by Ronnie

December 29, 4:10pm

Chris reached out and accepted the offered mask with a slightly trembling hand. Stepping in to the exam room, his shoulders slumped and he let out a long breath when he saw the fallen sharpshooter. For the first time in a long time, he felt the fear of uncertainty. The still form on the stretcher before him couldn't be Vin. There had to be some mistake. Only a few hours ago, Vin had suggested to him in no uncertain terms what he could do with himself when Chris had chastised him for trying to prevent his food from touching. Now, he was oblivious to the fact that he was lying, nearly naked in a room full of strangers, with tubes and monitors connected to him while a machine forced air into him. How did this happen? Vin was sick. Sicker than he'd ever seen him. And right now, with a pit in his stomach, Chris vowed silently that he would give anything if Vin would just sit up, snarl that he was fine, and stalk out of the room, butt naked.

"Come on...come over here."

Startled from his private thoughts, Chris looked down and realized that a nurse was guiding him closer to Vin.

"Go ahead. You can touch him," Kathy offered.

Reaching out tentatively, Chris placed a hand on Vin's shoulder.

"Vin?" Chris frowned as he received no response. "Uhhh....come on your eyes. Please..." Chris whispered.

"Mr. Larabee, could you step back please?"

Taking a step back, Chris watched as Vin was eased onto his side.

Donning a pair of goggles, Mary Sue took her place behind Vin and waited. "Okay Kathy, get him in position."

"Wait. Hold're too small...let me do it...I can hold him better for you." Chris insisted. He hadn't intended to interfere. He didn't know whether the petite woman would be able to complete the task. He just needed to be doing something. Something more useful than hand holding and pleading.

"What?" Kathy huffed as she drew Vin's knees up to his abdomen while pulling his chin toward his chest.

"Real smart Larabee," Mary Sue smirked as she prepared the injection site with an antiseptic solution and injected a local anesthetic. "Now you've gone and pissed off the nurses."

"Huh? What?" Chris looked down at Kathy as she scowled up at him. He honestly didn't know what he had done to irritate the woman.

"Damn." Mary Sue muttered as she gently probed Vin's back. "I forgot about this curvature."

"You want me to do it?" Peter offered.

"No...I got it...Kathy, can you arch him a bit more?" Squaring her shoulders, she took a deep breath and picked up the spinal puncture needle. "Okay, pretty goes," she whispered softly.

Owwwww....nooooo.....stop it.....

"Stop're hurting him...he just moaned..."

"Mr. Larabee," Mary Sue advanced the needle and attached the manometer as Kathy slowly straightened Vin's legs. "I warned you...out..."

"No...I'm not going're hurting him...I heard him...and you don't care."

"Mr. Larabee," Mary Sue sighed in exasperation, "you couldn't have heard anything...he's intubated...Vin didn't make a sound. This procedure is not without a certain amount of pain." Looking down, she scowled as she read the opening pressure on the manometer. "Kathy?"


"He's wincing Sue," Kathy whispered softly.


Chris stood silently, staring in disbelief as Mary Sue stopped briefly and leaned over Vin. Speaking softly, her voice was low and muffled by the mask.

Straightening, she scowled again at Chris. "Mr. Larabee," she stated as she began filling test tubes and passing them to the nurse at her side. "You're looking a mite pale. Jerry, why don't you take him over to that stool in the corner."

"No. I'm staying right here."

"Don't worry. Any secrets Tanner shares are safe with me," Mary Sue mocked.

"Fine. But if you pass out," Mary Sue cocked her eyebrows at Chris appraisingly, "and you probably will, I'm just stepping over you. You know I don't care. Just make sure you don't fall in to my sterile field."

Obtaining the closing pressure, Mary Sue removed the needle and assisted Kathy in positioning Vin on his back again.

As he stared at the needle being removed, Chris felt suddenly clammy, the walls of the room seemed to be closing in. Panting slightly, he didn't hear the wheeled stool coming towards him. He didn't notice it behind him until he felt himself pushed down on to it.

"Mr. Larabee....Mr. Larabee....are you okay? Mr. Larabee?"

Looking up, Chris realized that Dr. Seaver had been speaking to him.

"Uhhh....yeah...I'm fine..."

"Well, it's over now...the big bad needle is all gone... What are his latest signs?"

"Temp's one oh five two, pulse, one eighteen, BP's holding at eighty over forty."

"There a bed upstairs yet?"

"Said they'd call as soon as it was ready."

Realizing gratefully, that he was being ignored as the medical personnel carried out their tasks as if he weren't present, Chris leaned closer to Vin.

"Hey, Vin."

Come on Tanner...please...just open up your damn eyes.

Swallowing, Chris dragged a tired hand through his hair.

"Come on Vin...wake up..."

"Well, might as well put a Swan-Ganz line in while we're waiting for the bed."

Chris continued to ignore the movement in the room as he stared intently at Vin. Not knowing what else to do, he allowed Kathy to place Vin's limp right hand in his. Squeezing tightly, he hung on as a Swan-Ganz line was placed in Vin's left arm. Shutting everything else out, Chris examined the tanned fingers entwined in his. Absently, he traced the calluses caused by Vin's rifle.

"Mr. Larabee?"

"Huh? What?" Chris jerked at the hand on his shoulder.

"We're ready to move Vin upstairs. Why don't you go tell your friends? The ICU has a waiting room. They'll let you know when he's settled and you can see him."

" didn't say what was wrong with him." Chris had a sickening fear that it wasn't good, but he wanted them to tell him he was wrong. He silently prayed that he was.

Exchanging a silent glance with Mary Sue, Peter nodded slightly as she turned away with her head lowered.

"I'm sorry," he began. "We won't know for certain until all the tests come back...but right looks like...and we're treating him for, bacterial meningitis."

"Noooo.....he was fine this morning....are you sure? Maybe it's just the know, I'm not sure if he got a flu shot or not this year....are you positive? Maybe...maybe that's all it is...the flu......." Chris's voice trailed off as he realized the room had become silent. Too numb to argue any more, Chris allowed Peter to show him from the room. This can't be happening. Stopping, Chris turned to look again at Vin. He didn't want to leave him alone with these people.

Standing at Vin's side, hands on her hips, Mary Sue stared down at Vin, ignoring the nurses as they removed the equipment and monitors and readied him for transport to the unit.

"Scrawny pain in the ass...." she muttered softly.

Chris's eyebrows raised incredulously as he watched her reach out and brush the hair back from Vin's forehead.

Glancing up, Mary Sue noticed Chris standing there silently staring. "Mr. Larabee,' she cleared her throat, "don't you ever presume to tell me what I care about..." Turning abruptly, she moved away from Vin.

"Okay, let's go....."

Chris moved aside as Vin was pushed from the room to the waiting elevator.


Glancing sideways, Chris realized that Buck and the others had joined him in the hall, sadly watching as Vin was loaded onto the elevator.

"I don't know doesn't look good...I just don't know....."

December 29, 5:15pm

"Buck," JD anxiously stared at the elevator doors. Frowning, JD noted the expression on Chris's face. Glancing around him, he saw the solemn looks on the faces of the other agents. "Buck...what's going on? How bad did Vin hit his head?"

Still clutching the melting vanilla shake, JD patiently waited for an answer.

"Buck...answer bad did Vin hit his head?"

"Oh, for Christ's sake JD, grow up," Chris spat out. "Vin hitting his head's got nothing to do with it. He's got meningitis."

Reality sunk in as the gathered men absorbed the words.

" wasn't that sick...he...he just wasn't feeling good...Buck...he wasn't that sick, right?"

"Damn it JD," Chris let out a long, audible breath and dragged a hand through his hair. "I was there. I was there when they stuck a fu..." Chris hesitated and became silent as a young woman and child walked by. "I was there, JD," Chris lowered his voice and continued. "I was there when they stuck a needle in his back. Didn't you just see him? He's got a tube down his throat...he's not even breathing on his own. He IS that sick."

The shock of discovery hit JD full force. " can die from that..." His voice faded to a hushed stillness.

"Hey now, come on kid." Buck clapped JD's back. "You know Vin. He's gonna beat this, he's a fighter. He's a Tanner."

"Oh shut the hell up Buck," Chris spat out. "Stop wasting air. Exactly how many live Tanners do you know? Here's a news flash---Tanners can die too. you ever see things as they are?" Chris asked in a harsh, raw voice.

Buck awkwardly cleared his throat and nodded slightly. Turning, he stepped away from the others with his hands shoved in his pockets, shoulders hunched forward. Damn...he all but said he was sick, and there I was telling him it was from the MSG.

"Hey..." JD stood defiantly in front of Chris. "You might call yourself Vin's best friend, but we're all his friends too. You got no right to go after Buck just 'cause he believes in Vin. You should have some faith in him too. You got no right to go after Buck and you know it, and you know Vin would be the first to tell ya..." JD's voice trailed off as he realized everyone was staring at him. JD had just stood up to Chris. Chris Larabee. The Chris Larabee. He'd seen Vin tell Chris off once, but it was Vin, and it was only once. Oh well...kiss this job goodbye... JD boldly met Chris's eyes. Fear stark and vivid glittered in the older man's eyes. Chris really was worried.

"Chris, I'm sorry," JD whispered.

"No, you're right kid." Chris cuffed the side of JD's neck before he stepped away to join Buck.

"Excuse me, gentlemen. I gather you're all close contacts of Mr. Tanner?" Carol asked as she approached. Noting their agreement, she continued. "Well, Dr. Curtain asked me to let you all know you need prophylactic treatment. If you'd just come this way..."

"No thank you darlin'," Buck answered absently. "I carry my own brand that I prefer to use."

Nathan gave Josiah a sidelong glance of utter disbelief at what he'd just heard. To Ezra's surprise, Carol's only reaction was a slight smile. JD stood frozen, completely shocked. Chris was momentarily speechless before his loud laughter broke the silence. For a few moments, the tension was lifted as the others joined him.

"What?" Buck asked in total confusion.

"Oh Buck," Chris wiped tears from the corners of his eyes. "Can't take you anyplace...stuck your foot in it again..."

"Buck," JD was barely able to keep the laughter from his voice. "She's giving out pills, not little raincoats..."

"Ohhhh," Buck gulped and grimaced as a slow flush spread across his cheeks.

Still smiling, Carol began to lead the agents down the hall.


"Yeah Chris?"

"Listen," Chris cleared his throat and looked at the floor. "I'm sorry about what I said. I wish I...I wish I could have your faith."

"Hey," Buck reached out and clasped Chris's outstretched hand. "Don't worry about it. I believed in you a long time ago, and you didn't let me down. And I hate to tell ya pard, but Junior's got more grit than you...he's too ornery to let this get him."

"Geez carry your 'own brand'? Carrying that Boy Scout motto a little far, don't ya think?" Chris's voice trailed off as the two old friends started down the hall.

December 29, 7:00pm

"Dr.Seaver," the charge nurse sighed with exasperation, "here."

Mary Sue accepted the papers and looked down.


"You can wipe that innocent look off your face. You know what. I held your hand your first code, and don't you forget it."

"How can I? You've never let me...." Mary Sue muttered as she rolled her eyes.

"What was that?"

"I was saying how nice it was to see you again, Becky." Mary Sue grinned. "Now what needs fixing?" Sitting at the desk, Mary Sue pulled a pen from her ponytail.

"Don't get innocent with me. You know exactly what's wrong. Fix those orders. I don't care how pissed off you are at your patient. You know right well we can't, and I quote, 'hit patient upside head q four hours'."

"You didn't?" Peter laughed as he snatched the chart. "Shit. You did. Sue, this is a legal document. You know you can't...."

"Peter, look." Mary Sue pulled out a prescription bottle and held it up. I found these in Tanner's pants."

"His pants? Sue, I know you're used to rifling your date's pants on Saturday mornings, but he's a patient. You can't just stick your hand in every pair of pants you come upon..."

"Peter..." Mary Sue sighed as she rested her hand on her chin.

Peter stopped and frowned when he realized his verbal sparring partner was not keeping up.

Without continuing, Mary Sue stood and stared at the unit assignment board.

"Where is he? Four?"

Without waiting for confirmation, Mary Sue proceeded to Vin's cubicle.

Standing in the doorway, Mary Sue hesitated as fifteen-year-old memories suddenly surfaced. As she silently observed the nurse caring for Vin, she thought about another nurse, and a critically ill young boy. Smiling, she remembered the woman, and the way she fussed over her 'sick baby'.

"Hi, Dr. Seaver." Ginny smiled as she looked up from straightening the sheet. Flicking a towel open, she draped it over Vin and reached for a clipboard. "Here you go...."

Mary Sue accepted the flow sheet and looked down at Vin's latest vital signs.

"Temp's still change..."

"No, but I just got the hyperthermia blanket turned on..."

Pulling out her stethoscope, Mary Sue proceeded to listen to Vin's breath sounds. Removing it from her ears, she turned and adjusted the dials on the ventilator as she noted the fluctuations. Frowning, she returned to the original settings.

"We'll see how he does tonight....maybe we can get him weaned down off this thing tomorrow."


Pulling out her penlight, Mary Sue pried each of Vin's eyes open and peered at his pupils. Placing the light back in her pocket, she reached for the dressing on Vin's forehead.

"I just changed that."

"Oh...okay..." Mary Sue smiled. She was no fool, she knew better than to disturb the clean dressing. She didn't need that simple statement translated.

"Are you on tonight?" Mary Sue asked absently as she studied the cardiac monitor.

"Yeah...I'm on for twelve. Kathy's on tomorrow."

"Ahhh....sorry you're stuck here on a Friday night, but I'm glad you're on...I know he'll be okay..."

"Why Mary Sue Seaver," Ginny smiled in mock surprise. "if I didn't know better, I'd think you actually care about this one. You sure you didn't spend the holidays in Oz getting a heart?"

Letting out a short snort, Mary Sue shook her head slightly. "Oh, please..." Arching an eyebrow, she pointed at the other woman. "And if you so much as breathe one word...I swear, I'll admit and order a milk and molasses enema for every constipated old man I can find in Denver..."

+ + + + + + +

"Mr. Larabee? Mr. Wilmington?"

Startled, Chris sat up straighter and blinked his eyes. Yawning, he dragged his hand through his hair as he stood.

"Sorry doc, guess I dozed off there."

Frowning, Chris peered over Dr. Curtain's shoulder.

"Uhh..." Chris cleared his throat nervously. ""

"'s Vin? He gonna be okay?" Buck interrupted.

"His condition's unchanged. I thought that maybe you would like to see him for a few minutes. Dr. Seaver's with him now, he's just about settled in."

"Yeah...yeah, I would...thanks..."

"Me too."

Stopping as he began to follow Peter out the door, Chris frowned at Buck.

"Buck, why don't you wait here? When the others get back with the sandwiches, they won't know where we are."

"I don't think so. I'm going to see Vin for myself. Our coats are here. They'll know we're around."

+ + + + + + +

"Kathy said you're thinking this is from an untreated ear infection?" Ginny asked as she finished applying a loose restraint on Vin's wrist.

Sighing loudly, Mary Sue shook her head as she put the clipboard down and stuck her pen through her ponytail.

"Always thought he was a bottom feeder in the gene pool..."


"Saw him last week in the office. Gave him a 'script for it then. All he had to do was open the bottle take out a pill and swallow. Stupid son of a bitch...can't even do that right..."

"Sue..." Ginny repeated louder as she tilted her head toward the cubicle entrance.

Peter stood in the doorway, flanked by Chris and Buck. The two agents stood frozen, their faces visibly paler as they stared at Vin.

Shit. He said he needed his pills and I didn't listen.

December 29, 7:30 pm

A shadow of annoyance crossed Mary Sue's face as she glanced briefly at the three men. Turning her attention back to Vin, she ignored the trio. Picking up Vin's limp hand, she clutched it in both of hers.

"Alright kiddo," Mary Sue leaned forward and lowered her voice. "You behave for Ginny, and when you get well enough, I have a surprise for you."

Glancing up at Chris, her eyes met his.

"Mr. Larabee...come on in," she ground out. As Chris advanced, she maintained her possessive grip on Vin's hand.

"Sue...I know you've met Mr. Larabee," Peter began. "This is Buck Wilmington. He works with Vin too." Peter placed a hand on Buck's back and gently nudged him into the room.

"Ahh...yes...'brand name Buck' ." There was a faint glint of humor in her eyes as Mary Sue released Vin's hand and reached across to shake Buck's.

Chuckling softly, Ginny turned away and started adjusting settings on the IV pump as the tall man flushed with embarrassment.

"Sue, if you're finished tormenting your patient, I told Chris and Buck they could visit for a few minutes."

Chris stood frozen, unable to move as he stared across the room at Vin. It was hard to believe that just a few weeks ago, Vin had been playing football on his lawn, and just a week ago, had been serenading Buck in this very hospital. He couldn't remember ever seeing Vin so deathly still or ill...

"Really, Mr. Larabee...come closer...I don't bite." Mary Sue gave a forced smile and a tense nod of consent.

"Well, at least not before the second date," Peter winked at Mary Sue as he prodded Chris closer to Vin's bedside.

A tense, uneasy silence filled the room as the two agents stared down at their fallen friend.

"Awww Vin...." Chris's voice broke with huskiness as he placed his hand on Vin's forearm.


Chris let out a long breath as he sadly stared down at Vin's arm. Biting his lower lip, he lightly touched the dark bruises already forming from attempted venipunctures.

"Come on Vin...please wake up and start bitching about being in the hospital..." Chris slowly traced the outline of a bruise on Vin's inner arm with his thumb.

"Yeah, Junior...let's see them baby blues... you're living my fantasy now...flat on your back...naked...and two pretty women hovering over you...seeing to your every need...."

"Buck...." Chris glared at Buck, his eyes wide in disbelief at what he just heard.

"Just cluing him in to what's goin' on, so nothing unexpected rises to the occasion..."

" just keep in mind, you're in a hospital room, not a locker room," Chris ground out between clenched teeth. me please...can't breathe...don't be mad...

Ginny looked up from the computer screen and frowned as she noted Vin's increased heart rate. Her hands paused over the keyboard as she glanced appraisingly at Vin.

"Ginny...who's on call tonight?" Mary Sue paused in the doorway as she began to leave.

"Uhhmmm...Dan Reed," Ginny muttered absently as she started to step toward Vin's bed.

"Oh...good." Mary Sue's brow creased as she turned around and stepped back in to the room, followed by Peter, as the ventilator alarm sounded. "Tell him I'll be in on-call if he needs me..."

"That's it Vin...wake up for ol' Buck..." Buck's normally deep voice encouraged, barely above a whisper. me please...please...please

The shrill alarm of the ventilator filled the small room.

"Sue...he's bucking the vent..."

Vin's eyes fluttered and his nostrils flared slightly before his eyes suddenly flew open. Vision blurry, he only saw images leaning over him. His heart rate increased even more. Something was stuck in his throat and forcing air in to him...he struggled to catch his breath and began to panic when he was unable to do so. His head had never hurt so much...he had to get this thing out of his throat...he was choking. His body stiffened momentarily and his back arched slightly. Without warning, he suddenly began to sit up, arms and legs flailing and grabbing.

"Shit! Hold him down!"

Chris and Buck stood frozen, shocked as they stared down at Vin.

Mary Sue and Peter quickly moved to Vin's side and struggled to keep him from causing any damage.

"WE NEED HELP IN FOUR...STAT" me...I'm choking

Chris and Buck backed away as the room suddenly filled with nurses and technicians.

Can't breathe...

Vin's hand flew up and grabbed at the endotracheal tube, only to be quickly pulled away.

"Vin...come on darlin' please don't fight it...we're trying to help you..."


Vin's fever glazed eyes attempted to distinguish the blurry figures surrounding him. Thrashing his head, he struggled against the breaths the ventilator was delivering to him.

Sue...please help me...Buck and Chris won't...can't breathe...

"Damn it...we lost the central line." Ginny stated as she moved to Vin's arm and swabbed a port before she injected medication.

"It's okay...we can insert another after we get him settled..." Vin's eyes filled with tears of frustration. Mary Sue brushed away a hot tear as it trickled toward Vin's temple.

Please help me get it out...choking...hurts...

"That's it...don't fight it," Mary Sue soothed as she lightly ran her fingers through Vin's hair.

Vin's heart rate slowed and his body relaxed. Blinking sluggishly, he finally kept them closed as he surrendered to the warmth spreading through his body.

Awkwardly, Mary Sue cleared her throat. "You two okay?" she asked as casually as she could manage.

"Uhh...yeah...yeah...don't worry about us...we're fine." Chris nodded as he watched the blonde doctor start to leave the room again.

"Dr. Seaver?" Buck's hoarse whisper broke the silence. "Vin...he...he's gonna be okay? Isn't he?"

"I don't know," Mary Sue's voice was resigned as she sadly glanced in Vin's direction. "Just don't know..." she said in a voice that seemed to come from a long way off. "Ginny, I'll be back in a little bit to re-insert that central line, could you get a tray ready?" Without giving the men a chance to ask any more questions, she abruptly turned and left the room.

What is going on with Vin and this woman? Chris scowled as he watched her departing back.

December 29, 8:00pm

Unable to find any words of comfort to offer each other, Buck and Chris slowly walked in the hallway. Both men had always considered Vin fearless, and the sheer look of terror they saw reflected in the younger man's blue eyes left them shocked. Without warning, Chris stopped and grasped the handrail with both hands. As he lowered his head, he let out a long, shuddering breath and stared down at the toe of his boot.


"An ear infection, Buck," Chris muttered in a choked voice. "A stinkin' ear infection...and now they think he could die."

Turning around, Chris leaned back against the handrail and crossed his arms. Clearing his throat, he tiredly raised one hand and massaged the back of his neck.

"Been thinkin'...he missed some of his pills when he hurt his back. He wanted to go to the office and get them, but I wouldn't. I...I didn't think it would hurt to skip a few...shit..."

"Chris, no..." Buck interrupted. "Don't do this to yourself. I forgot to bring them out. He asked where they were. I shoulda turned right back 'round and gone for 'em...but after that I just plumb forget 'em..." Buck's voice drifted off.

Both men stood silently for a few moments, watching the activity around them, each privately blaming himself.

"This is your fault."

Stunned, Buck nodded in agreement. "I...uhhh...yeah...I know..." Buck's voice drifted to a hushed whisper. Turning his head away, his eyes welled as he considered his role in Vin's illness. "You're right," he continued, "I shoulda brought the damn pills out to he asked."

"Not what I was getting at Buck."

Frowning, Buck stared at Chris, baffled.

"I never wanted this...never wanted to know them...any of them...didn't want to involved...promised myself I wouldn't let myself again. You did this. You and your damn ball games, and parties...all that shit. Before I knew it, I was asking Josiah about his sister, helping Nate find hospice care for his dad...teasing JD about his love life...waiting for Vin's smart ass comments...trusting his instincts..." Chris's voice trailed off. "I was doing just fine, on my own. Didn't have to worry about no one. Only had to take care of myself...was doing just fine, until you shoved them all down my throat."

"Like hell," Buck shot back. "You didn't have a life. You were existing. Mr. Bad Ass Larabee made sure he alienated everyone...everyone until you tried to assemble a team of misfits that you figured would have the sense to steer a clear path around you. These men...these men that I 'shoved' down your throat dragged the life back into you."

"An ear get ear infections, Buck...Adam used to, all the time," Chris whispered. Shoving his hands in his pockets, Chris leaned his head back against the wall and sighed. "I thought I could do this...could face this happening. Always figured he'd go down in a bust gone bad...thought I was ready for that...not some damn kid thing."

"Chris, you gotta have faith in him...he's a fighter...some piss-ant ear infection ain't gonna take him down."

"I don't know Buck. You were there. You saw how bad he looked. That many things hooked up to him...can't be good. Doctors didn't look too happy either. Maybe he can't beat this...maybe he's just too sick."

Letting out a long sigh, Buck looked down at his feet. He couldn't argue with anything Chris had said. Recognizing Ezra's voice drifting from the waiting room, both men glanced in that direction.

"Ohhh....damn....what are we gonna tell them?"

"I don't know Chris...just the truth. Either way, I'm here."

Chris glanced sideways at Buck when he felt Buck's hand rest on his shoulder. With a slight nod, Chris smiled at his old friend and pushed away from the wall.

Trudging down the hall again, Chris swung his arm across Buck's shoulder.

"I know always have been..."

December 29, 11:00pm


Chris sat slumped in an uncomfortable vinyl chair. Eyes closed, he sat with his head resting on his hand.

"Forget it Nathan. I'm not tired, not hungry, and not going home."

The others had long since digested the food they had brought back and countless cups of coffee had been consumed as the team settled in for a long vigil. Although none had been in to see Vin since Buck and Chris, no one was willing to leave.

" least eat half this haven't eaten a thing since lunch."

"Thanks Nathan, but no..." Chris shook his head. "I...I can' stomach feels...I don't feels weird..."

"Okay..." Nathan agreed while shaking his head, "but I'm telling make yourself sick, and they aren't gonna let you in to see all."

Chris stared silently at Nathan. Wordlessly, he accepted the offered tuna sandwich and held it in his hand. Grudgingly, he took a bite and slowly began to chew.

"Chris, I think I'm gonna go down and check on Vin...mind if I go, or do ya want me ta wait for ya?"

Chris swallowed and forced a smile. "," clearing his throat he continued, "tell him...tell him I'll be down to see him in a little bit."

+ + + + + + +

Buck hesitated in the doorway and stared. Ginny, the nurse he had met earlier was absent. In her place, a younger nurse stood at Vin's side, her back to Buck. As Buck admired the light brown braid that hung down her back, he smiled when he recognized the distinctive tune of "Country Roads".

Poor ol' Vin...flat on his back in his birthday suit, with this pretty little thing humming John Denver songs at him, and he can't even talk to squawk about it.

Finishing the song, the nurse brushed Vin's hair back from the dressing on his forehead and was still for a moment. With a casual movement, she turned and faced Buck and smiled.

"Uh...I...uh...sorry..." Buck stopped and stared at the young woman. He knew he recognized her, she seemed so familiar, but he could not recall her name. Fumbling for words, he hoped she'd introduce herself.

Damn eyes...long brown hair...pretty smile...freckles...what is your name darlin'?

Giving up, Buck continued, "I...I thought...if it was okay...I'd see how he was doing..."

Without giving Buck an answer, she nodded and walked past him through the doorway.

Standing frozen, Buck hesitated to proceed into the room alone. He had assumed the nurse would remain. "Hey..." Inclining his head out into the hall, he looked for the departing nurse. It was empty. Seeing all the doors that lined both sides, he frowned. Now, where'd she get to?

Shrugging his shoulders, he looked back at Vin. "Hey Junior..." Buck crossed the room slowly and pulled a chair to Vin's bedside. Lifting Vin's limp hand, he took it in his own and gave it a firm squeeze. "You had enough of a rest for yourself now? Reckon you could wake up for ol' Buck?" Buck smiled hopefully, ignoring the rhythmic hissing and monotonous beeping that filled the room. Looking around, he chewed his lip and sadly swallowed as he waited for some response. "Well, that's okay. You go on ahead and rest then. Concentrate on getting well. I'm here...not going no place..." Sitting silently, Buck sadly studied the normally vibrant Texan.

"Mr. Wilmington?"

Startled, Buck released Vin's hand and stood up. Nodding nervously, he looked at Dr. Seaver.

"I'm sorry...I didn't touch nothing...the nurse didn't seem to mind me being here..."


"No...the other one...'bout this tall, long brown eyes...pretty little smile..."

"You saw her smile?...through a mask?..." Mary Sue's eyes were raised incredulously.

" wasn't wearin a mask," Buck shrugged.

"She should have been. What was her name?" Mary Sue was concerned that infection control may have been breached. Until they determined that Vin was not contagious, all personnel and visitors were expected to wear masks when in contact with Vin.

"I...I don't know...awful familiar....but I can't remember her name..."

Leaning over the bed rail, Mary Sue placed a stethoscope on Vin's exposed chest. Buck closely watched as she slowly checked Vin and all the attached equipment.

"You know, my doctor sure don't pay this much attention when I'm sick. Think I may have to get me a new one..."

Briefly glancing up at Buck, Mary Sue smiled slightly but did not respond before she directed her attention again to Vin. "Well sure as hell know how to ruin New Year's..."

With a light pat to Vin's leg, she stepped away from the bedside. Picking up the clipboard, she wrote a few things before washing her hands and leaving Buck alone again with Vin.

Pulling the chair closer again, Buck tiredly sat down. Lifting Vin's hand again, Buck sighed and idly began to rub a callus along the side of his finger. "Why Vin? All ya hadda do was remind me again ya needed the pills. You know I woulda gone and got 'em. Damn it...this can't be happening..."

December 30, 12:00am

Pausing momentarily, Chris leaned against the wall outside Vin's cubicle and took a deep breath. Unconsciously, his brow furrowed as he listened to the conversation drifting to the hallway.

"Okay, Ginny...that's it...this central line should be fine...just get x-ray up here to check the placement. I'll be down in on-call if you need me..."

Damn it...Buck said she showed up when he was here too. What is it with this woman? Hasn't she got any other patients?

"And here I thought one of the reasons you went private was so you wouldn't have to pull any nights know the rumor mill is already buzzing...sure there isn't anything about this one you want to set straight?"

Leaning closer, Chris vainly tried to hear the muffled response. Damn it...she's as bad as Vin...speaks clear as day until she has something to say I want to hear...then that damn drawl gets so thick I can't make it out... Frowning, he peered in to the small room.

With their backs to the door, neither Mary Sue nor Ginny were aware they were being watched. Ginny stood leaning over the computer, recording information, leaving Mary Sue alone at Vin's side.

Chris stared, complete surprise on his face, as Mary Sue leaned forward, quickly pulled the mask from her face, and lightly kissed Vin's forehead. Straightening, she sniffed and readjusted her mask. Picking up Vin's limp hand, she entwined her fingers in his and gave a firm squeeze.

"Keep an eye on him tonight Ginny. If he screws up again, the next thing he pulls out will be my foot from his ass."

Finally sensing someone behind her, she turned. Her left eyebrow rose a fraction as she stared at Chris.

"Mr. Larabee. So very nice to see you again. Come right on're just in time...I was just about to pump Tanner for classified federal information," she winked mischievously.

"I...uh...look...I'm sorry about that," Chris stammered. "It's's just that I don't know you. You're awful familiar with him, just being his doctor and all." Chris frowned before he began again. "He...he's never mentioned you...ever...I don't know who you are..."

Mary Sue shrugged. "Well, I don't know what pillow talk you two share, but I know who you are. You're Chris Larabee, his immediate supervisor. He thinks of you as a close friend, he trusts you. You have a ranch, just outside town. His horse is stabled there, and he spends a lot of time there." Raising her hand, Mary Sue began to raise each finger. "The other members of your team are Buck and Nathan, who I've met, then there's Ezra, Josiah, and last, but not least...JD. He's from Boston, you know, but we don't hold that against him. And to Vin, I'm just plain Sue."

Chris merely stared as she continued her tirade. Sue. Sue? Did he ever mention a Sue?

"Now, if you want to continue this playground pissing contest, I can tell you his favorite color, favorite cartoon...or about how he got this scar?"

Looking down, Chris noted Mary Sue was pointing to a small, old, faded scar on Vin's upper left chest. Frowning, Chris silently stared down at the area. He didn't know how Vin had gotten that scar. Hell, he'd never even noticed it.

Not waiting for an answer, Mary Sue turned and strode to the door. Pausing in the doorway, she turned and glared at Chris. He hadn't moved. He stood motionless, silently staring at Vin as a sense of inadequacy swept over him.

" me if you need me...for anything...anything at all." Lowering her voice, she continued, "and make sure Mr. Larabee has as much time as he needs."

As her words finally registered, Chris turned in disbelief only to see an empty doorway. Turning back, he looked down at Vin.

Ginny quietly worked in the corner, preparing to hang another IV medication. The darkened room was quiet, except for the monotonous beep of the cardiac monitor and the hiss of the ventilator.

Sighing, Chris tentatively placed his hand on the siderail and sighed. He was exhausted. His stomach churned with anxiety and frustration. The nearly twelve hours since Vin had fallen ill felt like an eternity. He took a deep breath and tried to relax.

"Aw, Vin..." he whispered.

In an instinctive gesture of comfort, Ginny moved to Chris' side. Taking Vin's hand, she placed it in Chris's.

"You know...he won't break." Pushing down on his shoulder, she forced him into the chair behind him. "Sit. Talk to him. He needs to hear someone familiar. Needs to know he's not alone."

December 30, 2:00am

Chris stiffly pushed himself to a standing position. Ginny had left a short while ago, but he couldn't remember where she had said she was going. Taking a deep, unsteady breath, Chris stepped back from the bed. Smothering a groan, he massaged a deep ache low in his back as he shuffled to the window. Placing his hands on his hips, he stared out at the dark night. Dr. Seaver hadn't returned, and he'd been sitting alone with Vin, undisturbed for two hours. His throat felt scratchy. He and Vin had never needed to say much to each other. Their friendship was not known for deep, philosophical conversations. They actually had very little in common, besides enjoying quiet companionship. He smiled as he remembered the younger man, sitting barefoot on his porch, chair tilted back, feet on the railing, quietly sipping a beer as the sun set. He had probably said more to the taciturn Texan in the last two hours than the two of them had said between them throughout their entire acquaintance. Two hours of pleading with the younger man to wake up, praying for him to recover, had left Chris hoarse.

"Vin...come on...please...I don't know what I'll do if anything happens to you..."

Scowling, Chris stopped and hesitantly turned when he realized he wasn't alone with Vin. Damn it. Who just heard me say that?

"Oh...hi...I..I didn't hear you come in."

Chris stared intently at the young nurse. If this was the nurse Buck spoke of earlier, he was right, she was a beauty, but Chris couldn't shake the feeling that he knew her. "I'm sorry, have we met?"

Ginny must've sent her in to check on Vin 'til she gets back.

Without answering Chris, she picked up a washcloth and began to gently bathe Vin's flushed face.

Shrugging, Chris sighed and turned back to the window. With a smile, Chris recognized the tune as the nurse began to softly hum. Yep, I was's her... must be the only song she knows...

As he continued to stare out the window, Chris attempted to engage the shy young woman in conversation. "That's a nice song you're humming there...not sure if he likes it..."

"Chris...who are ya talking to? Vin wake up and start humming for ya?"

Damn. I'm exhausted. I must have dozed off and she left. Where did she go? She was just here.

"The nurse. Your nurse Buck." Chris cleared his throat and glanced quickly around the room. "Didn't you see her? She was just here."

"Nope. Didn't see anyone when I came in. But damn, you sure as hell look beat."

"The others?"

"Left a little bit ago." Buck leaned on the railing and lifted Vin's hand. "They'll be back in the mornin'...well, make that later this mornin'... " Reaching for Vin's head, Buck lightly ruffled Vin's hair. "Hey there Junior...see you're still slacking off..."

Approaching the bed again, Chris gripped the side rail tightly and sadly stared down at Vin.

"Come on Chris...don't do this..." Buck said softly.

"Do what?"

"Give up. I can see it in your eyes."

"Well, if your eyesight is so good Buck, have you taken a good look at him? He looks like shit. He's got more tubes and machines going in and out of him than I can count. And where there isn't a needle stuck in him, there's a bruise from one that was. Look at him...take a good, long look. He was siting at his desk, cursing his computer yesterday morning..." Chris turned away as his voice broke. "Don't you stand there and tell me you really believe that everything is gonna be just fine."

"We owe it to him," Buck said slowly. "You know right well Vin's the last to give up on anyone or anything. We at least owe him that much faith. Hell, if the Cowboys knew how sick he was, they'd probably set up a prayer chain...they can't afford to lose one of their last few remaining loyal fans."

Shaking his head, Chris smiled. Buck was right.

Chuckling, Buck shook his head. "Hey, you remember last summer when Nettie had her gall bladder out?"

With a light snort, Chris nodded. "That plant."

"Lord...that was the most god-awful, pathetic plant..." Buck added.

"He had enough of our money to buy Nettie dozens of roses," Chris interrupted. "So, what's he do? He goes out and buys the most Charlie Brown Christmas tree looking plant he can find. Said that anyone could buy a nice looking plant, but that this one was special...needed to belong someplace that wanted it...then it would be okay."

"And he was right, you know," Buck commented. "Nettie still has that plant, and it's thriving. Should have been tossed a long time ago, but some scruffy Texan wouldn't give up on it."

Both men stopped and stared down sadly at their ill friend. Each privately remembered how he had good naturedly endured their relentless teasing over the near dead plant.

"Don't give up on him Chris," Buck quietly pleaded.

Nodding wordlessly, Chris let out a heavy sigh and agreed.

Chris turned quickly at the sound of Buck's voice and blinked as he scowled at the other man. Pinching the bridge of his nose, he shook his head.

Reminiscing about happier times, the two old friends soon lost track of time. Ginny had been in and out several times, quietly adjusting IV drips, and obtaining vital signs. Occasionally, she paused and smiled as the two men shared their memories with her and she learned all about this patient in her care.

Buck stopped and stared at Vin and then up at Chris, shock clearly evident on his face.

"Chris...what ARE you doin' ?"

Chris's hand froze right where it was. A slow flush spread across his cheeks as he realized that he had been stroking Vin's hair back from his forehead.

"I...uhh..he...I...," he stammered. "I was...was just getting the hair off his forehead for him."

"Right." Chuckling, Buck nodded his head and discarded his mask as he headed for the doorway.

"Buck..." Chris followed Buck to the hall.

"I don't know Chris..." Buck smiled as he casually threw his arm across Chris's shoulders. "Vin don't ever seem to mind his hair floppin' all around when he's awake...can't see how it's gonna bother him when he's unconscious. You know, you better watch out...people may start talkin'. "

"Not a word Buck...not one word," Chris glared.

Buck's eyebrows arched mischievously as the two slowly started for the waiting room.

As they walked away, they did not see that behind them, in the dimly lit room, a solitary tear slipped from the corner of Vin's eye and left a lonely trail as it slid towards his ear.


Comments to: