Chris led the way out of the room and towards the kitchen, where the guys
always seemed to end up, even though he had spent quite a bit on a comfortable
suite of living room furniture. Nathan and Josiah were sitting at the table
drinking coffee, talking softly and watching JD put together their morning
meal. He had a cookbook sitting open on the counter beside where he was working
and referred to it after he completed each step.
All the man greeted Vin and Chris as they came into the room. Chris poured
himself a cup of coffee and then got a mug for Vin, complete with a straw
to drink it with. He set the mug down on the table in front of where Vin
had taken a seat. Vin looked at the straw curiously for a moment, then shifted
his eyes to Chris, giving him a meek smile. He turned back to the coffee
and took a small sip through the straw. It was a little hot and Vin had to
suck in some air over his tongue to cool it down enough to swallow but, once
the stuff in the mug had gotten to a temperature he could tolerate, the straw
worked out well.
"What are you fixing there, JD?" Chris asked.
"Eggs Benedict. I've always wanted to try it so I thought I'd make it for
everybody," JD beamed from over the pot on the stove.
"Did you find everything you needed? I didn't think I had all the right
"Yeah, I found everything. You have all the stuff to make hollandaise, that's
what's cooking now, and you've got eggs and Canadian bacon. What more is
"English muffins..." both Josiah and Nathan piped in.
"Uh-oh," JD mumbled as he went over to the drawer that held the bread. Nothing.
"Oh, man..." he whined. "Now what?"
Chris sat silently and smiled.
"Check the refrigerator," Josiah suggested.
"What would English muffins be doing in the refrigerator?"
"Some brands are supposed to be kept there."
JD shrugged. "Okay." He opened the appliance and rummaged through the contents
for a moment. "Nope...damn it."
"JD," Chris called. When JD turned to him, he went on, "I think there are
some in the freezer. You'll need to thaw them out."
JD opened that part and found what he was looking for. He opened the package
and put enough muffins to feed everybody in the microwave to thaw, setting
the timer to the package recommendation. "Well, that problem's solved," he
said as he went back to the directions in the cookbook.
Even Vin seemed to enjoy watching JD scurry around the kitchen. He sat leaning
over the table with the straw in his mouth, taking sips occasionally, and
his arms were up in the air resting on his elbows. Chris remembered that
Vin hadn't taken his pain medication and wondered if he needed it now. He
got Vin's attention away from JD and pointed to his hands.
Vin knew what Chris was asking and gave a kind of half shrug. Yeah, they
hurt but not too bad. Chris knew that they'd probably start hurting worse
now that he was up and around and using his hands. He also remembered Vin
was supposed to still be keeping ice packs on his wrists. He got up and went
to his room to retrieve the packs and Vin's pills.
He got Vin to take the medication this time without any fight and then got
him to rest his arms on the table so he could put the ice packs back in place.
Vin stared at them with a resigned expression for a moment, then went back
to watching JD put their breakfast together.
JD seemed proud as he placed a plate in front of each of his friends. He
brought his own food over last and sat down, looking at the others. "Well,
dig in and let me know how it is," he coaxed.
Josiah poked his food tentatively with his fork. "I don't know, JD. It's
customary for the host to taste test the food to prove it's not poisoned."
He looked over at Chris.
"Well, this host thinks the cook should taste test it," he smiled and they
all waited for JD to take a bite. He sighed and cut himself a healthy mouthful,
then raised it to his mouth.
"I don't think it tastes too bad, but then, I don't know what it's supposed
to taste like. I've never had it before."
Nathan cut himself a smallish piece and tried it. "You know, JD," he started,
then swallowed. "This is really pretty good, and I have had this before."
"So, it's safe to eat?" Josiah asked, still poking his food.
"Yeah, it's really good. Go ahead."
"Thank you, Nathan," JD said as he went back to eating.
Before Chris ate a bite of his, he cut a piece for Vin and held the fork
up to Vin's mouth. Vin slowly leaned forward and closed his mouth around
the food. He chewed and swallowed, then glanced around the table. The other
men were eating as if it were perfectly natural for one man to be feeding
another. He relaxed a little and when Chris raised the fork again with another
bite, he took it.
Chris alternated bites between himself and Vin and the two of them finished
all the food on their plates. Chris was relieved that Vin was eating, at
least for now. He didn't know if, come lunch time, Vin would respond the
All the men cleaned their plates and complimented JD on his cooking ability.
Josiah even volunteered to do the dishes, though he paused when he saw the
mess the young man had made.
Chris led Vin into the living room and sat him on the couch. Now, he was
at a loss. He didn't know how to keep Vin occupied and keep his mind off
his situation. He thought briefly of that computer game JD had him play but
now, with his hands almost completely out of commission, he wouldn't be able
to do that. He could just set him in front of the television with the sound
off but he felt like that was just dumping him to get rid of him.
Chris sat down beside Vin and looked him in the eye. Vin could see Chris's
dilemma there. He didn't want to cause his friend any trouble so he tried
to let him know it was okay to leave him and go do the things he had to do.
Chris figured out what Vin was trying to tell him but hated the idea of him
sitting alone on the couch all day. There had to be something he could do.
JD came into the room and Chris asked him if he could think of anything that
Vin could do, since he was the one who had come up with the computer game.
JD thought a moment, thinking pictures, and asked Chris if he had any jigsaw
puzzles around. The pieces were small enough that Vin could probably handle
them even with his injured hands and there were no words involved.
Chris thought he might have one, a gift from someone, and went to the place
he kept board games and such, coming back a few minutes later with a box.
It was a scene of a western sunset with the requisite rock formations and
cacti. He indicated the dining room table would be a good place to set it
up and JD took the box and headed that way. Chris took Vin in and sat him
down at the table.
Vin watched as JD tore the plastic wrap off the box and opened it up. He
dumped the pieces out on the table top and began the task of flipping them
all over right-side-up and separating the edge pieces. Vin looked over at
the picture on the front of the box and a small smile grew on his face. Normally,
he wouldn't be able to sit still long enough to get a puzzle put together
but he knew he was limited on the things he could do now. He moved a hand
up and with a gentle touch of his finger, started helping JD get the pieces
Chris smiled and rubbed Vin on the shoulder, happy that Vin had seemed to
accept the diversion. Chris left Vin to JD and the puzzle and went to tend
to things that needed his attention, starting with the horses.
Buck called during the day to check on Vin and let them know that he and
Ezra would be there that evening to take over on guard duty. He asked if
he and Ezra should drive separately so JD would be able to take Buck's truck
home or if Josiah or Nathan could drop him off. He was told that they would
get JD home and that Buck could share a ride with Ezra, provided Ezra would
let the man into his jag or would set foot into his truck.
The day was relatively uneventful and Chris, once again, had the feeling
that he had been overcome with paranoia. Maybe there had never been anybody
following him the other day. Maybe there was no reason to check the property
and keep and eye and ear open for anything out of the ordinary. But Chris
did. He felt on the edge the whole day, like something was going to happen.
He was glad that some of the team were there.
Vin spent the better part of the day at the table working the puzzle. He
disappeared a couple of times and was found stretched out on Chris's bed
taking a nap. He wouldn't eat anything for lunch and the others tried not
to worry about it. He wasn't exactly doing things that worked up an appetite.
The men made their routine sweeps outside and kept alert. Nathan and Josiah
spent part of the day reading the files JD had 'appropriated' from his midnight
computer sessions. With the exception of Ezra, all the men had read at least
some of the information concerning what Vin was going through and all wished
there was a way to tell Vin what to expect.
Throughout the day, all the men spent some time at the puzzle with Vin but
left most of the work for him to do. He actually spent a lot of time simply
looking at the picture on the top of the box of what the completed puzzle
would look like.
Later in the day, the men gathered in the kitchen where they all wanted to
have a hand in preparing dinner. Vin slipped away and, when the agents noticed,
they assumed he had gone back to Chris's room for another nap but when Chris
went to check, he wasn't there. Josiah found him sitting on the edge of the
back porch, looking out over the corrals. No one could figure out how he
got the door open, unless his hands weren't hurting him anymore. Josiah sat
down beside him and put an arm across his shoulders.
"Gave us quite a start there, Vin," he said kindly.
Vin didn't budge, didn't look away from the corrals.
Josiah noticed the look in Vin's eyes, the look of longing. Looking out,
he saw one of Chris's horses gallop by.
"It may be a while 'fore you can do any riding, Vin. Sitting here pining
for it won't do you any good." Josiah started to get up and pull Vin with
Vin twisted out of Josiah's arm and stared up at him. He stretched his arm
out towards the corral and gave Josiah a pained expression.
"No, Vin," Josiah shook his head. "You can't be riding. You shouldn't even
be outside. It ain't safe." Josiah tried to reach around Vin again but the
smaller man twisted away.
Vin reached out with a foot and drew a straight line in the dirt with his
toe. Then, above the line, he drew a circle. He looked up at Josiah and again
pointed towards the corrals.
Josiah looked at what Vin had drawn in the dirt and then to where his hand
was pointing. Back and forth a couple of times before he looked at Vin. "The
Vin stuck his toe in the circle and slowly ran it towards and through the
line he'd drawn. He looked back at Josiah longingly.
"You want to watch the sunset." It was a question but Josiah said it as a
fact. He indicated for Vin to sit back down on the edge of the porch and
took a seat beside him. He turned his eyes to the setting sun and sighed
at the beauty of it. Vin watched his friend for a moment then turned to the
horizon as well.
Before long, Chris came out onto the porch. He was trying not to be angry
with Vin but he had been concerned when they couldn't find him. He took a
deep breath as he stepped around in front of Vin and faced him.
"Vin . . ." Chris began.
"Chris . . ." Josiah cautioned him. Chris shifted his eyes to the bigger
man. "We both know Vin. He gets a little stir crazy when he's inside for
too long and he's been inside for the better part of two weeks now. He wants
to watch the sun set and then he'll be ready to come in. Is that all right
with you?" Josiah's tone dared Chris to find a problem with the plan. Chris
looked over at Vin as his friend watched the sun go down. He turned so he
could watch it as well. It had been a long time since he'd taken the time
to just sit and watch a sunset. He took a seat beside Josiah to join the
audience. It was only a matter of a couple of minutes before JD and Nathan
joined them as well.
A half hour later, the sun was well beyond the mountain peaks and the men
began filing back into the house. As they got back inside, Chris stopped
Vin just inside the door. He had to know. He shut and locked the door and
turned to Vin, gesturing that he wanted to be shown how Vin had managed to
get outside in the first place. Vin let a small smile come to his face as
he recalled his own ingenuity. He leaned forward and took the latch to the
deadbolt in his teeth then turned his head to the side, successfully disengaging
the lock. Then, he placed the inside of each elbow on either side of the
doorknob and gripped it as tight as he could. He turned the knob until the
door opened. Once he had the door open, he straightened up and looked at
Chris, who was grinning in disbelief. He would definitely have to watch Vin
more closely from now on.
As they moved away from the door, Vin headed towards the bedroom even though
Chris tried to steer him to the kitchen. He didn't know how to tell him that
pizza was coming. After reviewing the stock in the kitchen, the men decided
to have Buck and Ezra pick up pizzas on their way out to the ranch. Maybe
once they got here and Vin could smell it, he'd get hungry.
Chris was concerned about Vin not eating but decided not to make an issue
of it. He followed his friend to the bedroom, flipping on the light switch
just inside the door. A small lamp on the night stand on Vin's side of the
bed came on to illuminate the room in a low light. Chris watched sadly from
the door as Vin sat on the edge of the bed, staring at the floor. He stepped
up and sat next to him, putting a hopefully reassuring hand on Vin's thigh.
Vin took a slow deep breath and let it out equally slowly as he continued
to stare at the carpet.
After a moment, Vin raised his head and glanced at Chris. Then, he looked
around the room and when he seemed to find what he was looking for, he got
up and stepped over to the dresser. A telephone sat on one side and beside
it, a pad and pencil. Vin picked up the pencil and worked it around in his
fingers until he had a tenuous hold on it. He put the tip of the pencil to
the paper and began to scribble something. Chris stepped up behind him and
watched over his shoulder. Vin wasn't writing but, rather, was drawing a
picture. His grip on the pencil was not too good so the picture was a little
shaky but Chris could tell what it was. Vin had drawn a stick figure of a
person. Where the face was, he drew the mouth and nose as basic mouth and
nose type shapes but where the eyes were, he put two little crosses.
Vin pointed to the picture and as he turned his gaze to Chris, he pointed
Chris looked at the picture a moment, then up to Vin's face and it dawned
on him what Vin was trying to ask. He was asking Chris if he were going to
die. As soon as he reached that conclusion, Chris began shaking his head
"No! Absolutely not! No, Vin, you are not going to die." Once again, Chris
pulled Vin to him and held him tight. "God, Vin, is that what you've been
thinking all this time?" he mumbled into the back of Vin's head. He could
feel Vin trembling. He remembered Vin saying once that he wasn't afraid to
die and Chris believed he wasn't. But that didn't mean he wanted to know
it was coming and have to just sit and wait for it.
Chris ran his hand comfortingly up and down Vin's back as he waited for his
friend to calm some. His eyes fell on the bottle of anti-depressants and
he thought seriously of starting Vin back on them. The trial be damned, there
was no reason to put Vin through this. There would be another chance to nail
Chassen, but even as he had the thought, all of the times the man had been
taken in and subsequently released due to a technicality flooded his mind.
And all the atrocities he committed between arrests as well. No, the man
had to be removed from society and, right now, Vin was their only hope.
Vin finally pulled away from Chris and went to the bed. He climbed onto it
and lay down, curling onto his side facing the window. Even though it was
now dark outside, Vin stared at the glass. Chris felt tears fill his eyes
as he moved to the edge of the bed and gently patted Vin's shoulder. Vin
had to get better soon because Chris didn't know how much more of this he
Chris turned to leave but before he did, he picked up the picture Vin had
drawn and the bottle of pills. He had to think for a minute where the pain
pills were and remembered he had taken that bottle to the kitchen for Vin's
last dose. He'd have to keep better tabs on the bottles, not knowing if Vin
would try anything in his depressed state. He left the light on as he left
the room, pulling the door partway closed.
Nathan, Josiah and JD were in the kitchen, discussing the logistics of getting
JD home when Chris plodded in. He walked passed his friends, up to the table
and wearily lowered himself into a chair. The three stood and watched him
silently. Chris rested his elbow on the table and his chin on the heel of
his hand. Finally, Josiah walked forward and sat across from Chris.
"Trouble, brother?" he asked, his deep voice resonating through the room.
Chris sighed as he looked up. He stared at Josiah a long moment before he
moved, raising his other hand to the table and laying Vin's picture on it.
Josiah looked down at it.
Nathan and JD now approached the table as Josiah turned the paper around
to where he thought the picture appeared right side up.
"What's this?" Nathan asked.
"Vin drew it, just a few minutes ago." Chris sounded defeated.
JD chuckled a little. "It looks like in cartoons when someone's unconscious
or dead," he blurted out, then his eyes grew wide. "Vin thinks he's dying?"
Chris didn't say anything for a moment, then nodded his head. "I think so,"
he finally said softly.
"It won't be for much longer, Chris," Nathan advised, knowing what Chris
was thinking about.
"Not much longer," Chris scoffed and turned to the former medic. "It could
be three weeks or more. We don't know where Vin will fall in line with the
other subjects. We don't know how much of that drug they were given in relation
to what he was given. We don't even know if it was exactly the same drug.
And ..." Here, Chris slapped the bottle of anti-depressants on the table.
"...the one thing we can give him to make it easier, make him feel a little
better, we can't give him because it slows the recovery time." Chris
sighed angrily and added, "And we have no way of letting him know all this."
The men were surprised at Chris's tirade. He was usually the strong one,
the stoic one, the one who handled every situation with quiet resolve. They
suspected his emotions were more involved because it was Vin. He had managed
to, at least publicly, keep his emotions in check during the week Vin was
missing. But that week undoubtedly took its toll and now with Vin in the
situation he was in, Chris just couldn't hold everything in anymore.
Josiah reached across the table and laid an understanding hand on top of
Chris's. Chris appreciated the gesture and visibly tried to rein in his emotions.
JD had been slightly unnerved by Chris's outburst. He backed silently towards
the entrance of the room, intending to help his leader by finding a way to
tell Vin what was going on. He pursed his lips as he wracked his brain. There
had to be a way to get through to Vin that his condition was not permanent.
He silently backed out of the doorway and went back to the den where he picked
up a couple of items, then went on to Chris's bedroom
Vin was still laying on his side when JD quietly entered and approached the
side of the bed. He had to lean over the mattress to see if Vin was awake
since he was facing the other way. When he saw Vin's eyes reflecting the
light coming from the small lamp, he knew he was awake and stepped around
to the other side of the bed, where he was in Vin's line of sight. Vin slowly
moved his eyes to meet JD's and stared at him sadly. JD climbed onto the
bed and scooted over so he was sitting beside where Vin was laying and set
down the things he had brought with him.
JD took a deep breath and looked at Vin, making sure he still had his attention,
then he picked up the atlas that he had brought and opened it to the map
of the whole country and held it for Vin to see. He glanced down as he placed
his finger over the spot he wanted and pointed to it then looked up at Vin
and pointed to him.
"Amarillo, Texas. You were there," he explained out loud, because he couldn't
not say anything. He shifted his finger between the spot on the map and Vin.
Then, JD reached over and picked up the calendar that he had brought, flipping
to the right month and holding it for Vin to see. Then he pointed at the
day Vin had shown up at the hospital in Texas, pointed at Vin again, and
pointed at Texas on the atlas. He repeated the sequence several times but
couldn't tell if anything was getting through to Vin, or if he was just confusing
him. He was at least watching him so JD continued.
He looked back at the calendar and pointed to today, Wednesday, and then
pointed his finger downward, not knowing how else to say now. Vin stared
at the calendar, flicking his eyes occasionally to JD's.
JD pointed back to the day he showed up in Texas, pointed back to Vin, made
a gesture with his hand to mimic a mouth talking and then drew his finger
across his throat and shook his head no, trying to indicate when he lost
his connection with language by when he couldn't speak anymore.
Vin squinted his eyes, as if he were concentrating and pushed himself up
a little higher in the bed. This was what the girl in the hospital had done
to try and tell him things.
JD smiled as he saw a hint of interest in Vin's eyes. He went back to the
calendar and pointed to today again, pointed to Vin, did the mouth talking
gesture and shook his head no.
"Today, you still can't talk," JD said, more to himself, "but..."
He pointed to tomorrow, the day that was ten days after he showed up in Texas
and ran his finger out till he reached the day that would be thirty days
out, then did the gesture again and nodded his head yes. He darted his finger
back and forth between the two dates, trying to show the whole period, that
he could regain normal function somewhere during those twenty days.
Slowly, Vin pushed himself up to a sitting position, still staring at the
calendar. Something was starting to make sense.
JD sat still on the bed and watched Vin as he looked over the calendar and
atlas. He lightly fingered one of the dates that JD had pointed out and then
moved his finger to the map, Texas. JD nodded his head, though Vin wasn't
looking at him. Vin then touched a finger tip to another day JD had pointed
to, today. He glanced at JD and JD nodded.
"That's today," he said, emphasizing by pointing downward again.
Vin slid his finger to the next square on the calendar, then moved his hand
up to rest a finger tip lightly on his lower lip and looked hopefully at
JD. JD's expression wilted some. He couldn't tell Vin that he would be okay
tomorrow. He tried to indicate the entire period of twenty days that he had
before and then pointed towards Vin's mouth.
"Somewhere in here," JD said, moving his hand back to the calendar. "You're
gonna get better, Vin. You will."
If it were possible for a person's whole body to sigh with relief, JD would
have sworn Vin's had just done so. He visibly relaxed and looked back into
JD's eyes as a hopeful smile curled slowly on his lips.
JD felt tears form in his eyes. "You're gonna be fine, Vin," he reiterated
as he smiled back at his friend.
From the doorway, the two men heard the sound of clapping. They turned to
see Josiah standing just inside the door, slowly bringing his hands together
"Nicely done, JD," he said as he ambled into the room.
"I think he understands," JD beamed, the tears finally overflowing.
"I think you're right," Josiah agreed as he looked at Vin. "Now, do you think
you can let him know that pizza has arrived?"
JD thought for a moment, then started pointing at the pad of paper and pencil
by the phone. "Could you hand me those, please, Josiah?"
Josiah retrieved the items and passed them over to JD. JD began drawing the
top view of a pizza pie, complete with pepperoni and mushrooms. When he was
done, he held it up for Vin to see and pointed to his mouth.
Vin stared at JD's newest picture then glanced at the gesture JD was making.
Pizza. It sounded good and Vin's mouth watered at the thought but his stomach
grumbled at the idea of throwing food at it. Vin pointed to his stomach and
shook his head no.
JD's expression turned to one of concern. "Does it hurt?" he asked, then
wrapped his arms across his midsection, leaned forward and groaned, mimicking
the way he felt the last time he ate Buck's cooking. Josiah smiled at the
motions and looked to Vin for his response.
Vin supplied a half-shrug and then a quick nod.
JD turned to Josiah. "Think it's something to worry about?"
Josiah looked carefully at Vin for a moment then faced JD. "No, son, I think
that the emotional strain he's going through carries most of the blame. That,
and the fact he's not physically doing much to generate an appetite."
"He should come with us anyway. Like Nathan said this morning, it's not good
for him to stay here all alone. He just makes himself feel worse." JD waited
for Josiah to either agree with or refute what he had just said but all the
big man did was nod absently.
When JD turned back to Vin, he saw that his friend was looking down at the
calendar, running a fingertip over the days JD had just pointed out to him.
His finger hovered over the block representing tomorrow and Vin drew in a
deep breath and sighed. Slowly, he lowered himself back to his side, keeping
the calendar in his sight.
Before Vin was completely lying down, JD tapped him on the shoulder and waved
his hand for him to follow but Vin shook his head. JD glanced at Josiah and
wondered if they should insist Vin go with them but Josiah gave a slight
shake of his head and turned for the door. JD looked back sadly for a moment
before moving off the bed to follow the older agent out.