ATF Universe

"They're heavy," Vin complained.

"They're casts, Vin."

"Why couldn't I just keep the splints?"

"Because you wouldn't have kept them on. I know you too well."

"Why do they have to go so far up my arms? It's my wrists that're broke."

"They just do." Chris was getting frustrated.

"This part digs into my thumb."

"We'll see if we can fix it."

"It itches."

Chris sighed as he gripped the steering wheel tighter.

"My palms are all sweaty."

"Vin," Chris growled, "if you don't stop your griping..." Chris took a breath. "oooh, I knew I should have waited until you were having a relapse to do this!" he grumbled under his breath, never intending for Vin to hear the words...but he did.

Vin stared at him in wide-eyed shock for a moment then slumped back in his seat and turned his head to look out the side window.

Chris could feel the temperature in the cab of his truck drop below freezing and the tension was suddenly so thick, he didn't think even the sharpest knife could slice it. He squeezed his fingers around the wheel again, still feeling frustration but now directed at himself, not Vin.

"I'm sorry, Vin," Chris said, his voice full of regret. He stole a glance to the side but couldn't see enough of Vin's face to read the expression.

"hmmm," a non-committal, non-answer came back.

Chris clamped his teeth together and shook his head angrily at himself. He made the final turn onto the road that Vin's apartment was on and pulled to a stop in front of the building. Vin immediately began fumbling with the release mechanism on the seatbelt but with the new casts in place, he was having trouble working his fingers. Chris reached over silently and pressed the button, then leaned over further and pulled on the door handle to open the passenger door. Before Vin could move, Chris wrapped his fingers firmly around Vin's upper arm.

"Vin, I am sorry," Chris apologized again. He knew how unnerving the relapses were for Vin and wouldn't wish another one on him for anything.

Vin turned his eyes to his lap and took a slow deep breath.

"I shouldn't have said that," Chris said as he shook Vin's arm.

Slowly, Vin moved his eyes to meet with Chris's. He finally saw the same remorse in the eyes that he had heard in the voice. He stared for a minute, then gave a half-shrug. "Reckon I deserved it."

"No," Chris responded immediately, shaking his arm again. "You didn't. You really didn't. And I don't have any excuse for saying it. I...," Chris shook his head as his mind searched for words and when none came, he repeated his apology. "I'm sorry, Vin."

Vin bobbed his head but said no more. Both men climbed out of the vehicle silently. Chris reached behind his seat and grabbed the bag that had Vin's things in it.

"No need for you to come up, Chris. I can handle it," Vin said from his side of the truck, never looking directly at the other man.

"Where are your keys, Vin?" Chris asked.

Vin raised a hand to dip it into his jeans pocket but realized almost immediately that with the large casts on, he wouldn't be able to get his hand far enough into his pocket to get the keys. He sighed in frustration and though he didn't verbally reply, he turned toward the front door of his building and started forward.

Chris reached Vin's side as the other man was using his back to push open the hinged door at the main entrance to his apartment building. He followed behind as Vin started plodding up the four flights of stairs to his apartment. For once, even Vin wished the elevator was working.

At the top of the last flight, Vin stopped to catch his breath. Over three weeks of inactivity and the physical strains of the past few days had taken their toll. He was wiped out.

"You okay, Vin," Chris asked as he stepped up beside him, resting a concerned hand on his shoulder.

Vin nodded. "Yeah, just out of shape."

Chris walked on to Vin's door and slipped the key into the lock. He had the door unlocked by the time Vin reached him and he pushed the door open to let Vin enter first. Vin headed immediately for his couch and plopped down on the worn cushion. He leaned his head back and closed his eyes as he took several deep breaths.

Chris closed the door quietly and stepped up to the side of the couch. He watched Vin for a moment then scanned a critical eye around the apartment. It looked like it needed a good dusting.

"You sure you want to stay here?" he asked.

Vin opened his eyes and looked around. He had spent the last three days in the hospital, almost two weeks at Chris's while he recovered from the drug he was given and the week before that at a hospital in Texas. With the exception of one brief visit, he hadn't set foot in his own place since before that time, his friends having stopped by to pick things up for him on occasion. Though Chris's ranch was nearly as comfortable as home to him, it wasn't. This was where all the things he claimed as his own were kept and though they may not have amounted to much, they were his. This was his space.

"Yeah," he answered simply.

Chris glanced at his watch. Almost ten. He would probably not be able to get back till about six or later that evening. He stepped silently into the small kitchen space and checked the refrigerator and the cupboard Vin kept his food in. Both places revealed stale and molding food and Chris wrinkled his nose at the smell some of the items emitted. He rummaged around and found an old grocery bag and began collecting the bad food to take out to the garbage dumpster when he left. When he thought he had gotten it all, he tied off the bag and set it by the door.

All Vin had for breakfast was coffee and Chris wanted to make him something to eat before he left, in case Vin had trouble with the new casts. He knew Vin would tell him he could manage on his own so he didn't even ask, just set about heating up some water to use with a packet of instant oatmeal he had found. It was better than nothing.

When the bowl was ready, Chris put a spoon in it, grabbed a bottle of water from the fridge and headed into the living room. Vin didn't look like he had moved at all. Chris set the items down on one end of the coffee table and sat on the other end, in front of Vin.

"Hey," he began as he tapped his fists on Vin's knees. "You doing okay?"

Vin nodded his head immediately but took several moments before he opened his eyes. It took him a moment more to focus on the man before him.

"Can't believe I still feel so tired."

"You've been through a lot the last few weeks, Vin. It'll take time to get over that."

Vin shook his head slowly. "Only these now," he said, holding up his new casts indicating the only visible sign of his ordeal, aside from a colorful assortment of bruises.

"That's physical. Mentally you've taken quite a shot too." Chris straightened up and adopted a mock supervisory persona. "And you should remember from all those stress management seminars the agency paid top dollar for that mental strain can produce physical exhaustion."

Vin chuckled lightly. "Guess I missed that one."

Chris tapped his fist on Vin's knee again. "You'll get back into shape soon enough. Right now, you should concentrate on eating." Chris reached over and picked up the bowl of oatmeal he had made and stuck it under Vin's nose. "All of it."

Vin took the bowl and frowned at Chris. "Yes, mother." He twirled the spoon around in the bowl, mixing the contents and sending a brief cloud of steam up into his face.

"You remember what to do if you have another relapse while your here?" Chris quizzed, holding his cell phone out.

Vin nodded. He reached forward and grabbed the phone, flipping it open. Closing his eyes, he pressed some buttons that he had memorized the location of then raised the phone to his ear and waited.


Vin pulled the phone away again and pressed a pre-arranged code.

"Vin, is this a test?"

Vin smiled. "Dad made me," he joked.

Chris sneered and grabbed the phone. He was about to make a comment on the 'dad' remark but knew if he let on that it bothered him, Vin'd just do it more.

"Hey, Buck. I'm heading on in."

"Okay, see ya soon."

The connection was broken and Chris handed the phone back to Vin. "Keep it handy. You don't want to have to hunt it up while the room is turning around." Vin took the phone back and stuck it in the waistband of his jeans.

"Anything else I can get you before I go?" Chris started for the door but kept his eyes on his friend.

"No, I think I can handle things."

"I'll be back, probably around six, give or take."

"I'll be ready."

"Call me or one of the boys if you need anything." Chris paused and pointed his finger at Vin. "I mean it. Don't try to do too much."

Vin sighed and dropped his head back to the sofa. "I'll be fine, Chris. It's only for a few hours."

Chris shook his head as he picked up the bag for the dumpster and reached for the doorknob, mumbling "Yeah, well, it only takes you a few minutes to get into trouble."

"What was that?"

"Nothing. I'll see you around six." Chris opened the door and left, closing it quietly behind him.

Vin looked at the door a few seconds, then down at the bowl in his hands. He didn't really feel hungry so he set the bowl down on the table and reached for the bottle of water. He had to twist and pry at the top for several minutes before he got it open and took a long swallow.

He relaxed and looked around his apartment. This was the first time in weeks he had been left alone. All the time in the hospital in Texas he had his roommate, nurses, doctors and other hospital staff and patients around him constantly. Even though he couldn't really participate in any group activities, he was always with someone.

Then, since Chris had gone to Texas to get him, he had been staying at the ranch with Chris, with one or more of the other team members there 'to help'. For two weeks, he was in a crowd. Even if he chanced to get away for a few hours, it was just to another room. He could still hear his friends nearby.

The latest stay in the hospital was just as confining as the first, not always 'with' someone but people always coming and going.

Now, it was silent. His eyes roamed the room though he didn't pay attention to what he was looking at. The silence was deafening and his mind began insisting that he had once again lost his words.

"That's stupid. I'm okay," Vin told himself out loud. He pushed himself up to stand and stepped over to the window to look out on the small part of his neighborhood he could see. There was little activity since it was the middle of the morning on a Tuesday. A few people walked by and a few rusted out older cars drove passed. Vin took a deep breath and sighed.

Turning back slowly to his apartment, Vin's brain once again balked at the silence. A stray image flashed across his eyes and he felt his heart skip a beat. For a moment, he wondered if he could catch up to Chris before he drove away. Angrily, he took a hard, deep breath and forced himself to relax.

"This quiet is going to drive me nuts," he told the room. He stepped over to his television set and flipped it on. He didn't remember where he had left the remote so he left the TV on the channel that came on. He did turn up the volume a little, just to make sure he could hear it.

+ + + + + + +

"Vin? You ready?" Chris called from the door. He pushed it closed as he looked around the room. The television was on but Vin wasn't in sight. Chris checked the kitchen but it was empty. He frowned when he passed the coffee table and saw the still full bowl of cold oatmeal sitting there. He went to the TV and turned it off, only then becoming aware of sound from the bedroom. He headed that way.

"Vin?" he called as he stepped through the doorway. The radio was on in the room and when Chris got far enough in, he saw Vin sitting crossed legged in the center of his bed with a book open on his lap. He had his fingers twined through his hair and his thumbs pressed hard into his ears. He was reading aloud from the book.

Chris turned the dial on the old radio until it clicked off and he was finally able to hear Vin.

"Chapter eight. Procedures for securing evidence. Evidence gathered from a crime scene..." Vin spoke in a voice hoarse enough to indicate he had been talking aloud for quite a while. Chris sat gently on the edge of the bed and grabbed the book, slowly sliding it away from Vin's lap.

"Vin," Chris said once the other man had stopped speaking. Vin took his hands away from his head and looked up at Chris with a lost expression on his face. "What's wrong, Vin?" Chris asked.

" was so quiet," Vin stammered at first but then the verbal dam broke. "...and I thought it had come back so I thought if I kept the TV on and could hear it, it would be okay but then it was too much in my head and I had to talk to keep it from mixing up and..." Vin stopped when he ran out of breath. He sucked in deep and his eyes darted around the room.

"Vin," Chris got his attention. "Why didn't you call me?"

Vin looked around the room again. "I...don't...know...I..."

Chris could see Vin was shaking and didn't think he was cold. He put his hands on Vin's arms and squeezed firmly. "Vin, you said you'd call if you had any problem. I want to help you."

Vin started shaking his head rapidly from side to side. "I don't want it to come back," he said in an alarmed whisper.

Chris pulled Vin forward and wrapped his arms around his back, holding him tightly to his chest. "It's okay, Vin," he reassured his friend, though he had no way of knowing for sure. "You're gonna be fine." He kept up a steady stream of softly spoken, comforting words and somewhere along the way he'd started rocking slightly.

Vin slowly moved his casted arms around Chris's back and held tightly as he buried his face deep in Chris's neck. Chris's words were soothing and he felt his fear gradually dissipating.

The two men sat clinging to each other for a long time. Vin's shaking had stopped. Chris's talking had stopped. But still they sat.

Finally, Vin pulled back slightly and let his arms drop down to Chris's sides. He kept his eyes low as he took a deep breath.

Chris smoothed some hair away from Vin's face and spoke softly. "I told you this before but you couldn't understand me then." Chris tilted his head, trying to make eye contact. "Whatever it takes...for as long as it takes. I'll be here for you, Vin."

Vin bobbed his head but was too embarrassed to look the man in the eye.

Chris rubbed his arm firmly. "You ready to head out to the ranch?"

Vin nodded again and began moving off the bed. Chris stood up and stayed close until he was sure Vin would stay on his feet. When he proved to be stable, Chris headed out of the room with Vin following behind.

The two remained silent as they climbed down the stairs and out to the street. Chris had to park down the block and Vin was winded by the time they reached it. Chris unlocked the door for Vin then moved to the driver's side of the truck.

"You gotta eat, Vin," Chris broke the silence once they were on their way.

"I know," Vin whispered.

"You wanna stop somewhere?"

Vin shrugged. He really didn't feel like sitting in a restaurant or waiting on take-out.

"You still got my phone on you?"

"Yeah," Vin replied weakly and pulled the small phone out of his pocket.

Chris took it and speed dialed one of the numbers stored in the device's memory. "I have to stop here a lot," he explained as he raised the phone to his ear. He waited a few seconds then rattled off an order to the Chinese take-out place that was on his way home. It would be ready by the time they got there so it would just be a matter of picking it up. Vin wouldn't have to even get out of the truck. "I got you house fried rice," he said as he closed the connection. "It'll be easy on your stomach and not too spicy."


Neither man said anymore. Chris pulled into the parking lot of the restaurant when they reached it and went into the place to pick up their dinner. He was back out in his truck in less than two minutes, putting the bags of food on the floor by Vin's feet.

"You can go ahead and dig in if you want to, Vin," Chris told him. Vin, however, made no move for the food. "You wanna talk?" Chris asked finally, softly.

Vin opened his mouth but couldn't force out the words he wanted to say.

"You wanna tell me what happened today?"

Vin shrugged. "Let my imagination get away."

"Vin, listen, I..."

"I need somethin' to do, Chris," Vin interrupted and turned to look at him. "I need to come back to work. If I got something else to think about, it can't get away from me."

"I asked, Vin. They aren't going to let you onto a field operation team until you're a hundred percent."

"I can do research. I'll sit in the van. I'll file damn reports. Please," Vin begged.

Chris hated that he had to shoot his friend's wishes down. He'd argued with the upper management about all the possibilities but they nixed every one. There was no way that they would allow an agent in Vin's condition back to active team duty. They had only offered him one option other than extended sick leave.

"Vin, there's only one thing they'll let you do."

Vin turned hopeful eyes on Chris. "What? Anything."

Chris took a deep breath and let it out slowly.

+ + + + + + +

Vin waited anxiously for the elevator to come to a stop and the doors to open on the floor of the ATF team known at The Magnificent Seven. His team. It had been quite a while since he had been up here. His re-assignment to the firearm license division for the duration of his recovery was not welcome news to him when it happened but he did see the logic of it, eventually. With both his hands in casts, fieldwork was out of the question and the possibility of the drug relapsing while he was in the middle of a bust was too big a chance to take.

Finally, the elevator slowed and stopped and the doors slid away. Vin hesitated a moment, taking in the all too familiar view of the offices, a site he'd missed over the passed six weeks. He had stopped by a time or two but mostly his interaction with the rest of the team was meeting at the saloon after work or collecting at Chris's ranch on weekends. Vin stepped out and slowly headed for the section where team seven was located. A few of the worker's greeted him as he passed their desks but his arrival went largely unnoticed.

Vin paused again as he reached his team's section, watching five men bustle about. Something was going down…they were in 'pre-bust' mode, Vin could tell. Maybe now wasn't a good time to visit. He was turning to leave when…

"Mr. Tanner," Ezra's familiar greeting cut through the silence. Vin turned back. "How good of you to pay us a visit." Ezra walked up to Vin but stopped a few feet away and pulled his head back as he regarded his colleague. "Something appears to be different about you," he said softly as he put his hand thoughtfully on his chin, tapping his extended index finger across his lips. He stepped in a slow circle around Vin as he ran his eyes up and down in appraisal. He stopped again in front of his friend and dropped his hand. "I know what it is, you've had a new photograph taken for your agency identification," he revealed, reaching out to flip the badge pinned to Vin's shirt.

Vin glanced down at the badge briefly then looked up with a curled lip. "Funny, Ezra."

"Hey, Vin," Buck called as he walked briskly across the room. "It's good to see you," he added, reaching out to shake the man's hand. He had Vin's hand firmly in his before he pulled the arm up to look closer. "Hey, the cast is gone," he marveled as he glanced at the other arm to see if that one was free as well. "Both of 'em. Great!"

"Yeah, just came from the…." Vin began, but stopped when Buck went on.

"Sorry we can't talk right now." Buck turned to call to the rest of the team. "Five minutes, downstairs, guys. Chris is waiting." He patted Vin's arm a few times then rushed out the door.

Vin stood still as he watched the rest of the team. The men were grabbing files and what equipment they needed that wasn't already down in the van. Vin walked slowly up to his desk, trying to stay out of the way. With his hands now free, he thought he might head to the shooting range at lunch time and fire off a few rounds. His weapon had been locked up in his desk weeks ago. He saw that now was not a good time for a visit so he intended to get what he came for and head out. He reached down to one of his desk drawers and grabbed the handle. He gave it a tug but the locked drawer didn't move. The lack of give in the drawer caused Vin to pull on his wrist and he let out a slight groan as the stiff joint was tested for the first time.

"Oh, hey, Vin," JD began as he stepped up to the side of the desk. "Chris let the new guy use your desk so he packed up your stuff. It's in a box in his office."

"New guy?" Vin asked, surprised. He hadn't heard anything about new personnel, but then, between the team's long hours of late and Vin's work taking him to all parts of the state, they hadn't been able to get together in over a week.

"Yeah. This sting needed another body so Chris brought in a temp. I thought he would have told you."

"Oh, yeah. He did, he did." Vin waved a dismissive hand, hoping it distracted JD from the lie in his voice. "I just didn't know he'd be using my…" Vin glanced down and just now noticed that his personal items were missing from the desk top. "…this desk," he finished sadly. He kept his eyes low for a moment then looked up. "Suppose Chris's office is locked, huh?"

"Yeah, I guess. He left about twenty minutes ago to meet up with team six's leader. We're doing this one together." JD could tell that the new occupant taking over his turf bothered Vin, no matter how hard he tried to hide it.

"Well, it wasn't that important. Just thought I'd stop by while I was out. Guess I need to be getting back." Vin turned and started for the exit, turning before he got too far away. "You guys be careful. Good luck."

"Sure, thanks, Vin," JD responded.

Nathan, Josiah and Ezra also called out distracted farewells as they continued to get their last minute details in order. Vin nodded to himself as he left the area.

+ + + + + + +

Chris waited impatiently for someone to pick up the phone. After the fourth ring, the call was transferred to voice mail and Vin's hesitant voice could be heard providing instructions as to what the caller needed to do. Chris was antsy, his system still coursing with the adrenaline rush caused by an eventful and highly successful bust. It would be hours before he came down. Finally, the other end of the connection beeped that it was recording and Chris spoke rapidly.

"Hey, Vin. Sorry I missed you earlier. Had a hell of a day. Bust went great. Nabbed more bad guys and more guns than we expected. Everyone's okay. We're meeting at Inez's at around six-thirty. Think you can make it? Haven't been able to get together with you in a while. Got a lot of catching up to do. Well, got the usual paperwork to do. See you tonight." Chris hung up the phone, rethinking what he had said, hoping he'd made some kind of sense. He glanced down at the folder in front of him and smiled as he imagined the look he would see on Vin's face.

+ + + + + + +

Vin sat dejectedly in his jeep parked in front of his apartment building. He nervously gripped the steering wheel and should have relished the feeling of being able to hold it tightly without the fiberglass casts getting in the way but he hardly gave it a thought. His mind re-ran the day's events through his head. It had had its ups and downs. Up, getting the casts off. Down, finding out his desk had been reassigned. Up, closing down two gun dealers with bogus licenses. Down, the call from Chris. Vin knew Chris well enough that his tone of voice alone told him of the team's success, success they'd had in spite of his absence. Not that he wanted them to fail just because he wasn't working with them at present. Far from it. It was just that he missed the work, the team, the excitement of taking down the bad guys.

He glanced up at the front door to his building but couldn't think of any reason he had to go inside. He started up his jeep and put it in gear. Heading down the road, he still wasn't sure if he wanted to join the rest of the guys at the saloon. They would be riding high on the tails of their bust and he felt like he'd just bring them down. He felt like an outsider all of a sudden.

When he came to the turn that would take him to Inez's, he didn't make it. He drove off out of town.

+ + + + + + +

Chris returned to his chair at the table in the back of the saloon. The rest of team seven was there, sharing a couple of pitchers of beer and several plates of appetizers.

"He comin'?" Buck asked through a mouthful of potato skin.

Chris shook his head. "Left a message on my machine at home. Said he couldn't make it and he'd call soon." Chris fingered the folder laying on the table in front of him.

"That's all?" Nathan asked as he refilled his beer mug.

"That's all," Chris confirmed. He shook his head as his mind replayed the message his machine had just played for him. There had been something odd about the tone of Vin's voice but Chris couldn't quite place it.

"That's a bummer. I was looking forward to this," JD lamented. "You guys don't know how hard it was not to tell him this morning."

"Aw, hell, he's probably out doing things he ain't been able to do with those casts on," Buck tossed in.

"Indeed. He is most likely re-honing his marksman skills," Ezra speculated.

"Boy does love to shoot," Josiah agreed.

"Yeah, probably," Chris nodded, though there was a nagging doubt in the back of his mind. "I'll call him tomorrow. Maybe we can do this at my place tomorrow night. I'll let you guys know."

+ + + + + + +

It was nearly midnight when Vin finally pulled over. There was a small grouping of buildings, a motel, a gas station and a restaurant among them. Vin got himself a room at the motel, paying for two nights though not sure he'd even stay for one. He had a restless feeling that wouldn't be squelched. He grabbed the gym bag that lived in the back of his jeep which held a change of clothes and some other overnight necessities.

There was nothing fancy about the motel room but it was, at least, clean. The bed was old and the mattress lumpy but Vin could make do with just about anything. He tossed his bag onto the lone chair and flopped down on the bed. He crossed his arms behind his head and stared at the ceiling. He had a lot of thinking to do.

+ + + + + + +

Chris was getting worried. He'd called Vin's apartment four times during the day. He'd tried his cell phone and his extension at work at least that many times too. Vin was not answering and Chris couldn't help but be reminded of the last time Vin had disappeared.

Chris tried to calm himself. Vin wasn't working on any case where there would be a revenge-seeking defendant. Chassen wasn't a problem any more so it couldn't be him. However, random acts of violence did happen. Something totally unrelated to Vin's occupation could have caused him harm.

Or, he could be shacked up with some woman.

Chris shook his head and forced himself to get a grip. Vin was okay and would show up soon.

+ + + + + + +

Chris woke up Sunday morning with the first hint of the sun. He hadn't slept well and he wasn't the least bit surprised. He'd never gotten a hold of Vin and it was starting to concern him. The man usually checked his messages and at least checked in. No one had heard from him since his brief message left on Chris's answering machine Friday evening.

Chris drug himself to his feet and stretched, hearing more and more creaks and pops every day. There wasn't anything good about getting older. He stepped up to the window and pulled back the curtain to look out. They had predicted a light dusting of snowfall for the previous night but when he looked, there was no sign of any of the white stuff. There was, however, a familiar jeep parked in his driveway next to his own truck.

"Well, at least I know you're alive," Chris sighed as he moved about the room getting dressed, his mind working through getting the rest of the team notified that their wayward agent was home.

Chris stepped out of the back door and headed for the corrals. Vin was standing by the fence, both arms resting on the top rail, his chin propped on the balled fist of one hand while his other hand distractedly pet the nose of one of Chris's horses.

"Vin? You all right?" Chris questioned as he approached his friend. There was a feeble nod of his head that let Chris know that Vin had at least heard him. "Been trying to get a hold of you."

"Sorry," Vin began, then cleared his throat as his voice cracked. "Went for a drive."

"A drive, huh? Where'd you go?" Chris leaned his back against the fence near where Vin stood. He resisted reminding Vin that he wasn't supposed to be driving yet.


Chris shot confused eyes to the other man. "Why?"

"Just needed to be away from here." He dropped his hand from the horse's nose and took a deep breath. "I'm quitting the agency, Chris."

Chris was stunned and he turned towards Vin. "Why? What happened?"

Vin shrugged. "Nothing."

"Come on, Vin. You don't make this kind of decision based on nothing."

"I chase down firearm license violators. It's not what I want to do."

"It's a temporary assignment, Vin." Chris was a little surprised, Vin knew it was temp and Chris had the paperwork to prove it.

"Jason Fitzroy has been doing it for four and a half years. His assignment was temporary too. Mel Kline has been 'temporarily' doing it for six years. I'm there to stay and I can't do it."

"Vin, trust me, it's temporary. It's almost over." Chris bit his tongue, knowing the rest of the team wanted to be there when Vin was shown the papers that would reassign him back to team seven starting Monday morning. "The casts came off," Chris noted as he pointed to Vin's unencumbered arms. "That's step one. It's been two weeks since your last relapse. Four more weeks and you're back in the field."

"I don't think I can wait. I'm going crazy. It's important work, I know that and there are guys there that love it, but I don't. And it feels like I'm going to spend the rest of my life doing it."

"Vin, come with me," Chris said, nodding his head once towards the house. He didn't move until Vin pushed himself off the fence and the two went inside together.

Chris headed straight for his den and pulled his briefcase up off the floor by his desk, setting it on top. He clicked it open and aimed his hand directly for one pocket where he pulled out a small stack of forms. He knew the rest of the guys would be mad but he didn't want Vin to spend the day worrying while he tried to get the team together. "They're already filled out and signed by everyone. You're back in the office on Monday. One of us will have to back you up in the field until Dr. Jennings signs off on the relapses but otherwise, you're in," Chris said as he handed the transfer papers to Vin for review. "You didn't really think I'd let you go, did you?"

Vin looked down at the papers in his hands. They looked legitimate, and he'd learned a lot in the passed few weeks about forged documents.

Chris watched anxiously as Vin flipped through the pages. He couldn't tell by the look on Vin's face what he was thinking and his mind raced as he tried to come up with the perfect words that would get his friend to stay. Words that told Vin how important he was to team seven and to him.

Before he could settle on the right sentiment, his body relaxed as he saw the small smile grow slowly on Vin's face and Chris knew he had him. "So, you think you'll stay with the agency?" Chris asked casually.

Vin looked a few moments longer at the filled out forms in his hands and felt the memories of the last couple of months fading away and the life he wanted...needed...craved...coming back to him. He slowly raised his eyes to Chris's. "I reckon."


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