by Ronnie

December 27, 9:00am
"JD said you were looking for me?"

Looking up, Chris motioned Buck in while he continued his phone conversation with Travis. "Yes sir...yes...Josiah, Nathan and I will be at the courthouse Friday at think the paperwork on our end is tight...okay then...sure if you want...we'll meet you at the DA's at eight then. Why was nice...quiet too. No, the guys came out and we had dinner."

Glancing up, Chris frowned and shook his head when he noticed Buck tossing a ball in the air. Resting his head in his hand, he began rubbing his forehead. "Tanner?, he's still a little stiff, but he's haven't got anything on the front burner right now, so it should be quiet..."

Chris shook his head and leaned back in the chair and chuckled. "Yes...I think I can do that...might be able to keep him from getting a hangnail before New Year's...hell, it's only four days." Chris smiled as Buck added his own two cents. "What was that? Oh, that was just Buck, offering to wrap Vin in bubble wrap if it will help." Chris chuckled suddenly. ", you're was last Christmas that Buck knocked him off the ladder while he was putting lights on the tree." Chris's mouth twitched with amusement as Buck grimaced.

Picking up a pen, Chris began to absently tap it on his desk. "Yeah...okay then...I'll see you Friday."

"So, what's up? You were looking for me?"

Chris smiled as he looked at Buck seated comfortably on his couch with his feet propped on the table before him, holding a cup of coffee.

"Yeah. About this latest pissing contest you and Vin got going. I want it to stop before it gets out of hand."

"Hey...what are you tellin' me for? Junior started it Chris.You know, I'm beginning to wonder why you always take his side." Buck dropped his feet to the floor and stood with his arms outstretched. "Come on Chris...he gave me a Yanni CD...a YANNI CD..."

Smiling as he stood, Chris smiled and dragged his hand through his hair. "Well, now Buck, I might have been on your side...until I saw what Nathan, Josiah, and Ezra all got for Vin."

Chuckling at the memory, Buck took a sip of coffee.

"Listen...I'm sure you had a good time at the hootenanny you threw in my parlor the other night, but if I ever have to listen to Josiah's rousing rendition of Rocky Mountain High again...I'm coming after you."

"It was just a coincidence, Chris," Buck's mouth quirked with humor.

Chris's look was one of faint amusement as his left eyebrow rose a fraction. "Well, I have to admit...I never would have thought Ezra would know the words to Thank God I'm a Country Boy," Chris responded, barely able to keep the laughter from his voice.

Buck's smile deepened and he couldn't help himself as he burst out laughing at the memory.

In spite of himself, Chris chuckled and shook his head as he again sat at his desk.

"Hey, where is Junior anyway?" Buck slowly stretched.

"I dropped him at his place. He was going to change and drive on in." Reaching for his mug, Chris stood and started for his door. "Buy you a cup of coffee?"

Opening his door, the beginning of a smile tipped the corners of his mouth when he saw Vin seated at his desk with Nathan perched on a corner.

+ + + + + + +

"Hey Vin...was the CD okay? 'cause I mean...if it's not, I can return it."

"No, it was great Nate...thanks again."

With a long exhausted sigh, Vin stood and a momentary look of discomfort crossed his face. Squinting, he briefly rubbed his temple and slowly sat down again and stared at his desk.

"Vin? Hey Vin? You with me pal?"

"Huh? Uh...yeah...yeah."

"I was saying, Buck suggested you were partial to John Denver, but I didn't figure that Ezra and Josiah would get you the same thing."

Vin sat and half listened to Nathan's conversation. He felt achy and exhausted and he wondered at the cause of his weariness. Something clicked in his mind and he pulled open his desk drawer and picked up a small bottle. Opening the bottle, he retrieved a pill. As he finished swallowing the pill, he was aware that Nathan had stopped talking.

"Oh, so you're still taking the antibiotics? much longer you on them?"

"Uh...don't know...guess 'til they're gone."

Placing his elbow on the corner of his chair, Vin sighed as another wave of nausea assaulted him.

"Hey, you okay Vin? Vin?"

"Uh? Yeah? Just a headache is all...feel like crap."

"Yeah? Probably just side effects of the bactrim, maybe even the naproxen for you back. But hey, don't go stop taking them just 'cause of that..."

" 'scuse me Nate..."

Without waiting for a response, Vin stood, and swallowing the bile rising in his throat, he quickly headed for the men's room.

December 29, 8:00pm

"Mornin' Chris."

"Damn it many times have I told you not to answer the phone that way?"

"Yeah, well," Buck responded with a trace of laughter in his voice, "how many times have I told ya...ya don't need to check up on us?"

"I wouldn't have to, if I could leave you three stooges alone some time without me having to swing by the ER to pick one of you up," Chris answered tersely.

"We ain't that bad, Chris." Chris's reaction seemed to amuse Buck.

"Oh no? You mean you're ready now to tell me just how JD cracked his tailbone? Or how about the time Vin fractured his ribs and ended up with a punctured lung? Maybe you got your story straight and want to explain your broken nose?" Chris asked, spacing his words evenly.

"Well...I...uh..." Buck stammered. "JD's busy upgrading Josiah's computer, I got a shitload of paperwork, and well...Vin...I dunno..." Wincing, Buck pulled the phone away from his ear as Chris launched in to a tirade. After a few moments, he tentatively listened again. "Easy Chris...I just meant I don't know what Junior's got going today. He's already chewed JD up and spit him out. Now he's just staring at his desk." Leaning forward, Buck lowered his voice and spoke into the receiver. "No. I don't know what about and I ain't gettin' involved...they're big boys, they can patch up their own lover's quarrel."

Leaning back in his chair, Buck stretched his legs out on the corner of his desk. "What?" Glancing across the room, he studied Vin for a moment. "Well, he looks like he's got a headache...he keeps wincing and rubbing his forehead or the side of his neck." Resting his head on his hand, Buck began to absently massage his own forehead. "Okay...catch ya later. What?" Chuckling, Buck leaned farther back in his chair. "Yeah, sure...scout's trips to the ER today..."

December 29, 10:00am

Vin sat, unmoving, staring at his computer monitor. His eyes were ringed with dark circles and he shivered with chill and fatigue. Putting his hand up to his mouth, he closed his eyes and swallowed as another wave of nausea assaulted him. Breathing heavily, his nostrils flared while he attempted to gain control of his rebelling stomach. He had long ago lost what little of the Wheaties he had managed to swallow earlier. Drops of moisture clung to his damp forehead as he tried to recall which of his friends had told him about flat gingerale. Must have been could tell the kid loved his mother, the way he was always talking about her... No one had ever given him anything special when he'd been ill, at least not that he could recall. Maybe his own mother had...but it had been so long ago. He should have stayed home, he was well aware of that, but Chris needed this weapons report on his desk by the end of the day. A whisper of a smile suddenly lifted the corners of his mouth as a faint memory resurfaced. Sue's mom Lost in his memories, he briefly forgot his present misery. Yeah, she gave me gingerale that time I slept over and got sick.

Leaning forward, he opened his drawer and began looking for change in his desk. Maybe some gingerale would be good. Reaching up, he massaged the side of his neck. Damn new I got a stiff neck.

He briefly considered heading home, but a glance at Buck quickly changed his mind. Chris had given him such a hard time on the phone earlier, that Buck had begged him to stay. He wanted to prove to Chris that they could stay at the office with no mishaps. Vin wanted nothing more than to leave, but he knew this was important to Buck. They were supposed to meet Chris and the others for lunch at a chinese restaurant near the courthouse. Buck offered to pick up the tab if Vin would just stay until then. Buck reasoned that if Chris saw that the "three stooges" were healthy and intact at lunch, he'd never have to know that Vin went home sick after.

"Hey Vin, why don't ya go lay down on Chris's couch? I'll wake ya for lunch," Buck offered.

With a long, exhausted sigh, Vin stood and slowly shuffled to Chris's office.

"Y'owe me for this, Buck," he hoarsely drawled.

"Don't worry yourself, Junior...I'll make it up to you," Buck smiled.

With a weary groan, Vin lowered himself on to the couch and lay back. Deciding he had the flu, he wondered what else could go wrong as he drifted off to sleep.

December 29, 2:00pm

"Hey Buck," JD whispered loudly as featherlike laugh lines crinkled around his eyes. "Vin's asleep."

Glancing sideways, Buck exchanged a smile with JD then shook his head. "Well, we can only hope he wakes up in a better mood," he chuckled while patiently negotiating the afternoon traffic.

"You know he's not feeling good," JD defended.

"I know," Buck insisted calmly, "and I told him, once lunch was through, and Chris saw we were all okay, he could take off."

Activating the turn signal, Buck negotiated the corner and entered the parking garage. "Course, after Vin's mood at lunch, Chris probably has himself a nice case of indigestion," Buck continued with a trace of laughter in his voice.

Shifting into reverse, Buck backed his truck into his parking space. "Okay JD. Wake up Sleeping Beauty."

"Vin...hey come on Vin...we're here."

"Wha?...huh? oh..." Vin sighed and rubbed his forehead and slowly blinked his eyes. Lunch had been much longer than he had anticipated. All he wanted right now was to go home and crawl into bed, but before he could do that, he had to go upstairs to retrieve his antibiotics and some unfinished paperwork. If he only had the energy to open the truck door....

"Vin? You okay?" JD nudged Vin and lightly shook his shoulder.


"I was just asking if you were okay. Are you gonna open the friggin' door, or are we gonna sit here all day?" JD shot back with annoyance. He was Vin's friend and loyal defender to the end, but this foul mood had been going on for over six hours, and had finally gotten to him.

"Come on you two...let's go." Buck called out from the elevators. "Vin, we're inside now, you can lose those sunglasses."

"M'eyes hurt," Vin mumbled as he shuffled to the elevators, trying to massage a kink in his neck.

The ride up to the team's office was a long one with the two youngest standing silently in neutral corners and Buck in the middle, whistling tunelessly at the illuminated floor numbers. Entering the office, JD went straight to his computer, Buck headed for the restroom, and Vin slowly walked to his desk, slowly removing his jacket.

Still drying his hands as he exited the men's room, Buck crumpled the paper towel and tossed it in the trash next to the coffee pot. Pausing with the coffee pot in his hand, he stared at Vin with a calculating eye. Although the sharpshooter was pale, his cheeks were flushed. The fact that he nearly collapsed into his chair as his knees buckled did not escape Buck's notice.

"Vin, go home."

"Yeah," Vin croaked. Leaning on an elbow, he winced and closed his eyes as he dragged a weary hand through his damp hair. Bathed in sweat, he felt clammy. Standing quickly, he awkwardly pushed past Buck on his way to the bathroom. Smothering a groan, he held his hand up to his mouth. "I'm gonna be sick," he gasped, barely making it through the door in time.

Pale and shaking, Vin emerged a few minutes later.

"Better?" Buck asked, following Vin back to his desk.

"Uh...yeah," Vin hoarsely drawled. His voice sounding painfully raw and scratchy. "Got a headache."

"Probably the MSG. Tell ya time we'll order without it for ya..." the ladies man offered jovially. "Now go on home." Buck went to his desk and logged on to his computer. "I'll cover for you with Chris. Go on..."

Reaching wearily for his jacket, Vin stopped and his arm dropped heavily to his side. His head was pounding fiercely and every slight movement delivered agonizing pain throughout his body. Breathing in short gasps, he blinked and rubbed his eyes, trying to clear the double images as they suddenly tipped.

"Buck..." he weakly gasped. Neither Buck nor JD heard him.

Turning slowly, he tried to focus on the mustached agent, leaning over his keyboard. Squinting, Vin tried to slow his breathing. The edge of his vision was growing increasingly smaller, and darkening.

"B...Bu...Buck," he stammered, slightly louder, his voice fragile and shaking.

At the sound of Vin's voice, Buck lifted his head in time to see the Texan disappear with a sickening thud as his head hit the edge of Ezra's file cabinet.


December 29, 2:35pm

"VIN!" Buck and JD shouted in unison as they rushed to the fallen agent's side.

"JD...don't." Buck reached out and put his hand on JD's forearm to stop him from moving Vin. Kneeling by Vin's side, Buck gently placed a hand on his back. "Vin...come your eyes..."

"Oh man...look at the blood," JD blurted, scarcely aware of his own voice.

"Vin...Vin...come on....wake up...Vin...." Buck urged as he lightly shook the younger man's shoulder.

Unspoken fear was alive and glowing in Buck's eyes as he glanced up and met JD's wide eyed gaze. "We need something to stop this bleeding." He squinted, peering around the room.

JD pushed himself to a standing position. "I got a towel in my gym bag."

"Forget it JD," Buck smiled grimly, "I know how often you do your laundry. Grab a shirt outta Ezra's, toss it." Buck reached up and easily caught the shirt. Folding it, he firmly pressed it against Vin's forehead. Taking a deep breath, he frowned when the pressure did not elicit a moan.

"Now, call for an ambulance and then call Chris and give him a head's up." Buck shifted, and moved slightly away from the blood pooling at his knees.

"Damn it Vin...come on...please..."Buck muttered softly as JD completed the emergency call.

"Okay, they're on the way," JD commented with a faint tremor in his voice. "You sure you want me to call Chris now, Buck? He's gonna be pissed."

"JD, right now I don't give a rat's ass what Chris thinks," Buck sighed with exasperation. "This is Vin...ain't no secret to anyone but Vin how Chris feels about him...he'd want to know."

Reluctantly, JD dialed Chris's cell phone, knowing he was about to receive the brunt of the leader's wrath.

+ + + + + + +



"What is it, JD?" His voice, though quiet, had an ominous quality.

"Uh...Chris...uhmm...Buck...he...he wanted me to call''s uh...Vin...he...he's hurt," JD stammered.

"Damn it JD! What do you mean, 'he's hurt'? Where's Buck?" Chris scowled as he listened. "What do you mean he's trying to stop the bleeding? What did you three get into now?"

"Uh...hold on a minute Chris...I gotta hold the door open for the stretcher."

"STRETCHER??" Chris thundered in to the receiver. Taking a deep breath, he glared at a group that had stopped and stared at him.

"Well, yeah...Buck said to call for an ambulance...Vin was bleeding all over the place..."

" to me...what happened?" Chris asked, spacing the words evenly.

Hearing Chris's side of the conversation, Nathan and Josiah came to his side.

"I don't know Chris...honestly...I don't know. He wasn't feeling good, and he was going home. Then...then he just passed out and...and he hit his head." Chris noticed that JD's voice was fragile and shaking.

"He passed out?" Chris let out a long breath as he closed his eyes and dropped his head. "Okay, what's going on now?" Chris held up his hand as he listened to stop Nathan from interrupting. Turning, he continued to listen as he headed for the bank of elevators.

"He's awake now Chris..."

"Now? What do you mean? He's been unconscious all this time?" Chris angrily punched the down button for the elevator. Still holding the receiver to his ear, Chris's fingers drummed distractedly on the wall as he waited for an elevator to arrive.

"Well...yeah...he wouldn't wake up...we tried...but they put one of those collar things on his neck and turned him over...and when they did, he opened his eyes."

"So...he's okay then?" Chris let out a sigh of relief as he boarded the elevator with Nathan and Josiah close behind.

"Well, all they did was put a bandage on the left side of his forehead."

Leaving the elevator, Chris's steps slowed as he quickly scanned the crowded hallway in search of the exit. Seeing the desired door, he quickly began to walk towards it.

"He's awake and talking to the EMTs...says he's 'got a helluva headache'....he just agreed to let them take him to the hospital.... they just picked him up and put him on the stretcher...and...they just left..."

Unlocking his truck door, Chris opened it and stood beside the vehicle.

"They just left? Where to? Okay...put Buck on."

Chris waited as he heard muffled conversation and the exchange of the phone.

"Chris, I'm sorry..."

"We aren't discussing this now Buck...but we WILL talk were supposed to be in charge. I'm heading over to the hospital now. What exactly did the EMTs say? He's okay, just a head injury?"

"I guess so Chris. They didn't really say. They seemed happy he was awake. Asked if he'd been sick before he passed out. You want me to go along with him to the hospital?"

"No...I'm heading there now. Nate and Josiah can finish up here. You clean up whatever mess the three of you made and get your stories straight. I'll call you later and let you know how he is." Without giving Buck a chance to respond, Chris ended the call.

Turning to Nathan and Josiah, Chris sighed loudly. "Well, I guess you heard. Damn it. Why can't those three stay out of trouble for once?" Climbing in to his truck, Chris slammed the door. "Wanted a nice quiet weekend at home...alone for once," he muttered as he started the ignition. "Looks like I got another weekend of baby-sitting a stubborn Texan."

"Hey, don't be too hard on him...he's going to be feeling poorly as it is," Josiah chuckled.

"Let us know how he is," Josiah smiled and tapped the hood of the truck as Chris started to back out of his parking space. His look was one of faint amusement as he touched his forehead slightly in a mock salute and drove away.

December 29, 3:00pm

"Mr. Tanner? You still with us?" The paramedic called as he climbed in the rear of the ambulance beside Vin. Pulling out a clipboard, he began making notes as he assessed Vin while his partner retrieved supplies.

"Mr. Tanner?"

"Uhhh....." Vin winced and licked his parched lips. "Uhhh...y...yeah...." he answered in a weak and tremulous whisper. The pounding in his head was relentless, and he couldn't remember ever having a headache so fierce that it hurt to breathe.

"Hey...hey...can you tell me your full name?" The paramedic lightly shook Vin's shoulder to gain his wandering attention.

"''s Vin...Vincent..." Vin closed his eyes and let out a soft gasp. "Vincent Michael T...Ta...Tanner." Keeping his eyes squeezed shut, Vin reached a shaking hand up to his forehead.

"'t touch got yourself a laceration and a dressing on your forehead." Scott Wilson, the senior paramedic calmly stated as he moved Vin's hand away from his head. Prying one of Vin's eyes open, he briefly flashed his penlight in to the dull blue orb.

"" Vin groaned and vainly tried to move away from the searing light shining in his eye.

Placing a tympanic thermometer to Vin's left ear, Doug Landon frowned at the result and showed the instrument to Scott.

"Okay Vin, I'm just gonna take your blood pressure," Doug explained evenly as he slit the arm of Vin's shirt and placed a blood pressure cuff on Vin's left arm. "Okay if I call you Vin?"

"" Vin sighed and began to shiver slightly.

Placing a tourniquet on to Vin's right arm, Scott began tapping the taut skin as he searched for a vein in Vin's hand.

"Okay, you're gonna feel a pinch..."

"Huh? Uhh...ohh....owwwww....." Vin groaned as he feebly tried to pull his hand away.

"Alright...hold's another..." Doug stated as he inserted another IV into Vin's left hand and grinned when he saw the flashback that confirmed placement.

"Owwww? me alone..." Vin gasped as he tried to sit up, only to be restrained by the two men.

"Vin...Vin...stay need to calm're sick...we need to take you to the hospital. Here you go...let me put this on your face...that's it...just some oxygen to help your breathing some..."

"M' head hurts..." Vin softly moaned, his words muffled by the plastic mask.

Leaning closer to hear, Scott placed his hand on Vin's shoulder and patted it gently. "I know...I know. Sorry I can't give ya anything for it..."

Squinting, Vin attempted to distinguish which of the two blurry figures was speaking to him as his head was lifted slightly and the elastic tightened behind his head. Closing his eyes, he took several deep breaths of the oxygen rich air as he felt the stretcher moved to his right and safely secured.

"Okay Doug, let's roll. I'll call it in."

Climbing from the rear of the vehicle, Doug closed the doors and walked to the front of the ambulance and opened the driver's door. Easing out into traffic, he reached across the dash and hit the switches for the lights and siren.

"General...this is you read?"

"Go ahead 65."

"General, we have a white male...approximate age of agent for the ATF. He has a laceration to the left forehead following a fall against a metal filing cabinet, bleeding has stopped, DSD in place. Coworkers report current history of ear infection, past history of MVA in November, with a resulting concussion. Be advised that victim has a confirmed allergy to penicillin. Vitals are as follows...temp one oh three nine, pulse one fifteen, 02 sat 87% with respirations twenty-eight, pressure is ninety over fifty. Victim has complained of a headache and stiff neck of unknown duration, positive for vomiting and photophobia. He's currently experiencing chills. Reported to be irritable earlier, lethargic and oriented at present, he was unconscious on our arrival." Scott took a deep breath and cleared his throat before he continued. "General, be advised victim has a Kernig's sign and positive Brudzinski's...however, no rash noted at present. We have instituted proper precautions." Scott paused again as he adjusted the mask which was tickling his nose. "Our ETA is...Dougie?"


"Our ETA is nine minutes...."

"65, have you started a line?"

"Affirmative General...full strength saline bilateral..."

"Okay...we'll be waiting..."

"Damn!" Doug exclaimed as the ambulance slowed to a complete halt. The afternoon traffic was snarled, and no matter how many times he hit the air horn, the ambulance couldn't move. "Stupid son-of-a-bi..."

"What's going on?" Scott called from the rear.

"Bunch of stupid shits...won't let me through..." Doug muttered.

"Ohhh..." Vin winced and softly whimpered as Doug again hit the high pitched alarm.

"Go around...up on the sidewalk if you have to...this guy can't sit here." Checking the drip rates, Scott looked down and noticed that Vin had begun shivering again. "Here...let me get you another blanket." Standing, he moved to the rear of the ambulance and opened a compartment door and retrieved a packaged blanket. Opening it as he returned to Vin's head, he tucked it around Vin. "There...better?"

Taking a deep breath, Vin nodded his head slightly and grimaced and closed his eyes.

"Vin...Vin...stay with me here got a doctor over at General?"

"," Vin whispered. "D...Doctor...S...Se...Seaver," he stammered.

" poor wonder you don't want to go to the hospital," Scott chuckled and shook his head. "Ol' Mary Sue's easy on the eyes, but she's a definite ball buster."

In spite of himself, Vin found himself smiling and let out a weak laugh at the truth in those words despite the pain it brought on.

"Ohhh..." he gasped as his voice caught.

Frowning, Scott leaned forward in his seat and looked down as Vin's eyes started to roll back and his body became rigid.

"Shit! Dougie he's seizing...get this thing moving!"

"You need me back there?"

"No...I got it."

Placing a hand on Vin's forehead, he grabbed the radio again.

"General...this is AMR65..."

"Go ahead 65..."

"General...patient has seized...he is unresponsive and in full respiratory arrest. I'm ambuing with 100%...ETA is still nine minutes..."

"Okay 65, we'll have an intubation tray ready. Get in here as soon as you can."

Slamming his hand on the horn, Doug leaned out the window. "Come on....Move it!!"

+ + + + + + +

Finding a parking spot, Chris climbed from his truck and started for the entrance to the emergency department. Entering, he hesitated as he quickly scanned the crowded waiting room. Frowning, he wondered why there was no sign of Vin yet. Turning around, he went to the admission counter and waited to be acknowledged.

Looking up from her computer, the young woman smiled. "Hi. What can I do for you?"

"Uh..." Chris cleared his throat and frowned as he looked over his shoulder again before answering. "Uh, yeah...friend of mine...Vin Tanner...he was supposed to be on the way in."

"Hmmm...let me see. No. No Vin Tanner yet. If you just take a seat, I'll let you know when he's here," she smiled again.

Dragging a hand through his hair, Chris nodded and turned away. Scanning the room again, he looked down at his watch.

They should have been here by now. Did JD say they were going to the General?

Passing through an electronic door, Chris stepped outside and stood in the empty ambulance bay as he reached in to his pocket for his cell phone. Dialing Buck's extension, he tried to maintain his composure as he waited for an answer.

An ambulance entered the lot with it's lights flashing and silenced the alarm as it proceeded to the ambulance bay where Chris was standing.


"'s Chris."

"Hey Chris. How's Junior? Doc seen him already?"

"Buck," Chris interrupted as he moved aside to allow the attendant to open the rear door of the ambulance. Pacing a few steps away, he glanced at his truck and scowled. "Buck...he's not even here. You sure they said they were heading over to the General?"

"Yeah, Chris...that's what they said."

Turning around, Chris noticed the stretcher as it was removed from the rear of the ambulance. His mouth suddenly went dry.

"Chris...Chris...Chris, you still there?"

Chris swallowed as his heart began hammering in his chest. He couldn't see the patient's face. His face was covered by the mask the paramedic held firmly in place with one hand while he rhythmically squeezed an attached bag with the other. Chris recognized that blue plaid flannel. He was sure of it. He'd sat beside it only a few hours before.

"Chris..." Buck's voice was more insistent.

Chris's breath quickened as he noticed the stark white dressing on the tanned forehead,tape carelessly trapping the light brown hair it held back.

JD said he had a bandage on his head.


"Buck...get over here...get over here NOW..." Chris finally answered in a choked voice before the line went dead.

December 29, 3:45pm



With a frown, Buck briefly pulled the phone away from his ear and stared at it before putting it back up to his ear.


The silence was now replaced by a dial tone.

Shit. What's going on? Buck sat at his desk, staring at the phone and rubbed his chin thoughtfully. Haven't heard that tone from Chris since...well..oh, God... Standing quickly, Buck turned and grabbed his jacket from the rack behind him. Running a hand through his hair, he blew out a loud breath and began to click his tongue. His eyes darted around the room in frustration until his gaze came to rest on one of the empty desks. Reaching behind him, he pulled his chair closer and sat as he picked up his phone again. Without hesitation, he quickly dialed.

"Good afternoon, Mr. Tanner."

"Ezra, it's me, Buck."

"Well now, this is a change. Mr. Larabee generally has Vin," Ezra cleared his throat before continuing in an exaggerated drawl, "track down my sorry ass."


"Really, Mr. Wilmington. I'm beginning to feel forgotten and neglected. I dare say, I could be absent for some time before any of you would notice," Ezra continued in a mocking tone.

"'s Vin..."

"Well, isn't it always? Sometimes I think he's all anyone is concerned about..."

"Ezra...drop the Patron Saint of the Mistreated act," Buck broke in forcefully. "It's Vin...he's hurt."

"So? Anything else new?" Ezra quipped.

"Damn it Ezra. I'm serious. He hit his head. Ambulance took him to the hospital. Thought he was okay...but...but now...I'm not sure..." Buck hesitated and took a deep breath before continuing. "Chris called...I...I don't know what's goin' on over there...but...but Chris didn't sound right."

"Which hospital?" Ezra had dropped the sarcastic, mocking tone. He heard the unspoken fear in Buck's voice. While never one to indulge in close friendships, Tanner was his teammate, they were more than just cluttered desk neighbors.

"Four Corners General. Where ARE you Ezra?"

"If you must know, I completed my duties with team five earlier than expected. I was about to sneak off to start my weekend early. Now I am negotiating this blasted traffic...."

Buck smiled as heard muffled obscenities on the other side.

"...and I am on my way to the General."

"Okay...I'll let you go then...I'll see you when I get there."

Buck hung up the phone and left the office, only pausing long enough to turn off the lights as he left. As he waited impatiently for the elevator, he called Josiah to alert him to the changing situation. He hoped he was overreacting. Prayed that when he got there, Vin would be sitting up, scowling at the unwanted attention. Hell, if his prayers could be answered, he'd gladly welcome Chris's chewing out about yet another trip to the emergency room.

+ + + + + + +

Sitting in his truck, Buck slammed the steering wheel in frustration. The traffic was heavy, and he was impatiently waiting for a break to pull out. He had been able to reach all the team, except JD. The kid had left right after the ambulance, saying something about picking up a frappe for Vin. With traffic this heavy, there was no telling how long it would take for him to complete his errand and arrive at the hospital. He had left the office also believing that Vin's injury was minor.


Stretching, Buck opened his glove box and pulled out his blue light. Lowering his window, he placed the light on his roof and turned it on. Lights flashing, Buck finally pulled out into a lane of traffic. He needed to get to the hospital. Chris needed him. The kid would need him when he found out about Vin. And Vin... Vin would need him.

December 29, 3:46pm

"Okay...on three?"

Chris stood in the doorway and watched silently as the paramedics easily transferred Vin's limp body to the waiting stretcher.

Once settled, Vin was immediately circled by hospital personnel. Moving with the proficiency of familiarity, they began performing their assessments and initiating treatment.

Frowning, Chris realized they were all wearing gowns and masks. Sensing someone approaching, he glanced to his side as the only person he recognized brushed by him. Pausing only to place a mask on his own face, Peter Curtain pushed through the doors in to the treatment room.

Placing his hands on his hips, Chris frowned and stared through the window at the scene before him.

Buck only said he hit his head...what the hell's going on?

Lost in his own thoughts, Chris jerked suddenly when a hand touched his elbow.

"Oh...I'm sorry...I didn't mean to startle you."

Chris stared down at the woman beside him and nodded wordlessly.

"Are you with him?"

"Uh...yeah..." Chris swallowed and nervously ran a hand through his hair. Clearing his throat, he continued, "he...uhm...he works for me...he's...he's my friend."

"Your friend?" Carol smiled.

Chris nodded.

"Well, my name's Carol." Giving Chris no chance to refuse, she put her hand to his elbow again and moved him away from the door. "I'm the nurse manager here in emergency. I need you to go to that desk," pointing, she indicated a counter to her left, "and get him checked in. When you're finished there, I'll show you to a place you can wait." Raising her hand, she silenced Chris before he could protest. "No. I know he's your friend. I know you're worried. But you will not hover in the doorway, glaring at my staff. The doctors will want to talk with you, and they will find you. Do you need to use a phone to call his family?"

", he has no family..."

+ + + + + + +

"We got a recent set of vitals?" Peter Curtain walked to Vin's side and placed a hand on his arm. "I know this guy...he was just here..." Frowning as he tried to place the face with the ailment, he pried Vin's eyes open and flashed a penlight in to the dull eyes.

"Temp's up to one oh five, pulse one thirty, BP's dropping...he's eighty over forty."

"Peter, you're right." Anne McGarry looked up from the chart that had just been passed in to the room. "His old record says he was here last week. You saw him for a shoulder and back injury."

Pulling back the top of Vin's shirt, Curtain revealed the still bruised left shoulder. "Yeah...I knew it. So, what the hell happened? Was he sick last week?"

"No. You scribbled here that he reported he was being treated for an ear infection. You gave him a 'script for naprosyn. They've already paged Seaver. He's one of hers."

"Shit," the doctor muttered softly.

"Okay...let's get him intubated first. Patty, stop ambuing for a sec... Placing a stethoscope to Vin's chest, he frowned at the stillness and the silence. Placing his hand under Vin's head, he lifted and flexed Vin's neck. Glancing down at Vin's lower body, he frowned when Vin involuntarily flexed his knees, hips, and ankles. "You guys were right. He's got a positive Brudzinski's. Okay Patty, start ambuing him again. Kathy..." Looking down, he smiled briefly. The intubation tray was already at his side.

"Sorry, Pete...couldn't remember if you preferred the MacIntosh or the Miller blade."

Reaching for the curved blade, he assembled it and checked the light. "Now see, if you floated down here from the unit more often, you'd know I like the MacIntosh."

"Yeah, right...I live to serve you."

Grinning, Peter hyperextended Vin's head and waited for a moment while Patty continued to hyperventilate him.

"Okay. Let's go."

Holding the laryngoscope in his left hand, Peter inserted the curved blade along the right side of Vin's tongue and pushed it to the left. With his right thumb, he pulled Vin's lower lip away from his teeth. Visualizing the epiglottis, he advanced the endotracheal tube beyond the vocal cords and inflated the cuff. Straightening, he placed his stethoscope in his ears again and listened for breath sounds while Patty again began to ventilate Vin.

Smiling, he looked up. "Okay, it's in. Tell x-ray they can check it out. Jerry, have you got that foley in him yet, or are you admiring the sights down there?"

"Why Peter...I didn't know you played for our side," the male nurse winked.

"Yeah, right...when you've finished playing down there, make sure you've got a urine spec."

"Peter," Kathy interrupted, "we got blood cultures, CBC and diff, lytes, BUN, creatinine, random blood sugar...anything else you want?"

"Yeah, draw some for liver functions, coag profile, and platelet count..."

"What the hell happened?"

Peter turned and looked at the blonde woman standing in the doorway. Snatching the offered mask, she quickly placed it over her nose and mouth while walking towards Vin.

"Damn Sue, you made good time...did your broom catch a tail wind?"

Ignoring Curtain's comment, Dr. Seaver glanced down at Vin.

"You intubated him? Did you have any problems?" she demanded.

" actually, it went pretty well after I knocked his front teeth out."

"Tanner, you are a major pain in my ass," Mary Sue muttered as she stroked Vin's hair while gently pulling back his upper lip to examine his front teeth. Leaving her left hand on Vin's head, she pointed her right index finger at one of the nurses.

"You. Damn it. Cover him up with a sheet." Turning her attention to Dr. Curtain, she glared at her colleague. "Well, Peter. I can see that being named ER Attending hasn't changed you. You're still a smart ass."

"Yep. And private practice hasn't helped your bedside manner." Peter smiled as Vin was finally covered with a sheet. "You're still as tactless as ever."

"Have you tapped him yet?"

"No...Just about to...But it's pretty obvious what we're looking at."

"Shit," Mary Sue muttered softly as she read through the notes on the clipboard in her hand. Taking a deep breath, she looked up at Peter and frowned. Closing her eyes, she pinched the bridge of her nose. "I missed it. Didn't think he was that sick."

"Hey," Peter reached out and rubbed Mary Sue's shoulder. "You haven't seen him in over a week. Don't beat yourself up."

Nodding slightly, Mary Sue crossed her arms and chewed her lower lip. She stared at her unresponsive patient and wished he would wake up and insult her. She was overtired and knew that she was letting her guard down.

"Come on." Peter leaned down and lifted her chin so that he could look in her eyes. "Where's the Mary Sue 'shit happens, then you die' Seaver I've always known and hated?" he asked with a slight grin.

Turning away, she lowered her head and quickly wiped away an offending tear. Turning back, she scowled at Peter. "You're an asshole, you know that?"

Before he could respond, the exam door opened slightly. "Excuse me guys," Carol apologized. "Can you spare a minute or two? I've got five scary men out there who are about to spontaneously combust. Could one of you give them a quick update?"

"Sure. I've got nothing better to do. I've got a critical patient lying here. I'd be happy to go out and hold their hands."

"Sue. Hold it." Peter reached out and grabbed her elbow as she started to leave the room. "I'll go. He's unconscious. You stay here and torment Tanner, and I'll go do the PR in the waiting room."

"No. I'LL do it. He's my patient."

"Sue, your attitude sucks on a good day. You're the match that could set these guys off."

A tense silence hung in the air as the two headstrong doctors glared at each other.

Carol stood glancing back and forth at each of them, a smile frozen on her face.

"Look," Kathy interrupted. "I don't give a rat's ass whether you two link arms and dosey do around the department. But make up your minds and one of you get ready to do this tap."

"Get him ready. We'll be right back," they responded in unison as they both left the room.

+ + + + + + +


Larabee turned from the window at the sound of Josiah's voice. Seeing the doctor he remembered from the week before, and a young woman he did not recognize, at the doorway, he stepped towards them.

"Mr. Larabee. Mr. Wilmington." Dr. Curtain reached out and shook their hands. "This is Dr. Seaver, Mr. Tanner's primary physician."

"Alright...enough." Chris dragged his hand through his hair. "What the hell's wrong with Vin?"

"Vin's unconscious, unresponsive." Mary Sue cleared her throat. "He's in shock, he's in critical condition...he's not breathing on his own..."

"Damn it," Chris interrupted, "stop giving me statistics. What the hell is wrong with him?"

"Mr. Larabee," Peter stated calmly, "we need to perform a lumbar puncture before we can give you a definite diagnosis."

"Lumbar puncture..." Chris repeated softly, as he stared in to the eyes of the woman before him. His breath quickened slightly and the color drained from his face.

A tense silence enveloped the room as each of the men realized the implications of the planned procedure.

"I want to see him," Chris muttered hastily.

"Mr. Larabee," Mary Sue spoke with cool authority, "we need to do this now. We've already wasted time standing here."

"I need to see him. I have to be there," Chris insisted. "Vin's a federal agent. I'm his immediate supervisor. I have to be present to be sure he doesn't divulge any classified information."

"Who are you trying to kid?" Mary Sue responded, an eyebrow raised in amused contempt as she stood with her hands resting on her hips. "The only secret Tanner has is where he keeps his Oreo stash."

Feeling a hand on her arm, she turned to look at Peter. He stood at her side, silently shaking his head.

"Okay," she ground out. "Come on. But I'm warning get in the way, you're out of there..." Without waiting for a response, she turned and left.

With a brief glance around the room, Chris nodded at Buck and allowed Peter to lead him away.

"Good Lord," Ezra drawled as he sat down wearily, "a classmate of mine succumbed to meningitis in our junior year."

"Now Ez, we don't know for sure that's what it is...the doctors didn't say..." Buck insisted.

"No, Ezra's right Buck," Nathan interrupted, his voice resigned. "We should have seen it...I should have seen it...he's had all the symptoms..."

Josiah rested a hand on Nathan's shoulder. "Nathan, don't go blaming yourself. We need to trust Vin to God's hands now."

Nathan shrugged away from the older man. "Yeah, well, thank God he's not in ours...we let this happen..." Turning on his heel, Nathan strode out the door.

Buck resumed pacing in an effort to work off his excess energy.

"Buck, where's JD?"

"JD? Oh...he's...uh...he went to get a frappe or somethin' for Vin... thank God he's not here. The holidays are hard for the kid. He don't need to know how sick Vin..."

Buck was interrupted by Ezra loudly clearing his throat. Stopping in midstride, he turned to see JD as he stood frozen in the doorway, a styrofoam cup in his hand.

"Buck, how sick is Vin?"


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