by Winnie Power

Half an hour later, Ezra Standish wheeled Vin Tanner into ICU four. The nurse had been warned to expect the injured man and had cleared an area for his chair to be pushed up to the bed.

"Let’s go grab a coffee, Mr. Jackson," Ezra suggested.

"You alright, Vin?" Jackson asked.

"I’m fine, Nate," Vin said in a quivering voice.

"I’ll be back to get you in ten minutes, Mr. Tanner," Standish said.

"Thanks, Ezra," Vin said as he reached out for the bed.

"Here, Mr. Tanner," Peggy said as she placed his hand on the hand of his friend.

"Thanks," Vin said as he reached out and placed his other hand over his friend's. The skin felt cool, almost lifeless to his touch. "Hey, Cowboy, they tell me you’re in some kinda coma here."

The soft Texan drawl sent shivers of warmth through his cold body.

"You know how hard this is for me, Pard? How hard it is to not feel you in my head. To feel as if I’m losing my brother. Yes, Chris, I think of you as my brother."

Up through the soft whiteness of nothingness he was drawn as the familiar pleading voice continued to nag at his mind.

"The brother I never had but always wanted. You have to come back to us, Pard."

At first, the reminder of pain made him want to move away from the incessant voice. The voice of his brother. The man who’d filled the void in his life.

"We need you, hell I need you, Chris. I need you to watch my back."

The voice continued to talk and he felt the pain re-enter his mind. He felt things invading his body; hated things, painful things, things he didn’t want to face.

"I’m blind, Cowboy and you promised to be my eyes, remember? I know you’d never go back on a promise."

Vin,’ he thought and struggled towards the sound of the voice. There was something in his throat. The invasion-reaching deep down inside and he fought against it. ‘I can’t do this,’ he thought as his newly awakening senses screamed in agony.

"Come, on, Pard, I need you," he said as a single tear dropped from his eye.

Chris felt something wet land on his hand and he knew he’d fight to have his life back. He’d be there for Vin Tanner, he’d be his eyes for as long as he was needed. The finger on his left hand twitched.

"Please, Chris," Vin said. He was startled as alarms began to sound from the bed of his best friend. "No, Chris, dammit, don’t do this to me," Vin cried as he found the strength to pull his tired body from the chair. His ankle gave way and he crashed to the floor with a resounding thud and a scream of agony.


Four newly arrived men raced to the elevators and hurried inside. They recognized the hated call and there was no doubt in their minds who it was being called for.

Chris Larabee heard the scream and his eyes opened in terror, ‘Vin’s in trouble,’ he thought as waves of agony made themselves known to him. He tried to speak but something stopped him. Something that invaded his mouth and throat. He tried to use his hands to remove the offending item but his hands wouldn’t move. He opened his eyes and grimaced at the too white light. He shivered as the blankets were torn from his body. Alarms sounded in his ears and he was certain Vin Tanner was dead. Tears slipped from his eyes and ran down his cheeks.

"Don’t move him," Peggy ordered as she saw Ezra and Nathan hurry to the fallen man. "The orderly’s will do it. You two get out of the way," she said as Dr. Weaver and two other nurses joined her. The crash cart was pulled into position as Vin Tanner was gently lifted onto a gurney.

"C...Chris," Vin called through the throbbing of his ankle. He was pushed through the door and towards the elevator. "No!" he cried. "I h...have to s...stay with Chris. He needs me."

"We have to get your ankle checked," the orderly told him.

"Take it easy, Vin. The doctors are in with Mr. Larabee right now," Ezra explained as he followed the stretcher into the elevator. He was torn between staying to find out what was happening to the man in ICU or helping the younger man settle down and let his own injuries be tended to.

"C...Chris’s is d...dying, Ez," Vin said as the doors closed and they descended. They passed the elevator bringing the other four men to the seventh floor.

"No he’s not, Mr. Tanner. Mr. Larabee is not going to give up that easy," Ezra said, his voice lacking conviction.

+ + + + + + +

Nathan watched from the door as the team of nurses and doctors began working on his friend. "What’s happening?" he asked as he watched Weaver order the team to step down.

"Hang on a minute," Weaver said. He’d noticed the patient's eyes and the tears streaming from them. "Chris, if you can hear me move your fingers," he said and was rewarded by the tiniest motion of Chris Larabee’s index finger. A grin spread across his face as he noticed the displaced lead that was supposed to be anchored to the appendage. "Cancel the code," he told Peggy.

"No! He can’t be dead," Buck cried as he and the others joined Nathan Jackson at the open door.

"Oh God, Chris," JD sobbed, not caring who saw him do it.

"Keep working on him," Travis called from behind his men.

Josiah Sanchez remained quiet, his eyes closed as he said a silent prayer.

"Hold on you guys," Nathan said as he spotted the smile on the doctor's face. "Chris isn’t dead."

"What?" Buck asked.

"Look at Weaver," Nathan said. They all watched as the doctor examined the patient's eyes and Peggy replaced the lead on his finger. The alarms stopped as suddenly as they’d begun and the quiet was almost as bad as the noise had been.

Weaver continued to examine his patient. He saw the look of terror on the man’s face and began talking softly to him. "You’ve been through a lot, Chris. You’re probably wondering what’s happening to you. Are you up to a few explanations? Lift your finger if you are."

Chris listened to the man standing above him. He wanted to scream at the man to take the tubes out of him. He wanted to see Vin. He had to see Vin but Vin was dead. He knew he was dead because the alarms were now silent.

"Do you hear me, Chris? Can you lift your finger for me?" Weaver repeated and was finally rewarded by the lifting finger. "That's good, very good, Chris. Now I’ll explain a few things to you. You’re in the ICU at Cooke City Hospital. You’ve been hurt pretty bad but I won’t go into details right now. The tube in your throat is helping you breathe so try not to fight it. As soon as we’re certain you can breath on your own, we’ll remove it, until then you need to relax and let it do it’s job, ok?" Again the finger was lifted. "I’m going to give you something for the pain now and I’d like you to try to get some sleep." Weaver said as he signalled for the nurse to give him the shot.

Chris felt the needle sink into his already tender hip. He struggled against his heavy lids wanting, no needing, to know how his best friend was. Tears of frustration beaded at the corners of his heavy eyes.

Weaver could tell that his patient was struggling with something and he remembered the man that had been lying on the floor when he’d entered the room. "Are you worried about your friend?" Weaver asked and watched Chris’s finger twitch. "He’s on his way down to X-ray to make sure he didn’t do any damage to his ankle. He’s going to be fine, Chris, and so are you," Weaver said as he watched the nurse wipe the man's fevered brow. "I’m going to let your friends know how you’re doing and they’ll probably want to visit you. Do you feel up to a few visitors?" The finger lifted again and Weaver patted him on the shoulder. "I’ll send them in one at a time," he said as he smiled at his patient.

"Doc?" Buck asked.

"He’s awake," Weaver told them.

"Yes!" JD shouted.

"Damn, I knew he wouldn’t stay down long. Way to go, Chris," Buck said, a grin covering his handsome face.

"He’s not out of the woods yet, Mr. Wilmington. He’s still got a long way to go."

"Can we see him?" Buck asked.

"One at a time and only for a few minutes. He needs to rest. He’s also worried about Mr. Tanner."

"Yeah, that sounds like Chris," Buck laughed.

"I’m going to change some orders at the nurses station so you go ahead and visit with him but please remember he’s a very sick man and needs to sleep," Weaver told them.

"We will, Doctor," Nathan said as the man left the five of them standing outside the room. "You go on in, Buck, I’ll fill the rest of you in on what happened."

"Thanks, Nate," Buck said as he walked into the tiny room. Chris’s eyes were closed as he stepped up to the bed but he knew instinctively that he wasn’t sleeping. "Hey, Pard," he said.

Chris opened his eyes and looked up into the face of his oldest friend. He wanted to speak but the respirator wouldn’t allow that so he waited for Buck to speak again.

"You gave us quite a scare you know. Thought we’d lost you a few times," Buck said in a quivery voice. "Hey, don’t fight the machine, Pard, I know you hate it, heck we all hate it but it’s there to help you right now. Understand?" Buck asked and saw the finger once more lift off the bed. "Dr. Weaver said you need to rest so I’ll let the others see you for a few minutes. You rest, Pard, and I’ll be back later," Buck said as he placed a hand on his friend's shoulder before leaving.

Nathan stepped into the room and up to the bed. Once again Chris’s eyes were closed but at the sound of the medic’s voice he opened them slightly. "Hey, Chris, I know you’re probably worried about Vin," he watched as the patient's eyes popped open fully. "Easy now. He’s just gone down to x-ray. He took a little fall from his chair when your alarms went off," Jackson explained.

My alarms,’ Chris thought. Realization dawned on him and he knew that his friend had been visiting him. He remembered Vin coaxing him back from the brink. He remembered his pleading voice, the tear that dropped on his hand, the pain in the softly spoken words, and the touch of Vin’s hand on his. He let the tears that filled his eyes fall free as he felt the relief flow through his body. His brother was alive and he was sure he would see him soon.

"You need to rest, Chris. Vin’s going to be fine. I’ll let one of the others come in to see you but only for a couple of minutes."

JD Dunne stepped up to the bed and was relieved to see his mentor’s eyes open. "Hey, Chris, I’m glad to see you’re awake," he said, stumbling over his words at the pain in the older man's eyes. "I won’t stay. I just needed to see for myself that you were awake," he said as he turned before the man could see his tears.

Orrin Travis came next and he stood over the pale man. "Next time I suggest you go on vacation just shoot me," Travis said and saw the tiny smile that touched the tired man's eyes. "Hell, I’m sorry, Chris, wish I hadn’t made it an order," he said as he left the room to be replaced by Josiah Sanchez.

"Welcome back, Brother Chris, thought we’d lost you to the spirits for a while there. I’m gonna sit beside you now so why don’t you close your eyes and get some rest," Sanchez said as he sat beside the bed.

Chris closed his eyes as the medication he’d been given finally took effect. The drug deadened his body against the pain and he soon succumbed to sleep.

+ + + + + + +

Ezra waited for the x-rays to be finished. He paced back and forth in the lobby worrying about both injured men. He looked up as Nathan Jackson hurried towards him. One look at the mans face told him it was good news for a change. "How is Mr. Larabee?" he asked.

"It was a false alarm, Ezra, one of the leads came off and set the alarms off. He’s awake and the guys are visiting him. How’s Vin?"

"He’s in x-ray with Dr. Mercer right now. She thinks he’s opened some of the stitches and they may have to take him back to surgery. It depends on how many were opened and if he displaced the pins."

"Damn, doesn’t anything ever come easy with these two?"

"Not likely," Ezra said as they lapsed into silence and waited for word on Vin Tanner. They paced back and forth in the narrow corridor until the door opened and Dr. Mercer stepped out.

"How is he?" Jackson asked worriedly.

"Mr. Tanner is a lucky man. It looks like a couple of stitches broke but nothing was displaced. We’ll be able to fix it up using a local so he won’t have to go back under a general. He’s very worried about his friend. Is there any word on his condition?" Mercer asked.

"Actually there’s goods news. It seems the visit from Vin brought Chris out of the coma. He was awake when I left him," Nathan explained.

"That’s wonderful. Mr. Tanner is going back to his room if one of you want to go with him and let him know."

"I’ll go with him," Jackson said. "You can go see Chris if you want, Ezra."

"Thanks, Mr. Jackson, I’d like to see how our leader fares myself," Standish said as he walked towards the elevators.

Nathan watched as Vin Tanner was wheeled from the tiny x-ray room. He hurried towards him as the orderly told Vin someone would be there shortly to bring him back to his room.

"Hi, Vin."

"Nathan, how’s Chris?"

"Chris is fine. It’s you that's got us worried right now. Weren’t you told to take it easy and not to get out of that chair?"

"Thought Chris was dead," Vin’s voice was so soft Nathan wasn’t sure he’d heard correctly.

"He’s not, Vin. As a matter of fact, your little talk woke him up. He must have dislodged one of the leads when he heard you and that’s what caused the alarm."

"You mean he didn’t go into cardiac arrest? He didn’t die?" Vin asked as relief washed over him.

"That’s right, Vin. He’s awake but he’s far from outta the woods. He’s got a long road ahead of him. He’s still got to go through the treatments for pneumonia on top of everything else and you know how bad those can be," Nathan explained.

"Ah, hell, Nate, doesn’t he have enough to go through without breathing in that medicine and having someone pound on his back. Shit, with the tubes you said he has he’s gonna be hurting something fierce without them throwing that on top of him."

"There’s no choice, Vin. Pneumonia, left untreated, will kill him. He’s gonna need all of us to fight his way back from this one, Vin. Here comes an orderly to bring you back to your room. Feel like a little company?"

"I’d appreciate that, Nathan. Thanks."

"Let’s get you back to your room, Mr. Tanner," the orderly said as he checked Vin’s chart and pulled the gurney away from the wall.

+ + + + + + +

Chris lay on the bed in misery. He could feel everything that was happening to him. He knew the doctors were checking to see if he could breath on his own. The respirator was still in place but it was allowing him to breath on his own. Weaver had explained things to him that morning and he’d also told him that they’d be treating his pneumonia as soon as he was off the respirator.

He worried about Vin and wondered when he’d be able to see him again. His men had explained things to him but with him being unable to talk he hadn’t been able to get the answers he wanted. He wanted so much to vent his anger but his restrained hands wouldn’t even allow for him to pound on the sheets. All he could do was raise his finger in a yes or no answer.

He’d been in constant pain since the nurses turning him on his side and draining the painful wound in his side had awakened him. They’d placed some medications in the IV line leading into his chest as well as draining the one that burned in his stomach. He felt as if he’d never be comfortable with his own body again. He closed his eyes and tried to sleep.

+ + + + + + +

"When can I see Chris?"

"If you sleep tonight and behave yourself, I’ll let you see him tomorrow. That’s if you’re both up to it," Dr. Mercer told her troublesome patient.

"Can’t I see him tonight?" Vin asked.

"Mr. Tanner, you’ve just had your ankle re-stitched and rewrapped. There’s no way you’re getting out of this bed tonight so you might as well just lie back and relax. I’m sure your friends here will make you listen to reason."

"We will," Sanchez said from the opposite side of the bed.

"Please, Josiah, I just want to make sure he’s ok," Vin explained.

"Not until Dr. Mercer says it’s ok," Josiah said as he watched the doctor place a needle into the IV.

"What was that?" Vin asked as he felt the pain in his ankle slowly ebb.

"Something for the pain and something to help you sleep, Mr. Tanner. Don’t fight it, just close your eyes and rest," Mercer said. "I’ll be back in the morning and we’ll see if Mr. Larabee is up to a visit from you. Goodnight."

"Damn, why do doctors do that?"

"They only do it to stubborn patients who won’t listen to reason," Sanchez laughed.

Vin Tanner yawned in spite of himself and drifted into a drug induced sleep. Josiah sat by the bed and waited for the night shift to arrive.

+ + + + + + +

Chris felt a hand on his chest and opened his eyes. A new nurse stood before him and he wondered how long he’d been out. There were no windows in the tiny room and he didn’t know if it was day or night.

"Good morning, Chris, my name is Nancy and I’ll be your nurse for today. Melanie said you had a pretty good night. Are you in any pain right now?" she asked and watched his finger rise in answer to the question. "I’m gonna give you a shot and then Susie and I are going to turn you on your back again. I know it hurts when we do this but if we don’t you’ll end up with more problems than you already have," she explained as she placed a syringe in his hip again. She could see the bruising from each of the previous shots and knew this man must feel like a pincushion.

Chris felt the injection slowly take effect on his battered body. He wondered where Buck had gone as he felt the nurse begin to empty the tubes again. Even with the pain meds, he could feel the pressure from the suctioning. Tears came to his eyes and he wondered if it would ever end.

"Hi, Chris, I’m Susie. I’m going to help Nancy turn you on your back. It’s gonna hurt for a few moments but you’ll do fine."

Sure I will,’ Chris thought as he felt the nurses begin to move his body. The pain grew worse as they shifted him onto his back and he panicked against the ventilator. His eyes grew wide as he struggled to control his breathing.

"Easy, Chris, we’re almost done. Let the machine breath for you until we finish up. That’s it. We’re almost done and we’ll let you sleep for awhile," Nancy reassured the seriously injured man. They finished turning him onto his back and she replaced the IV fluids and antibiotics above his head. "Thanks for your help, Susie," she told the departing nurse. She smiled as she watched a young man being wheeled towards the room by an older man. "Do you feel up to some company?" she asked her patient.

Chris tried to turn his head to see who was coming but the machines and tubes leading into his body obstructed his view. He wanted to tear the offending tube from his mouth but his hands were strapped down.

Vin sat in the chair and wondered if he’d ever look into his friend’s intense green eyes, if he’d ever be able to see the Larabee glare turned in his direction. ‘Stop with the self pity, Tanner, at least you’re alive,’ he thought as Nathan Jackson pulled his chair up to the bed.

Nathan looked into the dull, pain filled eyes of the man lying on the bed, "Hey, Chris, good to see you awake. I brought someone to visit you," he said.

"Chris," Tanner said softly.

‘Vin,’ Chris thought. ‘Vin’s blind. I’ll be your eyes, Pard. If they ever get this thing off me or should I say outta me.’ He felt tears in his eyes and wondered if it was for his own pain or that of his friend. He wished he could voice his concerns but knew there was nothing he could do for now.

"I know you can’t answer me, Cowboy. Nathan told me you’re still hooked up to the ventilator," Vin said as he reached out and searched for his friend's hands.

Nathan took the younger man’s hand and placed it over his friend's.

"Thanks, Nate," Vin said as he gently massaged the hand he now held. He smiled as he felt the hand tighten in his own, "I’m glad you didn’t leave me, Chris. I couldn’t face this without you, Pard. I figure as long as you’re around I’ll have eyes watching my back. I love you, Chris. You’re the brother I never had and I can’t bare the thought of losing you. I know you’re in a lot of pain but I don’t want you to go. I heard Nathan say he was glad to see you awake. Well I can’t say I’m glad to see you’re awake. Lord knows I can’t see anything. But I can tell you I’m glad you’ve decided to stick around. I need you in my life, Cowboy, more than you’ll ever know," Vin said as tears fell from his sightless eyes.

Chris could hear the pain in his friend's voice and wondered if things would ever be the same. ‘I wish I could tell you how I feel, Vin. I feel as if I found the missing piece of me when I met you. I’ll be there for you. I’ll be our eyes, I’ll watch your back for you. God, I want to tell you that you’re my brother,’ he thought as his own tears fell from his eyes.

"I think that’s enough for today, Vin," Nathan said as he watched the two men shed unspoken tears.

Let him stay, Nathan, please,’ Chris wanted to scream against the torturous machine.

"Just a little longer please, Nate," Vin pleaded.

"I think he can stay for a couple of more minutes," the nurse said. "You’ll have to leave when Dr. Weaver shows up, ok?"

"Ok," Vin said as he settled down in his chair. He kept his firm grip on Chris’s hand and listened to the ventilator keep his friend alive. He wondered how long it would be before they removed it. He hoped it wouldn’t be much longer. He wanted to hear his friend's soothing voice.

"Dr. Weaver’s here, Vin," Nathan interrupted his thoughts. "It’s time to get you back to your bed anyway."

"Can’t I stay?" Vin asked.

"Now, Vin, we made a deal with Dr. Mercer. You promised you wouldn’t stay long and besides Chris needs his rest," Nathan said.

Vin felt Chris squeeze his hand before he pulled away. "I’ll be back, Cowboy," he said as Nathan pulled his chair away from the bed.

Ezra stood outside the door as Nathan and Vin left the room. "How you feeling, Mr. Tanner?" he asked.

"I’ve been better, Ez," Vin answered.

"I’m sure you have, Mr. Tanner, why don’t I take you back to your room so you can get some rest?" Standish asked.

"I’d rather stay here and see what Dr. Weaver has to say," Vin told him.

"Sorry, Vin, but it’s back to bed for you. Besides that IV needs to be changed and it’s time for your medications. Don’t tell me you’re fine because I know you’d be lying. Ezra, see that he gets settled and I’ll come down as soon as Dr. Weaver finishes with Chris, alright?" Jackson said.

"I guess," Vin said as Standish wheeled him away from his friend’s room.

Chris Larabee was tired. Tired of being tied down, tired of having a machine breathing for him, tired of all the shots, tired of all the tubes. But most of all he was tired of all the pain. It seemed like every part of his body hurt. But the worst was the pain in his side. It hurt no matter if he lay still or if he moved. It hurt when the nurses drained the tubes and he wanted to scream at them to stop. He wanted to cry out as another needle was pressed into his hip but was unable to do so. He closed his eyes as the shot slowly made the pain diminish.

"Good morning, Chris."

Chris opened his eyes and looked up into the eyes of a smiling man. There was something familiar about him but he couldn’t quite put his hands on it.

"I can see you’re a little confused so I’ll explain things as I go along. I’m Dr. Weaver and I’ve been on your case since you were brought in four days ago. I’ve looked over your chart and I think I can give you some good news."

Chris’s eyes opened wide as he listened to the doctor. He hoped and prayed the news was that Vin Tanner would regain the use of his eyes. He waited anxiously for the doctor to continue.

"How would you like to get rid of this thing?" Weaver asked, indicating the tube down Chris’s throat. He smiled as he saw the expressive green eyes go from dull to bright in the blink of an eye. "I see you’d like that idea. I’m going to have the ventilator turned off for a trail run. If you can breath on your own and your blood gases are good, we’ll remove the ventilator for good. Does that sound good?"

He smiled as the patient’s eyes seemed to dance. He patted the exposed shoulder before continuing. "I’ll be back this afternoon with a respiratory specialist named Gina Lawrence. There is a little bad news I’m afraid. As soon as we get you off the ventilator, we’re gonna have to start treating the pneumonia a little more aggressively. Have you ever had pneumonia before, Chris?" Chris shook his head slightly. "Well it’s not a lot of fun and with the condition you’re in right now it’s going to be ten times worse. I’ll let Dr. Lawrence explain everything to you when we remove the ventilator. For now, I want you to get some rest, alright?"

Chris nodded his head slowly and closed his eyes.

Weaver watched as Nancy Morgan emptied the drainage tube leading into the patient's abdomen. The fluid she removed was still pink and he wondered if they’d missed something when they’d repaired the nick in his intestine. He hoped that the cause was something simple and would clear up on it’s own.

He wrote the orders for the trial run on Chris’s chart and turned off the ventilator. He watched the patient, hoping that he’d be able to manage the chore on his own. When Chris seemed to be breathing on his own, Weaver left the room.

+ + + + + + +

"Mr. Tanner."

Vin and Buck looked up at the same time. "That’s right," Vin answered the strange voice.

"I’m Dr. Beattie. I think Dr. Mercer told you I’d be seeing you?"

"I think so. She said you’d be looking after my eyes," Vin answered.

"That’s right," Beattie said as he looked into his patient's eyes. "I’ve ordered an MRI and the orderly will be here for you shortly. How does your head feel?"

"Not as bad as it did."

"On a scale of one to ten, one being the easiest, ten being the worst, how would you rate it?"

"I’d say a five," Vin said.

"That means it’s probably about a seven or even an eight," Buck said.

"Buck," Vin scowled.

"Is that true, Mr. Tanner?"

"Yes, Doc," Vin answered honestly.

"When’s the last time you asked for something for pain?"

Buck laughed again, "Vin don’t ask, Doc, he waits till it gets to the point where he has no choice."

"Mr. Tanner, I’m going to have the nurse give you a shot before they bring you downstairs. The MRI will take about half an hour from start to finish and I’ll get back to you with the results. Here comes your ride now. I’ll see you downstairs."

"Thanks Doc," Vin said.

Buck watched the doctor speak to a nurse and before the orderly took the patient away, she was in to give him a shot.

Vin grimaced as the nurse turned him and pressed the needle into his hip, deploying the painkiller. He felt the warmth flow through him and was grateful when the headache subsided to a more tolerable level.

"I’ll see you when you get back, Pard," Buck told his friend.

"I want to see Chris when I get back," Vin told him.

"We’ll see how you’re feeling when you get back, Vin," Buck said as he held the door for the orderly to push the stretcher through.


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