ATF Universe

A low groan from somewhere in the room jolted JD awake. A little light filtered into the room from the small window. He shook his head to clear the sleep then turned it around to try and locate Vin. His eyes froze on the still form of Perkins lying where he had died. JD wasn't the least bit ashamed of the smile he let curl on his lips as he gazed down on the dead man.

The moan again brought his attention back to Vin and he continued to look around the room. He located Vin against the wall almost directly behind him. There were telltale movements that told JD that he was trying to wake up.

"Vin," he said softly, calmly. There was still an urgency to their situation but the main threat was gone. He twisted as much as he could in the chair and watched as Vin began to blink. "Time to get up, Vin. I need you to untie me and then we can get out of here."

Vin blinked slowly as the words reached his consciousness. He looked straight ahead and saw the familiar chair with JD's head turned almost 180 degrees around to look at him. He studied the sight as he tried to figure out how JD was doing that.

"Vin, the straps. I need your help getting out of them," JD encouraged.

Bits and pieces of their ordeal were flittering around in Vin's mind and it took a few minutes before enough of it came together to make any sense. He nodded weakly and began to drag himself to a sitting position.

JD sighed and dropped his chin to his chest. Maybe, just maybe, this was almost over. He knew the rest of the team was probably worried about them. He didn't know how long he and Vin had been gone but the longer it took for them to get out of there, the longer their friends would worry. He wanted to contact them as soon as he could.

JD turned back at Vin's sharp intake of air. He saw where Vin was looking and knew without checking what he saw. "He can't hurt you anymore, Vin. Don't be afraid."

Vin took a deep breath and moved his eyes back to meet JD's. He knew JD was telling him the truth but he still kept a wary eye on the corpse as he started towards the chair.

JD kept up the soft, encouraging words as it took Vin nearly ten minutes to crawl to the front of the chair. Once there, he lay his head down on JD's lap.

"Just rest a minute..." he mumbled.

JD tried to reach out with his fingers and rub the side of Vin's head but the only contact he could make was the barest touch.

Vin's head was down only a moment before he lifted it up and turned towards the body on the floor, making sure it hadn't risen to come stick him again.

"Just the straps on one arm, Vin," JD began, getting the man's attention back on him. "I can do the rest."

Vin turned his eyes back to JD's. They showed a pain and fear now that wasn't there before. "I'm sorry, JD," Vin's raw voice got out. "Never meant for you to get caught up in my problem."

JD rapidly shook his head. "Ain't no 'your' problem or 'my' problem on this team, Vin. We're in it all together."

Vin stared a moment longer, his eyes growing moist, then looked to the first leather strap. He lifted one painful hand and began picking at the binding.

JD watched the bruised and swollen hand trying to manipulate the straps. The metal splint was obviously bent in ways it hadn't originally been bent in and the elastic holding it in place was barely doing its job. JD was positive Vin's other hand was a twin of this one.

The stiff leather was stubborn and Vin needed both hands and his teeth to finally pry it loose. The strap at JD's elbow was equally stubborn but eventually it too came free. With JD able to reach the straps on his other arm, Vin slowly lowered his head to rest once more on JD's lap.

JD understood Vin's difficulty with the straps when he started to remove the ones holding down his other arm. The stiff material did not want to budge. Finally, however, both his arms were free and he tried to lean over to attack the ones holding his legs but the chest strap prevented him moving far enough. The buckle holding the chest strap in place was behind him and he had to strain to reach it. He hated the idea of getting Vin to crawl behind him to undo it...the man was obviously at the end of his strength but if he were unable to get it loose...

Just as JD was about to rouse Vin, he felt the leather break free and he pulled the strap off his chest. He leaned forward, reaching around the body on his lap and got the restraints off one knee then leaned further and undid the one holding his ankle. He couldn't get to the ones holding his other leg to the chair with Vin where he was so he shook his shoulder to get him up.

Vin cracked his eyes but didn't move.

"I can't reach the ones on that leg, Vin. I need you to move."

Several moments of consideration passed before Vin nodded his head against JD's thigh and pushed himself up. Once he was away from JD's body, his momentum carried him backwards and he shifted from sitting on one hip to the other. He blinked as he watched JD reach forward and undo the final two straps.

Once he was free, JD stood up and stretched in every imaginable direction. He heard joints pop in his legs and his back.

"Come on, Vin. What's say we get the hell out of here." JD didn't wait for any kind of response from Vin. He reached down and lifted the man to his feet and together they made their way out of the room and out of the building.

JD didn't recognize where they were when they finally made it outside. He could tell it was early morning but he didn't know which morning. He knew the first thing he needed to do was get help for Vin and then report the crime.

He kept a firm hold of Vin as he guided him out onto the sidewalk, pausing to look up and down the street, trying to get his bearings. He thought the angels above were helping him as he spied a pay phone. Slowly, he got Vin moving again and headed towards it.

There were stairs leading into another entrance of the building they had just come out of near where the pay phone was and JD sat Vin down on one. He sat next to him as he explained what he intended to do.

"Vin, I need you to sit here and wait for me. I'm gonna call for help," he said slowly as he pointed to the phone.

Vin looked up hopefully. "Chris..." he said, his voice holding a whining tone.

"Yeah, I'm calling the guys." JD smiled sadly. He knew there were procedures to follow and he should call the cops but the first people he wanted to see was Buck and the others, not some strangers.

Vin relaxed slightly, thinking about the help coming in the faces of his friends.

"Okay, Vin. Stay here while I call the guys." JD stood up and headed for the phone. He dug around in his jeans pocket and pulled out all the change he had. He had enough for two phone calls. Now he just had to decide what two numbers to try. "Think about this logically, Dunne," JD told himself as he picked up the receiver and dropped in the required coins. A moment later, he heard the dial tone. "If it were me, I'd be either on the street chasing down leads or at the office working with the rest of the boys."

JD looked up and down the road looking for a street sign but saw none. He couldn't tell them where he was by identifying the location. Then he looked to the phone itself. The number was typed on a small sticker and placed in a spot below the push buttons.

"At least the area code is right," he sighed, knowing he couldn't be too far out of Denver. He stole a quick glance at Vin and then began punching in the number to the team's offices. "Come on, be there," he mumbled as he heard the ringing from the earpiece.

Vin wrapped his arms weakly around his knees as he began a rhythmic rocking motion where he sat. He knew that he hadn't gotten any more of the drug and that the images flashing through his mind were just memories but they frightened him nearly as much as they did the first time he had experienced them. He brought his arms up to the sides of his head and pressed them together as his rocking intensified.

"Wilmington," a voice snapped into the phone.

JD sighed before he spoke. It was over. "Buck, it's me," he said softly.


JD had to jerk the receiver away from his ear for a moment. "Yeah, Buck, it's me. Vin's with me." JD looked over his shoulder as he mentioned his friend's name, just to make sure he was still there. He wrinkled his brow as he noticed Vin's movements.

"JD, where are you? Are you all right?" Buck's voice was frantic and JD could hear several other voices in the background, knowing Buck had switched his call to the speaker phone.

"JD, where are you?" Chris repeated the question.

JD was never so happy to hear their voices.

"I don't know where we are. There aren't any street signs."

"NO!!!" Vin cried out suddenly and got unsteadily to his feet. JD turned around in time to see Vin stagger down the sidewalk, using the building for support and turn the first corner he came to.

"Shit! VIN!!" JD hollered, not thinking to pull the receiver away from his mouth before he did. "Listen, Buck. The number at this phone it 555-9101. I'll leave it off the hook. Trace it or call the phone company and have them tell you where it is. I have to go help Vin." Without waiting for an answer, JD put down the receiver and followed after Vin.

"JD!! ... JD!!!!!" Buck screamed at the phone. "Anyone get that number?" he asked in an only slightly lower voice.

"I did. I'll get the phone company on the line immediately," Ezra said as he flipped through the directory looking for the proper number to call.

JD followed Vin down beside the building to find that it was a shallow alley. Vin had found his way to the wall at the back of it and was squatting against it, rocking back and forth.

"Vin," JD said softly, holding out his hands in a placating gesture. "It's okay, Vin. Chris is on his way." JD approached slowly but halted when Vin let out a painful whimper. He knelt down where he had stopped and kept talking in a soft, reassuring voice. "The guys are on their way, Vin. Then we'll get someone to check you over, make sure you're okay. Maybe get us something to eat. I know I'm starving. How about you? You hungry, Vin?"

His only reply was a sorrowful moan.

+ + + + + + +

"When are they going to call?" Buck fumed as he paced back and forth.

"It has only been a couple of minutes," Ezra stated. "Give the people a chance to accomplish the task."

"Damn it! I wish they'd hurry. Maybe I should try them again." Buck reached for a phone but just before he got there, another extension began ringing.

Ezra picked it up before the second ring. He greeted the caller then nodded his head as he wrote down some information, thanking them briefly before he hung up. He stood up and was reaching for his coat as he relayed the information. "The number in question is located at 1577 Addison Drive."

"Let's roll," Chris said as he led the way out of the offices.

+ + + + + + +

JD looked over his shoulder periodically, anytime he thought he heard a car or a person's voice. When nothing came of it, he would turn back to Vin.

"They're on their way, Vin. Don't you worry none. Chris and Buck, Nathan, Ezra, Josiah. They're all coming and they'll see we get out of here quick."

He was rambling, he knew that. Vin wouldn't talk to him and seemed to panic whenever he tried to get close so he contented himself with staying several feet back and just watching...and rambling.

Screeching tires quickly followed by a familiar voice calling his name signaled the arrival of the cavalry. JD stood up and backed out of the alley far enough that he could see around the corner of the building. The tall agent was standing by the pay phone with the receiver in his hand as he was searching the area.

"Buck," JD called, gaining the man's attention. A moment later, he found himself caught up in an embrace as Buck held him tight.

"You okay, JD?" Buck asked into the back of his head.

JD nodded against his friend, taking a moment to wrap his arms around the broad back. "Just tired, and hungry. Vin's the one needs help."

Chris was the second to get to JD's side followed closely by the other three team members. "Where is Vin?" he asked, placing a gentle hand on the young man's shoulder.

JD pushed away from Buck and faced his team leader. "Down there," he replied as he pointed down the alley. " He's..." he began but Chris was already gone.

JD turned back to his friend. "He drugged him, Buck...Perkins...he drugged Vin again..." He shook his head at the memories.

Buck wrapped a strong arm across JD's shoulders and started into the alley. "It's okay, JD. We'll take care of Perkins."

JD shook his head again. "He's dead, Buck. Vin attacked him while he..." JD had to stop, finding himself suddenly choked up. Buck squeezed his shoulder once more.

"It's okay, JD."

Chris walked slowly towards the huddled mass at the back of the alley. He could tell by Vin's posture alone that he needed to approach carefully.

"Vin," he said from a few feet away.

Vin pulled his arms away from his head and looked up at the familiar voice. He looked pale and there were dark circles under his eyes. He was dirty, his eyes were watering and his nose was running. He looked a mess. But he was the best thing Chris had seen in a long time. He smiled kindly as he took a small step forward.

"It's all over, Vin," he said and stepped again. Chris worked hard to control the anger that coursed through his veins at the animal who had obviously tortured his friend.

Vin began shaking his head in panic. "No more. No more needles. Please. Please. PLEASE. No more..." he whined as he began rocking back and forth again.

Chris calmly shook his head and squatted down to be on the same level as Vin. "No, Vin. No more. I won't let you get any more needles." He stepped up beside his friend and knelt down, putting his hand on Vin's shoulder. "I won't let him hurt you anymore."

Vin looked up hopefully into Chris's eyes. He wanted to believe him, needed to believe him. Slowly, he began nodding his head.

"Mind if I sit with you?" Chris asked.

Vin stared a moment then shook his head no, whispering his approval at the same time.

Chris stretched out beside Vin and wrapped one arm across the back of his shoulders. Vin twisted sideways, his back towards Chris and leaned back against him. He clutched at Chris's arm.

"No more needles...please," he whimpered. He was shaking violently.

Chris began rubbing his back as he looked up at the men who had followed him into the alley but who had remained several feet back. "Call an ambulance," he instructed softly. He knew they knew what needed to be done and they would handle it, leaving him free to comfort his friend.

"JD okay?" Vin asked.

"JD's fine. He's with Buck." Chris pointed a finger at the ladies man and their younger teammate as he continued to rub Vin's back and hold him firmly.

Vin shuddered suddenly and squeezed his eyes closed. "No more...please," he begged as the painful images returned with a vengeance.

Chris wrapped his other arm around his friend and pulled him tight against his chest. "No, Vin, no more. I promise. No more needles."

+ + + + + + +

JD waited in the hall as Nathan, Buck and Ezra checked out the room that had been their prison for lord-knew-how long. He wasn't eager to go back inside and see that chair again, see the walls that held them captive, see the body of the maniac who had tortured Vin...and him.

Buck stepped out into the hall beside JD. "You say Vin did that?" he asked, pointing back over his shoulder with his thumb.

JD nodded and his eyes got a distant look to them. "It was awful, Buck."

Buck once again wrapped an arm across JD's shoulders and squeezed. "I know you been through hell, kid and I ain't gonna tell you that you'll forget it anytime soon. You may never forget any of it. But you got friends to help you, remember that."

JD lowered his head but nodded that he understood.

A few minutes later, Nathan and Ezra came out of the room and stepped up beside the other two men.

"Probably need to get a crime scene team down here," Nathan said as he looked up and down the hall they were standing in. He headed for the exit.

Ezra remained behind long enough to add, "And the coroner." He turned and followed Nathan.

+ + + + + + +

Josiah squatted down a few feet away from where Chris and Vin were huddled. He could see Vin was shaking and wondered if it were not just fear doing it but also the morning chill. He slowly removed his jacket and quietly got Chris's attention. He held out the coat and Chris knew immediately what Josiah was thinking. He mouthed a thank you as he reached out and took the jacket, spreading it as best he could over the man in his arms. It took a few minutes but the shivers finally subsided to a spasmodic trembling.

+ + + + + + +

The white van pulled up slowly along the curb, the driver hesitant to stop. There were two unknown vehicles parked there and while a stray car now and then was not unusual, these two cars were in better shape than what normally frequented the neighborhood. The bad feeling the driver got was compounded a hundred fold when he saw the two familiar men come out of the door he had intended to go in. He stomped on the accelerator and the tires squealed as the van sped away.

"That's our van!" Nathan shouted as he slapped Ezra on the arm, making sure he saw. He reached for his weapon and drew as he ran after the van but it turned down the first road it came to and was gone. Nathan jogged to a stop, lowering his weapon angrily as he stared at the spot where the vehicle had disappeared.

He was still staring as Ezra sauntered up to stand beside him, carefully picking a piece of fuzz off his sleeve. Nathan turned his anger on his friend.

"Heaven forbid you should break a sweat there, Ezra." He pointed towards the now vacant corner. "That was our van!!" he repeated heatedly.

Ezra turned casually to face Nathan. He smiled before he spoke calmly, "Illinois plate. R-C-W-1-3-9." He paused. "Expires next March, if it matters," he added. His smile grew bigger as he turned back towards their cars. "I'll call it in." He walked away.

Nathan shook his head as he smiled at Ezra's back. "You'll do anything to keep from breaking a sweat, huh, Ezra?" he called with a laugh in his voice.

Ezra never broke his stride, never turned back but acknowledged the comment with a wave of his hand over his shoulder.

+ + + + + + +

JD wasn't really happy that Buck was continuing the search of the building but he followed along behind him anyway. They found a room just down the hall from the one that had been their prison and stepped inside. There they found all manner of surveillance and recording equipment. Buck was curious so he stepped further into the room as JD hung back closer to the door.

Buck saw a television set that was on but showing nothing but snow. The sound had been muted and Buck leaned all around it, visually examining it. He saw that it was hooked up to a VCR and that the VCR was hooked up to some high-tech monitoring devices. Glancing down at the VCR, he saw a tape sitting in the slot. He knew he shouldn't touch anything but something made him push the tape into the machine with a knuckle and press the play button.

The TV screen turned blue for several seconds before the picture came on. Buck was riveted by the images displayed on the screen. JD sitting in a chair with Vin crawling towards him. The next moment, a door opened and Perkins stepped in. He resisted the urge to turn the sound up. He really didn't want to hear what he was seeing. Perkins stepped up to stand over JD in the chair and was looking back and forth between the other two men. He pulled something out of his pocket and that got a reaction out of Vin. Vin dragged himself to the man and began tugging weakly on his pants leg.

Buck watched only about a minute's worth of the tape before he hit the stop button on the VCR and turned away.

JD looked around the room, part of him curious and part of him terrified. Finally, curious won out and he stepped further into the small space.

"Oh god." JD's whisper was full of anguish and the emotion alone was enough to gain Buck's attention and bring him to the younger man's side.

"What is it, JD?" he asked concerned but immediately saw what the man was looking at. "What is all this?"

The two were staring down at an open case that contained two rows of syringes. Ten were lined up in one row with labels marked 'Dunne' and the second row had three with labels that read 'Tanner' and seven empty slots. Four empty syringes were in a pile beside the case.

"He was gonna do it to me anyway," JD's voice croaked out, his eyes glistening with tears.

"But he didn't get to, JD. That bastard is dead and you're okay," Buck reassured him.

JD began shaking his head from side to side. "No, you don't understand. What he made Vin do, all because he thought he was protecting me and he was gonna do it to me anyway." JD's voice shook and he finally let the dam break that was holding back his emotions. Buck once again took him in his arms and held him tight.

In the distance, sirens could be heard. Their wails grew louder as they approached the scene. Their arrival brought ordered chaos to the site as emergency personnel rushed all around.

+ + + + + + +

Chris sat beside the hospital bed, an all too familiar spot these days. The bed was lying flat with the side rails in place. Chris had one arm woven through the rail, his hand gripping the top rung and his chin resting on his curled fingers. His other arm snaked around the rail and his hand rested lightly on Vin's shoulder. Vin would periodically squirm around in the bed, squeezing his eyes shut tighter and gritting his teeth but he hadn't yet woken up. Vin was exhausted, according to his doctor, not to mention dehydrated and generally beat up.

Not for the first time, Chris scanned his eyes over Vin. He saw the small rectangular box on his chest and gently adjusted its position. The remote heart monitor was a lot nicer for the patient in that they didn't have to listen to a constant beeping in time with their heartbeats but it did have a tendency to shift around and want to slide off the chest and down to the mattress. The five wires that traveled from one end of the monitor to the five disks on Vin's chest could be a little uncomfortable but Chris thought it was a good trade. That steady beeping could drive a person nuts and when it wasn't steady...that was even worse.

Chris looked down at Vin's arms. The mangled splints had been removed and both his arms were propped up on small pillows with ice bags perched on top of them. New x-rays had shown there was a new break in Vin's left wrist and that all the fractures were stressed. Chris was surprised there was only one new break after seeing the condition of the man's arms when they found him.

Vin was covered with a blanket now but Chris had seen him before the staff had gotten him settled in the bed. Bruises spotted his entire body, the worst of them being his upper legs. There were several sizable ones on his lower back and abdomen and countless smaller ones on his arms, legs and face. Chris seethed silently at the mental images of how they all got there.

Chris looked back up to the head of the bed when a soft groan rumbled out from Vin's throat. He was slowly rocking his head from side to side. Chris squeezed gently on Vin's shoulder and murmured some encouraging words. After a few moments, Vin settled again, still not waking up. It surprised Chris that with all the squirming around that Vin had done, he hadn't yet tried to move his arms. He wondered if he was somehow aware of the ice packs there.

"Any change?" a low voice rumbled from the doorway.

Chris glanced at Josiah, nodding him into the room. "Not yet. It's still early. They expect him to be out of it till tonight."

"How are you doing?" the big man asked from his new position on the opposite side of the bed.

"Like I want to squeeze the living shit out of that maniac." It was spoken so calmly, with Chris's fingers gently rubbing Vin's shoulder, that Josiah had to think a minute to grasp the seriousness of the remark.

"Well, Vin already took care of him. Perkins can't hurt him anymore."

Chris turned tired eyes to his friend. "Vin did?" He knew he'd heard the report but seeing the weak, beaten man before him, he had a hard time believing it.

Josiah nodded as he shifted his eyes to the patient. "Yeah. I was with JD when he gave his statement. He said Perkins had drugged Vin and was about to do the same to him when Vin attacked. Somewhere in the fight, Perkins got his own drug injected into him. Killed him."

Chris looked back down at Vin, his mind trying to imagine what he'd gone through. Finally, through gritted teeth, he said, "Good."

Josiah nodded, though not happy with himself that he wished harm on another human being, but then his mind reasoned that Perkins was not quite human.

"Buck took JD home for a clean-up and some food. Said he'd be by a little later," Josiah told Chris.

"Okay, thanks," Chris acknowledged.

"Anything I can bring you?"

Chris shook his head. "No, thanks, Josiah. I'm fine."

Josiah bobbed his head as he took one last lingering look at Vin, then turned and slowly left the room.

+ + + + + + +

Vin moaned as he began shifting again in the bed, squirming against something only he could see. Chris pulled himself up straighter in his chair.

"Shhhh, Vin. You're safe now," he soothed softly close to Vin's ear.

Vin rolled his head to the side away from the voice. "Nooo," he whimpered.

This was the first actual word Vin had said since they had gotten him to the hospital. Chris stood partway up, stooping over the bed. "It's okay now, Vin," he told the man for the umpteenth time.

Vin continued to slowly roll his head from side to side. "No...I wan...big...on...," Vin whined, the words not quite intelligible.

Chris remained still as his mind deciphered the sentence. Finally, he thought he had it. "What big one, Vin?" he asked softly.

"Big on's choc'late," Vin slurred.

Chris smiled wide as he ducked his head. Looking back up a moment later, he rubbed his hand across the side of Vin's head. "Sounds like that dream isn't so bad," he muttered to himself. Louder, he said, "We'll get you the chocolate one, Vin." Chris couldn't be sure but he thought he saw a small smile on Vin's face as he drifted back to the calm sleep he'd been in a few minutes before.

Chris smiled too as he sat back in his chair.

"How is he?" a quiet voice asked from the foot of the bed. Chris turned to see Buck standing there.

Chris shrugged. "As well as can be expected, I suppose," he replied in an equally quiet voice. "He just said something about chocolate."

Buck chuckled softly and nodded as he looked long and hard at the man in the bed. "JD's been filling me in. Sounds pretty bad," he said finally.

Chris nodded. "How is JD?" he asked glancing around, curious that the young man wasn't with his guardian agent.

Buck grinned, seeing the look. "He had to stop at the little boys room. He'll be up in a few minutes." Buck dropped his chin to his chest for a moment before he looked back at Chris. "This whole thing scared the crap out of him, Chris. I can tell by the look in his eyes."

"Not surprising," Chris began, shifting his gaze back to the bed. "Imagine we'll see the same look in Vin's eyes when he wakes up. Just gotta be here to help them through it."

Both men were silent for several long moments as they were lost in their private thoughts.

"Doctors analyze what was in those syringes yet?" Buck asked, breaking the silence.

Chris nodded. "Wasn't the experimental kind of drug that Perkins has used before. They said most of one dose of this would be out of Vin's system in about twelve hours. With as many as he's gotten, should be a day or so for anything that has built up to be flushed out." Chris turned to look at Buck. "He got the same doctor that helped him last time. He actually seemed interested in the whole story. I told him I'd get him copies of those files we downloaded so he could read them. Maybe he'll be able to help with the relapses." Chris squinted his eyes a moment. "Do we have any copies at the offices?"

"I'm sure we least one," Buck smiled. "It'll be good to have one of them on our side. The looks we got trying to explain all this the last time, you'd think we were crazy."

Chris scoffed as he remembered taking Vin to the doctor who had been recommended by the physician in Texas. He wasn't the least bit interested or concerned about the information the team had to offer him.

"Oh, hey," Buck began, his voice a little louder, a little happier. "The state troupers picked up the van, heading south. Brought the guy in and in a matter of minutes he was singing like a bird."

Chris looked interested. "So, who was he? One of Chassen's?"

Buck shook his head. "No, he worked for Perkins, name's Joseph Bedford. Legal advisor, officially, sort of."

Chris narrowed his eyes in question.

"Well, seems our boy finished law school but," Buck tsked, "just hasn't been able to pass the bar yet. Next time for sure, he said. Course, he'll be in prison by then and he'll have his pick of clients," Buck joked.

Chris managed a small smile. "Did he say why?" he asked, indicating Vin with a nod of his head.

Buck nodded. "Once he knew that Perkins was dead, there didn't seem to be anything that he wasn't willing to tell us. All this was Perkins's idea. Chassen was out of it when Vin finished his testimony. Seems Perkins didn't like being bested."

"So, Vin should be safe now. No more need to guard him."

"Shouldn't be," Buck agreed.

A light tap on the door brought the attention of the two men there.

"Hey, JD, where you been?" Buck asked. "I was just about to get concerned."

JD stepped cautiously into the room and up to stand beside Buck. "I told you where I was going," he said, keeping his eyes on the body in the bed.

"Vin's just sleeping, JD," Chris told him, seeing the worry in the young man's eyes.

JD nodded rapidly. "I know, I know, but he... I mean...when we...that is," JD's voice trailed off. Buck silently moved his hand up to rest on the young man's shoulder. JD had a jacket waded up in his hands and was squeezing the fabric tightly.

"The doctor's check you out, JD?" Chris asked. He knew they had and he knew what they had determined but Chris wanted him to focus on something other than the man in the bed.

"Huh?" he said as he turned his eyes to Chris. "Oh, yeah, I'm fine. The cut in my arm needed to be cleaned," he began then reached up to touch the wound on his forehead, "And they weren't real happy with the dirt on this one either, but they cleaned it up and said it should be fine. Told me I was a little dehydrated and I need to drink lots of water."

Chris nodded. This is what he had been told.

Buck tried to gently pull his young friend away from the bed. "They also said you needed to stay quiet and rest for a few days. Let's go home."

JD nodded and began fumbling with the jacket still in a wad in his hands. He surprised both the other men when he pulled an object out from under it and set it in the bed, beside Vin's shoulder, leaning against the rail. He took a moment to adjust it before he looked up at the surprised expressions.

"I know what you're thinking but Vin will understand," he told them. He glanced down and made a final adjustment then turned to the door, pushing Buck ahead of him. "Well, Casey is always getting on my case about showing up empty handed when I come to see one of you guys in the hospital," he stammered in explanation as he and Buck left the room.

Chris watched the two for a moment then looked back at the item JD had left. He stared for several seconds, not quite believing that JD had brought Vin a teddy bear. It was about a foot tall and wore a shirt in the colors of the Broncos football team. It was obviously something that came from the gift shop downstairs. A pre-printed card was attached to an elastic band around the toy's neck. Chris reached forward and flipped it open. Get well soon. The team needs you. was written in a fancy print.

Chris shook his head as he wondered what had gone on between JD and Vin to make this gift make sense. As he sat thinking, Vin groaned and squirmed again. Chris calmed him successfully with a gentle squeeze of the shoulder then leaned back in his chair to think.

+ + + + + + +

The man in the bed stretched his back and rolled his head to one side. He slowly cracked his eyes open partway and stared straight ahead as his brain worked to bring the view into focus. It was slow in coming but gradually his vision cleared. His befuddled mind wondered about what he saw. It was a medium brown...fuzzy...something. Vin couldn't decide if it was fuzzy or if he was just seeing it that way. He blinked heavily several times and tried to open his eyes wider, finally resorting to raising his eyebrows up trying to get his lids to remain open. His eyes moved along the edges of the fuzzy mass, tracing all the way around it. It had pudgy little arms and legs and when he moved his eyes to the top part of it, he saw there was a face. He stared for a long time at the friendly face that stared back at him. Slowly, a smile curled up from the corners of his mouth as his eyes drifted closed once again.

Chris watched as Vin checked out his new companion. He had said the man's name once when he realized that Vin was awake but then remained silent, watching. As Vin's smile grew and his eyes closed, Chris smiled broadly and leaned back in his chair.

+ + + + + + +

The sun had been down for over an hour when Chris stood up and stretched his arms out high over his head, twisting to both sides to loosen up his stiff back muscles. He looked down at Vin and made sure he was still sleeping peacefully, something he had been doing for about two hours now. Chris had the feeling the drug was pretty much out of his system and he could start to recover.

Chris stepped over to the window and looked out on the city. Lights flickered from many area buildings and he could see a steady stream of cars on the street in front of the hospital.

Turning back and seeing Vin still sleeping, he decided he could steal away for a few minutes and use the facilities, maybe grab a cup of coffee from somewhere and, if he could find a vending machine, maybe get a snack. He slowly, silently headed out the door, leaving it standing open.

Chris was perfectly satisfied when he headed back down the hall nearly ten minutes later. He'd found the rest rooms easily enough and then when he wandered down to the small sitting area at the end of the hall, he'd struck paydirt. A row of vending machines offering a variety of soft drinks, candy, fruit and, the mother-lode, coffee. He was never happy with the tiny cup these machines coughed up so he opted to get two cups. He also bought a bag of pretzels and stuck those in his pocket so he had his hands free to carry the two cups.

He froze when he got into Vin's room. Where he'd left a calmly sleeping man, he now saw the doctor beside the bed. The head of the bed had been raised and Vin was sitting forward, awake, leaning heavily on the supporting arm the doctor provided as he listened to Vin's lungs with his stethoscope.

Vin raised his eyes as Chris approached the end of the bed and Chris smiled warmly at him. He was a little worried about the expression on Vin's face. At first, he thought it said 'who the hell are you' but then it seemed more to be saying 'what the hell happened' but as he set his coffee down and came up alongside the bed, he was sure it was saying 'if he doesn't put me down in two seconds, I'm not gonna make it'.

"Hi, Dr. Jennings. How's the patient?" Chris asked as the man pulled the stethoscope away from Vin's back. Chris reached out and gently grabbed Vin's arm. He was a little concerned by how much Vin was trembling and now understood the support the doctor was having to give him. The doctor pulled Vin's gown closed in the back and then helped ease him back against the bed. Chris quickly pulled the pillow back up so that it was under Vin's head when it hit the mattress.

"Lungs are clear, heart sounds strong, pupils are equal and reactive, blood pressure is well within normal range," Jennings ran off as he jotted down information on Vin's chart. "How do you feel, Mr. Tanner?" he asked without looking up.

Vin opened his mouth to reply but couldn't muster enough strength to force his voice out. He closed it again and swallowed hard, then tried again. "Everything hurts," his cracking voice got out.

The doctor looked up. "Everything?" He looked into the man's eyes. So many patients were prone to exaggeration. However, he thought he could tell that Vin was serious. "Hurts how? Sharp pains? Anywhere in particular?"

Vin weakly shook his head. "No, just real sore, but everywhere."

The doctor nodded. This was to be expected. "I can get you something that'll help you rest easier. I'd like to take another blood sample and run it through the lab too." He hit the button to lower the bed down partway. "Everything is looking good so far. I don't foresee any problems."

Once he had the bed positioned where he wanted it, he lifted the ice pack off of one of Vin's arms. He poked Vin's wrist carefully then gently lifted the limb into the air.

"I think we can lose the ice and put on the splints again. When we're sure the swelling is down, we'll arrange to have casts put on," he told them though he never looked away from the arm he was examining. Satisfied, he set the arm back down. "I'll send the nurse in," he said pausing a moment to see if either man had any questions. When it appeared they didn't, he turned and headed out of the room.

"Thanks, Dr. Jennings," Chris said to the retreating back. He looked down at Vin and saw he was being stared at. "Can I get you anything?" he asked softly.

"Any water around?" Vin croaked.

"Yeah, sure." Chris rushed to get it, irritated that he hadn't thought of it himself. He filled a plastic cup and stuck a straw in it. He held the cup beside Vin's throat and maneuvered the straw into his mouth. Vin drew the liquid in slowly but he eventually drained the entire contents. "You want more?" Chris asked, ready to refill the cup.

Vin shook his head. "No, that was enough for now," he replied, his voice noticeably smoother.

Before either man could say more, a nurse walked in with a small plastic tray in her hand.

"Good evening, Mr. Tanner. I need to draw a little blood, put on your splints and then give you a mild pain killer. Doctor's orders," she added in explanation.

Chris watched Vin with concern as Vin watched the nurse prepare to take the sample. He waited for Vin to rebel against the use of the needle but he lay there calmly and watched as she pierced his vein and filled her tube with his blood. When it was filled, she withdrew the needle and applied pressure to the spot, wanting to have Vin raise his hand up over his head but needing his arm so that she could put on the new splint.

"Hmmmm," she hummed as she thought about what to do. It didn't have to be raised up but it stopped bleeding a lot faster if it was.

Chris leaned over and moved his fingers in place, edging hers away. He had nothing but time and so could press on the spot till it stopped bleeding.

"Thanks," she said as she readied the items to get the splint in place. She decided to switch sides of the bed with Chris so that he could hold the pressure on one arm and she could splint the other.

She got the new metal splint situated then began wrapping the elastic around it, making sure it wasn't too tight.

"How does that feel?" she asked when she finished.

Vin nodded his head but said nothing.

The nurse took that as an okay and moved back to the other side of the bed. Vin's vein was still bleeding so she worked around Chris getting the second splint put on. When she was done, she got the shot ready that Vin was to get. That could be inserted into his IV line. She measured out the dosage and slipped the needle into a spot on the tube for the addition of medications. Pulling it out, she said, "That should do it. Press the call button if he had any problems or if he needs anything." She addressed her instructions to Chris and Vin was about to open his mouth to object that he could understand them when the medication began kicking in and he felt his whole body relax. The sensation was so totally pleasing that he momentarily forgot everything else. By the time he remembered, she was gone.

Vin slowly turned his head to Chris. "You don't gotta stay, you know,' he told him.

"You want me to go?" Chris asked as he checked the puncture point. It was still leaking a little blood so he pushed back down on it.

Vin felt his eyelids drooping slightly but fought the coming sleep. "Can't be fun for you watching me sleep. Them chairs ain't so comfortable either," he said, his tongue tripping over the word 'comfortable'.

"I've been in worse," Chris replied, checking again, this time satisfied with the lack of fresh blood and pulling his hand back.

"Just don't want you ending up in traction for sleeping here," Vin yawned, his eyes drooping further towards closed until a thought occurred to him and he forced them open again. "JD okay?" he asked.

"JD's fine. They checked him out downstairs and then sent him home under Buck's watchful eye," Chris explained. He was about to point out the fuzzy friend that JD had left behind when he saw Vin lose his battle with sleep as his eyes drifted closed.

Chris watched as Vin's body relaxed into slumber. He watched the steady rise and fall of his chest and the occasional twist of his head. He guessed he'd have to wait a while longer to find out the story behind the stuffed bear JD had left. Chris moved back to the other side of the bed, picking up one of his luke warm cups of coffee and taking it to the chair. He looked at the hard piece of furniture and remembered what Vin had said about ending up as a patient here for sleeping in one. Maybe he'd find another place to stretch out in for a while, later.

For now, he sat back down, sipped his coffee, and watched.


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