Warnings: none, just some hurt and comfort of our two favorite boys with some from the others thrown in.

Disclaimer: Not mine never were never will be. This makes me cry.

Notes: I borrowed the death date for Sarah and Adam from LaraMee in her story I’ll Try. I also make brief mention of the circumstances of that story. Thanks to Lynda for the medical. I had to write her several times.

I knew from the start what I was going to do to Chris but I didn’t have a catalyst for it until one day watching Country videos I saw Loretta Lynn’s “I Miss Being Mrs.” The oh so sad tribute to how much she misses her husband. Then of course there is Alan Jackson’s “Remember When”. Songs can at times make me cry at the drop of a note, so I decided that it could happen to Chris when he was tired and alone.

A great big huge thanks goes to Marnie who betaed this for me. Thanks again Marnie.

Buck Wilmington looked at the calendar and shook his head. October 7. How could it be October already? He wasn’t ready for this, not again, so soon. Two more days and then it would be over for another year.

The tall man tapped his pen on the desk. Tap…tap….tap…staring at the closed door. October 9, that was the day he dreaded. That was the day Sarah and Adam Larabee had died six years ago in a car bomb meant for Chris. Each year got a little easier for him. He’d loved them as if they were his own. Each year he hoped, prayed that it would be easier for Chris too.

It seemed as if only yesterday he was coaxing Chris back to the hospital away from the graves. But that had been two years ago. Last year they’d been so deep in a case that it wasn’t until they were celebrating a successful bust that it had dawned on him what the date was.

They were in Inez’s Saloon and had just ordered another round of drinks. He saw the minute the significance of the date hit Chris. Watched as he quietly shut down and after sitting very still except for the shot glass being filled a few times, he excused himself and disappeared. That had been the first time he hadn’t gotten drunk on that day. Maybe this year would be even better.

Buck looked over at the closed door to Larabee’s office. “Please God, let this year be better.” The large man sent the silent prayer up.

“Err, Bucklin, ya mind not doing that?” The Texas drawl came from across the room.

Buck looked at Vin and then at the pounding pen. “Oh sorry, Vin. It just ain’t natural for him to be so… so calm. We’re two days away from….that day.”

“Buck if you can’t face it, how do you expect Chris to?” Josiah asked.

Glancing at Josiah and then back at the closed door Buck sighed. “You’re right. It’s just the 9th has been Hell Day for the last six years. Every year he gets a little better, it’s a little easier for him to handle it. But this year, he’s acting like it’s just a date. I just keep waiting for the other shoe to drop.”

“Periods of mourning do come to an end Buck. You always miss them, but each year gets easier to face. Chris is moving on.” Josiah said trying to ease his friends mind.

“I know Josiah, it’s just… it’s always been so hard on him.” Buck said still just a little worried.

~~ M7 ~~

Little did he know that on the other side of the door his oldest friend was also staring at the calendar. As he mentally probed his feelings like a sore tooth he congratulated himself. He was doing okay. There was sadness but not the deep hole of despair that had been there every year before. Here it was October 7 and no melt down. He hadn’t drunk, hadn’t even wanted to. All he had to do was make it through the weekend and all this would be over for another year.

He needed to order some flowers and… “and what Larabee?” He asked himself. This year he wasn’t going to wallow in self recriminations. This year was going to be different. He reached out and called the florist he used. Knowing exactly what to order and where to send it came to him without having to look the address up.

Hanging up the phone Chris looked down at the pile of quarterly reports he was working on. God he hated the paperwork the Government seemed to thrive on. He’d read this page three times now and it still didn’t make any sense. Larabee glanced at the clock. 3:35. What the hell? he was the boss.

Everyone looked up as the door jerked open. Chris looked around the room. “I’m calling it a day. I’ll see you tomorrow.”

“What’s the matter, Cowboy? Can’t you corral the endless paper work?” Vin asked grinning.

The glare was meant to shut Tanner up instead it just made him laugh.

“Hell no, I just want to spend some time with Pony this evening. At least he doesn’t talk back.”

Vin held his nose. “Not with words anyway. He expresses himself in more fragrant ways.” He said referring to the cantankerous horses habit of expressing his displeasure or boredom with passing gas.

“Oh, very good, Mr. Tanner.” Ezra said.

“Thanks, Ez, been taking lessons from the best.” Vin grinned at the undercover agent.

Seeing Ezra’s two fingered salute to him Tanner turned back the boss. “You’re the boss, ya can leave when ever ya want. Now us peons have ‘ta put in our eight hours in order to get paid.”

“Don’t push it Tanner, or you’ll be putting in overtime cleaning the surveillance van.”

“No, Sir. You just do what ever you want to, Sir.” Vin said with a smirk.

Larabee glared again, not easy while trying not to laugh. “See you tomorrow.”

Damn, I’ll think of some good comeback around midnight. Oh well.” He thought as he punched the elevator button.

Chris rode the elevator all the way to the parking garage alone. Getting in the Ram he headed out. Once outside the city he rolled down the windows and enjoyed the warm Indian summer air. Reaching over he turned on the radio.

There was little traffic; he was ahead of ‘rush hour’ so it was a pleasant drive. The music added to the mood. Not really listening to the words until suddenly the profound sadness in the voice caught his attention. Then the words pierced his heart like arrows.

“I lie here all alone

In my bed of memories

I’m dreamn’ of your sweet kiss

Oh, how you loved on me

I can almost feel you with me

Here in this blue Moonlight.”

Chris’ breath came faster. “ Why that song? Why now?” he asked aloud to no one as he punched the button to another station.

“Remember when the sound of little feet was the music

We danced to week to week

Brought back the love, we found trust

Vowed we never give it up

Remember when”

“GOD! Shut the hell up,” he angrily growled as he turned off the radio. His hands were shaking and he was breathing in short pants. “Get a grip, Larabee. It was a song nothing more. You are pathetic,” He said to himself forcing his breathing to calm he turned onto the dirt drive leading to the house. “Why now? Why tonight?”

Shutting off the engine he sat until he felt in control again. Going into the house he quickly changed clothes and went out to the barn. He worked by rote, not letting his mind dwell on the songs, on Sarah, on the anniversary that was coming. Only thinking of what to do next to take care of the horses. Somewhere between feeding the horses and brushing Pony he decided what he wanted to do. Once inside the house he dialed his second in command.

“ ‘Lo?”

“Vin? It’s Chris. I’m taking a personal day tomorrow. I think I’m going to back pack up Ol’ Baldy. Take the left trail this time and see if I can find that old silver mine.”

“You want some company?”

“No, I’m fine. Just want to get away a few days. Would you come out and take care of the stock for me? I’ll feed them tomorrow morning and turn them out into the pasture. They’ll be good until Saturday morning that way.”

“You know I will. Been missing Peso a bit.”

“I’ll be back sometime Sunday afternoon.”

“Okay, Pard. You take it easy.”

“I will, Vin.” Chris hung up the phone and turned off his cell. Digging out the bright blue backpack he raided the pantry for food and filled bottles with water. He then rolled up the compact sleeping bag and stuffed it in along with spare socks and thermal underwear.

The days were warm but the nights were turning cold. Chris planned on going up the mountain, which meant even cooler nights.

Finally when everything was ready he realized he was hungry and headed to the kitchen. Fixing a steak sandwich and getting a beer he sat down to watch the 10:00 news. The news was the same old thing but the weather predicted that it was going to be pretty warm days, cool nights with no storms coming. Switching off the TV he put the dishes in the sink and headed for bed.

Lying there he stared out at the moon lit mountain. The moon was waning but still bright enough to bathe the mountain in its magic light. Sarah had loved looking at the mountains in the moonlight. That was one of the reasons they’d bought this place because of the spectacular view. Trying to ease the ache in his heart the words came back to him.

“In my bed of memories

I’m dreaming of your sweet kiss…

“Good night, Sarah, my love, my life. I miss you so.” He closed his eyes so that the tears that were gathering wouldn’t fall. Using the discipline he’d learned in the Seals he willed himself to go to sleep.

~~ M7 ~~

Chris woke as the sun was shining over the eastern peaks. He groaned. “You’d think on a day off I could sleep a little late.”

Getting dressed he slipped on a jacket and went out to feed the horses. Pony whiffed and blew when Chris opened the stall door. “Come on, Pony. You and the others are going to spend a couple of days outside.”

Pony curled his lip and shook all over.

Chris smiled and petted the black. “Don’t give me that. You have the beginnings of a nice warm winter coat, you’ll be fine.”

Larabee lead the prancing horse to the gate and turned him loose. Peso and the others joined the running and bucking Pony in an impromptu race around the pasture. Chris watched the horses while he filled the large water trough. They were enjoying the early morning freedom as much as he was. Finishing the chores by throwing some fresh alfalfa over the fence the blond went back to the house.

Sipping coffee from his mug he double checked his back pack. This was an impulsive decision to just take off like this and he half way regretted it. But he’d already called in to the office and called Vin so in an uncharacteristically carefree move he decided to seize the day and go for it. Besides Buck was always telling him he needed to take some time away.

Making sure everything was turned off and locked up in the house he shouldered his back and headed west. The rhythm of his mile eating walk allowed him to empty his mind and not think about anything except where the next turn in the path was.

~~ M7 ~~

Buck walked into the office of Team Seven. He was late. JD hadn’t been able to wake him and gave up, leaving for the office without him.

“Morning. Vin, did you make the coffee?” Wilmington asked sniffing at the strong sent of the eye opening brew.

“Nah, J’siah beat me to it.” Vin said nodding to the older man.

“Good. Hey, Chris here yet?” Buck asked as he poured himself a cup.

“No. He called me last night. He’s taking a personal day. Said he was goin’ backpacking up Ol’ Baldy.”

Buck stopped mid stride. “He what?”

“He said he…”

“I heard you. Why’d ya let him take off like that? Don’t you know what Saturday is?”

“Of course I know, we all know.” Vin answered a little sharply. “But Chris is a grown man and if he wants to take off for a few days it’s his business.” Then in a softer tone he said. “Ya can’t hold his hand forever, Bucklin.”

“I know. It’s just…” Buck said shaking his head. “I’ve gotten in the habit.”

“I know. We all worry but he sounded fine. It’ll be good for him. How much trouble can he get into by himself up there in the mountains?”

Nathan over hearing this last comment rolled his eyes but kept silent.

~~ M7 ~~

Larabee hiked through the morning taking game trails he hadn’t gone up before. Around noon he came upon a small meadow. Looking around Chris sat on a fallen log and opened his pack. He pulled out the sandwiches he’d made that morning and one of the bottles of water.

Sitting and munching on the sandwich he looked around the clearing. In the center was a large circle of mountain roses. They were very old and had grown together untended for many years. Chris tried to imagine what the person who planted the rose fence was like.

Perhaps he was a sheep herder or a goat herder. The bramble corral was to keep his animals safe over night. Then he’d turn them out to graze during the day, following them as they searched for food.

Did he have a family, a wife, kids, that went with him from one summer pasture to another? Just him and his woman and kids for months on end? What would that have been like to live like that?

Shaking his head Chris laughed. Sure, he’d spend his life chasing goats or sheep. More like if he’d lived that long ago he would have been chasing wild mustangs or outlaws. Isn’t that what Vin was always saying, he’d have been a gunslinger? Mean and scary, course he always laughed when he said it.

Right! Like Sarah would have had anything to do with a gunslinger.

“Pretty isn’t it, Sarah?” he asked the air. “You would have loved this place.”

His eyes tracked movement on the far side of the meadow. Sitting so still he barely breathed he watched as a magnificent bull elk came out of the shadows. The bull shook his huge head and walked over to the rose bushes. Looking around the animal lowered his head and began to eat the large hips on the rose bushes. Much larger then domestic rose hips they provided a satisfying snack.

Chris sat watching until the elk strolled off. It had been a wonderful afternoon watching everything in nature. He felt at peace again. This had been a great idea to just take off and enjoy a long weekend.

Larabee stood and shrugging the backpack on said to him self, “Come on, Larabee, you got a silver mine to find.”

~~ M7 ~~

Chris wouldn’t have seen the entrance in the late afternoon light except for the large jack rabbit breaking cover and running. He left the deer trail pushing his way through the underbrush. There in front of him was the mine entrance. He’d read the history of the lost mine. It was supposedly played out in the 1910’s and the owner had died mysteriously never revealing the exact location of the Silver Angel Mine.

Larabee sat his backpack down at the entrance. Ducking slightly he looked in before digging out his flashlight. Turning it on he played the light over the ceiling walls and floor.

Bending down to enter he stepped inside. The temperature dropped noticeably and the dimness made the fading light out side seem like bright sunshine. He stood still for a minute to let his eyes adjust and looked around. The floor was littered with dried animal droppings and pieces of rough hewed wood beams. The heavy beams leaned haphazardly against the walls, still waiting to be pushed into place. The walls and the ceiling looked fairly stable, so the blond stepped deeper into the shaft, frowning at the sharp downward slope of the floor.

Chris took a couple of more steps inside and then stopped. “Too deep, I need a ‘partner’ to go any deeper. You’re an idiot for coming this far in,” he said to himself. Turning he felt the dirt and small rocks under his foot twist throwing him off balance. Feeling himself begin to fall he grabbed at anything to keep him standing. The force of the movement slammed him into a pair of wooden beams that were leaning against the wall. Chris hit them hard with his right shoulder causing him to drop the flashlight. The force of his weight hitting the beams sent the heavy wood toppling. They pushed Chris backward and down. Then the edge of the first beam came crashing onto his right leg just below the knee, the sudden impact causing a sound like green wood snapping.

Chris screamed as the pain shot up his leg. He tried blindly to escape it and felt the beam roll and bounce down his legs. The second beam fell beside the first, the momentum pushing both into a thumping roll down the narrowing shaft wedging the second and longer beam between the walls of the shaft, pinning Chris’ left foot under it.

Gasping from the agony that centered in his legs the blond tried to shield his face from the dirt and small rocks that continued to fall. The dirt shower soon stopped and the only sound left was Chris’ harsh breathing and coughing.

After several minutes of struggling to clear his lungs Chris wiped the dirt off his face and cautiously opened his eyes. Moving his head slightly he could see the entrance of the mine, his backpack and a small patch of afternoon sky. Not seeing much else lying flat on his back he tried to roll over. He gasped as the slightest movement caused the throb in his legs to increase. Panting he shakily pulled him self up on one elbow and looked at his dust covered legs. He’d rolled left so his right leg lay on top of his left, the knee slightly bent.

He reached down and carefully ran his hand down the shin bone until he felt an unnatural knot just inches below the knee. He knew the bone was broken there. Just touching the place sent unwanted waves of pain up his leg.

Looking further down he saw that his left leg was trapped under the wooden beam. Experimentally he tried wiggling his foot. The boot was held tight, the weight of the heavy beam held in place by the walls of the shaft so that it didn’t crush his foot. He could move his foot slightly but he was trapped. Pulling on the foot it moved a small amount but wouldn’t come free. Chris pulled even harder trying to force the boot out from under the beam, which only sent waves of agony up his legs and back causing him to collapse panting.

He could feel himself begin to shake, the tremors enveloping his whole body, aggravating the pain coming from his legs. Trying to take a deep breath and calm down he felt him self slipping into shock.

“Ah, hell. Got yourself in some fix,” he said between clenched teeth. He could feel his heart still racing and the tremors increase in intensity. “ Your going into shock Larabee. Calm down. Breath slow. Stay awake…” He wrapped his arms around himself trying to control the spasms and in an attempt to warm him self. He was cold, so cold. Chris turned his head slightly and he saw the fading light outside the mine. Blinking, trying to clear his vision, his eye lids seemed heavier each time he tried to open his eyes. Finally they stayed closed and he felt himself drift away.

~~ M7 ~~

He was cold, so cold. He reached for the blanket and the movement brought the pain back in full force. Eyes snapping open he looked around. Why was it so dark? Where…? His clenched hand felt what he was laying on. Ground? Turning his head searching for some light he saw the tiny patch of sky. Bright stars and moonlight lit the entrance not quite touching him.

Dry tongue moved over dry lips. “Oh yeah, the mine.” He tried to estimate how long he’d been unconscious. It was night but the moon was still up. He turned his head back toward the backpack. He was so thirsty. Chris raised one arm and twisting his upper body stretched out trying to reach the backpack and the elusive bottle of water. His fingers spread and stretched as he tried. Then shaking, his hand fell to the dirt. It was too far. His fingers dug into the dirt showing his frustration.

The exertion brought back the tremors. He tried in vain to curl up against them and the cold that seemed to seep into his very bones. He moved his leg and the throbbing became piercing. Freezing in place he tried to ease his leg back to its original position in a vain hope that the pain would lessen.

It didn’t work. Clenching his teeth against not only the pain, but also the tremors from the cold, he squeezed his eyes closed. He let his mind drift finding the warmest place he knew, Sarah’s arms wrapped around his.

They sat on the couch in front of the fire place. The baby was in bed asleep and they were enjoying a few moments of peace. He rubbed his face in her long hair relishing the smell of the herbal shampoo she used. He loved her unique smell, not something from a bottle, just pure Sarah.

She leaned quietly against him pulling his arms tighter around her. There was no place she’d rather be. He made her feel so safe, so loved. They sat there, in love and peace, watching the fire.

Chris wrapped his arms around, holding the thing that was only in his memories. He could see the fire and feel its warmth. He focused on every detail of the image and slowly the pain, the cold and the helpless feeling receded.

~~ M7 ~~

“WAKE UP, Larabee, you lazy SOB!”

The harsh voice intruded into Chris’ consciousness. He forced his eyes open. Frowning he could barely make out a vague outline of a man in the early morning light.

“That’s right! You always were no good. Wake up I said. I’m not gonna let you just drift in comfort, not when you killed my baby.”

“Hank? What…what are you doing here?” Chris asked in confusion.

“Making sure you never forget what you’ve done. It’s your fault Sarah died. You killed her, You and that hot shot buddy of yours.” His voice was full of venom and hate.

“No.” Chris shook his head. “No, not my fault,” he rasped out.

“Sure it is. I told her to stay away from you. Told her that you were trouble. I was right. You are trouble and because of you she’s dead and so is my grandson.”

“No, I loved Sarah. I loved her more then my own life.” Chris Declaired.

“Then why.. are ..you.. still ..breathing?” Hank hissed out.

“I…” Chris stopped. That was the question, wasn’t it? Why was he still breathing and his beautiful Sarah not? What gave him the right to be living when his son, the light of his life lay buried in the cold Denver ground?

He laughed. He was almost buried in the cold ground. Maybe that was justice. They’d died in an instant and he would lay here alone and die by inches, almost buried in the cold mountain. That’s what it was, justice.

~~ M7 ~~

“Pity party? I thought more of you Larabee. Don’t see you as someone who’d wallow in self pity.”

“Vin?” Chris opened his eyes to see the long haired sharpshooter hunched down beside him. “ Where’s Hank?”

“No one here but you, Cowboy. Feeling sorry for your self, too. That’s not the Larabee I know.”

“Help me, Vin.”

“Can’t.” Vin shook his head sadly. He held up his hand, “See, you can see through me, I’m not really here. You have to get yourself out of this mess.”

“Not here… I don’t understand. I can’t get out, my leg is broken maybe the other one too. I can’t tell.”

“Come on, Chris. What happened to that tough Seal training? You’re not thinking straight. Think, Chris. You gotta try.” Vin said.

The blond blinked at the fading image. “Okay, that was a hallucination. I’m cold, thirsty and in shock. I can’t trust anything I see or hear.”

Chris turned his head and watched the light flicker on his backpack. He could see the tip of the water bottle. His sluggish mind focused on that one tiny thing, the water bottle. Larabee ran a dry tongue across dry cracked lips. He was thirsty, so thirsty. He needed that water.

Slowly, as if swimming in mud, he rolled onto his side. He growled deep in his throat at the pain as he dragged his broken leg up and over the trapped one. Clawing in the soft dirt he reached for the back pack. His trembling fingers fell short by inches. His hand dropped with a groan of exhaustion.

Forcing his hands to dig in the soil for purchase he attempted to stretch his body. He felt as if each joint was being pulled apart. He gasped in agony as he felt the bone in his trapped leg separate. The pieces of bone scraped against each other. He wouldn’t quit; he couldn’t quit now. Teeth clenched against the pain he stretched even more. Finally the tips of his fingers brushed against the rough fabric of the pack strap.

He screamed in torment as the calf muscles in the overextended leg cramped. His body jerked in spasms. Gasping from effort and pain Chris almost cried in frustration. “Shit! Shit! Shit!” he screamed angrily. All he could do was ride out the cramp, he couldn’t move, he couldn’t reach it to rub it out.

Waiting until the pain eased and his breathing calmed it dawned on him. He had his belt. He could use it.

Reaching down and unbuckling it he pulled it from the loops. Threading the end through the buckle making a loop he tried to reach the pack again. Digging into the dirt with one hand for purchase he tossed the loop at the pack hoping it would catch on something.

Again and again he tried. But the elusive backpack wouldn’t be caught. “Stop laughing at me. “ Chris shouted, his head dropping in defeat. How dare the backpack laugh at him? He could do it he just didn’t feel well. He’d rest for a while then he’d try again, when his legs stopped hurting so damn much. Closing his eyes he heard the wind whistling. Even nature seemed amused at his failure.

~~ M7 ~~

Vin Tanner brushed the sleek black horse. Pony stood still luxuriating in the soothing grooming. It was finally his turn after Peso. Vin tried hard to ignore the growing unease that had started yesterday. Over and over he told himself it was just his imagination. That Chris was having a great time.

But the hazy half remembered dreams that had plagued the night before didn’t help. Each time he’d awakened he’d tried to remember what had woken him. Each time he’d shiver from the cold and pull the blankets tighter around him. But they never seemed to ease the bone deep cold.

Pony’s ears flicked forward and he snorted and shook his head.

Tanner came out of his pondering, “What’s the matter, Pony? Easy, boy.” Vin said as he patted the suddenly nervous horse. He looked around to see what was bothering Pony. It was a little late in the year for snakes but you could never tell.

There standing in the shadows was a small boy. Vin frowned. He hadn’t heard any vehicles. He peered at the boy who was just standing, waiting to be seen. He sure looked familiar.

“Ya lost, Kid? It’s kinda late for ya to be out alone.”

The boy stood very still for a moment more then he said. “My Daddy’s hurt. He needs help.”

“Yer Dad, Kid? Where is he?”

The boy cocked his head looking at Vin. “He’s in the mountain. He’s hurt. You gotta help him.”

“What mountain, Kid? Where?”

“You gotta help my daddy.”

“Sure, kid….”

“Vin? You in there?” came a voice from outside.

“I’m in here, Buck.” Vin said as he turned around.

“Hey, Junior. You about finished?” Buck said as he came through the door.

“Yeah, except for the Kid.”

Buck looked around, “What Kid?”

Vin pointed, “The Kid over… well hell, he was over there.”

“Who Vin?” Buck asked.

“Some Kid, a boy around six or so. Said his dad was hurt and asked for help.”

“Maybe he ran outside.”

“Maybe?” Vin said doubtfully as he put Pony in his stall.

Going outside the two men looked and called but no luck.

They walked into the dark house finally to warm up and make sure every thing was okay. Buck checked the front door and Vin wandered through the living room. His eye caught a small framed photo high on the bookcase.

Vin frowned and reached for it. He’d seen it before of course. It was a picture of Chris, Sarah, and Adam taken a few weeks before they died. Tanner stared at the boy in the picture and felt all the blood drain out of his face. The boy in the picture was the boy in the barn. But that couldn’t be.

Buck walked in. “Vin? You look like you’ve seen a ghost.”

The younger man looked up and weakly smiled. “I think I have.”


“The boy in the barn? This is him.” Vin pointed to the picture.

Buck didn’t even look at the photo. “No, you’re wrong. That can’t be, that’s Adam.”

“Don’t you think I know that? But that’s the boy that was in the barn. He said his daddy was hurt. When I asked him where, he said his daddy was ‘IN’ the mountain. Buck? Chris said he was going to look for that old silver mine again.”

“Now hold on, Vin. This is too weird. You can’t believe that Adam’s ghost came to you to tell you Chris is hurt? That’s crazy, Vin.” Buck said shaking his head.

“I don’t know, Bucklin. All I know is that I’ve had a bad feeling about Chris since last night. And now this has happened. I didn’t imagine it Buck.”

“I believe you, Vin, I just…”

“Yeah, me, too. But I’m going looking at first light tomorrow. If it’s nothing …. Larabee can just be mad at me for interrupting his trip.”

“Okay, but if your going I’m going, too. I’ll just call JD so he won’t worry. Flip you for the bed?” Buck smiled.

~~ M7 ~~

“Chris, Honey, wake up.”

“Come on, Honey, you have to wake up.”

Larabee fought to open his eyes. IT was so hard. His eyes were so heavy. “Leave me alone. Just let me sleep.”

“Chris, now. You have to wake up.”

“NO!” Chris growled and tossed his head. “No, not that voice. It couldn’t be.” Groaning again he tried to open his eyes, blinking over and over to open them wide enough to see. Someone was with him. The sunlight played through her long curls. “Sarah?” It was so hard to talk to make sound come out of his dust dry throat.

“Sarah? How?” He asked, lifting a trembling hand toward the heavenly sight.

Sarah smiled. “Yes, it is me. Does it really matter how?” She reached out and touched his cheek.

“No, all that matters is you’re here.” Chris tried to move closer and sent waves of pain through out his body.

“Be still, my love. You need to save your strength. Help is coming.” Sarah said soothingly.

“Doesn’t matter. Can’t…fight anymore. I’m too cold, too thirsty.” Chris answered.

“Do you want to die, Chris?” Sarah asked.

“I want to be with you. I want the pain to stop,” he whispered.

“Do you want to die?” She asked harshly. “What would that do to your friends? Can you imagine Vin finding your dead body? What that would do to him?”

“I don’t care.”

“Yes, you do. These men have become very important to you. As you have become important to them. Would you risk destroying them just because you want to give up? Your grief almost destroyed Buck once. If you died like this… could you do that too him. Could you give Vin that kind of grief, the kind you never get over?”

“No, yes…I don’t know. I can’t think straight anymore. Sarah? It hurts so. What if my legs are too damaged? I couldn’t live like that. Not whole. Not be able to do the things I love.”

“Oh, self pity. Not a pretty sight. How dare you, Chris Larabee, putting yourself above the others?” Sarah said anger showing in her voice.


“Do you think that it’s your wonderfully fine body that makes you who you are? Let me tell you, Chris Larabee there’s more to the man I married then two legs.”

Chris smiled at the anger flashing in those brown eyes. He said, “I’ve missed you so much.”

“I know. I’m always near you, you know.”

“Sarah? Where’s Adam?”

“He’s on an errand for me.”

“Oh.” Chris shifted slightly. He couldn’t be still. His legs were starting to cramp again. Yet if he moved too much he could feel the broken bones shift and scrape against each other. He tried to hold in the moan. Reaching he felt Sarah grab his hand and he squeezed. Eyes shut he cried out, “God! It hurts.”

Sarah leaned over her suffering man. She stroked his face with her free hand. “Easy, my Love. I know it hurts. Help is coming. Vin will be here soon. Just breathe nice slow breaths…you can do it, Love. Ride it out. You can hold on for me, for Vin and Buck and the others. But mostly for yourself, your life isn’t over yet. But you have to fight, my Love, don’t you give up on me. You keep fighting.”

Chris lost himself in the beloved voice but he felt the chills coming back. The cold that ate his very bones and the tremors that shook him so hard he felt as if his teeth were going to fall out. It was as if each joint would separate and pull him apart. He was lost in the pain he no longer heard the voice or felt the hand he thought he was holding. His vision swam in grays and black making him nauseous, until he was forced to close his eyes.

He was alone again. His only companion the agony his tiring body was inflicted with. He welcomed the dark when it came. It warmed him.

~~ M7 ~~

Before dawn there were five vehicles parked in front of the Larabee house. Vin slammed the pickup door. “I tol’ ya’ll ya don’t need to be here. Buck and I can just go for a little walk without everybody comin’.” Vin said to the others, his accent thicker because of his worry.

Nathan looked up from the medical supplies he was packing into the backpack. “You hush up, Vin Tanner. We’re going. Even if Chris is all right we get a good day out of it. If he’s not… you’ll need us.”

“Just so ya know this could be a wild goose chase.” Vin turned and looked up at the mountain. Our cells are no good up there. We brought walkie talkies. Now we’re going to have to pace ourselves ‘cause range is limited. I know basically where Chris was going so Ezra you’ll stay down here. If we need a med evac you’ll be able to order one.

Josiah, Nathan you two trail behind us, and JD stay even further back. Buck and I will separate at the fork. When one of us finds Chris we’ll call you and…..whatever.”

The men nodded in agreement. Vin and Buck shouldered their packs and headed out.

~~ M7 ~~

The hour before dawn was the coldest. Chris opened his eyes and saw it was still dark. His world had narrowed to darkness, and cold, and thirst. He clenched his teeth to keep them from chattering. The chills were coming back. He fought to be still, trying to keep the small constant shivers from reaching his legs.

He couldn’t remember the last time he’d felt so miserable, so alone. A groan escaped his dry throat. “Sarah? Sarah, come back don’t leave me,” he pleaded.

“I’ll never leave you, Love.”

Chris turned his head toward the soft voice. The dim light the stars gave seemed to shimmer around her. “Don’t leave me,” he begged again. “I don’t want to die alone.”

Sarah raised an eyebrow. “Are you planning on dying then?”

“No, but I don’t see any way out of here. I can’t get loose. I don’t even know how long I’ve been here. It feels like forever.”

“It hasn’t been long, Love. The sun’s just about to come up and help is on the way.” Sarah reassured.

“He…..help? How?”

“Just hold on a bit longer. The sun will warm you soon.” Sarah said.

“Nev..never going to be wa..warm.” Chris moaned.

“Yes, you will. You have your new family to warm you.”

“Not the same.”

“No, it’s not. But together you all are a family, would you deny that Vin is like a brother to you?” Sarah asked.

“No. Vin is more than a brother..” Chris tried to concentrate on what Sarah was saying but the cramps in his calves were growing. He tried to shift just enough to ease his pain. But moving only brought new pain from the broken bones.

Larabee lay still for a while. He could feel her presence. It didn’t end the cold, didn’t ease the pain, but it comforted him.

“Sarah?” He finally said.

“Yes, Love?”

“I never answered your question,” Chris said.

“What question, Chris?” She smiled.

“You asked me ‘did I want to die?’” he reminded her.

“I did, didn’t I?” she said puzzled.

“I didn’t answer you,” Chris admitted.

“No, you didn’t,” Sarah agreed.

Chris opened his eyes and looked at the beautiful image beside him. “I did at first. I would do things…..take risks. Buck saved me more times then I can say. I wanted so bad to…for the pain I felt to stop. I didn’t care how; I just wanted it to stop. But, Sarah, some time, some how, over the last few years that feeling has changed. I still want more then anything to be with you, but it’s stopped being ‘right now’ and has become ‘someday’. I don’t want to die right now.”

“Then fight, Chris Larabee. Fight the pain and the cold. Help is coming. I promise it is.” Sarah Larabee looked into her husband’s eyes and promised with her whole being that it would be all right.

~~ M7 ~~

Tanner’s eyes swept the land, up the trail and down. Looking for any sign that said Chris had been here, anything. He walked further up the trail his whole body reflecting the knots he had in his stomach. He felt sure time was short. He knew that if they didn’t find Chris soon he’d die. He didn’t understand how he knew this but simply accepted it.

Again he looked off the deer trail he was walking on. Checking under each clump of bushes before he walked on again. Something caught the corner of his eye causing him to stop, something that was out of place. Patiently he looked over the area again noting each color change in the leaves.

There it was. He held his breath. That neon blue that didn’t fit in the browns, gold, and reds of fall foliage. Tanner walked toward the small patch of color not letting it out of his sight. There ahead, leaning against a large rock was Chris’ backpack. Vin touched it trying to reassure him self that it was real. He held his breath as he walked toward the mine entrance.

Just inside the opening lay Larabee. “Chris?” Vin whispered as he rushed toward his friend’s side.

Larabee lay on his back his eyes half open but unseeing. His hands clawed into the soft dirt. Scrape marks showed along both sides of the man’s body as if he’d tried to dig something up.

One foot was trapped under a wooden beam that had twisted the leg at an odd angle. The free leg was swollen and lay beside the other.

Tanner fell to his knees. “Chris?” He reached out with a trembling hand almost afraid to touch the still form. He gently laid his hand on Chris’ neck and even before he felt the pulse he felt the heat of the fever pouring from his friend.

Grabbing the walkie talkie he went to the entrance of the mine. “Buck! I found him. Take the left fork and come up the dry creek bed. He’s hurt, Buck, it looks bad.”

“Slow down Vin. How is he hurt?” Bucks voice came back over the walkie talkie.

“Uh, he’s trapped under a beam. It looks like his legs are broken. I can’t tell how long he’s been here. But it looks like quiet a while.”

“Okay, I’m on my way, I’ll tell Nathan.”

At the sound of the voice Larabee blinked. “Go away.” He whispered his voice dry and raspy. “Go away, you aren’t real. Let me die in peace.”

“Ya ain’t gonna die, Cowboy. Not if I can help it. Here I need ya to sip this real slow.” Vin said. He held the water bottle to the blonde’s lips.

Not until he felt the moisture did Chris respond. He sucked on the bottle crying out in dismay when Vin pulled it away.

“No, ya don’t. Lets see if that stays down, Pard.”

Green eyes tried to focus darting back and forth looking for the source of the voice. They stopped and stared at the vague shadowy shape above him. “Vin?”

“Yeah, Cowboy, it’s me.” Vin smiled down at him.

“You really here? I’m….I’m not dreaming?”

“I’m really here. What happened?”

“Fell… I fell and couldn’t get up.. Hurts….” Chris said and gasping as another cramp coursed down his leg.

“Vin? Come in, Vin?” Bucks voice came over the walkie talkie.

“Yeah, I’m here.”

“Nathan wants to know more about Chris’ injuries. He’s coming as fast as he can.”

“One leg is trapped, looks like both are broken though. He’s got a fever. Don’t think he’s had any water or food for awhile. He’s talking out of his head.”

Vin waited.


“Yeah, still here.”

“Nathan says to cover him, it’s probably shock. Dribble a little water in his mouth. Not much, don’t want him getting sick. See what you can do about digging him loose. Nathan wants to know if it looks like he’s um, peed any.”

Vin looked at his friends dust covered pants. “No, don’t look like it.”

“Okay, I’ll tell him. I should be there in a few, Nathan and Josiah are a ways behind me. I’m marking the trail.” Buck waited for Vin to say something. “Vin?”

“I heard you, Bucklin. Just hurry.”

Vin sat down beside Larabee’s head. He reached out and brushed some dirt off the lean face. “Chris? Come on, Pard.” Vin tucked the blanket he’d retrieved from the backpack around Chris. Then he dribbled a few drops of water into Chris’ mouth.

“I know you can hear me.” Vin touched the blonde’s shoulder and felt him flinch.

Vacant eyes slid past Vin. “Go away. You’re not real. None of this is real.” Chris spoke saying exactly what he’d said before.

“I’m real, Chris. Feel me.”

“No…been here before. Not real.” Chris shook his head back and forth. “Not real,” he whispered again.

“Vin.” Buck’s voice came from outside the mine.

“In here, Buck.”

Buck’s towering form stood bent over in the entrance. He looked at the prone form of his friend. “God! He’s a mess.”

“Yeah, what did Nathan say?”

“He’ll be here in about an hour. Josiah too. Ezra is calling in the paramedics. But it’ll take time. Too many trees to get a chopper near here.”

Buck examined the trapped foot. “Vin?”


“If we unlace Chris’ boot couldn’t we slide his foot out? It’s the boot that’s caught not his foot.”

“It might work.”

Buck took his knife and slicing the laces he forced the boot open. Looking at Vin he said. “Okay it’s time. You pull him by the shoulders and I’ll guide his foot out.”

Vin nodded.

Buck looked from Chris to Vin. “It’s gonna hurt him.”

“I know. Just do it.”

Swallowing Buck nodded. “ On three. One, Two, Three.”

Buck slid the swollen foot out while Vin pulled Chris away from the beams. When he was moved all the pain in the world came alive in the blonde’s body and Chris screamed.

Vin gently laid Chris down. “Easy, Cowboy.”

“Sarah? Sarah, help me.” The semi-conscious man called. His voice hiccupping in what was close to sobs.

“Buck? Hurry,” Vin asked looking up at the dark man.

Buck closing his ears to the painful pleas straightened the legs. Noting how swollen they were, flesh pressing against the cloth of the jeans. He took his knife and slit the legs of the jeans all the way up to the waistband, doing his best not to jar the injuries. He gently pulled the cloth away from the skin seeing the deep indentures that the seams from the jeans left.

Vin took a handkerchief and wetting it wiped Chris face. “It’s going to be okay, Cowboy, help is on the way. Buck and me’ll get you out of here.”

Chris opened his eyes. He frowned at the light. There was more light than there was before. He looked toward the voice. “Vin?”

Vin stopped talking. He looked into Chris eyes and saw that he really ‘saw’ him.

His voice caught. “ Yeah. It’s me.”

“What happened? Where am I?” Larabee’s voice was filled with confusion.

Vin frowned and glancing up at Buck he answered the injured man. “You got hurt. Buck and me found ya. We’re about half way up Ol’ Baldy and we’re waiting for Nathan and Josiah to get here so they can help us get you down.”

“Oh. I don’t feel so good,” Chris, said sounding even more confused. He didn’t seem to really understand what Vin had said.

“Chris, I need you to take another sip of water.”

“Hmmm??” Chris asked.

“More water,” Vin urged.


Vin reached under the blond’s head and lifted it slightly. “Here you go, Cowboy, slowly.”

Chris sucked on the water. When Vin withdrew the bottle he looked up. “Vin? You real? Are you really here?”

“Yeah, I’m really here.”

Chris reached up and lightly touched the cheek of the man beside him. Then let his hand fall to his side. It had seemed real before. Maybe this was just a dream, too.

“What’s the matter, Chris?” Vin asked worried at the odd action.

“Can’t trust…you were real before, then you were gone.” Chris looked around. “Sarah?….I want Sarah.”

“She’s not here Chris,” Vin said feeling the panic rising inside him.

“Yes..yes she is, was here. I ta… I talked to her. She was here I...” Chris looked up at Vin tears in his eyes. “She was here. Make her come back.”

“I can’t, Chris. I don’t know how to make her come back.” Vin said trying to reassure the injured man. “Try to rest now, okay? Nathan should be here soon.”

Chris closed his eyes. “Okay,” he said. Sarah would be here next time, when he woke up again.

Vin waited until he thought the blond was asleep and then called softly. “Buck? You still in contact with Nathan?”

Buck stuck his head inside. “Yeah, why?”

“I need to ask him something.”

“Here.” Buck handed the walkie talkie to Vin.


“Yeah, Vin?” came the voice back.

“Nathan, Chris is talking funny. Asking the same things over and over. He… he keeps asking for Sarah, insisting that she was here,” Vin blurted out.

Nathan thought for a few minutes. He wasn’t sure what to say. Finally he said, “Shock sometimes causes confusion, that and the dehydration could make him see things, hear things. Hallucinations are common and he’d probably see what he most wants to see. Has he been holding the water down?”


“Okay, keep giving him small sips until we get there. Buck said you got him free.”

“Yeah, but he complains of getting cramps in his legs.”

“That’s normal. Just try to keep him warm and don’t let him move those legs. We should be there soon.”

“Alright, Nate. Just hurry.” Vin looked up and handed the walkie talkie back to Buck.

“All we can do is wait, Junior. It shouldn’t be too much longer. The path’s marked and those two can travel even carrying that stretcher.”

“I know, Buck. I just hate sitting here doing nothing.”

Shaking his head Buck went out again. “You’re not doing nothing, Vin,” he said noticing how small the mine entrance was. If he waited outside hopefully Vin wouldn’t feel so closed in. He sat on a large boulder beside the mine and watched for the others.

~~ M7 ~~

Nathan rushed forward when he finally spotted Buck. Going inside he said, “Out of the way Vin.” He set his pack down and knelt down beside injured man. The medic started his examination, starting at Chris’ head and working down. He stopped at the sliced open jeans, staring at the swollen exposed legs. Both legs resembled fat sausages rather then the lean man’s legs.

Leaning toward the entrance he called out, “Josiah, you and Buck find me four straight sticks about an inch thick and three feet long. We’re going to need to stabilize these legs before we move him.”

“Okay, Nathan,” the two men called back.

Nathan nodded. “Vin, look in my pack there’s bags of IV fluid. Give me one and one of the packets to connect it.” The healer leaned over close to Larabee’s face. “Chris? Wake up, Chris. Can you hear me?”

Green eyes fluttered and opened. “Go ‘way. Why’s every one want me to wake up?”

Puzzled, Nathan decided to ignore the question. “It’s me, Chris. I’m going to start an IV for you. And I’m going to give you something for the pain. It won’t stop it completely but it’ll dull it some so we can move you. Chris? Do you understand?”

Larabee tried to answer. He licked his lips. “I heard. Gonna give me…IV and pain stuff. Nathan, I’m so cold.”

“I know, Chris. We’re going to fix that as soon as we can. Just hold on.”

Chris nodded slightly. He felt a slight prick as Nathan slipped the needle in. Then another prick as Nathan gave him a shot.

Josiah and Buck soon came back carrying the sticks Nathan had ordered.

“Will these do, Nathan?” Josiah asked.

Glancing up Nathan nodded. “Yeah. Now we’re going to do this the old fashioned way. I’m going to splint his legs, and then we’ll put him in the carrier and roll the extra blankets to cushion them. We’re going to have to carry him down now. Chris can’t wait for the paramedics to come here.”

“But it’ll be dark in an hour. We’re already loosing daylight,” Buck protested.

“We got flashlights. We can’t wait for daylight; it’d take that long for the paramedics to get here. We need to move him now. The quicker we get him to the hospital the better.”

Hearing the urgency in Nathan’s voice the others nodded.

Then Nathan leaned over, “Chris? Can you hear me?”

“Yeah,” Larabee answered without opening his eyes.

“Good. How do you feel? Is the pain less?”

“Yeah.” Chris opened and closed his mouth as if it were hard to make his tongue work.

“Okay. Chris? We’re going to stabilize your legs with splints. It’s gonna hurt some but we have to do this to move you.”

Chris frowned. His eyes opened a crack. “Just do it.”

Nathan nodded and said looking at Josiah, “Hold Chris by the shoulders. Vin is going to be helping me. There’s not room for all of us.”

Nathan began to place the splints where he wanted them. Pausing he looked across Chris to Vin. “We’re not setting them. We’re just trying to keep them from moving while he’s in the carrier.”

Vin nodded. He clenched his teeth against the thought of hurting Chris. But he watched and helped as Nathan quickly bound the sticks to the injured man’s legs.

Chris didn’t make a sound. His eyes were tightly closed and his breath came in short pants. His hands clenched in fists against the pain caused despite the medication Nathan had given him.

Nathan sat back on his heels. He laid a hand on Chris’ arm. “Almost done. We need to lift you and move you to the carrier now.”

Chris nodded one terse nod. He didn’t even open his eyes.

Each of the men took a corner of the blanket Chris was laying on and lifting it they slowly moved outside. At the first jolt Chris gasped and a deep moan escaped him. But they couldn’t stop now. Bent over to accommodate the low entrance the tall men struggled to lift and move the injured one with as little jerking as possible.

“Hold on, Chris. We’re almost there,” Vin said as he cleared the entrance.

Buck had lined the carrier with blankets and then maneuvered Chris around until they could lower him into the wire stretcher.

Once Chris was laid down Nathan placed rolled blankets between his legs and along the out side of each leg to prevent as much movement as possible. Then he wrapped the cold man in another blanket for warmth. Checking the IV he said, “ Chris, we’re done. All you have to do is relax. We’re going to carry you down the mountain.” As he spoke he wiped the sweat from the blonde’s face.

“I’m fine, Nathan. Just get me home.” Chris said between clenched teeth.

“We will, Chris.” Then looking at the others he said, “We’ll trade off carrying him so we don’t get too tired. Vin, you lead off with the light. Josiah and I will carry him first. Buck, you keep trying to get a hold of JD, so we can tell him we’re coming. He’ll need to get Ezra and Ezra will need to alert EMT’s. Despite what I’ve given him it’s going to hurt like hell moving him.”

Vin led the way holding the light where the others could see the trail. They walked in silence.

~~ M7 ~~

They had switched carriers twice, head to feet and leading the way. This allowed each to rest or carry a lighter load without growing too tired. Through it all Chris had stoically endured the jousting ride.

“Vin…Vin.. need to stop. Please,” the blond said through clenched teeth.

Vin looked down at the suffering man. “Okay, Chris, we’ll rest a bit. Nathan?” he called to the healer. Then he looked around. There was no where to lay the carrier. The ground was too steep and uneven. So Buck and Josiah simply stood still holding the carrier as evenly as possible.

“Nate, ain’t there something ya can give him for the pain?” Vin asked the healer.

Nathan sighed. “Yeah. I can give him some more Toredol. It’s been several hours since the last time.” Digging in his pack Nathan brought out the vile and syringe. “Chris, I’m going to give you something more for the pain. We can’t stop, you understand?”

“I understand, Nathan, just give me some,” Chris ground out.

Nodding Nathan gave Larabee the shot then he checked the IV and the bag of fluid. He could hear Buck talking on the walkie talkie.

“JD. We’re about half way down the mountain. You call Ezra and tell him we should be at the ranch in about three hours. He can get that ambulance to transport Chris to the hospital there by then.”

“ Yeah. You want me to wait for you?” Came JD’s voice over the walkie talkie.

“Nah, go on down ahead of us.”

“Okay Buck. See ya in a while.”

~~ M7 ~~

The men trudged on each praying in their own way that the medication Nathan had given Chris would work better. That he would be able to make it to the ranch without any more pain.

“Twinkle Twinkle Little Star...”

Vin looked down in astonishment at the man he was helping to carry. “Chris? What ‘ca doin’?”

“Singin’ with the stars. I can’t dance with them…. How I wonder what you are.

You know that song is so dated. I mean we know what stars are now.

Up above the sky so high,

Like a diamond in the sky…”

“Nathan?” Vin asked almost in a panic, this was so not Larabee.

“It’s the medication, Vin. He’s fine.”

“Know what?” Chris asked no one in particular.

“What, Cowboy?”

“Sarah didn’t like diamonds. She said they were cold ugly things. Had hell of a time finding her an engagement ring. Didn’t we, Buck?”

“We sure did, Pard.” Buck answered.

“Twinkle, Twinkle little star… She loved fire opals. Said they were alive….

Like a opal in the sky… I got her the most beautiful ring….

Twinkle….. Buck? What happened to the opal?” Chris’ mood was suddenly changing.

“I don’t know, Pard. I just thought she was wearing it.”

“Nope, she’d taken her rings off. Said her fingers were swollen… We gotta find it.” Chris started trying to move.

“Be still, Chris. We’ll look for it when you’re better. Now you be still, Cowboy,” Vin tried to sooth him, trying to make Larabee settle down.

“ ‘m I sick?”

“No, you got hurt. We’re carrying you down the mountain.”

“Oh…. Twinkle, Twinkle…” Chris started again even louder.

“Hey, Pard, could you hold it down a little you’re scarin’ the wild life?” Buck said grimacing.

Chris blinked and in a stage whisper that wasn’t much better started over. “Twinkle, Twinkle little star….”

Finally in desperation Vin had had enough. “Chris, close yer eyes and go to sleep. Ya need to rest.”

Larabee looked around, blinking owlishly. “Okay.” He closed his eyes.

The others sighed in relief. A singing ‘stoned’ Larabee was not a pretty sight.

The night was long enough with out hearing damage. The blond was not at his best right now.

One green eye popped open. “Are we there yet?” Chris asked.

Sighing Vin said firmly, “No. Go to sleep.”

The green eye closed and this time stayed closed.

The others just kept walking, they focused on one thing only, to get Chris back to the ranch house, and then to the hospital. But occasionally as they walked one would chuckle at the thought of “bad ass” Larabee singing a child’s song.

~~ M7 ~~

The four exhausted men tramped on through the cold dark night. Stopping only to switch places and to let Nathan check on Larabee’s condition. They didn’t notice the lightening of the sky in the east or that the trees were thinning. It was only when they saw the lights from the ranch house and the barn did they realize they had made it, almost.

Buck who was leading the group when they saw the lights called over the walkie talkie. “JD, we’re crossing the pasture. We’ll be there in a few.”

“10-4, you want the paramedics to come help?”

Buck looked back at his companions and smiled. “No. We’ve got him this far we’ll get him home.”

Vin nodded. He was walking beside the carrier. His hand was laid on Chris’ shoulder letting the semi-conscious man feel his presence. He’d tried to lead or carry but each time he lost contact Larabee would became restless and begin mumbling and trying to toss about. But when Vin was in contact with him the blond was quiet.

They reached the ambulance and the EMT’s started a flurry of activity once they had the carrier. Vin stepped back to give them room to work.

After a moment of strange hands poking and prodding him green eyes snapped open. “Vin?” Chris called.

“I’m here, Chris. Lay still and let the medics work,” Vin called back trying to reassure the injured man.

Chris tracked the sound of Vin’s voice. He finally found who he was looking for and stared, his eyes bleary. “You look terrible.”

Vin smiled down at his best friend. “Ya don’t look too good yer self.”

One of the paramedics leaned over Chris. “Mr. Larabee? My name is Julie. We’re going to load you in the ambulance now.”

Chris turned his head and frowned at the young woman. After a slow moment he said, “Alright.” Then he looked back at Vin. “Don’t leave me.”

Swallowing Vin said, “I won’t, Cowboy. I’ll be right beside you.”

“Uh, sir?” Julie tried to interrupt.

Steel blue eyes stared at her. “Ya want him to be still? Ya get me as a passenger.”

The older paramedic looked up from his equipment. “Julie, he rides with us.”

“But…” The young woman was confused. Why were they breaking the rules for these men?

“Ride up front with Ray, okay. He’ll explain,” the man said.

Shrugging Julie climbed into the cab after shutting the doors. She waited as they headed down the road.

Buck turned to the others. “Okay, see you at the hospital.” They each turned to their own vehicles.

As she looked back through the small window Julie glanced at the driver. “So what makes these guys so special?”

Ray snorted. “Woman, they’re the Magnificent Seven. They’re a hot shot ATF team and anyone who’s worked any of the Denver area hospitals for any amount of time knows this. If one of the seven is hurt you make special allowances for them. You’re new, you’ll learn.”


“Well, first when one gets hurt they all show up, don’t leave and go from pestering to threatening to get their way and the best care for their bud. The one that’s hurt back there, that’s Larabee their leader. If one of the others gets hurt he’ll move heaven and earth to get them what they need.”

“Hell, they’re more like brothers then anything. So most of us just let them hang close. If that’s not possible we find Nathan, he’s got EMT training, and he’s the most reasonable of the lot. Beside if it were Tanner hurt you’d need Larabee to keep from getting hurt yourself. Found that out the hard way. Man cracked one of my ribs one time and he was bleeding out. Only way to handle him was to let Larabee do it. Yep, you learn about them real fast.”

Before the driver could explain anymore they pulled into the emergency room drive. Vin jumped out of the ambulance and watched as the hospital staff rolled Chris inside.

“Vin?” A nurse with a clipboard asked.

Vin looked at her and smiled. “Hi, Marsha.”

“We need you to sign some forms. I’ve already started them. Come on and sit down and we’ll take care of them.” She gently led the dazed looking tracker over to a chair. She was one of the staff that had noticed that Vin had a problem with the forms. Her son was the same way. So she had quietly filled in most of the information for him.

Vin blinked a couple of times, “Thanks, Marsha, that’s right sweet of ya. Ya always help an’ I’m a bit tired.”

“I can tell. Would you like something from down the hall?”

“Nah, I’m good an’ the others’ll be here soon.” His eyes went to the door that hid Chris from him. “How long do ya think they’ll be?”

Marsha shook her head. “I don’t know Vin. They have to evaluate the injuries and everything. Don’t worry, I’m sure they’ll tell you something as soon as they can.”

Vin handed her the clipboard. He looked so tired and lost she smiled at him reassuringly and resisted the urge to give the young man a motherly hug. “I’ll let you know what’s going on as soon as I know. You sure you’re okay?”

“I’m fine,” Tanner said absently.

“Sure you are,” Marsha said under her breath as she took the paperwork to the desk.

Vin sat staring at the room they took Chris into. He didn’t notice anything until he felt a familiar hand on his shoulder. “Bucklin,” he said without turning.

“Any news?” Buck asked.

“Nah, not yet.”

Buck turned and catching Nathan’s eye nodded. He knew that Jackson could get information that they others couldn’t.

The men watched as Nathan walked over and started talking to one of the doctors for several minutes and then came back.

“They’re prepping him for surgery. What they’re gonna do is reduce the fracture and put pins in to stabilize the breaks. They’ll use some kind of splint until the swelling is down and then, maybe in a couple of days they’ll cast the breaks. It will be a while before we can see him. I think we should all go eat.”

Vin started to protest but Josiah putting his arm around the smaller man’s shoulder said, “Come on, boys, I’m starved. I know you all are, too. There’s a great all night diner just a block away. We can go eat and be back before Chris is even in recovery.”

Vin tried to protest again.

“Vin, you’re coming to eat with us now, cause if you don’t, by the time you can see Chris we’ll have to scoop you off the floor,” Nathan added.

Vin’s stomach betrayed him by growling loudly.

Nathan smiled. “See, even your stomach agrees.”

Feeling surrounded Vin nodded. “Okay. But we’re coming right back.” Josiah steered Vin out side wile Buck stopped to talk to Marsha.

“Hello, Darlin’ Marsha,” the tall man smiled down at the nurse.

“Buck, you’re full of blarney.”

“I know, darlin’, but you love me anyway. We’re gonna drag our worn out, starved butts over to the diner and eat. Here’s my cell number and Nathan’s. If you need us call, but we won’t be long.”

“I know you won’t be long. But it’s good that you’re making Vin go. He looks all done in, so do the rest of you. I’ll watch. You should have oh, an hour plus before you can see Chris.” Marsha glanced at t he retreating Vin. “You make sure that boy eats something healthy and not just sugar.”

Buck grinned at the motherly nurse calling Vin a ‘boy’. “I will. You just make sure you call if you need us.”

“You bet, ‘darlin’,” Marsha said grinning. That man always made her feel 30 years younger and a woman could dream.

~~ M7 ~~

Vin sat at the diner booth and pushed the food from one side of the plate to the other. After a few bites he just couldn’t eat anymore and he wanted to bolt out the door and get back to the hospital. Would too, except Nathan kept looking his way.

It wasn’t that the others were talking much; they were all tired and worried. In disgust Vin threw down his fork and looked around. “I’m going back. Ya’ll just go on and finish. Ain’t hungry no more Nathan.” He got up and left.

The others watched. “Junior’s a mite worried and he’s tired,” Buck said.

“That is obvious, Mr. Wilmington. His speech patterns get even more appalling when he’s tired and as you said worried,” Ezra observed.


Vin walked back to the hospital and took the elevator to the surgical wing. He knew the way and nodded to the staff he recognized. Going the main nurses’ station he stopped and waited until one of the nurses came back.

She seemed surprised to see him. “Hello, Vin.”

“Hi, um, do you know where Chris Larabee is?” Vin smiled at her.

“Let me check.” She checked her clipboard and the computer. “He’s still in surgery. But they’ve set a room up for him; it’s 409 so when he’s out of recovery they’ll move him down there.”

“Thanks, Jan.” He checked her name tag. “Do you know how he’s doing?”

Jan shook her head, “Sorry, I don’t. You can wait over there if you want.” She said pointing to a couch and some chairs.

“Thanks, will you let me know when he’s out?” Vin asked.

“Sure. As soon as I can.”

Vin turned and walked to the waiting area. For once it was empty and he slumped back resting his head on the back of the couch. He didn’t mean to fall asleep but the next thing he knew Buck was gently trying to wake him.

“Come on, Junior. They got Chris down in his room. We’re headed down there now.”

Vin frowned through the fog that his mind was caught in and jumped up. He swayed just a second.

Nathan grabbed his arm. “Easy there, you moved too fast.”

“Yeah, I guess I did. Is Chris alright?” Vin said.

“He’s fine. Came through the operation with flying colors and the fever’s down. They’re still fighting the dehydration but it’s going better,” Nathan said as he cautiously let go of Vin’s arm.

Once each of the men had checked on Larabee personally, Nathan began, “Now, he’s gonna sleep all day maybe all night, too, so everyone might as well go home. We’re all tired from being up over 24 hours and we’ll be back before he gets too grouchy tomorrow.”

“I ain’t going,” Vin said stubbornly.

“Now, Vin….” Nathan started and was interrupted by Josiah.

“Nate, I’m sure the staff will rustle up a comfortable chair for Vin and he can stay with Chris. Neither one of them will rest otherwise and you know it,” Josiah said to stop the coming argument and to ease the tension he saw in the sharpshooter.

~~ M7 ~~

Vin sat close to the bed watching his best friend sleep. He reached over and ran a finger down the hand nearest to him. He spoke softly, not wanting to wake the sleeping patient.

“You gave us quite a scare ya know, taking off like that and then getting all hurt. Well, me anyway. I can live with out the worry, Cowboy. Next time I ain’t letting you go alone. Course with our track record we’d both get hurt and then ol’ Bucklin would have to rescue us.”

“What set you off I wonder? You were doing okay as far as I could tell. Then boom you up and take off for the hills like ya did. Why? Guess I’ll never know will I…”

“It was a song.” A raspy whisper came from the bed.

Vin’s head jerked up. “What?”

Slits of green stared at him. “It was a song. I…it just brought back all the loneliness and I had to get away, be by myself.” Chris choked out.

Vin spooned some ice to him.

“Thanks, I knew… I saw how worried all of you were. Expecting another bender at least. I thought if I just got away from everybody and everything it would be easier to get through the weekend. Didn’t work very well.”

“Nope it didn’t. Can I get you something?”

Chris shook his head. “Just stop thinking so loud, I need my rest.” He yawned and before Vin could answer he was asleep.

~~ M7 ~~

Later that night Vin sat watching his best friend sleep. He watched as the animated face reflected the dreams he was having. Then slowly the green eyes opened. They looked around the room frowning, finally resting on the figure sitting beside him. “Vin?” Chris whispered hoarsely.

Vin stood and leaning over the bed offered some ice chips. “Yeah, it’s me.”

Letting the ice melt first, Chris said, “Is this real? Or just another dream? How’d I get here?”

“It’s real, you’re in the hospital. We found you and walked you down. Don’t you remember any of it yet? Told you a couple of times already.”

Chris frowned searching his memory. “I…I found the Silver Angel. Fell, was trapped. It was so cold and I hurt…broke my leg.” Chris looked at Vin for confirmation.

Vin nodded. “Both legs actually.”

“Both legs,” the blond corrected. “ Then I lay there a long time. Sarah was there with me.” Green eyes looked down as he whispered this part, half afraid his friend would think him crazy.

“She keep you company?” Vin asked.

“Yeah, kept me fighting the cold and the pain. I think I would have died with out her,” Chris admitted.


“No, don’t tell me it was a dream or a hallucination.”

“Wasn’t goin’ to. Was gonna say sometimes the veil is so thin that we can see, talk to those on the other side.”

“How? You believe me?” Chris asked in astonishment.

With a far away look in his eyes Vin spoke softly. “Once, when I was on my own ‘for the army. I got hurt bad. Hid out fer a long time. Got real sick. I’s scared to go for help, scared to stay still. My Ma come to me. Talked to me. Told me I had to keep fightin’, that there was things I was to do.” Coming back from that far off place Vin looked at Chris. “ Yeah, I believe you, that Sarah was there. That she took care of you.”

Chris relaxed with Vin’s support.

“Somethin’ else happened that ya ought to know bout. I’s in the barn Saturday night an’ a boy come. Said his daddy was hurt and asked for help. It was Adam, Chris. Don’t know why he chose me, ‘stead of Buck. But it was him sent us looking for you.”

Chris smiled sleepily. “She said he was on an errand. Guess that was it.” The green eyes closed and Chris drifted off with a smile.

Vin smiled. “That’s it, Cowboy. You sleep, you deserve it.” Vin let out a huge yawn and leaned back in the chair. He put his feet up on the bottom rail of the bed and he, too, fell asleep.

An hour later Buck tiptoed into the room. He stopped and smiled. Both men were sound asleep. Chris looked so peaceful and Vin with his hand curled under the side of his head looked about ten. Smiling Buck turned and pulling the door closed headed back home.

The man in the bed cracked an eye open as the door closed and mouthed, “Good night, Buck.” With a slight grin fell asleep again secure that his friends were near.

The End