Chris forced himself to eat and when they got back to Vins room, Dr. Cooper was there.
The men looked at each other, sensing that something was terribly wrong. Cooper gave them a grim smile and patted Vins arm, then she turned to Chris, Mr. Larabee, may I talk with you a minute?
Chris felt as if someone had kicked him in the gut. If Buck hadnt placed a supporting hand to his back, he didnt think he would have been able to follow the doctor out into the hallway.
Gently closing the door behind them, the doctor addressed the two worried men, Mr. Larabee, we ran some routine lab work this morning and discovered something rather disturbing.
Wh..at? Chris could barely force the word past his suddenly dry mouth.
There was no way to soften the news, so Dr. Cooper just told them as simply as possible, Remember yesterday when I explained some of Vins lab work?
Well, we repeated that same lab work this morning and what we found was so drastically different from yesterday that I had them draw new specimens and they showed the same results. His hemoglobin, platelets and white cell count have all dropped drastically. I ordered additional lab and it isnt good.
What do you mean? Buck demanded.
Sighing and rubbing her hand across her brow, the doctor continued, His blood count shows a severe anemia which we can partially correct with a transfusion, but his white cell count is extremely low which means his body cant fight the infection. The additional lab work shows some liver damage and some mild DIC. That is a clotting malfunction where his blood cant clot as it should.
Scanning their faces for comprehension, Cooper saw that unfortunately, they understood all too well. Sighing, she continued, Im sorry but Ive no idea what is going on. Ive talked to Dr. Ling and for now we are going to stop the antibiotics. Most antibiotics are metabolized by the liver. If Vins is damaged then it cant break down the medicine like it should. We are going to call in two other specialists; an epidemiologist, who is an expert in infectious diseases, and an hematologist. Their specialty is blood diseases. In the meantime, Ive ordered Vin to be given two units of blood. That will give him a little strength.
Hesitating momentarily, she then said, Dr. Ling and I are a little concerned that Vins ability to compensate is diminished. We are afraid that he is putting all of what little strength he has left into just breathing. So, we want to move him to an ICU where a ventilator is readily available.
The looks of horror and disbelief tore at her heart, but she couldnt help Vin if she gave into her own fear and frustration. I wanted to tell you before I talk to Vin. He needs your positive support so I didnt want to pull any surprises on you in front of him. Im honestly not sure how much he can comprehend right now but I like to be honest with my patients. Im only going to give him the basics for now. Is that all right with you?
Still in shock, Chris nodded.
Before going back into the room, she asked Chris, You will be here with him, right?
Yeah Im not going anywhere, Chris assured her.
The man before her looked shell-shocked, not that she could blame him. Softly she asked, Is there anything I can do for you?
Haunted eyes searched her own, as he slowly shook his head. It was..supposed tbe just a mild case of pneumonia.
There wasnt anything she could say, so she turned and led them back into the room.
All eyes went to the ghost of a man sitting in the bed with his eyes closed and a slight frown on his haggard face, as if he were putting every ounce of his remaining energy into forcing air into his damaged lungs.
His eyes slowly fluttered open when Dr. Cooper softly called his name. His dull, blood-shot eyes stared blankly at her.
Vin, she smiled reassuringly, we are going to move you to ICU. You are working very hard to breathe and I want to be able to help you if you get too tired, OK?
When she got a barely perceptible nod, she continued, We are also going to give you some blood. See, if we cant give you a little energy.
She gave him a second to assimilate the information. All right, Im going to go see some of my other patients, but the nurses know how to get hold of me if you need me and Ill be back to see you later.
Left alone with their friend, the two moved to either side of the bed. Bucks heart just about broke in two to see Vin like this.
Hey, Slick, I seen all those pretty nurses fussing over you. Some guysll do anything t get attention. The big-hearted man waited for a response, any kind of response, but all he got was a lethargic stare.
He bowed his head to hide the grief that threatened to overtake him. Vin Tanner despite the hardships he was forced to face in his life, was one of the most life-loving men he had ever met. To see him fighting so hard for that life and losing the battle was almost more then he could bear.
Swallowing hard, he forced a smile and reached over to squeeze his friends shoulder.
Chris watched the exchange with similar emotions. The hard-core team leader looked away, blinking furiously to quell the tears that were trying to spill over. Damn-it he wasnt going to let Vin give up. Somehow, he had to convince him to keep going.
Well, I gotta get to the office, but Ill be back later. You behave yourself, Junior. Dont be givin those pretty nurses any trouble. The only response from Vin was a dull, vacant stare.
After Buck left, Chris was once again asked to wait while they transferred him to ICU. Chris took the opportunity to call Nathan and relay the information given to him by the doctor.
The doctor is being careful to not jump to any conclusions yet, but Nathan what do you think might be going on?
There was a long pause. When the medic did answer, his words were carefully measured. Chris, Im not a doctor.
I know that Nathan. Im not asking you for a fuckin diagnosis. Just give me an idea of what they might be thinking. Chris growled in frustration.
Nathan took a deep breath and let it out slowly. His mind was reeling from this new information but he also knew that the best way for Chris to help Vin was for him to be prepared and that he wouldnt accept less; so he said a prayer that he was wrong, and told Chris what he wanted to know.
Well, this is only a guess mind you and it is based on the limited information you gave me.
When Nathan hesitated again, Chris felt his heart clinch and fear like he had seldom felt, tore through him.
My guess is that they are looking for some exotic infection or a blood disease.
Blood disease? What does that mean?
Nathan should have known he couldnt vacillate with the ATF boss. Chris, I mean like .leukemia.
Chris went numb all over. He heard a loud buzzing in his ears. It was several seconds before he was aware of Nathan calling his name.
Wha what did you say? he whispered.
I said; that is one of the things they could be looking for; probably because of his white blood cell count is so low and the severe anemia.
Oh, God Nathan. Chris couldnt even wrap his mind around that possibility.
Now Chris, dont be thinking the worst before they even have a chance to check him out. You asked what they might be looking for.
Yeah yeah okay.
Look, Id better go, Nathan. They should have Vin settled by now. Ill talk to you later.
Chris ? But he was already gone. Shit! And Nathan slammed the phone down just as Buck walked into the bullpen.
He knew immediately by the look on the big mans face, that he already knew what was happening.
Buck saw Nathan slam the phone receiver down and intuitively guessed it was Chris. He stopped with hands on his hips. Their eyes met and Wilmington could see the mixture of anger and sorrow on the expressive face.
JD and Josiah watched the two, slowly realizing that something must have happened. The big ex-profiler closed his eyes and uttered a fervent prayer for their fallen comrade.
Buck? JD asked. Buck, what happened?
Still holding Nathans gaze, Buck said, Vins not doing too good. They are moving him to ICU.
But JD began and Nathan broke eye contact with Buck and with head bowed, leaned forward on his hands, flat on the desk.
Buck moved forward and mirrored Nathans pose from the opposite side of the desk, bringing him almost nose-to-nose with the medic.
Nathan, what is it? What arent they telling us?
Nathan met the pleading look with sorrowful eyes. I dont know, Buck, I wish I did, but I just dont know.
Buck searched his team-mates face then abruptly slammed his hand down on the desk in frustrated anger. God damn-it! I just cant believe this.
Buck? JD whispered.
The big man whirled around to face the teams youngest, who, at this moment, looked even younger than his years. It suddenly occurred to him that maybe all this was bringing back bad memories of his mothers illness.
Buck softened his expression. Yeah, kid?
Is Vin worse?
Raking his hand through his hair, Buck sighed. Yeah, JD, he is. The doctors dont seem t know whats wrong, n hes going downhill. They are movin him to ICU.
Ezra arrived in time to hear the last part. Perhaps we need to see about getting some other opinions.
Hell, Ezra. Doc Cooper has consulted a whole passel of people, all experts. Aint none of em able at figur it out.
There was nothing more to be said. The men remained as they were for several minutes, trying to understand why something so simple could turn so complicated. Then each slowly made their way to their respective desks and pretended to get some work done, the teams sharpshooter and their friend, never far from their thoughts.
After Chris hung up from talking to Nathan he, all of a sudden, had to get outside, out of the confining walls of the hospital. It felt like the walls were closing in on him.
The hospital had an inner courtyard where in an attempt to incorporate some holistic healing, they had established a Zen garden. Not really paying attention to where he was going, just looking for any door out, Chris found himself suddenly in the middle of the garden before he realized where he was.
The first thing that struck him was the quiet. It kind of slammed into him. He hadnt realized but there was always noise in a hospital, even at night. But here, the designers had somehow managed to block it all out, even with the looming walls of the hospital on all four sides.
The only sounds were the soft soughing of the wind in the trees, the chirping of the birds and the soothing, steady splashing of water in a nearby fountain.
His first thought was how much Vin would like it.
Chriss knees just seemed to give way and he abruptly sat down on one of the benches that were scattered throughout the garden. He just couldnt believe what was happening. All the times Vin had been involved in near-death situations in the line of duty and now some stupid, damn infection could be the end of him.
Chris shook his head at the irony. He closed his eyes, the tension, worry and fatigue suddenly washing over him. In his mind he could see his best friend happy and healthy, enjoying life always to the fullest. Tomorrow was never a guarantee for anyone, even more so in their line of work, and Vin had learned that early in his short life and had found a way to get past the tragedies and make the most of it.
Thinking about Vin and his unique approach to life, he was slowly and gently filled with an odd sort of peace. Maybe it was the effect of the garden or maybe it was his friend but whatever it was, Chris knew he would find the strength and resolve to help his friend through this to whatever end. But he also was determined that, that end would once again be a happy and healthy Vin.
The nurse showed him where Vins cubicle was. He paused, taking in the tableau before him. His eyes were immediately drawn to the frail body in the bed. The pale, thin form appeared even more so by the multitude of monitors and tubes that were attached to him.
Next his eyes shifted to the man sitting next to him, staring blankly at the TV mounted on the wall. One of Chriss hands held the remote loosely in his lap, the other hand held Vins right hand, tightly.
Chris turned his head to acknowledge Bucks presence. He pushed himself up in the chair from his slouched position.
Buck moved further into the room. Anything new?
Chris shook his head. A couple of more doctors came in; examined him; looked at his records but didnt say much.
Buck stood there a few minutes. He still couldnt believe this was happening.
The rest of the guys are in the waiting room. We brought you some dinner. Why dont you take a break. Ill stay with Junior.
Chris looked toward the bed. Vin didnt seem to be aware of Bucks presence, but as Chris hesitated, Vin moved his hand slightly away from Chriss.
Both men noticed and Buck grinned. Looks like Junior is telling ya t go eat and take a break. Go on.
Chris couldnt help but grin. He squeezed the too warm hand. Okay, but I wont be gone long.
He could tell by the somber expressions that Buck and Nathan had informed the rest of the team. He quickly updated them and then ate while the others visited with Vin. All of them, that is, except JD.
He hadnt said anything since Chris had come into the room. The team leader had noticed how pale he was and how still. For JD that was very unusual.
Chris decided he would ask Buck about it when he got a chance, but right now all he could think about was getting back to Vin.
Chris was awakened from the light doze he had fallen into, by an alarm. He tried to orient himself as he watched a nurse rush into the room.
Thats when he noticed that Vins grip on his hand had tightened. He quickly stood and looked into the terrified eyes of his friend as he desperately tried to drag air into his oxygen starved lungs.
The nurse adjusted the flow meter on the oxygen outlet. Its okay Vin, try to calm down.
Chris scowled as Vins eyes darted wildly between him and the nurse. Its not working. He cant breathe.
The nurse caught Chriss gaze. I know. Talk to him while I call the doctor.
Chris turned to his partner. Vin, buddy, come on were getting help, but ya gotta stay calm.
The grip tightened.
Vin, please, you can do it; come on, calm down.
Within minutes several people entered the room. A tall, young man in green surgical scrubs approached Chris as the nurses moved more machines and equipment into the room. Im Dr. Peters. Im an anesthesia resident. Mr. Tanner is not oxygenating well. We have him on as much oxygen as it is possible to deliver through a mask. Dr. Ling feels that we need to intubate him and put him on a ventilator. Also, because we need another IV access and are limited to sites because of his cast, we are going to put in a central line. Because this line goes directly into the heart, we will be able to draw blood from the line and wont have to stick him as much.
Vin clutched Chriss hand tighter, his eyes frantic, his strength born of desperation.
The alarms from the SpO2 monitor kept sounding, now another joined the cacophony as Vins heart started racing.
A nurse silenced them and Chris turned to Vin. Vin, they are going to help you breathe, okay?
Chris almost baled at the look in Vins eyes, instead he turned to the resident. Give me a minute with him, please.
The doctor nodded and motioned the staff out of the cubicle.
Chris leaned over the siderail, he still held the younger mans hand and placed the other on Vins damp forehead. Vin, listen to me. Well get this figured out, but in the meantime they gotta help you breathe, and Ill be right here. They may not let me stay during the procedure, but Ill just be a few feet away. We gotta trust em, Vin.
Vin shook his head and mouthed the word no.
Vin, I know its scary but you can do this. Just think of it as another mountain that you have to climb. Vin, you are the bravest man I know and I know that you can beat some damn bug!
Vin, through his fever confused thoughts, finally seemed to sense, rather than actually understand, the conviction in his friends voice. He just knew that he couldnt get enough air, his head hurt, and he had never been so scared in his life, but Chris said it was going to be all right. He had to believe that; he needed to believe that. He slowly blinked his eyes but didnt loosen his grip.
Chris smiled then turned his head to the doctor, who was waiting a few feet away. A nurse moved to Chriss side with some papers on a clipboard.
Mr. Larabee, since you have power of attorney for Vin, we need you to sign these forms giving us permission to perform the procedures.
Looking briefly at Vin and praying he was doing the right thing; he signed the forms.
The Dr. Peters said, OK, were ready. Mr. Larabee well need for you to wait outside. Someone will come get you as soon as we are finished.
Chris turned back to Vin. Remember, just another mountain. Reluctantly he let go of his friends hand and left the room.
Chris by rote, walked to the waiting room and as he had so many times in the past few days, picked up the phone and dialed a number.
Wilmington, a sleepy voice slurred.
Buck. With that one word he was instantly awake.
Chris, what is it? Has something happened to Vin?
Yeah they are having to intubate him.
Ill be right there.
Buck you dont have to. I just needed .
Chris, Ill be right there.
Despite the guilt of having awakened his friend at four oclock in the morning, he couldnt help but feel relief that Buck would be here soon to lend his solid presence to his flagging faith.
Chris was still in the waiting room when Buck arrived with JD in tow. The young man had insisted on coming when he was awakened by the noise of Bucks hurried dressing.
There was a bizarre sense of déjà vu as the big man once again asked what had happened.
Chris had just finished relaying the most recent events when the other three team members arrived. Chris looked at Buck, who shrugged. They made me promise to call if anything changed.
We care about Vin, too. Ezra defended.
Wearily Chris nodded. Of course you do.
A nurse appeared at the waiting room door. Mr. Larabee, you can come back in now.
Chris looked at Buck and the mustached man indicated that he would fill the others in on what was going on.
On their way back to the unit, the nurse explained that Vin was now sedated so that he wouldnt fight the ventilator. She also told him that Dr. Ling had arrived and wanted to speak to him.
When he entered the room, he stopped, staring at the figure in the bed, now with a dressing on his chest around the central line and a tube in his mouth, held in place by a strap around his head. The thought flashed through his head that gradually, there was less and less of Vin to see.
The room spun. He felt a firm hand on his elbow and was gently pushed into a chair. A cup of juice was placed in his hand; automatically he drank and the cup was removed. Are you okay, Mr. Larabee?
He blinked and noticed for the first time the two physicians standing in front of him. Yeah he cleared his throat. Yeah, Im okay. Its just and he motioned to the too still form in the bed.
Dr. Ling nodded. I understand. Mr. Larabee, I just wanted to tell you that when we intubated Mr. Tanner, I took that opportunity to visualize the interior of his lungs directly with a bronchoscope. I still believe we are dealing with some sort of infection from the looks of his lungs. I also took some specimens that we will send to the lab.
He scrutinized the expression on Larabees face and decided that the man was on overload, so he said, The whole team will be getting together in a few hours to see what we can come up with for a diagnosis and treatment.
Okay. Chriss voice was a little stronger.
Mr. Larabee, I know its hard to see your friend like this, but believe me he is much more comfortable now. He isnt having to fight for every breath and hell be able to conserve energy.
Chris nodded but it didnt take away the fear.
Later that morning, Dr. Cooper came in, carrying Vins chart. Mr. Larabee
She gave him a tight little smile. Chris, this morning we again ran some blood tests. The good news is that the liver function tests are somewhat improved.
Chris looked sharply at her. But ?
Sighing, she said, The hemoglobin, platelets and white cells are down even more. The white cell count is extremely low and that is a great concern. There is another lab test called a bilirubin that is elevated. Bilirubin is the by-product of red blood cell breakdown. Something is destroying his red blood cells faster than he can make them.
Any idea what it is, Doctor?
Well, actually we do have a theory that we have been discussing. We are checking with the CDC and are going to run some very specialized tests to rule out a couple of things.
Leukemia for one; the hematologist doesnt think that this is what Vin has, but because of his extremely low white cell count and the way the infection has progressed, we have to take it into consideration.
Chris nodded, minutely relieved that the experts didnt really feel that it was that deadly disease.
Another thing that the nurses have been reporting to me is that his blood pressure is starting to drop to levels that inhibit good perfusion, or in other words a good blood flow to the vital organs. So we are going to give him a medication by IV infusion that will raise his blood pressure.
Chris closed his eyes and shook his head. It just seemed that little by little Vin was slipping away.
I know its scary, Chris. Im confident well get this thing figured out.
Chris looked her in the eyes. Before its too late?
What could she say? She couldnt promise him that. I hope so Chris. I really hope so.
Later that evening, Dr. Cooper came by to check on Vin. Chris looked up as she approached.
You still here? he asked. Then he narrowed his eyes at her. You look all done in, Doc.
Cooper gave him a tired smile. I could say the some for you.
Chris gave a short snort and a shrug.
The doctor sighed and then automatically glanced up at the monitor readings. Vin seems to be holding his own right now. The two extra units of blood we gave him this afternoon, helped. His lab work is stable.
So thats good, right?
Honestly? I dont know, but I think so.
She saw the look of frustration on Chriss face and knew exactly how he felt. Clearing her throat, she decided to tell him a little of what had been discussed.
We havent heard back from the CDC yet, but for right now weve got a theory. We arent quite ready to say definitely what yet, not until we get those reports back. So, we are going to start him back on the Zithromax, the first antibiotic he was on. See if we cant help him fight that infection.
Chris nodded. He wished Nathan were here, maybe hed know what to ask. He knew she was keeping something from him on purpose, but didnt know enough about it to ask. All he could say was okay.
She knew what she was offering him wasnt much, but for right now it was all she could give.
It was late morning when Dr. Cooper came by with Dr. Ling. They were both smiling, which caused Chris to sit up straighter. You have news?
The physicians looked at each other and Dr. Ling motioned for Cooper to explain.
Well, Chris, we think we know what is going on.
First, let me start out by saying that Vins lab work looks better this morning. His liver enzymes are near normal. His hemoglobin, platelets and white cell count, while not near what they should be, are better. During the night, we were able to wean the medicine for his blood pressure a little.
She looked at him intently, seeing the first signs of hope that she had seen in a couple of days. Glancing at Dr. Ling, who nodded, she continued, Dr. Ling feels certain that we are dealing with a type of pneumonia that is one more commonly found in children and young adults, called mycoplasma pneumonia. This type of pneumonia used to be called Walking Pneumonia and usually goes away with just antibiotic treatment.
She saw the puzzled look on Chriss face. I know this is what Vin was originally diagnosed with but we think weve figured out what went wrong. First, the antibiotic, Zithromax, takes time to work on this particular organism. Then because of his nausea and vomiting , the treatment was interrupted . Next, when he came into the ER, he was started back on the Zithromax and a broad spectrum antibiotic called Rocephin.
Dr. Cooper let this sink in a moment before she continued. We think that Vin had an extremely rare allergic reaction to the second antibiotic. None of Vins symptoms really fit with known diseases, plus all the tests we did for them were negative.
Then we started looking at other things. We checked with the CDC and they confirmed what we had begun to suspect. None of us, in our combined experience, have seen this type of reaction, but the literature talks about it and the CDC says they have had some reported cases.
Wide-eyed, Chris repeated. Youre saying all this was caused by an allergy?
Both physicians nodded, then Dr. Ling spoke, When I was actually able to see Vins lungs, I was pretty convinced that we were still dealing with a mycoplasma pneumonia, but his symptoms were so confusing. But this was the reason we started him back on the Zithromax, which is one of the better drugs for this type of pneumonia. The fact that his blood work is better and not worse says that he probably isnt allergic to that.
So hes going to get better. Now it was more of a statement than a question.
Cooper gave him a genuine smile. Yeah, we feel better about it than we have in days. Hes not out of the woods yet, but for the first time in a couple of days, I feel good about things.
Chris closed his eyes and let out a long sigh. He was almost dizzy with relief.
Cooper patted him on the shoulder. Ill be back later, but I think weve turned the corner.
Chris couldnt wait to tell the rest of the team but first he needed to talk to Vin. He moved to the bedside and studied the pale visage of his best friend.
Reaching over the railing he grasped the limp hand. Had it only been a few days since this whole nightmare began? It seemed like months. For the first time in as many days he felt the stirrings of hope.
Hey, Cowboy. Its been a rough road the past couple of days but it looks like things may have turned around. Ya gotta hang in there, youll beat this yet.
It bothered him a little that Vin gave absolutely no response, even though he knew he was sedated. He just wished .
Sighing, he gave the hand a squeeze then went to make a phone call.
Buck glared at the phone, sorely tempted to ignore it. It was hard enough to get any work done as it was without the constant, infernal ringing of that damn phone. Grabbing the receiver, he growled, Wilmington.
Shit! How could he have forgotten that it might be news about Vin? Rubbing his eyes, he realized how tired he was and how afraid.
Chris .is it ?
Buck, Chris interrupted, Vin is a little better. Put me on the speaker phone. I want to tell everyone at once.
Chris you aint shittin me, are ya?
Chris laughed and for the first time in days he really felt like laughing. No Buck, I aint shittin you.
Whoooeeee! Buck yelled, instantly getting the attention of his team-mates.
Gather round boys! Chris has some good news for us!
They moved quickly to Bucks desk; then the big man said, Youre on, pard.
Well, first off, Vins not completely out of the woods yet, but things are looking better this morning.
The men were all smiling now. Thats wonderful news, Chris. Josiah intoned.
Yeah. Chris couldnt keep the smile out of his voice. The best news though is that they think theyve figured out what is wrong with him.
Nathan leaned forward. What is it Chris?
They think it was an allergic reaction to one of his antibiotics, Rocephin, is the name, I think.
Chris? Nathan again. Ive never heard of an allergic reaction like that.
Well, the doctors say it is rare but it has happened.
Buck snorted. Leave it to Junior to find a rare reaction to an antibiotic.
They all laughed and it felt good.
Later that day they all went to the hospital to see their friend. It had become a ritual in the past few days for them to stop by in the morning before going to work, and then on the way home. Often one or more would stay while Chris ate and cleaned up.
This evening they brought pizza and coke and had a small celebration in the waiting room. Chris told them that the latest round of blood tests looked better than this morning and that, although still running a low grade fever, his temp had not spiked all day.
How long do they think hell be on the ventilator, Chris? Nathan asked.
Dr. Ling said that they wanted to give the antibiotic a chance to start working so Vin wont have to work so hard, maybe another day or two.
It sure will be good ta see that boy up and around again, Buck said fervently.
Amen brother, Josiah agreed.
Before leaving, while Chris was taking a shower and changing into the clean cloths Buck had brought him, the others spent a few minutes with Vin.
They were able to take Vin off the blood pressure medicine and his color was improved. Even though their friend was still sedated and on a vent, they felt better about things than they had in a long while. Still, they could hardly wait to see those sparkling blue eyes again, without the shadows of pain and fever.
The next morning, Chris woke as the night shift was leaving. Groaning, he slowly stood and stretched. He moved to the side of the bed where Vin lay, unmoving.
He reached over to brush the lank hair off his friends face. Vin looked more peaceful this morning. His color was better and even with the endotrachial tube; his respirations seemed easier, less forced.
When the day shift finished getting report, one of the nurses came in to begin her assessments and get Vin cleaned up. Chris took that opportunity to get some breakfast.
Just as he was leaving the ICU, he met Buck coming in.
Everthin OK? Buck asked, half afraid that the young man had another set-back during the night.
Chris gave him a tired smile. Seems to be. They were able to decrease the vent settings a little during the night. I know its hard to tell, but I think he looks better.
The big man closed his eyes, heaved a big sigh and let himself smile. I was almost afraid
Yeah, I know. For the first time in several days they all felt like Vin had finally turned the corner.
After they all saw for themselves the improvement in their team-mate, they left for the office, leaving Chris once again maintaining his lonely vigil.
Dr. Ling and Dr. Cooper both made their rounds and assured Chris that things were going well. Dr. Ling felt that if they could continue lowering the ventilator settings without causing Vin undue distress, he would probably come off the next day.
When he was finally alone with his best friend, he leaned close to the shaggy head. I knew you could do it, Cowboy. Ya got this thing beat. Now, we just need to get you back to your normal, stubborn-assed Texas-self. I really need to hear that drawl again.
Chris watched his friend closely, hoping to see a sign of recognition and was slightly disappointed when he didnt. Logically, he knew that it was asking too much, but still
Sighing, he took a seat, picked up the TV remote and started flipping through the channels.
The next morning when Dr. Ling came in, he told Chris that they were going to let Vin start waking up. He was already breathing some on his own, so Ling felt they could extubate him, safely.
About an hour later, the alarms on the ventilator started blaring and Vin began to thrash around.
Quickly, Chris moved to capture the flailing hands that threatened to extubate himself. Vins eyes were wide and unfocused as he frantically fought the tube.
Easy Vin, easy. Its okay. Ya with me, Pard? Chris kept up the constant, soothing litany while the nurse paged Dr. Ling.
Slowly, the struggling stopped as the voice broke through the drug-induced barriers in Vins brain. He didnt exactly understand the words but he recognized the voice and the firm, warm grip of the one person in all the world he called brother.
Dr. Ling came in smiling. Well, it seems Mr. Tanner wants that tube out of his throat. Leaning over the bedrail, he spoke directly to Vin. He needed his co-operation.
Vin, can you hear me? Vin? Look over here.
As he was talking, he was loosening the straps on the holder. When he felt he had the young mans attention, he instructed, Vin, listen to me. We are going to take that tube out, okay?
The nurse quickly prepared Vin and the respiratory therapist stood by to assist in case they had to re-intubate. When everything was ready, Dr. Ling said, All right Vin, take a deep breath and cough for me.
Vin coughed and the tube was removed with one slick movement, leaving a teary-eyed, gasping patient.
The RT immediately placed an oxygen mask over his face. Vin lay his head back and closed his eyes, sucking in air as he had not been able to do for some time. He had a death grip on Larabees hand, but Chris didnt mind, just so thankful that at last the younger man was able to do so.
Finally, Vin was able to relax some. Chris took the cold washcloth the nurse handed him and smiled his thanks. Gently, he mopped the sweaty face. Several minutes passed before tired blue eyes slowly blinked open. They sought then finally found a concerned pair of green.
Chris grinned at him. Welcome back, Cowboy.
A small smile graced the exhausted features; then he closed his eyes and let normal sleep claim him.
When the boys visited that evening, they found their friend awake, and if not able to talk, he was at least able to participate in the conversation, kind of. However, he tired quickly, so they didnt stay long.
Once they were gone, Chris settled into the chair that had been his home for the past few days. He thought Vin was asleep but soon became aware of two blue eyes staring at him.
Hi, he said, thought you were asleep.
Vin said something that Chris couldnt quite understand. Standing and leaning over the railing, he asked, What did you say, Pard?
A shaky hand reached up to move the oxygen mask a little. Home, came the raspy whisper.
Chris nodded knowingly. Hey, Cowboy, I know you want to go home, but you arent ready for that. He grinned.
The younger man frowned in frustration and shook his head.
Realizing that Vin was trying to tell him something, the smile disappeared and was replaced by a concerned look. What is it Vin? I dont understand.
Again, the breathy voice said, Home .you.
Now he understood what his friend was trying to say. He wanted him to go home. Chriss grin returned. You kickin me out?
Vin opened his eyes and looked at his best friend. Chris could see the concern in them. You ..tired. The ailing man stated.
Chris couldnt argue with that. He was exhausted, but he was very leery of leaving Vin just yet. It seemed like every time he had tried going home recently, he came back to find Vins condition had worsened.
Tell ya what pard. Ill just stay here tonight. If everything is still going good in the morning, Ill go home and get some real sleep. That okay?
Vin stared hard at his friend, blinking furiously, trying not to fall asleep until he could assess Chriss intentions. Finally, he nodded. In reality, there was little he could do about it anyway; wasnt like he could physically throw the man out. And with that thought and the warm feeling of knowing Chris would still be there, he drifted off to sleep.
The next morning the doctors decided he no longer needed the central line. They told Chris that if his vital signs remained stable they would move him to the floor that afternoon. An X-ray that morning showed that the pneumonia was clearing up. They even allowed him to drink a little broth.
He asked for coffee and when the nurse laughingly told him not yet, he managed a half-assed glare. Laughing at his friends frustration, Larabee, true to his word, told Vin he would see him later in the day and went home to get the first real sleep he had in several days.
Towards evening Chris returned to find that not only had they moved Vin to a regular room, but that the whole team was there.
Hey Chris, Buck called loudly causing Vin to wince slightly. Lookee here. Ol Juniors been upgraded.
The others laughed and each acknowledged the team leaders arrival. Responding absently to their greetings, he made his way over to the bed. Vins eyes had locked onto his the moment he stepped through the door. Even though Vin had been the one to insist Chris go home, Larabee could see the pleasure that he was back, reflected in the younger mans eyes.
How ya doin? he asked, just loud enough for Vin to hear.
Vin swept his eyes around the room where his friends were various stages of conversation, then returned them to his best friend. His lips turned up in a gentle smile and the eyes, that had so recently reflected just pain and fear, now, while tired, showed a peace of mind and gratefulness. M fine, he whispered.
Chris grinned broadly. He never thought he would be so happy to hear those words. He gave a squeeze to the younger mans shoulder and settled in the chair that Buck had vacated by the bed.
A short time later, Larabee turned to find Vins head lolled to one side, fast asleep. He was still wearing a nasal cannula and although he was breathing faster than normal, the respirations werent as labored and he was able to rest.
Quietly catching Bucks attention, he motioned toward the bed. A small smile graced Bucks face as he looked at the sleeping man.
The big man tapped JD on the shoulder. The teams youngest was engrossed in a show on the Discovery Channel. He looked up and when Buck cocked his head toward Vin, he nodded his understanding.
Noting the motion, the others became aware that their team-mate had succumbed to sleep and prepared to leave. Chris rose with them and they all moved into the hall.
The men said their good-byes, but Buck lingered. You stayin?
Yeah, for awhile.
Buck nodded. Okay, well then I guess well see you tomorrow.
Chris smiled then held out his hand to his oldest friend. Buck returned the gesture and the two clasped hands. No words needed to be spoken. Buck knew that Chris was thanking him for standing by him and Vin during the past few, grueling days and Chris knew that there wasnt anywhere else Buck would be.
Gradually, over the next several days, Vins health improved. He started working to gain back his strength.
At first just the trip to and from the bathroom, exhausted him. Slowly, however, he was able to do more and more.
Gradually he became less dependent on the oxygen. His appetite improved more slowly, but Vin maintained that it was because of the bad hospital food. He tried to bribe JD into sneaking him some fast food, but Nathan anticipated it and threatened to tell Chris and to suggest to their boss that if he snuck in fast food to Vin, he would find himself doing duty in the backlogged file room, for a month.
At long last, almost a month after it all started, Vin was finally allowed to go home. He agreed to go to the ranch with Chris, not having the energy yet, to argue with all of them, including his doctors. Even though the team leader would be working, he would be there in the evenings and on the weekends to make sure their sharpshooter was following the doctors orders.
Several days later, Chris pushed open the screen door leading to the deck, with two ice cold beers in his hand. It was sunset and still warm outside, although once the sun went down, it would cool off quickly.
Vin had pulled a deck chair close to the railing and his booted feet were propped on the top rail. Chris tapped his shoulder with one of the bottles. Vin turned his head. Eyeing the beer, he raised his eyebrows at Chris.
Larabee nodded and grinned. I checked with Nathan. Youve been off your meds for a couple of days and except for that cough, the doctor has given you a clean bill of health. So, Nathan said one or twos not gonna hurt.
Smiling broadly, Vin accepted the offering and took a long, satisfying drink. Sighing in contentment, he deepened his slouch in the chair.
The two sat in companionable silence until the last rays of the setting sun were gone. Then Vin spoke softly, Thanks, Chris.
His friend turned his head toward him. For the beer? Larabee had a feeling it was more than that but wanted to keep the tone light.
Vin chuckled. Yeah .but .also for everything. There was a long pause. For being there for me in the hospital and puttin me up here an all. He awkwardly stumbled to a halt.
Chris knew it wasnt easy for the young agent to express his feelings and his need for human companionship. To Vin, it was easier and it hurt less, to be a loner.
Chris cuffed him lightly on the shoulder. Welcome.
Again there was a long silence. Ya know when I was down in that ICU most of it I don remember ..but..sometimes Id dream. Weird kinda dreams. Sometimes, I .could hear ya talkin t me ..telln me not t give up .or thought I could. He looked sideways at Chris for confirmation.
Slowly Chris nodded his head. Hardly ever a time I felt so helpless. Didnt know what else to do, so I just talked.
Vin gazed off into the distance; his eyes squinting slightly and nodded once. What he really wanted to say, he couldnt. He just didnt have the words to tell Chris how much it meant to him to have had him by his side through this nightmare. He figured Chris knew it though. Chris seemed to know a lot about him without being told.
Long minutes passed as the two quietly reveled in the warmth of their friendship.
Jus one thing. Vin finally ventured.
Um? Chris grunted, complacently.
Who you callin a stubborn-assed Texan?
Chris stared at him a moment then burst out laughing. Vin was home.