Climb Every Mountain

by Lynda


A couple of hours later they heard the sound of climbers. Vin, for the most part, had been sleeping. Chris had managed to get a bandage on his head and knowing a little about head injuries, they woke him periodically and gave him some water.

Thankfully, he hadn’t tried to launch himself off the mountain again and when he was awake, seemed more oriented.

A helmeted head popped over the edge and introduced himself while surveying the situation.

“Hi, my name’s Dan. I’m with the Park Service Rescue Squad.”

“We are glad to see you! I’m Buck and he’s Chris and this here is Vin,” Buck said with obvious relief.

About that time, another head appeared. “Hi, I’m Tom.”

The Dan asked, “Has he been conscious?”

Chris answered, “Yeah, we’ve been waking him every once in awhile and giving him some water.”

“Good. OK, we are also EMTs, so we are just going to give him a quick check over. Then we are going to rig a basket and a pulley to lower him.”

The two agents moved aside to allow the medics to get to him. While Dan quickly and efficiently examined Vin, Tom start pulling up the basket.

There wasn’t much room on the ledge but they managed to get Vin in the carrier. There was a brief, tense moment when they started to strap Vin in and he objected to being tied down.

Although Chris couldn’t physically reach him, he raised his voice so that Vin could hear him.

“Vin, listen to me. They have to strap you down. It’ll only be for a few minutes until we can get you down.”

Vin opened his eyes and looked around a little. He knew it was the only way, he just hated not being able to move, not being in control. He closed his eyes, the bright light really made his head hurt.


“Right here, Pard. It’s OK.”

Vin didn’t say anything, but he did relax and let them strap him in.

Tom removed a drill from his belt, stood and drilled a hole in the rock several feet above them. He placed a bolt in the hole and attached a pulley to it. Then a rope was threaded through the pulley. One end of the rope was fastened to straps coming off the basket and the other end was thrown down the side of the mountain. A second rope was placed on the outside rim of the carrier so those down below could guide it better and keep it from bouncing against the rock.

“Ok, we’re set,” Dan said, “you two go ahead and start down. That’ll give us more room to maneuver.”

Before lowering himself over the side, Chris called to his friend, “Vin, Buck and me’ll see you at the bottom.”

He was too far away to hear if Vin responded, but Dan nodded, so he started down.


JD was waiting anxiously on the trail with the other men. When Chris reached the bottom, he rushed over. Before he could ask, the older man answered, “He’s got a bump on the head, but I think he’ll be OK.”

The young man breathed a sigh of relief then hung his head. “I’m sorry I should have said something and tried to stop him.”

Chris eyed their youngest a moment before answering, “Yeah, maybe you should have, but it isn’t easy letting a man like Vin know that you care. He is very independent and he has been on his own for most of his life. I questioned him and he got defensive, but like you, I’m used to Vin being in control and I trust his judgment, so I let it go. I was wrong. I think Vin is sicker than even he realizes, but it’s water under the bridge and we’ll have him to the hospital shortly.”

JD just nodded. Then Chris smiled at him and clapped him on the shoulder. “You did a good job of getting help here. Vin will be proud of you.”

But JD found that to be little consolation.

Buck joined them and they all helped on the ropes to lower Vin. At last he was down the mountain and the two EMTs rappelled after him. They once again examined Vin and the basket was lifted and they started down the trail to the waiting chopper.


Four hours later found Chris consuming vast quantities of coffee in the ER waiting room of the Cheyenne Trauma Center. Vin was in radiology getting X-rays and a CT of his head.

Finally the nurse came to get him. “Mr. Larabee?”

“Yeah,” Chris said, standing and walking towards her.

The young woman dressed in blue surgical scrubs, smiled. “Vin is back from X-ray and is asking for you. He wants you there while the doctor talks to him.”

“OK.” Chris followed her back into the ER and into the cubicle where Vin was lying on an exam cart. He appeared to be sleeping, but as Chris moved to the side of the cart he opened his eyes and squinted at his friend.

“Hey,” Vin said offering him a weak grin.

“Hey, yourself,” the older man returned, leaning over the railing so Vin could see him better.

“How ya doin’?” Chris ran his eyes over the pale form of his friend. Vin had a bandage over his left eye, his left arm was in a cast, an IV was running in his right arm and he had oxygen running through a nasal cannula. His head was propped up to ease his breathing and he had an oxygen saturation monitor attached to a finger of his left hand.

“Not so bad now, they gave me some drugs.”

Chris smiled at the slightly slurred speech.

“Chris?” Vin tried to open his eye to look at his best friend but wasn’t succeeding well.

“Yeah, buddy?”


“For what?”

“You were right…shouldn’t hav’ tried t’ climb…didn’ think I…was tha’ bad.”

Before Chris could reply, a voice behind him, said, “You probably didn’t feel that bad, maybe like you were getting a cold, until you started to exert yourself. Hi, I’m Dr. Barnett.”

Chris straightened and offered his hand, “Chris Larabee, Vin’s a friend of mine.”

The doctor shook hands then moved to the opposite side of the cart Vin was lying on.

“Vin said he wanted you here when I explained what was going on.”

Chris glanced at his partner, who now had his eyes closed. He nodded.

A nurse joined the doctor and handed him a chart. He briefly reviewed the information before he spoke. “Mr. Tanner?”

Vin blinked open slightly unfocused eyes.

“Your friend is here. Is it OK to go over your condition with him?”

Vin licked dry lips. “Yeah…’s m’ friend.”

The nurse offered Vin some ice chips.

Gratefully, the injured man accepted. “Thanks,” and he smiled softly at her.

She smiled back and then left.

“Well, first of all, Vin has a mild concussion and a broken arm. He also has numerous scrapes and bruises. Undoubtedly, he is going to be very sore tomorrow. We also found something else.”

Barnett saw the sudden tension in Larabee and put up a staying hand, to reassure him. “It really isn’t a big deal but it could explain why an experienced climber misjudged his physical condition.”

The doctor walked over to an X-ray viewing box mounted on the wall and flipped a switch that illuminated the film clipped to the box. The X-ray showed what Chris guessed was Vin’s chest.

“When we started our examination on Vin, we heard some wheezing and crackles in the lower lobes of his lungs.” Dr. Barnett then indicated the X-ray, outlining the shape of the lungs and then the whitish areas in the bottom part of both.

“We did an X-ray and this whitish area toward the bottom of his lungs tells us he has a mild case of pneumonia. Several years ago, this was called ‘Walking Pneumonia’. A person contracting it might not feel too sick until he started to exert himself, especially since the condition progresses slowly over several days. Then with the increased demand on his lungs, he would cough, exhibit fatigue, run a low grade fever and possibly have a headache.”

Chris nodded his confirmation of the symptoms Vin had exhibited.

Dr. Barnett smiled, “Since he is going to be spending the night with us for observation, we’ll go ahead and start him on IV antibiotics, Zithromax. Tomorrow he should be able to go home and we’ll switch him to oral.

Larabee smiled and shook the doctor’s hand, very relieved that all in all, Vin wasn’t as sick or as injured as he could have been. “Thanks doctor.”

“You’re welcome. The staff will get Vin to a room shortly.” With that he turned to leave, but stopped and regarded Larabee a moment. “The rescue squad said you boys did a great job getting your friend off the Tower. I just wish everyone were as careful and resourceful. Good job.”

Chris ducked his head at the unexpected praise. “Thanks.”


Vin was still sleeping and Chris was flipping through the channels on the TV, sitting in a chair by the bed, when Buck and JD arrived.

First Buck stuck his head in the door to make sure the coast was clear. Chris put a finger to his lips before waving him in.

The big man pushed the door open and allowed an anxious JD to enter first, after repeating Larabee’s admonition to be quiet. They both, literally tip-toed over to the bed to stare down at their fallen comrade.

“Y’all are ‘bout as quiet as a herd a elephants,” the patient rasped. Then he squinted one eye open and smiled weakly.

“Hey, Junior, how ya doin’?” Buck grinned. From what he could see and from the fact Vin didn’t have any tubes sticking out of him, he assumed things weren’t too bad.

Vin blinked and gave them a lopsided grin. “Not bad, they gave me drugs.”

Buck laughed, “Well from the look on your face, it must be some good stuff.”

Vin’s grin broadened, “Yep, good shit!”

With that, they all laughed; then Chris filled them in on Vin’s condition.

“Well, me and JD checked into a motel near the hospital.”

“I’ll stay here with Vin tonight. They are going to release him tomorrow,” Chris informed them.

“Then we can head back to Denver,” he added.

“OK,” Buck agreed. “Say, how ‘bout I go and get us something to eat?”

“Big steak, medium rare.” Came a voice from the bed, “’n a big potato, smothered in…”

“Whoa, there, Junior,” Buck laughed and looked at Chris who was grinning and shaking his head.

“He’s on a regular diet,” Chris said, “but I kind of think that might be a little much.”

“Awww, come on, I’m hungry,” the wily sharpshooter turned pleading blue eyes to his best friend, “’n I’m sick.”

Buck looked to Chris, who after glaring at his manipulating partner, shrugged. “If he wants to puke his guts up, let him.”

“Yu’r all heart Larabee,” complained the injured man.

Chuckling, Chris stood, “Come on Buck, I’ll walk you out. We’ll check with the nurses and see if it’s OK. I need to stretch my legs anyway.”

The two older men left, leaving the two youngest once again.

Hesitantly, JD approached the bed. In a small voice, he asked, “Vin? You really OK?”

Seeing the young man’s woebegone expression, Vin grinned. “I’m OK, JD.”

Sitting down heavily, JD looked at his friend. “I’m sorry Vin.”

Puzzled, Vin asked, “Wha’ for?”

“I knew you were sick. I shoulda stopped you.”

The sharpshooter looked sternly at his young comrade. “’n how were ya gonna do that, JD?”

Shrugging his shoulders, the boy answered, “I don’t know, maybe we could have refused to climb with you.”

Knowing he had to absolve the young man’s quilt, Vin quietly replied, “Reckon that coulda worked, but more’n likely ya woulda pissed me off ‘n I woulda climbed by myself. Then I woulda been alone when I fell.”

Vin let that sink in a moment before he said, “JD, it was m’ own pride got ‘n th’ way. I figur’d since I’s the most experienced person, I needed t’ be there ‘n case y’all needed me.” Vin chuckled softly at the irony of it. “Turned out t’ be th’ other way ‘round. Thanks JD.”

JD stared in open-mouthed surprise at his mentor; then an embarrassed but proud smile spread across his face. “Anytime, Vin.”

Turning their attention to the TV, they watched in companionable silence for a few minutes. Then JD couldn’t help himself, he remarked, “You know what Josiah would say?”

Without moving his head, Vin glanced sideways at the young agent. “What?”

“’Pride goeth before a fall’,” JD deadpanned.

For a second JD thought he’d overstepped his bounds when all Vin did was stare at him, then Vin started laughing so hard he started coughing, and he couldn’t stop.

JD jumped up. “God, Vin. I’m sorry, I’m sorry.”

The kid grabbed a glass of water and tried to offer it to his friend. Chris rushed back in the room and took in the scene.

Frantically, JD looked at him. “He can’t stop Chris. What do we do?”

Chris reached the bed and helped the sharpshooter sit up higher in the bed. At last the spasm subsided and Vin was left red-faced and gasping for breath.

“JD, give me that water and get a cold washcloth.”

The young man did as he was instructed and when he returned, Vin was resting against Chris’s shoulder, exhausted and still short of breath.

Chris accepted the cold rag and mopped the feverish brow. JD stood by anxiously.

Several minutes passed while Vin recovered, the he said softly in a voice strained from coughing, “JD?”

The youth moved closer to better hear him. “Yeah, Vin?”



The next morning, after the doctor examined Vin and assured everyone he would be fine, they received his discharge instructions and prescriptions for antibiotics and pain pills. The foursome then left the hospital and headed home.

During the long drive back to Denver, Vin mostly slept. When they arrived back in the city, Chris tried to talk his friend into going out to the ranch, but Vin said he would be fine and insisted on going to Purgatorio.

They picked up his prescriptions and a few groceries to tide him over for a couple of days. The other three helped him to lug his gear up to his apartment. Then they left after he assured them he would call if he needed anything.


Over the next couple of days, Chris decided to catch up on some of the work around the ranch since their vacation had been cut short. It was kind of nice having some time to himself, without the responsibilities of the job.

He didn’t hear from anyone after the initial call from Nathan. The medic hadn’t been home when he called after they got back and he had left a message on his machine.

When he returned the call, the first words out of his mouth were, “Who’s hurt?”

Chris had laughed and filled him in on what had happened. He also assured him that the doctor said he would be fine.

Stating that head injuries were nothing to mess with, Nathan had called Vin himself. A grumpy sharpshooter told him that he was fine.

Nathan relayed that information back to Larabee, then told him that he and Rain had plans for the weekend and made Chris promise to check in on their injured friend.

The next morning Chris phoned his best friend and was told the same thing, I’m fine. He sounded a little breathless, but otherwise, OK.

The following afternoon Chris decided to go into the city and see for himself that Vin was OK. It was Sunday and there was a baseball game, so he picked up a pizza, a six pack of beer for him and Coke for Vin.

Breathing hard and cursing that his friend lived on the fourth floor of a building with no elevator, he rapped sharply on the door. Several seconds passed with no answer. Knocking again, louder, Chris waited impatiently. He was pretty sure his friend was home. The jeep was parked in the same place as always.

Finally he put down the food and reached into his pocket for his key-ring. He selected the spare key Vin had given him and let himself in.

At first Chris thought no one was home, but then he heard a sound coming from the bedroom. Depositing the food in the kitchen, he cautiously made his way back, calling out Vin’s name.

He didn’t get a response. The door was open and the light was on. Peering around the doorjamb he could see the young man lying on the bed. Vin was breathing so hard the bed was shaking.

He stepped into the room, once again calling, “Vin?”

He drew closer to the bed, frowning as he saw the flushed face and the labored breathing.

“Jesus, Vin,” he exclaimed and the sharpshooter turned wide, terrified eyes to his friend.

“C…a…n…’t….b…r…,” then he started coughing.

He was coughing so hard, he couldn’t catch his breath. Quickly, Chris helped him sit up. Still, the spasm continued.

Supporting his friend, Chris reached for the phone which was lying on the floor on its side with the receiver off the hook. Vin must have tried to call for help and knocked it off. He stretched but couldn’t quite get it and still hold Vin in a sitting position.

Luckily his cell phone was clipped to his belt. He repositioned the smaller man, who had finally stopped coughing but was limp against him, and grabbed the phone.

Dialing 911, he explained the situation to the dispatcher. Vin’s respirations came in short, rapid pants and he was burning up.

“Vin? Can you hear me?”

No answer but he felt the head against his shoulder give a slow nod.

“OK, Pard, help is on the way.”

Again the nod, Vin didn’t dare try to speak. He was afraid of starting another coughing fit.

Now that Vin was calmer, Chris told him, “Vin, listen. I need to go unlock the door so the EMTs can get in, OK?”

By now it simply took too much energy to even nod, so he just concentrated on breathing.

Chris pulled him back up against the headboard. Sliding out from behind him, he picked up the phone and saw that it was disconnected. The cord lay some distance away. It looked like the clip that held the cord in the phone was broken.

On the way back to the bedroom, Chris stopped in the bathroom and grabbed the two prescription bottles so the doctors would know what he was taking.

Larabee got a glass of water and brought it back with him.

Sitting on the edge of the bed, he offered the drink to his sick friend. “Vin, do you want a drink?”

He became alarmed when Vin didn’t respond. His eyes were closed, his face pale with flushed cheeks, but what concerned him the most was the bluish tint to his lips. His breathing was very fast and shallow. He seemed to be working hard to take each breath. There was a fine sheen of perspiration all over him.

Chris nudged him and Vin slowly opened overly bright, feverish, pain filled eyes, but he didn’t look at Chris.

“Vin, do you want a drink?”

Vin just stared at him as if he couldn’t quite understand him. Chris picked up his right hand and started to put the glass in it, but the hand was shaking so, Chris was afraid he would spill it, so he held the glass to Vin’s lips and helped him sip a little.

Finally, Chris heard the sirens of the ambulance. Silently uttering a prayer of thanks, he told Vin, “I’m going to let the paramedics in.”

Vin blinked slowly and Chris took that to mean he understood. Chris hurried downstairs to show the EMTs the way up.

He briefly told them about Vin’s illness on their trip and what the doctor had said. The EMTs carried the stretcher and their equipment into the small bedroom.

They immediately introduced themselves and started assessing the ill man. They were met with the same apathetic response as Chris.

After getting vital signs, one of the medics put an EKG and an oxygen saturation monitor on him and the other called in to the hospital ER to relay the information. An IV was started and an oxygen mask was placed. Vin was then loaded onto the stretcher and carried down to the ambulance.

Before they left, Chris reassured his partner that he would see him at the hospital and Vin just stared at him.


On his way to the hospital, Chris called the rest of the team. No one was home so he left messages.

When he arrived at the ER, he was shown into the cubicle where the doctors and nurses were working on Vin. The young man was in a sitting position, the EKG, SpO2 monitor and oxygen mask were still on.

Vin’ color, thankfully, was a little better. The bluish tinge around his mouth was less and it seemed that he wasn’t breathing as fast. His eyes were closed so he didn’t see Chris come in.

Larabee moved to the bedside and placed a hand on his friend’s shoulder. Vin opened his eyes and gave his friend a weak smile. Chris smiled back, thankful to see that the young man seemed to recognize him, now.

The nurse looked up. “Hi, I’m Jill.”

“Chris Larabee, I’m a friend of Vin’s”

The doctor was writing orders on a desk behind Vin. When he heard Chris, he straightened and approached him. Sticking his hand out, he introduced himself, “I’m Dr. Mason. The EMTs told me you were able to provide them with some information about Mr. Tanner’s condition.”


“Do you know how long he’s been sick?”

“Well, I think he thought he was coming down with a cold. But when we were rock climbing last week, he got dizzy and short of breath. He was very weak and that caused him to fall. He hit his head and broke his arm. He was diagnosed with ‘walking pneumonia’ at the hospital. They gave him an IV antibiotic but switched it to oral the next day when he was discharged.

We thought he was OK, at least he told us he was, until I went over there this afternoon and found him like this.”

The doctor couldn’t help but grin. “You give a very concise report Mr. Larabee.”

Chris grinned back. “I’m used to writing reports.”

Mason nodded. “What kind of antibiotics was he on?”

Chris reached in his pocket and pulled out the two prescription bottles and handed them to the doctor.

Reading the labels out loud, Mason said, “Zithromax and Tylenol #3. Do you know if he has any allergies to medications?”

“Not that I know of,” Chris shrugged.

The doctor moved around so that he could see Vin’s face. “Mr. Tanner, have you been taking your medicine?”

Vin blinked then nodded, but after a couple of seconds he said something that none of them could understand because of the oxygen mask. Reaching over, the doctor pulled it far enough away from Vin’s face that they could hear the raspy whisper.

“Threw up.”

“You threw up the pills?”

Vin nodded.

“The antibiotics or the pain pills?”

“Don’…know. Took..both…same…time.”

Dr. Mason frowned and gently replaced the mask. He thought a moment then turned to Chris. “Did he have any problems with the IV antibiotics?”

Chris shook his head. “I don’t think so.”

About that time the nurse returned. “They are ready for him in X-ray.”

Mason nodded. As the nurse and a tech detached Vin from the monitoring equipment and hooked his oxygen up to a portable tank, the doctor pulled Chris aside and told him what the plan was.

“We need to admit Vin. At least for observation but I’ll know more after I’ve seen the X-ray. You can wait here for him and after I take a look at the film, I’ll come talk with both of you.”

“OK” and wearily Chris sat down, wondering why it was never easy with his friend.

A few minutes later, a unit clerk knocked lightly on the door frame. “Mr. Larabee?”

Chris looked up.

“There’s a couple of gentlemen in the waiting room that would like to talk to you.”

Knowing it would be some of the other team members, he hurried out to the waiting area.

There, JD was sitting in a chair looking decidedly guilty. His elbows were resting on his knees, his hands clasped. The left knee was bouncing up and down nervously.

Buck, hands jammed into jean pockets, was pacing.

When Chris entered, the both hurriedly approached him.

“Chris, what the hell’s goin’ on?” Buck demanded.

Larabee raked a tired hand through his hair; then relayed to them the events of the past couple of hours.

“So, is he gonna be OK?” Buck asked.

Glancing at JD and noting his anxious expression, he tried to be positive, “Of course he will, once they get him started on treatments. Apparently he’s been throwing up his antibiotics.”

JD looked slightly relieved at this news but still worried.

Before they could ask any more questions, the clerk informed him that Vin was back from X-ray. By the time he got back to Vin’s side, the doctor was waiting for him.

“Well, he definitely has pneumonia. His lower lungs are pretty well involved, although his blood count isn’t too bad. We’ll start him back on the IV Zithromax. I’m also going to add another antibiotic, just to make sure we are covering all bases until we can get a sputum specimen to culture. We gave him some Toradol for the pain and it’ll also help bring down his fever. We’ll keep him on oxygen and adjust it to keep his sats above 90%. If he feels like it, he can eat, but for right now, until we’ve weaned his oxygen a little, I’d rather he didn’t get up to the bathroom.”

Chris nodded his understanding.

Mason smiled at the very somber expression on Larabee’s face. “I’m sure Mr. Tanner is going to be just fine. The important thing is to get the antibiotics started again. Since something made him sick and I strongly suspect it was the codeine in the Tylenol, it interrupted the treatment and let the disease get a stronger hold. Do you have any questions for me?”

Chris allowed himself a faint smile. “No, thanks doctor. It just seems like nothing is ever cut and dry with Vin.”

“Ok, well let me know if I can answer any more questions. Vin’s care will be turned over to an internist. I’m just the ER physician. Good luck.”

For some odd reason, a wave of foreboding washed over the senior agent with those words.


An hour later found Chris and the rest of the team, gathered in Vin’s room. The patient himself, appeared to be breathing easier and his color had definitely improved.

He had awakened briefly when the rest of his friends had barged into the room. Each took in the peaceful visage of their partner and were reassured but each had to seek further confirmation by approaching the bedside and touching him.

Vin would blink his eyes open, give them a wane smile and fall back to sleep.

Chris, being a man of relatively few words and one who hated repeating himself, waited for the whole bunch to assemble before relating the current condition of their resident sharpshooter.

Typically Nathan, who was the last to arrive, was the most upset, berating himself and, without saying so directly, he did after all value his skin, Chris, for not checking on him sooner, knowing Nathan was out of town.

Chris’s eyes narrowed and he rose slowly to his feet. He was angry; partly at Vin for not taking better care of himself, but mostly at himself for not making sure that is younger friend was all right. Nathan’s ranting only served to fuel the anger brought on by guilt.

Knowing that Chris was on edge from worry, Buck moved around the bed to lay a hand on his friend’s shoulder. That seemed enough to put a damper on the temper of both men.

Suddenly into the tense silence of the room came a muffled sound from the bed.

All eyes turned to their sick friend, who was glaring at them. Well, considering how ill he was maybe ‘glare’ wasn’t exactly the right word, but it got his point across.

Josiah was the first to react. He moved to the bedside and asked in a quiet, low rumble, but with a twinkle in his eye, “Did you say something, Vin?”

Vin raised a shaky hand to the mask on his face. Pushing it aside, he repeated it, “’m..grown…man. Don’…need…damn….babysitter!”

Some of the ferocity of the statement was lessened by the speaker’s need to breathe, but they got the gist of it.

Before Chris got the chance, Nathan rounded on him, although he tempered his scolding in consideration of how bad he knew Vin felt. “Yeah, you are a grown man. How could you let this happen? Why didn’ ya call one of us?”

“Nathan…,” began Buck, but was cut off by a voice from the doorway.

“Maybe I can shed a little light on that.”

A pretty, petite woman in a long white lab coat entered the room, smiling. “I’m Dr. Cooper. Vin’s care has been assigned to me.”

As she talked, she moved closer to the bed, all her attention now focused on her patient. “Hi, Vin, how are you feeling?”

Vin managed a weak smile. “Better”

She gave a little laugh. “I bet.” Then she asked him, “Do you mind it I talk about your illness with your friends?’

“No,” came the breathy reply.

Turning to the group of men, she looked at the concerned faces and started talking. “I’ve just reviewed Vin’s chart and I think I can answer your questions about why Vin might not have called for help or let you know how bad off he was.”

At this point, Chris interrupted, “Actually, he may have tried. The phone in his bedroom was lying on the floor. It looked like it had been knocked off and it was disconnected.”

Dr. Cooper nodded but before she could say anything more, JD spoke up, “Why didn’t he use his cell phone?”

“Yeah, why didn’t he?” Buck enjoined.

Glancing at the frowning Vin,, she held up her hand for silence. “Gentlemen, please, you all are assuming that Vin was able to think rationally.”

This got their attention. “When the paramedics arrived at the scene they reported his oxygen saturation in the 60s. Normal is in the 90s. The lack of oxygen alone, to the brain, is enough to impair the thinking process and might even cause hallucinations. Vin also was running a fever. It was reported at 101.9 at the scene. On top of that, Vin said he had been throwing up. He was dehydrated. We ran a shock panel when we began our assessment in the ER. Besides having very low levels of oxygen, his blood sugar was extremely low. Any one of these things could make decision making very difficult, but in combination…I’m willing to bet he wasn’t even sure who he was let alone remember how to get help.”

Nathan had been nodding, now at least, understanding what was going on but it didn’t explain why. “Doctor, how did it get this bad?”

Regarding her patient for confirmation, she offered an explanation. “Well, this is just speculation, but I think the scenario might have gone something like this: The antibiotic Vin is on is taken only once a day. It is a time released drug. Vin said he took it at the same time that he took the Tylenol #3. One of them made him nauseated and he threw up. He probably laid down afterward to rest, fell asleep and lost track of time. Maybe by that time his blood sugar was low or his fever was higher, his arm and head were hurting. He might have tried to take at least the pain medication again and again, threw up. Now, with the interruption in the antibiotics and his weakened condition, the disease was able to get stronger. Does this sound about right, Vin?”

Vin was listening with the same intensity as the other men. When addressed directly, he stared blankly at the doctor. “Not..sure..can’t..remember…much. Think…I…threw…up…couple…a…times.”

Each word was punctuated by panting breaths and even that short speech left him looking exhausted.

The doctor smiled sympathetically and patted his arm. She continued, “However, now we have to concentrate on helping you get better. You feel better because you are getting supplemental oxygen. We gave you a breathing treatment in the ER to help your lungs. We’ll continue these treatments every four hours and in between if you need them. We switched your antibiotics back to IV and I saw that Dr. Mason added another, which I agree with. Your temperature is down and we are giving you glucose in your IV.”

She turned to the others. “Gentlemen, if you’ll give us a few minutes, I’d like to make my own assessments. You can wait out in the hall. This won’t take long.”

Once alone with her patient she smiled as a pair of large blue eyes looked at her with trepidation. “Don’t worry, Vin. This will be painless. I just want to listen to your lungs myself. It’s easier to hear without a bunch of extra people around.”

Vin’s eyes closed as he concentrated on taking the deep breaths requested of him without coughing. He almost succeeded.

When the spasm subsided, leaving him breathless and teary eyed, she handed him some tissue and offered him a drink of water. She patted his shoulder when he looked up at her, apologetically. “Don’t worry about it. OK, that’s all for now. Do you have any questions for me?”

He shook his head. She smiled again. “All right, then I’ll see you tomorrow. If you need anything let the nurses know.”

She started toward the door then stopped and turned back. “OK if I let your babysitters back in?” She grinned.

Vin nodded, grinning weakly.


Chris spent most of the next couple of days with Vin. The rest of the team went back to work. Chris took off the week in anticipation of taking Vin back to the ranch when he was discharged from the hospital.

Vin, after recent events, decided it was better to surrender quietly. So, plans were made for him to recuperate under Chris’s watchful eye.

The next day Vin’s oxygen was gradually weaned and he was even allowed up to the bathroom, even though it completely wore him out.

Things seemed to be finally settling down. So, it took Chris by surprise when he got to the hospital early Tuesday afternoon, to find a group of people surrounding his friend.

Frowning he noticed that Vin was once again having trouble breathing. They had replaced his oxygen mask with one that had an inflated bag attached to it.

Fearful blue eyes darted immediately to him when he entered. Seeing this, the doctor straightened from bending over listening to her patient’s lungs and looked at Larabee. She smiled reassuringly.

“Hi.” Putting her stethoscope back in her coat pocket, she addressed the older man while including Vin, “It seems Vin has had a little setback. We are going to get an MRI; see if there is anything we are missing. We’ve put a special type of oxygen mask on him to get more to him.

We repeated his blood work and although his hemoglobin and platelet counts are slightly lower, so is his white count.” Seeing the puzzled expression on the older man’s face, she explained, “The hemoglobin is what carries oxygen from the lungs to the rest of the body. Platelets are part of the body’s clotting mechanism. The fact that these are lower may be from some anemia since Vin hasn’t been eating well for a few days. The white cells are responsible for fighting infection, particularly bacterial infections.

However, Vin’s fever has spiked a couple of times today and he is having to work harder to breathe. That’s why we changed his mask.”

When she paused, Chris jumped in, “So, what are you saying doctor? What’s going on?”

Cooper looked him frankly in the eyes. “I’m not sure Mr. Larabee. The picture is a little confusing. We could be dealing with a viral infection rather than bacterial. If that’s the case, there is little we can do except support him until the infection runs it’s course. Or, it could be something else entirely, although I seriously doubt it, but that’s why we are getting the MRI. Also, I’m going to consult a pulmonologist, an expert in pulmonary diseases.”

The tendrils of fear began creeping up Chris’s spine.

Seeing the concern in the blonde’s eyes, she reached out and lightly touched his arm. “I really think it will be okay, but let’s see what the pulmonologist says.”

Glancing at Vin and seeing the silent plea, he turned back to Cooper and asked, “Doctor, Vin gets uncomfortable in tight, enclosed places. Is the MRI absolutely necessary?”

Nodding her head in sympathy, Dr. Cooper moved back to Vin’s side. “Vin, I certainly understand your reluctance, but an X-ray is a limited diagnostic tool. An MRI will give us a clearer picture of what is going on. We’ll give you a little medication for your anxiety. Before the procedure, we’ll give you some headphones and tune a radio to your favorite station. There’ll be some cool air gently blowing on your face and if you want we can cover your eyes with a washcloth.”

Cooper watched as Vin closed his eyes. She knew he was trying to come to terms with his demons.

“Do you think you can handle that?” she asked.

Vin opened his eyes and looked at Chris. Chris smiled and his belief in Vin’s ability to deal with his fears was reflected in his eyes. Placing a hand on Vin’s shoulder, Chris met the doctor’s gaze. “He can handle it.”

Cooper watched as Vin seemed to gain strength and resolve from the hand resting firmly on his shoulder. She looked at Vin who nodded slowly.

“All right then, I’ll have the nurse bring you some Valium about thirty minutes before the procedure, and I’ll be back later.”

“Thanks, doctor,” Chris said as the physician and her entourage left the room.

Larabee then turned his full attention to his friend. The too thin body was radiating heat under his hand. Vin’s face was very pale except for the splotches of color high on his cheeks.

Vin closed his eyes again and Chris squeezed the shoulder. “Vin, what am I gonna do with you? Seems I can’t leave you alone for a minute.”

He quickly regretted teasing the younger man when a lone tear tracked down the side of his face. Although Chris couldn’t hear it for the mask and the rushing sound of the oxygen, he could see the mouthed word, ‘sorry’.

Then he knew just how badly his friend felt. “Hey, buddy, I’m joking.” But, Vin had turned his face away and Chris was sure it was to hide his tears.

Sighing, he sat down in the chair next to the bed. Several minutes passed before Vin turned his head to stare at the ceiling. Another few moments went by before a shaky hand lifted the mask far enough from his face to say in a raspy whisper, “Don….hav….ta….stay.”

Chris stood and moved where Vin could see his face. “Vin, I’m not going anywhere. There is no place I’d rather be.”

When Vin didn’t respond right away, Chris continued, “Vin, I’m not leaving, no matter what. So, you’d better get used to it.”

Then Vin looked at his best friend and even through the tears could see that Chris meant what he said. For someone as fiercely independent as Vin, the younger man found himself very grateful that he wouldn’t have to face all this alone. Because he was scared, terrified actually.

There were several people in prison that would find it highly amusing to see how frightened the cool, bad-ass, ATF sharpshooter was. All the crap that went with his job; the disgusting slime balls, the bureaucrats, the endless paperwork; all this he could understand. He may not like it, but he understood it.

This, all that was happening to him, was beyond his comprehension and he was scared shitless. That’s why he was grateful more than he could ever say to have his best friend by his side.

Chris read all that in Vin’s eyes. There wasn’t a need for words. There rarely was when it came to the private feelings that were so difficult to verbalize between these two friends.

He winked his understanding at the stricken young man and was rewarded with a small grin. Then picking up the channel changer, he sat down and offered his immovable and unshakable presence as comfort to the ailing man.

Vin closed his eyes and attempted to rest, trying hard not to think about the upcoming test.


While Vin was having the MRI, Chris called the office and updated their friends on the new developments. So, it was no surprise when the whole team showed up after work.

Vin was still in radiology when the somber group arrived. Chris motioned them into the room as the door opened cautiously.

Buck came right to the point, “Chris what the hell is going on? I though he was gettin’ better.”

Chris stood, groaning slightly with the effort. These chairs just weren’t made for comfort.

“They don’t know, Buck. Thanks,” he said as Josiah handed him a cup of coffee.

Taking a sip of the hot, strong brew, he added, “They’ve called in an expert in pulmonary diseases. Vin should be getting better, but he’s not, instead he’s getting worse.”

The men were silent. What could be said?

Josiah placed a reassuring hand on Chris’s shoulder, knowing this would be hardest of all on their leader. Although they really didn’t talk about it, they all knew about the special bond between the two men.

Shortly a nurse came into the room. She smiled at the assembled men, “Gentlemen, could I ask you to go to the waiting room for a few minutes. They’re bringing Mr. Tanner back and we’ll need to get him settled. I’ll call down to the waiting area when you can come back.”

Reluctantly the team trooped out.

An hour later and Chris was starting to fume as he paced nervously in the small area. “What the hell is taking so long? How fucking long does it take to plug in a few monitors?”

Seeing that Chris was near the boiling point, Nathan volunteered to go check. He was gone only a few minutes. When he returned, he said to Chris, “The pulmonologist showed up a few minutes after they brought Vin back to the room. He and Dr. Cooper are with Vin and now they’d like to see you.”

All eyes were on Chris. This sounded like bad news. Chris resolutely headed to Vin’s room.

As Chris entered, his eyes went first to Vin, who if possible, looked even more pale than before. There was almost a translucence to his skin. The smattering of freckles across his nose that would not normally be noticeable, stood out in stark contrast. There were dark circles under his eyes. He was sitting almost straight up to ease his breathing. The nurses had propped pillows on either side of him, so he wouldn’t topple over. Vin shifted his eyes to latch on to his anchor in this sea of pain and fever.

Chris gave him a small smile then turned his attention to the other three people in the room. Dr. Cooper, Vin’s nurse and a short, slim Asian that Cooper introduced as Dr. Ling, the pulmonologist.

“Mr. Larabee,” Ling began, “I feel we are still dealing with a form of pneumonia. The MRI didn’t show us anything else. However, we do see some signs of pulmonary edema.”

Before Chris could ask, the doctor hastened to explain, “Sometimes when there is damage to the lung tissue, in this case from the pneumonia, there is a shifting of fluid. What would normally stay in the blood vessels, leaks into the lung tissue, making it difficult for the lungs to expand and to allow the normal gas exchange that takes place in the lungs.”

Seeing that Larabee was following his explanation, he continued, “So, we are going to limit his fluid intake and give him a drug called Lasix. This will help pull some of that fluid off his lungs and help his breathing.”

Ling noticed the look of relief in Chris’s eyes and hastened to add, “Now, this isn’t a cure. It just helps him breathe easier and hopefully prevent further complications until he turns the corner.”

“Do you know when that might be?” Chris couldn’t help but ask.

Ling gave him a sympathetic smile, “I wish I knew the answer to that, but I don’t. Everyone is different and everyone’s response to treatment is different.”

Scrubbing his face with his hand, Chris murmured, “I was hoping.”

Ling nodded. It was hard for a patient’s loved ones to understand that there was only so much that medical science could do. As he prepared to leave, he said, “I’ll be back in the morning.”

When the three were gone, Chris picked up a washcloth that was sitting in a basin on the bedside table. Wringing it out, he leaned over the bedrail and carefully mopped the fevered brow. It seemed so little, but Chris didn’t know what else to do. Rarely had he ever felt so helpless as he felt now. Vin needed help and he hadn’t a clue as to how to do that.

The action caused the sick man to open his eyes and look gratefully at Chris. The older man was shocked at the listlessness in those eyes. God, the life was just leaking out of him, and for the first time, Chris was really and truly scared.


To Vin’s dismay, the doctor ordered a Foley catheter. It was very important to keep exact track of how much fluid Vin was given and how much was put out. Besides, the nurse explained, with the Lasix, Vin was going to be voiding a lot. So, while Vin was being subjected to that procedure, Chris went back to the waiting room and filled everyone in on what the doctors had said.

They talked among themselves and decided all of them at once would be a little overwhelming, so they would each go in and let Vin know they were there for him, then they would leave. All, that is, except Chris. He was staying and would be until he knew for sure that Vin was going to be okay.

Buck offered to bring Chris some dinner, giving him a break from hospital food. With immediate plans finalized, Chris returned to Vin’s room along with Nathan. One by one the others reassured their teammate that they were all pulling for him and Vin appeared to acknowledge their presence, but mostly he slept. He was resting easier since the Lasix started working and his lungs were a little clearer. And that meant Chris could rest easier, also.


For some reason Buck didn’t sleep well that night. Finally giving up on it, he got ready for work, wrote a note to JD and headed to the hospital.

On the way, he picked up some breakfast for Chris and himself. He found his friend dozing in a recliner the staff had provided for him.

As Buck walked into the room, Vin slowly opened his eyes and stared at him. It spooked Buck to see how lifeless the normally vibrant blue eyes were. Not sure if Vin recognized him, he approached cautiously, smiling. “Hey, Junior, how ya doin?”

Vin blinked. Obviously it just took too much energy to do anything else. Then he slowly turned his head to Chris, looking at the uncomfortable position he was sleeping in.

Buck thought he knew what Vin was trying to say. He was worried about Chris. “Oh, don’t you worry ‘bout ol’ Chris here. He’d slept in a helluva lot worse places.”

“Who you callin’ old?” Chris groused as he painfully stretched and pulled himself to a sitting position.

Grinning broadly, Buck handed him the paper bag he was carrying. “Why, you, stud.”

“I’ll make you think old,” he threatened as he stood to get a better look at Vin.

Chris’s eyes narrowed at how much worse his friend appeared. “You OK?” he asked him.

Vin blinked and gave them a ghost of a smile at the irony of that question. Chris grinned. “Yeah, I see your point.”

Catching the question on Buck’s face, Chris said, “Vin, I’m going to stretch my legs and eat this breakfast Buck brought me. I’ll be right back, OK?”

Vin blinked, then closed his eyes.

When they were out of hearing distance, Buck couldn’t contain himself any longer. “Damn, Chris. I don’t know how he could look worse than he did last night, but he does. What’s going on?”

Chris stopped and faced his oldest friend. Buck could see the fear, sorrow and confusion in his eyes. “God Buck, I think he’s dying.”

Buck blanched at this news. All he could do was stare. Then he shook his head emphatically, “No! Damnit, no!”

Glancing around, Chris motioned for Buck to lower his voice. Again Buck said in a forceful whisper, “He’s not gonna die.”

Anger surging, Chris said between gritted teeth, “You haven’t seen how he’s suffering; how hard he’s working to just breathe! You saw him, he’s wasting away. He’s giving up! And so far they can’t even figure out what’s wrong with him.”

Buck lowered his head and took a deep breath, the last thing any of them needed, especially Vin, was for them to start sniping at each other. When he raised it, Chris could see the unshed tears. “You know I’m here if you need me, if he needs me. I can’t bare the thought of being without him. He’s gonna make it and we have to make him believe it.”

Chris listened to the words, desperately wanting to believe that it was simply a matter of faith, but it had been so long, he wasn’t sure he even knew how any more. Then, like a revelation, he knew he could see faith. It was standing right in front of him. It was Buck’s faith in him and their friendship that had pulled him out of the hell he found himself in after his wife’s and son’s deaths. And once again it was this man with his big heart, who was offering him that faith. And this time Chris was going to take it with eyes wide open.

“OK,” Chris whispered. Buck gave a quick nod and grin and then gave his oldest friend a hug.