A Man Ain't Made of Stone

by Cass

Summary: Vin is injured in a gang dispute in Purgatorio, and Chris is forced to make a tough decision to honor Vin’s wishes, or give into his own fears.

Disclaimer: The Magnificent Seven do not belong to the author of this work of fiction. They are the property of Mirisch and CBS and a multitude of others. No money was made nor were any infringements intended. Thanks to Mog for allowing us access to her wonderful universe so we can play.

‘A man ain’t made of stone, a man ain’t made of steel.
The way I feel right now, I thought I’d never feel.
Sometimes all it takes, is facing the night alone.
That’s when you know, a man ain’t made of stone.’

A Man Ain’t Made of Stone
- Randy Travis

The phone is ringing.

Damn it.

I drag my way back into consciousness and glare at the glowing alarm clock

on the night stand. A blurry Two A.M. glares back.

I only went to bed an hour or so ago, after a ten hour stakeout with the team, and now someone was willing to take their life into their hands and call me. It must be important.

It better damn well be important.

For a moment the thought that it could be Buck or JD crosses my mind and I burrow my head beneath two pillows, and hope that they’ll go away.

I can’t take another ‘bat’ incident like last week, when one of the flying rodents found its way in through the kid’s open window. It made it out of the cold and right into their Christmas tree. The creature of the night had Buck in an uproar, yelling something about the kid getting rabies, and me unknowingly driving across town to play the unwilling exterminator.

The image of Buck decked out in his blue M&M flannels, wielding a baseball bat, and attacking a helpless Christmas tree enters my mind and I cringe.

Not only had that horrible night earned them the current nicknames of Batman and Boy Wonder, it had won me a new office arrangement. Fifty or more plastic bats hanging from my ceiling, entangled with tinsel and twinkling lights, greeted me the next morning. Thanks to an innocent looking sharpshooter and southerner, no doubt.

The phone is still ringing.


I untangle myself from the sheets and throw my pillow to the floor before grabbing the handset. If it’s the Caped Crusaders, I vow that they will die horrible, miserably slow deaths.


At first, there is no reply and I start to slam the offensive object against the wall when a child’s trembling voice speaks up. “Mr. Larabee....Chris Larabee?”

My heart quickens and a chill passes over me, not unlike the sensation I had experienced more than five years ago when I’d received a fateful call at work. Something about this call brings those vanquished memories to the surface. “This is Chris Larabee,” I take a breath and will myself to calm down, “Who is this?”

“Alyssa....Alyssa Montez.” The girl finally manages.

It is obvious she is crying and I feel lightheaded as the name registers. Alyssa is one of the children from my best friend’s neighborhood. In fact, I’m pretty sure her and her family live in the same run down building. I vaguely recall meeting the ten year-old at one of the ‘clean-up’ operations that Vin had organized and roped the rest of us into.

“What’s wrong, Alyssa?” I ask, my chest tightening.

“It...it’s...Vin, Mr. Tanner...he..”

“He what?!” I demand, somehow already knowing what the little girl is going to say next. .

“He’s hurt...he.told me to call..you.”

Shit. “What do you mean he’s hurt? How?” My voice grows harsh and a part of me realizes that I’m speaking with a child, but another part, the biggest part, screams at me to find out what I need to in order to help Vin.

“There was a fight tonight,” she whispers, “between the Sangrias and the Demons. Mr. Vin had been talking with Carlos, my brother, and trying to convince him to break from the gang. Some of the Demons found out and came after Carlos.” She paused to take a shuddering breath. “Mr. Vin was in the middle of them when it started. He was stabbed when he jumped in front of Carlos.”

I force the icy lump that has sprung to my throat back into the pit of my gut. “Alyssa, where are you?”

“At Mr. Tanner’s apartment. Joseph brought him here.”

“Did you call an ambulance or the police?” I ask, knowing how the natives of Purgatorio feel about the law.

The little girl doesn’t reply and I can hear her whispering something on the other end. “Alyssa?”

“No, Mr. Larabee. Vin says only you. No police.”

“Sonuvabitch,” I growl, realizing exactly why my best friend doesn’t want anyone else involved. He doesn’t want more trouble for the ‘kids’ he’s always trying to protect. Well, the police are the last ones he should be worrying about. If I get a hold of them, they’ll wish someone had put them behind bars a long time ago.

“Alyssa, you tell him I’m on my way. Tell him to hold on, damn’it.”

I slam the phone down, struggle out of bed and grab the same jeans I had tossed to the floor just a short time ago. It’s as if my body has kicked into automatic pilot, the old familiar feeling of adrenaline pumping through my veins. “How many times are we going to go through this, Cowboy?”

I don’t even bother with socks as I pull my boots on and slip my gray sweater over my head. The familiar lump springs to my throat as I remember Christmas, when Vin had given it to me, jokingly saying it would brighten up my black wardrobe. Had it only been three days ago? Of course I should know better than anyone how life can change in an instant, in one painstaking breath.

Funny, how we tend to forget things like that.

I push the surge of emotions back behind my usual stone defenses and grab my cell phone and keys. I haven’t got time to feel, I’ve got to get to Vin.

Hitting the speed dial for Nathan as I pick up my gun from the kitchen counter, I head for the back door. Jackson answers on the second ring and he doesn’t sound much happier than I had earlier. “Buck, I swear the kid don’t have rabies,” he mumbles, and I remember that I wasn’t the only one our fun-loving, over protective ladies man summoned last week.

“Nate, it’s me.”

“Chris?” I hear a tinge of fear behind his voice and a crash as he apparently reached for the lamp and missed it.

“Vin’s hurt. I’m coming to get you. Bring your medical bag.” Without giving him a chance to reply, I click the power off and jump in the Ram.

For a moment, I consider calling 911, but even my worry won’t let me break a trust that has saved my own life countless times. As much as I hate it, I’ll just have to have faith that it will also be enough to save my best friend. At least for now.

+ + + + + + +

I jump out of the truck before Nate even has a chance to get out of his seatbelt.

The ride from his apartment had been a short interrogation, him asking me what Vin's injuries were, how long ago they had happened, and why in the hell weren't we calling the paramedics.

What could I tell him? Some would say that I am tight-lipped in the best of moods, so throw in a situation like the one at hand, and I'm reduced to grunts and growls. Still, I try.

"He was stabbed. No more than an hour ago. It has to do with some of the neighborhood kids."

Short, and anything but sweet.

Nate’s only other words had been heartfelt reassurances that Vin would be fine. Of course, he would be just fine. We both knew they were unfounded.

This was Vin we were talking about, after all. The only other person I know who can attract more trouble is tucked safely away right now, in a loft across town, under the watchful eye of his big brother.

As I slam my door shut, I wonder if there is anyway that I could convince Vin that he would be much happier living at my ranch. The barn loft could be transformed into a decent apartment. It could be a New Year’s project. Yeah, right.

With that irrational thought swirling around in my brain, I take off at a run, not even paying attention to the usual patrons of the stoop outside of Tanner's building.

Little Al, a seven year-old boy with an attitude from hell, calls my name but I continue on in, and up the stairs. The idea that it is 2:30 in the morning registers somewhere, as I wonder where in the hell Little Al’s parents are, but there is no time to spare for that or his password games.

He's one of the many of my best friend's rehabilitation efforts, a good example of what one caring person can mean to a child's life, but at the moment, the only person I care about could be bleeding to death because of his damn selfless nature.

That thought propels me up the last flight of stairs and the first person who greets me as I rush through the fire door is a little dark-haired girl, with a dirt-smudged face and wide, unblinking eyes.

"Mr. Larabree?"

"Alyssa." I nod, but keep up my momentum to make it to Vin's door. I’m vaguely aware that she is following behind me, and, even in my rush, I haven’t missed the haunted look on her face. I've seen less suffering and turmoil in the eyes of a soldier. It's then I realize that Vin will never leave this place for my ranch.

A tall lanky teen in a Denver Broncos jacket is standing sentry at the entrance. It’s Joseph Logan, one of the few boys in Purgatorio who has refused the Sangrias, the Ravens, and the Demons, choosing rather to help Vin and his patriots clean up the place.

"It's about time," he tells me, a look of relief slipping past his tough exterior, and flooding into his expressive green eyes. "He's messed up bad, man."

I choose not to comment on his last sentence. Instead, I place a hand on his shoulder and nod in the direction I have just come from. "A friend is on his way up, Logan. Make sure he gets here."

I do this partly to give the teen something to do and mostly because Nathan isn't a regular around these parts. The locals recognize me and JD, Buck too, since he rarely allows the kid to come to this part of town alone.

Can't really blame him. Just as the Sheriff of Nottingham hated Robin Hood, the local drug dealers and other predators despise Vin.

After all, he does steal from them in a way. He does it by taking away their biggest revenue- that being the future users and pushers they plan to create from innocent children. I won’t even entertain the fact that he is also an ex-gang member, with all the nasty baggage that comes with that.

That's why although being Tanner's friend may get you access to the place, it could also get you killed.

The impact of that steals my breath as I enter my friend's home and instantly catch sight of his motionless form on his faded yellow couch.

A slight, older Latino woman is leaned over him, but her frightened gaze locks on me as I quickly stride towards them and she starts to get up.

"Don't be scared, Mrs. Montez. He's not as mean as he looks."

The Texas drawl is softer than usual, weak even, but the hint of humor behind it is music to my ears.

Unfortunately some of my short-lived relief fades when I round the coffee table and spot a pile of towels on the floor.

Blood-soaked towels.

Towels soaked with Vin's blood.

“Hey, cowboy. Took ya’ long enough.”

His words bring my eyes from the mess on the floor up to meet his.

Our silence communication never fails to amaze me. With a shared look he’s answered about twenty questions.

“You know me,” I reply, sidestepping Mrs. Montez to take a seat on the edge of the coffee table, “I had to stop for gas, a midnight snack, Nate, all the essentials.”

He forces a smile. “I told Mrs. Montez you’d be here.”

“Lo siento, senior,” the woman says when I look at her. She doesn’t meet my eyes as I gently remove her hand from the towel that she is holding against Vin’s side and replace it with my own. I’m sure she is Carlos and Alyssa’s mother or grandmother. The look of guilt and remorse on her face is a dead give away.

“It’s all right, Teresa,” Vin starts, but his words are cut off by a gasp of pain as I push much harder on his wound than Mrs. Montez had been willing to.

“Shit, Chris!” He tries to sit up to push my hand away, but I use my free one to shove him back to the couch.

“Easy, cowboy. I’ve got to get this bleeding stopped. Now.” That icy lump is back, threatening to steal my breath, as he reluctantly relaxes back against the cushions but gains a death grip on my arm in the process.

“Damn, that hurts,” he hisses, as I lean in closer to him to add more pressure.

“I know, I’m sorry.” My voice is a whisper now, although I don’t know why. The old woman has moved away from us now, wearing the same dazed expression on her face that Alyssa had displayed earlier. The little girl has joined her.

Vin opens his eyes and stares up at me. “Serves me right, huh?” A small hint of his usual cocky-ass grin plays at the corner of his mouth and I shake my head.

“Damn straight. I can’t believe you got me out of bed at this time of night.”

He winces again and I swear I feel a sharp pain lancing through my own gut.

“Least you won’t need your cross and wooden stake this time.”

Before I can reply to his smart-assed comment, Nathan bursts through the door startling the both of us.

“Took you long enough, Nate,” I growl, stealing Vin’s words from before.

Our sharpshooter squeezes my wrist as if to tell me to, in JD’s words, ‘chill’.

“What’d he do, doc, make you park his truck on the better part of town and walk?”

Jackson sighs as he slides to a halt beside of me. “Hardly, I’d probably still be down on the sidewalk trying to guess the secret password, if that kid, Joey, hadn’t come and pulled that pint-sized doorman off of me.”

“Capone,” Vin and I tell him the magic word at the same time and he throws us a withering glare.

“That explains the accent, but not where the hell his parents are” he says, as he opens his medical bag and kneels in front of the couch. His dark eyes rest on Vin and he instantly transforms from our good-natured partner to the hard as nails medic that he can sometimes be. “Tell me exactly what happened.”

Jackson nudges me out of his way, and although I gladly relinquish my task of hurting Vin, I don’t release all contact. My hand rests lightly next to his head as I move around behind the sofa.

“Some of the kids were fighting, I got in the way,” Tanner replies casually, and Jackson looks up to gauge my reaction.

“So what you’re saying is that the gangs were having a little territorial battle and you overstepped your boundary.”

“Something like that.” Vin grins, but flinches when Nathan pulls the towel away from his side.

God, I hate to see him in pain.

“I need some water,” Jackson looks at me again, but my best friend seems as reluctant for me to go as I am to leave.

“I will get it, senior,” Mrs. Montez speaks up softly, and I watch her disappear into the kitchen.

“This wound is deep. It’s going to need quite a few stitches. We should take you to the hospital.”

“No.” Vin tries to sit up again, and it is Nathan who pushes him down this time.

“Lie still.” Jackson shakes his head at me as if I could control the patient. I’ve seen him give Buck that look before, but this isn’t JD we’re dealing with. “You’re going to start bleeding again, and then we’ll have no choice but to take you to a 'real' doctor.”

“There’s always a choice,” Tanner sighs, and I don’t miss how quick he gave up his struggles. “Besides, Nate, you’re practically my family physician. How much more real can you get?”

Nathan gives him a stern look. “You know my training, Vin. I was a medic, not a doctor.”

Teresa returns with a pan of water and some more towels, sitting them at Nathan’s feet, before scurrying back to the corner to wait with Alyssa.

“I trust you, doc,” Vin gasps, as Jackson pours some of the liquid over the gash in his side. “It’s just a scratch.” He jerks again as Nate repeats the action; this time using gloved fingers to probe at the wound.

“It’s not a scratch, it’s deep.” Nate gives me another look before continuing his inspection.

“Take it easy, Vin.” I let my free hand rest on my best friend’s forehead and he glances up at me.

“I'm okay, Chris. You know I can’t go to the hospital, right? Too many questions. Mandatory paper work.” His eyes leave me for a moment and he looks toward Teresa Montez. “Carlos is on probation. One more strike and he’s gone. He’s all that Alyssa and Teresa have.”

Nathan is staring at me again also, as if I have the final say. I want to reassure Vin, to let him know I understand that he wants to protect the people here, because he was once where they are; but my first priority is his well being.

Doesn’t he realize he’s all that I have.


Our partner shakes his head. “ Like I said, it’s deep, and I don’t know what could be going on inside.” He opens his bag and pulls out gauze and bandages. “ There could be a bleeder.” He places the bandage on my best friend’s side and starts to unroll the gauze. “He really should go to the hospital.”

Vin glares at Nathan as he works. “Just stitch me up, Nate. You’ve done it before.”

“When it seemed I’ve had no other choice, I have.” Our partner glances up at Vin, but continues to work. “ But like you said there are usually choices, some of which I have now. One being, we can put your sorry ass in the truck and drive to Mercy and the other being I can call 911. It’s as simple as that.”

They both look at me now and speak at the same time. “Chris?” “Cowboy?”

Sweat has beaded on Vin’s forehead and his eyes are a brighter blue, as pain mixes with frustration. “I can’t take chances with your life.”

“And what about their lives?” Vin motions to where Teresa and Alyssa stand, clinging to one another. “This isn’t their fault.”

Weariness and anger mix just under the surface and I have to clinch my fists to keep my temper in check. Still my voice causes Alyssa to lean closer to her mother. “It’s not yours either, damn it!”

Vin closes his eyes, and swallows hard, and I know he’s in more pain than he wants us to know. “If Carlos goes to jail, this was all for nothing.”

My best friend is nothing if not smart, and did I mention, manipulative, when he needs to be.

“I should have just let them stab him, ‘cause he’s as good as dead if he goes inside.”

Alyssa has started to cry now.

Nathan looks up at me, and I see his determination waiver slightly.

“You could be just as dead if I let you lie here and suffer from blood loss, or infection.”

I turn my gaze to Teresa. “I’m sorry.”

The woman holds her daughter tighter and nods her head in forgiving acceptance. “Es tu hermano.”

I feel Vin’s eyes on me, even though I’m still watching Teresa, and I can almost hear his voice in my head. Brothers trust one another.

“Chris, Please.”

I take a deep breath and try to find my balance, before turning back to Nathan. “Is Rain on duty?”

He takes a deep breath himself and rakes a hand over his short hair, frowning. “She won’t like it.”

“Call her. See if she can come. If she can, have Ezra go by the hospital and get her.”

“She‘ll tell you the same thing about the hospital.”

I shrug my shoulders. “Let Tanner use the ‘wounded deer’ eyes on her.”

“Women really like deer.” Vin’s voice is weaker now, but the grip he has on Nathan’s arm is strong. He smiles slightly. “Rain won’t get in trouble, Nate.” My best friend glances at Teresa. “No one will.”

“But someone should.” Nathan sighs. “It isn’t right what goes on down here, what kids get away with.”

“Nobody’s getting away with anything.”

Vin quickly looks up at me. “Don’t even think about it, Chris.” He attempts to push himself up to a sitting position, but Nate stops him. “This ain’t a police matter. We already decided that.”

Decided? When the hell did I decide anything?

I gently put my hand on his shoulder to keep him from going anywhere. Bending down to where our eyes are level, I let my hand slide to his neck and squeeze gently. “Don’t worry, cowboy. I’m not on duty.” He rolls his eyes. “Right now, I’m not a cop at all. Just a man.”

His eyes now go to our medic for assistance. “Nate?”

“Don’t look at me. I think you’re both crazy.”

I stand and look at the only other occupants in the room. “Mrs. Montez, could you help Nathan with Vin until I get back?

“Si, Senor.“

“And Alyssa, we’ll need someone to inform Lil’ Al that we’ll have friends coming soon.”

“Si’, Mr. Chris.” She smiles slightly at me, and I’m not sure if she understands all that is going on, but I notice she has stopped crying. She turns from me and runs out the door.

“This ain’t your fight, Chris.” Vin gasps as Nate helps him to his feet.

I can’t help but to wince. “Didn’t stop you.”

Vin shakes his head and gives me a devil be damned look, knowing he’s not got the strength to do much more. “That’s different, stubborn, sonuvabitch.” The last few words are mumbled, but I still hear them.

“That sounds a might like the pot calling the kettle black.” I carefully hook my arm around his waist and take part of his weight from Nate as we make it towards his room.

“You should consider keepin’ late hours more often, Larabee. It does a world of good for your sense of humor,” Vin tells me through gritted teeth, and I worry again about my decision.

“Easy,” Nate kicks a basketball and some shoes out of the way before his patient can trip over them, and we finally make it to the bed.

“Grab those extra blankets,” he points to a chair in the corner of Tanner’s room, but before I have a chance to move, Teresa is getting them for us.

“We need to keep his feet up, and keep him warm,” Nathan is talking more to Mrs. Montez now, but I don’t know how much she comprehends. “Keeps him from going into shock, while we get the bleeding stopped.”

After we have gotten Vin on the bed. Nate looks at me. “I’ll go call Rain, but I can’t promise anything.”

I nod. “If she thinks he’s in danger, tell her to do what she needs to.”

“I’m still here, you know.” Vin grounds out, through gritted teeth. “I can hear and speak.”

“Too bad you can’t dodge.”

Vin starts to say something, but Nathan shakes his head. “You two are worse than Buck and JD.” Before he leaves the room, he places Teresa’s hand over the make shift bandage he has applied to Vin’s side and smiles reassuringly.

His eyes meet mine. “Can I see you outside?”

I hold Vin’s gaze for a moment, it’s all the conversation we usually need in times like these, but something brings me to actual words. “I’ll be back. Don’t go anywhere.”

He smirks. “As if. Doc’s liable to hog tie me if I even mention how I could really use a pi....”, he catches himself and smiles apologetically at Teresa, “well, you know how Nate is.”

I nod and start for the door, when his next words have me faltering slightly. “I was him once.”

I turn and despite the fact that the boy’s mother is there, I don’t shield the heat behind my words. “I don’t believe that for a minute. But because you are who you are, I’ll show him some mercy.”

Mrs. Montez doesn’t turn to look at me, but I see her shoulders relax as if she is releasing a long held breath.

Vin merely turns his eyes from mine.

When I reach Nate, he is just closing his cell phone.

“Ezra says you owe him two now.”

“Two? How’s he figure?”

Nathan grins. “He’s counting Christmas Eve when you and Vin both got drunk and he had to play chauffer.”

I sigh. “I guess it wouldn’t do one bit of good to point out that Buck was suppose to be designated.”

“Fat chance.”

Shaking my head, I try and gauge his expression. “You think this is a bad idea, don’t you?”

“Does it matter what I think?”

“Hell yes, it matters. You’re the expert.” I rub at my tired eyes. “Will he be all right?”

It‘s his turn to shake his head. “Rain is going to come, but she asked why in the hell you didn’t bring him to the hospital yourself?”

“And you explained?”

He has the decency to look chagrined. “Nope. I lied.”

I frown, my mind picturing the woman in question. She has more often than not put me in my place when work has conflicted with their home life, but I wouldn‘t want her any other way. “She’s your wife.”

“And you all are family. She’ll understand.”

“But will she forgive you?”

At that he smiles. “With some groveling on my part, and some stretching on my credit card’s part.” His face grows serious. “But what I don’t understand is why in the hell you don’t take him to the hospital yourself.”

“He needs to do this thing his way.”

Nathan throws him hands up. “Then why you going after that punk?”

“Because, I need to do this thing my way.”

“Of course.“ Nathan sighs and rolls his eyes. “Why do I even bother? If it’s not one thing, it’s bats.”

We both laugh.

“That’s what you get for being the Florence Nightingale of our group.”

“Yeah, well, better her than the Dirty Harry.” His eyes hold mine for a moment. “It’s hard being the heavy all the time.”

It’s my turn to sigh. “We all have our roles, Nate.”

With a nod towards Vin‘s room, I place my hand on his shoulder. “Take care of him for me.”

“That’s a given.”

I start to go, but then stop and look at him once more. It’s now I notice he’s still wearing Pajama bottoms with his ATF jacket. “And Nate, if I didn’t say it before, thanks.”

“That’s a given too.”

Again I start for the door, but can’t resist tossing another comment over my shoulder as I go. “And here I thought Bucklin was the only one who’d wear flannels out in public.”

“These happen to be lounge pants,” he calls back as I slip out the door, and I can’t help but to smile.

Lounge pants, my ass.

+ + + + + + +

It isn’t hard to track Carlos down, especially after Logan gives me the 4-1-1, as he calls it. The Ditch, is a quaint little establishment, full of pool tables, run down video games, and really bad furniture.

The local kids love it.

It falls in neutral territory somehow, and it is used as recruiting ground for most gangs.

It is here that I find Carlos Montez.

He‘s sitting with another boy about his age and two girls, wearing too little in the clothes department and too much make-up.


All four look up as I approach, but I get the distinct satisfaction of seeing fear flash through Carlos’ eyes. I know it’s him because Logan had described him to a tee, right down to the 9-gauged silver loop in his ear, and Demon colors he was wearing rapped around his head.

“Who’s asking?” He finds enough bravado to save face with his friends.

I take my badge out and flash it, more to scare the others away than anything. I promised Vin that this wouldn’t be an official visit. “Special Agent Larabee.”

“This about the other Fed?” It’s the other boy who speaks up, and I don’t even glance his way.

“I’ll give the rest of you three seconds to vanish before I consider this meeting a conspiracy.”

“Shit!” One of the girls grabs her hot pink backpack and her friend. “See ya around, Hoja.”

It only takes a moment for the boy to follow, but he does it with a little more attitude.

“Don’t take any of his shit, Hoja. Hang tight.”

Once he’s gone I wrap my hands in the smug kid’s black jacket and haul him to his feet. “Hoja?” I practically spit the words out as I drag him through the small room and out a back door I spotted on the way in. “Hoja?” I say it again as I push him away from me. “Nice name. Means knife or blade or something along that line doesn’t it.”

He straightens himself and brushes his hands over his dirty jean jacket. “Blade.”

“I take it you’re good with a knife then?”

He stands a little taller, puffs his chest out more. “I can handle my own?”

“Like you did tonight? Seems to me that someone else wanted to show you that they were a little better.”

“Dante’ don’t have nothing on me, man. He’s a lackey, not even initiated yet.”

I rake my hands through my hair to keep them away from the kid’s throat. “Maybe teaching you a lesson was going to be his way into good graces?”

“You see who’s still standing?”

“I don’t give a fuck about who’s standing. The only thing I care about is who’s laid up because of your twisted little kid games.”

“I know who you are now, man. I’ve seen you around the barrio.” He gets some of his courage back. “You’re Tanner’s partner.”

“Lucky for you.”

“What? You think I need Tanner to protect me? I ain’t one of his ‘kids’. I don’t need nobody.”

“That doesn’t explain how my partner ended up with a hole in his gut and why you‘re health without a scratch.”

He shrugs his shoulders and actually has the nerve to laugh. “ Like I told you before, I’m a man; I can take care of myself. Maybe Tanner should have brought you along for back up to look after him.”

I can’t help myself as I grab hold of him and push him against the wall. “You don’t have a clue as to what a real man is.”

He scoffs, but I see a slight twinge of fear return to his dark gaze. “A man can stand alone. He’s unbreakable, like the hardest stone.”

It‘s my turn to sneer. “You’ve never been alone, kid. Totally and completely, helplessly alone. If you had, you wouldn’t treat your mother the way you do. You’d cherish your family.”

He roles his eyes and tries to pull away from me. “The Demons are my family, man.”

“Nice family.” I release my grip. “And by the way, stones wear away after a while, turn to dust, Carlos,” I take a step back from him, “especially if there’s nothing to buffer them from the storm. A family like the Demons doesn‘t offer much shelter.”

“I don’t get you, pig.” He spits at my feet. “You’re not my father. You’re nothing to me.”

“That’s right. So, I guess you’re lucky I know a man when I see one. Men have to answer for their deeds; kids get a second chance.”

“I don’t want anything from you,” his bravado is brought back by his injured pride, “and I don’t want anything from El Cuervo, either.”

Whether it’s hearing my best friend referred to as one of the Ravens, or the mocking, smart ass look on the kid’s face, I snap. This time I don’t hold back anything as I shove his punk ass against the cold stone wall behind us.

I pull my gun, really not sure if I plan on using it or not. I shove it roughly under his chin. “Vin Tanner saved your miserable life. He already gave you something. Now you owe him. “ My face is mere inches away from his. “You understand a blood dept don’t you, Carlos? Even the lowest of gang scum understands that concept.”

I feel him try to swallow, aware that I’m cutting off some of his oxygen. I smile. “Anything happens to him, and I have a right to collect on you!”

“The man’s got enemies,” he manages to get out.

“All the more reason to have a friend on the inside.” I press the gun harder. “You keep your eyes and ears open, if there’s even a murmur of something happening to Tanner, I better hear about it first.”

“I’m no snitch, man.”

“Just think of it as self-preservation.”

“You’re a cop, you can’t kill me.”

“I’m not talking about killing you, Carlos. There are things worse than death.” I finally take my gun away from his throat, but tap him on the head with it. “Prison is calling your name, son, and there are men in there that will tattoo their‘s across your ass.”

He rubs the red spot on his neck, but still gives me a slight look of defiance. “I didn’t ask him to help me.”

“He tends to do selfless things, like jump in front of bullets, knives, help out kids who don‘t deserve it. It’s in his nature.” I slowly put my gun back in it’s holster and look him hard in the eye. “Don’t worry though, it’s not in mine.”

“What do you want me to do?”

“First, I want you to go see your mother, and let her know you’re all right. Then, I think there are some things that Agent Tanner may need help with until he recovers completely.”

“My homies won’t like me hangin’ with no cop.”

“Your homies didn’t save your life. Vin did.” I pat my gun. “Twice.”

He swallows hard and rubs at his throat again. “I’ll pay my dept.”

I catch his eyes and nod. “That’s what men do.”

+ + + + + + +

I’ve been sitting in the dark, watching the steel gray of dawn turn from light blue to a soft pink for a while before he starts to stir. I’ve watched the colossal giant sentries of stone be washed in light to become run down buildings once more before his eyes finally open. When he looks around the room and focuses on me, the sun finally rises.


I have to swallow hard before I trust myself to speak. “Hey, yourself.”

He looks out the window, surprise that it is morning registering on his drawn features. “Nate gone home?”

I move from the hard chair to the corner of his bed. “Nope. Sacked out on the floor. He must have lost the coin toss with Ezra for the couch.”

“Doesn’t he know better than to let Ezra use his own coin?” He pushes himself up in bed, one hand instinctively going to his side. “ I swear he has one with double heads.”

I turn my head; not wanting to see any weakness in the person I try to pretend is invincible. “I’m amazed he’d leave the Jag here overnight.”

At this he actually laughs. “He paid Logan fifty dollars to watch it.”

Our eyes meet once more. “Let me guess, I’ll be picking up that tab.”

He nods. “That and his dry cleaning bill. Little Al refused his password.”

“Water balloon filled with ketchup?”

A slight imitation of Vin‘s cocky-assed grin makes an appearance. “Chocolate pudding.”

“Good one.“ I shake my head, thinking of the Armani. “It could have been worse.”

Vin snorts. “Yeah, Ez could have shot him.”

I drop my head and rub at my tired eyes. “Good thing he has a soft spot for kids.”

“The same could be said about you.”

When I look up his blue gaze is boring into me. “How’s that?”

He gives a small shrug. “ Well, I’m bettin’ you didn’t shoot Carlos.”

“I thought about it. But prison blue isn’t my color.”

“I hear some places are going back to traditional black and white.”

I shake my head. “I hate stripes.”

He attempts to laugh, but grabs his side instead, closing his eyes for a moment.

I place a hand on his leg. “You okay? Do I need to get Nate?”

His eyes open quickly. “No. I’m okay. Rain did a good job of stitching me up.”

I move my hand and rake it through my hair. “Yeah, just like those kids did a good job of messing you up.”

He sighs, and I lift my eyes back to his. We‘re not going to agree on this subject and we both know it. “It wasn’t Carlos’ fault. He’s got a hard surface, but there’s something good underneath, you know.”

“You really believe that, Tanner?”

His eyes cloud over with an emotion I can‘t quite read, though I‘ve seen it there before. “I want to.” More like he thinks he has to.

“I hope you’re right, Cowboy. I hope he’s worth this.”

“Not too many things worth spillin’ blood over, Larabee. That’s somethin’ the kids down here don’t understand. They don’t respect it.”

To me, there would be nothing worth him being hurt. “You think spilling your own will change that?”

There‘s the hint of a grin again. “Wasn’t my first plan.”

I fold my arms over my chest. “Yeah, Plan B usually sucks.”

“Yeah.” He yawns and I can tell whatever medicine Rain has given him is calling him back to healing sleep. "In case I fade out on you, I just wanted to say thanks again for coming, Chris. For cutting Carlos some slack.”

I reach out to fix his pillows as he tries to get comfortable. “Wasn’t my first plan.”

“Yeah, but you arresting him or killing him wouldn’t have done much good. For neither of us.”

He winces and I catch myself rethinking my moments with Carlos. “I’m not so sure you saving him will either.”

When he‘s settled once more, he looks up at me. “You never know, maybe I bought him some time.”

“For what?”

“To change. To get a little smarter.”

Shaking my head in frustration, I find something interesting to look at on the floor. “Well, I didn’t do what I did for him.”

“I know.” Vin waits for me to look at him again. “And I appreciate it, Chris.”

“I just hope he does, Cowboy. I just hope he does.”

As he falls back asleep, I pull the covers up around him, and let my hand rest on his covered chest for a moment. Long enough to feel his heart beat. Long enough to remind myself of why I am here. Of what I owe him.

I think again of my meeting with Carlos and of what I had told him.

A man ain’t made of stone.

It’s true. I know.

But there are times.

Times when I also know that everything I am is at risk, that the very people who make me who I am, the people who I love, are so easily lost, that I wish I were.

God, I wish I were.

When I remember... remember what it’s like to have part of you torn away, and the rest of you left to bleed. When I remember that shock. That anger that comes quickly and the misery that follows for so long after. And the longing, and the loneliness, and the heart-wrenching grief...

When I remember that... on nights like these, I really, really wish I were as hard and as cold as some people think I am.

If only... I were made of stone.

The End

Dec 2003