ATF Universe

The hospital halls were quiet in the middle of the night as Charlotte moved down towards a room at one end. She stopped outside one door and leaned forward to speak in low tones to a man sitting in a chair beside the door frame. He never responded. She glanced down the hall as she adjusted the position of the man's hand on the book resting in his lap. To anyone looking this way, the man appeared to be reading.

Charlotte straightened up and took a deep breath before she pushed open the door and went inside.

"He's asleep," she told the man in the bed.

Perkins smiled at her as he immediately began working the handcuff key in the lock holding his wrist in place. It came free a moment later and he climbed out of bed. He quickly moved around the room getting dressed and stuffing all the extra pillows into the bed, trying to make it appear as if a body was still sleeping there. When he was satisfied, he stepped up to her.

"Lead on, my dear," he said and the two silently slipped from the room. She led him to the staff elevators which could be reached without passing in front of the nurses' station. They both waited anxiously for the elevator and looked around nervously when the ding signaled its arrival. No one seemed to notice them and once the doors opened, Perkins stepped inside. He turned around and handed out a piece of paper. She grabbed it from his hand as the doors began to close.

Charlotte smiled down at the large sum the check in her hands was made out for. She stared at it a moment, then folded it slowly, turned and went back to work. She had a feeling this would be her last shift for a long, long time.

Perkins moved confidently through the building and managed to get to the parking garage without anyone asking him any questions. His ride was waiting for him as planned and he stepped up to the white van and pulled open the door.

"Bedford," he said in greeting as he got in and closed the door.

The man beside him didn't reply but sat there with a 'cat that ate the canary' look on his face.

"What is it?" Perkins asked irritatedly as he looked over at the driver. He waved his hand indicating the vehicle should be moving.

"I found them." The engine roared and the van lurched as he headed out into the night.

+ + + + + + +

Nathan rang the bell to Chris's front door and waited patiently, looking out over the grounds that made up Chris's front yard. Much of it was still wooded but an area for a corral had been cleared and was awaiting being fenced in. Nathan thought, not for the first time, that Chris was a lucky man indeed to have such a place to call home.

The door opened and Nathan turned to face a man dressed all in black, Chris Larabee's signature color. Nathan smiled.

"Mornin', Chris," he greeted jovially, much too jovially for so early in the morning.

"If you say so," Chris grumbled in reply as he stepped back and let the other man enter. The two headed straight for the kitchen to get the coffee both smelled brewing.

"Late night last night?" Nathan smiled as he picked up a mug and poured himself a cup.

"Not really. Just didn't sleep too well." Chris filled his own mug and took a tentative sip of the hot liquid. "I was just going over some more printouts that JD got downloaded last night, seeing if there's any information about relapses." He waved his mug towards the table where many sheets of paper were spread out.

"Find out anything?"

Chris shook his head. "Nothing new, nothing that mentions anything about relapses. Guess we're on our own." Or rather, Vin's on his own Chris thought to himself.

"So where are my two charges? And Buck?" Nathan joked referring to the two men restricted to the ranch and the other bodyguard.

"Asleep. JD's in the spare room and Vin's in mine. Buck's in the shower, should be along any minute." Chris sighed. "Vin had another relapse last night so once we got him settled, it kind of ended the evening." Chris shook his head, silent for a moment, then added, "Don't know how Vin'll feel this morning."

"His head hurts this morning," a weary voice rasped out behind them. The men turned to see a rumpled looking Vin approach, rubbing one eye with his knuckle. "We go out drinking last night?" he grumbled as he reached for his own coffee mug.

Chris looked skeptical. "No, we were here last night. You had another relapse," he explained.

Vin looked at his friend as if he really didn't know what the man was talking about. His mind slowly backed through his memory until it stumbled on the previous night. His expression fell. "Oh, yeah." He set his empty mug down unused and walked to the table where he took a seat, dropping his head onto his folded arms.

"Vin, that's probably not good for your arms," Nathan admonished, knowing the splints only protected the bottoms of Vin's forearms, not the tops where his head was resting.

"I don't care," was the muffled reply.

Chris closed his eyes and shook his head. He felt for his friend but was running out of encouraging words.

Nathan stepped up and sat beside Vin, placing a comforting hand on his back. "I know it's tough, Vin, but you're tougher. This'll all pass and you'll be a stronger man for having weathered it."

Vin slowly raised his head up and looked Nathan squarely in the eye. "You've been hanging around Josiah too much" he informed him.

"Yeah, maybe so," Nathan chuckled then his face turned serious. "You know, Vin, the six of us are here to help you. Don't be ashamed to accept that help."

Vin scoffed. "My friends trying to help me nearly got one of them killed the other day."

Chris sighed loudly in frustration. "Aww, Vin, knock it off. We went over that. You didn't have anymore to do with what happened to you and JD than Nathan did." Chris's tone came out sharper and his voice louder than he had intended.

Vin stiffened in his seat and pressed his lips together tightly to keep from saying something rashly. He took a deep breath to calm down then stood up slowly. "Guess if I don't need to be up then I'm going back to bed." He shuffled out of the room with his eyes kept low.

"He's mad." Nathan felt that needed to be pointed out.

Chris ran a hand over his face. "Oh, yeah, he's mad." Chris shook his head. "Guess that didn't come out the way I'd planned."

Nathan nodded a half-hearted agreement. "Well, you have had to deal with him a lot more than the rest of us. Bound to get frustrated with it."

"That's no excuse. This hasn't been easy on him and now, with the relapses, he's worried."

When Chris didn't elaborate, Nathan asked, "Worried about what?"

"His future. He can't do his job with the potential of a relapse happening in the middle of something big. And no one knows how long they're going to keep hitting him."

"Anyone keeping track of when they hit him? How long they last?" Nathan asked.

Chris thought a minute. "No, but we probably should, shouldn't we?" He stepped up to a drawer and pulled out a pad of paper and a pen. He thought back to the first relapse. "First one hit him in court. It was right around two," he mumbled as he wrote down what he remembered. "Ended that night, don't know the exact time, 'bout eight, I think." He wrote some more and made a note to verify the time with Buck since Buck was the one with him when it ended. "Next one was Tuesday night. Started at around seven, give or take. He said he was still awake when it quit. I'll have to ask him when that was." Chris rubbed his chin. "Last night around ten-thirty? Maybe eleven. Guess it quit while he was asleep."

"Little more'n a day apart so far," Nathan noticed.

"Well, if it stays like that, maybe we'll be able to predict them. At least they won't hit him out of the blue."

"Knowin' they're comin' may make it a little easier to take."

Chris sighed again. He straightened up and slapped his hand on the counter top. "Well, guess I better go make sure Buck hasn't fallen back asleep. Got that meeting with Travis this morning so better not be late." He pushed himself away from the counter and headed out of the room.

He hadn't even reached the door to the bathroom before he could hear Buck singing to himself and was at least satisfied that he wasn't asleep.

Before he reached his own room, Chris stopped by the spare room to make sure JD was still sleeping and still seemed okay. He then checked on Vin who was stretched out on the bed in his room. He stepped up silently to the side of the bed and gazed down. To the casual observer, Vin appeared to be asleep but Chris knew him well enough to know he wasn't. He had one bent arm lying across his eyes.

Chris sat gently on the edge of the bed. "Sorry I snapped, Vin," he said softly. Vin acknowledged him with a slight nod of his head but he said nothing. "Headache bad?" Chris went on. Vin nodded again and Chris rose to his feet. "I'll get you something for it." He went off in search of the bottle of pain medication and returned several minutes later with two tablets and a glass of water. However, by this time, Vin had fallen asleep. Chris decided to leave the pills rather than wake him up to take them so he silently set the pills and glass down on the bedside table and quietly moved around the room getting ready for work..

+ + + + + + +

Chris and Buck climbed into Chris's truck and headed down the long gravel driveway towards the road. If Chris broke several traffic laws on the way, they might make it to work on time.

Nathan stood on the front porch sipping on his steaming mug of coffee as he watched his friends head off towards the city. He was actually glad to be spending the day watching the two recovering agents. It was nice to, on occasion, get away from the routine of the office. He drew in several slow, deep breaths of the brisk morning air and let them out equally slowly. Finally, feeling the chill of the morning slip under his skin, he turned and went back inside.

A man stood hidden in the tree line along one side of the driveway and watched as the dark man went back into the house. He smiled as he turned his head to look down the driveway to the spot where the truck had disappeared from view a few minutes earlier. His smile grew even broader as he started moving silently towards the back of the ranch house.

His wound hadn't been nearly as painful as he had let on to the doctors but he still found it inhibited some movements and made his task somewhat harder. He stalked around to the back of the house and slipped up to one of the windows to peer in. He didn't see anyone and from the appearance of the room, he was looking at the living room. He could see a doorway going off one wall and could see what appeared to be a cabinets. Assuming that was the kitchen, he sidled around the house to the window that looked into that room. He had to duck his head rapidly as he saw the dark man moving about the room. His heart pounded in his chest as he half expected the man to come charging out to catch him. When that didn't happen, he slowly raised up to peek again.

Nathan was gathering up a bagel, a newspaper and a glass of juice before he moved out of the room. The man waited for several long minutes but the dark man didn't return. He crept around the house again and saw through the window in back that the man had taken a place on the sofa and spread the newspaper out on the table in front of him. He looked to be engrossed in what he was reading.

Perkins moved back to the side of the building to a door that entered the house through the small utility room. He pulled several thin metal tools out of a coat pocket and began slowly working the lock on the door. He knew that at any moment he could be caught but that only seemed to make the game more challenging.

Finally, the lock came open and he turned the knob and pulled open the door, thankful that Larabee kept his hinges well lubricated. He stepped inside and closed the door silently, hoping a chilly breeze would not find its way through the kitchen to alert the man reading in the next room.

When nothing happened, he moved quickly and silently into the kitchen. It took him only a few seconds to decide what to do. He pulled a small bottle out of his pocket and uncapped it. He moved to the coffee pot and grabbed the handle, sliding the pot free from the coffee-maker. The opening on the cover of the pot was large enough that all he had to do was tip the bottle and watch as the contents fell into the dark brown liquid. He righted the bottle when he was satisfied with the number of small white pills that had been added to the brew. After giving the pot a few quick swirls to mix in the tablets, he replaced it and quickly left the same way he had come. And then, he waited.

+ + + + + + +

"Travis is waiting on you upstairs," Josiah informed Chris as he and Buck rushed into the offices. Chris cast an angry glance at Buck as he strode to his private office. He reappeared a moment later with a folder in his hand and headed back towards the elevator.

"Problems?" Ezra asked as he moved up beside Josiah.

Buck shrugged apologetically. "I could have been a little quicker getting put together this morning," he explained.

"Ah," Josiah nodded knowingly. Buck could sometimes take longer than some women getting 'put together' in the mornings.

+ + + + + + +

Vin awkwardly carried the three mugs into the living room. "Here you go, Nathan," he said as he held out both hands. Nathan looked up and then quickly reached for the mug caught between Vin's two hands.

"Sure you were the right guy for this job?" Nathan asked, tipping his head towards the splinted hands.

"I was there," Vin shrugged. " 'Sides, JD's pretty wrapped up in his teddy bear search."

"Oh, yeah," Nathan nodded. "He told me about that." He blew softly across the top of the mug and noisily sipped in a taste. "How are you doing?" he asked casually, thinking back to earlier that morning.

Vin shrugged again. "Head don't hurt so bad," he admitted.

"Hmmm. Do the headaches come with the relapses too?"

Vin thought a moment and realized that they did seem to. He had thought the first one was because of the stress of the wreck and not knowing about JD. The second one he woke up in the middle of the night with and then the one this morning. They all followed after a relapse. "I guess so," he replied finally.

"Maybe we need to keep track of those too," Nathan spoke softly.

"Keep track?"

"Yeah, we're keeping a record of the relapses so that maybe we can see a pattern, maybe predict when they'll happen."

Vin scoffed under his breath. The only thing he really wanted to know was when they would stop coming. To Nathan, he said, "Thanks, Nathan. That'll help."

Nathan knew his friend wasn't so enthused about the information but he understood why.

"Best get this to JD 'fore it's cold," Vin said, raising one of the mugs. He slowly moved off to the den.

"Make sure JD doesn't stay online too long. Someone may actually try to call here," Nathan said to the retreating back. He saw the back of Vin's head nod in agreement and smiled sadly as the man left the room.

+ + + + + + +

"WHAT!!!" Buck shouted into the receiver of his phone, successfully gaining the attention of the other two members of team seven present, not to mention quite a few other people on the floor. Josiah and Ezra instinctively rose and approached his desk. "How the hell did that happen? No, wait, I don't want to know!" he slammed the receiver down and looked up at the other two. Calming his voice only slightly, he said, "Better get a hold of Chris. Perkins walked out of the hospital sometime last night."

"I'm on it," Josiah said as he turned to the nearest desk and grabbed the phone.

Buck shook his head. "Damn it! Better let Nathan know he needs to keep his eyes open." He picked his receiver back up and dialed Chris's home number.

+ + + + + + +

Perkins walked easily through the house. He found the dark man on the sofa in the living room and the boy folded down onto the desk top in the den.

"Oh, Mr. Tanner," he sang in a soft voice. He wandered through the house and was starting to get a little nervous when he couldn't find the man. He heard the sound of a vehicle pulling up in front of the house and peered out through a set of curtains to make sure it was his man before he went to the front door and let him in.

"They here?" Bedford asked as he stepped inside.

"I haven't located Tanner yet but the boy is here, in that room around the corner. Go get him and load him into the van. I'll keep looking for Tanner."

Bedford did as his employer commanded and moved to find the unconscious form of JD Dunne. He found the room easily and walked up to the desk. He poked the shoulder of the young man to make sure he was out and, once he was satisfied, he moved around to pull the body up. When he had gotten behind the chair JD was slumped in, he stopped and looked down at the floor beside the desk.

"Mr. Perkins," he called as he stepped around the furniture to kneel down beside it. It was only a few moments before Perkins showed up in the room and saw the top of his man's head over the top of the desk.

"What is it?" he asked impatiently.

"I found Tanner," he replied, glancing at his boss. Perkins quickly moved to the opposite side of the desk and smiled at the sight of his prey. Vin was sitting on the floor, his head forward on his chest, his back against the desk. If Perkins had bothered to step further into the room his first time through, he would have seen Vin.

"Good. Good," he smiled evilly. "Take them both to the van." As Bedford moved to carry out his orders, the phone on the desk started to ring. Perkins stared at it for a moment, somehow knowing who it was. "And hurry," he added to his cohort as he left the room.

+ + + + + + +

Chris stormed into his team's offices and stopped abruptly at the sight of his men's faces. "What?" He had been told of Perkins's disappearance but this looked more serious than that.

Buck raked his hand through his hair. "Uh, Chris, we can't get the boys on the phone. I tried your number and Nathan's cell but there was no answer. I left a message on your machine but I can't think of any reason why one of 'em didn't answer, unless..." his voice trailed off. He didn't want to say out loud what he was thinking.

Chris stared at him silently as he let the information sink in. Then, he reached for the phone to try his number himself.

+ + + + + + +

Perkins watched emotionlessly as Bedford closed the doors to the back of the van and got in behind the wheel. He walked back into the house and up to the side of the sofa where Nathan slept, oblivious to all that had happened around him. Perkins smiled.

The phone began ringing again. After the second ring. Perkins reached for it and lifted the receiver to his ear. "You're too late," he growled into the mouthpiece and then replaced the receiver. He quickly left the house and got into the van. With a nod to Bedford, the van headed down the driveway.

+ + + + + + +

"Damn it, damn it, damn it," Chris swore for the umpteenth time as he sped down the road with lights flashing and siren blaring. Buck was beside him with Josiah and Ezra following behind in Josiah's car.

"You couldn't know, Chris," Buck consoled, though he felt as responsible as his friend did and his heart held the same dread as Chris's.

"Should have been more careful," he muttered as he stepped just a little harder on the accelerator.

The two vehicles made the trip from the ATF offices to Chris's ranch in record time, slowing only when they started up the driveway. They pulled up to the front of the house and climbed out. Police training engaged and they approached the front of the house as if there was someone inside gunning for them, which was entirely possible.

They got inside the front door and secured the house room by room. They had seen Nathan slumped down on the couch but had to make sure he wasn't being used as bait to draw them out in the open before they could go to help him. Once they were sure they were alone in the house, they went to their comrade.

"He's alive," Ezra said as he drew his hand away from Nathan's neck where he had felt for a pulse.

"Nathan," Chris said sharply as he firmly patted the side of the man's face. Nathan shifted slightly and a soft moan rumbled from deep in his throat but he did not wake up. "Better call an ambulance."

+ + + + + + +

JD's mind clawed its way back to awareness, mainly in protest of the severe pounding within it, demanding something be done about it. JD wanted to do just that but he didn't seem to be able to command his body into action. This brought him more awake because he knew he should be able to just get up, go to the medicine cabinet, grab some aspirin and get rid of the awful pain. But he couldn't. His body wouldn't move.

JD wanted to reach up and rub the sleep out of his eyes but his hand felt weighed down. He shook his head trying to clear the fog. Taking a deep breath, he slowly peeled his eyes open and blinked a few times. Gradually, his surroundings came into focus.

"What the hell... ?" he muttered as he looked straight ahead and saw a blank wall. He looked to one side and saw another wall, equally blank. This wasn't where he thought he should be. He tried to turn but found his movements were restricted. Looking down, he saw why. He was in a chair with thick straps across his wrists and elbows holding his arms down. He tried moving his legs and realized that his knees and ankles were similarly restrained. There was also a wide strap across his chest making it nearly impossible for him to do anything but sit there.

He could still turn his head so he began looking around as much as possible trying to figure out where he was and what was going on. There was a door in one of the walls and a small window near the ceiling but he couldn't see anything out of it but a gray sky. He turned his head to the other side of the room and sucked in a surprised breath. There was a body lying on its stomach in the corner. A moment later, the shock of seeing it passed and JD studied it and recognition set in.

"Vin!" he called sharply. His friend didn't appear to be bound in any way so if JD could wake him up, he could untie the straps and they could both get out of there. JD pushed aside the horrible thought that maybe the reason he wasn't bound was that he was no longer alive. That just wasn't an acceptable alternative.

"VIN!" he called again, struggling with his bonds, desperate to get to his friend. The man in the corner didn't move or make a sound. "Arrrrrggggg," JD growled as he pulled viciously on the straps.

"Struggling like that is useless, Mr. Dunne," a low voice slithered in from the other side of the room. JD spun his head around and saw a man standing in the open doorway. He was shocked that he hadn't heard the large door open and was more shocked when he recognized the man standing there.

"Perkins," he sneered. He had a million questions and a million curses to hurl at the man. He refrained from asking the questions, knowing the man probably wouldn't give him straight answers anyway. And the curses he knew would only make matters worse.

"So nice of you to remember my name," Perkins said, knowing full well that by this time, none of the members of the ATF team would forget him. He quietly closed the door and stepped up to within a few feet of the chair.

JD knew the man had been in the hospital, shot by Ezra in his attempt on Vin's life at the safe house nearly a week earlier. He could see the man was still pale and hoped that he was still weak and that he and Vin could use that to their advantage.

"You're probably wondering why you're here," he said looking down on JD.

JD smirked. "I long ago stopped wondering about the things a sick mind does."

"Sick mind?" Perkins questioned calmly. He raised a hand to tap a finger across his mouth as he looked to the ceiling thoughtfully. "Yes," he went on finally, "I can see where you would think that." He nodded a few times as he lowered his eyes back to JD. "But doesn't it make the game more interesting... when you don't know what the 'sick mind' will do next?"

JD shook his head. "No, just makes me pity you a little just before I blow your fuckin' brains out."

"Tsk, tsk, tsk, Mr. Dunne. Such language from one so young."

"Guess it comes from spending too much time with sick minds," JD shot back.

Perkins stared at him disapprovingly but said nothing. He turned and took a couple of steps forward and stopped, looking down at Vin still sprawled in the corner, making sure he wasn't coming around just yet. Satisfied, he spun around and stepped back in front of JD.

"Back to my original point, Mr. Dunne," he said as he walked a couple of steps beyond the chair, turned and paced back. "Why you are here. You see, I've given my situation a lot of thought and the way I see it, there are three possibilities for my future. One, I can be killed by the authorities for escaping and/or resisting arrest. Two, I can go peacefully and let Russell Chassen make sure I don't see the end of the month." He paused and looked pointedly at JD. "He has friends everywhere, you know." He went on pacing. "Or, three, I can somehow manage to get out of the country." He continued his movement back and forth in front of JD but was silent for a long time.

JD watched the man, not sure where this line of thought would lead, knowing it did not bode well for him and Vin.

"The intelligent choice would have been to 'make a run for the border', get as far away as fast as I could but... " he paused a moment before he shrugged and went on. "I like my country, Mr. Dunne. This is where I was born and where I have managed to prosper. I don't like the idea of leaving it, even to stay alive. I also have no doubt that the moment my escape from the hospital was discovered, all avenues out of the state were monitored." The man paced some more silently as JD watched. "That leaves my ultimate death, either at the hands of the law or at the hands of one of Chassen's associates." He stopped and eyed JD. "An even more disreputable associate than I." He shifted his gaze back to the room. "Neither option is more appealing than the other so I tried to find some way to tip the scales in one option's favor. Then I thought of a little revenge. Revenge on Mr. Tanner for returning too soon," he rattled on, stopping by Vin's leg and giving it a frustrated kick. "And revenge on you, too, Mr. Dunne," he added as he turned back to JD. "You see, I know you were the one who tracked down the information on what was given to Mr. Tanner. We traced your infiltration last night and that is why you have been included in this little adventure."

"I didn't break into your computer," JD stated, hoping to break the man's concentration, but knowing as soon as he had spoken that he had said the wrong thing.

"Oh, Mr. Dunne," Perkins said incredulously. "We've checked you and your team out. And though it's true we traced the intrusion back to Mr. Larabee's computer, we know that man couldn't manage such a feat. He's probably lucky if he can turn it on, judging from his files. He's strictly a man-in-the-thick-of-things kind of agent. You, however, have the training and expertise to have gotten through our defenses. You even have a reprimand in your file for a similar indiscretion."

JD didn't let his expression show it but it worried him that this man had gotten so much information on him and the team. He made a mental note to inform the networking guys that they've been hacked into and may need to step up security.

A low moan from the corner got both men's attention. JD turned away from Perkins to watch as Vin began slowly shifting around on the floor.

"Vin!" he called urgently. If Vin could come around quickly enough, he may be able to get to Perkins.

"Ah, our other guest has decided to join us," Perkins smiled as he stepped back to the opposite wall, making sure JD was in between him and Vin, though he was still able to watch.

JD gave their captor a sideways glance, then focused again on Vin. "Come on, Vin. You gotta wake up!" he hollered, tugging on the restraints. "I need your help! Please, Vin," he added, hoping that hearing his friend distressed would bring him around faster.

"That's right," Perkins grinned evilly and spoke only loud enough for himself to hear. "Beg."


Vin raised his arms up and put his hands flat on the floor. He began pushing but stopped quickly and hissed at the pain the weight on his wrists caused - he was ready anytime for these things to heal. His cloudy mind thought a moment and he started to roll over onto his back. It was a slow process but he eventually was lying flat, looking up at the ceiling. He could hear a voice calling but he couldn't get his mind to focus on what it was saying. His dry tongue moved around in his mouth, trying to get some moisture flowing. He could feel something on his tongue that tasted sweet and as the saliva started filling his mouth, he slid his tongue over whatever it was to spread both the taste and the moisture through the dry area.

He blinked several times and let his eyes roam around the room. When they fell on the small window, they stopped. He looked at it a long time. Something was familiar about it.

The panic in his gut rose up slowly. His body seemed to know what the situation was before his mind did. Finally, his mind caught up and his eyes opened wide. He dug his heels into the floor and pushed himself back until his head bumped into the wall behind him. Using his elbows and straining some uncooperative muscles, he got himself up to a sitting position. In front of him was the chair. The place where his whole nightmare had started. It took him a minute to see that there was someone in the chair. He focused on the face and suddenly realized that that was where the voice was coming from and it was calling to him.

"JD," he rasped out. He reached up and peeled a small square of paper off his tongue. It was sweet a minute ago but now it was... paper. He flicked it to the floor and looked back at JD. "What's going on?" he asked, wondering why his mouth was starting to feel numb.

"Vin! He's here! Perkins. He's over by the door!" JD was calling out information faster than Vin was picking it up, he could tell that by the look on Vin's face.

Perkins stepped into Vin's line of sight. "We meet yet again, Mr. Tanner."

Vin's eyes grew wide as he saw the face of the man he thought he had seen the last of. He tried to climb to his feet but his legs felt like rubber and wouldn't obey his commands. All he managed to do was fall over onto one hip.

JD's eyes grew wide too. He couldn't help his friend and his friend couldn't help him and worst of all, Vin didn't seem to be able to help himself.

Perkins advanced slowly as Vin feebly tried to get away.

Vin's mind registered the fact that this man scared the shit out of him. Any other man he'd be able to take out with a roundhouse kick to the head or a bullet to the heart but this guy fought from inside the body and Vin's strengths were rendered useless before him. He hated what this man could do to him.

Vin kept scampering backwards as fast as his unresponsive body would take him. He maneuvered behind the chair JD was in and took a second to try and unfasten one of the straps but as Perkins took another step closer, he continued backing away.

"That's it, Mr. Tanner. Try to get away." He stepped forward. "You must know you can't."

Vin pushed backwards with one leg but all it did was slip along the floor and then flop over sideways. Vin looked at it curiously, wondering why it wouldn't obey his command.

"I had to even the odds. I'm still recovering from my injury and even though you're not in top shape either, I hate to admit it but you probably could have bested me. That little piece of paper that tasted so good when you woke up?... well, that takes away some of your mobility and gives me a little advantage." He reached down and yanked on one of Vin's legs causing Vin to fall off his elbows to lie on his back on the floor. Perkins was on him in a second, the bulk of his weight on Vin's chest and his knees holding Vin's arms down at the elbows.

Vin's body refused to obey his mind's commands as he squirmed beneath the man's weight.

"Drugs are such wondrous things, don't you think?" Perkins asked as he pulled a syringe out of his pocket.

"NO!!!!" JD screamed. He fought even harder against the restraints.

"Ah, such loyalty among friends." Perkins leaned back slightly and shifted his eyes between the two men. "Actually, I had intended to give Mr. Tanner a choice." He looked down into Vin's eyes. "Since you've been fortunate enough to have experienced several of my formulas, I give you the option of either testing this one," he began as he pulled the protective cover off the needle of the syringe in his hand, "or I can give it to your young friend here to try out."

"Me! Give it to me!" JD shouted, still pulling on the straps.

Vin's eyes were glistening but his voice was strong. "No. I'll take it."

"Vin, no. I can handle it," JD insisted.

Vin turned his head and looked JD in the eye as a single tear inched out of the corner of his eye. He shook his head against the floor. The idea of making one of his friends go through what he had gone through was unacceptable. "No," he said clearly, turning back to face Perkins. "Me...please."

Perkins tilted his head to the side and smiled, genuinely pleased. "Well, since you asked so nicely." He turned the syringe around in his hand and swung his arm around behind him. The needle penetrated Vin's sweatpants and drove into the soft flesh of the back of his upper thigh. Even as Perkins was depressing the plunger, JD was shouting for him to stop. Vin slowly closed his eyes then squeezed them tight as he clenched his teeth and held his breath.

Vin felt the needle being withdrawn and the weight of the man getting off his chest. He pulled his arms down to rest on his stomach and tried to pull his knees up. Whatever it was Perkins had given him to cause his muscles to go their own way still had a grip on him.

"What did you give him? What will it do?" JD questioned.

Perkins looked down at the empty syringe in his hand with a curious expression. "I can't seem to recall," he said, drawing each word out slowly. He turned his eyes upward. "Was this the one for pain or was it hallucinations? Hmmm? Maybe this one was the slow agonizing death one." He looked down at Vin on the floor then over to JD, shaking his head. "I just can't remember. I suppose we shall have to wait and see." He began a soft snickering as he backed to the door, reached around behind him to grab the knob and turned it. As the door opened, he winked at JD and slipped out of the room. The sound of the bolt being latched echoed through the space.

"Vin! Are you okay? Come untie me. Quick!" JD called to the prone man on the floor. He could see Vin's breathing was getting more rapid and he clenched and loosened his hands repeatedly.

Vin took a deep breath and forced his eyes open. He could hear what JD was telling him and he knew he was right. If he could get to him and get him free, then maybe the two of them could get out of there. He told his body to move but it only occasionally responded and it took him quite a while to work himself up onto his knees.

He locked his eyes with JD's and slowly crept over to the side of the chair. He could feel that whatever Perkins had given him to immobilize him was starting to wear off and he had a little more control. He reached up with a shaky hand and using his fingertips, he began to pull on the leather strap around JD's wrist. They were buckled in place and the leather was new and stiff. It took a lot of effort for Vin to move it just a fraction of an inch.

Vin stopped a moment to rest and clear his head as he saw something flash before his eyes. He ducked when he saw it swoop by again.

"Vin? What is it?" JD asked, it dawning on him a moment later that the drug was kicking in. "Come on, Vin. Fight it! Get me untied."

Vin turned his eyes to the ceiling and swung his head around frantically as he looked for the next assault. He never got a good look at whatever it was that was flying passed his eyes but he knew it was coming back.

"Stay away!" he screamed at it as he ducked again. He pushed himself back towards the wall as he searched the room for the assailant.

"Vin, there's nothing there," JD tried to calmly reason with his friend, sensing it was no use.

"NO!" Vin shouted as he wrapped his arms around his head and curled into a small ball.

+ + + + + + +

"Nathan's awake now, Chris," Josiah spoke into his cell phone.

"Is he okay?" Chris asked, hating himself for almost jumping to his questions about what happened before he knew if his agent was all right.

"Yeah. The doctor said it was some kind of sedative, not one in common usage. It took them a while to isolate it. By that time, Nathan was starting to come around on his own." Josiah paced around the waiting area.

Chris took a deep breath. "He say anything?"

"He doesn't remember anything. He said the last thing he remembers was reading the paper, then he woke up here." It was Josiah's turn to take a deep breath. "He asked me if JD and Vin were okay." He shook his head. "You should have seen his face when I told him." He shook it harder, trying to get rid of the memory.

"Are they keeping him?"

"No, they said he may be a little groggy for a while but there was no reason to keep him here. I'm waiting on him now. I'll take him to my place for the night."

"Thanks, Josiah. Keep us posted. And let us know if you need any help."

"Will do, Chris. Do the same for us." Josiah switched off his phone and slipped it into his pocket as he stepped out into the hallway to see if Nathan was heading his way. He didn't see him so he went back and sat down, picking up a six month old magazine to not read as he waited.

Chris replaced his receiver and looked up at the two expectant faces in front of him. "Nathan's okay. Some kind of sedative. It's wearing off and they're sending him home," he relayed.

"Damn, that man is taking a toll on this team. Chris, we gotta nail that bastard," Buck grumbled, slapping his palm on the desk.

"We have to find him first," Chris pointed out as he scrubbed his tired eyes. "Any word from the crime scene team?"

"Just the basics. They are surmising that the assailant entered through the side door because there were footprints all around there. No other sign of struggle. Lab work is still in process. They think it was the coffee that was tainted since there was a mug where Nathan was found and two in the den. We are assuming that was where JD and Vin were," Ezra rattled off the information that he had learned thus far from the investigating team.

Chris dropped his head into his hands, the heels pressing against his eyes. He hated this kind of situation. They knew who they were after but they had no idea of where to look. But they had to find him fast. The lives of JD and Vin may depend on it.


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