by Ronnie

December 30, 9:00pm
Slipping her feet from her clogs, Mary Sue let out an exhausted sigh while she drew her legs up and placed her feet on the chair seat. As she pinched the bridge of her nose, she closed her eyes and pulled the clip from her hair, allowing her long blonde hair to fall to her shoulders. When she opened her eyes again, she rested her head back on the chair and reached through the siderail to take hold of Vin's hand. Swallowing, she sniffed and reached up to wipe a tear away from her cheek.

"I'm sorry Vin," Mary Sue softly whispered. Her eyes filled with tears of frustration as she sat in lonely silence. Smiling slightly as an image suddenly focused in her memory, she remembered the day she first saw seven-year-old Vin Tanner.
"Now Rob, I don't want you to terrorize the child," Claire Seaver instructed.

"Claire," Rob chuckled as he unbuttoned his sheriff's uniform, "you're the one that insisted that I talk to the boy and find out why he beat Jimmy up."

"Probably beat the crap outta the little snot 'cause he deserved it."

"Mary Sue! Enough of that talk. Here they go to your room while your father talks to him."

"Claire? Are you sure this is the right boy?" Rob peered out the curtains as his son Jimmy escorted a small boy across the road.

Clad only in overalls, the sandy-haired boy at his son's side came to Jimmy's shoulders.

"That boy is half Jimmy's size."

Climbing the stairs, Mary Sue turned and sat on a step and peeked through the rails as her brother entered with the smaller boy. With a smile, she noticed that while her brother had a black eye and scrapes, the little boy accompanying him didn't have a mark on him.

"In here boys," Rob Seaver called from the parlor.

Scooting down a few steps for a better view, Mary Sue watched the two boys enter the room and stop before her father's chair.

As he stood before his father, Jimmy pouted and thrust his hands in his pockets. Vin stood motionless in the middle of the room, his arms at his sides and fists clenched. Lifting his chin, he stared at the man before him.

"I'm Rob Seaver, Jimmy's father...and this is his mother."

"Vin Tanner,'am." Vin nodded at Claire.

Smiling, Rob shook the small hand extended to him. "I understand you're staying with the Leary's."

"Yes sir."

"Well son, I don't know about where you've lived before, but around here, we don't fight and beat up other boys."

"Yes sir."

Well then, Jimmy won't say, would you mind telling me why you beat my son up?"

"No sir."

Rob patiently waited as the boy silently stared at him.

"No?" Rob sat forward and frowned. " 'No' you don't mind, or 'no' you won't tell me?"

"No sir. Reckon Jimmy knows why I had ta hit 'im."

"HAD to hit him?"

"Yes sir. I won't hit him again unless I have to."

Jimmy glanced sideways and grinned. "Hey Vin, wanna go toss a football?"

"Now look here..."


"Claire..." Rob shook his head as the two boys ran from the room.

"Rob, don't make a big fuss."

"Claire....YOU insisted that I talk to you just sent the two of them off to play."

"I know. but it seems they've worked it out, and you know Jimmy doesn't have any friends that live around here."

"I will never understand you," Rob muttered as he walked out of the room. "First, you have a fit, call me at work about some thug beating Jimmy up and insist I do something about it...then, this little squirt shows up and you tell me to let it be..."

"I know dear...I know...don't worry, I already called Tina Leary, she said she and Bill would talk to the boy about fighting."

"Oh God, Vin...I'm sorry." Mary Sue sat straight up and placed her hand over her mouth. Wiping tears from her eyes, she recalled seeing Vin the next day. Why didn't anyone notice his arms were all bruised the next day, or think anything about a sore back on a seven year old? Or did he really fall out of bed like he said? "Vin I'm sorry...I didn't know... no one knew."

Hearing the doctor's voice in the room, Buck hesitated in the doorway. Swallowing hard, he squared his shoulders and turned to leave.

"Mr. Wilmington?" Mary Sue looked up. "Don't go."

" don't want to interrupt."

"Please come in." With a tip of her head, Mary Sue motioned for him to sit in the chair beside her.

Noticing her red-rimmed eyes, Buck frowned. "You know, you're only human. You can't go blaming yourself that he got sick. Junior here does a pretty good job on his own of banging himself up."

"Junior? Vin's 'Junior'?"

"Well yeah," Buck grinned and lowered his head for a moment. "You see, he and the kid...JD..are a good bit younger than the rest of us...just sorta started callin' him that...don't think he minds...least I hope not."

"I'm sure he doesn' know, some say that nicknames help you feel like part of the group."

"You know a lot about him... you two go way back, don't you? You close friends?"

Sighing, Mary Sue's shoulders slumped. "Oh, no...not you too....I thought it was just Larabee that was out for me. I'm not in love with him, we are not 'involved'...I keep trying to explain that to you people. Vin was my brother's best friend. My little brother. I was just the bitchy big sister. I inherited VIn. We knew each other as kids, that's all."

" on..." Buck placed his hand on her arm. "You just gotta understand Chris. He doesn't hate ya. He just doesn't know you, and he can't accept how much he cares about Vin."

Scowling at Buck, Mary Sue shook her head and took hold of Vin's hand again. "Does Vin know?"

"No, you see...Chris lost his wife and son, and since then, he's kept people at arm's length. Until Junior here. Somehow or other, ol' Vin broke through the Larabee armor, and that scares the shit outta Chris. Suddenly, he goes from not caring if he lives or dies to getting better haircuts and worrying whether this damn fool remembers to dress warm enough. Now darlin', I gotta tell ya....those feelings are scaring the hell outta Chris and he doesn't know what to do about them. Chris is just an old midwest boy...most radical thing that ever happened when he was growing up was the night his mother cooked two yellow vegetables instead of a yellow and green."

Laughing, Mary Sue shook her head. "You're kidding, right?"

"Now here you come along, and you tell us you knew Vin when he was a kid, and you probably know an awful lot about Vin...things he's never told us."

"He's always been quiet...even when he shouldn't."

"See, that's what I mean. Why is he quiet? Do you know? We think we know Vin, but we don't. We just know things, you seem to know him." Reaching in to his pocket, Buck retrieved Mary Sue's forgotten photograph. "Here. Almost forgot to give that back."

Taking the photo, Mary Sue stared at it as she traced along the outlines of the two boys. "Thanks, I would have wondered what I did with it."

"Dr. Seaver..."


"Alright, Sue...please...tell me about the Vin you know."

Looking up, Mary Sue noticed Chris standing in the doorway. Staring at Chris, her hand tightened on Vin's as she frowned.

Clearing his throat, Chris took a step in to the room and nodded at the doctor. "Please...tell us," he asked quietly.

December 30, 9:45 pm

"Please," Chris cleared his throat as he approached Vin's bed. "Please, Dr. Seaver...tell us. I thought..." Chris sighed as his shoulders slumped. Shaking his head, he lifted Vin's limp hand and folded the fingers around his own hand. "I thought we were close...close enough that I thought I knew him...just beginning to realize I don't really know him at all."

Mary Sue quirked her eyebrow questioningly as she silently stared at Chris, waiting for him to continue.

"I well do you know anyone? Shouldn't surprise me, really. You know, he once let me think he couldn't speak Spanish? And then...then one day, I hear him not only speaking it...but speaking it fluently."

Chuckling, Buck shook his head. "Hey, that's Vin for ya...always likes to play with ya."

"No''s like he keeps a distance by holding back."

Taking a deep breath, Mary Sue frowned.

"Look Dr. Seaver...I've been a real prick to you...I know that...but look at it from my side. Tanner lets us all think he's got no ties, nothing from his childhood...and then...then you show up saying you've known him since he was at least...what?...ten...twelve, it looked from that picture."

"Seven, actually."

"Seven?" Chris's voice raised incredulously.

Grimacing, Mary Sue nodded slightly.

Shaking his head, Chris let go of Vin's hand, allowing it to drop to the bed. Turning his back, he placed his hands on his hips as he paced away.


"Buck, did you even know he knows this Payson from team one?"

"No Chris, but don't make a big deal about it...JD knows him. Probably just never came up, don't forget Payson's new."

"Right. New. But Vin, of all people, knows him...since when did Vin become the ATF welcome wagon?"

"They're just friends, Chris."

"No Buck. Not 'just'...the guy came all the way down here to visit him in the hospital...that's not just a friend."

"Vin and Payson are old friends," Mary Sue cleared her throat and squeezed Vin's hand.

Sue....Sue help me...please...can't get up...gotta get up...m'back hurts...

"They were Ranger 'buddies'...they went through training together."

"What? Did you grow up with Payson too?"

"No," Mary Sue answered icily. "Vin and Payson told me about it when we all went out one evening."

"You two knock it off," Buck ordered. "You can snap, growl, and glare at each other all ya want...but that won't change anything...the one thing you two have in common is lying on that bed. I think he'd appreciate the two of you pulling together for him, not at him."

Placing his hands on the siderail, Chris sadly stared down at Vin.


"I'm sorry, you're right Buck. Damn it, Vin." Chris exhaled loudly as he dragged his hand through his hair. "Dr. Seaver..."


"Okay, were about to tell Buck about when Vin was a bad was it that he won't talk about it?"

"Wasn't as bad as you may be thinking...but not all that good either. He did have some happy times...happy times that he fought so hard to have."

"Well then...why? Why does he never talk about any of it? Why hasn't he ever once mentioned anything about you? He never once said anything about running across an old friend."

"Well...only Vin really knows for sure...but I...I think I may have an idea why."

Awww please...please don't tell 'em...

December 30, 10:00pm


Mary Sue raised her eyes to find Chris watching her, and for a long moment, she looked back at him. A melancholy frown flitted across her features as she glanced back down at Vin.

"'ve what? Known Junior here for about seventeen, eighteen years?"

Smiling, Mary Sue squeezed Vin's hand again as she answered Buck. "No, haven't known him the whole time, but the first time I laid eyes on him, he was about seven."

Frowning, Chris stared at Vin and tried to imagine the sharpshooter as a child.

Mary Sue's mouth curved in to an unconscious smile as her eyes clouded with visions of the past. "He was seven and my father sent for him. Daddy wanted an explanation for why he beat Jimmy up."

"Thought you said the two of them were best friends."

"They were, but that's not the way they started off. Vin was new to the neighborhood. The Leary's had taken him in as a foster child, hoping to eventually adopt him. Mom and Dad didn't know it at the time, but apparently Jimmy was shaking the second grade down for lunch money and food."

"So, he tried to beat Vin up and lost?" Buck grinned.

"Well, eventually. Vin stood his ground and Jimmy backed down, which was unusual. Jimmy was held back in first grade and big for his age to begin with, Vin must have been half his size. That would have been the end of it...I don't think any of the kids realized that Vin had stood up to Jimmy. Jimmy then moved on to a little girl in the first grade. I guess Vin decided then and there to let Jimmy have it. Never occurred to him to just tell a teacher."

Chuckling, Buck shook his head. "Playing Robin Hood even then."

"Well after the fight, Mom nearly had a cow. To think that some thug would beat up her darlin' boy. Poor Daddy nearly fell out of his recliner when he got a look at Vin. I mean, here was this little kid, chin up, staring him in the eye and promising to never hit Jimmy again...unless he had to."

"Unless he had to?"

"Yeah...unless he had to," Mary Sue smiled. "He wouldn't tell Daddy why he fought Jimmy, just that Jimmy knew why. I think because of that, Daddy decided that Jimmy was the instigator and didn't push it. And I don't know, something clicked right then, and after that, Vin and Jimmy were inseparable."

Frowning, Mary Sue stood up as the alarm on the cardiac monitor sounded, indicating that Vin's pulse had risen above the set limits.

NO.....NO......I'm sorry..... owwwww..... no...... please...... please........ I'll...... owwwwwww....... I'll be good...... no more fights....... no....... ahhhhhhh..... please....... owwwwwww........

"Shhhhhh..... it's okay Vin..... come on..... calm down..... you're in the hospital..... you're very sick, but we're helping you.... come on..... calm down...... I know you're scared..... I don't want to have to medicate you....." Mary Sue soothed as she stroked Vin's forehead.

"He can hear you?"

"Don't know," Mary Sue shrugged. "but something's making his pulse rate rise, and I don't want to sedate him. I'm hoping to pull this vent tomorrow. Hey Vin....what do you say? Should we tell them about the time you and Jimmy nearly got booted out of Sunday School?

"Booted outta Sunday School?" Buck shook his head and chuckled. "Always knew the ones ya had ta watch out for were the ones that look like choir boys."

"Well, to make a long story short," Mary Sue smiled as she pushed her hair behind her ear, "it seems Jimmy didn't care for the taste of communion. So, he would palm it and somehow manage to slip it to Vin when they got back to the pews. Even then, Vin had a reputation for eating anything, so......"

"He didn't...."

"Yeah, he did," Mary Sue laughed. "You wouldn't believe the commotion when they got caught. Vin was standing there, telling the priest that, 'yes sir, I did eat it, but I figured it was better than letting Jimmy throw it away'. Poor Father Reilly had to bite his lip to keep from smiling. Mom was mortified, but that night, I could hear her and Dad laughing in their room."

Owwwww....... I'm sorry....... oooowwwww....... nooooooo.... please...... stop...... oowwww...... I'll be good..... owwwww..... promise..... sorry... please......

"Sounds like Vin and your brother were quite a pair." Chris looked down at Vin and smiled slightly as he began to imagine the trouble two high-spirited boys could find.

"They were, and if you crossed one, you crossed them both. We discovered that the summer after they became friends."

"Oh?" Buck's eyebrows furrowed as he waited for her to continue.

"They were playing little league or something." Mary Sue paused and smoothed Vin's hair back on his head. "Vin was the pitcher and Jimmy was the catcher. They were winning the game. I think it was the top of the final inning when it happened...."


"Poor Vin...." Mary Sue frowned and touched Vin's jaw. "He had just thrown a curve ball, that's what Jimmy had signaled for...or at least that's what he thought the call was, since Jimmy spent most of the time flipping him the bird..."

Snorting, Buck looked down at Vin. "Shoot, I'd love to meet your brother sometime."

With a sad smile, Mary Sue glanced at Buck before returning her attention to Vin.

"And? What happened?" Chris frowned.

"The batter was the best that team had, and Vin had just struck him out for the third time in that game. His dad was real intense....yelling at his kid the whole game. The poor kid was so mad, he wasn't thinking. He flung the bat at the mound. I don't know why, but Vin never saw it coming, I guess he was looking someplace else." Lightly touching the twill tape holding the endotracheal tube in place, Mary Sue frowned. "Vin lost his two front teeth that day and Jimmy was almost brought up on charges."


"Jimmy went after the kid...really let him have it. Broke his nose, knocked his front teeth out....and his weren't still baby teeth, like Vin's. Took my dad and two other guys to pull him off and keep him off the kid. I can still see my mom sitting in the dirt, holding Vin in her lap, blood everywhere....the Leary's never even came to watch him play. He started to lisp that summer, but you probably don't even know about that."

" do...." Buck shifted uncomfortably, feeling slightly guilty that he had made light of it, "but only when he's real tired."

"Poor kid...didn't even know what to do with his tongue...took a long time for those teeth to grow in."

Mary Sue closed her eyes and frowned as she remembered seeing Vin in the hospital after the incident. The small, blood spattered boy was lying alone on a gurney, whimpering as he held an ice pack to his mouth. When Mrs. Leary had finally come, Mary Sue thought she saw him flinch and move away from the woman. Jimmy had wanted Vin to sleep over that night, but the adults had decided against it. Why did Daddy carry Vin out of the ER, and not Mr. Leary?

Noooo..... I'm sorry..... I'm sorry.... please don't hurt me..... I'll be good......

Chris took a deep breath and stared down at Vin. Frowning, he wondered again why Vin had never discussed his past. The memories Mary Sue shared were not unusual...nothing to be ashamed about. Two mischievous boys and the trouble they could find sounded perfectly normal.

"Dr. Seaver." Chris cleared his throat. "The stories are great. Hell, I'm sure you probably have some even more embarrassing ones... but eating communion, getting in fights, and losing teeth don't explain why."


"Yeah, why. Why does Vin act like he never even had a childhood? To listen to you talk, Vin and Jimmy were inseparable. Well, if they were, where's Jimmy now? You're here. Don't you think that Jimmy should be here with his good buddy? What happened? Why has Vin never once mentioned any of you? Why?"

As Mary Sue opened her mouth to respond, she was interrupted by her beeper. Looking down at the display, she frowned.

"CODE BLUE...ICU 6....CODE BLUE....ICU 6....CODE BLUE....ICU 6...."

"Dr. Seaver."


Frowning at each other, Buck and Chris were left alone with Vin.

Moving to Mary Sue's vacated place, Buck lifted Vin's right hand and squeezed.

"Okay Junior... .looks like you're stuck with just our two ugly faces now...."

Help me Buck... please...

Looking in Chris's eyes, Buck down at Vin's left hand and nodded as he took a seat.

"Chris, why do you keep pushing her? That girl's done nothing to you. I think I'm sorta glad to find out that Vin had a little bit of a normal childhood...he always seems like he carries the weight of the world."

"It's not that Buck," Chris sighed. "The stories are great. But why does Vin keep them a secret? Don't you think that just once or twice there would have been a time for him to tell these stories himself? There has to be some reason why Vin keeps it to himself.....something she's not saying...."

"Maybe she doesn't know," Buck answered as he closed his eyes.

"Maybe." Chris yawned and slid down in his chair.

Sue? Sue?

+ + + + + + +

Arching her back as she walked, Mary Sue slowly walked toward's Vin's room. The code had been long and unsuccessful. Stopping in the doorway, she smiled and leaned against the frame.

"How long have they been asleep?" Mary Sue glanced sideways as Kathy joined her.

"Found them not to long ago. Guess I should wake them up and send them home."

"They in your way?"


"Leave them." Mary Sue reached out and shut off the overhead florescent lights, leaving only the dim light over Vin's bed to illuminate the three men.

December 31, 2:00 AM

"Oh, I was just about to go looking for you." Becky smiled as she pulled a bagel from the toaster oven. "Everything okay?"

"Yeah." Ginny poured herself a cup of coffee and slid in to a seat at the conference table. "Was just grabbing another set of signs on Tanner."

"He okay?" Carla asked as she bit into her slice of pizza. "You know, I could take him if he's getting to be too much for ya."

"Down girl. Don't forget you've got Mr. Beamer in two to keep you busy." Kim smiled as she made another pot of coffee and opened the sports section of the newspaper.

"Why do I always get the wrinkled, combative eighty-seven year olds?" Carla grumbled good naturedly.

"Hey Ginny, where were you earlier? Kathy stayed pretty late. Did you oversleep?" Laura unwrapped her sandwich and frowned as she read a memo addressed to her from quality assurance concerning spelling errors in her charting.

"No, we switched some time. She needs to come in late in the morning."

"You guys okay it with Joy?" Carrie asked as she finished buttering her toast. "Don't forget Nancy put her in charge while she's away."

"Joy won't mind as long as the shift is covered. Besides, she's taking the day off, it's her birthday." Ginny shrugged as she pulled a memo concerning staff parking from the cluttered bulletin board and began reading it.

"What do you think Nancy will say when she finds out about the slumber party in Tanner's room?"

"She won't care, besides, Kathy said Seaver said to leave 'em."

"Carla's right." Kim interrupted. "Those two need to be there for themselves as much as for Tanner. Nancy always puts the patients first and the rules second, she won't have a problem."

"Okay. Quick, before a call light or vent alarm goes off....who's bringing in what tomorrow night?" Carrie asked as she began writing on the back of the parking memo Ginny had torn in half.

+ + + + + + +

Letting out a low groan, Buck stretched and opened his eyes slightly and quietly stared at Vin and the nurse at his bedside.

Ah....she's here song....don't think I know this one....oops

Buck quickly closed his eyes as the young woman glanced his way.

Don't want her to know I'm watching her.

Cracking one eye open slightly, Buck frowned as he watched the young nurse move to Chris' side and pull the fallen blanket higher on the sleeping man's chest. Letting out an exhausted sigh, Buck closed his eye, stretched and pushed his own blanket down. Peeking again through his lashes, Buck held his breath as she also moved to his side and adjusted the blanket. Fighting the urge to open his eyes, Buck bit his bottom lip as he felt her lean down and place a feather light kiss on his forehead.

Ahhhh....I still got it.

Taking a chance, Buck opened his eyes and watched the young woman move again to Vin's side as she continued to softly sing the unfamiliar song. Sliding down lower in his seat, Buck closed his eyes again and listened.

".....and when another day is through, I'll still remember you......"

+ + + + + + +

"Carla. Really. I don't need any help," Ginny insisted as she entered the room with the other nurse trailing.

"Well, you know where I am if ya need to turn him, clean him name it."

"Tell ya stay for me in the morning until Kathy gets here, and you can give him his AM care." Ginny winked. "Oh, I'm sorry. We didn't mean to wake you." Ginny frowned as Buck sat up straighter. "Just came to check on Vin."

"Naw, that's okay." Buck yawned and scratched the top of his head. "But that other girl was in here not too long ago."


"No...the other girl....the pretty little blue-eyed one with the long brown braid....she's been in a few times since Vin's been here."

"Okay..." Ginny answered slowly with raised eyebrows and glanced at Carla.

Shrugging her shoulders, Carla shook her head as she began to follow Ginny from the room.

"So? What'll it be? You staying in the morning, or what?"

"Just let me call home first..."

"They gone?"

Frowning, Buck looked over at Chris. "How long you been awake?"

"Drowsing on and off...but was awake long enough to catch you conning the nurse out of a kiss. Vin okay?"

"Yeah, he hasn't peeped. Chris, I'm gonna go looking for her...can't help it, but I swear I know her from someplace."

"No, stay put. Look for her in the morning. You probably recognize her from the ER. God knows we spend enough time down there."

Yawning, Chris shifted and Buck slid down in the chair. As their breathing slowed and they drifted off to sleep, Vin's damp lashes went unnoticed.

Momma? Please...I wanna go me....

December 31, 7:00 AM

"What's wrong?"

"Huh? Nothing? Nothing's wrong. Why?" Chris stammered as he wondered if he should confess his doubts to Buck.

"Well then, mind telling me why you're staring at Vin like you ain't never seen him?"

"Maybe I haven't," Chris muttered as he stood and let out a low groan as he stretched.

"What's that supposed to mean?"

Walking to Vin's bedside, Chris stopped and rested his elbows on the siderail. Dragging his hands down his face, he let out a long, exhausted sigh. "Was just thinking. Remember a few months back? We detained that suspect, and were waiting for Denver PD to pick him up."

"Chris we've held on to a lot of perps that Denver has warrants out on." Buck twisted from side to side and then slowly walked to the opposite side of Vin's bed. "What's that got to do with anything?"

"Don't you remember? We were questioning that guy, and we couldn't get anywhere. He wouldn't even talk when Josiah got 'Old Testament' with him. And damn it, if Vin don't just walk in, sit down, tip his chair back and smile at the guy. Then real soft like, he drawls out that he spent some time out on the streets, he knows ways to help people talk. Then he just folds his hands across his belly, nods at the guy and smiles again."

"Chris, he was just know how Vin is."

"At the time, I thought he was...but what if he was serious Buck? I was there Buck, I saw it. Vin scared the shit outta that guy. Before I knew what was happening, that son-of-a-bitch was spilling his guts. Shit, few more minutes, I think Vin coulda got him to confess to being in on everything from the Kennedy conspiracy to working with OJ."

"Chris...come on...what difference does it make?" Buck shook his head and chuckled. Reaching down, he placed his hand on Vin's cheek. "He feels a mite cooler." Smiling, he smoothed Vin's sweat-dampened hair back. "Vin's your best friend. That's all that should matter. It don't make no difference where he's from, or how he got here."

"He doesn't trust us to be straight with us about little things....what hasn't he told us that might be important?"

"Trust in you ain't got nothing to do with it."

"Well, I think it does. If he trusted us, he wouldn't be so secretive."

"Damn it Chris. You just don't get it." Dragging his hand through his hair, Buck sighed and shook his head. "Not everyone had Ozzie and Harriet for parents like you did. We're all here now, but we got here by different routes. Chris, you remember when we first met?" Without waiting for Chris to answer, Buck continued. "I know it was a good, long time before I felt comfortable to tell you how my momma was able to pay my tuition."

"Buck, you were my friend. What your mother did, made no dif......." Chris halted as realization washed over him. "That's it," he whispered. "Whatever it is....he's not ready to tell us....he doesn't think he can."

"Okay guys...out."

"Wh...what?" Chris stammered, startled by the interruption.

"You heard me. Out." The small, dark haired nurse smiled as she dropped clean linen on to a vacant chair. "Dr. Seaver would like to get your friend off this vent today, and I want to get his AM care taken care of before then," Carla smiled as she pulled a wash basin from the bedside table.

"How dirty could he be?" Buck shrugged. "I think Kathy scrubbed him 'til he shined yesterday."

"Well," Carla smiled as she hung a new bag of IV fluids and reset the infusion pump, "I just wouldn't be able to go home, knowing he's lying here...helpless...and...and all sweaty....and...and damp...." Carla's voice trailed off as she sighed and stared down at Vin.

Eyebrows raised, Chris and Buck stared at each other.

"Well," Chris cleared his throat.

Letting out a short snort, Buck shook his head and smiled.

"Well, I guess we'll go down to the waiting room then."

"Huh? Oh...oh yeah," Carla smiled and nodded without looking at the two men. "That's a good idea. Some of your friends just arrived. I'll let Dr. Seaver know where you are when she gets here."

"Okay Junior," Buck reached down and patted Vin's shoulder, "you behave. I'll see ya in a bit." Walking past Chris, Buck briefly patted his arm and went to the doorway.

"Hey. Your nurse here says we need to clear out for a while. I'll be just down the hall. You take it easy."

Clasping Vin's hand, Chris gave it a slight squeeze. Letting out a tired sigh, Chris nodded his head and smiled briefly before turning away.

Hands in their pockets, the two old friends slowly walked down the hall.

"Buck? That nurse seem a little too perky and happy to be giving Vin a bath to you? I mean, I thought they weren't supposed to notice things. You know, they tell you all the time to relax, you haven't got anything they haven't seen before."

"Well, yeah," Buck chuckled. "But I think it was my animal magnetism that did it. She obviously couldn't have me, so she was transferring some of that desire to Junior. She's washing him, and thinking about me..."

"You are so full of shit..." Chris smiled as he shook his head and glanced sideways as Buck winked and smiled back.

Walking slowly, the two old friends continued down the hall in silence, forgetting their interrupted conversation.

December 31, 8:00am

Glancing up as Mary Sue paused just inside the door, Nathan gently nudged a napping Chris.

Becoming instantly awake, Chris rose in one fluid motion. "Huh? What?" Looking at the doorway, Chris stared silently at Dr. Seaver. A cold knot formed in his stomach as he watched the solemn doctor enter and place a wooden box and a photo album on the table as she took a seat. "What's wrong? Is it Vin? Is he okay? Did something happen?" he demanded as he took an abrupt step toward her.

Letting out a sigh, Mary Sue raised her hand to stop Chris. "He's stable...there's been no real change." Pushing her hair behind her ears, Mary Sue frowned and looked up at Chris. "I came in here because I wanted to see you. I think we need to talk."

" 'bout time. You ready to finally tell us everything?" Chris muttered.

"Yes. Yes I am Mr. Larabee." Nostrils flaring, Mary Sue stood and glared at Chris, hands on her hips.

"He's great. Vin's the best I ever had in bed. Is that what you've been waiting to hear? Perhaps we should get together sometime and compare notes..." Mary Sue threw the words at him like stones.

"Now look here..." Chris's expression was thunderous as his cheeks flushed.

"NO. You listen to me. I am NOT going to say it again. Vin and I NEVER have been and NEVER will be romantically involved. The sooner you get that through your thick skull, the happier we'll all be."

The silence between them became unbearable as they glared at each other.

Clearing his throat, Josiah lightly touched Mary Sue's elbow. "Dr. Seaver, you said you needed to talk with us?"

"Oh...yes...yes, I did." Mary Sue nodded and reached for the photo album before claiming her seat again. "I told you yesterday that I've known Vin since he was quite young."

"Yes, they told us some of the boys' exploits that you relayed to them." Ezra smiled as he took a sip of his coffee and nodded at Chris and Buck.

"But there was more...that I didn't tell you." Mary Sue sadly looked up at Chris.

With a short snort of disdain, Chris turned away.

"I don't know why Vin hasn't told you about my family, but that's just the way he is...the way he's always been."

Frowning, Chris turned back and looked at Mary Sue.

"As long as I've known Vin, he doesn't speak up for himself, and that's cost him. He always was scrappy, just quicker to stick up for others than for himself. I don't want him to lose your friendship because you think he's hiding's time someone spoke up for him for a change. You know, when we ran into each other again after so long, I asked him if he was married, had any family. You know what he showed me? A picture of all you guys. He thinks of you all as family...I don't want him to lose that."

The room was silent as everyone stared at Chris, waiting for a response.

"Look," Chris cleared his throat, "it's not a matter of friendship, or him losing it for that matter." Dragging his hand through his hair, Chris slowly walked to the window and looked out. "It's just..."

Sighing, Chris massaged the back of his neck as he turned back to face the others. "I depend on these guys, all of them...Vin included....Vin especially. I need to know I can count on them, depend on them. I may not know every last thing about these guys...but I don't feel like they've deliberately hid anything. Why has Vin kept running into an old friend such a secret? He makes no secret of the fact that he was on his own, on the streets by the time he was fifteen. You seem like a pretty damn good friend. I can see how much you care about him, and the feeling's probably mutual. So, why hasn't he mentioned anything about you? He once pointed out to me the old drunk he used to pay to go to his parent/teacher conferences. This has all got me wondering....what else hasn't he told us? What if some secret costs us?"

Sighing deeply, Mary Sue leaned forward and rested her elbows on her knees. Raising her hands, she placed her palms together in front of her mouth and frowned. "I don't know what more to say to're right."

Eyebrows raised, Chris stared down at her, incredulously.

"You are. You need to know you can count on him. I know my opinion doesn't count for much, but please believe can."

Sighing, Chris took a seat beside her.

"Have you ever had anything happen in your life that hurts so much, you just don't talk about it? Something that happened, that changed everything for you after that? Something, that whether it's reasonable or not, you still feel some regret or blame over?"

With a short snort, Chris frowned and bit his lower lip. Standing again, he walked to the window and stared at the Denver skyline as memories surfaced in his mind.


"Oh come on, Chris." Buck stood, hands on his hips. "You can't really be blaming yourself that those two boneheads got rear ended at the gas station." Buck gestured to a surprised JD. "Hell, how could you help it that Vin hit the windshield because he hadn't put his seatbelt on yet?"

Turning, Chris folded his arms across his chest and leaned against the windowsill and stared at Buck.

"You know, Buck, since you so eloquently reminded me that the sun don't shine outta my ass, let me point out to you that meeting you all wasn't the 'big bang' that created my universe."

A short snort from JD was silenced with a glare from Chris and a nudge from Ezra.

"I meant Thanksgiving, my senior year in college. My parents were expecting me home for the holidays. It wasn't until my mom called to ask when my bus was arriving, that I told them my ticket was for Aspen, not Bloomington. And you know....even after I pulled that, she just sighed, told me to have a nice time, and she'd see me at Christmas."

"Aspen?" Buck frowned and glanced at Chris.

"Yeah," Chris sighed and dragged his hand tiredly through his hair. "I was seeing this girl...Ella Gaines. She wanted to go to Aspen for Thanksgiving."

"Sounds like your parents were okay with it."

"Yeah...they said they were. A few weeks later, I was heading out one morning to take a final, when I got a call. It was my dad. He...he was calling tell me that Mom had woken him during the night and told him she didn't feel 'right'. She wanted to go to the hospital."

The room was silent as Chris briefly closed his eyes and swallowed before continuing. Opening his eyes, Chris frowned and stared down at is hands.

"It was her heart." Chris paused and cleared his throat. "Dad said they did everything they could...but...but we'd lost her."

Sliding forward in her chair, Mary Sue reached out and grasped Chris's hand. Staring at her hand in his, Chris frowned and glanced up at her.

"I'm sorry. I'm sorry I made you think about all that."

Nodding wordlessly, Chris looked up as Buck placed his hand on his shoulder.

"Sorry Chris...I never knew."

"Yeah, well...I'm not real proud that the last thing I ever did for my mother was disappoint her." Chris sighed and stood up, massaging the back of his neck. "I guess you're right." He shrugged and nodded at Mary Sue. "I just don't understand though...from what you said yesterday, he was happy. So what happened?"

"What didn't?" Mary Sue shook her head and shrugged. Reaching out, she pulled the photo album closer and slowly opened it.

"My mom got all these pictures together and put them in this album to give to Vin."

"Hey, is THAT Vin?" JD leaned over her shoulder and pointed to a laughing, blue-eyed boy.

"Yeah, that is," Mary Sue smiled as the photo brought old memories to the surface. "That's Jimmy...and I'm the wet, frowning one over to the side."

"Why? What happened?"

"See that pile of water balloons at Jimmy's feet? That's what happened."

Leaning over, Chris briefly glanced at the photograph before turning to look at the doctor, the beginning of a grin lifting the corners of his mouth.

I was going on a 'car date'...or so I thought." Mary Sue grimaced in good humor. "I was going with a boy a few years older, who my father didn't like. But, I got Daddy on a I was all set. If it were just Jimmy with the water balloons, I think I may have made it...but he put Vin up on the roof. That little twerp is why I looked the way I did....he got date....and all the upholstery in his convertible."

"Oh man," JD chuckled, "your dad actually TOLD them to bomb you?"

"No. No he didn't," Mary Sue shook her head and smiled. Daddy outsmarted me on technicalities too. All he did was show the boys HOW to make water balloons...that, and lifted Vin up on to the shed roof...of course that was AFTER he'd conveniently, 'accidentally' threw his ball glove up there on him. He knew those two...and he counted on what he wanted to happen, he never said a word to them."

Smiling, Chris pictured a younger Vin, perfectly aiming at his intended targets.

Sitting at the table with the six men surrounding her, Mary Sue turned the pages, periodically stopping and telling an amusing story about her and Vin's shared childhood. Occasionally, a curious person would glance in as laughter drifted from the ICU waiting room.

"What's this?"

"Oh...that's the year they were Butch and Sundance for Halloween." Mary Sue turned the page and pointed to another photograph. "This is my fifteenth birthday. That's Nana Mary." Smiling, Mary Sue sighed. "She used to tell people that Vin was her youngest grandchild. This one...this is the time my dad took the boys to Dallas to see a Cowboys game. Frowning, Mary Sue pursed her lips and tucked a stray hair behind her hair. "When they came home, Vin told me that he'd been to Dallas before...with his mother."

Scowling, Chris looked up from the photograph.

"He said he remembered going to a big house there with his mother, and that she was crying. I guess she was pleading with some older woman for help, but the lady told her she'd made her with it. His mom died not too long after that. That day, he asked me what a 'little bastard' was." Swallowing, Mary Sue looked up, her eyes damp. "That had to be his real grandmother. How could she call him that?"

Mary Sue sighed and looked down at the two smiling boys in Cowboys jerseys.

"Damn. He had family all along. I know I sure wouldn't want to tell everyone my own grandmother calls me a bastard." Buck shook his head and walked to the window.

"Dr. Seaver?" Mary Sue looked up as a nurse leaned into the room. "We're ready in four whenever you are."

Walking to the doorway, Mary Sue paused and turned around. Looking at Chris and Buck, she cocked her head. "You two coming?"

+ + + + + + +

"How's he doing Kathy?"

"Well," Kathy smiled, "Carla just about scrubbed him raw. His vitals are all stable. Temp's down to one-oh-one three, BP's one-oh-eight over fifty, sat's ninety-seven percent. He's been showing some response to tactile stimuli...but nothing consistent yet."

"Bucking the vent any?"

"Yeah," Kathy smiled, "Surprised you haven't heard the alarms all morning, but we held off and didn't medicate him. Paul's on for respiratory, he played with the pressure support and adjusted his rate. He's initiating all the breaths on his own right now."

"Well, call Paul, and let's see about getting him extubated."

Standing on either side of Vin's bed, Chris and Buck stared at each other, neither understanding what was being said.

Glancing up from Vin, Mary Sue looked at Chris and Buck. "Hey's okay...he's doing fine. We're gonna take the tube out and see if we can get Sleeping Beauty here to start waking up. You may want to step out for a moment while we do that though...then you can come back in."

Nodding wordlessly, Chris reached down and patted Vin's hand before turning to leave.

"You're right.I do love him."

Surprised, Chris turned and stared at Mary Sue, eyebrows raised.

"But not the way you think. Having Vin around again is like having Jimmy back again. Jimmy died of a drug overdose his sophomore year in college."


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