by Ronnie

December 30
5:30 am
"What time is it?" Chris yawned and stretched as he stood. Dragging his hand through his hair, he cleared his throat and slowly walked to the window. The first rays of daylight had begun to filter into the room. Denver was waking to another day, oblivious to the battle being waged in the ICU. Life goes on......

"Uhhhmmm..." Buck yawned, scratched the top of his head and attempted to wipe the sleep from his eyes. "Uhh...five...five-thirty...I think," he croaked as he squinted at his watch. Clearing his throat, he stood with a loud groan. "Shoot...should be a warning about falling asleep in these dang chairs." Yawning again as he sat back down, Buck stretched his long legs casually before him.

Frustrated, Chris began to pace the room as Buck watched him with a critical squint.

"I want you to call the others..."

"Now? It's not even six a.m. Chris." Buck stopped talking abruptly, his heart hammering in his chest. He suddenly recalled hearing Dr. Seaver's voice around four...something about Vin's pressure dropping and his temp rising... Oh Frowning, he quickly glanced around the room. "Wait a minute...did somethin' happen?"

"No Buck, take it easy...been no change..."

Buck stared at Chris, silently waiting for an explanation.

"I want you to call them and have them run a background check on Seaver. Call in every favor owed them, if they have to, but I want everything."


"No Buck. We're trusting her with Vin, and damn it...we don't even know her. Vin's never once mentioned her."

"She's his doctor...he trusts her," Buck quietly observed.

"Well, I don't, and as long as he can't speak for himself, I'm the power of attorney for his health care...remember?"

Nodding, Buck massaged his temples as he agreed. "So, that's it? Her biggest fault is that she didn't get your approval?"

"Buck, have you not heard the way she talks about him?"

"I've heard Chris, but I've also heard how she talks to know, Nathan met her before, and he didn't seem to have any issues."

"Buck, go make the calls," Chris demanded in a tense, clipped voice that forbade any more argument.

7:30 am

Kathy was barely able to control her gasp of surprise when she pulled the curtain back.

"Oh...hi...didn't know you were there. I was just finishing up getting him cleaned up a bit."

Glancing over her shoulder, she smiled briefly. Freshly shaved, and with hair neatly combed, her patient didn't look much older than the young man before her.

"Are you a friend of his?"

JD stood motionless as he stared wide-eyed at Vin and nodded his head slightly.

"I..." JD wasn't able to control the spasmodic trembling within him as anxiety spurted through him. While he silently stared at Vin, the sounds from the ventilator and the monitors seemed to intensify as not so distant memories returned to haunt him. He was more shaken than he cared to admit to himself or any of the others.

"Come on...come say hello..." Kathy gently prodded JD forward.

"Hi...Vin?" JD's fragile and shaking voice broke. Embarrassed, JD swallowed hard and looked up at the ceiling, his gaze clouded with tears. "Oh man, Vin...I'm sorry...I...I thought I could do this...I'm sorry...I can't." JD let out a long, shuddering breath as he stared down at Vin. There was no response.

Unblinking, JD watched the rhythmic rise and fall of Vin's chest as the ventilator delivered each breath. Vin lay before him, unresponsive, nothing indicated that he was even aware of JD's presence.

"What am I supposed to do Vin? I'm scared," JD whispered. "Seeing you like this...I...I thought I could do this...every...every time I closed my eyes last night...I...I kept seeing my mother. Oh, God, Vin....I think I'm losing're the only one who even knows I still dream about that sometimes..."

Closing his eyes, JD tried to calm his breathing as he tightly clutched the side rail of the bed. He was dimly aware of Kathy's presence beside him, with her hand gently resting on his shoulder.

"I'm sorry... this is stupid...they're all right...I AM just a kid...."

"No...from what he's told me, you've been a good friend."

JD took a quick, sharp breath when he realized that a third person had entered the small room. Staring down at the hand suddenly resting on his, JD turned and looked up at Dr. Seaver. Unconsciously, his brow furrowed as he noticed that her eyes were brimming with unshed tears.

"I...I'm sorry...I'll get outta your way..."

"Kathy, how's the thorn in my side this morning?"

JD smiled when he saw the gleam in her eyes as she waited for an answer.

Pulling out her stethescope, Mary Sue placed it on Vin's chest and smiled as she auscultated his lungs.

"Sounds clearer than last night," she smiled. Lifting Vin's wrist she began to count his pulse as she reached for the dressing on his forehead and carefully lifted the side and peeked at the wound. "Mornin' kiddo..." she softly whispered.

Releasing the siderail, JD slowly backed away from the bed.

"Pulse is stronger too..."

"Yeah...temp's down to one-oh-four, BP is ninety-eight over sixty-two."

Seeing that he had been momentarily forgotten, JD took the opportunity to quietly leave the room and search for the others.


The waiting room was quiet as the six men quietly reviewed the materials before them. Although the team was thorough, they still failed to find any connection between Mary Sue Seaver and Vin Tanner.

"Damn it...still don't know how she knows so much about him." Chris threw a folder down in frustration and stood up.

"Chris...she's his physician...of course she knows him," Nathan attempted to reason.

"No Nate...she's more involved than any doctor I've ever mat...she's more than that to him...I can tell."

"Chris, what difference does it make?" Buck asked tiredly.

"The difference, Buck," Chris ground out, "is that if she was ever involved with Vin, I don't want that compromising the care Vin gets now."

Throwing down a folder, Buck sighed. "Shoot Chris, you ain't gonna find anything about Vin in her paperwork. Like I said before, Vin's so private, he could be dating you for all any of us would know."

"Buck...." Chris snarled.


Letting out a long sigh, Chris threw a folder down on the table before him and began to massage the back of his neck. Glancing up at the doorway, he frowned when he noticed the young man standing there. The younger man appeared to be scanning the room, searching for a familiar face.

"Hey, Payson..." JD stood and extended his hand.

"JD..." Payson nodded and smiled briefly at the other men staring at him as he shook JD's hand. "I..." Payson paused and cleared his throat. "I just heard about Vin...wanted to come down, see how he was doing. The uh...the front desk sent me up here." Frowning, he glanced around and took note of his surroundings. "This...this is the intensive care unit...isn't it?" Lowering his head, Payson sighed and placed his hands on his hips when he received no verbal answer. "Damn."

"Thanks for coming...he'd appreciate that." JD led Payson out to the hall, away from the critical stares from the others.

"You know...I just talked to him yesterday morning...he sounded fine...tired maybe...but not sick...and now this?"

"I know..." JD shook his head. "All he said was he had a headache at lunch..."

Chris frowned as he watched the two young men begin to slowly walk down the hall.

"Payson," Buck snorted. "Just what the hell kind of name is that supposed to be?"

"You're right Mr. Wilmington," Ezra drawled. "It's absolutely abhorrent. Apparently, his mother didn't avail herself to the same baby name book your mother or mine did."

Chuckling, Josiah helped himself to another donut.

"Who is Payson?"

"You know him Chris. He's the new kid on team one. But if you ask me...they just take advantage of that boy. They send him out to the mailbox, off to fetch their coffee and lord knows what else, all the time," Buck explained.

"He's with team one?" Chris frowned and stroked the stubble on his chin as he tried to recall meeting the younger man.

"Yeah, I think he transferred in from the Maine bureau a few months back," Buck continued.

" I remember him, " Chris nodded, "He's their new sharpshooter...that's how he and Vin know each other. Somehow they all seem to gravitate to each other..."

"Yeah," JD interrupted as he returned, "but he and Vin knew each other before, back in Rangers."

"Well, how come you are so friendly with him JD?" Buck quizzed.

"Oh...I ran into him down at the mailbox when he first started, and then one day we started talking while I was waiting for your coffee." JD stared, dumbfounded as Chris burst out laughing.

Coughing, Josiah began to choke on his donut.

"Ezra...stop whacking Josiah on the back," Nathan demanded. "Josiah...can you speak?"



The six men sat up straighter as Dr. Seaver stormed in to the room and cleared the table with her arm.

"What? What is this?" Chris's eyebrows rose as he stared down at the papers she dumped on the table.

"Did you really think I wouldn't find out? Well there. Since you're so interested. Here's my mortgage payment book...see, I'm a month ahead. My student loan book...oh look...I'm current with that too. Here you car loan application...would you like to approve it? Hold on..." Reaching in to her lab coat pocket, she pulled out a folded piece of paper. " grocery list. How dare you? Is this all enough? Anything else you want to know?"

Nostrils flaring, she glared at Chris, hands on her hips.

"Yes." Chris calmly answered. "Tell me. How did Vin get that scar?"

December 30, 12:10pm

"What? You're kidding, right?" Mary Sue's eyebrows raised incredulously. Falling into the chair behind her, she laid her head back against the wall. "I can't believe you actually called my gynecologist and asked what birth control I use, all over a scar that must be...what?...fifteen years old." Shaking her head in utter disbelief, she closed her eyes and pinched the bridge of her nose. With a long, exhausted sigh, she stood.

"Look, if you two are involved, I can deal with that," Chris said in a low, composed voice. "It's just that I don't think it's a good idea for you to be treating him then."

"Involved?" Mary Sue's voice rose in surprise. "With him? That...that is just too..." Shaking her head, Mary Sue placed her hands on her hips and began to slowly pace. "I and Vin 'involved'...oh please..." she muttered.

"Now, hey there..." Buck placed a hand on her shoulder and stopped her. "Vin ain't all that bad. He's actually quite nice looking, when you think about it," Buck rambled. "Of course...I think he's more Chris's type than mine, but..."

"BUCK!" Chris thundered. Silencing Buck with a glare, Chris stared at Mary Sue, waiting for an answer.

"You know, it's just a stupid, little's not a big deal," Mary Sue shrugged. "I didn't mean for you to get your bowels in an uproar over it."

"Well then, why don't you just tell me how he got it and why you know...and don't feed me any bull about patient confidentiality."

"I know because I remember the day it happened."

Chris's eyebrows shot up in surprise. The six men stared silently at Mary Sue as she mused on some private memories.

"Little shit thought he was Evel Knievel," she said in a voice that seemed to come from a long way off. As the image focused in her memory, she could see again that hot, summer day in Texas. "There was a field not too far from the house...had a dry creek bed. Well, one day, he and Jimmy built a huge pile of rocks and some old boards and a ramp. So...Jimmy goes and decides it would be a good idea to jump their bikes over the creek bed. Now, I love Vin dearly, but even at ten, he had no fear and no of course, they decided he'd make the first jump. I heard he made a pretty good jump too...until he went ass over tea kettle and landed right on the rusty edge of his handle bar."

"Ouch," JD exclaimed.

Mary Sue looked up, flashing a smile at JD's interruption. "Yeah, ouch is right." Shaking her head, she sat and pulled a small purse from the pocket of her lab coat. "Those two little fools...Vin bled like a stuck pig. So what do they do? Tried to pretend nothing happened. Dead of summer, and Vin stood there in front of my father, blood trickling out the bottom of a flannel shirt, wheezing , and insisting that he was just fine."

"Shoot...he hasn't outgrown that yet," Nathan snorted.

"And you know, he was pretty convincing...until he passed out, right into my father's arms," Mary Sue continued.

Chris's brows drew downward in a frown as he tried to digest what he had heard.

"Jimmy was my brother and Vin was his best friend." Mary Sue's voice faded to a hushed stillness.

Chris's mouth dropped open and he found himself momentarily speechless.

"So, you two aren't involved?" Buck grinned mischievously as he started to see Dr. Seaver in a different light.

"No," Mary Sue shook her head as she smiled slightly. "It's kinda hard to think of Vin that way when I remember that the bulge in his jeans used to be from the horny toads in his pocket."

"'re saying that you knew Vin when he was a kid?" Chris asked, spacing the words evenly.

Frowning, he watched Mary Sue open her purse and remove a small, faded photograph. Reaching out, he accepted the photo and stared down at two smiling, young boys. Staring down at the snapshot, he easily recognized ten-year-old Vin Tanner.

December 30, 12:15pm

"Well, isn't this convenient?" Chris retorted as he absently handed the photograph to Buck. His voice was quiet, yet held an undertone of cold contempt. "Do you carry baby pictures of all your patients in your purse? Or just pictures of your lovers?"

Mary Sue reacted angrily to the challenge in his voice as they stared at each other across a sudden, ringing silence. The contest of wills was finally ended when Mary Sue's beeper broke the silence. Distracted, she pulled the beeper from her pocket, frowned, and quickly left the room, forgetting the photograph in Buck's hand.

"Chris, are you out of your ever lovin' mind?" Buck asked with deceptive calm.

"Wow!" JD exclaimed as he reached and took the photograph.

Chris frowned at the younger man intently studying the faded photo.

"That IS Vin..."

" gotta agree. Those are his eyes....the same freckles...maybe his hair ain't quite so sun bleached now...but that's definitely a little Vin Tanner. You got no call to attack that girl, she knows him," Buck insisted.

"Buck, he was fine a few days ago," Chris's voice broke and he hesitated before letting out a long breath. Dragging his hand through his hair, he turned away from the others. "All he had was an earache...and look at him...this broad shows up, and says she's his doctor...I don't know don't know her...she seems to think she knows so much about him...well, she didn't know enough to keep him from getting this sick. And what's with this Paven guy coming to visit? Didn't even know Vin knows him...."

"Payson , " JD corrected.

Shooting a withering glare in JD's direction, Chris continued. "This Payson comes along like he's some best friend or other of Vin's...feel like we don't know Vin...he only had an earache...she should've been paying more attention to what was going on above his belt than below. I might ...I mean, we might lose him... she screwed up..."

"Now Chris," Buck placed a comforting hand on Chris' shoulder. "I've known you a long time now," Buck's eyebrows drew down in a frown of seriousness. "And I know you really believe the sun shines outta your ass, but Vin had a life before you, and has a life outside your orbit..."

Silence filled the room as Chris stared at Buck in shocked surprise.


"No Chris. She's his doctor, and if she's anything more than that, that's Vin's business, not yours...or is it?"

Lowering his head, Chris let out a long, tired sigh as he pinched the bridge of his nose.

"Just don't want to see him hurt by this woman."

Slapping Chris lightly on the back, Buck chuckled as the two men started to leave the room. "Hate ta break the news to ya, buddy...but Junior can take care of himself...he ain't innocent, and he sure as hell's no virgin. Now, JD on the other hand..."

"BUCK!" JD exclaimed loudly as he quickly followed the departing men, leaving the laughter of the others behind.

December 30, 12:30pm

Silently walking towards Vin's room, the three men stopped and turned when they heard Peter Curtain's footsteps thundering down the hall. The normally friendly physician passed without acknowledging the trio. Frowning at each other, Buck and Chris quickly resumed walking when they realized that Peter had entered Vin's room. Chris's heart rate and breathing accelerated as he hastened to reach Vin.

"JD, get Nathan," Buck ordered as he matched his stride to Chris'.



Arriving at the room and standing silently in the doorway, Chris stared, unnoticed by the busy occupants. His brows furrowed and he took a deep breath and began nervously chewing his bottom lip while he surveyed the debris scattered on the floor. Discarded needle caps, linen, and cellophane wrappers surrounded the floor around Vin's bed. The only part of Vin he could clearly see through the group assembled around the bed was his left foot.

"I'm getting seventy palp."

"Alright...let's start the dopamine then...uhhm...go with four mics to start."

"Kathy, what's his weight?" Gerry stood patiently at the IV pump waiting for a response.

"Uhh...hold on," Kathy frowned and turned the flow sheet over. "He was seventy-two point five kilograms this morning."

"Now, Kathy said seventy-two point five, so... I can look at this cheat sheet to get it started quickly," Gerry pointed to a laminated card hanging from the code cart." "Or...I can do the math out. Right now, I'm gonna use the chart, and after, I'll show you how to figure it out." The wide-eyed student nurse at Gerry's side silently nodded as the older nurse set the IV pump at the appropriate rate. The two stepped away from the bedside, allowing Chris a better view.

"Sue, he's seizing again."

"Damn it."

"Vin," Chris whispered hoarsely as he stepped uninvited into the room. Oh God...Vin

In spite of the activity and the blaring alarms around her, Mary Sue heard Chris and looked up.

"Mr. Larabee, not now...please...I'll come find you as soon as I can...please...I promise."

Eyes widened, and staring intently at Vin's tensed body, Chris shook his head and took another step forward. Vin...come on Vin...don't do this

The blaring of the ventilator alarm continued as Kathy grabbed the ambu bag from the hook over the bed and attached it to the end of Vin's endotracheal tube with one hand, while the other turned up the oxygen flowmeter.

"Vin..." Chris cleared his throat and took another tentative step forward.

"Chris..." Hesitating, Chris looked down at the hand on his shoulder and then up to Buck's sad eyes. "No Chris. Give them room to help Vin."

"No Buck." Chris shook off Buck's hand and took another step closer to Vin. Before he could take another step, he felt another hand on his arm. Sighing, he realized that Nathan had quietly entered. He shook his head as two sets of hands held him firmly.

" out in the hall with me and Buck."

Giving Chris no chance to refuse, Nathan gently guided him from the room. Leaning against the rail, Chris tipped his head back and sighed. As he closed his eyes, a single tear escaped, unnoticed, from the corner of his eye.

"I thought he was getting better...should have been in there with him."

"Chris, he's still pretty know this is serious. Need to take it hour to hour right now," Nathan gently explained. Seeing the dismay in Chris's eyes, Nathan quickly added, "Hey now...come on...don't forget...he's young, he's strong, he's stubborn as hell...he'll fight this...and he's got all of us pulling for him."

Standing silently in the hall, the three men were soon joined by the others. Ignoring them, Chris focused all his attention on the room, and listened to the activity within. Much of what he heard seemed like a foreign language to him, so he stared at Nathan and attempted to determine what the other man was thinking as he listened also.

"Temp's back up again."

"What'd you get?"

"He's back up to one oh four."

Scowling, Chris concentrated on the voices, and distinctly heard Mary Sue's exhausted sigh.

"Okay, better put him on the blanket again."

"Gerry...can you pull him over to you?" Kathy asked. "I'm just gonna wash his back and put a clean sheet under him while I put the probe back in. Okay...bring him back to me."

Minutes seemed to pass like hours as six worried men stood silently in the hall. Intently focusing on the quiet voices of the nurses, Chris did not realize that Mary Sue had leaned out of the room.

"Mr. Larabee." Mary Sue's eyebrows raised when she received no response. Clearing her throat, she lightly touched Chris's forearm. "Chris..."

Startled, Chris looked up.

"Chris...I'm sorry..."

She's sorry? SHE'S SORRY??? Oh no....Vin....nooo...

Chris's mouth went dry and he felt his heart pounding in his chest as he suddenly imagined a life without Vin.

"No's okay...I'm just sorry I startled you...come's okay. Hey, why don't you come on in and see Vin for a few minutes? Kathy just got him all cleaned up."

Slowly following the doctor in to the room, Chris tentatively stepped to Vin's bedside. Freshly washed, and lying on clean linen, Vin showed no signs that he had just been through a crisis. Placing his hands on the siderail, Chris sadly stared at the unresponsive Texan. Tensing slightly, he felt Mary Sue's hand on his lower back as she wordlessly took Chris's hand and placed it in Vin's.

Placing her hand on Vin's shoulder, she leaned down over Vin. "All right you...I'll be back...behave yourself." Straightening she turned and started to leave the room.

"Wait...can he...can he hear?"

"Well...we've got him pretty heavily medicated...don't know if he can make sense out of anything if he can hear it...but talk to him'll do him good to hear your voice." Without waiting for a response from Chris, she turned and left the room.

"Awww Vin..." Chris whispered hoarsely as he squeezed the younger man's hand. "Come on can beat this...please..."

December 30, 4:00pm

Sitting silently, Chris stared at the motionless sharpshooter. Sighing, he closed his eyes and leaned back in the chair as the hypnotizing sounds of the room filled his ears. In a hospital filled with hundreds of patients, visitors, and staff, Chris felt more alone than he had in a long time. Keeping his lonely vigil, he hadn't noticed when Buck stepped out. Focusing intently on the still figure before him, he ignored the frequent intrusions by the nurses. roads, take me the place, I belong...

Chris quickly opened his eyes and blinked, feeling slightly lightheaded. Although he hadn't acknowledged any of the nurses, he had at least noticed them. He hadn't heard the young nurse enter, and here she was, standing at Vin's bedside, humming. Chris studied her thoughtfully for a moment. Her again. The other nurses would enter, perform their tasks, and stop to attempt conversation with him...but this one...this one only focused on Vin. She didn't adjust a dial, reset an alarm, or hang a bag of IV fluids...all she did was stand beside Vin, humming that damn song and stroking his hair.

"Hey..." Chris hesitated and cleared his throat as he slowly stood. Aww hell, I KNOW I know her...what is her name? Must be one of Vin's girlfriends... Chris frowned as he stared at the young nurse and tried to recall her name.

She offered him a small, shy smile, and for a long moment, she silently looked back at him. With a slight shiver, Chris turned towards the window and attempted to stretch the stiffness from his back. With one hand on the window frame, and the other on his hip, he kept his back to Vin and the nurse.

"You know, this is a weird probably think I'm crazy...unless you've been talking to Buck...but that were humming it earlier too...that song you were just humming to Vin...he...I guess...I guess he told one of the guys a while back...that...that his mother used to sing that song to him...kinda know...kinda funny that here you are now, humming it to says he might be able to hear...hearing that song...probably feels comforted by it...don't you think?"

"Chris...who are you talking to? I know Sue told you to talk to him, but she didn't mean hollering at him from across the room."

"Huh?" Chris turned with a start. His brows drew downward in a frown at the sight of Kathy, standing in the center of the room.

"Where'd you come from?"

"The hall..." Kathy's eyebrow's raised inquiringly as she slowly answered.

"Oh, then you must have just passed her, she was just here."


"The pretty nurse...oh no...I didn't mean it that way," Chris quickly added. "I just...I just don't remember her name. She's about this tall," Chris held a hand up, "light blue eyes, and light brown hair, pulled into a braid... and damned if I can't remember her name...but you must know who I mean...right?"

"," Kathy shook her head as she went to Vin's side and replaced the depleted bag of IV fluid and adjusted the infusion pump. "She probably heard he's here, and came down to see him from one of the floors."

"Yeah," Chris shrugged. Vin seems to know alot of people he hasn't told us about. "How's he doing?*

"Well," Kathy frowned before she looked up from the flowsheet she was writing on. "Well, he's holding his own. Looks like some of the antibiotics are finally kicking in. Temp's down a bit. No promises, but she may start weaning him off the vent tomorrow."

"He'll wake up then?"

"Well...I don't know...that'll depend. He's pretty sedated at the moment 'cause of the seizures...but it looks like she's backing off on them a bit. When he wakes up will pretty much depend on how long it takes him...even then, he's still pretty sick."


Kathy frowned at the defeated slump of Chris' shoulders. "Hey, come on...don't give up on him...that's not gonna help him, or you."

Staring at his friend, Chris silently nodded.

"Okay...that's need some air. I've got stuff to do in here." Kathy began to push Chris toward the door. "No..." Kathy stopped Chris's protest. "Out. I know you're friends and all, but I want to get him cleaned up and straightened out, and I don't need an audience. You go find yourself something to eat, and when you come back, you'd better be able to tell me what's on the cafeteria menu."

+ + + + + + +

"Chris? Is something wrong? Is he okay?" Buck stood and quickly went to Chris' side.

"Uh...yeah...I...they said I should get some air...they had some things they needed to do." Frowning, Chris looked at the group assembled around him. "So what've you guys been up to?"

"Well," Josiah chuckled and shook his head. "we just finished a game of poker."

Frowning, Chris nodded his head. Nice. Vin could be dying, and they're out here playing games.

"And, since Ezra lost, he's going out to tell Nettie about Vin." Josiah continued.

"Wait." Chris raised up one hand. "Let me get this straight. Ezra, you LOST?"

"Yes, Mr. Larabee," Ezra sighed as he pulled on his overcoat. "I seem to be having an off day. Apparently, my friendship with Vin is having a detrimental affect on my game. And these friends of mine have used that to their advantage. Mother would be appalled," he muttered as he shook his head. "Are you ready Mr. Dunne?"

"Did JD lose too?"

"No. He's going to protect Ezra," Josiah chuckled. "You know she can barely tolerate Ezra on a good day."

Smiling at Ezra's predicament, Chris followed the others from the cramped waiting room.

December 30, 7:00pm

"Hey Vin...I'm back." Chris tentatively approached the bed. Sighing audibly, he lifted Vin's left hand and gave it a slight squeeze. Waiting hopefully for a response he knew wouldn't come, he stared at Vin's hand. This same hand that could hold a rifle and aim with deadly accuracy, was limp, almost lifeless. Vin's left hand. This tanned hand, with the long slender fingers had so frequently offered him a one-fingered salute...and here he was holding it, like it was such a natural thing to do, and yet, it was the first time he could ever recall touching Vin's left hand. Last spring seemed like only yesterday, as he remembered the day they'd been fishing and he watched Vin deftly baiting his hook and patiently showing JD how to tie a lure. Unconsciously rubbing a callus along Vin's forefinger, Chris sadly stared at the young Texan and leaned over the siderail.


Lowering his head wearily, Chris dragged his hand through his hair and sighed again.

"Damn Vin. I don't know what else to say. I'm running out of stuff to say here." Chris let out a short snort and shook his head. "Heard any good jokes lately?"


"You know Vin...there was something I wanted ta talk to ya about. Just haven't had the chance...first you were out sick and then the holidays and all..."


Tightening his hold on Vin's hand, Chris cleared his throat.


"It was something JD said, actually," Chris hesitated and absent-mindedly chewed on his lower lip.He never meant to have this conversation with Vin. Vin should know, shouldn't have to explain himself to him. "He seems to think that think that we...that I...that I don't appreciate you enough. That your place on the team isn't secure." Chris loosened his hold on Vin's hand to reposition it, and resume his firm hold. "But gotta know how much you mean to me. DAMN IT. Look at us. We look like a scene out of Brian's Song here. I thought that was so fake...didn't you? I mean, guys don't hold hands...right?" Chris looked down at his hand and grinned slightly as he shook his head. "Shit. Who am I kidding? I'm no good at this. You know that. Why don't you just wake on up and we can pretend we never did this?"

"I just knew. I can't explain it...but I just knew without a doubt that first day I looked in your eyes that I could count on you. There was something there...felt like I knew you, and knew I could count on you to watch my...our backs. Stealing you away from the U.S. Marshalls was probably the best thing I ever did for this team." Chris sighed and stared again at the younger man. "Vin...this is the time in the movies when your supposed to flutter your eyes open and gasp my name..." Chris paused and waited patiently for some response. "Oh well...maybe later then..."


"Christ Vin. I never meant to make you feel stupid. How could you think that? I thought we had some kind of understanding. I've never once seen you read an instruction manual...ever. I know you're not much of a reader. Geez pick up things so fast...only have to tell you something once, and I know it will get done. You're not like the other guys Vin, they have to stare at pages and pages of shit before they can figure out what they're supposed to do."


"Damn it Vin. If it will make you feel better, I'll start burying your ass in reams of paper. Just get well, damn it."

Chris tightened his hold on the limp hand.


"Never figured you to be a quitter." Chris sighed again and shook his head. "All that modesty of yours is out the window today buddy. You know you've spent the last twenty-four hours or so with nothing but a towel between you and the world? Time you woke your sorry ass up Tanner." Chris squeezed Vin's hand tighter. He was angry at the world, angry at Vin, angry at himself for venting his frustrations on the unconscious, vulnerable sharpshooter.

"Come on Vin. COME ON." The tips of Chris's fingernails got whiter as he tightened his hold even more. Accustomed to ignoring the equipment in the room, chris didn't realize that the monitor had registered Vin's increased heart rate. me...please...ahhh...


B....Buck? Help' mad too....sorry....

"Yeah Buck?" Chris turned but did not release his firm hold on Vin's hand.

"Nettie's on the phone. She wants to talk to ya."

Sighing, Chris straightened and finally let go of Vin's left hand, allowing it to drop lifelessly to the bed.


Stepping away from Vin's bedside, Chris slowly left the room without noticing the solitary tear that escaped from Vin's right eye and traced a lonely path to his ear.

Buck? Chris? Please?

December 30, 7:30pm

"No... no Nettie... hon... honest... yes... but... but... no... no, really... yes... but..." Chris sighed and pinched the bridge of his nose. "No... no... it... it wasn't... it wasn't that way... I... he... no..."

Buck smiled as he leaned against the wall next to Chris.

"They... they said... no... no..."

Still smiling, Buck tapped Chris on the shoulder and made mouthing motions with his hand.

Chris grinned back briefly and nodded his head. He had yet to complete a full sentence.

"Uhh... yeah... no... Nettie... no... NO... don't... now look... Vin wouldn't want you to... " Chris let out an audible breath as he tiredly leaned against the wall, nodding his head. "What? No... I don't know... Nettie... Nettie... he's an adult... I don't... I don't know if he's been wearing a hat that covers his ears... how? How can I? I can't... no... yes... yes... I know... no... I agree... you... you're right... he should... he should zip his jacket more often... he... what? No... no it wasn't that way... Ezra... Ezra offered to... yes... yes he did... no... no he didn't mind... he was happy to... o... okay... yes... you're right... he wasn't happy... say anything? No... no, he didn't... you weren't home Nettie... no... no, I don't have your sister's number... no... uh huh..."

"Sounds like she's really giving it to Chris," Nathan smiled as he came to Buck's side.

"Well, you know she's always been a mite partial to Vin since he stepped in when that Royal fellow tried to muscle her off her ranch."

"Yeah, that she has," Nathan agreed.

"Hey," Buck clapped Nathan on the shoulder, "while Chris is busy on the phone, I'm just gonna run down and see how Vin is."

Nodding, Nathan smiled in acknowledgment as he watched Chris's ear becoming more and more red.


+ + + + + + +

"Hey, Junior." Buck walked forward, stopping in front of Vin's bed. "Hope you don't mind just me, Ol' Buck, and not Chris."


Laying his hand on Vin's, Buck reached back with his foot and pulled a chair closer. "You know, poor Chris...sure am glad I ain't him right now...Nettie's got him on the phone, reaming him a new one."

Slouching down in the chair, he stretched his long legs casually before him.

"I guess poor Ezra and JD barely made it out alive...nope...she's sure not happy to hear you're sick. You've got a heap of people worried about ya Junior."

Buck let out a weary sigh as he stared at Vin. Frowning, he pushed himself out of the chair and placed his free hand on Vin's arm.

" feel a bit cooler..."

Turning to look behind him, Buck lowered the siderail and moved closer to Vin's head.


+ + + + + + +

"No Nettie... no... no don't... Ezra... Ezra said the roads were icy... n... no... NO... I AM NOT just saying that... no... don't... I don't want to have to worry about you out driving in it... yes... yes... I know you do... yes... yes. Yes I will. I'll call soon as there's any change. Okay... okay... I'll call even if there's no change... right... okay... yes... I... I know... we're all praying for him... okay... okay... me too..."

Turning his back to the others, Chris placed the receiver back on the phone. Dropping his head down, his shoulders slumped and he let out a long sigh.

"Well, I think I got that settled. I hope. Got her finally to agree to stay home." Turning, he looked at the others. "Where's Buck?"

"Went to see Vin."


"Chris, you look beat. Why don't you stretch out on the couch, take a break?"

"I'm fine Josiah, just want to go see Vin first."

+ + + + + + +

Slowing, Chris stopped, frozen in the doorway.

"BUCK." Chris's voice cracked and he blinked his eyes. He couldn't believe what he was seeing. But there he was, plain as day...leaning over Vin...kissing...his forehead. "BUCK, what the hell are you doing?" Chris demanded as he pushed in to the room.

"Chris?" Buck straightened quickly and raised his hands to stop Chris. "It's... it's not what you think...really."

"Well, why don't you just tell me what I'm thinking?" Chris ground out.

"He felt cooler." Buck nodded nervously. "Yeah, yeah, he felt cooler and I was just...just checking to see if his forehead felt cooler. Honest. Really."

"You were checking his temperature? They got thermometers for that Buck."

"Yeah... yeah I was... really Chris... didn't your mother ever do that when you were a kid?"

"He ain't a kid, and you sure as hell are no mother. I don't know Buck," Chris shook his head and smiled, "Always thought there was something fishy about the way you're always saying Vin's not your type."

"Chris... Chris... awww.... come on," Buck rushed to follow Chris out of the room. "Chris, shhhh..... could ya at least lower your voice.... come on, I got a reputation....."


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