by mcat

September 19, 2001

Disclaimer - If I owned them, they’d still be on the air, with episodes based on all this fanfic!

“Yeah, put him through.”

Buck looked up from the file folder in front of him to stare at his friend and boss, Chris Larabee. He put the pen down as he watched the other man’s eyebrows begin to knit together. He wondered who was on the phone.

“No, Harry, don’t worry. I’ll take care of it. I’m glad you called me. Yeah, I’m sure he’ll be alright. Yeah, I’ll head over there right now. Thanks again.”

When Chris hung up the phone, Buck spoke up. “Who’s Harry? And who’ll be alright?” he asked.

“Harry, is Harry Jacobs. Yes, that Harry Jacobs. And who, is Vin. Harry said Vin flipped the ATV and hit a tree.” Chris raised his hand, stopping Buck from interrupting. “Harry said Vin seemed fine, that the EMT talked him into going to the hospital, to play it better safe than sorry.”

“Somebody talked Vin into going?” Buck asked, surprised. “He must have been about six feet six or had a glare like you do!” he laughed.

“Harry said Vin knew the woman, called her Annie,” Chris replied, grabbing his papers and clearing them off the worktable. Once he had them, he headed for his office, with Buck following him.

“Well, I just gotta meet this gal, Annie,” Buck continued. “If she can talk Vin into something, then she must be something else!”

The two men gathered their jackets and headed for the garage. Chris looked at his watch before getting into the truck. They’d probably beat Vin to the hospital.

+ + + + + + +

As it turned out, Chris and Buck got stuck in traffic and wound up getting to the hospital about ten minutes after Vin. Chris immediately went to the Admissions desk and asked about him. The nurse surprised him and escorted him into the Emergency Room, to a small cubicle near the back. Chris stood where the nurse told him to and watched and listened as the doctor examined Vin.

Despite the backboard he was still strapped to and cervical collar he still wore, Vin didn’t look too bad, Chris thought. Then the doctor moved and Chris saw the dark red bruise that was Vin’s left cheek. He winced in sympathy. That had to hurt. Now he knew which part of Vin had hit the tree. Vin seemed to be answering the doctor’s questions just fine. He knew where he was, what the date was, who the president was, etc. Chris even heard Vin tell the doctor something about that EMT harassing him at work if he hadn’t agreed to going to the hospital.

“Well, Mr. Tanner,” the doctor spoke up, “that EMT was just doing her job. And we’re going to do ours by x-raying that head of yours, make sure it’s all in one piece. I’ll let your friend here keep you company until the x-ray techs come for you, alright?”

“My friend?” Vin asked, straining to look around, move his head.

“Right here, Cowboy,” Chris called, moving over to stand next to the bed. He laid a reassuring hand on Vin’s shoulder.

“Chris? What the hell are you doin’ here?” Vin asked tiredly.

“Harry called me. Told me you dumped the ATV. Figured you’d need a ride home.”

“Yeah, Harry’s a worry-wart. Figured he’d call ya.”

Chris watched as Vin closed his eyes and took a deep breath. When he didn’t open his eyes again right away, Chris squeezed his shoulder and called to him.

“Vin? You still with me?” he asked.

“Hmm? Chris?” he mumbled.

“Vin?” Chris began to worry now, himself.

Before he could say Vin’s name again, Vin began to tremble and then, shake violently.

“Help! Somebody! Help!” Chris shouted desperately.

Medical personnel soon surrounded Vin, coming so quickly that Chris was shoved back against the wall of the cubicle. He found himself climbing up and over several of the machines and then the low wall of the cubicle just to get out of their way. He managed to get to the other side and watched and listened as they fought to stabilize Vin and stop the convulsions. He heard one of the doctors calling for drugs and then yell for someone to hold Vin down. This second order came after another doctor cried out in pain, having, apparently, gotten in the way of one of Vin’s flailing limbs.

After several especially long minutes, things quieted down and Vin’s body became still. Another minute went by and the second doctor came out, cradling his hand and obviously broken thumb. One of the nurses saw Chris standing there and put an arm around his shoulder, gently guiding him towards the waiting room, telling him that the doctor would be out as soon as she could to talk to him. As he walked away from the cubicle, he took one more look at his friend. He winced as he watched another nurse place a tube down Vin’s throat. He felt the gentle tug on his arm and followed the woman to the waiting room. Buck took one look at Chris and rushed to his side.

“Chris? What happened? Vin? Is he?”

“He was fine... he was talking to me... then he just... he just started shaking... seizing. God, Buck, he was fine!”

Buck closed his eyes and dropped his head, letting his chin touch his chest. “Is he...?”

“No, he’s not,” a female voice replied. “He’s still very much alive.”

Buck opened his eyes and looked up at the doctor that had entered the waiting room and answered his question.

“I’m Doctor Mullen,” she said, introducing herself. “I understand you’re friends of Mr. Tanner’s?”

“How is he?” Chris asked quickly, needing to know.

Buck, ever the polite one, took the doctor’s outstretched hand and shook it. “I’m Buck Wilmington and this is Chris Larabee. We’re good friends and coworkers of Vin’s,” he said. “Now, how is he?”

“Why don’t we have a seat over here,” she said, pointing to a couch in the waiting room.

“That doesn’t sound too good,” Buck muttered to himself as he followed the doctor.

After they sat down, Dr. Mullen began. “Like I said, Vin is very much alive.”

“I sense a ‘but’ coming here,” Chris spoke up, trying to keep the fear from his voice.

The doctor nodded. “But, he is still in very critical condition. His family should be notified.”

“About his family,” Buck spoke up.

“But he seemed fine!” Chris exclaimed, interrupting, standing up and beginning to pace, wanting to avoid the talk of family. They were Vin’s family.

“I understand that,” Mullen replied. “But head injuries can be tricky. And until we’re through with the tests and x-rays, we won’t be sure just how extensive the damage will be. According to the ambulance crew’s pre-hospital care report, Mr. Tanner wasn’t wearing a helmet when he crashed his ATV and hit the tree. He could have a number of possible conditions at this time.”

“Shit,” Chris whispered. “And the seizure was because of the head injury?” he asked.

“As far as we know. Unless you know of any other condition he might have. Epilepsy? Previous head injury? Recent illness?”

“No, none that we know of,” Chris replied sullenly.

“What kind of work does Vin do?” Dr. Mullen asked, marking the previous negative answers onto Vin’s chart.

“He’s an ATF agent, same as us,” Buck replied.

“Well, I guess that would explain the bullet wound scars, huh?”

Both men nodded.

“Listen, it’s going to be several hours before all the blood test and radiology results are in and he’s settled in up in ICU. Why don’t I call you when I know more?”

Chris took a deep breath and let it out, finishing with a breathy “Yeah.” “Here’s my business card,” he said, handing it to the woman. “It’s got my office and cell phone numbers on it.”

The doctor took the card and clipped it to Vin’s chart. “I’ll talk to you later,” she said before returning to the ER.

Buck slumped down into the couch’s soft cushions, rubbing his hands down his face. “So whatta we do now?”

“I don’t know, Buck,” Chris replied. “Pray?”

Before Buck could reply to that, his cell phone rang. After a short conversation, he hung up and turned to Chris. “That was JD. He’s wondering where we are. The Carlson warehouse raid is still going down as planned this afternoon.” He paused a moment and looked closer at his old friend and sighed. “Look, Chris. I know that leaving Vin here is the last thing you wanna do right now. But there ain’t nothing we can do for him. He’s in the care of them doctors, now. But you know, if Vin could, he’d be kickin’ your ass outta here and back to work right now. He an’ the rest of us’ve put too much into putting Carlson out of business to let it go. We’ve got work to do, pard’.”

Chris nodded and wearily rose to his feet. After looking toward the ER once more, he followed Buck out.

+ + + + + + +

The raid went smoothly. Chris had told Buck not to tell any of the others about Vin yet. He wanted his teams focused on the raid, not worried about their colleague. Like he was. When questioned about Vin’s absence, Chris lied, stating that Vin had been granted a personal day and was unavailable. Something suddenly came up.

Back at the office, walking past evidence and paperwork-covered desks, Chris headed toward his own office. He couldn’t remember half of what had happened at the raid. All he kept thinking about was Vin. And now was his chance to find out how he was. He prayed that there would be good news awaiting him. He ignored the questions and comments aimed his way as he passed the rest of the team.

He checked his messages and listened to the one from Dr. Mullen. She’d called only an hour ago and left her number for Chris to call back. He did. His hand ran nervously through his hair as he listened to the doctor, eventually tightening into a fist, which trembled slightly as he held it against his temple. At the end of the conversation he hung up his phone and slumped back into his chair. A few minutes later, Buck knocked on the door and let himself in. He saw the empty expression on Chris’s face.

“You called Dr. Mullen.” He knew it must have been bad news.

“Get everyone in here,” Chris whispered.

+ + + + + + +

When the rest of the members of Team Seven, Josiah Sanchez, Ezra Standish, Nathan Jackson and JD Dunne, joined Buck and Chris in the office, Buck closed the door.

“What’s up, Chris?” JD asked.

Chris took a deep breath before standing up to slowly pace behind his desk.

“Whatever it is, it must be ill news,” Ezra responded quietly.

“I lied to you all today,” Chris began. “Vin isn’t on personal leave.” He watched the confusion come over his men’s faces. “I got a call today to go to the hospital to meet Vin. He’d had an accident with his ATV, out at the Vinnebago.”

“Is he alright?” Nathan asked

“No, he’s not,” Chris replied, shaking his head.

“Why didn’t you tell us?” JD demanded, standing up. “How could you not tell us?!”

“I’m sure Chris had his reasons, son,” Josiah put in, pulling JD down to sit again, but still wondered the same thing.

“Because we still had a job to do. And there was nothing we could have done for Vin,” Buck answered this time.

“So what about Vin? How bad?” Nathan asked, trying to get back to the issue at hand.

“The head injury he sustained gave him a severe concussion,” Chris began ignoring the tremors in his voice as he resumed pacing the office.

“Hell, who hasn’t had a concussion? A concussion isn’t so bad,” JD put in, trying to be optimistic.

“Well, when you combine it with a brain tumor, it is, JD,” Chris answered, anger now creeping into his voice.

“What?!” “A tumor?” “How?” Several spoke at once.

“But how is he?” Ezra asked.

“He’s on full life support. Critical condition,” Chris replied. “Less than half an hour after he arrived at the ER, he started seizing. The doctors had to put him into a drug-induced coma to stop them. As of right now, he hasn’t shown any indications of possible improvement or change.”

“Did the concussion cause the seizures or was it the tumor?” Nathan asked.

“They don’t know. They say it’s possible that the tumor may have caused his accident, and then the concussion just compounded the symptoms,” Chris said, finally collapsing back into his chair.

“How big is the tumor? Do they know if it’s benign or malignant yet?” Josiah asked.

“I don’t know,” Chris replied tiredly, rubbing his eyes with the palms of his hands. “I’m going to head back down there now, talk to his doctor in person, see what kind of info I can get.” He looked around the room at his men; saw the lost and empty looks on their faces. “Josiah, you and Buck take charge of the case. Make sure all the evidence and paperwork get done right.”

“Sure, Boss,” Josiah responded.

Buck just nodded his head as Chris walked toward the door.

+ + + + + + +

Chris sat next to the bed, watching Vin. Watching and listening to the machines keeping his best friend alive. For what? So that he can die from brain cancer? So he can get sick from the cancer treatments? Or become so brain damaged that he can barely function anyway? God, Vin, what the hell happened? You were fine! Or what if the cancer’s gone, but you still have the seizures? Can’t work that way, not as an ATF agent.

He closed his eyes and rubbed his palms into them, recalling the meeting he’d had with Dr. Mullen.

“The CAT scan shows a tumor,” she said, pointing to a round shadow on the printout on her desk. “It’s right about here,” she added, pointing to the right side of her head, just above her ear, for reference. And it’s just smaller than a golf ball.”

“But the good news,” said Dr. Peritz, the neurosurgeon called in for Vin’s case, interrupted, “is that I think it is operable. It shows no signs of being malignant. It’s just its size and placement that are causing problems.”

“Like the seizures,” Chris spoke up.

“Possibly,” Dr. Peritz replied. “He still took quite a nasty fall - he did sustain a concussion, which put additional pressure on his brain.”

Chris nodded his head. “So where do we go from here? You say that the tumor is operable, but will that bring him out of the coma? Will that stop the seizures?”

“We’re going to take this slow, Mr. Larabee,” Dr. Mullen spoke up. “We’d like to keep him sedated for another day or so, give his body a chance to calm down, let the swelling go down.”

“And then, we’ll start weaning him slowly from the sedative and anti-seizure meds, to see how he does,” Dr. Peritz continued.

And so Chris watched and waited. Two agonizingly slow days went by, with the other team members making occasional appearances, checking on Vin’s condition, which didn’t change. At least not by looking at him. They’d done more tests, had more meetings with other specialists. The swelling had gone down, so therefore today was the big day, according to Dr. Mullen, when they’d try to wake Vin up. They’d already started reducing the dosages of meds Vin had been receiving. Dr. Peritz had told Chris that it might be over twenty-four hours before Vin was fully awake and cognizant.

Chris stood up from his chair and stretched. With his hands high in the air and his back arched and cracking, he almost missed the slight movement on the bed. He took the two steps necessary to reach the side of the bed and reached over the rail to put a calming and restraining hand on Vin’s arm.

“Easy, Vin, easy,” he spoke quietly, continuing to hold onto Vin’s arm, preventing the injured man from dislodging the tubes and wires still attached to him.

After a few moments, the muscles of the furrowed brows and tightly closed eyes relaxed and Vin returned to sleep. Chris looked up to see Dr. Mullen and one of the nurses approaching the bed.

“He’s starting to wake up a little,” Chris said, stepping back.

“That’s good,” the doctor spoke, checking on some of the monitors next to the bed. “Sooner than we thought. Are you going to be around today?” she asked Chris when she was satisfied with what she’d seen.

“Yeah, took a personal day from work,” he replied, sitting back into the chair. “Why?”

“It’ll be good for him to have a familiar face to wake up to. He seemed to calm down hearing your voice,” she replied.

“That’s why I’m here,” Chris said.

“Good. I’ll see you later, then. Dr. Peritz should be stopping up soon, too,” she added before leaving.

Chris sat reading a book for a few more hours before Vin stirred again. He reached over the side rail and put his hand on Vin’s arm just as he had done the last time. And this time he was met with tired and confused blue eyes.

“Hey, welcome back, pard’,” he said with a smile.

The eyes blinked, rolled and crossed before finally focusing once again on Chris, questioning him with his gaze.

“You had an accident with your ATV,” Chris responded. “Hit your head pretty good. Keep telling you to wear that helmet.”

Vin closed his eyes and Chris was barely able to hear the raspy “sorry” that he whispered.

Chris squeezed his hand gently around Vin’s arm, reassuring him as he spoke, “Don’t worry about it, pard’. Just gotta get you feeling better now. Okay?”

Vin nodded his head slightly, wincing as the dull pain he’d been feeling since he woke up sharpened. It was then that Dr. Peritz entered the room and nodded to Chris.

“I see our patient is finally awake,” he said quietly. When Vin opened his eyes to look at him, the doctor introduced himself, saying, “I’m Dr. Peritz, I’m one of the doctors working with you. I’m sure you’ve got a hell of a headache, so I’ll try to make this quick, okay?” When Vin acknowledged him, the doctor went on, “I’m just going to check you over, make sure all the body parts are working and all. Can you tell me your name?”

“Vin Tanner,” Vin replied, somewhat painfully.

“Chris, why don’t you get him a little water, that’ll help.”

Chris did so while Vin responded to the doctor’s questions and prompts, wiggling toes and fingers, squeezing hands, taking deep breaths, looking up, down and all around...

“Do you know what year it is?”

“Two thousand one.”

“What month?”


“What’s the last thing you remember?”

After a few minutes, Vin finally responded, “I dumped my ATV. Harry called the ambulance. Annie from the armory was there. I started lunch...” He stopped then, becoming confused.

“Okay, that’s good, Vin,” Dr. Peritz said, patting Vin’s leg. “We’ll talk some more a little later when you’ve rested up some.” He made some notes on Vin’s chart, giving the nurses some new medication orders and left, motioning to Chris with his head, signaling him to meet him outside.

“I’ll be right back, Vin,” Chris said, rising from the chair. “Just gonna ask the doc a few questions.”

Out in the hallway, Chris met Dr. Peritz.

“So?” he asked right away.

“So far, so good,” the doctor replied. “His motor functions are good, he’s oriented to time, knows what happened.”


“But I’d like to take this slow. He’s still a little confused, tired and in pain,” Dr. Peritz went on. “I’d like him to be completely coherent and awake when we tell him about the tumor.”

“I understand,” Chris said, nodding his head. “I’m having a hard enough time dealing with it, without a concussion or it being me...”

“I’ll stop up a little later. In the meantime, we’re going to drop down the dosage just a little more on the anti-seizure med, to see if he’ll tolerate it.”

“Okay, thanks, Dr. Peritz.”

“Chris,” the doctor spoke up, stopping Chris before he could turn around. “He’s awake and aware. Half the battle’s won.”

Chris smiled and nodded before returning to Vin’s room to check on him. Vin was asleep again. He took the opportunity to go down the hall to the visitors’ lounge then, to call the office and update the rest of the team on Vin’s condition. Before he got near the payphone, though, he stopped in front of a large, soft looking couch and sank down heavily onto it, letting out a loud sigh. Dr. Peritz says half the battle’s won.... and seeing Vin awake is one hell of a victory, that’s for sure... but does he have a chance to win the other half of the battle?

+ + + + + + +

“Hey, Cowboy,” came the soft-spoken greeting.

“Hey, yourself, Vin,” Chris replied. “How ya doin’?”

“Okay, I guess,” he said tiredly.

Actually, he was far from okay. He was getting tired of waking up and falling asleep and waking up and falling asleep. At least Chris was there, that made it easier, but even being sleepy, dizzy and in pain, he was able to discern the lines of worry on Chris’s face, so he tried to downplay his feelings.

Chris had nodded before sitting down in the chair next to the bed.

“What’s goin’ on, Cowboy? What aren’t you tellin’ me? Can’t be me, I got too hard a head to be too bad. Is the ATV totaled? Seemed okay when I rode it back.”

“Why don’t we wait for Dr. Peritz,” Chris answered quietly. “He’s gonna be here soon to explain things.”

“Explain things? Explain what, Larabee?”

Chris was about to remark on the reply when Dr. Peritz entered the room.

“Ah, Mr. Tanner, you’re awake.”

“Dr. Peritz, right?” he asked, testing his memory.

“Very good. Your short term memory is working well,” he said with a smile before bringing a chair over to Vin’s bed.

Vin took in the doctor’s body language and demeanor. He looked at Chris then, saw something in his eyes...

“What’s goin’ on, boys?” he asked warily. “I hit my head, got a concussion. Nothin’ new. Right?”

“Vin, there’s a little more to it,” Dr. Peritz began.

“What? I’ve done your tests; I know where I am and who I am. I can wiggle all my fingers and toes...”

“I’m afraid we’re dealing with more than just a concussion, Vin. Something else turned up on your x-rays and CAT scan,” the doctor continued.

“I don’t understand. I just got a headache and I’m still a little tired. So I flipped my four-wheeler yesterday. Nothin’ I ain’t done before.”

Vin said all this trying to dismiss the doctor’s information, but Chris still heard the slight tremor of fear that entered his voice. He tried to quell his own fear, raging inside him. He needed to be strong for Vin.

“Vin, I’m sorry, but that was three days ago,” Dr. Peritz said.

“Three days?”

“Like I said, Vin, we’re dealing with a little more than just a concussion,” the doctor repeated.

Vin looked at Chris then, knowing that he knew what was going on, would know just how serious things were. What he saw on Chris’s face, what he saw before but only recognized now, fear, scared him. Chris looked right at him then, and while the fear was still there, Chris nodded to him, telling him that they were in this together, that they’d somehow fight whatever it was together.

“Tell me.”

“You came into the ER presenting with a head injury,” Dr. Peritz began. “The EMTs and ER staff suspected a concussion. You were alert and oriented. They were just going to run some tests, take some x-rays, to make sure, when you began having seizures.”

Vin nodded, motioning the doctor to continue. But he did not miss the pain-filled expression that came over Chris’s face then. He realized that Chris must have been there. Seen it happen.

“With the aid of some medications, we were able to get them stopped, but unfortunately, that left you on full life support for two days, until you woke up this morning.”

“Okay, so that explains why I feel like shit,” Vin interrupted. “But there’s more, ain’t there?”

Dr. Peritz nodded his head slowly. Chris looked down at the floor.

“I’ve got good news and bad news, Vin,” the doctor said, trying not to singsong the cliché. “The bad news, is, that your test results showed a large tumor on the right side of your brain.” He reached over and lightly touched the side of Vin’s head, showing him where the growth was located.

Vin tried to hide the shock of the news, but was unsuccessful. “No. Can’t be. I’m fine. Just hit my head, that’s all.” But then he looked again at Chris. “Chris?” he called, whispering the name.

“It’s true, Vin.” They were three of the hardest words Chris had ever said. Confirming his fears, admitting that Vin’s life would never be the same. “But hear the doc out,” he continued, hoping that he could believe this part, too.

“Like I said, there’s good news, too. All the tests results lead me to believe that the tumor is benign, and operable.”

“Cuttin’ a hole in my head is good news?”

“Considering the alternatives, yes,” Dr. Peritz answered.


“Those seizures you were having,” the doctor began. “We think that they may be a result of the tumor, not the concussion. Which means they’ll only continue if you do nothing. Not to mention what could happen if the tumor continues to grow.”

Vin rubbed his hands over his head, wincing slightly when they hit his cheek. “There’s gotta be some mistake. The wrong x-rays or something...”

“Vin,” Chris whispered, again giving him a reassuring look that promised that he was not alone.

“I know this is a lot to take in, and believe me, we’ll have plenty of time to talk about it some more,” Dr. Peritz assured him, breaking the silence in the room. “But listen to me. It is benign and it is operable. I have every confidence that we can beat this.”

Vin just nodded absently, not looking at the doctor anymore. Taking this cue, Dr. Peritz made his exit, promising to visit again in the morning.

“Thanks, Doc,” Chris said, shaking his hand before he got to the door. He looked back at the figure in the bed, then, and realized that he’d never seen Vin look so vulnerable, or so scared, in all the time he’d known him.

+ + + + + + +

The next few days passed quickly for Vin. If he wasn’t sleeping, he was being moved from one place to another for one test or another. The doctor had ordered new CAT scans and blood work in addition to other tests that made sure that Vin hadn’t had incurred any damage from the seizures or head injury. And all the while, Chris or one of the other team members were with Vin, reassuring him, making sure that he was not alone in this ordeal.

+ + + + + + +

“How ya feelin’, Vin?!” Buck called, sweeping into the dark hospital room.

“I feel like shit.”

“Well, yeah, that’s why you’re here, ain’t it. Your head still feel like it’s gonna explode?”

Buck took a closer look at his young friend, trying to decide whether or not he should call a nurse in.

“It ain’t that, Buck, and you know it.”

Buck opened the curtains, then, brightening up the room, before claiming the chair next to the bed.

“Well, I gotta tell ya, pard’,” Buck went on, now ignoring Vin’s sullen mood, “you got the whole place in a twitter wonderin’ what’s goin’ on with you and that gal Annie down in the armory!”


“She called lookin’ for you Friday afternoon, wonderin’ how you were. And seein’ as how she saved your life and all, I think it’s about time you call her back!”

“Buck, what the hell are you talkin’ about?” Vin asked.

“She was the one that talked you into comin’ to the hospital, according to Harry. He said you kept sayin’, “I’m fine, I’m fine,” and all, but Annie didn’t take any of your crap. Hell, according to Harry, you let her put you on a backboard and you two made some lewd remarks about her straddlin’ you while you were tied down! You been holdin’ out on ol’ Buck, Boy!”

Vin didn’t know what to say to his excited friend. He remembered seeing Annie at the Vinnebago, and agreed that she probably was the only reason he went to the hospital, but... that was all he remembered.

When Buck saw the painful confusion on Vin’s face, he softened his tone. “It’s alright, Vin. It’ll come back. I talked with Annie. She was all broke up at first, when she heard you’d seized and all. Thought she’d missed something, thought she’d messed up somehow.”

“But she didn’t. I remember tellin’ them that I was fine. I wouldn’t have gotten here if she wasn’t there.”

“I told her that, Vin. She knows, now.”

“I would’ve started seizing at the Vinnebago, alone...” Vin whispered, fully realizing just how close he’d come to dying. “I gotta call her,” he said aloud.

“When you get outta here, pard’,” Buck said and added, “Which’ll be when?”

“Doc said I can get out in a couple of days. Got the surgery set up for two weeks from Thursday.”

Buck saw and heard the fear in Vin at the mention of the surgery. “It’ll be just fine, Vin. I’ve heard nothin’ but good things about that Dr. Peritz. And you know we’ve checked up on him. If he says you got a ninety-nine percent chance of success, then you better believe him!”

“I do, Buck,” Vin replied. “But the thought of somebody messin’ around in my head like that... just kinda scares me, ya know?”

“I know, Vin.”

+ + + + + + +

“You all set, Vin?”

“Yeah, I think so,” he replied, looking around the hospital room. “Got my meds and instructions, Buck’s magazines, JD’s Gameboy, Nathan’s CD player...”

“Yeah, we got everything,” Chris agreed with a smile and hefted the duffel bag over his shoulder as Vin got into the wheelchair.

Vin continued to talk as the orderly wheeled him down the hall, toward the elevator.

“Appreciate you drivin’ me home, Cowboy. Glad you’re okay with me not stayin’ at your place.”

“You’ll be on your home turf at the apartment, Vin,” Chris replied. “And you’ll be closer to the doctors’ offices and hospital for your appointments, too.”

“And closer to the office,” Vin added.

“Not that you’ll be setting foot there, Vin. You heard what Dr. Peritz said about driving. Not until...”

“I know, I know,” Vin grumbled. “Not until after the surgery and then, not until the meds are down low enough.”

“Besides, there’s another advantage of staying at your place. Public transportation.”

They had gotten out to the hospital entrance then, and Chris pointed out his truck to the orderly pushing Vin in the wheelchair.

“Public transportation? What do I need that for, when I got six guys at my beck and call?” Vin joked as Chris opened the truck door.

Chris put the duffel bag into the back of the truck and thanked the orderly before getting into the driver’s seat.

The two drove through the streets of Denver, talking about current events, office goings on and current cases. Chris didn’t miss the look of sadness that overcame Vin though, when they talked about work.

“What’s up, Vin?” he asked.


“Come on, Vin, talk to me.”

“Just thinkin’... what if?”

“What if, what?” Chris asked.

Vin shook his head before looking over to Chris. “What if the surgery don’t work? What if I still have seizures? What if I can’t ever stop takin’ the meds? What if I can’t go back to work?”

“Vin, Dr. Peritz said-”

“I know what Dr. Peritz said!” Vin exclaimed harshly. “Hell, I been outta work for almost two weeks already and I’m goin’ stir crazy. What the hell am I gonna do for the next six months if the surgery works, let alone what the hell am I gonna do if it don’t?”


“I already gotta turn in my service weapons to ya...”


“Can’t drive to the grocery store...”


“Can’t have a beer to relax and watch a game...”


Vin stopped then and hung his head down low. “Sorry, Chris. Didn’t mean to dump all this on ya. Just had a lotta time on my hands to do nothin’ but think, you know?”

“Yeah, pard’, I do. I’ve been right there, with you,” Chris replied softly. “But lets just take this one step at a time, alright? Please?”

Vin nodded his reply.

+ + + + + + +

“Shit! Shit, shit and double shit! Goddamnit, Vin!”

Chris swore up and down as he exited the apartment building. He’d come to pick up Vin for lunch and had found the place empty. And if that wasn’t bad enough, Vin’s neighbor said that she’d seen Vin carrying a duffel bag down to his Jeep. Since Vin hadn’t told his neighbors about his condition, no one knew that he wasn’t supposed to be driving. Chris pulled out his cell phone.

“Dammit, Vin, answer the phone,” he muttered.

He was just about to get into his truck when the ringing stopped.

“Whatta ya want, Chris?” Vin answered.

“What do I want? I want to know where the hell you are, Vin,” Chris replied tersely.

“I need some time alone, Chris. Need to sort things out a bit.”

“Vin, you’re not supposed to be driving. What if you have a seizure or something?”

“I’ve been takin’ my meds. And I haven’t had a seizure since I was first brought into the ER. I’m fine, Chris. Like I said, I just need a couple of days to myself.”

“You’re scheduled for surgery in a couple of days.”

“If I decide to have the surgery, I’ll be back in plenty of time, don’t worry.”

“IF you decide?! What do you mean, IF you decide, Vin?!” Chris exclaimed. “Vin, we’ve discussed this! We agreed.”

“You agreed, Chris. You’re not the one gettin’ a hole cut in his head.”

“Where you headed, Vin? To the Vinnebago?”

“Chris, I gotta go now, traffic’s too heavy to be talkin’ on the phone. I’ll keep in touch.”


Chris stared at the quiet phone in his hand before finally turning it off. How could you do this, Vin? How could you risk your life like this?

+ + + + + + +

Vin sat on the bed of the motel room, propped up against the pillows. I knew I’d piss Chris off by leaving. But I just couldn’t take all the attention anymore. I needed to be alone, to think about life and the shitty hand it’s dealt me. About whether or not to let some doctors go messing around inside my head. Hell, it’s bad enough when the shrinks try to mess with your head. But these guys actually wanna cut a hole in mine!

He dropped the remote down onto the bed, satisfied that he’d found the Cartoon Network on the unfamiliar cable system. A little mindless Scooby-Doo should help me relax.

He’d found the little motel on a small side road just south of Denver. He didn’t want to go too far away, he still had some fears for his well being, the constant headaches he had were reminders enough, but he still needed to be far enough away from the rest of his life to try and get an objective handle on things. Far away enough from his friends and doctors, so he didn’t have to hear their speeches, see the looks of pity in their eyes. And as much as he hated to admit it, he needed to be far away from Chris. The look of fear he’d seen in Chris’s eyes in the hospital room still haunted him. He hated being the cause of it. He didn’t want Chris to have to lose another person in his life.

He grabbed the bottle of beer off the nightstand and turned it in his hands. He knew he wasn’t supposed to have it with his meds. All kinds of weird side effects could happen, the doctors said. “Fuck it,” he whispered and opened the bottle. He washed down a couple of the painkillers and leaned back against the pillows. “That’s right, Uncle Walt. If it weren’t for them damn pesky, meddlin’ kids, you’d have had the treasure all to yourself...”

+ + + + + + +

“Any word from Vin?”

“Nah,” Chris replied with a heavy sigh. “But he’ll be okay, Buck. You know Vin, he’s just been smothered so much lately. Bound to need to get away for a bit.”

Buck looked at Chris and grinned, agreeing with the other man’s reasoning, but knowing that he was just as worried as the rest of them.

“I know, Chris. He’ll be fine,” Buck went on. “Hell, he’s probably got himself a nice room with cable and room service. Maybe even some really good cable...”

“That’s your idea of getting away, Buck, not Vin’s,” Chris argued.

“Oh, yeah...” Buck trailed, looking thoughtful. Then he sobered and looked at Chris again. “How about you? How are you holding up?”

“I don’t know anymore, Buck,” he admitted, slumping back to lean against the office wall. “I thought he’d settled things, agreed on the game plan Dr. Peritz set out.”

“It’s a scary position to be in, Chris,” Buck responded, leaning down to put his elbows onto his desk. “And you know, Vin, hell, probably better’n anybody else on earth. He’s gotta think things through, figure out every detail before he takes action. And he usually does it best when he’s alone. Maybe this is just what he’s doin’.”

+ + + + + + +

Vin rolled off the bed with a groan. His head was killing him. If he hadn’t already caught a glimpse of himself in the motel room’s mirror, he would have sworn there would have been a knife sticking out of the right side of his skull. Grabbing onto the dresser to keep himself from falling into the spinning spiral that took the place of the floor, he made his way, hand over hand, to the wall and then to the doorway of the bathroom. Then he crawled, as fast as he could to the toilet, making it there just in time to get rid of the pizza and beer he’d consumed for dinner.

“Oh, God,” he moaned, clutching the side of the toilet, resting his head on the seat. “They weren’t kidding when they said not to mix alcohol and meds...”

He sat there for a few minutes more, waiting to see if his stomach was done with him yet and contemplated his situation. He’d felt pretty good a little while earlier. The six-pack had let him relax more than any of the medications had in the past two weeks. It had let him stop thinking. Stop worrying. Stop...fearing.

Fear. That is the word of the day, Tanner. Hell, of the past two weeks. Fear of the unknown. Of the known, too. How the hell can I be so afraid? I’m a goddamn ATF agent for Chrissakes! I’ve faced down gunrunners, drug dealers, gang bangers. I’ve been shot, stabbed, beaten. I’ve shot, stabbed and beaten right back. I’ve lost friends to the job, having them die right in my fuckin’ arms. But have a certified, tried and true, been there, done that with a ninety-nine percent success rate surgery scheduled, and you fall apart, Tanner. How fuckin’ brave is that? Brave enough that you gotta hide out in a motel away from all your friends only to drink yourself silly and wake up with the world’s worst brain tumor induced hang over. Shit.

Determined to change the situation he was in, if only to stop hugging the toilet, Vin levered himself off the floor and grabbed onto the sink. And promptly fell back onto the floor.

“Shit,” he muttered, grabbing onto his throbbing temples. “Guess we gotta go out the same way we came in, Tanner.”

He crawled back into the bedroom area of the motel room and climbed back onto the bed. He let out a relieved sigh when his head finally hit the pillow. Looking over to the nightstand, he saw the bottles of pills lined up. He grabbed each of the bottles and looked blearily at the labels. He opened one up and shook out a couple of the pills before swallowing them dry.

Sure hope those were the pain meds, he thought, closing his eyes again.