ATF Universe

Vin stared through hazy vision at the person walking towards where he was laying. He knew the figure didn't look like what he remembered but he couldn't pinpoint what was different about it. It had on bright colors, he thought, but there were so many colors and images that would still flash through his brain that he couldn't be sure. The pitch of the voice sounded higher but the same sing-song quality of it was there. He blinked, trying to clear his vision.

Then he saw it...the syringe. He panicked.

"No! No more needles!" he pleaded. He pushed himself up to a sitting position and put a hand out trying to stop the inevitable.

"Mr. Tanner, this is medicine to relax you and help you sleep. It's not going to hurt you," the nurse explained patiently. She had been informed as to what this patient had suffered through.

"NO!" Vin insisted. He reached forward and grabbed everything he could reach. His arms enveloped two pillows, the wad of bed covers that had collected when he had pulled them up from the foot of the bed, and even the teddy bear that JD had left for him. Somewhere in all that was the IV line. All this was held tightly in his arms as he scooted away towards the other edge of the bed.

"Mr. Tanner, I'm not going to hurt you," she said softly. She realized quickly that she was frightening him with the syringe so she made a show of re-capping it and sliding it into her pocket and out of his sight. "See, I don't want to hurt you. I'll just let you go back to sleep." She began backing slowly out of the room.

Vin watched, confused. He had never not gotten the drug before. Often as he wished not to, he was always injected. He blinked hard a few times and his surroundings came into clearer focus. His mind cleared some as well and he suddenly realized he was in the hospital and the figure just leaving his view out the door was a nurse.

"I'm sorry," he said in a choked whisper. He tightened his arms around all the things he held and lowered himself down until he was a ball curled up at the head of the bed. "I'm sorry," he repeated plaintively.

The nurse walked down to the end of the hall where a man lay stretched out on a couch. He had instructed the staff to let him know if there was any problem with his friend.

"Mr. Larabee?" she spoke softly as she shook his shoulder. He came awake quickly and pushed himself to a sitting position. "I'm sorry to wake you but Mr. Tanner's become agitated and I think it would be best if you could calm him down."

Chris didn't say a word, just nodded and got to his feet. As the two walked back down the hall, the nurse explained that his heart monitor had sounded an alarm and they suspected he had had a bad dream but when she went to check on him, he seemed extremely upset and she felt like she was only making it worse. He thanked her softly and had her wait outside the door to Vin's room. He took a deep breath and rubbed his hand across his face before he walked into the room.

It surprised him to see Vin lying like he was, atop a pile of pillows and bedding, his face buried deep within it.

"Vin?" he said as he stopped beside the bed.

Vin started nodding but never lifted his head. "I know, I'm sorry," he whined into the pillow.

"You remember where you are?" Chris questioned.

The back of the head on the pile of pillows nodded. "Hospital."

Chris lowered the metal rail and sat on the edge of the bed. He wondered how Vin was breathing through all the stuff he was lying on. "The nurse told me you had a bad dream and they want to give you something to help you sleep. The drug won't hurt you, Vin," Chris explained, wanting to make sure Vin really understood what was going on.

Vin nodded again but if he said more, the sound was muffled by all the fabric.

Chris reached forward and gently placed his hand on Vin's back. "You want to sit up now?"

"Okay," floated up from the pile and Vin slowly straightened up. He was embarrassed and kept his eyes low as his fingers gripped and loosened around a corner of one of the pillows.

"Is it okay if the nurse comes back in to give you the medicine?" Chris spoke slowly, able to tell from Vin's face that things weren't registering quickly.

"Okay," Vin replied, shifting his position nervously. Chris waved to the nurse for her to come in and then began tracing the IV line through the blankets until he had it untangled.

"You ready, Mr. Tanner?" she asked as she pulled the syringe out of her pocket and removed the protective cap.

Vin closed his eyes and turned his head away but he nodded. She quickly inserted the needle in the IV line and squeezed the plunger. It was over in seconds.

"You'll start to feel sleepy in just a few minutes," she told Vin.

"I'll get him settled," Chris said, nodding his head towards the door, indicating it might be easier if she were gone.

"Okay. Thank you, Mr. Larabee." She turned and quietly left the room.

Chris turned to look at Vin. He wasn't surprised that this whole incident had happened. In fact, he was surprised it hadn't happened earlier. When he sat with Vin in the alley as they waited for the emergency personnel, Vin was frantic not to be stuck with needles anymore and Chris had promised him there would be no more. He worried about that promise once they got to the hospital. It was inevitable that Vin would be given medication through shots and, so far, Vin seemed to be able to distinguish between 'good shots' and 'bad shots'. It had just been a matter of time before he got confused.

Chris stood up and began straightening out the sheets and blanket so Vin could lie down. He gently pulled them out of Vin's arms and smiled when their removal revealed the teddy bear squashed up in the mess. He wondered if Vin even knew it was there.

Vin could feel the drug taking affect and slowly tried to shift his position away from the head of the bed. His legs were both bent at the knee with one lying on its side and the other up at his chest. He used the leg that was up and tried to drag himself down towards the foot of the bed but only managed to move a few inches. He blinked heavily as he watched Chris tuck the covers in.

Chris got the bedding in place and smiled when he looked up and saw the confused and glazed expression on Vin's face. Vin smacked his lips few times but Chris couldn't tell if he was trying to say something or if he was thirsty. He stepped up to the bedside table and poured some ice water into the plastic cup. Grabbing the straw so he could guide it into Vin's mouth, he turned to the bed to see Vin slowly sinking down onto the pillows still wrapped by his arms.

"No, no, no," he said as he set aside the cup. "Vin, you need to stretch out. If you try to sleep like that, it'll be days before your back will be able to straighten out again." Chris didn't know why he was explaining it. It was obvious Vin was already out. He gently picked up one leg and stretched it out, followed by the other leg. He wondered if he should try to pull him by his feet towards the foot of the bed or just do the best he could with him in the spot he was in. He pulled one pillow free of his arms and set it at the head of the bed. He eased his hand under Vin's shoulder and pulled him over onto it. He did pull on Vin's legs a little just to straighten his back out but left him basically where he was. He left the second pillow and the bear firmly ensconced in his arms. Finally, he pulled the covers up till they were mid chest and gently dropped them in place.

Chris watched Vin a minute as his friend seemed to relax more and more and fall deeper and deeper into sleep. "Lucky bastard," he grumbled as he headed back towards the lumpy couch at the end of the hall.

+ + + + + + +

"Oh, now, why can't I have a camera with me when I need one!" Buck lamented as he came to a halt at the foot of Vin's bed. The man in question was lying on his side with his arms wrapped tightly around a pillow. The arm on top was lying across the chest of the teddy bear and his fingers curled loosely around its arm. It almost looked like it had been planted there but Buck couldn't imagine who, aside from himself, would get such a kick out of doing something like that. The only thing that would make it better would be if Vin's thumb were firmly implanted in his mouth.

JD had stopped beside Buck and stared at the sight. It did look like he was purposely sleeping with the bear and it made JD smile. A moment later, his smile faded. "Don't tease him about it, Buck, okay?" he asked. The tone of voice got Buck's attention and he turned to look at his friend. JD and Vin had shared a painful, frightening experience and Buck knew there was more to his request than simply not embarrassing their friend.

Buck nodded his agreement. "Okay, I won't." And he meant it. The two men remained silent for a moment, then Buck pondered out loud, "Wonder where Chris is?"

"Right behind you," a tired voice replied.

"Morning, Chris," Buck grinned.

"Hi, Chris. Guess you stayed all night," JD said, noticing the disheveled appearance.

"Yeah, on a couch at the end of the hall." He stopped and shook his head, placing one hand on his back. "I wouldn't recommend it."

Buck smiled, then jerked his chin towards the bed. "How's he been?"

"Sleeping, mostly. Woke up once and we had a little trouble...the whole needle thing, but I think he was just half asleep. Once he woke up all the way, he settled down." Chris moved back to 'his chair' and lowered himself down onto it, grunting loudly as he did.

"Sounds like you're getting old there, pard," Buck joked.

Before anyone could say anymore, a sharp gasp from the bed brought the attention of the three men. Vin was squeezing his eyes tight and moving his arms to his midsection. Several moments later a nurse rushed into the room.

She looked around at the three men who stood beside the bed. "His heart monitor was showing irregularities. Is he all right?" she asked, moving up to check the patient.

Chris put a firm hand on Vin's shoulder. "I think he's having another relapse," he said, trying to twist Vin around to get a look at his face, able to tell for sure by the look in his eyes.

"Relapse? Relapse of what?" the nurse inquired, her voice rising as was her level of concern.

Buck opened his mouth to explain but realized that by the time he got the whole story out, the relapse would probably be over. "His doctor knows the whole story. Right now, there really isn't anything we can do for him."

"Except ice," JD put in.

"What?" she asked.

"Ice. Crushed ice, if there is any. He usually feels sick and it helps settle his stomach."

She stood there shifting her gaze between the three men, trying to figure out if what they were telling her was the truth. Finally, she shrugged, nodded and left to find some crushed ice.

"Vin," Chris said softly, his mouth close to Vin's ear. "It's okay. It'll be over soon," he rambled, knowing full well Vin didn't understand a word of what he was saying but hoping his tone was comforting.

Vin squirmed under the covers, holding his arms tight across his stomach. The pillow was still caught between his arms and was pressed up against his body. He grabbed at anything he could reach with his fingertips, trying to still the world around him. His legs curled up until he was a ball in the middle of the bed.

It was several minutes later when the nurse reappeared with a cup full of crushed ice. She had also, thankfully, thought to bring along a small plastic spoon.

"Come on, Vin," Chris said as he tried to ease his friend over onto his back. "This'll help." Chris supported him across his upper back as they slowly got him rolled over. He pulled the pillow away and tossed it to the foot of the bed, looking up at a startled gasp from JD. He looked at the young man then looked to where he was looking. A large red blotch covered the sheet.

The nurse quickly handed off the cup of ice to Buck and moved around him to the side of the bed. She turned Vin's arm over and saw that he had pulled the IV out and was bleeding from the open wound. She hit the call button as she made sure the needle hadn't broken off in his arm and then pushed down trying to stop the bleeding. When the call was answered, she relayed what had happened and asked that one of the other nurses come help her.

JD stepped back away from the bed and took a deep breath. It never seemed to end for his friend. He glanced down at the pillow Chris had pitched to the foot of the bed and saw that there was a blood stain on that as well. He wondered how long Vin had been bleeding.

Vin moaned in protest as he tried to curl back into a ball, annoyed at all the poking on top of feeling the whole room whirl around him. He continued to squeeze his eyes shut.

"Buck, hand me the cup," Chris instructed as he reached out. Buck put the cup in his hand but then Chris froze. His other arm as behind Vin's back and he couldn't use the spoon.

"Hang on," Buck said as he came around to Chris's side of the bed. He took the cup back and held it out for Chris. Chris picked up the spoon and got it half full of ice chips. He leveled it at Vin's lips then began prompting him as he might a child.

"Come on, Vin, open up." He tapped the end of the spoon on Vin's lip and Vin twisted his head away. Chris adjusted the hold he had and tried again. Vin's lips parted and Chris slid the cold chunks in. Vin sucked hard on them and swallowed. Chris brought the spoon up again and as soon as Vin felt the cool tip touch his lips, he opened his mouth and leaned forward a little, needing the relief the ice would bring him.

All the while he was getting the ice, Vin's nurses were bandaging off the old IV location and starting a new one. They knew he would be getting casts on his arms so the IV was not in a traditional location but rather was located further up his arm, closer to his elbow. Once the new IV was in place, they set about getting clean sheets for the bed.

The ice was settling Vin's queasy stomach but was doing nothing for the spinning surroundings. He kept his eyes tightly shut and took occasional deep breaths, hoping each moment that the movements would stop.

The ice was gone when the nurse arrived back with the fresh sheets. She began pulling the stained ones off and Buck leaned in to help.

"Let me give you a hand there, darlin'," he said accompanied by his most dazzling smile.

She told him with just a look that she wasn't falling for his charms and continued to gather the sheets around Vin. When they were all pulled free, Chris and Buck lifted Vin up gently just a little until the sheet slid out from under him. The new sheet was spread out and Vin was lifted again to get it in place. The nurse circled the bed, tucking in all the edges, then got the top sheet and blanket laid out over Vin, securing them at the foot. She re-cased the pillows then gathered up the dirty linens.

Before she left, she picked up the teddy bear and with a broad smile, she set it down on the side of the bed, facing Vin.

Buck grinned at the stuffed toy then glanced to the end of the bed to look at the man who'd brought the bear. JD was leaning against the wall near the foot of the bed with his head low and wringing his fingers together. Buck stepped up to him.

"You okay, JD?" he asked kindly.

"When's it gonna end for him, Buck?" JD looked up into his friend's eyes. "Perkins is dead but Vin's still suffering." He shook his head and returned his eyes to his hands. "It ain't fair," he mumbled.

Buck took a position beside JD, leaning against the wall, his shoulder pressed up to JD's. He looked back towards the bed. Chris had lowered Vin back onto the mattress and was getting the blankets spread out evenly over him. He smiled as he watched.

"I think Vin is gonna be just fine, JD."

+ + + + + + +

Vin lay on his side, his fingers scratching lightly back and forth across the fabric of the pillow case under his head. There was a lot of noise coming from the hospital corridor and he wanted to shout at them to keep it down but he knew the sound of his own voice would split his skull in two. He wished he had the strength to get up and go close the door but even the thought of moving caused a ripple of pain through his head. So he laid still and tried to ignore it all.

The headaches seemed to follow on the heels of the relapses. Shortly after the words came back, the pain came on. Each relapse was shorter than the one before it but each headache was worse. Part of him wished his head would just go ahead and explode and get it over with.

Without warning, the noise from the hall was inside his room. Someone was dropping something on his table and moving the table into place by the bed. That someone took great pains to adjust the height of the table in the noisiest possible fashion. Vin winced.

"Lunch time, Mr. Tanner," a squeaky voice said from over his shoulder. When Vin didn't respond, the owner of the voice leaned over him and addressed him again. "Are you all right, Mr. Tanner?"

Vin cracked his eyes open a tiny bit. "Head hurts," he whispered, even his soft tones reverberating around in his head.

"I'll get you something for it," the voice told him. "You should try to eat," it instructed as it was leaving the room.

If Vin could have survived a scoff, he would have hurled one at the voice. Eat. Ha! When he could breath without the thunder rumbling around in his head, when he could open his eyes without the ax splitting his brain in half, when he could talk without the stampede of angry elephants crashing over his head...then, then he could eat.

Vin stayed still and was only vaguely aware of the sound when the voice came back but he was instantly aware when the promised relief came. He took a deep breath and let it out slowly, the pain seeming to flow out with the expelled air. Vin felt his whole body relax.

Damn but sometimes drugs could do some good. He lay there quietly as he felt the worst of the pain leave his head.

"Vin?" a soft low voice spoke from beside the bed. Vin felt like he could safely open his eyes now so slowly he peeled his lids back. Chris was standing beside the bed, Josiah, Nathan and Ezra beside him. "How are you doing?" Chris enunciated clearly though spoke softly.

Vin stuck his tongue out to wet his lips. "A little better, I guess," he answered weakly.

"The nurse said she gave you something for your headache. Is it helping?"

Vin tried to nod but movement still hurt too much so he croaked out an affirmative.

Chris looked him over appraisingly. "You still feel miserable though, don't you?"

Vin took stock of how he felt. His headache was improving but that allowed him to focus on the fact that he hurt everywhere else. "Yeah," his gravely voice said. "Pretty miserable."

"Well then," Josiah rumbled from down the bedside. "We won't stay. We just wanted you to know we're thinking about you, Vin." He patted Vin's blanketed leg gently.

"Thanks, Josiah."

"Indeed, Mr. Tanner. It warms my heart to see you on the mend."

Vin smiled. "Thanks, Ezra."

Nathan looked down at his shoes briefly before he looked into Vin's eyes. "I should have watched better."

Vin didn't know what the man was talking about exactly, though the last thing he remembered before waking up in that room was being at Chris's ranch with JD and Nathan. "It's all right, Nathan," he ended up saying. "Everything worked out."

Nathan bobbed his head but he was still feeling bad. Josiah plopped a large hand on his shoulder and started him towards the door.

"Rest easy, my friend," he said to Vin as he guided Nathan out. Ezra tipped his head in farewell before he followed.

Chris remained standing beside the bed. He looked to the food tray. "You gonna eat?" he asked.

"I don't think I can right now. I'll try in a bit."

Chris wasn't happy but decided to let it go for now. He would make sure Vin ate...eventually. He pulled up the familiar chair and sat beside the bed, lowering the side rail so he and Vin could talk without dodging metal bars.

Vin blinked slowly as he watched Chris's movements. Once the man was settled, the two locked eyes and shared a dozens thoughts.

Chris rested his elbow on the edge of the bed and folded his arm over so that his fingertips overlapped Vin's slightly. Vin curled his fingers lightly into the touch.

"Nothing I can do for you? Get you?" Chris asked, wanting to do something to make his friend feel better.

At the moment, Vin wanted relief from the pain between his ears and the medication he had just been given was doing a good job of that. Another few minutes and he might be able to move without his head cracking open.

"Naw, it's getting better."

Chris knew what Vin was referring to. He nodded but remained quiet.

"What was Nathan talking about?" Vin asked after a long silence.

"Uh...apparently, Perkins got into the house and spiked the coffee pot. All three of you were knocked out for a while. That's when he got you and JD. Left Nathan sleeping on the couch."

Vin nodded slightly. Sounded like something Perkins would do. "Chris?"


"Why do I remember a bear?"

Chris couldn't hide his smile as he stood up long enough to snag the toy from the other side of the bed and set it in front of Vin. "JD brought it for you. Said you'd understand."

Vin lifted a tired arm up and gently fingered the arm of the stuffed bear. He twisted the card around on its neck and read what it said, smiling a small smile at the sentiment.

" you?...understand?"

Vin looked back at Chris. "Yeah. Just something he and I were talking about a few days back."

Chris nodded, knowing the story was either longer and more complex than he wanted to hear or something that Vin meant to keep between him and JD.

"Well, now," Chris said and he stood and walked around the bed, Vin following his movements with his eyes. "Let's see about getting some of this food in you. Who knows, maybe something here is chocolate."

+ + + + + + +

Buck was subdued as he entered the ATF offices. Without JD at his side to harass, he seemed at a loss for what to do with himself. He stepped up to his desk and dropped a bag on its surface then took off his jacket and hung it up on the back of his chair.

"Didn't hear you come in, Buck," Josiah murmured into his cup of coffee as he stood up from his desk and crossed over to him.


Josiah stopped and looked up at him. "Well put."

Buck curled up one corner of his mouth. "I guess I do miss the kid."

"He isn't dead, Buck."

"I know but we've had some of our best arguments on the drive in to work."

Josiah smiled. It was amazing how much the members of this team depended on their little rituals.

"Morning boys," Chris said as he walked in a rush passed the two men towards his office. He opened the door, turned on the light and dropped his hated briefcase down onto his desk, then stepped back out to face his agents.

"My, don't you look spiffy this morning," Buck teased.

Chris looked down at the suit he was wearing and straightened his tie. "Yeah. I do," he smirked. "Budget meetings start today. Gotta impress the brass."

"I don't know how you got the budget done with all that's gone on the last few weeks."

"I'm no where near done," Chris said, almost angrily. "Vin kicked me out yesterday when I told him about the meetings. I was up till midnight and I think I have enough to stall them for a few days while I finish up."

"Surely they'll give you an extension," Josiah said. "Travis can vouch for all that's been happening."

"Yeah, but his 'vouch' will only carry so far. I think I can get it all done, if nothing else goes wrong."

The phone in Chris's office started ringing and Buck and Josiah saw him cringe. He turned and went to his desk to answer it. He came out a minute later with an armload of files and documents.

"Wish me luck," he said as he passed by on his way to the elevators and what promised to be a long day of meetings.

"Good luck," both men told him as he disappeared out of the team offices. Slowly, they moved to their own desks and began their days.

+ + + + + + +

Vin lay quietly staring out the window. He could tell the sun was shining brightly by the reflections of it he could see blinking off windows of nearby buildings but his window was so darkly tinted that it appeared to be an overcast morning. He took a deep breath and sighed, picking absently at the fibers of his blanket.

A hesitant knock brought his attention to the door where he saw JD standing. A tired smile formed on his face. "Hey, JD," he greeted, waving him in with a weak swoop of his hand.

JD bobbed his head at the new occupant of the first bed as he stepped passed him over to Vin. He immediately grabbed the curtain and pulled it partway down its track between the beds, at least giving the illusion of privacy. Satisfied, he turned back to the man in the bed beside him.

"How're you doing, Vin?" he asked.

"Lot better than yesterday. Mostly just real weak right now." He reached up and tugged lightly on the IV line. "They tell me this will help some with that." Vin regarded JD a moment. "How're you doing?"

JD nodded as he replied. "Better. I go back to work tomorrow."

Vin narrowed his eyes. "Buck let you out on your own?" he asked with a hint of teasing to his voice.

"Well..." JD stalled. "Buck's at work. He thinks I'm at home. I took a chance and left the computer online so he'll get a busy signal if he calls. He'll try my cell phone and I've got that with me." JD pulled the phone off his belt clip and flipped it open. "Fully charged too." He twisted the phone around as if to prove to Vin it was charged then he replaced on his belt and looked up. "If he calls, you keep quiet," he warned with a wagging finger.

Vin smiled. "Okay."

He followed JD with his eyes as the young man circled the bed and sat down in the chair there. The two men remained silent for several moments which seemed to stretch on interminably. Able to stand it no longer, JD shot a finger towards the other bed. "When'd you get a roommate?"

"Last night sometime. He's been pretty quiet. Guess he don't feel so good." Then Vin shrugged. "Reckon that's why he's here."

"Hmmm," JD hummed in agreement. He leaned forward and rested his elbows on the edge of the mattress, cradling his chin on the heels of his hands. He stared at the lump that was Vin's feet under the covers.

"Oh, hey, thanks for the bear," Vin said, grabbing a fluffy ear.

JD jerked his eyes to look at the toy, glanced up at Vin, then back at the bear. "Oh...yeah, well, I guess it's kinda dumb, huh?" He shrugged. "I saw it in the gift shop and I remembered you helping me with Casey's and...uh...well...sure..." He nodded slightly. "Kinda dumb, though." He shrugged again.

"I like it."

JD looked back at Vin. "It doesn't have the same face."

"That's not what makes it special."

JD ducked his head and hoped Vin couldn't see him blushing.

The pair grew silent again as JD focused on some point through the mattress and Vin petted absently at the bear's ear.

"You saved my life," JD said finally in a soft, faraway voice. He slowly moved his gaze to meet Vin's then raised up a hand holding his thumb and forefinger a fraction apart. "He was this close." The scene ran through JD's mind and he closed his eyes and shook his head trying to stop it but that only seemed to bring the sounds back as well. Perkins's screaming in agony as his own drug infiltrated his system. And JD had been only a moment away from that fate. He forced his eyes open and turned to Vin.

Vin's mind was replaying its own events and Vin was pressed back hard against the mattress. He scrunched up his face as the images brought on nearly the same feelings of panic that the original experiences did.

"I'm sorry, Vin. I didn't mean to..." JD's voice trailed off as Vin raised up his hand.

"It's okay JD. Gotta face it sometime," Vin said after the images began receding into his subconscious again. He took a deep breath.

JD climbed onto the foot of the bed and looked down at his crossed legs on the mattress. "It was scary," he finally breathed out, almost ashamed to admit it. "Don't know when I've been so scared. He told me I was only there to watch." JD looked up sadly at Vin. "It hurt so much to watch what he did to you, what that drug did to you, and know I couldn't do anything to help you."

Vin felt his eyes fill as he remembered the way he felt, seeing JD in the room with him and knowing that Perkins could inflict the same things on the young man that he had on him. As terrified as he was of the things that were done to him, his worst fear was that JD would suffer because of him.

"I'm sorry you got caught up in all this."

JD shook his head. "I'm sorry I couldn't help you," he repeated.

"You did help. I mean...I hated that you were there but it helped knowing you were there. Waking up and seeing you still with me. Made me keep fighting, made me keep thinking there might be a way out." Vin let out a breath and dropped his head back against the pillow. "I don't think that that's what I was thinking at the time but looking back now, that's what comes to me." His mind drifted a little further away. "Glad I wasn't alone."

JD watched Vin's expression change and knew he was deep in thought. He didn't want to interrupt, didn't know what to say anyway, so he let his own gaze drift. He stared at the bear and a small smile crept on his face as he remembered that morning at the ranch. Vin usually let so little of his past and his feelings out that JD felt special to have that little piece of his friend.

The man in the other bed shifted around noisily and JD looked over at the curtain separating the two areas. He wondered if he had been able to overhear much of their conversation. It probably didn't make a whole sense to him, at least JD hoped it didn't make a whole lot of sense to him. Otherwise, he would probably call either the cops or the psych ward.

A sudden ringing sound brought both men back to the present. Vin winked at JD as the young man took a deep breath and then smiled knowingly at Vin as he pulled his phone off his belt and flipped it open.

"Hello, Buck."

+ + + + + + +

Buck dropped the receiver back into the cradle and chuckled to himself.

"Something amuses you, Mr. Wilmington?" Ezra asked, sparing only a glance up from the report he was typing.

"Yeah. Just talked to JD."

"I trust he is well."

Buck smiled as he rubbed his chin. "He's at the hospital, with Vin," he explained.

Ezra looked up at him. "I was under the impression he was to confine his recuperation to home."

"He was supposed to. Tried to make me think he was home but I heard a few of those telltale hospital sounds in the background. Reckon him visiting Vin won't hurt him. Probably help him...and Vin."

Ezra nodded and sighed. "You're probably right."

+ + + + + + +

Chris uncrossed his legs and re-crossed them with the left one now on top. His right foot rested on the edge of Vin's bed near the footboard and he was slumped low in the chair. He pulled his tie a little looser.

"Man, I'll never figure out why we all have to sit through each department's budget. Mine's the only one I care about and it won't make any difference to me if team twelve spends an extra couple of thousand on some new surveillance equipment. It's not like I can object to any of it." He rubbed his hand through his hair and took a deep breath.

Vin sat cross-legged on the bed with the table pushed up over the mattress, his dinner tray in front of him. He was picking slowly at the meal, not exactly hating it but it was definitely lacking in any real flavor. He glanced over at his irate boss and grinned, knowing the man went through the same thing every year and complained about the same things every year.

"How late did you stay up till?" Vin asked right before he stuck a forkful of potatoes in his mouth.

"Midnight," Chris said and stretched in his seat.

"Maybe you should head on home then," Vin suggested.

"I'm all right."

"Don't want you falling asleep on the drive home."

Chris glanced up at Vin. It was strange. He was the one in the hospital and he was worried about him. "I'll head on in a little bit."

Vin bobbed his head in approval, scooping another forkful of dinner. He chewed thoughtfully then poked some more at his tray. "Chris, when can I come back to work?"

"Why don't we get you out of the hospital first?"

Vin sighed dejectedly but said no more as he continued to rearrange the food on his tray.

Chris closed his eyes briefly. He'd been waiting for this. Vin was a man of action and hated being stuck on the sidelines. He took a deep breath. "Let's wait and see what the doctor thinks, Vin. He's going over your files and he's going to monitor your progress." He paused, hating to say the rest. "You probably won't be allowed back as long as you're having the relapses." He paused again. "And you certainly can't shoot with both your hands out of action," he added, putting a little focus on the more tangible injury.

"I can do legwork...surveillance...something," he said sadly.

Chris didn't want to sound discouraging but knew what the higher-ups would probably say. He shook his head. "I'll try, Vin. I'll try to find you something that they'll approve."

"Thanks, Chris," Vin replied in a quiet voice, setting his fork down on the tray. He couldn't force anymore down.

"Hi, guys," Buck's voice sounded from just outside the door. Buck stepped in and immediately ducked his head down between his shoulders and grinned sheepishly as he looked at the man trying to sleep in the first bed. There hadn't been anyone there the last time he had visited. He stepped lightly up to Vin's bed.

"You look awfully cheerful," Chris said, looking suspiciously at the ladies' man.

Buck stood straight, locked his hands behind his back and rocked back and forth slightly on his feet. "I got news," he grinned.

"What?" Vin asked, his curiosity piqued.

"Jury came back."

With all that had happened the last few days, it took Chris several moments to remember what jury was supposed to come back.

Vin remembered immediately. "Well.....?"

Buck grinned bigger. "He's outta here. Guilty. Twenty-two years. No parole."

"Yes," Vin sighed as he dropped his head back onto the pillows behind him and closed his eyes.

"When'd it come down?" Chris asked, pulling his feet off the bed and putting them on the floor.

"Little bit ago. Cavanaugh called just as I was heading out." Buck looked over at Vin. "You did it, Vin. Your testimony is what nailed the guy."

"I'm just glad it's over."

Chris smiled sadly as he looked over at Vin. It had been a long haul to this point, one full of worry, fear and pain. He briefly wondered if it were worth it but when he saw the smile crawl onto Vin's face, he knew that it was.

"Well, Vin," Chris said as he stood up. "I think I'll head on out, unless you need anything...?" The last part of the sentence said in such a way it left an opening for Vin to ask him to stay.

Vin slowly rolled his smiling face over to Chris. "No, I think I'm okay. You'll be back tomorrow morning?"

"Yep. I'll pick you up and drop you at your place. We've got till about eleven. My meetings start up again at noon."

Vin sighed. "It'll be good to get out of here," he said, his eyes circling the room.

Chris reached out and lightly squeezed Vin's arm. "See you tomorrow."

"I'll be here." Vin watched as Chris started out.

"I need to head on too, Vin. Who knows what trouble JD's gotten himself into. Wouldn't be surprised if he's been out on the town."

There was a slight twinkle in Buck's eyes and Vin knew immediately that he knew that JD had been there that morning. He smiled at his friend, happy that he didn't appear to be upset.

"See you, Buck," he said as he raised a tired arm in a wave.

Buck patted the end of the bed and then pointed a warning finger at Vin, though he did it with a big smile. "You take care," he said.

Buck and Chris left the room together and as they started down the hall, Buck began talking in low, serious tones. "DPD called today. Perkins's murder file has been closed."

Chris stopped in his tracks and looked questioningly at the man beside him. "Don't you think that's something Vin might want to hear?"

"That part, yeah, but not the part about the tapes."

"Tapes?" Chris remembered some mention of tapes the last few days but couldn't pull out the details.

"Yeah, Perkins was taping Vin and JD while he had 'em locked up. The whole thing is on tape...Vin killing him. They've already ruled it was self-defense." Buck shook his head. "Don't know if I've ever heard of DPD closing a case this fast."

The two men started walking again. "I'm glad Vin won't have to go through an investigation. He's been through enough."

Buck shook his head. "You ain't kidding there."


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