by Ronnie

January 1, 5:00 am
Humming softly, Buck nearly missed the soft groan.


Pushing himself to a standing position, he tucked the small black book in his pocket as he reached for Vin's right hand and kept him man from pulling at the nasal cannula.

"Hey.....hey......whoa.....easy there Vin......."


Wincing, Vin closed his eyes and reached for the dressing on his forehead with his free hand.


Reaching over the younger man, Buck pulled the left hand away from the dressing and winced in sympathy at the hoarse moan.

"Now, don't you go pawing at that either."

Struggling back to wakefulness, Vin was baffled by Buck's tone. Scowling, he stared up at Buck and licked his parched lips. Grimacing, he shifted slightly in the bed and raised his knee as he tried to get comfortable.

"You're mad."

"No. Not mad at all." Buck's brow furrowed unconsciously as he protested Vin's statement. "What makes ya think that?" Grasping Vin's right hand, he gave it a firm squeeze.

"You." Hesitating, Vin cleared his throat and winced. "You said you was gonna kick my scrawny ass." Panting slightly with exertion, he frowned at Buck.

Surprised, Buck was momentarily speechless when he realized that Vin had heard his previous conversation. Staring blankly, he dragged his hand through his hair and smiled. "You heard that? Well, of course ya did, you just said you did. Ya know I didn't mean it....just tryin' ta prod ya awake is all."

"Mmmmmm," Vin sighed and shifted slightly in the bed.

"Hey, you thirsty? I can't give ya anything ta drink, but they left some ice chips here for ya."

Reaching for the small cup of ice, Buck smiled hopefully at Vin. Muttering, and cursing softly to himself, Buck chased a small chip of ice around the inside of the cup with a plastic spoon. Smiling with success, he triumphantly and quickly lifted the spoon from the cup and aimed for Vin's waiting mouth. Tilting the spoon slightly as Vin opened his mouth, Buck promptly dropped the chip in the hollow of the dazed sharpshooter's neck.

"Aaaaaahhhhh......ooohhhhh......" Panting, Vin groped for the melting shard.

Fighting to suppress a grin, Buck's eyebrows furrowed as he reached for a tissue to dry Vin's neck. "Sorry 'bout that"

Lifting a chip in his fingers, he attempted to place it between Vin's lips.

Nostrils flaring, Vin pushed his head back in the pillow and scowled, staring cross-eyed at the hand in front of his mouth.

"What? My hand's clean."

"Buck," Vin hoarsely drawled as he continued to frown at the outstretched hand and the melting ice. "You were sitting there hummin' Mambo No. 5 while ya were balancing your little black book there."

"What's that got ta do with anything?"

Scowling, Vin's eyes darted from Buck's belt buckle, to his hand, and then up at the mustached agent.

"Now don't you go getting all choir boy innocent on me here Junior. You were an Army Ranger. I know for a fact, you more than likely've had far worse than my hand in your mouth. I don't know what JD's been tellin' you, but I was ONLY LOOKIN' at the book."

Mouth firmly clamped, Vin continued to stubbornly stare at the hand before him.

"Tanner. Now. Before I shove it in."

"Wh...where's Chris?"

"Now, you never mind Chris...he'da shoved it up your ass by now."

Scowling, Vin finally opened his mouth and sighed with contentment as the ice melted in his parched mouth.


"Mmmmm" Vin nodded slightly and winced as he closed his eyes. Shifting restlessly, he raised his hand and again reached for the dressing on his head. "Ooohhhhh."

" that alone." Grabbing Vin's hand, Buck pulled it away, inadvertently putting too much pressure over an IV site.

"Aaahhh" Vin inhaled sharply and gasped, followed immediately by a painful, racking cough. Raising his knees, he reached for the siderails and attempted to pull himself up as he struggled to catch his breath. "Ohhhh....." he moaned as the room spun and his head began to pound fiercely. Black spots began to swim before his eyes as he slumped back in the pillow.


"What happened?" Moving quickly in to the room, Ginny moved Buck aside as she began assessing Vin.

"I....I don't know...he...he went to touch his head....I pulled his hand away....I...I guess I mighta been too rough...and...he...he started coughin'....and then he tried ta sit catch his breath I guess....and then...this...."

"I'm getting ninety-two over forty Ginny....want me to go page Seaver?"

" a sec....he might just be postural." Staring intently at Vin, she silently prayed that her instincts were right, and that he had only moved too quickly. "Come on Vin....let me see those baby blues I've heard so much about." Lightly tapping his cheek, she patiently waited for a response. Glancing at the oximeter, she readjusted it on his finger and glanced again at the display. "Terry...wanna pass me the mask, I'm gonna crank up his O2 for a bit, his sats have dropped a little."

Shoving his hands in his pockets, Buck backed up against the wall.

"He's one-oh-eight over sixty-eight now."

"Hey." Ginny smiled as Vin's eyes opened and blinked slowly. "Hi there."


"He's still here. Hiding in the corner." Still smiling, Ginny lightly stroked Vin's head. "You moved too fast and passed out. I think I'm all set Terry, thanks." Glancing over her shoulder, Ginny smiled at Buck. "You can come on back over, you know."

"No...I...uh...don't wanna get in the way...probably should go call Chris...."

"You're not in the way...and let Chris sleep, Vin's fine now. Come on over and help me move him so he'll be a little more comfortable. Go on the other side," Ginny nodded. Lowering the siderail, Ginny grabbed the drawsheet. "Okay...grab the other side there. On three, we're gonna boost him. No Vin. You just lie there, we'll do all the work. One....two...three...."

Feeling useless, Buck watched as Ginny smoothed the sheets and carefully eased Vin on to his side and placed a pillow behind his back.

"There ya go, better?"

Smiling as Vin slowly nodded, she patted Vin's shoulder. "Okay then...I got sick people to take care holler if you need anything." Drying her hands as she left the room, she glanced back at Buck. "That goes for you too Buck."

Pulling a chair closer, Buck sat and watched Vin as he lay quietly, eyes wide and blinking slowly.

"Vin, you want me to call Chris?"

"'m fine..." Vin shook his head as he began to shift restlessly.

"Easy there Vin." Buck patted Vin's leg lightly. "Careful you don't pull somethin' out and set all the alarms off again."

"M' back's hurtin'," Vin sighed tiredly.

"I know. Here, let me give ya a hand." Moving carefully, he pulled the pillow away, and helped Vin shift slightly. Standing at the bedside, Buck began gently massaging the sharpshooter's lower back. "You know Vin, if you want Chris, all I have to do is pick up the phone...he'd hightail it here 'fore you know it..."

"I know."

Leaning against the siderail, Buck smiled as the younger man's breathing gradually slowed to a rhythmic pattern.

"Careful Buck, people might start talking."

Smiling broadly, Buck glanced over his shoulder at Chris in the doorway.

"Shh....he just finally drifted off ta sleep again."

"Well, yeah...figured he hadda be asleep to let you be giving him a back rub like that. I just got off the phone with Josiah." Frowning slightly as he studied the slumbering man, Chris walked toward the bed. "He's gonna call the others." Pausing to yawn, Chris rubbed his eyes tiredly. "Then they'll figure who's gonna call Nettie and tell her what. Damn, I'm beat."

"You get any sleep?"

"Some." Arching his back as he groaned, he yawned again. "Hospital couches aren't meant for sleeping."

"Why don't you go by my place? Get some real rest. I can stay, I'll call if anything comes up."

"No." Raising his arms up, Chris yawned again as he stretched. "I'm gonna hang around 'til I know for sure he's gonna be okay." Pulling a chair closer, Chris sighed tiredly as he lowered the siderail of the bed.

"Why don't you go grab us a couple cups of coffee? Nathan's gonna bring us some breakfast, but it'll be a while yet. I'll sit here with Sleeping Beauty and rest for a bit."

"There's some ice chips on the table for him if he wakes up." Nodding as he reached for his jacket, Buck smiled at Vin and patted his leg before leaving the room.

Slouching down in the chair, Chris placed his feet up on the bottom siderail and rested his hand on Vin's forearm.


Startled, Chris dropped his feet to the floor and straightened in the chair.



Wincing at the husky hoarseness, Chris smiled as he reached for the cup of ice.

"Damn Tanner, you keep that new deep voice of yours, and you just might stop getting carded every time you order a beer."

Smiling tiredly, Vin closed his eyes again and sighed contentedly as the ice melted and slid down his sore throat.

"Didn't Buck give you any?"

"Awww, he kept dropping it all over," Vin rasped.

Shifting slightly, Vin grimaced as he attempted to get comfortable.

"Here, put your arm up on my shoulder. Careful. I'll help you move a little."


Grimacing as he swallowed, Vin began to pant. "I don't feel good."

"I know. Hey,'s okay....." Chris soothed, "just relax. Slow that breathing down...come got your heart racing."

Looking up at the cardiac monitor, Chris frowned as he watched the numbers indicating Vin's heart rate.

"M' back's hurtin'. "

Reaching across the younger man, Chris began to rub his lower back.

"I know. Your back hurts some on a good try to relax." Scowling as he felt Vin stiffen, Chris pressed harder. "I said, relax, damnit," he ground out.

"Uhhhh......" Letting out a long sigh, Vin closed his eyes as he began to relax.

Smiling as he watched the numbers decrease, Chris nodded as he continued to gently massage the younger man's lower back.

"You should go."


"Said you should look tired."

"Nah...I'm fine," Chris smiled. "Besides, you gotten a good look at yourself lately? You look like shit warmed over Tanner."

"No'll get sick."

"No...I'm healthy as a horse...never catch're the 'delicate' one." Grinning, Chis winked at Vin.

Sighing, Vin closed his eyes and swallowed.

Reaching for the chair behind him, Chris pulled it forward and sat down. Placing his hand on Vin's left shoulder, he cocked his head so he could see Vin's face.

"Hey..." Chris cleared his throat. "Hey..." Eyebrows raised, he grinned slightly as two glassy blue eyes finally opened again and stared at him. "You listen up. I'm not going anyplace."


"No buts Vin...I mean it. I don't say it enough...hell, I never say it...but I do care about what happens to you....and not just because you work for me. I'm not leaving here 'til I know for myself that you're gonna be understand?"

Waiting patiently, Chris watched silently as two wide blue eyes slowly filled and threatened to spill over.

"Do ya?"

Smiling as Vin sniffed and slowly nodded. Chris released Vin's shoulder and sat back in the chair and crossed his legs.

"Now, rest up and get a little sleep. I hear the nurses banging around out there. Someone will be in to give ya a bedbath before long." Chris winked and patted Vin's hand as the younger man's eyes grew wider.


January 4, 10:00 am


"Dr. Seaver, it's Chris Larabee."

"Morning, Mr. Larabee, what can I do for you?"

Frowning as he gathered his thoughts, Chris heard papers being shuffled on the other end of the phone line.

"I...I couldn't remember...the other day...why did you say Vin finally ran?"

"Mr. Larabee," Mary Sue sighed tiredly, "I'm a little busy here. What difference does it make? It was over ten years ago."

"The difference it makes, Dr. Seaver," Chris ground out, "is that Tanner is no quitter....and I seriously doubt he was one then. If he stayed there for five years like you said, he didn't just up and run because he was being knocked around again. Something had to have happened."

"I don't know."

"You don't know, or you won't say?"

"I don't know, so I can't say. Vin's never discussed it with me."

Pushing himself to a standing position, Chris closed his eyes and pinched the bridge of his nose. Opening his eyes suddenly, he gasped softly as something clicked in his mind.

"But you suspect, don't you?" Chris rubbed his forehead as a gnawing pit formed in his stomach.

"Yes, but I think you need to discuss this with Vin, not me."

"Oh, Christ." Chris sat as a terrifying realization washed over him.

"I'm sorry."

"Your parents know?"

"Ward and June Cleaver? I doubt it. My father makes Barney Fife look like Clint Eastwood. If I didn't know better, I'd think Jimmy and I were miracles."

Chris let out a short snort as he vainly tried to wish away the headache that had begun behind his right eye.

"Hey...while I have you on the phone...we're gonna be moving your boy wonder to a Med/Surg unit some time today."

"Well, don't let him give you any trouble."

"Oh we get along just fine...he knows if he gives me any trouble, he'll find himself on the wrong end of a colonoscopy."

"Uhh...yeah...okay..." Chris stammered. "Thanks...I won't keep you any more then... You must have some patients you need to see." terrorize

Sitting motionless, he stared at the receiver in his hand before placing it back in the cradle.


Taking a deep breath, he lifted the receiver again and punched in several numbers and waited for an answer.

"Josiah? Could you come in here please?"

January 4, 6:00 pm

Glancing at the paper in his hand, Chris studied the numbers on it and compared them with the numbers outside the doorway he stood before.

Yep. 724B. This is it.

Entering the room, he passed the closed curtains of the A bed and peered around them at the occupant in B bed. Pausing momentarily, he smiled at a sleeping Vin. Although he was still too pale, and the dark circles rimming his eyes were still too dark, he definitely was looking better. Vin's condition had been improving steadily, and today he had been deemed stable enough to be transferred from the ICU to a Med/Surg unit. Walking to the far side of the bed, Chris stopped and studied Vin closely. Frowning as he noticed the faint sheen of perspiration on Vin's upper lip, he lightly placed the back of his fingers along Vin's cheek and shook his head.

Damn. My fingers are cold...can't tell if he's got a fever or not.

Straightening, he turned his head and listened for anyone about to enter the room. Satisfied that he was alone, Chris leaned over Vin and carefully smoothing Vin's hair back, he gently placed his lips on the sleeping man's forehead.

Vin's eyes flew open when he felt the sudden pressure on his head. Panicking when all he could see was Chris's chin and left ear, he pushed back into the pillow and began hyperventilating as he tried to scramble higher in the bed.

"Chris?" His painfully hoarse voice squeaked. "What're ya doin' ?"

Startled, Chris backed up quickly and bumped in to the wall behind him.

"'s okay." He raised his hand and stepped towards the younger man. "'s all right...I was just checking your temperature."

"My temperature?" Vin scowled as he clutched the sheet in front of him and dug his heels into the bed as he scooted higher. They got thermometers around here they've been shoving up my butt for that," he scowled. "You best not be planning on going that route too."

"No Vin." Chris shook his head , and turning a chair around, straddled it. Damn Buck

"It was just a quick way of checking for fevers that Buck showed me while you were sick."

"Buck?" Vin rasped. "What were you all doin' when I was out of it?"

Chuckling, Chris lowered his head and shook it as he massaged the back of his neck.

"It was nothing Vin, really," he nodded as he raised his eyebrows and smiled at the scowling face before him. " are you doing here?" he asked as he glanced around the room. "Met your roommate yet?"

"No," Vin sighed and relaxed in the bed. "No," he repeated and winced as a distinctive and unmistakable sound broke the silence on the other side of the curtain. "But I sure as hell've smelled 'im," he whispered forlornly and stared at the ceiling.

"Hey, you want me to see if I can get you another room before you're asphyxiated?"

"Naw...ain't gonna be here long anyway."

"Look don't go trying to antagonize that doctor of yours in to springing you out of here early. I was talking on the phone with her today, and she mentioned a colonoscopy if you gave her any trouble." Squirming in his chair, Chris grimaced. "My doctor gave me a pamphlet on that at my last checkup."

"Awww...she's fulla shit...I ain't afraid of her."

"Maybe not...and I'm sure the two of you enjoy antagonizing each other in some perverted way, but it woulda been been nice if you'd at least given me a head's up about her."

Smiling, Chris reached over and lifted the lid on the half-eaten dinner tray.

"Hey...I know you already ate...or at least moved the food around on your jello," he waggled his eyebrows, "yum," Chris smiled and winked, " but you think you feel up to some pizza? The guys should be along any minute."

Still staring at the ceiling, Vin nodded. "Yeah...I guess."

Dragging his hand through his hair, Chris sat up straighter.

"Vin...before the others get here..." Reaching down, Chris lifted the brown object from the bag he'd carried in and held it out to Vin.

Turning his head, Vin scowled at Chris. "A teddy bear? Gee, thanks Chris. You can put it on the table with the coloring book and crayons Buck brought me."

"No Vin. Take it. Please." Chris asked quietly. Damn it...what the hell was I thinking? Of all the things in that box, why the hell did I bring the bear?

Reaching for it, Vin frowned. Looking at the threadbare nose, he gently fingered it. Letting out a long breath as he recognized the bear, he sadly looked up at Chris.

"We...we went ta the store and bought some thread ta fix his nose...but...but she got sick," he softly whispered.

"I'm sorry." Chris nodded as he clapped Vin's forearm and gently squeezed it.

"But how?"

"Your friend...the witch's a long story."

Swallowing, Vin nodded as he stared disbelievingly at the long lost bear.

Chris silently studied Vin as he looked down at the toy, and briefly regretted his decision to return it to Vin at this time.

"Hey guys...this is it...he's in here..."

Distracted by the interruption, Chris smiled at JD as he entered the cramped room. Glancing back at Vin, he noticed that the younger man had tucked the bear under the sheet beside him.

"Well,'s certainly a welcome blessing to see you looking so well, " Josiah smiled as he placed a stack of pizza boxes on the overbed table.

"Where's Buck?" Chris asked as Nathan and Ezra entered, carrying sodas and coffee.

"Oh, he ran up to ICU for a minute," JD answered absently as he twisted the small television in his direction and began surfing the channels.

"Damn it nearly hit Vin in the head with that thing..." Nathan shook his head. "It's not there for you to play with."

"Yeah Chris," Josiah chuckled as he placed a slice of pizza on a plate. "He says he's gone up there to 'network', but you know right well, he's gone up there to hound those poor women for dates."

Smiling as he accepted the plate from Josiah, Chris didn't take his eyes off Vin as he lay quietly watching the others.

"Well, he said it would have been a 'conflict of interest' while Vin was still you gotta at least give him credit for waiting," Nathan laughed as he accepted his slice of pizza and began eating.

Standing and reaching for another slice of pizza, Chris half listened as the others discussed the score of some obscure bowl game as he watched Vin toy with his pizza before taking a small bite.

"Hey there, Vin...sorry I'm late," Buck boomed as he crowded in to the room. Extending his hand, he grasped Vin's right hand firmly and shook it, careful of the saline lock still secured to the top of the younger man's hand.

"How ya doin' Junior?" Buck's brows furrowed as he studied Vin appraisingly.

" 'm fine."

"You got a fever?" Releasing Vin's hand, Buck reached for Vin's forehead as the Texan tried to lean away. Pushing Vin's hair back, Buck rested his hand on Vin's forehead as he turned to Chris, oblivious to the scowl directed at him. "He feels warm? He feel warm to you Chris?"

"Buck," shaking his head, Chris chuckled as he stood and clapped Buck's shoulder. "Back off. He's fine."

Reluctantly, Buck removed his hand and frowned at Vin. "You'd better be." Reaching for a slice of pizza, he leaned against the wall and began eating.

Straddling the chair again, Chris smiled as he glanced around the room at his men. Sitting on the foot of Vin's bed, JD was toying with the television. Seated on a chair in the corner, Ezra was engrossed in a conversation with Nathan. To his left, Buck and Josiah leaned against the windowsill, arms folded as they discussed favorite college bowl scores. Dragging his hand through his hair, Chris glanced again at Vin. Eyes closed, and breathing evenly, he appeared to be napping. Tipping his head in Vin's direction, Chris cleared his throat and touched his index finger to his lips to quiet Buck's laughter. Hearing a weak cough, Chris turned to Vin as the younger man winced, shifted in the bed, and opened his eyes again.

"Gentlemen, it's getting late. Perhaps we should be leaving." Ezra smiled slightly as he reached for his coat.

"No...wait Ez." Climbing off the bed, JD stepped over to the corner and retrieved the shopping bag from the floor. "Don't forget to give Vin the things we brought."


Putting his hand up to cover his smile, Buck ducked his head as Ezra accepted the Wal-Mart bag from JD with two fingers and held it away from his body.

"Mr. Dunne and I took the liberty of obtaining some things you may need." Setting the bag at the foot of the bed, Ezra reached in and shook his head as he pulled out a pair of flannel pants. "I must apologize. I had wanted a nice royal blue silk for you, but I was assured that plaid flannel is your material of choice." The pants were soon followed by a package of white tee shirts, white socks, and Vin's favorite, faded, worn, blue sweatshirt. "This I took from the coat rack at the office."

Smiling tiredly, Vin accepted the garment and held it beside him on the bed.

"I saw no need to purchase a robe you would never wear."

"Thanks Ez, " Vin hoarsely drawled and smiled. " 'preciate it. Ya didn't have ta use your epi pen for your hives when ya walked in ta Wal-Mart, did ya?"

"Not done yet Vin." JD nudged Ezra. "Go on...give him the slippers"

Closing his eyes, Ezra shook his head. "Really, Mr. Dunne...I think it would be best if you did the honors." Passing the bag to JD, Ezra stepped back slightly.

"Really?" JD reached for the bag. Smiling broadly, JD proudly pulled the large pair of slippers from the bag and held them up.

Grimacing, Ezra looked away.

"Look, Vin...your favorite."

Staring blankly with his mouth open, Vin was silent as JD held the Scooby-Doo slippers out to him.

"Mr. Tanner...just say the word...if I leave right now, I can purchase the forest green pair I preferred, before the mall closes."

" Ez...these are fine." Vin nodded as he placed the slippers in his lap. "Thanks JD."

"Glancing towards the doorway, Chris stood as a nurse entered the room, dragging a dynamap and thermometer stand behind her.

"Hi guys. Having a party?" Smiling, the nurse uncoiled the tubing of the blood pressure cuff as she waked to Vin's side and wrapped the cuff around his upper arm.

"I'm sorry," Chris apologized. "Were we making too much noise?"

"Nah...except for the smell of pizza, didn't even know you were here." Shaking her head, she placed the tip of the tympanic thermometer in Vin's ear and pressed the button. "I'm Tracy, Vin's nurse this evening." Extending her hand, she shook Chris's hand. Turning her attention again to Vin, she studied him appraisingly. "How ya feeling?"

" 'm fine."

"Right. Still got that headache?"


Frowning, Chris placed his hands on his hips and scowled at Vin.

"'s still too soon, but when it's time, I'll bring you some more Tylenol. Hundred point seven...."

"See? I knew it! I knew he had a fever!"

Smiling as she pulled a pen from her ponytail, she recorded Vin's vital signs on a scrap of paper. Tapping the empty urinal hanging from the siderail, she smiled at Vin. "Mr. Foley and I will be making a grand entrance soon if you don't make me some gold...."

"I can't..." Flushing, Vin squirmed slightly.

Leaning to speak in Vin's ear, Tracy placed her hand on Vin's shoulder. "I told you earlier. Press the pretty little button, and I'll appear like magic...I'll help you stand'll be easier for you. You gotta do something before your eyeballs turn yellow."

Biting his lip to stifle a grin as Vin again flushed with embarrassment, Chris cleared his throat. "Would it be okay if I helped him in to the ....uh...."

"As long as he doesn't try it alone yet, and you promise not to drop him on his head...any more paperwork tonight is gonna kill me...I think it'll be okay." Smiling as she nodded, Tracy patted Vin's arm. "Okay, I'll be back to check on you in a little while....and don't get any smart ideas and ask your friends for any donations....."

Gathering their things, the men began to leave.

" I said're looking well...I'll see you again soon," Josiah smiled as he patted Vin's leg on the way out of the room.

"You take care Vin...listen to the nurses." Reaching out, Nathan shook Vin's hand.

"You coming Buck?" JD turned as he zipped his jacket.

"I think I'm gonna hang here for a little while, kid...go on without me."

"Come Mr. Dunne...I'll give you a ride home." Placing his hand on JD's back, Ezra led him from the room.

"I'm gonna walk them to the elevator. Vin, how about I see if I can find something to drink besides flat gingerale?"

Left alone again with Vin, Chris studied the younger man.



"Wanna go to the head...give it a try?"

Sighing softly, Vin nodded.

"Okay, here you go." Standing, Chris helped Vin sit up and swing his legs over the side of the bed. Squatting in front of Vin, he placed the Scooby-Doo slippers on the Texan's feet.

Clutching the siderail, Vin took in a deep breath and attempted to blink away the black spots dancing before his eyes.


"Uhhh...y....yeah..." Vin stammered and shivered slightly as he suddenly felt clammy when Chris pulled him to his feet.

"Vin...ya with me here?" Chris cocked his head to look closely at Vin when he noted all the color had drained from his face. "Vin...come to me...let me know you're okay."

"Uh...yeah..." Vin panted and nodded slightly and swayed as he felt the room begin to spin.

"Okay...just take it real slow then...." Wrapping an arm around Vin's waist, Chris tightly held Vin's left arm with the other and began to slowly walk to the toilet. Halfway to the bathroom, Chris scrutinized the pale man he was half dragging, and hoped Vin would be able to manage some things on his own when they reached the toilet.

"Okay," Chris huffed, "here you are. Gonna be okay?"

"Uh huh." Reaching out, Vin rested his hand on the wall in front of him and took a deep, shuddering breath. After a moment of silence, he sighed and lowered his head.

Surprised by his own sudden embarrassment, Chris backed out of the room. "All right...okay then...I'll be right out here if you need me...when you're finished...right out here...just holler..."

"Your son...he's a good boy..."

Eyebrows raised, Chris turned to the small man in the bed at his side.

"Vin? No...he's not my son....we're friends..."

"Oh...I see," the elderly man winked. "I watch Springer every day here...I understand..." he winked again. "You boyfriend is a good boy."

"'s NOT my boyfriend....he's just a very good friend..."

"Well...don't you worry...I'll keep an eye on him for you...." The elderly man smiled and nodded.

Jumping as the bathroom door hit him in the shoulder, Chris closed his eyes and took a deep breath. "There you are. ...everything okay?"

Hanging on the the wall with one hand and his johnny pants with the other, Vin licked his lips and sighed as he nodded.

"Alright...let's get ya back to bed then." Reaching for Vin's elbow, Chris began to lead the wobbly Texan back to bed.

Stumbling slightly, Vin tripped over the large heads on the toes of his slippers and began to fall forward. Letting go of his pants, he reached out to break his fall as Chris tried to keep him upright.

"Whooeeee! Junior there ain't no tan lines at all on your backside!" Buck exclaimed from the doorway just as Vin's johnny pants fell to his ankles. "You wanna tell Ol' Buck how you managed that?"

"Damn it Buck," Chris snarled as he struggled to keep Vin from falling while reaching for the fallen pants. "Stop gawking at his ass and give me a hand here. I think he's about to pass out."

"What happened?"

"Those damn slippers." Chris ground out as they led Vin back to bed. "He tripped over them."

Easing Vin on to the bed, they helped him pull his legs up and lean back.


"Yeah..." Taking a deep breath, Vin closed his eyes and nodded.

"Here ya some Seven-Up." Placing the can on the table, Buck smiled. "I'm gonna just go grab some ice."

Alone again, Chris sat and watched Vin.

"When Buck comes back, we'll probably head on out...let you get some rest. Anything you need?"

"No...'m fine..."

"Okay...well here..." Pulling several dollars from his wallet, Chris placed the money in the top drawer of the bedside table. "In case you want a candy bar or a magazine or something..."

"Here ya cup of ice and a straw." Buck announced as he returned.

Standing, Chris patted Vin's shoulder. "Alright then. Get some rest. I'll see you tomorrow afternoon. Your phone works. You call me if you need anything before then. "

"Yeah." Vin hoarsely replied. "Thanks for coming."

Walking silently, Buck and Chris headed for the elevator. Stopping abruptly, Chris frowned and searched his pockets.

"Hold the elevator Buck...I think I left my keys in Vin's room."

Stopping unnoticed at the foot of Vin's bed, Chris took a step back. Biting his lower lip, he took a deep breath and watched as Vin again lightly fingered the threadbare nose of the old, stuffed bear. Unaware he was being watched, Vin sniffed and dragged his hand across his cheek and wiped away a tear.

Backing from the room, Chris left quietly and joined Buck at the elevator.

"Got your keys?"

"No. He was sleeping. Didn't wanna disturb him. If you don't mind giving me a lift, I'll just grab my spare set from your place."

January 4, 9:00pm

"Damn. It's gotten cold enough to freeze a witch's tits off," Buck chattered. " wanna talk about it?" Blowing out a steamy breath, Buck squinted as he adjusted the defrosters.

"Pizza taste okay to you?"


"Well, if you'd noticed, you'd have seen that Vin didn't eat much pizza."

"You ain't getting off that easy, pal. Vin not eating his pizza has got nothing to do with that vein throbbing in the middle of your forehead. Shoot...the man actually enjoys eating MREs. If he was hungry, you coulda slapped gravy on a piece of cardboard and he'da ate it."

Turning his head away, Chris rested his hand on his chin and stared out the window. A tense silence filled the cab of the truck as the two men sat and waited for the defrosters to clear the windshield. Brows furrowed, Chris sat up straighter and watched a man he assumed was homeless, trudge to the emergency department entrance.

"That could've been Vin," he muttered softly.


"You know Vin ran away from foster care when he was in his teens...that he lived on the streets...Vin could've been that guy."

"But he's not." Buck sighed and dragged his hand through his hair. "The route he took to get here isn't what's important...what matters is that he's here now."

"I know, but..."

"No, Chris," Buck pointed outside. "That past doesn't define who he is...sure, it may have helped shape him...but that's all...that is all it did."

The two old friends sat in silence and watched the windshield slowly clear. Letting out a long breath, Buck sighed again as he slowly drummed a tuneless rhythm on the steering wheel. Shifting to face Chris, he rested his arm on the back of the seat and picked at a loose thread.

"You know, I've been sitting here, thinking. One time Nettie told me that Vin had mentioned that his momma had told him to never forget he was a Tanner."

"Yeah, she told me about that too."

"Well, you know he was only a kid...a baby really...couldn'ta been no more than four or five."


"What if...what if the one thing that kept him from turning into that man, was all because of a misunderstanding?"

"What are you talking about?"

"We know that she was raising him alone...we know now that his father died before he was ever born. What if all she meant was for him to remember his name in case anything ever happened to her? What if he's spent his whole life trying to live up to an expectation, that was never even there?"


"And maybe, maybe that one misunderstanding has made whom who he is today...because we sure as hell know the bureaucracy didn't do it. You can't change his past can't fix it's part of him. The way I see it, he doesn't need you to fight his battles...he does a damn good job of that on his own. What he needs is a friend at his side...something I don't think he's had a lot of."

Leaning his head back, Chris closed his eyes and sighed tiredly.

"When the hell did you become the smart one?"

"I know," Buck grinned and shook his head. "Scary, isn't it?" he chuckled. Shifting the truck into reverse, he turned and began to back the truck from the parking space. "Used ta be much easier when I was just the pretty one."


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