Into the Woods

by skaia7

Note: to understand the Spanish I wrote near the end of this story, go to and copy and paste the Spanish section in. Then click to translate it from Spanish to English. It won’t translate exactly, but you’ll be able to understand the gist. (Isn’t the Internet great?) J

Size: Approx 300K

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Part One
Blinding snow was everywhere.

Hunched over the wheel of her Jeep Cherokee, Taya squinted, trying to see the road ahead as she drove at a crawling 5 miles an hour through the blizzard.


She was surrounded by nothing but white. Her car heater was running full-blast to keep the windows from icing over, and she was keeping her eyes peeled for the red flags that marked the driveway to the cabin. Placing those flags there had been the smartest thing she'd done all day.

Driving to town had been the stupidest.

Granted, she needed the things she had picked up: matches, canned food, bread, milk, coffee, Tylenol, extra blankets, kerosene lanterns... She had a feeling she'd be holed up in the cabin for the next few days until the storm blew over and the roads were cleared. She probably had enough supplies... but you never know. She wasn't one to take chances.

Renting this cabin for winter break had seemed like a great idea at the time. Graduate school was killing her, with all the research and the exams and holding down a job to pay for it all... Three weeks in a secluded cabin in the mountains seemed like the perfect solution to avoid a near mental breakdown. But when this storm blew up unexpectedly, she began to second-guess the wisdom of her decision.

Suddenly, out of nowhere, a dark shape lunged out of the snow, stumbling right into the path of the Jeep. Crying out, she swerved to the left, slamming on the brakes. The car careened for about twenty feet, skidding to a stop and coming to rest in a cushioning snowdrift.

She leaned on the steering wheel, heart pounding in her chest. Even though she hadn't been going fast enough to be really dangerous speed-wise, going off the road in this kind of blizzard was highly unsafe. Who knew what the drifts were hiding? Deep ditches, trees, boulders...

Turning, she strained to see through the storm, trying to find out what had appeared out of the woods and nearly been hit by her car. A deer? Surely all the wildlife were smart enough to be holed away somewhere to wait out the storm…

No, the only animals stupid enough to be out in this were humans.

The wind died for a split second, and in that moment she saw a dark shape crumpled on the ground in the middle of the road.

'OH!' she thought. 'I'm sure I didn't hit him... at least, I didn't think I had... What if I did?? Oh my god...'

Bracing herself, she pushed the car door open and gingerly tested her footing. She seemed to be on solid ground, so she stepped around the front of her Jeep, the crosswinds trying to use her as a ball to play a violent game of soccer. Drawing closer to the prone form, she could see that it was indeed a man.

He was wearing no coat, no gloves or hiking boots, but rather only a t-shirt, jeans, and tennis shoes. His red shirt was shredded, with more red spattered on his jeans. Blood. Only a few moments had passed since he fell, but the snow was already attempting to bury him alive.

At least, she hoped he was alive.

Kneeling down beside the man, she tried to speak over the howling wind. "SIR!? SIR CAN YOU HEAR ME? ARE YOU ALL RIGHT?... SIR!!" She received no answer. He looked to be unconscious. There was no way she could leave him here... And she highly doubted anyone else would be coming down the road anytime soon to help him. Very quickly, she made a decision.

Wrapping both her arms underneath his, she pulled him to his feet. She hooked one of his arms around her shoulders and slipped one of hers around his waist. They managed to stagger him back to her Jeep. Leaning him up against the car, she yanked open the passenger side door, and let him fall inside. She lifted his legs in, and shut the door, hurrying to get back to the driver's seat, shivering in the bitter cold.

Once inside, she allowed the warmth of the interior to envelop her for a moment, before turning to assess her find.

He was younger than she had expected. Rather close to her own age - maybe twenty four to twenty six or so - a medium build, subtly muscular, with long brown hair that fell into his closed eyes. His face was bruised, his lower lip split, his right eye black and swollen shut. There was a nasty cut on his forehead that was still bleeding, as well as some kind of wound to his side, which looked to be a bit older. His left arm was swollen, and lying at an odd angle, telling her it was probably broken. Every inch of his body was badly beaten and bruised, and his hands were criss-crossed with cuts. The knees of his jeans were torn, revealing more bloody gashes. Something serious had happened to this man.

As she pulled back onto the road to once again try and make it home, the thought flashed through her mind that this person might very well be dangerous. Glancing at him quickly wiped that thought from her mind. Even if he had been dangerous (which for some reason, she did not feel likely) he was no longer. Not in that condition.

Just then, her eyes caught a glimpse of red on the left side of the road. Thank God! They had finally reached her cabin.

Getting him inside was a Herculean task in and of itself. Still unconscious, she received no help from the injured man as she heaved and strained to keep him upright and moving forward. She deposited him on the couch in front of the fireplace, poking the coals and putting on extra logs to get it roaring again. Then, she made several more trips out to the Jeep to bring in all the supplies. Finally, she rounded up a bowl of clean water, some old towels, and two of the three first aid kits she had found in the cabin.

Squatting down next to the couch, she finally got a good look at what she had brought in. God, how was this man still alive? He looked dangerously thin, as if he’d been starved. His face was darkened with bruises and dried blood, his hair streaked with more blood and caked with dirt and grime. He was dirty all over, and smelled like a dank cellar.

The first thing was to get him cleaned and bandaged. She knelt beside him, and dipped a towel in the bowl. As she touched the towel to the cut on his head, he stirred, coming awake slowly with a grunt of pain.

"Shh, shh. It's okay." His eyes opened to reveal the most brilliant shade of blue she had ever seen. "Hi," she said softly when his eyes found hers. They were red-rimmed, with dark circles under them. She noticed that there was fear in them, too, and his body stiffened, as if expecting to be struck. She took one of his hands and squeezed it reassuringly. His fingers were freezing! Lord knows how long he had stumbled around in the snow... it's a wonder he didn't die from hypothermia. She continued to wash the cuts on his face and hands, moving slowly and talking gently to try and quell his fear. "It’s okay," she repeated. "Can you tell me your name?"

His glazed eyes regarded her warily, and then moved to take in the surroundings. A shudder passed through his body, and her brow wrinkled with concern. His eyes continued to dart around, taking in the wooden ceiling of the cabin, the roaring fire, the soft couch... Another tremor shook him, and shortly after that he was shivering violently, his teeth chattering as his body finally recovered enough to feel the cold.

"Can you tell me your name?" she repeated as she pulled the afghan down from the back of the couch to cover him.

"V-v-i-nn," he answered brokenly, unable to stop shivering.

"Vin?" she asked, making sure she had heard right. He nodded slightly. "Hi, Vin," she crooned, still trying to soothe the fear out of his eyes. "I'm Taya." Her hand stroked the hair back from his face, and she gave him a warm smile.

A little of the tenseness left his body, but his eyes were still anxious. "W-w-here…?" he managed in a choked whisper.

She cleaned and bandaged his hands, noticing for the first time that what looked like rope burns covered his wrists. "You're in my cabin. I was driving home and you ran out in front of my car. I nearly ran you over," she smiled at him again, trying for levity. "But I put you in the car, and brought you here. Now, let's see if we can get this shirt off and have a look, okay?"

He gave a hiss of pain as she helped him to sit up. When she pulled his shirt off over his shoulders, she saw why. Blood covered his chest and stomach. It looked like he had been beaten pretty badly - huge, dark bruises covered his torso. Dark blood ran from a hole in his shoulder and a deep cut almost four inches long marked the bottom of his ribs. A stab wound. It looked angry, red and swollen. The hole in his shoulder though… a bullet? Turning slightly to look at his back, she noticed a matching hole on his shoulder blade. His back was just as bruised as his chest.

She felt gingerly around his ribs, and was able to tell from his cries of pain that at least one was probably broken. His breathing sounded okay, so she didn't think it had punctured a lung. His left arm was definitely broken, as well, all purple and swollen. When she removed his dirty, bloody jeans, she found more bruising on his legs, and his knees scraped all to pieces, as if he had fallen repeatedly on glass or gravel. His left foot was just as swollen and purple as his arm, so she deduced that it, too, was broken.

It took nearly two hours for her to clean all the dirt and blood from his body and bandage him as best she could. Since she didn’t really know what to say, she worked quietly, murmuring small things here and there to let him know what she was about to do. He seemed almost grateful for the silence, as if he had just enough strength to endure it while she patched him up as best she could. She bandaged his knees and wrapped his ribs as tightly as she could while still allowing him to breathe fairly easily, covering the cut at the same time. Taking a piece of firewood, she broke it into two smaller, fairly straight pieces and clumsily splinted his arm. By the time she was finished, he was no longer responding to her ministrations, having sunk back into unconsciousness. She retrieved an oversized pair of sweat pants and a clean t-shirt from her bedroom for him to put on after she finished cleaning him up. She was seriously thinking that his other clothes should be burned. Aside from being soaked from the snow, bloody, and dirty, they seemed saturated with the smell of mold, sweat, and... fear. It seemed really crazy, but that was the only way she could think of to describe it the smell: fear.

When finished, pulled the sweat pants over his boxers, relieved to find that he wasn't shaking quite as forcefully as before. But he was alarmingly pale. His teeth still chattered, even through his unconscious state.

She decided to forego the t-shirt for now... getting him to sit up again didn't seem worth the added pain it would undoubtedly cause him. She pulled the afghan up to his chin, throwing one of the extra blankets she'd bought over him as well while he continued to shiver.

She, on the other hand, was drenched in sweat, her mind racing with theories about what had happened to him. At least he seemed no longer afraid of her.

Her bedroom was on the other side of the fireplace. The cabin had been constructed in such a way that all three of its rooms were heated by the same fireplace that pillared up from the center - the living room/kitchen and the bedroom sharing a chimney, and the whole place was small enough that the heat filled the house and made its way to the tiny bathroom quite easily. As much as she didn't want to have to move him from the couch and cause him any more pain, she knew the bed was a much more comfortable place. And, with its easy access to thick blankets and the bathroom, in the end she decided it was a more appropriate location for the stranger to be until the storm lifted enough to get him to a hospital. Of course, she thought grimly, that wouldn't be for a few more days at least.

Somehow, she managed to rouse him enough for them to stagger into the bedroom, he falling on the pillows with a ragged sigh, expelling the breath he'd been holding to keep from crying out in pain. She pulled the thick comforter over him, and leaned down to assess how he was holding up.

"Okay," she breathed. "Can I get you anything else?"

His eyes fighting to stay open, now that the warmth and softness of the bed were claiming him, he managed to croak, "Water." He swallowed painfully, and then managed to add, in a whisper, "... please?"

She went to fetch a glass of water from the bathroom. Slipping a hand under his head, she held it steady as her other hand brought the glass to his lips. He gulped at it greedily.

"Slowly," she advised, pulling the glass away. If he'd been captive, as his wounds seemed to suggest, and had been without water for any length of time, too much at once would make him sick.

She gave him a little more, and then lowered his head back to the pillows, his eyes sliding shut in exhaustion. In no time at all, his breathing deepened as he fell into a fitful sleep.

She took the opportunity to go and put all her groceries away, as well as clean up the bloody evidence of the stranger's arrival. In the end, she did burn his clothes. They reeked, and the smell was starting to pervade the room. It made her queasy, and she didn't want to put them outside where the blood might draw wolves.

Extremely tired, she stood in a daze as she made some soup and hot tea on the stove. She was famished, and she was sure the stranger had to be even more so. By the time she had finished all the chores and cooked the food, he had been left alone in the bedroom for almost two hours... she guessed he was still asleep. That was best. It would give his body time to heal. She sat at the table and ate her soup in silence, allowing its warmth to soothe away the stress and strain of the day. When finished, she placed her dishes in the sink and loaded up the old battered tray to carry a bowl of soup and mug of tea in to the stranger.

Before even entering the dim room, she could hear movement and what sounded like coughing from behind the door. When she swung it open, she saw him tossing and turning on the bed. She quickly set the tray down on the dresser, and reached to the nightstand to turn on the bedside lamp. The light cast deep shadows across his pale face, illuminating the sweat that glimmered on his forehead. His breathing was labored, and wheezed slightly in his chest. She reached out a hand and placed it across his forehead.

"Oh, God," she whispered.

He had a fever. Jesus, she'd never felt anyone so hot in her life. How could anyone go from being so cold to so hot so fast? What could she do?... Hurrying into the bathroom, she filled a bowl with cold water and grabbed a washcloth. She went back and sat on the bed, sponging his face, neck, and chest with the cool liquid. She was surprised it didn't sizzle and give off steam; the young man was burning up!

It was dark and hot. He'd never felt so hot in his life. His throat was on fire. And he couldn't breathe. Something was wrapped tightly around him, keeping him from drawing a breath. And when he did, it only caused him to cough, which sent agony tearing through his side. It was so dark. He kept running, trying to find the door. Why couldn't he find some light? He felt dizzy, hot... and everything hurt… God, everything hurts…

He moaned, his breath coming in labored gasps. "Shhh," a soft voice pierced through the stifling darkness. "It's okay… You're safe… It's okay..."

Help me. Please help me.

Her mind raced, trying to think of what to do next. The cool water seemed to be calming him slightly, but that alone wouldn't be enough to bring down the fever. What had brought it on? Maybe the bullet wound or the cut to his side was infected. That seemed possible, considering that they hadn't looked fresh when she'd cleaned them. If he'd had them more than a day without treatment, it would stand to reason that infection was highly likely. But he'd also been out in that freezing cold for God knows how long. He could have caught his death of pneumonia, or something. She'd heard of that before, people "catching their death..."

He started coughing again, and made a cry of pain. His eyes flew open, looking at her with such pleading. Tears formed as the coughs continued to be wrenched from his chest, and he struggled to sit up. She put one arm around him, bracing his back until he was upright enough to stop struggling. The coughing soon subsided, leaving him weak and sagging against her.

"Please..." he whispered, fighting for breath. "... help..." The note of desperation in his voice caused her chest to tighten with sympathy. Pushing the sweat-soaked hair back from his forehead with one hand, she tightened her arm around him, trying to reassure him with its strength.

"Don't worry. It's okay, now. Vin," she tried using his name for emphasis. "You're going to be okay."

He seemed to hear her, and relaxed, still trying to catch his breath. Clumsily, she used her free hand to try and stack the pillows on the bed so he could sleep a little more upright, since it seemed to help his breathing. Then, she lowered him gently to the bed, drawing the covers back up over his shivering form. What could she do? What could possibly bring down a fever like this? Penicillin, of course. But what else?...

Tylenol. She had bought Tylenol today.

It wasn't as good as prescription medication, but it was all she had. Until she could get him to a hospital, it would have to do.

She retrieved the bottle from the kitchen, and shook two of them into her hand. Gently shaking the man's shoulder to wake him, she watched as his glazed eyes slid open, not really focusing on anything.

"Hey," she toned soothingly. "Here, I need you to sit up for a minute." She hooked one arm behind his back to help him sit up, hearing as he drew his breath sharply and stiffened at the pain. "I know, I know it hurts... but we've got to get this fever down, okay? Here..." She pushed the Tylenol into his hand. He stared at it dumbly for a second or so, but then, shakily, he managed to get them into his mouth. She put the glass in his hand, and used her hand to steady it as he brought it to his cracked lips. Again, she had to pull it away as he started gulping at it frantically.

"Whoa... slow down. Okay, let's try it again. Remember, slow..." He took it easier, and finished the glass, looking at her expectantly for more. Leaning him back gently, she went to the bathroom and returned with the filled glass. He drank about half of it before his eyes slid shut, and he relaxed back into the pillows, letting out a long breath that she took to be either exhaustion or relief... or both...

Sponging his face and neck again with the wet cloth, her brow furrowed with concern. Why would anybody do this? Who was this guy that someone would hurt him like they had, and just leave him out in the woods to die? Or maybe he'd escaped someone... She hadn't thought of that earlier. What if whoever did this to him came looking for him? Well, she highly doubted they'd be able to find her cabin in this snow. She'd noticed coming up the drive that the snow had almost buried her red flags. She was positive they'd be completely buried by now. And there was no way anyone could find her driveway without them. And she'd driven almost twenty minutes after picking him up before she reached the driveway, so if someone was walking around in this storm looking for him they would most likely turn back and give up well before they got close enough to stumble upon her cabin. And, Lord knows how far he had come before she found him. No. Until this blizzard let up, she was quite safe. And as soon as it did let up, she'd be packing them both off to the hospital, so if anyone showed up after that all they'd find would be an empty cabin.

+ + + + + + +

Mary’s consciousness slowly returned, like the grains of sand running backward in an hourglass. She wasn’t sure what had wakened her. And, for a moment, she wasn’t sure where she was.

She stirred, turning her head and seeing the bedside table. The clock’s green letters glow a dim 3:43. Where am I?…

Oh yes. Chris’ ranch. Now she remembered.

Turning her head the other direction, she expected to see the form of the blond agent asleep on the other pillow. But instead, she found it empty. Her brow furrowed.

Then, she heard it - maybe not even hearing so much as sensing. Slowly, she shifted so her eyes could see further down the bed in the gloom.

He was sitting up, his knees drawn up with elbows resting across them, his head hung down. It looked as though he’d scooted down toward the foot of the bed, maybe intending to leave it, but not quite getting that far. Her ears - or sixth sense - told her something was going on.

Slowly, carefully, she raised herself up. Moving smoothly, she slid along the soft sheets until she was sitting next to him, peering at him through the darkness. Gingerly, she extended one hand and placed her palm on his back. His dark t-shirt was soaked with sweat, and she could feel the tremors running through him beneath her fingers. His breathing – though amazingly quiet – was erratic. She just sat there for a moment, waiting for him to speak. When he didn’t – indeed, didn’t even register that he noticed her – she ever-so-gently eased one arm around his back, her other hand on the shoulder closest to her, and she began to guide him back down to the bed. He resisted for only a moment, before allowing her to pull him down. She lay down next to him, and they were both still for a long moment. Then, a violent shudder went through his body, and he curled up against her, burying his face in her neck and slipping trembling arms about her waist. She wrapped her arms around his shaking shoulders, one hand tenderly rubbing his back, the other pushing back his damp hair.

They lay there quietly, not saying a word. After a moment, she felt him draw a breath and hold it. Then, he gave an almost silent, choked whimper, and she felt the tears begin to fall. How he could be so quiet, so restrained, she has no idea. His entire body was strung taut, like dried leather, his tears slowly soaking the collar of her nightshirt. And he was still shaking like a leaf. Yet if she weren’t lying beside him, with him holding onto her like a lifeline, she wouldn’t have known. He wasn’t making a sound.

It had to be Vin.

Ever since his best friend had disappeared three weeks ago, Chris Larabee had been a total wreck. Not eating, not sleeping. Hell, he hadn’t even been drinking. That’s when everyone knew how hard he was taking it. For this man not to touch a bottle in two weeks… something had to be seriously wrong. So wrong that not even Jim Beam could help him. She knew he went to the office at 5 a.m. each day, staying until nearly midnight, trying desperately to find something that would lead them to Vin. All the members of Team 7 had tried their best to get him to eat and sleep when they could, but they weren’t in much better shape. Everyone was scared, their nerves frayed to nearly nothing.

Chris blamed himself. Everyone had tried to tell him it wasn’t his fault, but he wouldn’t listen. He hardly spoke, just one-word answers when they pressed him. Each day, it seemed like another piece of him died. That’s why she’d sent Billy to his grandparents for a while and started spending nights here with him at the ranch. Lord knows he needed somebody right now, and the rest of the guys needed a break from pulling double duty in their never-ending search for Vin and keeping Chris from falling apart at the same time.

Leaning her cheek against his head, she listened to the night. Outside, she could hear the wind scampering through the trees, boughs creaking, and the leaves sounding like applause. Inside, all she heard in the thick silence of the dark room was an occasional muffled, shuddering, half-choked breath from the man lying in her arms.

After a long while, his shuddering slowed. She didn’t move away, didn’t say a word, but continued to hold him securely, but gently, as he gave a few hitching breaths and a couple of weak coughs. Her eyes lost to her own thoughts, she relied on touch to tell her about her surroundings. After more time, his trembling ceased, and he lay very still in her arms. She felt him expel a harsh breath, and his arms tightened briefly about her before settling down into the bed. And wasn’t very long before his deep breathing told her he had fallen back to sleep. And, when her mind finally quieted, she did as well.

+ + + + + + +

Darkness. And bitterly cold. He could still smell the dankness of the cellar; feel the cold that ripped its icy fingers through his entire body. God, he hurt. His head felt swollen, heavy. Every breath brought a blaze of pain. He heard the door open, and heavy footsteps coming down the wooden stairs. Scooting along the floor as quickly as his bound hands would allow, he tried to press himself into the corner, to disappear into the stones. But he couldn’t. They were asking him questions… and he didn’t have the right answers. He felt the first blow land, felt the breath knocked out of him and heard the sickening crunch of bone breaking. His arm from fingertips to shoulder was burning, and he moaned in agony. The voice laughed. A harsh, sickening laugh that caused him to shake violently with fear. Where were they? Why hadn’t they come yet? God, he didn’t think he could take much more…


He'd stopped sweating by now, with only a dry heat radiating off him. She didn't think that was a good sign.


He was tossing and turning, muttering to himself under his breath. She leaned forward, trying to make out what he was saying.

" please... please stop..."

She could hear the pain in his voice, and decided that she really didn't want to hear him re-live whatever atrocities he had suffered. But, she didn't think she would be given a choice. Wringing out the cold cloth, she sponged it over his flushed face.

"...Chris... hurts..."

"Shh," she tried, not knowing if he meant remembered or current pain. She didn’t know who ‘Chris’ was, but the way he said the name, it didn’t sound like someone Vin was afraid of. "I know. It'll be okay. Just relax." She caught one of his hands in hers, still bathing him with the cool water, trying to bring the fever down.

" can't... can't breathe..." He erupted in a fit of coughing, struggling to sit up.

"Shh... hey... easy, easy..." She wrapped an arm around him, bracing him upright. His shoulders tensed as the wracking coughs tore through his chest, and he gasped for breath. "Shh," she kept trying to break through to him. "Take it easy... Vin, come on, just take a nice, slow breath..."

"...can't... breathe..." He didn't seem to hear her, continuing to panic. He struggled in her arms, giving a cry of pain, tears welling up in his eyes as the coughing and pain took their toll.

"Shh," she continued. "I know it hurts like hell. Just relax a little, okay? Try to breathe slowly."

The coughing continued, grating her eardrums and causing her to wince at the harsh sound. Finally, he could no longer speak, his entire energy focused on coughing and breathing. He was bent nearly in half, clutching his chest as it spasmed again and again.

He couldn’t breathe. The bastard had his hands around his throat and was choking him. His lungs burned, begging for air. His heart raced, trying desperately to draw a breath, and every nerve in his body was screaming in pain. Chris… Where are you?… I need you… Why don’t you come?…

She had one arm around his chest, trying to brace him as he leaned into it, hacking away. She found herself using her other hand to rub his back, trying to help quiet his coughing, and if nothing else, to calm him down. After what seemed like forever, after he had coughed until his lungs burned and his throat had been ripped to shreds, he slumped against her, panting heavily.

She held him there for a while, allowing him time to catch his breath. She could hear the congestion thick in his chest, but his coughing had failed to bring anything up. After a few moments, she felt his shoulders hitch. Her brow furrowing with concern, she eased him back a bit and put her fingers under his chin, lifting his face. His eyes were glazed with fever and pain, tears coursing down his cheeks as he struggled to contain his sobs.

"Shh... it's okay... you're safe..." She pushed the damp hair back from his face, and looked kindly into his eyes.

That kindness undid him, and he broke down completely. She pulled him close, rubbing his back again and whispering, "Shh, shh, it's okay..." as he shook and sobbed into her chest.

He was going to die. He knew it. He was going to die in this hellhole out in the middle of nowhere and the guys would never know what had happened to him. Pain lanced through his body, fear and exhaustion wreaking havoc on his mind. He had thought that being tied up and beaten was the worst thing that could happen to him... but right now he wasn't so sure. When he’d first been abducted, adrenaline and anger had dulled his senses, taking his mind off of the pain in his body. He had been entirely consumed with hanging on until Chris and the rest of Team 7 burst through the door to rescue him. But they didn’t come.

That was the worst...

They didn’t come.

His body burned, his every breath threatening to launch him into another raking series of coughs. His dark vision swam, his head pounding in dizzying, sickening waves. His throat was on fire, while his limbs shook with chills. But sitting up felt really good... he could almost breathe... He was being held, and that in and of itself was a comfort. The soft arms weren’t restraining, but safe and soothing… being braced by warm, strong arms...


She heard his faint whisper, and felt him grow heavy, his breathing becoming steadier as his tears slowed. Soon, they were gone, leaving him spent beyond words, slumped wearily against her. She made a move to lay him back down, but felt him stiffen, a small moan escaping his lips. Confused, she allowed him to remain in her arms, rubbing his back absently with her free hand. Obviously this ‘Chris’ person was someone Vin knew, and it sounded like in a good way. Maybe this Chris was looking for Vin… Not for the first time that night she cursed not having a phone in the cabin. Amazing how what she had thought would be a blessing had unexpectedly backfired. And, unfortunately, the young man was the one paying the price. She knew she didn’t have any reason to feel guilty – she hadn’t caused his condition – but she felt bad not at least having brought her cell phone so she could get him help sooner.

She felt his breathing become slow and even, though still raspy and shallow, all the tension draining from his shoulders. He was asleep.

Gently, she lowered him back to the bed, and tucked the blankets around him. He sighed in sleep, somewhat peaceful for the first time since his arrival. She pulled one of the kitchen chairs from the living area into the bedroom, curling up with a blanket, so she could be with him while he slept.

Soft noises at the edge of her consciousness brought her slowly awake. Her mind was fuzzy, and her body twinged in protest against the hard wooden chair and uncomfortable position in which she had slept. She shifted, allowing her muscles to stretch, and opened her eyes.

She had no idea how long she had been asleep. It was still dark out, and the howling wind told her that outside the storm still raged. Rubbing her eyes, she managed to get them to focus and brought her attention to the bed in front of her. Leaning forward, she placed a hand on the young man's brow. He was still feverish, though not as bad as before, stirring slightly and giving a few weak coughs in his sleep. She looked at her watch, and sighed. It had been nearly 12 hours since she'd found him. She went and brought back more bandages, hot water, and Tylenol. She washed his cuts again, taking the old bandages off from his side, and noticed that the wound still looked angry around the edges. She put on a fresh bandage, and managed to rouse him awake enough to take another dose of Tylenol. He fell asleep quickly afterwards, and she settled back to sleep again herself.

He opened his eyes slowly, trying to figure out where he was. Expecting to see the dank cement walls of the cellar, he was surprised to see instead the log walls of the cabin. Instead of being curled up shivering on the cold floor, he was tucked in a soft warm bed. His head still ached – hell, his entire body was one huge fireball of pain – but he was relieved to find the anxiety and fear that had ruled him during his captivity had managed to back off just a little. He felt unbelievably... safe. Warm, and safe.

"…Chris?" he whispered, his voice rasping in his raw throat. His chest felt heavy, his breathing difficult, as though he were breathing through wet sand. is chest He expected his friend to appear at his side, to see that ‘glare’ that would let him know he was safe… that he was home...

But no one came.

"Chris??" his choked whisper became more panicked. Where were they? Why didn’t anyone answer him?

"…Buck?" he tried.


"Nathan?" The silence was unnerving. The fear continued to grow, reaching its slippery hands up from his knotted stomach to close off his throat. His heart started to pound, his breathing coming much too hard, much too fast. Oh God, where were they??Why didn’t they come??

"CHRIS!!" he screamed.

She came awake with a start, the blanket she’d wrapped around her lap falling to the floor as she sprang forward to restrain the young man who was struggling to get off the bed, his breathing frantic, punctuated by thick, painful coughing.

"No! Vin! Stop it! Settle down, okay? Please!"

He felt the hands. Not bothering to stop and determine whether they were friend or foe, he struggled against them, ignoring the fire that lanced through his body as he fought to leave the bed.


He heard it. A shout close to his ear. His name… He quit struggling.


His plaintive whisper nearly broke her heart. "No, Vin. I’m Taya. Do you remember where you are?"

It wasn’t Chris. It wasn’t any of the guys. But it wasn’t that voice, either. That voice that haunted him when he slept… He turned to look in the direction of the voice, struggling to see anything through his blurred vision.

She could see him trying to figure out where he was, who she was. Smoothing his hair back gently from his face, she could still feel the heat of fever on him, and he was trembling under her hands. Shaking her head, she came to a decision. There was no way he’d make it if she didn’t get him to a hospital. Soon. He flinched when she lightly shook his shoulder, still trembling like a leaf. God, she thought. He must be terrified.

"Vin?" she tried. He cocked his head slightly, and she knew that he was listening. "The roads out there are still pretty bad. I don’t know how high the drifts are, but you need to get to a hospital. There isn’t a phone here, so I can’t call for help. Do you understand? We need to leave. Do you understand?"

He could tell she was trying to tell him something important. Her tone of voice was low, urgent. But for some reason, he couldn’t make out what she was saying… it was like listening through a storm - every once in a while a word would filter in. "Roads… bad… hospital… phone… help… understand… leave… understand…"

He nodded slightly. She let out the breath she’d been holding. "Okay. Let me go get the car ready and then we’ll load you up and try to make it to town." She straightened the blankets, rubbing his arm reassuringly. "You’ve probably got people worried sick about you…"

As she helped him lay back on the bed, she heard the barely audible whisper, "…Chris…"

+ + + + + + +

"What do you mean, you didn’t find anything??" Chris Larabee’s glare was boring a hole the size of South America through the young JD Dunne.

"Chris, I looked through every file that disk had! There wasn’t anything! I swear!" The boy’s eyes were anguished, his heart wrenched that after all the long, hard hours pouring over everything their leader had thrown his way, they were still no closer to finding their missing brother. And each time he came up empty-handed, Chris seemed to think JD was failing on purpose.

"Chris," Buck stepped up, putting his hand on the older man’s taut shoulder. "He tried. You know he did. It ain’t his fault nothin’ turned up. We’ll just have to keep lookin’, okay?" He wasn’t taking this setback any better than Chris was, but he wasn’t about to let JD take another frontal assault by their frustrated leader’s blazing fury.

"Mista’ Larabee, if I may," Ezra’s own almost infinite patience was quickly running out, his green eyes dull with exhaustion. "Perhaps it would be prudent ta cease our efforts for the day, as ‘tis nearly eleven o’clock, and we are all far too weary an’ ova’wrought to be thinkin’ clearly. It might be best to resume our endeavors in the mornin’ when we are refreshed..."

Chris roared, a wordless sound of anger and frustration, turning around and knocking half the items on his desk to the floor with one furious swipe.

"Come on, Ezra…" Buck said gently. "JD…" and he physically pulled the stricken young man out of their leader’s office. "He just needs a minute, okay?"

The three agents quickly exited, pulling the glass door closed behind them. When they were a safe distance away, listening to the sounds of the anguished Larabee as he tore his office apart, Buck pulled JD into a big bear hug, feeling as the boy’s shoulders shook with heart-wrenching sobs.

"I… I t-tried, B-Buck…" his voice broke, his breath catching as he tried to speak around his grief.

"I know you did, son," Buck’s own tears were making tracks down his face, but he didn’t pay them any mind. "I know you did. We’ll find him. Don’t worry. We’ll find him."

Ezra sank down in a nearby chair, and buried his face in his hands.


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