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But Is okay, Uncle Nate, Vin said, his voice raspy evidence of the crying hed been doing.
I know you are, Vin, but I think its best we let Dr. Raine take a look, Jackson explained as Sanchez left the room.
But I gots ta know bout Chris, the boy tried as a woman entered the room.
Hello, young man. Im Dr. Raine St. Croix and if youll let me Id like to take a look at you. Will you let me?
Guess so, Tanner said, dropping his eyes in an effort to hide the sadness in them.
Hmm, I can tell youre one of those strong silent types. Im just going to take a listen to your chest first, okay?
Mr. Jackson, would you help Vin out of his shirt?
Yes, maam, Jackson agreed and lifted Vins sweater over his head.
I know you are, but this will only take a minute and well cover you up in some blankets. Hows that? St. Croix asked.
Wanna see Chris.
Im afraid thats not possible right now, Vin, but maybe Mr...
Jackson, maam, Nathan Jackson.
Nathan will find out how your friend is doing.
Josiah should be back any minute... The door opened and Buck hurried into the room.
Hey, Sport, heard you were in here. Hey you even got the prettiest doctor I ever did see.
Uncle Buck! Vin cried out the name and the dam burst as tears streamed from his eyes and he wrapped his arms around Wilmingtons neck.
Easy there, Kiddo, Bucks got you. Whats wrong? he asked as he waved off the other two.
I...I...they w...wont let me see Chris...I gots ta see im, Uncle Buck. I jest gots ta.
Buck sat the boy on the bed and waited for the emotional blue eyes to meet his. Vin, you trust me dont you?
Huh huh, the boy answered as Buck ruffled his too long hair.
Well, right now Chris dont need me and you or Nathan or any of the other guys. Right now he needs the doctors and nurses to help him get better. They are going to do whatever it takes to make sure Chris gets better. Now there is one thing that you can do to help Chris. Now he wont know you did it right away, but hell be proud of you when I tell him. okay?
...k, whats I gots ta do?
You need to let the doctor examine you and make sure youre okay. See if you dont then Chris is gonna be real worried about you when he wakes up. Think you can do that for Chris?
Itll help him?
Yes it will, Son, Wilmington assured him as he hugged the boy close and then eased him back on the gurney.
Okay, Vin, Im just going to listen to your chest. Can you take a deep breath for me?
Vin did as she asked, but his gaze remained locked on Buck Wilmington. This man was second only to Chris Larabee and he needed that anchor until his father was better. His eyelids grew heavy, but he refused to let them close.
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Josiah watched as Ezra Standish hurried towards him carrying a tray of coffee and two cartons of milk. He smiled at the young boy who had a straw in each hand and seemed to be watching everything that happened around them.
Uncle Josiah. Wheres Buck and Vin?
Hello, JD. Buck is in there with Vin and Nathan. The doctor is checking Vin to make sure hes okay.
But...but Vin aint hurt...he aint. The bottom lip pouted and Sanchez lifted the child into his arms.
I dont think hes hurt, JD, but the doctors might want to keep him for a night or so to make sure hes okay.
Will he have ta have needles. Vin dont like needles.
No one does, JD, but sometimes they are needed to make you feel better, Sanchez said as he led the way back to the waiting room.
Any word, Josiah? the gambler asked.
Nothing yet, Sanchez answered as they sat down to wait for any word on Chris Larabees condition.
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Three floors above the fight to save Chris Larabees life had taken a dangerous turn as the injured mans body continued to lose blood. The respirator continued to feed oxygen into his lungs even as Armstrong worked to remove the bullet and repair as much damage as possible. The team of surgeons and nurses worked hand in hand to give the man the best possible chance of survival, but reality told them there was only so much they could do.
Chris Larabee lay on the table, machines, wires, and tubes leading into every part of his battered body, yet he remained blissfully unaware of the chaotic fight to keep him in the world of the living.
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Buck sat beside the bed that held the boy hed come to care so much about. Raine St. Croix deemed it necessary to keep the child at least overnight and theyd taken blood samples and started an IV before settling the child into a room on the pediatric ward. Vin had cried himself to sleep in Bucks arms and hed eased the boy onto the bed when he knew he was out for the count. He rubbed at tired eyes as the door opened and Nettie Wells entered.
How is he?
Hes been sleeping since they brought him up. Any word on Chris?
Im afraid not. I figured you might like to join the others in the surgical waiting area.
Yes, Maam, but I didnt want to leave Vin alone.
You wont have to, Buck. Ill stay with Vin while you go upstairs. Oh, I stopped at the desk and they are bringing in a small cot for JD. Tell Josiah to bring him down and Ill watch over both of them.
Thanks, Mrs. Wells. Well never be able to repay...
And Ill never ask you to. Now get on with ya, Nettie said as Wilmington touched Vins forehead before hurrying from the room.
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Milton Armstrong walked alongside the stretcher that carried Chris Larabee to his room in SICU. The fact that the man was still alive amazed every member of his team, but now came the fight to keep him that way. Surgery had revealed more problems and he knew infection was a very real danger that theyd have to keep on top of. They wheeled him into the SICU and over to the bed that would keep him under constant scrutiny by the desk and the nurses who circulated throughout. He watched as two nurses quickly pulled the curtains surrounding the bed and gave the unconscious patient some dignity.
Angie, Im going to speak with his family then Im going to grab some shut eye. If anything changes I want to be notified immediately.
Yes, Dr. Armstrong, Angie Cordero told him as she took control of the newest patient.
Armstrong took another look at his patient before drawing back the curtains and stepping out. He rubbed at tired eyes before hurrying towards the waiting room where Larabees makeshift family waited. Surgery had taken nearly six hours and during that time hed literally had to repair nearly every inch of Larabees body. Someone had done a job on him, and it was Armstrongs job to make damn sure his own work surpassed that of Larabees torturers. He stood in front of the closed door for several seconds and drew on his own inner strength before pushing open the door. Four men sat on the lounge chairs, the TV on, but no one actually watched it.
Doc, thank God. How is Chris? Wilmington asked as Armstrong entered and sat across from him.
The trauma team leader took a deep breath and watched an older man reach out and turn off the TV. Gentlemen, I take it youre all here for Chris Larabee.
Yeah, Doc. This is Nathan Jackson, Josiah Sanchez, and Ezra Standish. Not sure if I told you my name but its Buck Wilmington. Hows Chris?
Armstrong again took a deep breath before setting himself to the task at hand. As you know Chris was brought in with multiple blunt force and penetrating trauma covering seventy percent of his body. We removed a bullet from his chest, but it lodged in his lung. There is major bruising to both kidneys and several broken ribs. His right shoulder is dislocated and there is a hairline fracture to the right wrist. His left knee also received damage and were looking at several subsequent surgeries once hes able to handle it. His left ankle is broken and the orthopedic surgeon put a pin in it to make sure it healed properly.
Shit, Doc, is there any good news? Wilmington asked.
The fact that Mr. Larabee is still with us is a miracle in itself.
Amen to that, Sanchez said softly.
I wont lie to you gentlemen we have a major uphill fight to keep Chris with us, but he has the best damn team of surgeons and nurses thats ever been assembled and thats not just a boast. I wont go into percentage, but ours is amongst the top five trauma centers in the world. Take heart and if you are praying men then nows the time to give in a good word for your friend and for the people who care about him.
Doc, what about head injuries? Jackson asked.
Right now we dont know much other than the fact that he received several blows to the head. We did an MRI before taking him to surgery and revealed a hairline fracture and some swelling around the optic nerves of both eyes. The ophthalmic surgeon has been notified and hell be taking a look at Chris tomorrow morning. Honestly, gentlemen, its a miracle hes alive...
It is the season for miracles, Dr. Armstrong, Standish said, speaking for the first time since the physician opened the door.
Yes, it certainly is and lets hope the miracles are flying wild around this hospital for some time to come.
Doc, can I see him? Wilmington asked.
Hes just being settled in SICU, but I think itll be okay, but please no longer than ten minutes and only two of you. The staff has there hands full and right now you all need to get some rest. Take it easy on yourselves because Chris will need you more once he wakes up. With those words, Armstrong left the four men alone.
Im going...you guys decide who else is coming with me, Wilmington announced and opened the door.
Nathan you know more about the medical jargon than we do...
Thanks, Ezra, but Chris has enough medical people looking after him. I think what he needs more than anything are prayers and thats Josiahs department.
It doesnt matter who says the prayer, Nathan as long as it comes from here, Sanchez said placing his hand on his heart and closing his eyes for several seconds.
Still, it would seem prudent to have you request some divine intervention on Mr. Larabees behalf, Standish said.
All right, I will see if my not so private line is open, Sanchez said before leaving the room.
Come on, Ez. I think its time we checked on Vin and JD, Jackson said.
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Bucks breath caught in his throat when the curtains were drawn back and revealed his best friend. He swallowed several times before he was able to take a step towards the bed. His hand grabbed the rail of the bed as he looked down at the man hed known most of his life and a silent prayer was sent that hed get to spend many more years beside the blond. He looked at the monitors, but didnt know how to read them, but the clicks and beeps gave small comfort. He heard a sound behind him and turned to see Josiah Sanchez standing just a few feet away. Without a word the older man came forward and placed a soothing hand on Wilmingtons shoulder.
T...this is bad, Josiah, he managed as he fought to keep the tears at bay.
Yes, it is, but we need to be positive and keep praying for a miracle, Sanchez whispered as if afraid of waking the injured man.
Are you gentlemen family?
About as close as family can get, Wilmington answered tiredly and pointed to the monitors. What does all that stuff mean?
The monitors are telling us Chris vital signs and letting us know if there are changes that need to be corrected. The respirator is breathing for him because hes too weak to do so on his own right now, but hopefully well be able to remove it in a day or so if things remain as they are.
Is he in any pain? the gentle rogue asked as he touched Larabees hand.
No, I can assure you he doesnt feel anything. Dr. Armstrong has ordered some very strong meds that will probably keep him from feeling anything until hes a little stronger. My name is Tanya and Ill be helping to care for Chris while hes here and I assure you well do everything necessary to ensure Chris has the best care possible.
Thats all we ask, Tanya, Sanchez assured her. He placed his right hand on Larabees forehead and closed his eyes in prayer. Lord, I know we dont always see eye to eye on things, but this is a good man and hes got a boy who needs him right now. So, I guess what Im asking is if you can find it in your heart to grant us a miracle right now wed all be more than grateful and willing to do any penance you see fit.
Amen, Wilmington agreed as he looked at his best friend. He wasnt used to seeing Chris Larabee so still and the tube leading down his throat was even harder to look at. He knew the machine was helping bring oxygen to Larabees lungs, but it also drove home the fact that the injured man was hurt far beyond his own first impressions. He felt a hand on his shoulder as his legs threatened to give out.
Easy, Buck, Sanchez soothed.
Jesus, Josiah, look at him! Hes got tubes where no man oughta have em and hes got more bruises than Ive seen on a boxer who fought ten rounds without defending himself! He doesnt deserve this and Im gonna pay a visit on the sonofabitch who did this to him and Vin!
That wont do Chris or Vin any good right now, Buck. Right now Vin needs you to be strong for him and Chris needs you to be there for Vin. Theres not much more we can do for Chris until he wakes up, but there are two little boys downstairs who need at least one of their fathers there with them. Why dont we go down...
I cant leave him, Josiah. What if he wakes up?
The doctors are keeping him heavily sedated and he wont wake up for quite some time.
Anywhere from 24 to 48 hours, the nurse explained as she checked the leads attached to the blonds body.
So you might as well come with me, Sanchez said.
All right, but I want your word that youll call if anything changes!
I believe the desk has your number, but you can stop by and make sure they know how to contact you, Tanya advised.
We will, Tanya, Sanchez said as he turned the gentle rogue away from the bed.
Take care of him! Wilmington said as the ex-preacher ushered him from the room.
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Vin knew there were others in the room with him, but he kept his eyes closed and his body still in an effort to be alone. He had no idea how long hed slept, but upon awakening hed felt a cold sense of loss where warmth should be. He knew something bad had happened to his father, evidenced by the absence of the bond he normally felt. Chris Larabee was no longer with him and he silently cried for this newest loss. He heard JD call his name, but didnt acknowledge his voice, nor did he react when Nettie Wells reached out to him during the night. He was alone, a part of him hed so recently opened up began to shut down once more, but one voice broke through his sorrow and he couldnt help reacting to it.
Vin, are you awake, Son? Wilmington asked after he ushered the others from the room. Nettie and Nathan had explained what was happening with Vin and after hugging JD he assured them he would handle the child.
Vin heard the sorrow in the mans words, but kept his back to him. Tears slipped past his closed lids as he fought to remain in control, but as Wilmington pulled him closer that resolve weakened and crumbled and his small body shook with the force of his sobs. He felt strong arms encircle him, pull him from the bed and wrap him in one of the blankets.
Easy, Sport, I got you. Wilmington said as he sank down in the chair beside the bed. He carefully adjusted his position in order to make sure the IV line wouldnt kink. Vins head was buried in the crook of his neck and Buck felt the near silent tears dampen the collar of his shirt. He sat holding the boy, running his hand up and down his back in a soothing gesture and soon felt the body relax against him.
U...uncle B...Buck...is Chris...is he...
Vin, Im not going to lie to you about this. Chris is hurt bad...
I need to see him...he needs me.
Yes, he does, but right now Chris wont even know youre there, Son. The doctors have him on strong medicines thatll keep him from feeling any pain while he starts to get better.
I c...cant feel h...him any...anymore. I...its like when mama d...died...
Hush now, Vin. Dont you go thinking like that because Chris is not gonna die. We both need to believe that, Son. We both need to be strong for him.
Can I see him?
Well ask Dr. St. Croix when she comes to see you, okay?
I guess. Buck they wanted papas book, Vin said softly through a yawn.
What book, Son? Wilmington asked, wondering if it was possible there were others after the book and if so would they be coming after Chris and Vin again.
Papas... another yawn. ...book. Mama made me hide it.
Is that what they wanted?
Do you remember where it is, Vin?
Think so...at my house...vent...I think.
All right, Son, you go on back to sleep and let us worry about that book. He placed his hand on Vins head and tucked it back on his shoulder as the boy sighed heavily and closed his eyes. Buck knew he should put the child back in the bed, but Vin seemed to be sleeping peacefully and he didnt want to wake him. He had no idea how much time passed when the door eased open and Ezra Standish stepped into the room.
How is he? the gambler asked worriedly.
Hes worn out, Ezra and hes worried about Chris. Has there been any word from the police on the man they arrested? Wilmington asked softly.
Just his name. Gregory Linden and the fact that hes worked with Rudolf Marshall for nearly a decade. The duo are wanted in several states for everything from misdemeanors to assault with a deadly weapon.
Is there anything that can tell us why they were after a book that belonged to Ray Tanner?
No, Linden is refusing to talk without his lawyer present and he seems to think hell beat this rap.
We both know that wont happen. Look ask Nettie if shell stay with the boys while we check out a lead Vin just gave me.
Certainly, Standish said and turned away.
Oh, Ez, ask Josiah and Nathan if theyll watch Vin and Chris. Something tells me we need to keep an eye on them until we find whoever hired Linden and Marshall.
You dont think they were working alone?
No, not for a minute.
Neither did I, Standish said and hurried from the room.
Nettie looked at her watch and sighed heavily as she looked at the sleeping boys. Raine St. Croix had been in to see Vin and assured her that he was doing fine and theyd be removing the IV in the morning as long as he ate breakfast. She knew Nathan Jackson was outside the door and that Josiah Sanchez was watching over Chris Larabee in ICU. The thought that someone might still be targeting them scared her to death, but she knew she had to hide her fears from the two boys.
Standing, she walked to the door and opened it. The hall was dark except for nightlights running along the bottom of the wall and she smiled at the man seated by the door.
Any word from Josiah?
No, guess thats good though.
Yes, at least it means we still have him with us, Nettie said. Im going to grab a cup of coffee from the nurses lounge. Would you like something?
Black coffee would be great, Mrs. Wells.
Nathan, its time you boys started calling me Nettie. Mrs. Wells makes me sound older than I feel.
Yes, maam, Jackson said and smiled as she walked away. He stood up and entered the room, making sure the boys were not alone until Nettie Wells returned.
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Craig Harrington paced back and forth across his living room floor. The news was filled with the story of Chris Larabee and Vin Tanners kidnapping. Larabee was slated as critical, but the boy didnt seem to have been harmed. He cursed Marshall and Lindens handling of the situation and threw his brandy snifter at the fireplace. His life had been full of promise as he shifted from simple business ventures to the political circle, but now it was in shambles as Marshall was dead, but Linden was in custody. His anger escalated with each passing minute and he reached for the bottle of brandy. Not bothering with a glass, the irate man chugged several swallows before finally taking a deep breath.
Why the hell couldnt you leave things as they were, Ray? He knew the friendship hed once had with Ray Tanner had finally come back to haunt him and would ruin his political career before it even started. He knew he could go after the boy himself, but he had no stomach for violence, particularly against a child. His own childhood fears had always come back to haunt him and the things hed witnessed had shaped him as the man he now was. A coward...the worst kind...the one that hired others to do his dirty work, but readily accepted the gains his actions supplied. Taking a deep breath he sank onto the couch and waited for the end of his once promising career.
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Wilmington and Standish had waited impatiently for the search warrant to be granted and accompanied the two officers who would search the deserted building where the Tanners had lived. The building was totally enclosed by wire, but once permission had been granted the owner reluctantly granted them access. The Tanners apartment was on the third floor and Buck followed the officers up the debris strewn stairwell. The flashlight beams illuminated each step and they watched several large rats rush for the safety of darkness even as they climbed the stairs.
You two wait here!
Now, Steve, you know better than that, Wilmington stated as he stepped into the room. He knew Steve Miller had never been a man to do things by the book and understood the officer would be more than grateful for their help in searching the area.
Just be careful. You too, Standish!
Thank you for your concern, Officer Miller, but I assure you it is unjustified. I am a pillar of caution, the gambler assured him.
Yeah, right. Okay, Buck, where did the kid say it was hidden?
In one of the vents. I dont know which one, Wilmington said as he panned the light over the floor. He walked carefully through the door and across the room. Several pieces of unrecognizable furniture sat in the center of the room. Wires and hooks adorned the walls where faded wallpaper still held some of the colors of the rainbow. The smell of decay loomed within the four walls and Buck wondered how hard life had been for a young Texan whod lived here.
Buck, are you all right?
Im fine, Ezra, just seems a shame to see so many things go to waste, Wilmington told him.
The years seem to have been rough on this place, Standish said as he shoved aside an old cushion with his foot.
Yes, the ladies man agreed as he spotted an old vent in the floor near the window. He shoved aside several pieces of an old set of blinds and reached into his pocked for his keys. Using one he pried the covering from the vent and looked inside. A small car was the sole occupant and he lifted it in wonderment. Wonder if this was Vins?
Probably, but it looks as if its seen better days, Standish explained.
Thats for sure, but maybe... He slipped the car into his pocket and stood away from the vent. He could hear the other officers checking the other rooms even as he turned his attention to the second vent beside what used to be an old closet. A large metal bucket stood on the right and both men could see that it had been used as a makeshift fireplace at one time. Old newspapers were stacked near the bucket and Buck wondered how recently it had been used. Again he shook himself and turned back to the vent as Miller called the all clear from one of the back rooms. This one was harder than the other, but he finally pulled the broken piece from its foundation and took a deep breath. Something was hidden in the deeper recess of the vent and he reached inside, carefully pushing aside smaller pieces of debris until he found what looked like a journal from the back. He gently pried apart the first page and looked at the faded dates and times scrawled in haphazard handwriting that was barely legible.
I think this is what were looking for, Wilmington said, frowning at the name that jumped out at him. A name that had been in the papers and on the news over the last few months. I think we have the man responsible for what happened to Chris and Vin.
Isnt he running for the senate?
Yes, and it gives him a reason for not wanting this to become public knowledge. Steve?
What is it, Buck? Miller called from the bedroom.
I found it.
Are you sure? Miller asked as he returned to the living room.
Yes, damn sure as a matter of fact. Wed better get this into the right hands before Harrington finds out we have it, Wilmington told him.
Harrington? The guy whos running for the Senate!
One and the same, but I think his political career will be short lived once this is in the hands of the Grand Jury. Lets go.
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Buck slowly made his way towards the SICU, hoping and praying thered been some change for the good in Larabees condition. The Journal was now in the hands of the police and Craig Harrington would be taken into custody as soon as the warrant was made out. Hed wanted to accompany the officers, but knew he was needed more at the hospital. He saw Josiah Sanchez standing outside the closed curtains and hurried towards him.
No, Buck, but at least hes still with us. Have you been down to see Vin?
Not yet. I wanted to check on Chris first.
The nurses are doing some things for Chris and they wont be finished for another fifteen minutes. Did you find the journal?
Yeah, it was hidden in one of the vents in the old building Vin lived in. It names people, times, bribery amounts. Every damn thing we need to make a case stick.
Case against who? Sanchez asked somewhat bewildered by Wilmingtons tone.
Craig Harrington. The man is supposed to be a respected businessman, yet hes taken bribes and paid people off. Hes been involved in drugs and even arms dealing. Ray Tanner was his partner during the early years and he kept track of everything right down to the last penny. Theres no way Harrington will be able to get out of this one. The bastard must have hired Marshall and Linden to kidnap Chris and Vin in hopes of getting his hands on the journal.
Well, at least we know who was behind it and with Harrington and Linden in jail and Marshall dead, hopefully the threat to Chris and Vin is over.
Id still like to keep someone on them until were sure theyre out of danger, Wilmington said as the curtain was opened and an older nurse smiled at them.
You can come back in now, Mr. Sanchez.
Thank you, Mary. This is Buck Wilmington, hes a good friend of Chris.
Hello, Mr. Wilmington.
Please, call me Buck, Maam. Hows Chris doing?
Im afraid theres no change in Mr. Larabees condition. Dr. Armstrong will be here to check him shortly.
Damn, Wilmington softly cursed as he moved past the nurse and up to the bed. Nothing had changed where his friend was concerned. There was still the invasion of tubes and wires and Buck understood there was still a very big chance that his friend could lose his life. Chris was dwarfed by the sheer volume of machines keeping him alive. That was something Buck Wilmington had never expected to see.
Why dont you get some rest?
Not until I know if...you know?
Buck, theres not much you can do for Chris right now, but there are two little boys who need one of their fathers with them. JD doesnt really know whats happening with Chris, but Vin saw him, Buck. Vin saw everything that was done to his father and thats going to cause more nightmares than ever.
I know, Josiah, its just...me and Chris are family...
I know and believe me, Buck, Chris will understand if youre not here when he wakes up. Hed want you to help Vin and to be there just in case the worst happens.
Its not gonna happen, Josiah! Chris is not going to die! I wont let him!
Its in Gods hands right now, Son, and until the good Lord decides Chris fate all we can do is wait and hope.
Hope, Josiah, look at Chris and tell me what we have to hope for. How much of him is still there?
Dont give up on him, Son. He needs you to be strong for him right now.
Strong...no I dont think Im strong enough for this, Josiah, but I wont let him down. Not now...not ever, Wilmington said, turning away from the bed and walking out of the cubical. He knew hed bared a part of his soul to the ex-preacher, but it felt good to talk of his own worries and fears. Forcing his fears to the back of his mind, Wilmington hurried to the room that housed Vin Tanner. He stood outside the closed door for several long minutes, his head leaning against the frame as he waited for his stomach to stop churning. Finally able to control his breathing, Buck pushed open the door and smiled at the older woman sitting between the bed and the cot.
Theyre sleeping, Nettie whispered as she turned a tear-stained face towards the ladies man.
They need that. Im here now, Nettie, so why dont you go get some rest?
Ive slept in this chair, Buck. Did you find what you were looking for?
Yes, Vin was right when he said it was hidden in a vent. It was Ray Tanners journal and it was filled with evidence against a well-known political figure. I cant go into details right now, but youll know soon enough.
Hey, Kiddo, how are you feeling? Wilmington asked as he lowered the rails and sat beside the Texan.
Is okay, Uncle Buck, but I wanna go see Chris.
Hes been asking to see Chris since he woke up this morning, Nettie explained before leaving the room.
What did Dr. St. Croix say?
She said I could see him after I napped...dont n...need ta nap...need ta see Chris.
All right, Son, heres what well do. Its almost lunch time and if you eat everything they bring you Ill take you to see Chris.
Well, you either eat or we stay here.
Vin dropped his gaze as tears came to his eyes. He wanted more than anything to see his father, but he wasnt sure if he could eat anything. His stomach churned and his head ached as he nodded once.
Thats all I ask, Vin, Wilmington said and reached for the child. He was glad to see the IV was gone and felt angered that the boy had needed to have it in the first place. Vins hair felt soft against his cheek as he held him close. He looked up as the door opened and a volunteer entered carrying a tray for the Texan.
Youre welcome, the young woman said as she hurried away.
Okay, Vin, lets see about eating and then well go see Chris.
O okay, the boy said and watched Wilmington pull the tray closer. His stomach was doing summersaults, but he knew he had to eat. Lifting the fork he began picking at the macaroni and cheese casserole and was surprised to find it actually tasted good. Can I have k...ketchup?
Sure, Sport, Wilmington said with a grin and smiled as JD opened his eyes and sat up.
Buck! the dark haired youth cried and hurried towards the ladies man.
Hey, Lil bit. Have you been taking good care of Vin?
Is been tryin, but I gots tired, the child said, his face crestfallen as he looked down at his hands.
Thats alright, Kiddo, seems to me you were both sleeping when I got here. Are you hungry?
Uh huh, the boy answered.
Let me see if Nettie will take you to the cafeteria. Wilmington moved towards the door and listened to the two children talking.
Is that good, Vin?
Its okay, JD.
Is glad ya dont got that needle no more, JD said.
Can I touch it?
Sure, Vin said and held out his arm where the needle mark was covered by gauze and tape.
It dont hurt no more?
Okay, Lil bit, Nettie says shell take you down to the cafeteria. Come on. JD jumped down from the table and hurried to the door.
Ill come back, Vin!
Okay. Vin continued to pick at the food and managed to eat half of it before Buck opened the small dish of ice cream and handed it to him. The ice cream was cold and tasted good to the child and he finished it before sipping at his juice.
Well done, Sport, Wilmington said.
Can I go see Chris now?
All right, Vin, but I need to tell you some things about how Chris looks.
Hes bad hurt...
Yes, he is and hes sleeping a lot right now so he wont be able to talk to you. He has a tube running down his throat to help him breath and he has a lot of wires on him...
Do they hurt him?
No, Son, the wires are just making sure hes okay. Chris doesnt even know theyre there right now.
Does he have needles like I did?
Yes, he does, Vin and right now he needs them. He needs all the machines youre going to see there and the doctors and nurses are doing everything they can for Chris.
C...can I talk ta im?
Of course you can, Wilmington said lifting the small boy off the bed and holding him close. He could feel the pent up emotions in the way Vin clung to him and gently patted his shoulder.
I...I wanna tell him Is s...sorry, Vin cried.
Son, you have nothing to be sorry for...
Is my fault...
No, no its not and I dont ever want you blaming yourself for this. What happened to Chris happened because there are greedy people in this world who think they can take what they want no matter who it hurts.
No buts, Vin. Do you blame Chris for what happened?
N...no. Not Chris fault.
Why not? Hes the one who stopped the truck to help that person wasnt he? Isnt that what you told me earlier?
Y...yes, but he jst wanted ta help.
Thats right, Son, but if he hadnt stopped you two wouldve been home with me and JD. So if youre going to blame yourself then you have to blame Chris too and me and JD.
Well, if we hadnt wanted McDonalds you wouldve already been home. So I guess its my fault too.
Vin, either its all our faults or its none of our fault. Its up to you, Son.
Not your fault.
Not yours either, right.
Sorry, Son, I need to hear you say its not my fault.
Its not my fault.
Thats right, Kiddo. Now lets get you a wheelchair and well go see Chris.
+ + + + + + +
Vin sat quietly as they neared the SICU as if to speak would bring attention to him and hed be asked to leave. He heard Buck behind him as the wheels turned again and again until he saw Josiah Sanchez standing in front of an enclosed room. The big man came and knelt in front of him and Vin fought to keep the tears at bay.
Hello, Vin, you look better than you did the last time I saw you. Glad to see they took out the IV.
Thanks, Jsiah. Wheres Chris?
The doctors are in there with him right now, Son, but theyll be finished soon.
Okay, the Texan said softly.
Did you eat your lunch?
Very good. Chris is going to need you to be strong for him and that means you have to eat everything they give you.
Thas what Buck said. Vin watched as two men dressed in white lab coats exited the room. He could hear them talking, but could not understand what they were saying. One man handed the other a chart and then turned back to the trio whod been watching them closely.
How is he, Doc? Wilmington asked.
Theres no change, Mr. Wilmington. I would like to speak with you when you have the time.
Josiah, could you take Vin in?
Of course, Sanchez said and watched the two men walk away. All right, Vin, did Buck tell you about all the things the doctors have done to make Chris more comfortable?
Y...yeah, he tol me everthin. Vin felt his stomach begin to churn once more as Sanchez pulled back the curtains and he caught his first sight of his father since hed left him in the basement of the house.
Vin, you dont have to do this, Sanchez said coming around and kneeling in front of the child.
Yeah, I do, Jsiah, the boy swallowed painfully as he looked past the ex-preacher. Hed never seen so many tubes and wires, or heard so many beeps and clicks in his life and it terrified him.
Hello, young man, an older lady moved towards him and smiled as she took his hand in her own.
My name is Sharon, whats yours.
Well, Vin, Ive heard a lot about you from Josiah and Ezra. They both think youre probably the best medicine for Chris and right now thats what he needs. Now hes not going to be able to talk to you since the doctors have decided he needs to sleep a little longer, but you can talk to him and let him know youre here.
Can I touch him?
Of course, but his hand may feel a little cold because weve put a special blanket over him to help bring down his temperature.
Josiah pushed the chair over to the bed and watched as the child tentatively reached out and touched Larabees right hand. The older man didnt miss the child flinch away before he finally grasped the fingers and held on tight. Sanchez could see the warring emotions on the boys face and wished there was something he could do about it, but only one thing would rid Vin of the fear in the emotive blues eyes. Until Chris Larabee was awake and talking, his son would be filled with guilt and fear.
You can talk to him, Vin, Sanchez explained softly.
C...Chris...is me Vin. Is scared, Chris...real scared. I...you made me a promise...tolt me ya wouldnt leave me. I d...dont wanna go back ta one of dem homes fer boys. I wanna stay with ya...with Buck, Nathan, Ezra, and JD and Jsiah. But they aint ya, Chris. I wantcha here with me, ya m...make t...the monsters g...go away and t...they dont h...hurt me n...no more and I aint scared when Is with ya. Tears slid from under closed lids as Vin Tanner poured out his heart to the unconscious blond.
Josiah watched the boy closely and placed a hand on each shaking shoulder. He prayed that God would see fit to let Chris Larabee heal and live his life amongst his newfound family. Vin, I think its time to get you back to your room.
I wanna stay...
I know you do, Son, but right now you need to rest. Bucks going to be back in a minute and Ill take you back to your room.
O...okay, the boy stammered and squeezed the cold fingers with his own. I gots ta go, Chris. Jsiah says I gots ta rest, but I dont wanna leave ya. Is afraid. He lifted Larabees hand and gently kissed his fathers knuckles before nodding that he was ready to go. He kept his head down in an effort to hide the misery he felt as Sanchez wheeled him away from the lifeline hed grown to depend on.
+ + + + + + +
My hands are messy and sticky, JD said as he showed the young woman the paint covering his hands.
Oh my, yes, I think you need to wash them, Melissa Tucker agreed and led the boy towards the bathroom.
Vin had been listening to JD and the volunteer and heard them in the bathroom. Sliding his legs over the edge of the bed he walked slowly to the door and pushed it open. His heart beat against his chest as he heard the familiar voices speaking softly. He stood in the doorway and felt terror strike at his heart as he listened to the damning words.
+ + + + + + +
Buck knew the doctors words by heart and yet they were words he wished hed never heard and wouldnt have to repeat. JD and Vin were in Vins hospital room with a volunteer who would sit with them until he returned. He looked around the room and saw the pain and fear in each face in spite of their best efforts to hide those emotions.
Buck, what did Dr. Armstrong have to say? Jackson asked and watched as Wilmington rubbed his hands across his eyes.
Theres no easy way to say this boys, but Dr. Armstrong says Chris is in a coma and that his kidneys and lungs are deteriorating. They dont know if hes going to come out of it, but if it keeps going like this theyre going to want me to make a decision.
What decision? Standish asked not really wanting to hear the answer.
Whether to keep the machines going or shut them down. Theyre doing tests to check his brainwave activity or something like that and if its as bad as Dr. Armstrong thinks then hell let me know and Ill have to make that decision.
NO! Uncle Buck! Please you cant!
Vin, shit, Son...
Ya cant do it, Uncle Buck! Ya cant turn off the chines! Chris needs em sos he can get better!
Easy, Vin, I didnt say I was going to let the doctors turn the machines off. Were going to keep on talking to him and tell him were here and were waiting Christmas for him. Buck held the sobbing child and shook his head as he realized how quickly things were falling apart. How could Chris Larabees life rest in his hands? How could he be expected to turn off the machines that were keeping his long time friend alive? How could he be expected to tear this childs life apart again?
Buck, why dont you get Vins things and well take him home? Jackson asked.
Thanks, Nathan, but I think I need to take Vin and JD out of here for a while. You, Josiah and Ezra stay with Chris.
I want ta stay...
No, Vin, you need to go home and so do me and JD. Josiah will call if he needs us to come back here...wont you, Josiah?
Yes, I will.
Buck, if its all right with you I would like to accompany you and the boys home, Standish suggested.
Thanks, Ezra, Id appreciate the help, Wilmington said and hugged Nettie Wells.
Buck, Im going to check the house and then Ill come out...
No, Nettie, you need to get some rest yourself. Me and Ezra can handle the boys and well see you all here tomorrow after we visit Santa at the mall.
Is gonna ask Santa ta help make Chris better, the boy said as he clung to the ladies man. He turned back to the room as the others went their own separate ways. He knew Sanchez would contact him if anything changed and he silently prayed things were not as bad as the doctors were telling them.
God, if ever we need a miracle its now, he thought as he helped Vin get dressed while JD picked up the papers and crayons theyd been using.
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