Sihn's Empire
03 Symptoms
by Olivia

What has Vin been up to over the last ten years? Why are he and Chris at odds? And what happened to Sarah?

Sequel to: 02 Signals

A Private Hospital Outside of Denver

It was the smell that bothered him the most, the heavy antiseptic that lingered in the air so intensely that it almost felt like it was smothering him.

Vin Tanner hated hospitals, hated them with a passion.

Of course they were doing their best to make this not look like a hospital, soft blue walls instead of white, oak furniture that might have come out of one of those fancy catalogs the Doc kept in his waiting room, a bouquet of fresh wildflowers basking in the sunshine streaming through the window.

It didn't look anything like a hospital.

But he knew differently. A hospital was still a hospital, filled with strangers who were only taking care of you because it meant their monthly paycheck.

He hated hospitals. He hated it even more that she was here, locked away from her home, from the family that loved her, from the husband who loved her.

Thinking back on what he had seen in Larabee's office, maybe he should make that the husband who used to love her.

He closed his eyes to fight back the tears that he knew weren't going to do anybody any good.

It was too late for tears.

Gently he brushed a stray hair off her forehead, momentarily thanking whoever it was that had taken the time to brush her hair and tie it up with a ribbon.

"Hey Sarah," his voice was a hoarse whisper. "I've missed you. I meant to come by earlier, but your dad kept me pretty busy on the reservation. He misses you a lot, you know. I think he works himself so hard from morning to night so that he doesn't have to stop and think about you." Vin paused, thinking about how angry Doc was at Larabee for putting her in here. Sarah's father had begged, no pleaded with Larabee to let him take care of Sarah. Even offered to move back to Denver and give up his practice and all that he had achieved on the reservation to care for his only daughter. Larabee had been adamant, this hospital was supposed to be the best at treating patients in Sarah's condition and that was that. End of story.

Bastard. Vin felt the familiar anger burn through him. It was a paradox, one he had come no closer to understanding over the last few years than he had when Larabee had first announced his decision. Sarah loved the man. Hell he'd spent enough time in their company to know that for a fact. And once, back then, he had thought Larabee loved Sarah as fiercely and as strongly as she had loved him. Once, back then, he had seen the older man as a brother, accepting him not because Sarah loved him but because he loved Sarah. And as far as Vin was concerned, Sarah just about walked on water and anyone else who could see that was okay as far as Vin was concerned.

Which brought him back to his original question, if Chris loved her how could he lock her away like this, shutting her into this little prison. He thought about the woman he had seen Larabee with, the seductive smile on her face. Were the two lovers? Was she the reason Sarah was here.

He shook his head. None of that mattered now. What mattered was the woman in front of him, the woman whose eyes, eyes that he remembered as vivid and full of life, were blank and empty as they stared unblinkingly at the ceiling.

He wondered what she was seeing. What she was thinking. He hoped to God that she wasn't remembering. Not that he blamed her. That night pretty much haunted his dreams and he hadn't even been there.

His hand tightened in hers, hoping that he could lend her some of his strength, chase away the demons for a few minutes. It was a bitter irony to Vin that when he had needed her the most, Sarah had been there. Had rescued him from the hell his life had become. Had given him a home. A family. Things he valued so much. And when she had needed him the most? He'd been sleeping hundreds of miles away.

Guilt had become a very familiar friend over the last few years.

He could almost see it when he closed his eyes. She'd been home alone, Larabee had been working late on a major case. Adam, their five year old son had been sleeping upstairs, probably holding tight to the stuffed kangaroo Vin had bought him the Christmas before that Sarah claimed he never let go of. Sarah had been correcting papers, essays that her students had written where they predicted what the world would look like in fifty years.

It was a typical night. Nothing out of the ordinary. Nothing that is until the four youths had shown up at her door. Sarah had recognized them from the high school, two of them were in her classes. She'd opened the door without hesitation because that was the kind of person she was- trusting.

He didn't think it had taken her long until she had figured out her mistake.

The four....he didn't think of them as youths more like scum...had been high on crack or speed or some combination of the two. They'd been violent, horribly violent. Vin could just imagine Sarah's hurt and confusion and fear as they had destroyed her home, smashing the antique coffee table her grandmother had left her, destroying the stained glass mirror Larabee had bought her.

Her terror as they had turned on her. The bruises had told the story. She'd fought like a wildcat but there had been four of them. Too many to fight off even if they hadn't been filled with the adrenaline of their high. They'd raped her. More than once. Beaten her. Badly. Still she had fought. Still she had held on to her strength. Held onto herself.

Until Adam. Vin closed his eyes. The boy had probably heard the noise. Had he been afraid? Probably. But being who he was, whose kid he was, Adam hadn't let the fear stop him. He'd gone downstairs to tell the bad men to leave his mother alone.

They'd thrown him against the wall, crushing his skull.

And Vin knew, Sarah watching, probably desperately screaming, had had her heart broken.

And when one of them decided that battering the child wasn't enough and had started to rape the boy as well, Sarah's mind had done the only thing it could do. It had shattered.


She'd been in the hospital almost a month while her bones healed and her bruises faded. Internal damage had to be repaired. A kidney that had bled internally. A uterus that would never bear another a child.

She'd never spoken. Not a word. Not even a sound. The neurologist had been called. A psychologist consulted.

Nothing had worked.

The Sarah they knew was gone, replaced by this shell that was nothing like her despite the physical resemblance.

Vin found himself praying, a familiar prayer, hoping that somehow Sarah would find her back to them.

He'd added it to his other prayer, the other torment that kept him up at night.

The other driving need that had brought him to Denver.

Ezra. He could picture the other boy in his mind, those green eyes that had seemed able to see straight through Vin. Only in his mind was Ezra still that same boy, the one he had sworn to protect from that bastard. In reality Ezra was a man now. Was he okay? Safe? Content? Happy? Or did he, like Vin, wake in the middle of the night to the cold realization that something wasn't there, something was missing.

Did he feel as alone as Vin did?

Vin shuddered. God he was an idiot. Ezra was probably married with the 2.5 kids and a house in the suburbs. Or maybe he was living out west in one of those solar houses in the desert he'd found a picture of in the high school library. Vin could still remember Ezra showing it to him, talking about how it would feel like to be independent, to live in a way that meant you didn't need anybody else. Didn't need to take anyone's charity.

What had it done to Ezra to be dragged along by his mother from relative to relative as an afterthought, like an old car that everyone agreed needed fixing but no one wanted to pay for? How could anyone, or at least any mother, do that to her child. Vin could barely remember his own mother who had died when he was a small child from cancer. But he knew she had loved him, had felt it in her touch. It had been that knowledge that had sustained him through the endless foster homes that had followed.

Ezra hadn't even had that much. Ezra had never had anyone to love him or to take care of him.

Except Vin. Funny what time and perspective could do. Vin could look back on those nine months when he and Ezra had lived in that hell hole, helping each other, sustaining each other, and it seemed so obvious. He had loved Ezra. Oh he had always known that Ezra was special, had known it since the day Maude had dropped him off, one look at that ramrod straight back, the face that was trying so hard not to show any pain, and Vin had known that he would watch after the other boy, do all in his power to protect him. But at 16 it hadn't occurred to him that what he felt for the other boy was love. At that age love was, after all, reserved for blonde cheerleaders and high school dances. He hadn't known until he had lost Ezra that what he felt for the other boy was love. And he hadn't expected that feeling to linger inside him all of these years- through the hard work to complete his high school degree (work made easier after Sarah had figured out why reading and writing had always been hard for Vin), through the years spent away at college (not because he wanted to go but because he had promised Sarah and her father that he would at least give it a try and once there he was too stubborn to quit) or the last few years spent living on the reservation, learning from the tribal shaman and the other elders while he tried to put aside the nagging ache in his soul. The ache that had only one name.

He turned his attention back to Sarah, wishing for selfish reasons that she would talk to him, listen to him, tell him what to do, where to go.

Sarah had known before he did what he felt for Ezra. They'd spent long nights on the trail when she and Larabee came to the reservation talking. She'd talk about Larabee and the family she wanted to start so badly. He'd talk about Ezra and listen as she reassured him he would find Ezra again some day.

He stared into her eyes and tried to ignore their stark blankness, imagining instead that they were filled with their usual compassion and love.

"I dreamed about him again last night. Only the dream changed. It starts out the same. There is some kind of mist and I know I'm looking for Ezra. I know that I need to find him. I can feel him, hear him. But I can't see him. I can't touch him. But I know, I know, that he is hurting. That he needs me as much as I need him. I feel him drifting away, becoming even more lost to me, and the dream becomes different because this time I can hear a clock ticking and I know that I'm running out of time. I know that if I don't find him soon I'm going to lose him forever and I don't know, I don't think, that I'm strong enough to handle that. And I wake up petrified."

Suddenly tired, he laid his had down on her shoulder, momentarily needing to feel the warmth of her body even as he missed the warmth of her spirit.

"I don't know what to do next, Sarah. I don't know where to turn to. I need you to guide me, to tell me the truth like you've always done. I know....I know what happened hurt you and I don't blame you one bit for wanting to hide awhile and lick your wounds, but you've stayed away too long. There are too many people who need you. Your dad. Me. Hell I think even Larabee still needs you even if he has a funny way of showing it."

His voice dropped below a whisper. "I can't handle this anymore Sarah. I can't. I lost Ezra. I can't lose you. I can't, do you hear me? You need to come back to us Sarah. You need to come back before you're gone so long that you don't remember the way home. Please God Sarah come back. I know it hurts but I promise you if you just come back I'll be here to help you just like you were there to help me. Please Sarah. Please."

And when there was no answer, no movement of any kind, Vin did what he had been trying not to do since he stepped into the room.

He started to cry.

The silent figure dressed in black moved back from the doorway and down the hallway. Leaning back against the cold wall, he closed his own eyes against the burning tears. Taking a deep breath, Chris Larabee got out his cell phone and dialed a familiar number.

"Josiah? It's Chris. I need you to do me a favor. I need you to track down someone for me. Yeah I know we're in the middle of a big case and we're still trying to sort through all the forensic reports that Buck is sending from Chicago, but this is important. I need you to locate an Ezra Standish. Standish. Right. Thanks Josiah."

Chris terminated the connection and paused. For the first time since he had received the phone call that had started the hell his life had been for the last few years, he felt close to Sarah. As if helping Vin was somehow what Sarah wanted him to do.

It was after all, at least a beginning.

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Story posted to A Gambler's Lust, The Magnificent Two