COUNTIN' ON A MIRACLE by Chris and rosyvin

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AUGUST 12 - Late afternoon – Nathan’s Room

Nathan sat on the bed reading a newspaper as Rain came into the room.

“May a doctor ask how her favorite patient is doing?“ She joked, leaning over him.

“I feel wonderful whenever I look at you, my beautiful doctor,” the black agent said smiling.

“I’ve just had the last report on Vin’s conditions and he’s doing really well. Would you mind taking a look?” she said professionally handing him a big envelope. “I’d appreciate your opinion.”

“I see… and did you come here only because of this?” Nathan asked, narrowing his eyes.

The young doctor smiled and sat on the bed, glancing at the black agent with bright, sweet eyes, as she put her hand on his cheek and slightly caressed it.

“I’ve missed you, strong man,” she whispered.

”I’ve missed you, too, girl,” Nathan murmured in response and took hold of her hand and kissed it. Then he embraced her, closing his eyes, grateful to have her in his arm and to smell the light fragrance of her skin.

They sat for a while in a comfortable silence. Then he let her go with a sigh.

”Well, let’s get a look at this,” he said and turning his attention to the envelope she had brought. He opened it, spread its contents in front of him on the bed and suddenly faltered, feeling as if a cold hand had gripped his throat.

“What’s wrong, Nathan?” Rain asked, frowning.

“I don’t exactly know, a sort of bad feeling about Vin,” he said hesitantly.

”What are you talking about?“ She asked in surprise.

“I can’t explain it, Rain, but every time one of our team is hurt or in peril I can feel it, believe me, Rain, I can feel it,“ he continued, as he clutched hold of her arm. “Please, I know it doesn’t make any sense but please go to check on him, now!”

“Now?“ Rain asked puzzled.

“Please, Rain, trust me, something is going to happen!” Nathan stated firmly.

Trying to make up her mind what to do, the young doctor rose to her feet, but as Jackson looked at her with brown, sorrowful eyes, she nodded in agreement and walked off.

AUGUST 12 – Late afternoon – St. Joseph’s Hospital - ICU

The nurse reached Doctor Mason’s office and knocked lightly. Not getting any response, she paused as the door slid open and the doctor exited, followed by a man.

She studied him for a while; he was a very strange "visitor”, a thick set middle-aged man in an expensive Italian light gray suit, a dark trilby shadowing a coarse face.

"What's the matter, nurse?" Mason asked in a trembling, uncertain tone.

"It's n. 344, sir," she said cautiously, knowing that the man she was taking care of was a Fed, and thinking it wasn’t safe to say his name in the presence of the unknown man.

"What's wrong with him?" The doctor briskly asked.

"He is in pain, severe pain," Lyn whispered.

The thick man smiled evilly at the doctor.

"Well, doc, it' s going to be a very easy task," he said, a sinister twinkle in his dark eyes, and then he resolutely headed for the elevator and disappeared from their sight.

Doctor Mason paled but didn't utter a word. He followed the nurse in silence to the control room but at the door he turned and said, "I'd love to have a word with my assistant, at once, would you mind telling him?"

"Yes, Doctor Mason."

The doctor entered the room and dismissed the other nurse. "Go back to your duty, Mrs. Palmer. I'll take care of the patient here."

He glanced at the semi-conscious sharpshooter. Vin was panting hard, concentrating on getting air past the intense pain in his chest. His lips were moving but his words were jumbled. Doctor Mason 's hand hesitated as he reached for the control panel of the ventilator, this man seemed so young, so frail and so vulnerable in his present condition that for one moment he felt pity for him. He was fighting hard to survive, but Mason knew he had to do this.

"Sorry, kid. I've no choice," he whispered, turning the ventilator off. "It will be over soon."

Vin whimpered, his mouth opened searching desperately for air as his blue eyes partially opened and stared wildly at the doctor. Then his body arched on the narrow bed as the wiry arms pulled weakly at their restraints and suddenly went limp. Falling again onto his back, motionless.

Doctor Mason stood near the bed, his mind was screaming at him to get away, but he couldn't for his trembling legs refused to move. His head was spinning.

As the haunting sound of the alarm from the monitor broke the silence, the door swung open. Rain rushed into the room and saw the doctor standing there his hand still on the control panel of the ventilator. “Oh my….” she called out as her expert eyes realized what had just happened, “You killed him!” Mason looked at her with vacant eyes. “I had to…. I’m so sorry but I had to....,” he said in a whisper and with an unexpected quick movement he slipped out of the room into the corridor.

Rain glared in horror at the patient’s cardiac tracing on the overhead monitor. It was showing an absolutely straight line. "His heart stopped!" she cried out and in a minute the control room was filled with a whirlwind of nurses and doctors that surrounded the unmoving young man trying to bring him to life again.

From the waiting room, Chris and the boys noticed the turmoil and ran to the ICU. From the glass partition, they saw the frantic activity around their friend. Chris looked at the ECG monitor over Vin’s bed and shuddered. "He's dead," he whispered, "He 's dead!" he repeated. Nothing he had ever seen before, not even Sara and Adam’s deaths, had fully prepared him for the sight of his best friend at the center of the most extreme medical dramas, a cardiac arrest.

Through the large window he could only see Vin’s slight form and part of his angular handsome profile, leaning on the pillow, shaded by the always-unruly locks.

"Murdock warned me. It's my fault. He was killed because of me." He murmured as a single tear stained his sharp cheek.

Only now, Buck noticed a torn sheet of paper in his friend's hand.

"Got another message?" He asked warily.

The man in black nodded and shoved it to his stunned companion’s hand.

Ezra grabbed the paper and began slowly to read.

Six little ATF boys
Going out for a ride
One lost his breath
And then they were five!

Only five left. Larabee!


"He didn't mention J.D!" Buck pointed out.

"Maybe he's wrong on his reckoning," Ezra said.

Buck severely glared at him, "This is not the right time for your practical jokes, Standish," he muttered, nodding at their bewildered leader that was trying to force open the control room’s door.

"Stop it, Chris," he pleaded, holding him by his shoulder.

"Leave me alone!" Chris shouted, "I want to get in there, to say good-bye to him!" and freeing himself from Buck’s grasp he managed to open the door only a bit.

"Chris, calm down!" a low, warm voice said, as a strong hand rested on Larabee's arm. Nathan Jackson was there in his hospital gown. After Rain’s departure, unable to wait for her return, he had followed her.

“He’s not gone yet, I assure you, they are bringing him back!” he said in a reassuring tone. Chris stopped and looked through the glass. From the half opened door he heard Rain’s voice shouting. “Clear!”

Then he heard the pop of high voltage electricity as the paddles discharged their energy into Vin’s body. Through the crowd of technicians, nurses and physicians he saw Vin’s arms flap upward then drop. The cardiac tracing again showed a straight line for several seconds then complex lines began moving across the screen, very slowly at first and then faster.

“I’ve got a pulse! I’ve got a pulse!” cried out Rain.

Chris stared down at the narrow bed where his friend laid deathly pale, and at the tube now snaking up into his nose and the larger one inserted into his mouth and shivered.

"Let them work on him," Nathan whispered.

Green lost eyes searched the black 's healer open face. "Are you really sure about this, Nathan, aren't you?" Chris asked in a shaky whisper.

"I swear it!" Jackson said, while in his mind he whispered, May God forgive me! as he guided a weary Larabee out into the corridor.

AUGUST 13 - Late Afternoon - St. Joseph’s Hospital - ICU

Minutes? Hours? Days? How much time had gone by? For Chris time was completely lost within a swirling haze of thoughts.

Buck, Josiah and Erza had come and gone but he had never left the hospital.

And now he was still sitting near the window in the waiting room, looking absently at the darkening sky.

He felt a feather light touch on his shoulder. He turned and saw Rain in front of him.

Her face was tired and haggard but she smiled softly at the three men in the room.

“I don’t know quite where to start. I shall just try to tell you more or less all that happened but first I must say there is no imminent threat to Vin’s life. They have inserted a temporary external cardiac pacemaker, but by now he is in a coma…” she said.

“Will he live through this?” Chris whispered. This desperate request was wrenched out of his heart. He waited for an answer shivering as all the feelings he had tried hard to keep at bay until now, sorrow, regret, fear, assaulted him, swirling in his excited mind. He barely heard Rain’s voice as she whispered, “Well, I must tell you that Vin barely had one chance in ten thousand, or so the surgeon said, but he won out. He has surprised even the doctors.”

Josiah smiled.

“They however cannot be blamed for their misjudgments. All their lives, they have tended common people, who live sheltered lives. Compared to our young brother they were all frail and flabby. Brother Vin has come straight from a world where the weak perish and shelter is granted to none. He clung to life, in spirit and flesh, with the strength he learned in this world,” he said.

“I hope so, Josiah, I hope so.” Rain murmured. “I must go. I want to tend to him personally.”

“You are an angel, girl.” Nathan said taking hold of her hand.

“I wish I were,” she replied in a sad whisper.

When she had gone, a deep silence fell on the room.

Josiah looked at his friends then turned to the window, his gaze at the glorious sky and at the ring of high mountains in the distance.

Vin loved those mountains, and the huge man saw in his mind the slender sharpshooter, standing precariously on the top of a ridge, his face lighted with a boyish smile and heard his infectious laugh and the slow, soft drawl of his challenging his friends to join him.

“God Lord,” he prayed, “Give our young brother the strength to survive. Without him the world will be dark for most of us. He needs your help to fight and win.”

He paused, all the men in the room were staring at him and he knew he was giving voice to their own most secret prayers.

Again he pointed his eyes at the blue vault so similar in its deep color to Vin’s eyes, and again he asked, “Give me a sign, my Lord, you would answer my plea…”

Chris closed his eyes silently joining his friends in touching invocation but a little noise made him turn to the door. Someone was pulling at the door’s knob, he gestured at Buck and drew his gun as the door slowly opened and all the men shuddered in surprise for on the step was a scrawny boy, with large dark eyes and longish black hair, wearing a battered pair of jeans and a torn t-shirt that once had been white and holding a walkman in his hand. He stared at the man with the gun aimed at him then uttered, “Desculpe, senores,” and tried to sneak across the corridor only to stopped by the approaching Ezra.

“Well, well. What have we here?” the undercover agent said, taking hold of the thin boy’s arm.

“Pareze de me vez, leave me alone!” The boy shouted fighting the stronger man’s grip on him.

“Leave him be, Ezra,” Chris ordered, then turned to question the boy. “Who are you?”

“Name’s Manuel Maria Morales, senor,” the young boy said with a proud shrug of his slender shoulders, looking up at Chris with fearless, calm eyes.

“I came to see my friend, Vincente. I’m a neighbor of his in Purgatorio.”

Vin was very close to the boys living in Purgatorio, providing them shelter and food and also buying them little gifts since they reminded him of his lonely life in the street as a kid. Chris strongly suspected he was always running short of money because of this. However, he couldn’t blame his friend.

Shaking his head, he asked in a gentler tone, “How did you know he’s here?”

”I’m a smart one, senor, I heard this from my mother, she works here as a nurse,” the boy answered with a strikingly white smile.

“Dear young brother, your friend is ill, seriously ill and no one is allowed to see him,” Josiah intervened.

“Senor, I’m a fully grown man, Vincente’s not ill, he was shot,” the boy said with annoyance. “He was shot lot of times and I always came here to visit him.”

“Boy, by now Vin is in the ICU,” Chris explained warily.

”Madre de Dios is he.… dying?” The boy stammered, his firm, well- shaped mouth trembled in fear as suddenly his confident attitude faded away as silent tears slipped out of his wide eyes.

“Whoa, young man, he’s gonna be just fine… he’s strong… and he won’t be pleased to see you in tears cause of him,” Buck soothed.

“I wanted him to know about his gift,” Manuel sobbed, “ He gave this to me last week for my birthday… I’ve never had such things.” As he was talking, he lovingly caressed the little walkman in his hands.

Chris stepped in and knelt beside the boy.

“Do you know me, Manuel?” The boy looked up at the tall man in black.

”You are Chris, Vincente’s boss.”

“Do you trust me, Manuel?”

“Si, senor,” the boy whispered, “Vin said you are su hermano.”

“I’ll tell him everything when he wakes up,” Chris stated, patting slightly the boy’s narrow shoulder.

“Verdad?” Manuel asked sniffing. “Would you like to listen to my favorite song?” he continued hopefully.

“Sure thing, young man, we’d be very pleased to,” Ezra said.

With a sweet, slow smile, Manuel turned the switch on and a sweet, light voice filled the room:

I need a sign to let me know you’re here.
All of these lines are being crossed over the atmosphere.
I need to know that things are gonna look up
‘Cause I feel us, drowning in a sea spilled from a cup.

Where there is no place safe and no safe place to put my head
When you fell the world shake from the words that I said.
And I’m calling all angels
And I’m calling all you angels

And I won’t give up if you don’t give up
I won’t give up if you don’t give up
I won’t give up if you don’t give up
I won’t give up if you don’t give up

I need a sign to let me know you are here
For my TV set just keeps it all from being clear
I want a reason for the way things have to be
I need a hand to help built up some kind of hope inside of me

And I’m calling all angels,
And I’m calling all you angels.

Josiah listened to the song, and smiled, looking up again at the sky. “Thanks, my Lord!” he uttered.

“Come on, Josiah,” Chris called out, “How could you be so sure? It’s only a song!”

“You’re right, brother Chris, but the pure soul of a child brought it here to help a friend, and the faith of such a soul can move the mountains, so believe me, we’ll have the miracle we are asking for.”

Then turned again to the boy. “Let me take you back to your mother, Manuel,” he said guiding him toward the door.

AUGUST 14 - Late afternoon - St. Joseph’s Hospital

As Buck entered the deserted waiting room in the late afternoon he found Chris was still there . He studied the torn, pale man in front of him and spoke softly to him.

"Chris, you’ve been up here since Vin was shot, you need some rest, go home for a while to have something to eat and a change of clothes." The team’s leader jerked his head up and looked at his friend with a mixture of resentment and anxiety.

"They didn't allow me to stay in his room," he mumbled, blinking his glazed eyes vacantly.

He is not here, his body is but he's not really here. Wilmington thought.

"You feel up to going home just for a few hours? I'll bring you back... I promise."

Larabee closed his eyes and shook his head. "I’d rather stay here than wait somewhere else!" he stated stiffly, hunching his shoulders in defeat.

For a few moments no one spoke.

"How 's the kid?" Chris asked after a while.

“J.D. will be released tomorrow morning,” Buck reported

"Why don't you pay him a visit, Buck?" Chris suggested in a trembling voice.

"Are you okay?" The ladies’ man asked in concern.

"It's nothing, Buck, I'll be all right as soon as I can pull myself together."

Buck sighed deeply and left the room.

Larabee stared at the now empty room, no sounds except for the pounding of his own heart. He firmly shut his red - rimmed eyes and "called" for Vin. In an odd way he was aware in his soul he could "reach" his friend.

It had happened on Christmas eve. It had snowed hard and the snow has hidden the thin layer of ice covering the street. So on the way back to the ranch Chris' truck had slipped on the icy ground, crashing into the guide rail.

Chris had hit his head hard on the windshield losing consciousness. He had woken in Vin's flat, and when he had asked Tanner, "How did you find me?" The laconic Texan had drawled, "Ya called fer me."

At the astonished look in Chris's face the sharpshooter, staring at his friend with his innocent sky blue eyes had explained with a sort of annoyance in the soft voice of his. “Last evenin', I'se a mite worn out , dined all alone, had a couple o' beers and went ta bed early... I fell asleep but ' round midnight the wind awoke me, blowin’ hard across the windows. and in the wind I heard ya callin' fer me, is all."

After Sarah and Adam's deaths Larabee had promised himself he’d put some distance between himself and people but when he’d met Vin Tanner he suddelyn realized that no matter how hardened he had become to everything else, he wouldn’t have been able to refuse the quiet young man's offer for friendship.

"Mr. Larabee?" A kind, cultivated voice asked.

Chris opened his eyes and in front of him was the young doctor.

"How is my…. brother?" he asked warily.

“Brother? I thought his name was Tanner,” the doctor observed.

“Vin’s my half–brother,” Chris explained, carrying on the “innocent” lie which always allowed him to sit with his friend on his too frequent forced stays in hospital.

"I see, that’s why there is no resemblance between you two,” the doctor mumbled.

“I reckon,” Chris muttered in response, cutting it short.

“Look, Mr. Larabee your brother, is still in a com, but he can breathe without any help but an oxygen cannula and we were able to free him from all the wires and tubes but he is restless, and still in pain. Mr. Jackson talked to me and I agreed to let you sit with him, to keep him quiet.”

"Thanks, doc," Chris said with a faint smile. Then quickly rose to his feet and followed the doctor to Vin's room.

+ + + + + + +

Vin was lying still on the bed, too still, his color was a frightening dusky gray and a light spattering of freckles was now visible, trailing across the top of his nose displaying an air of youthfulness that tore into Chris’s heart.

He took a deep breath and bent over him. He ran his hand very gently down the edge of the strong jaw and down the exposed throat , stopping at the soft depression where the pulse hides and felt the strong beating of his friend’s heart. This motionless body was Vin, the cool sharpshooter, capable of blowing a villain’s brains out without a second thought. This was the easy going "kid" who teased him with that cocky, lopsided grin and played "pranks" on his team's mates.

But now all Chris could feel, standing here near this silent body, was the dreadful absence of the living soul in it.

All he wanted was for the soul to come back, the blue eyes to open.

He sat at Vin’s bedside, confused, alone, unable to feel anything more, unable to hear anything but the light, regular breath coming from Vin's slightly parted, colorless lips. Vacillating between desolation, fear and anger, he gripped Vin’s limp hand firmly in his own.

“Vin, your hand is so cold.” he murmured and he held on, all the more tightly, and "prayed" for some "contact" with that lost soul.

"Where are you, pard? Come back, for the boys, come back….For me!" He breathed, his voice sounding uncertain and lost.

"Ain't about ta leave y' all, Larabee," a distant, soft drawl answered. Chris felt Vin’s fingers clutching weakly at his hand: their fingers entwined, the two hands sank back to the cotton sheets.

"We won't let you, brother," Chris murmured tightening his grip.

Then he let his weary head rest against the uncomfortable chair’s back and he fell asleep, for the first time.

+ + + + + + +

A faint moan startled him: a morning ray of the sun had found a chink in the curtain, hitting Vin’s face, moving from his eyes to his forehead as he twisted in the narrow bed. He was lying there naked, with the covers pushed down and away from his body and the hospital gown ridden up, but Tanner was too seized by pain to bother about his own nakedness.

Chris leaned over his friend and put his hand on his forearm, squeezing gently.

For a few moments, Vin held his breath painfully, then blinked in an attempt to clear his vision and looked up at Chris.

“Ch…ris?” he murmured, his voice frail and broken.

“Morning, Vin. Welcome back,” Chris smiled.

“Where..… am… I?” Tanner’s voice sounded blurred.

“In Denver. St. Joseph Hospital, pard. You were shot, remember?”

The Texan’s brow furrowed then, as a sequence of images appeared as though a movie-projector was operating inside his head. He saw the warehouse, Murdock, the barrel of a rifle… J.D.

Confused, frightened, blue eyes bored into Chris’s.

“J.D. …I shot… J.D. … oh… hell!” Vin exhaled in a anguished whisper as his body jerked on the bed assaulted by a new wave of pain, ”It’s... m’ fault… mine... and nobody else’s.… I’ll never... forgive... m’self!”

“It’s okay, it’s okay. The kid is just fine, I assure you, lie still, please!” Chris soothed.

“Is… J.D… alive?” Tanner urged again panting hard in the effort to speak as his dreadfully weak hand pulled at Chris’ sleeve.

The blond took firm hold of the icy cold fingers and leaning further, he said, “You did all right, Vin. Now you mustn’t talk, try to relax.”

“ ‘kay,” Vin sighed then shot Chris an inquisitive glare.

“How long have you been here?”

“Days,” Chris said with a lightness he didn’t feel.

”You are a mess, old timer.”

“You aint’ such a pretty sight either, Tanner!”

Vin tried to utter another wry remark but suddenly, he gasped as his body squirmed and jittered in the bed.

Chris’s face darkened in alarm. “What’s up, pard? Are you in pain?”

Vin took a breath through his nose, nodding slightly.

“Some,” he managed in a half grunt.

Larabee frowned. The stubborn Texan never admitted being in pain, but now his suffering must be unbearable.

“I’m going to get a nurse,” Chris said, turning abruptly towards the door.

“Chris... don’t… wait….” Vin pleaded softly.

“What in hell…”

“Ain’t… decent… please… cover me, first.”

Chris couldn’t help but laughing at the panicked look in Vin’s wide eyes.

“Okay, Tanner, but don’t get too used to this. I don’t have time to baby–sit you,” he muttered as he carefully covered Vin back up with the light sheet.

“Thanks… cowboy,” Vin murmured, closing his eyes. The effort to speak had exhausted him.

In a few minutes, Chris returned with the nurse. She smiled at the uneasy patient and checked his carotid pulses on either side of his neck. They were regular but thready. Vin’s face looked strained and he was clenching his fists, fidgeting on the bed.

“Why is he in such pain?” Chris asked.

“Don’t worry, Mr. Larabee, the pain is due to the spreading of his breastbone, muscle and ligaments during the surgery. It will gradually go away, but it may take a few weeks, I’m sorry,” the nurse explained.

“I’ll try to make your brother more comfortable.” She softly spoke to Vin, “Mr. Tanner, would you like to sit up for a while?” she asked.

“It would… be great…” the sharpshooter said, nodding enthusiastically.

With Chris’s help, they raised the bed in an upright position and put some pillows under Vin’s back.

Vin sighed in relief.

“How are you feeling, now?” Chris asked.

“Like…. heaven, pard,” Vin murmured then winced.

“I’m going to give you some morphine,” the nurse said.

“Don’t want that darn stuff, it makes me sick an’ drowsy,” Vin muttered.

“C’mon, Tanner you need it,” Chris intervened.

“Told ya, I don’t want the darn morphine,” Vin stubbornly growled, “I’m fine… I wouldn’t want… anybody to fuss… with me.” The nurse shot at Chris a surprised look, she was used to patients in Vin’s present condition, begging for any sort of painkillers.

"Is your brother always that stubborn?" she asked in wonder.

"Well, Pam, he’s more stubborn than most!" Chris stated, rolling his eyes.

"Please, Mr. Tanner, you need to take your medicine," she said, making another attempt.

"I'm jist… fine, Pam," Vin groused, shutting his eyes and whimpering.

"May I have a word in private with my brother, Pam?" Chris politely asked.

"Of course, Mr. Larabee, take your time," the nurse smiled back and left the room.

Chris sat on the edge of the bed near his disgruntled friend.

"Tanner, for God’s sake, take the morphine, you need it!" Chris rumbled.

"Don't wanna…. take it!"

"Listen to me, mule, the pain could get worse and much more difficult to control."

"Lemme be, Chris… jist tend yer business... and lemme tend mine…. I 'm mighty tired an’ feel so weak, so helpless... and th’ likes…”

"I know, but it's not weakness to accept some help, besides it will help me and the boys not to see you in such pain.”

A warm smile lighted Vin's haggard face ,"I had no doubt 'bout it," he whispered.

Pam returned holding a tray.

"Okay, girl, let’s give my brother that shot… we made an arrangement. He promised to behave himself." Larabee said, patting Vin's shoulder

Pam picked up the syringe. "You are going to have a nice, little nap, Mr. Tanner," she continued, inserting the needle in the young man's vein.

"Name’s Vin, …. I’d appreciate if you call me... that, ma'am," the Texan drawled softly, glancing straight at her. Enthralled by that innocent, blue glare the stern nurse, with the bearing of someone with authority, blushed hard as if she were a shy teenager.

"You are welcome… Vin," she managed to utter, hardly regaining her self-control.

As she exited the room Chris bent over his friend with a wry smile. "Well, Vin, my guess is that Buck needs to take some lessons about courting from you.”

"Oh hell, Chris, wanted only ta thank… her, properly, is all," Tanner groused ,stifling a yawn.

"Sure thing, smart ass, sure thing. She is a quite pretty gal but reckon far too old for you."

"You….ain’t, by chance a mite….. jealous, old man?... I'll put in a good word fer you… if ya think it’d work.”

"They doped you good, don't they? You are talking nonsense."

"Yer… fault... Larabee..." Vin slurred as his eyelids slowly closed.

"Sleep well, brother." The blonde murmured looking at the now peaceful face of his best friend.

SEPTEMBER 8 – Evening - Somewhere downtown - Denver

Murdock tossed away the newspaper in anger. He had just finished reading Doctor Mason’s full confession and a long article about the legendary Team 7 with a huge photo of Vin Tanner in a wheelchair, leaving the hospital surrounded protectively by all his mates.

He looked around, a bare bulb, and steel reinforced windows that gave the room the look of a jail. It was one of his hiding places. On the battered computer on the desk a tall man was writing the lines of three new little poems.

A thug stuck his head around the door.

"Two women outside. They asked for you. Want to see them?"

"Let them in," Murdock muttered then turned to the man.

"Gus, they are all still alive."

"Don't fret, what about the women?"

"They are going to be nurses. Rhonda worked in St. Joseph’s Hospital for a bit before joining us, and Ligeia, you'll see, she is "impressive". I paged them as I knew that Tanner was being allowed to go home and have his rehab therapy at Larabee’s ranch."

"So they are going to help us to get rid of that lousy Texan."

"He is at the end of my list. He's not so dangerous in the shape he is in, and I’ve plans to kill the little boy, his protector, Wilmington and Sanchez first."

"Hello, Murdock," a warm rich voice said.

At the door’s frame was a young girl in a severe suit, with short hazel hair and large, light green eyes and just behind her the strangest woman they had ever seen. She was wearing a black silk dress and around her neck dangled a cross of pure gold. Her eyes were dark, slightly tilted at the end in the perfectly shaped little face and dark as the darkest night were her long curls touching her shoulders. She moved with a sort of liquid, cold grace.

"Rhonda, Ligeia! Nice to see you!" Murdock hollered. “Have a seat.”

Then smiling broadly, he turned to his man. “Gus, may I introduce you to our 'lady killers'?”

SEPTEMBER 26 - Early morning - The Ranch

The ranch was silent in the warm morning as Chris opened his eyes and studied the clock on the wall; it was 7 am, time for Vin to take his medications.

It was his task, now that the fourth nurse has left, Vin being an ornery and feisty patient. He yawned and sighed, sitting up on the bed and reached for his clothes.

Shaving in the bathroom he thought about the last week’s hell dealing with a dangerously quiet and silent Vin Tanner lying on the bed staring at the ceiling, never turning his head, never even looking at him, as he entered his room.

During his stay in the hospital, the young sharpshooter, had lingered for three long weeks, tied as a prisoner in his own bed, denied any movement by bandages, wires and tubes. He slept most the time and dreamed often. In his dreams all the ghosts of his past arose, haunting him. He relived his childhood and the fights he had fought all alone facing a hostile world. At such times he whimpered and growled in his sleep and only Chris was able to calm him down, speaking to him in a low whisper and reassuring him, holding his hand and stroking his damp locks.

Vin had complied eagerly with the painful therapy to regain his breath, despite glaring at the ventilator and the Spirometer, and the other stuff of the telemetry unit as if they were his enemy during endless exercises, and dropping after every series of them, wholly spent onto the mattress, to fall into an exhausted, restless sleep.

When the last bandage and the last tube had been taken off, he endured, with a little shame because of his weakness the process to learn to walk again, for he had lain so long in bed that his muscles had lost their strength. For another week Tanner had struggled to stand up on his own refusing any help, the firm setting of his jaw warning even Chris not to interfere. So the blonde had learned to stay at a respectful distance watching his proud and too independent friend’s heroic efforts to walk down the corridor to the hall, tottering and swaying back and forth, but with a satisfied smile on his sweaty face.

+ + + + + + +

At the beginning of the fourth week, Rain and Nathan were able to “compel” the doctors to let Vin out of the hospital and into the care of his friends. They gave Chris a letter with detailed instructions and provided a trained nurse for help.

So a very relaxed Vin Tanner was merrily “escorted” by all the team to Larabee’s ranch and settled in the so called “Vin’s room” in the back of the house, which Nathan had quickly transformed into a suitable “hospital room”, borrowing all the due devices for the rehab therapy.

Chris brought books from his library and during the long nights, in which the young man couldn’t sleep, started to read aloud to him. Vin had never spent much time reading books , in school, the teachers bored him with their rote and rhetoric and he had left more out of disinterest than ignorance. Now the poems and the tragedies hastened his convalescence and provided the fuel for his imagination.

All seemed to be just fine when, after the first two weeks at the ranch, Vin’s behaviors abruptly changed. He became restless, gloomy, worried about the constant numbness in his shooting arm and the unrelenting aches between his shoulder blades and his neck. Sometimes Chris had spied him probing the wound in his chest beneath the sheet, a tense look in his pale face.

Then everything went wrong Vin quarreled, blushing hard at the nurse’s “intrusions” during his daily shower, stubbornly refused to take his pills and to do any exercises, only picked at the food they prepared for him. He fought every effort - refusing “to be fussed over like a papoose,” as he literally declared to a laughing Larabee when he was surprised on an attempt to sneak out to sleep in the stable.

+ + + + + + +

Sighing Chris went downstairs and entered the kitchen. On a little tray, he put the bottle of pills, a glass of orange juice and a glass of water, then headed resolutely for the little bedroom in the left corner of the house.

Entering it, he felt a strange sense of uneasiness as he saw the empty bed and the crumpled sheet on the floor.

"Damn! Where in hell is he?" he cursed. He rushed for the back door and headed to the barn. His expert eye scanned the area and there was Vin, stretched out on the grass, not far from the spruce in front of the house. He was laying on his back, with only an old pair of jeans and his battered boots on, the angry scar on his bare chest in full light.

"For God’s sake, Tanner, you should have stayed in bed. You are not yet fit to be out here!"

Without moving, the Texan looked up at him, his eyes wide open. His eyes held a strange, blue fire then he sighed softly. His slight sigh was the most pitiful sound Larabee had ever heard and he could feel how much Vin was suffering.

"Hush, Chris. I'm sayin’ good-bye ta all this," he said in a soft drawl as his slender hands slowly caressed the thick green carpet around his body. Then trembling, he bit his lip and continued, "I arranged ta be taken back ta th' hospital. I don't wanna be a burden ta' ya and ta the boys," he breathed, trying to stand up, his fine features covered in sweat. Larabee bent over him to help.

"No! I'll do it m'self!" Vin shouted, jerking his shoulder petulantly away from his friend's grip, and sat upright on the ground.

Chris frowned studying the strong, young face. How young and defenseless Vin looked!

"Did you speak to Rain about this ?" he asked in a low voice.

Vin nodded slightly, "She'll come ta pick me up tomorrow mornin’."

Chris didn't utter a sound, stunned by Tanner's sheer determination.

"Suit yourself," he said after a painful pause, "But for now, let me put you back to bed, without any argument. I have to go to the office and J.D. will be here soon to keep an eye on you."

Chris paused again, collecting his thoughts and staring at his "brother". Vin had closed his eyes and though all of him was immobile, his Adam's apple kept jumping up and down.

"About the hospital and... other... stuff we’ll talk about it tonight with all the team," Chris finished.

Vin shuddered, letting his chin fall on his chest.

"Larabee, don't git mad at me, I'm a sort of cripple, ya know," he whispered.

Chris knelt in front of his friend.

"Look at me, brother. Look at me. I want look you straight in the face to be sure you are the real Vin Tanner, because the man who just spoke to me wasn't him."

From behind the veil of brown locks falling on Vin’s gaunt features, haunted, bottomless, blue eyes glared at Larabee.

" ‘Be afraid and you'll be slain’, so wrote William Shakespeare. I read you King's Richard’s tragedy and you were so enthralled by the words the king cried out on the battlefield, remember?"

" ‘A horse, a horse, my kingdom for a horse’….." Vin murmured with a smile.

"Now, brother, fear sometimes acts like poison on the mind. Your fear could make you lose your friends, your job, everything. Is that you want? I don't think so and in the name of our friendship, in the name of our brotherhood, I'm begging you, Vin Tanner… begging you to hold on and fight as you always have in your life."

Vin's smile broadened, he lifted his hand to his friend…" Chris, help me up, please."

"Here we are, pard," Larabee promptly said, a warm sense of relief filling his chest.

Cautiously he helped the younger man get up on his feet and half carried him to his bedroom.

+ + + + + + +

As his friend covered him with the light quilt Vin relaxed.

"Chris? Can ya loan me the book of that English guy, that Will Shakespeare? I’ve never seen a book that could tell th’ truth like that one does."

"He wrote several books, Vin."

"That's good ‘cuz I have plenty of time ta read, trapped as I'm in the darn bed. And now what about a real breakfast? I feel a mite empty."

"You sound just like J.D. I'll bring you some breakfast but you had to sweep up every bit I'm going to put onto your plate to make amends for your escape. Be back in ten minutes, drink jour juice, take your pills and stay put," Chris ordered sharply.

"Can I ask a question, Chris ?" The sharpshooter drawled, a twinkle in his eyes.

"Of course, you can."

"Who gave you th’ right to treat us all like a bunch of five years old children?"

"The simple fact you are just like five year olds!"

"Watch yer back, man, I'm in store ta beat ya down ta size, one of those days," Tanner blurted out, then his weakness asserted itself and, his head on one side, he slipped into a quiet slumber.

He vaguely heard the chatter of a tray being set down and felt a light caress on his forehead and then heard Chris’s steps retreating. Smiling he turned over in the bed and fell into a deep sleep.

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Chris & rosyvin