Connecting the Dots


ATF Alternate Universe


The next time Vin's eyes opened, Chris was at his side. Larabee looked tired and apprehensive. Vin had no idea why Chris was tense. For that matter, he didn't even know why Chris was here. Vin yawned and closed his eyes.

"Vin? Can you hear me? Come on, open those eyes again," said Chris with a bit of hesitation. This was the first time Vin had been alert enough to really know who he was and that he was there. Chris feared that Vin would push him away as he had during the lumbar puncture.

"Light huss," mumbled Vin. Doctor Davis smiled. Vin was responsive.

"Should I go?" asked Chris nervously.

"Why?" said Vin with his eyes still closed.

"I figured you might not want me here."

"Chrisss friend," mumbled Vin. Chris sighed in relief. Vin peeked out of one eye. Seeing Chris and coat lady smiling he wondered, 'Why is everyone so dang happy?' He figured he was in the hospital, but last thing he remembered he and JD were home with the Chicken Pox.


"JD's at home. He's got a cold, but he'll be fine," said Chris.

"JD?" called Vin again, more insistently. He tugged harshly at the restraints again and panicked at being trapped.

"Vin, relax. You're okay." Chris captured Vin's left hand and gripped it firmly.

"JD!" he yelled.

"Mr. Tanner, you must calm down. You're in a hospital. Your friend is fine," said Doctor Davis.

"Doc, can we undo the restraints?" The doctor looked at Chris as if he was crazy. Tanner was obviously agitated and he wanted to free his hands? "Doc, he can't stand being confined too long. I think he'll calm down if he's free."

She looked at Chris warily, but nodded to the nurse to release the restraint on the arm that Chris held.

Chris could feel Vin struggling against his grip. "Vin, you need to calm down. How 'bout if I get JD on the phone for you? I'm going to let go of your hand and call JD, okay?"

Vin nodded, then closed his eyes tightly in pain. He was going to have to remember not to move his head. He stopped struggling and watched Chris with the cell phone.

"Hey JD... Yeah... Sorry I woke you. I've got someone here who won't calm down until he talks to you. Hang on a minute." He moved the phone toward Vin. Vin looked at the keypad and then Chris.

"Need help," he said softly, remembering the last conscious thing he had done. "Push button fer help," said Vin pointing to the redial button. Chris's heart sank in remorse.

"I'm so sorry, Vin. I didn't know it was you."

Vin looked at him as if he had just said something totally foreign. "Where'sss JD?"

Chris tried to keep the concern from showing on his face at Vin's confusion. "He's on the phone."

"Oh," said Vin. The look on his face made Chris think Vin didn't know what a telephone was. Chris moved the phone to Vin's ear.

"Talk to him, Vin."


'You gotta be joking,' thought Chris, but Vin's expression was totally serious. Chris looked at the doctor and she nodded to him to continue with Vin. "Talk just like you are now, Vin."

"Okay," said Vin. "JD?"

Chris could hear JD's voice talking excitedly on the phone, but he couldn't make out the words. Vin reached up slowly with his free hand and pushed Larabee's hand and the phone away from his ear. He closed his eyes and turned slightly away from Chris.

"Vin?" asked Chris in concern.

Without opening his eyes, Vin sighed. "Makes m'head hut."

Chris smiled in spite of his concern. JD talked fast enough sometimes that he made Chris's head hurt too.

Since Vin was no longer fighting them, the nurse released the other wrist restraint. She smiled as Vin visibly relaxed with his freedom.


JD was feeling poorly. The guys were right. He was sick. He yawned, then took another drink of juice. He felt useless. He had only been to work one day in the past week and a half, almost two weeks. He felt like he'd let the rest of the guys down when he couldn't help at the drug bust. He couldn't even go and sit with Vin while they were gone. Now that was useless. He sighed.

"Something on your mind, JD?" asked Josiah.

See? That was another thing. Not only was he useless, but someone had to waste his time sitting with him as well. JD sighed again.

"JD?" asked Josiah again.

JD looked up but didn't say anything.

"Feeling a little left out?" asked Josiah.

"Yeah. How'd you know?"

Josiah shrugged. "I would feel the same way. Give it a couple more days, son. You'll be back on your feet soon."

"Vin needs us now," said JD, nearly in a whisper.

"Which means you need to rest so you can be there for him."

JD sighed again. "I did a real good job at that last time," he said bitterly.

"Well son, you can't do anything about the 'last times' in life. But you can do something about this time." Josiah patted the young man on the shoulder. "But you already know that."

JD smiled. "Yeah, I do. I'm sorry Josiah. I guess I'm feeling a little sorry for myself."

Josiah smiled. "Can I get you anything?"

"Freedom would be nice," said JD with a grin.

"I'll see what I can do..." said Josiah, tucking the blankets around JD, " a couple days," he finished with a laugh.


Over the next few days, the nurses continually attempted to reorient Vin to his environment and clearly explained all procedures being performed. They told Vin their names nearly every time they were in the room. Outside stimuli were kept to a minimum to decrease his confusion and agitation, which meant the guys were still restricted to how long they could visit. This, of course, was a problem for Team 7.

They were told visits should be kept short, and that they shouldn't overwhelm Vin with information. Trying to recognize more than one person at a time was taxing for him. Doctor Davis told them not to bombard Vin with questions and especially not to ask him to make guesses. People who had been ill with encephalitis often suffered from memory problems and that if they were asked to make a guess and gave the wrong answer they would often remember that incorrect answer.

The doctor told Team 7 that Vin would likely be easily upset and have difficulty controlling his emotions. That was an understatement. Vin became angry very easily. His coordination was sluggish, his speech was difficult, and sometimes he just didn't understand what was happening. He became very frustrated. A number of times he was placed back in the wrist restraints because he pulled at his IV. He didn't seem to be aware that he was doing it, or perhaps didn't understand it could hurt him.


Food. Pink lady was there to help him try the soup, juice and Jell-O. Vin wished it were blue lady. She smiled nice and made him feel safe. Pink lady was not as nice. Vin looked at the tray. He started to reach for the spoon but pink lady picked it up. Vin grunted and reached for the spoon.

"I'm going to help you this time, Mr. Tanner," said pink lady.

He shook his head and tears of pain came to his eyes. Why couldn't he remember not to do that? He opened his eyes and a spoonful of soup was coming at him. He reached for it with his hand, causing it to spill on his sheets. Pink lady frowned and put down the spoon wiping at the soup spill with a napkin. Vin's hand snaked out and grabbed the spoon in triumph.

His hand was too shaky for the soup, but he knew he could do Jell-O. He pulled the cup towards him. Yellow Jell-O. He hated yellow Jell-O. He liked green Jell-O. He liked orange Jell-O and red Jell-O. Not yellow. He looked up. Pink lady was watching him. Hell, now he had to eat it. He put the spoon in the Jell-O and managed to get some on it. He started towards his mouth. The spoon made it about half way before the Jell-O slid off. Pink lady was watching. He tried again with the same results. Vin was starting to get frustrated. He did not want pink lady to feed him like a baby. When the Jell-O spilled the third time, Vin shoved the tray away in frustration, knocking it to the floor.

Blue lady was at the door. "Is everything all right?" She nodded to pink lady who was cleaning up the mess. Blue lady came to the bed. Vin still clutched the spoon tightly in his hand as tears of frustration rolled down his cheeks. She touched his forearm. "I'll get some more. We'll try again."

As she walked to the door Vin called to her, "Green."

She smiled. "Green it is, Mr. Tanner."

It was a couple of minutes before she came back. Vin spent the time racking his brain, trying to remember her name. He knew she had told him. He tried to remember the word picture he made for her name but a blue harmonica didn't make any sense. That wouldn't be her name. He was so intent on trying to remember that he didn't notice when she returned. "Blue harmonica," he mumbled. "Monica?" He didn't know he was talking aloud. "No. Something -onica."

Slightly amused, but pleased that he was trying so hard to remember her name, she gave him a hint. "Brrrr."

Startled, he looked up. "Veronica!"

"Yes. That's it," she said excitedly. Vin looked so proud of himself. "Now, let's see about finishing this lunch."

Veronica sat with Vin and helped him with his meal. She steadied his hand, but let him do the feeding. It wasn't perfect, but he already needed the sheets changed, so there was no harm done, and it helped Vin feel better about himself. Now that he was tolerating food and was taking enough orally, the NG tube could go.


Vin had finally figured the telephone thing out, but only after Chris had told him and showed him numerous times. Chris had left Vin's cell phone with the restless patient as a reassurance that he would be there whenever Vin needed him. Vin looked at the clock. It said 4-0-0. Four o'clock. Vin smiled. He did it. He read the numbers. Four o'clock. Where was everybody? No one had been to visit for hours and he wanted to tell someone he read the numbers on the clock. Vin picked up the cell phone and ran through the list Chris had repeated over and over. Press 1 'send' for Chris, 2 'send' for Buck and JD, 3 was Nathan, 4 was Josiah, and 5 was Ezra. Vin thought for a moment and decided on two. Chris had been to visit lots, and JD was sick, but he liked to talk. He pressed two, 'send', held up the phone, and waited. He could hear it ringing and was pleased with himself that he had made it work.

"Hullo?" said a very groggy voice.


There was a long pause. "Vin? Are you okay?" JD shot up in bed as it clicked who was calling him.


JD rolled his eyes at the one-word answer. "Why did you call, Vin?"

Vin shrugged, not remembering that JD couldn't see him.

"Vin? You have to talk to me. I can't see you, you know?"


JD gritted his teeth. "Vin, why did you call?"

"No one's here."

"Yeah. We're sleeping."

"It's four o'clock," reported Vin, proudly.

"Yes, Vin. It is four o'clock... a.m., Vin. Four o'clock a.m.," complained JD.

Vin was silent and JD felt suddenly guilty. Dang, he should have known Vin was confused. "Vin?" JD could have sworn he heard a sniff on the other end of the telephone. "Vin?"

"Ain't got no window. Didn't know it was night," was the lonely reply.

The telephone clicked off. "Aw, hell!" cursed JD.

"JD? What's going on? Who was on the phone?" asked Buck as he stood in the doorway, yawning.

"I'm so stupid!" moaned JD.

"Hey, now! That's my best friend you're talking about," said Buck. He moved closer and sat down on the foot of JD's bed. "What happened?" he asked gently.

"It was Vin. He told me it was four o'clock. He didn't know it was the middle of the night. Got upset when I told him." JD looked up at Buck. "Do you think they'd let us in if we went down there?"

Buck shook his head. "Not this time of night. Call him back."

JD brightened a bit and dialed Vin's cell phone number. There was no answer. It went to his voice mail. "Damn," he hissed.

Buck took the phone and dialed the hospital number. He was put on hold several times before he got one of Vin's nurses. He explained the situation and Veronica assured him that she would go check on the Texan.


The next morning JD was allowed to visit. He was given a clean bill of health, but he was to take it slow for awhile. It had been five days since Vin was hospitalized. JD was all set to apologize about the events during the early morning phone call, but Vin didn't remember calling him. Vin did seem a lot less confused however. Things that had absolutely confounded him yesterday made sense today.

Vin wasn't talking much, but he had asked everyone who visited for his harmonica. It surprised them all. Chris figured it would be best not to bring it. The nurses were putting up with enough from the Texan. They didn't need the awful sounds Vin made on that blasted harmonica as well. But Chris reconsidered when he remembered that Vin treasured the dented silver instrument for some unknown reason. He brought it to Vin on his next visit, still curious as to why he wanted it. When he heard the annoying honking on it as he left the room, he apologized in advance to the closest nurse.


Josiah and Nathan found Chris in the cafeteria and joined him for lunch. He filled them in on the seeming changes in Vin, which pleased Nathan. It was a very good thing that Vin was less confused.

Josiah watched his two friends. Chris's shoulders still sagged as if he was carrying the weight of the world. In a way, he was. Chris took responsibility for each of his men. That was a good thing, but when he felt guilt over every single thing that happened to them, he had taken responsibility too far. Josiah grimaced inwardly as he heard the words.

"If I had just paid better attention, maybe this wouldn't have happened at all," said Chris.

"If I hadn't been out of town, I might have seen it coming. I didn't have to go right now, you know?" said Nathan.

"Wait!" exclaimed Josiah. "We need Buck and Ezra too."

"Ezra's at the office doing his report. Buck is with JD," answered Chris.

"I was being sarcastic, Chris," said Josiah. "I just went through this yesterday with JD. I figured if we got Ezra and Buck here, we'd finish all the 'if onlys' and 'it's all my faults' all at once."

Chris and Nathan stared at him. Josiah didn't normally get frustrated. At least he didn't show it. But the team psychologist had just about had his fill.

"Maybe it is partially your fault, Chris. And mine, and Buck's and JD's, and heaven forbid, even Vin's. God knows, if he had just once said how sick he was, maybe we would have noticed something. It's not your fault, Nate, or Ezra's. Neither of you was there. But what good does trying to place blame do? Nothing. Not a blessed thing. Vin is still sick whether it's your fault or not."

Chris and Nathan were still staring. Josiah felt slightly embarrassed at his tirade, but he was right. Placing blame was a waste of time and energy.

"You're right," said Chris softly. "It just hurts so much that I hung up on him when he reached out to me."

"Does Vin blame you?"

"No, but he isn't exactly thinking clearly right now."

"So what are you going to do next time you get a heavy breather?" asked Josiah.

"Trace the call," responded Chris.

"Lesson learned," said Josiah simply.


Chris returned from the cafeteria after lunch, to be present for the first of Vin's assessments. They would be determining how much actual damage the encephalitis did. Chris smiled when he found the rest of the team waiting at Vin's door.

The doctor thought it was overkill to have all of Team 7 present for the first phase of the Neuropsychological Assessment, but Vin insisted. The first phase consisted of taking a comprehensive history from interviews with Vin and his 'close relative', which in this case was Team 7. They would also gather appropriate information from Vin's medical records. It would give them a picture of the type and severity of injury to the brain, what Vin was like before the illness and how he had progressed.

Vin became more reticent during the interview process. He had slurred words several times and was clearly becoming more embarrassed by his lisping. Chris watched his best friend become quieter and more hesitant in his answers. Chris listened closely. Vin was working hard to avoid the letter 's' in his answers. When he had to use an 's' he articulated carefully, and became visibly upset when he couldn't control the lisp.

Twenty minutes into the assessment it was clear that Vin needed a break. The doctors walked out into the hallway with Team 7, allowing Vin to take a nap. The assessment would not be continued this day.

"Is Mr. Tanner normally quiet?" asked the doctor.

Buck laughed aloud. "You're lucky if you get Junior to put more'n two words together at a time."

"Buck," chided Chris. "He's not quite that bad doc, but Vin is very reserved."

"Has he had any speech problems?" continued the doctor.

"Not that I'm aware of," volunteered Ezra, "except for his down home Texas drawl, I reckon." The comment made everyone smile as it was spoken with a strong southern accent.

"That's not quite right either," said Chris.

"Whatever do you mean, Mr. Larabee?" asked Ezra in surprise.

Chris shot all of them a warning glare before he confided Vin's 'secret'. "He has a slight lisp. It's more pronounced when he's sick or worn down." Everyone except Nathan looked surprised. Vin had kept his secret well concealed.

"Damn," said Buck, "I guess he does have a lisp sometimes. I never paid any attention to it."

"And we won't," warned Chris, knowing the team would agree. They would never tease Vin over something so sensitive.


When Chris returned to visit after dinner, he heard the squawking of Vin's harmonica as he approached the room. He looked at the nurse apologetically. She laughed.

"Mr. Larabee, I would much prefer Mr. Tanner's harmonica over the nasty combative patients I normally deal with," said Veronica.

Chris was sure he heard one nurse report to another, "I think it's cute." He shook his head and walked in to Vin's room.

Vin was intent on his harmonica and didn't notice Chris enter at first. Larabee watched in fascination. Vin would blow a note, take the harmonica away from his mouth, move his lips, put the harmonica up, and blow again. He took it away between each note.

"Hey cowboy," said Chris.

Vin looked up, startled, dropping his harmonica. It bounced off his lap and clattered to the floor. Chris stooped and picked it up. He raised an eyebrow, but handed the harmonica back to Vin.

"How ya doin'?"

"All that talkin' plum wore me out, Chris."

Chris smiled. The 's' was clear as a bell. Vin yawned. "Maybe I should go?"

"Naw. Don't mind if'n ya stay."

"But you're not going to promise to stay awake, are ya?" Chris laughed.

"Nope," said Vin, closing his eyes against the headache that never seemed to leave. "Glad yer here, pard," Vin whispered.

'Glad you're still here, Vin,' thought Chris. He sat quietly by his friend's bedside and watched him sleep.


The next day Vin was subjected to the second stage of assessment. He was given standard psychological tests to examine how specific functions of his brain were working. They assessed his attention, memory, visual perception, reasoning and verbal ability. For each function, a number of different tests were used. The test of attention, involved speed of thinking, sustaining concentration, keeping to one thing at a time, being able to work in a busy or noisy environment with other things going on around him. The tests had to be broken into several segments, allowing Vin adequate time to rest in between.

Vin was given an IQ test as well. The numerical estimates had little relevance to his neuropsychological assessment, but were useful when interpreted in terms of brain function - information on how his brain was working.

Again, Vin was exhausted after the testing. He wasn't up to having company, so the rest of Team 7 contented themselves with watching Vin sleep. The third part of assessment didn't require participation from Vin. It was the psychologist's opinion and report. Vin's test results were considered in relation to his history - both before and since the illness. Did the test findings make neurological sense? Did the pattern of difficulties shown fit with what one would reasonably expect to find after this type and severity of illness. If not, were there any problems before the illness, such as dyslexia, learning or behavior difficulties, or other injury to the brain, which may have increased Vin's vulnerability and caused more severe symptoms?

Having decided on Vin's present condition, the psychologist was ready to make recommendations for helping further rehabilitation. While he found some of Vin's responses a little slow, the psychologist was pleased that it appeared Vin's residual effects of the encephalitis would be almost nil. Certainly nothing that would keep him from returning to his normal life. He recommended speech therapy and warned that Vin's return to work would need to be gradual. He would have some problems with lack of concentration and would tire easily. Vin would need bed rest for a few more days. He recommended darkening Vin's room to help alleviate the headaches. After a 2- to 3-week recovery, he could be as active as his strength and feeling of well-being allowed.

Vin wasn't happy with the thought of more bed rest, but he was elated that he would be able to return to work. Eventually. And he was ecstatic when he was told, "No special diet." Real food! He had two more days of the IV Acyclovir, and then he could be released.


Chris was present when the speech therapist came to see Vin. She went through a series of tests with Vin and was able to pinpoint quickly his problem. She smiled at the young man. His responses made it clear that he was familiar with straw therapy and horn therapy but Chris was clearly lost.

"Straw therapy? Horn therapy?"

"It's oral-motor therapy, Mr. Larabee. When a muscle cannot perform a specific skill, such as lip closure, that muscle needs exercise. Oral-motor therapy works to normalize oral musculature through exercise. Traditional speech therapy without the proper muscle control cannot be completely successful."

"But horns and straws?"

"Believe it or not, Mr. Larabee, straws help with proper tongue placement for speech. Horns work more with mouth shaping and breath control. Mr. Tanner needs a little refresher on horn therapy."

"Horn number two, right?" asked Vin.

The therapist smiled genuinely. "You've been through therapy before?"

"When I wush..." Vin stopped and corrected himself. "When I was little."

She nodded her approval of his correction. "Then we'll just go over the basics as a reminder."

Vin pulled open the drawer by the bed and fished out his harmonica.

"Not now, Vin," groaned Chris.

Vin got a funny smile on his face. "It's therapy, pard."

"What?" asked Chris in surprise.

"My grandpa gave me this harmonica after I completed speech therapy when I was seven. I can really play it, ya know."

The therapist held out her hand for the harmonica. Vin gave it to her. Chris sat back in his chair and watched in silence.

"Our goal is to achieve 25 successive repetitions, taking a small breath between each blow. If we don't make it too 25 this time, it will be homework. These exercises should be practiced at least once a day at home."

"A harmonica?" Chris couldn't help himself. He was too curious.

"It teaches lip closure and the skill of projecting exhalation in a frontal manner. By gradually covering up the side holes until only the central holes remain exposed, Vin will feel--and hear--the redirecting of airflow to the very front of the lips. Used alone, this instrument works on the standard production of /s/ by assisting in the correction of a lateral lisp."

He watched as Vin formed his mouth, the therapist placed the harmonica, and he blew. She removed the harmonica after each blow, the same way Vin had done earlier.

"Why?" He didn't have to ask the rest of the question. She understood.

"This therapy requires repetition. Muscle movement is recreated over and over again to develop strength/muscle memory. The goal with each horn is to be able to blow, with controlled exhalation, successive repetitions and for the jaw, lips and tongue to successfully reposition prior to each blow. It's a 'muscles have memory' type of thing."

Chris watched the rest of the therapy session. He looked at his friend with a new appreciation. Vin had let him in on a new secret, another sign that the Texan did not blame Larabee for what had happened.


Day ten of his hospitalization. An eternity. Vin stared at the IV bag willing it to hurry. As soon as that thing was empty, he was done with the hospital. He could go home. Well, not home-home. He was headed for Chris's place, but at least he would be out of the hospital. He had already undergone the humiliation of removal of the Foley. He was able to pee on his own about an hour ago, so he had passed that test. All of his nurses had come by at some time during the day to wish him well.

When Vin woke up from his nap, the IV was gone. "Hallelujah!" The uncharacteristic cheer echoed in the hallway. Chris stood at the doorway. "Thought you could use a ride?"

"Hell, yes!" said Vin excitedly. He sat up quickly, wincing with the headache.

"Got to take it slow Cowboy," said Chris. Doc said you're going to have those headaches for a while yet.

"Yeah," said Vin quietly, careful not to nod.

"Looks like all you need are your shoes and your wheelchair."

"Hate to say it Chris, but I'm glad for the wheels. Couldn't walk that far right now fer nuthin'," said Vin wearily. Chris walked over, slipped Vin's shoes on his feet, and tied the laces.

"Mr. Tanner?" said the blue clad nurse standing behind the wheelchair.

"Hi, Veronica. You my driver?"

"Yes, I am. Are you ready?"

Vin nodded, then grimaced. Chris winced sympathetically. "You gotta stop doing that, Cowboy."


It was late afternoon as the Ram pulled up to the house and parked. The simple act of riding home in the truck had worn Vin out. Chris smiled at the sleeping form beside him. It would be awhile, but Vin was going to be all right.

"Need a hand here?" asked Buck as Chris opened his door.

"He's out," said Chris. He watched as his team hovered over their injured member. Josiah and Nathan were at the door on Vin's side of the truck. Ezra and JD waited on the porch, but their anxiousness was apparent as the both leaned over the rail, watching. Returning his gaze to Nathan, he observed the paramedic try to wake Vin.

"Nate, he took one of the pain pills for his headache. He ain't gonna wake up."

Nathan looked up at Chris and smiled. "I can see that."

"I'll carry him," volunteered Josiah. Nathan stepped aside to let the giant of a man scoop up Vin.

Josiah picked up the sleeping Texan. He shifted Vin's weight to gain a better hold. Vin wasn't a heavy weight by any means. His lean frame didn't have an ounce of fat to spare, but Josiah could feel that Vin had lost a lot of weight in the past two and a half weeks.

Josiah was stepping into the living room when Vin woke with a groan. "Easy there, son, I've got you." Josiah was planning to carry Vin to the guestroom, but now that he was awake, he hesitated.

"Gotta lay down," said Vin in pain.

Josiah lay him gently on the couch as Nathan moved in to check him over. "Vin?" Nathan asked.

"Gimme a sec," hissed Vin. Everyone waited in silence as Vin struggled to control the headache.

Vin kept his eyes closed and focused on his breathing. At first, the doctor hadn't been sure if the headache was from the encephalitis or if it was PLPH. It became clear that it was Post Lumbar Puncture Headache, when it was determined that sitting up or standing made it worse. Lying down alleviated the headache. Head shaking and coughing would worsen the symptoms, so Vin was careful to avoid both.

He felt a cool cloth on his forehead. He opened his eyes. "Thanks, Chris." Seeing everyone standing around him, he added, "What're y'all doin' here?"

"Well, Mr. Tanner. We are about to have the quietest welcome home party in Team 7 history," said Ezra.

"PLPH?" asked Nathan.

Chris nodded. "Doc said it should go away soon," he turned his attention to Vin, "if someone rests like he should."

"I ain't goin' no where."


The men spent the rest of the afternoon and evening 'partying' with Vin. Basically, they ate dinner and watched Vin sleep enjoying the simple fact that they were all together once again.

What came as a real surprise to the Texan was the fact that they all were staying the night. It didn't make sense to Vin that his friends would sacrifice the comfort of their own beds just to be near him. There was a lot of discussion over who would sleep where, and Vin almost got into an argument with Chris when Chris informed him that he would be sleeping on the floor next to Vin's bed. Vin insisted JD could sleep there which both confused and bothered Chris. He couldn't understand why Vin would prefer JD's company to his. The argument was settled when Chris said it was his house, and his say.

The confusion was cleared up for Chris when he woke in the middle of the night to the sound of whispers. He feigned sleep for a few moments trying to figure out what was happening.

"D'ya git the stuff?" whispered Vin.

"Got it all right here," said JD softly.

"Shh. You'll wake up Chris."

Chris heard the bed creak with movement. "You ok, Vin?" asked JD.

"Yeah. For the time being. We gotta do this quick. I don't know how long I can stay upright," replied Vin.

Chris waited until they left the room before following. He stayed in the shadows wondering what the two youngest agents were up to. He watched them go into the den where Buck was sleeping. Chris groaned inwardly. They were definitely up to no good. Chris slipped back into the room and into his sleeping bag. It was all he could do to keep from laughing when Vin and JD returned to the room nearly twenty minutes later.


The smell of bacon cooking wafted through the house. The rattle of dishes and the sound of hushed voices welcomed the new day. Buck yawned and stretched. He scratched his chest as his head slowly cleared of the fog of sleep. "Damn!" he exclaimed as he began to itch all over.

He stopped in sudden realization. He itched.

Conversations stopped as Buck threw open the door of the den and ran down the hallway in his boxers. He ran into the bathroom and stopped in front of the mirror. He was covered with red spots. "No!" moaned Buck. "Why me?"

Everyone, except Ezra who was still sleeping, came running down the hall to the bathroom. "Buck, what's wrong?" asked Josiah.

"I got 'em. I got the Chicken Pox!" he lamented.

"Let me see," ordered Nathan, stepping in front of the other men. He examined Buck's chest, thinking the spots looked a bit strange. He looked at Buck's back and almost burst out laughing. Someone had played connect the dots on the ladies man's back. The culprit had drawn a crude cartoon of a horse's behind. In his struggle to keep from laughing, the contents of the trash can caught his eye. There was cardboard from a box of washable markers and a can of itching powder. Nathan put his hand over his mouth and turned his face quickly away from Buck. Everyone except Buck could see the mirth in his eyes. Nathan tried valiantly to keep the laughter inside, but he couldn't do it. He started to chuckle.

"What the hell is so funny?" asked Buck. Then he heard the sound of two young giggles coming from the back of the crowd. Buck turned purposefully toward the sink. He turned on the water and splashed some on his chest. The red spots turned into little red rivers where the water ran down in rivulets. Everyone started laughing. Nathan held up a mirror so Buck could see his back. "JD! You're a dead man!" Buck growled.

The camera flashed and JD scurried from the room with the half naked ladies man close on his heels.

Vin had tears running down his face, he was laughing so hard. Chris grabbed him by one elbow and Josiah grabbed him by the other. They steered him into the living room and sat the giggling Texan on the sofa. Chris pushed the weak man over against the pillow, knowing a headache would soon be raging. Vin had just gathered himself together when JD and Buck ran past, jumping over furniture as they went.

"Vin, help!" yelped JD as Buck tackled him in the corner.

"Now why would you be beggin' Junior for help?" He turned and looked at the Texan who was trying pitifully to look innocent. Buck released JD and got up, heading toward the sofa. "Somethin' tells me Junior's a might healthier than he's letting on." He grinned at Vin, thrilled that the young man felt good enough to pull a prank, even if he had been the victim. He was about to issue a threat to Vin, of what he would do when Vin had fully recovered, but he was interrupted by a howl of dismay from Ezra's room.

Vin grinned guiltily before covering his face with a pillow.

"Oh Dear Lord!" moaned Ezra as he appeared in the hallway in his silk pajama bottoms. "I'm covered with spots!"

The End

January 2001

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