject, Ezra asked, "Are you ready for your morning repast?"

Vin smiled. "If you mean breakfast, I ain't that hungry. I'll just have coffee and wait to eat at lunch."

Ezra shook his head in disagreement. "One of the conditions Chris set down was that you and JD would eat sufficiently. Now or later makes no difference to me but by the time our leader returns this evening, you will have had two complete meals. And you know he will expect you to eat a full dinner as well."

Vin wasn't happy with this condition. He probably hadn't gotten down one full meal a day since the whole ordeal began. Three was not going to happen. But, to avoid an argument, he told Ezra, "When JD wakes up, I'll eat with him."

That seemed to satisfy the other agent. He debated whether to offer Vin anything now, coffee or juice, but decided he'd rather not push the issue. It probably wouldn't be long before JD was up and they would all have breakfast. He smiled and stood to return to his coffee. He glanced down and saw that Vin had closed his eyes and seemed to have dozed off. "That's probably what he needs most, anyway," he thought to himself as he left the room.

+ + + + + + +

It was nearly nine in the morning when JD emerged from the spare bedroom at Chris's ranch. He moved stiffly and there were even more aching muscles than there had been the morning before but at least the ever-present dull pounding in his skull had diminished. He hoped his muscles would loosen up as he moved around.

As he passed it, he looked into the master bedroom and saw the bed was empty so he headed to where he expected Vin to be...the kitchen. He stopped in the living room when he saw the man half-lying, half-sitting on the couch.

"Vin?" he whispered, not wanting to wake him if he were asleep. The man did not respond so JD moved on to the kitchen. He didn't know which of his teammates was with them, but he knew at least one of them was.

"Good morning, Mr. Dunne," Ezra greeted without even looking up from the newspaper he was reading. "How are you this fine morning?"

"Kinda sore. I think I slept passed the time for my next dose of pain killers."

"Yes, you did. And the muscle relaxants. Chris will have my hide for that transgression but I thought it better to let you sleep." Ezra stood up and went to the counter where a small collection of prescription bottles had accumulated. He picked up the two for JD and fished out the required dose of each, handing them to JD.

"Thanks." JD grabbed a glass out of a cupboard and filled it with orange juice from a carton in the refrigerator. He tossed both pills to the back of his throat and swallowed them quickly. "Vin's okay, isn't he? I saw him sleeping on the couch."

"I believe so. He was up for a short time just as Chris and Buck were leaving then went for a nap." Ezra looked over at JD, suddenly concerned. "Do you think we should wake him to be sure?" He knew that JD had spent more time around Vin and was probably better able to tell if there was anything wrong.

JD shook his head in response to Ezra's concern. "Did he talk to you this morning?" he asked.

"Yes, a little."

"Good. That means it's worn off again. Did Chris tell you about the relapses?"

Ezra wrinkled his nose in distaste. "Yes, he did. Sounds most unpleasant."

Before the two men could discuss it further, they heard the sounds of movement from the other room. JD went to check and saw Vin heading down the hall towards, he thought, the bathroom. He went back into the kitchen.

"He's up. He'll probably be back in a few minutes. Have you eaten? Should we start something for breakfast? I'm starving." JD rattled on.

Ezra smiled. At least one of his charges would eat. "No. I was waiting for you. What shall we have? What do you have a taste for this morning?"

JD grinned as his mind toyed with the idea of tormenting the man before him. "You know what sounds good...a big bowl of Rice Krispies. Snap, Crackle, Pop! Maybe with some sliced bananas on top?"

Ezra appeared unfazed. He'd been hanging around JD - and Buck, for that matter - too long. "Surely you jest."

JD frowned. "You're no fun anymore, Ezra."

Before they could continue the exchange, Vin came into the room. "How you feeling, JD?" he asked as he stepped up to the man.

"Little stiff, little sore but otherwise okay. How about you?"

"Just tired," he answered softly. "As usual."

"It'll get better soon, Vin. I'm sure," he told the man.

"I hope so," Vin replied softly.

"So, what do you want for breakfast?" JD asked with enthusiasm.

Vin shook his head. "I ain't too hungry so just fix whatever you want and that'll be fine."

Ezra finally jumped into the conversation. "Both of you, sit down and I'll make breakfast. Scrambled eggs, bacon, toast, coffee?"

"Sounds fine," Vin said as he moved to the table and took a seat.

"Yeah. Thanks, Ezra."

"My pleasure." Ezra began moving about the kitchen preparing the meal. JD was allowed to get a cup of coffee for himself and one for Vin but was otherwise made to sit out of the way.

JD scarfed down his meal while Ezra ate at a more civilized pace. Vin picked at his and ate less than half of what he was given. The two other men tried not to worry about it but knew Vin would have to start eating more if he wanted to start regaining his strength.

JD started to help clean up the kitchen but Ezra shooed him out, telling him that both Chris and Buck would read him the riot act if he were to let him do any kind of work. JD was actually glad because he hated doing dishes so he wandered to Chris's den and turned on the computer, planning to do a little internet surfing.

Vin remained a while longer, picking at the food left on his plate, trying to get down a few more mouthfuls.

"Is there something else I can get you? Something you'd rather have?" Ezra asked.

Vin turned his eyes to his friend slowly and shook his head. "No, thanks. This is fine."

"I wasn't altogether serious when I said you had to eat three complete meals," Ezra started in explanation. He got the impression Vin felt he had to clean his plate. "I was merely informed not to let you and JD live off junk food."

"I know. I just..."

Ezra leaned forward and removed Vin's plate from in front of him. "Not to worry, Mr. Tanner. If you've had enough, you may be excused," he said with a wink.

Vin smiled back and pushed away from the table. "Thanks, Ezra." He took several steps towards the door and stopped. "Don't reckon I'm allowed outside?" he asked with a hopeful expression.

Ezra shook his head sadly. "I'm sorry, Vin. House arrest."

Vin bobbed his head, resigned. "Figured." He continued on silently out of the room.

"I am sorry, Vin," Ezra repeated softly to the empty doorway.

Vin walked slowly through the living room and up to one of the windows. Pulling aside the curtains, he could see part of the corrals and a few of Chris's horses. There was a very good reason - several very good reasons, in fact - why Vin wasn't supposed to go outside but he was really starting to feel cramped. He was tired and knew he lacked the stamina to do very much but he was also restless and was having difficulty being cooped up.

He let the curtain drop and turned back to the room. Sighing, he headed for the den to see what JD was doing.

"Hey, Vin," JD said, casting a quick glance to the man who had just entered the room.

"Hey," Vin returned the greeting as he stepped up to the desk. He fingered a few of the items on the desk top then moved around beside JD to look over his shoulder at what was on the computer screen. "Teddy bears?" he asked when he saw what JD was looking at.

JD nodded sheepishly. "Yeah. Casey's birthday is coming up in a couple of weeks and I wanted to get her something really nice. She collects teddy bears so I thought I'd see if I could find her one she doesn't already have." He shook his head, discouraged. "They all look so much alike, though. I don't know if I'll even recognize one she has or not."

Vin started to pull a second chair up to the desk and JD leaned over to add some muscle. "Thanks," Vin said as he adjusted the position of the chair and sat down. "You know, if you can find one that reminds you of something the two of you shared, it won't matter if it's the same as one she already has. It'll be special because it's from you."

JD looked at him hopefully. "You think so?"

"Yeah. She'll know you made an effort to get her something she collects and the fact that you remembered something the two of you did together makes it personal."

JD nodded his head somewhat questioningly. "Really?"

Vin smiled shyly. "Yeah. Just think about somewhere the two of you went or something that you did together that makes you smile every time you remember it and then find a bear that fits."

JD's smile grew broad. "I know just the thing..." He turned back to the computer screen and began bouncing from page to page in search of what he had in mind. He was so focused on what he was seeing in front of him that he almost didn't register the soft sound behind him. He turned back. "Did you say something?" he asked Vin.

"Huh...yeah, uh, well, no...I mean, I just saw one that looked a lot like a bear I had as a kid is all."

"Oh, yeah?" JD hit the 'back' button and the previous page returned to the screen. "One of these?"

Vin scanned the pictures now displayed. "No. Maybe back one more."

JD hit the 'back' button again.

" the middle," Vin pointed towards a spot. "No, the one below it. Yeah, that one." Vin examined the picture a little more closely then sat back in his chair. "I don't guess mine was that fancy but he had the same face," he said, almost dreamily. His mind drifted back in time for a moment before he remembered where he was and he looked up embarrassed at JD. "Reckon that sounds kinda stupid."

"Naw. I had a stuffed dog. It's in a box in my closet." JD paused as he thought about his old companion, thinking maybe he should pull his buddy out for some air. "Do you still have your bear?"

Vin looked at JD sadly. "No. He disappeared one time when I had to move to a new foster home. Don't know if I left him or one of the real kids took him." He dismissed it with a shrug. "Don't really matter now." Vin took a deep breath and let it out slowly as he pointed a finger to the computer screen and stood up. "You go back to looking for something for Casey. I'm gonna go watch some TV, maybe take a nap." He turned towards the door and started out of the room grumbling under his breath, "I mean, I been awake almost a whole hour now. Must be nap time."

"Okay. Thanks for your help, Vin," JD said as Vin left the room. He smiled to himself at the conversation the two men had just shared. It wasn't often that Vin offered any information about his childhood. JD was glad that he had shared a little with him.

+ + + + + + +

"...and after that quits, my stomach starts to settle down a little." Vin shrugged as he finished his explanation.

"And it's different from the first time?" JD asked.

"Oh, yeah. The room spun around a little bit that first time but then it settled down. I don't remember my stomach ever going sour like it has these last couple of times."

"You say that the second relapse was more intense than the first?" Ezra asked.

Vin's eyes got wide as he nodded his head. "Yeah. The first one just got the room swaying some but the second one had it swirling around. Even sitting on the floor, I felt like I was going to fall over." Vin wrapped his fingers around the can of soda in front of him as he tried to shake the memory of the beginning of the last relapse.

"Maybe you won't have anymore," JD put in encouragingly.

Vin raised his eyebrows slightly and nodded his head. "Hmmm."

"I'll get back online tonight and see if I can find out anymore information about what's going on. There were a bunch of files I never got to download. Maybe they'll tell us something."

Vin looked at JD appreciatively but before he could say anything, there was a bellow from the front door.

"Helllllllooooo!!! The house!! Anyone home?" Buck's voice resounded through the house. A moment later he and Chris appeared in the doorway to the kitchen. They saw their three friends sitting around the table talking.

"Evening, boys," Chris said as he stepped up to the table.

"Chris, Buck," Vin greeted.

"Mr. Larabee, Mr. Wilmington. I trust you had a productive day."

Buck wrinkled up his face. "Oh...yeah...real productive. Paperwork and research. Must have killed twelve trees, all the forms we had to fill out, files we had to print." Buck shook his head. He knew this was an important part of the job but he'd rather be in the field busting heads. He pulled out a chair and plopped down onto it. "How was your day?" he asked no one in particular.

"Beat my high score on the gameboy," JD told him, with less enthusiasm than Buck would have anticipated for such news.

"Hey, great, kid," Buck said as he leaned forward and tussled the boy's hair. "Nice to see you putting your talents to good use."

JD smiled at the teasing. "Thanks, Buck. Glad you finally realize that I have talent."

Buck opened his mouth to continue the harassment but before he could say anything, Chris purposely jumped in, "You boys eat yet?"

There was a round of shaking heads.

"Good, because Buck and I stopped at the sub shop and picked up a bunch of sandwiches," Chris said as he raised up one hand holding an overstuffed bag. "I think we got something everyone will eat," he further explained as he set the bag down on the table. He moved off to get napkins and plates.

Buck reached for the bag and started pulling out the wrapped sandwiches. He peeled back the paper of each one as he pulled it out and named off what he saw inside. He already had in mind who would want what but he let the men decide for themselves. In the end, each man had the sandwich made just for him and began peeling away the paper wrappings.

Chris dropped a pile of napkins in the center of the table and handed out plates to everyone.

"Forgot drinks," Buck said as he leapt to his feet and went to the refrigerator. He returned to the table a few moments later with a bottle opener in one hand and a six pack of beer tucked under his arm. He started circling the table popping tops on bottles and setting them before each man. "One for you," he said as he placed one bottle, "and one for you."

Chris followed along behind and picked the bottle up from in front of JD. "None for you," he said with a smirk. "And none for you," he repeated as he nabbed Vin's bottle.

Buck turned and looked at him with a curious expression. "What are you doing?"

"Medication, Buck. They can't drink while they're taking drugs."

Buck looked down at his two friends and shook his head apologetically. "Sorry boys. Dad says no."

Chris scowled. "Don't call me 'Dad'." He plunked down into his chair and took a long swallow from one of the bottles of beer he held. When he lowered it, he noticed everyone was watching him. "Eat!" he commanded them. Immediately, they all turned their eyes to the plates in front of them and began munching on their sandwiches, the sounds of muffled snickers unsuccessfully being drowned out.

Before long, Chris was laughing with them.

+ + + + + + +

Chris and Buck walked Ezra to the front door as Ezra was getting ready to head back to the city for the night. It was the first time they had been away from Vin and JD since they had gotten home.

"How did they hold up, Ezra?" Chris asked.

"Fairly well, to the best of my knowledge. Some computer time topped off with a modicum of television and a heavy dose of sleeping."

"They give you any trouble?"

"Surprisingly, no."

"Uh-oh. That worries me more than if they'd been up to something," Buck lamented, half-jokingly.

Chris's look was more one of concern. "Vin open up at all?"

Ezra shook his head. "We spoke of his physical experiences but otherwise, no, not to me. Perhaps to JD."

Chris rubbed his hand roughly down his face. He knew there was no way to get Vin to talk if he didn't want to but he knew deep down that Vin needed to let out his feelings and frustrations.

Ezra was about to volunteer to stay the night instead of Buck but knowing Buck's attachment to JD, he realized the man wouldn't agree to go back to town. He would probably get his opportunity in a few days, after Buck was more certain of JD's complete recovery.

"Well, gentlemen," Ezra began as he reached for the doorknob. "If you no longer require my attendance, then I will be off to the city. Please feel free to call if I can be of any assistance."

"Thanks, Ezra," both Chris and Buck said as they nodded their farewells and Ezra left the house. The two men stood watching until Ezra was in his car and on his way down the driveway. Chris then slowly swung the door shut and locked it.

"Come on, Dad. Let's go see what the kids are up to," Buck teased. Chris turned burning eyes on him and Buck shrunk back. "Hey, I was only kidding."

The two men found the recuperating agents in the living room watching television. JD had command of the remote control and was rapidly switching from channel to channel. Judging from the expression on Vin's face, he had been at it a while.

"Hey, kid, settle on something, would you?" Buck told him as he took a seat and leaned comfortably back, stretching his legs out in front of him.

"Huh? Oh, well, you can take it, Buck," JD began as he held out the remote. "I need to go online and check a few things out," he added as he remembered he had told Vin he'd try to find some information on the relapses. He pushed himself to his feet and headed for the den.

Buck began surfing through the television channels until Chris told him exactly what he had told JD just moments before. He smiled and found a repeat of one of the weekend ball games.

+ + + + + + +

"Find anything?" Buck asked as he stepped up to the desk in the den where JD was working.

JD shook his head without taking his eyes off the computer monitor. "Not yet. There doesn't seem to be any mention anywhere about the drug having relapses. I don't know, maybe the doctor keeps those files somewhere else or maybe Vin got a drug that was just a little different from the one all these files are on. Or maybe he's just the exception. I don't know." JD again shook his head, finally turning his eyes to meet Buck's.

"Well, don't fret about it. If the information isn't there, it isn't there. Nothing you can do about that." Buck rubbed a reassuring hand on JD's shoulder. "We'll just have to stick close and help Vin however we can."

+ + + + + + +

Chris slowly walked down the hallway to his bedroom. Vin had gone to change for the night and to get some of his things so he could sleep on one of the sofas, giving Chris his bed back. As Chris entered his room, he momentarily froze in place as he looked down to see Vin curled in a tight ball leaning against the foot of the bed. He had his forearms pressed against the sides of his head.

"Vin?" Chris said in a soft yet panicked voice. He rushed forward and dropped to his knees beside his friend. "Geez, another one," he muttered to himself as he wrapped his strong arms around Vin's chest and pulled him over onto his lap. He knew there was nothing he could do for Vin at the moment so he tried to comfort him as best he could by gently rubbing his back.

"Buck!" he hollered towards the doorway.

Buck heard and recognized the tone of his leader's voice. "Oh, man," he said as he left JD's side and went to the master bedroom, JD following along behind.

"Again?" Buck asked just as he entered the room, not really needing an answer. He lowered himself down beside the two men on the floor. "What can I do?" he asked.

Chris shrugged. "I don't know right now. If this one is like the last one, he should settle down in a few minutes."

"Think he'll feel sick to his stomach again?" JD asked softly from behind the men.

"That's happened both times before. Probably'll happen again."

JD nodded absently. "I'll go get him some ice." He turned and headed for the kitchen.

Vin shifted on the floor, hoping each new position would stop the swirling surroundings. When, after several seconds, nothing changed, he would shift again, hoping the next position would be the one where it would stop. He heard Chris and Buck talking to him and to each other and was comforted by their presence.

"How long ago'd it hit?" Buck asked.

Chris shrugged as he turned towards him. "I found him curled up on the floor. Don't know how long he'd been there."

"JD was doing some more digging but so far hasn't found anything," Buck told Chris. "Looks like there just isn't any information on relapses."

Chris couldn't think of anything to say so he just sat and shook his head, turning his eyes back down to the man curled up in front of him. He leaned forward and murmured some words of encouragement into Vin's ear.

Finally, Vin's began to relax slightly, the franticness waning from his movements. He chanced opening his eyes and found that the floor stayed basically where a floor was supposed to be, underneath him. Slowly, he pushed himself up to a sitting position and took several deep breaths, closing his eyes once more.

"Help me get him to the bed," Chris instructed Buck and the two men gently got Vin to his feet and led him to the edge of the bed. Chris yanked the covers back and then let Vin drop down to the mattress. Vin leaned over on his own, wrapping his arms across his stomach as Buck lifted his legs to the bed and Chris pulled the blankets back up over him.

Vin never opened his eyes as he curled up onto his side and kept holding his stomach.

"Go see if you can hurry JD, will you Buck?" Chris asked as he knelt down beside the bed and rubbed his hand on Vin's arm.

"Yeah, sure," Buck replied and left the room.

Chris sighed as he watched Vin suffering. "I wish it were me, Vin. I'd trade places in a second if I could."

Vin settled quickly and by the time Buck returned with JD in tow, Chris suspected Vin had fallen asleep. Just to be sure, however, he took the glass of crushed ice from JD and spooned a small amount in between Vin's lips. Vin smacked the coldness around with his tongue until it was gone and swallowed once, but made no moves or indications that he wanted more.

"Looks like he's asleep," JD whispered.

"Yeah, probably the easiest way to handle it," Buck said softly.

Slowly Chris rose to his feet, setting the glass of ice on the nightstand. "Guess I'll turn in too," he said, holding his arm out towards the door so his friends would know it was time for them to leave.

Buck grabbed JD by the shoulder and spun him around. "Holler if you need anything, Chris," he said as he pushed JD on ahead of him.

"I will. Thanks." Chris followed the two to the door and closed it behind them. He turned wearily back to the bed and stared at it for a long time. Finally, he began slowly moving around the room, getting ready for bed and then climbed in and turned out the light. "Good night, Vin," he said quietly into the darkness.

Buck tried to steer JD into the spare bedroom but JD resisted. "I need to log out, Buck. Don't want to tie up Chris's phone line all night."

"Okay, but that's it. You need to rest too," Buck warned as he wagged a finger in JD's face.

"Now who's being the dad?" JD whined as he moved off to the den to shut down the computer with Buck on his heels to make sure he did. Buck followed behind him until he was safely tucked away in his room and then he moved off to get comfortable on the couch.


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