Unseen Force

by Winnie and Renegade

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Even now that he had vomited his guts out, the blond couldn’t get the taste of his best friend’s blood out of his mouth. It continued to nauseate him. Time after time, he swallowed back the bile that still threatened to send him into painful spasms and Vin over the edge of the abyss on which he was precariously situated.

Through hooded eyes Chris watched the body on the other table, trying desperately to discern the slightest of movements, the slow rise and fall of his friend’s chest, or a flutter of the long lashes that covered blue eyes. Anything that would tell him that Vin Tanner was still alive.

In his mind, he could sense that the tracker was still in this world, but he no longer trusted his thoughts. They had betrayed him into believing that he had not hurt his friend. Yet in reality, the blond’s eyes confirmed the truth his heart felt. His own pain had released spike after spike into the fevered body – impaling Vin to the table of torture across from him.

In addition to the three spikes that protruded from his friend’s right thigh, right shoulder and left abdomen; two others now visibly pierced Vin’s upper left arm and his left calf. Chris knew too well that yet another had pierced Vin’s left lung, but he wondered how many countless others were embedded in his friend, unseen to the worried green eyes.

Despite his pleas to the heavens, the Firm’s team leader was still conscious – barely so – but fully aware of the mild current that still coursed through him. It served as a constant and painful reminder that every time he moved, his closest friend suffered the consequences.

The green eyes that had been clear close to thirty-six hours before were now red and swollen. Hooded in pain and flooded with bitter tears, he kept them locked on the face of his chosen brother. Desperately trying to will the blue eyes to open.

Dehydrated, severely nauseated and in extreme pain, Chris rasped his mantra across cracked and bleeding lips. “Please…Vin. Op…open…your eyes…Cowboy. D…don’t leave me. You…you’ve got to…fight…to…hold on. Please, Vin. I…I need…you.”

+ + + + + + +

“If we need it, the Medivac chopper can be here in twenty minutes.” JD reported, turning away from the communication console within the Firm’s highly equipped and technologically advanced van.

“Excellent, JD.” Sanchez said. He kept his eyes on the road, but spoke quietly to the man seated to his right as he slowed the van and turned into an area surrounded by a twelve-foot chain link fence. “Are you sure this is the warehouse, Buck?”

The ladies man didn’t turn. He kept his gaze forward, staring into the night. “I’m positive, Josiah.” He pointed toward the right. “Look! There’s Chris’ Lexus.”

Josiah nodded as three other men came forward to kneel behind the two men. “All right, then.” He pulled the van to a halt and turned off the ignition. “I’m not sure I like this. It’s quiet…too quiet.”

“They’re already gone.” Buck’s jaw tensed. “It’s his style.”

JD looked at his mentor. “Tasker’s?”

“Tasker’s,” confirmed the Firm’s playboy. “Hurt ‘em and leave ‘em.”

The venom that dripped off the reply sent chills down the back of every man in the van.

Sanchez turned to look at the four other faces. Setting his jaw, he checked the clip of his weapon and took a deep breath. “Gentlemen, let’s go get our brothers.”

+ + + + + + +

Kneeling behind pallets of crates, Josiah spoke quietly to the four men around him. “Nathan, you stay close to Ezra. I do not want you injured in any crossfire should we get into a gunfight. Based on Buck’s brief description of our friend Tasker, I fear your services may be required for our fallen brethren.”

Nathan nodded, putting his hand on the older man’s shoulder. “All right, Josiah. But since we don’t know what we’re facing when we get in there, when we do find Chris and Vin, they’re not to be moved until I can check them. Understand?”

“Understood,” Josiah agreed and then turned to Ezra. “I trust you’ll make sure he follows orders.”

“I shall endeavor to comply with your commands, Mr. Sanchez,” the gambler replied and grinned. Loading a bullet into the chamber of his weapon the conman grabbed the back of Nathan’s collar and pulled him behind another pallet. “This way Mr. Jackson. There is a lovely pallet over here that has your name inscribed on it.”

Josiah forced a guarded smile onto his face and put his hand on Wilmington’s shoulder. “Are you all right, Buck?”

“I’ll be fine, Josiah.” Jaw muscles tensed beneath a stern face. “Let’s just get them the Hell out of there.”

“That is precisely what we are going to do,” the ex-preacher replied.


The older man turned to the younger man kneeling slightly behind Buck. “Yes, JD?”

“Wha…what if…they’re….” The younger man swallowed hard, unable to finish.

Josiah saw Buck visibly tense at the words. He put his hand on JD’s shoulder and squeezed firmly. “They’re alive, JD. I will not consider any other alternative.” He nodded toward the warehouse. “Now, keep your mind on the objective and into position with you,” he admonished quietly.

JD trotted off toward the front of the warehouse, covered by the four other squad members. Josiah turned, checked his clip once more and put his hand on Buck’s shoulder. The dark head was lowered and Josiah felt the tremors course across the shoulders. “Have faith, Brother. They’re strong and they’re with each other. They will survive.” When Buck nodded, Josiah squeezed the playboy’s shoulder. He nodded toward JD when he saw the team’s computer wizard give the all clear. “After you. Our comrades are waiting.”

+ + + + + + +

Moments later, four men knelt just outside the door to the warehouse, waiting impatiently in their respective locations for the fifth to give the order to move forward.

“Damn it, Josiah. Hurry the fuck up!” Wilmington whispered into his headpiece.

“Patience is the better part of virtue, Brother.” Josiah answered.

A snicker from JD could be heard across all headsets. “Buck was never virtuous.”

“Gentlemen, though I do relish a good laugh now and again, I must say that now is not the proper time nor place to participate in such frivolity. Mr. Larabee and Mr. Tanner await our arrival. Of that, I am certain,” the gambler deadpanned.

“Ezra is right. We can laugh it up when we get Chris and Vin out of here and to safety.” Nathan said quickly.

“Buck, you and JD take Chris. Nathan, Ezra and I will take Vin.” Josiah directed quietly and then issued his order. “All right, gentlemen. Let’s go.” His hand on the door, he slowly opened it and stepped inside the warehouse.

Five dark figures silently entered the darkened structure and crept forward slowly. When the door closed behind them, they were plunged into complete darkness. They hovered close to each other, instinctively protecting each other’s back. Armed and ready for any surprise that Tasker may have left.

A faint light emanated from the center of the warehouse and five men inhaled suddenly as one.

“Holy shit!” JD exclaimed into his mike.

“Holy would not be an accurate term to describe that, Mr. Dunne.” Ezra retorted and swallowed hard.

Josiah closed his eyes and nodded. He opened them and took a deep breath. “Pull yourselves together. JD, get that chopper in the air and on its way to us, now!”

JD nodded and radioed for help.

The Firm’s four remaining members quickly ran toward the tables that held their friends. Putrid smells of urine, vomit and blood assaulted their noses and each of them forced back the bile that erupted from the pits of their stomachs.

+ + + + + + +

His stomach was rebelling once more and Chris gasped, trying to quell the dry heaves. Struggling to remain still, but he knew it was too late. Tanner hadn’t moved in over two hours. Chris’ mantra had gone unheeded. The sharpshooter’s eyes had remained closed and the slight rise and fall of Tanner’s chest was now imperceptible to the blond. The precious connection that Chris had shared with the man across from him was no longer present. He could no longer sense the life of his best friend.

He prayed for death to take him – to relieve him of the pain in his heart. To send him to Hell where he belonged, he thought. He didn’t deserve a place in heaven next to his friend’s side. He had hurt Vin…deliberately…just like Tasker had said.

The blond wept. He had killed his brother.

His mind was playing tricks on him again, he mused. He could see figures running toward him from the darkness. They looked familiar. Voices. He recognized three of the voices. No. They were figments of his imagination. Distorted images of what he wanted to see.

They were closer now. Two figures stood beside him. They both had dark hair. One was older – close to his own age, he figured. The other…the other was younger – so young. His face looked wet. Must be raining outside, Chris thought wearily. His eyes struggled to focus on the older man. His face had been dry when he first saw him, but now it too was damp. Were those tears, he wondered?

+ + + + + + +

Tears rolled down Buck’s face. He didn’t bother to wipe them off. Swallowing hard, he looked down at his long time friend. “Oh my God, Chris.” His eyes quickly scanned the blond’s trembling body taking in the details and assimilating the information being relayed to his brain. He frowned at the placement of the needles and the wires that were connected to them. Following the wires from their origination point, his gaze shifted down across the floor toward the other table. Realization set in. Instinctively he grabbed JD’s hand as it started to touch Chris. “Don’t touch him!”

“What?!” JD asked incredulously.

“Don’t touch him!” He turned toward the other table. “Nathan! Don’t touch Vin!”

“Jesus Christ, Buck! Are you mad?!” Nathan replied angrily.

Buck ignored him and turned back to Chris. He leaned in close but didn’t touch the blond. “Chris? Chris can you hear me? It’s Buck. Chris, we’re here. We’re going to get you and Vin out of here, you understand?” He swallowed hard once more at the blond’s stupor. “Chris! Chris look at me! It’s me Buck!” The sound of his voice finally reached the blond and Buck forced himself to hide the frown that threatened when Chris turned his face toward him. “Chris, listen to me. Don’t try and talk. Use your eyes, Chris. One blink for yes, two for no. You understand?”

One blink.

“Good. Chris, is the current still on?” Buck asked, a worried tone evident in his voice.

One blink.

“Dear God….” Buck said. He glanced toward Ezra. “Find the cutoff switch! It’ll be near that table! Maybe beneath it!”

Agonizing seconds ticked off the clock.

“I’ve got it!” Ezra shouted and flipped the hidden switch beneath the table.

Buck looked down at Chris. His heart was in his throat as he waited for the result. The blond’s body twitched once more and then stilled against the table. The green eyes that stared up at him cut the Firm’s playboy to the core. Buck put his hand on Chris’ forehead. “It’s over now, Pard. We’re going to get you out of here.”

Chris shook his head. “No…get…get Vin, first,” the blond rasped. “H…hurt…him. K…killed…him. D…didn’t…m…mean to…Buck.”

Five pairs of eyes quickly locked in succession.

Buck looked back down and shook his head, stroking the sweat soaked hair back from the blond’s beleaguered face. He cast a sidelong glance to Nathan.

Nathan nodded and stepped back to the table holding Vin. He balled his hand into a tight fist to stop the trembling as he reached forward to check for signs of life. Gently raising the eyelids, he shone a penlight into Vin’s eyes, the band across the tracker’s neck preventing him from checking the

carotid artery. Lowering his head, he sighed deeply. “Pupils are extremely sluggish, but he’s still alive.”

Buck swallowed hard and closed his eyes in relief. Opening the misting orbs, he gazed back down at the Firm’s leader. “Chris, listen to me very carefully. Vin is still alive. You hear me? He’s still with us.”

“A…alive?” the blond rasped. “N…not…dead?”

“No, Chris, he’s still alive,” Wilmington said and nodded. He looked across to JD. “Help me disconnect these wires and get these damn needles out of him!”

JD nodded and began to gently pull the leads free from Chris’ skin. His hands started to shake violently when Chris began to moan, but Buck wrapped his hand over JD’s wrist.

“Take it easy, Kid. It’s all right. Chris’ll be fine.” The older man squeezed the younger man’s wrist gently. “You gonna be okay?”

JD nodded reluctantly and continued to remove the needles in tandem with Buck. Steadily but swiftly they worked, until all the leads were removed and Chris was free of the minute barbs.

“Buck, give me a run down of his injuries,” Nathan requested and continued to check Vin’s vitals.

“Sorry, Pard…but I gotta check you out, OK? Nathan has his hands full right now.”

“It…it’s…o…okay…Buck. Let…let him…help Vin…first.”

Buck sighed heavily and ran his hands gingerly over Chris’ upper body, then to his arms and legs. “Sorry, Chris,” he apologized when the blond winced and moaned. Trying to keep his hands steady, the scoundrel examined Chris’ injuries carefully, knowing full well that the more Nathan knew about the severity of the wounds, the better he would be able to treat them. “Ah…looks like four broken ribs, his abdomen is bruised pretty badly, tender and swollen. He’s got a really deep gash on his right thigh and his right forearm is busted. His wrists and ankles are in pretty bad shape too. He’s scraped ‘em to the bone in a couple of places.”

“Damn it! All right. Get him off the table and lay him down on the floor and I’ll be right there.” Nathan directed quickly, releasing the straps across Vin’s forehead and neck. “I’ve got to get Vin stabilized first.”

Buck watched the team’s healer gently check the spike protruding from the tracker’s left side and then move to the one still imbedded in Vin’s shoulder, before examining the ones piercing the right thigh, left calf and arm.

“Damn it to Hell!” Nathan cursed once more. “I don’t believe this!”


“Take it easy, Chris. Nathan’s just tendin’ to him now.” Buck glanced worriedly over at the medic. “What’s wrong, Nathan? What is it?” Buck asked, squeezing the blond’s shoulder gently when he felt Chris tense.

“These damn spikes are what’s wrong!” the medic cried in frustration. “All proper medical procedures dictate we stabilize the foreign object and transport him, but he’s impaled to the fucking table!”

“What are we going to do, Nathan?” Josiah queried, stepping to his friend’s side. “This table is too heavy for us move and we could wind up doing him more harm if we try.”

“Don’t you think I don’t know that, Josiah?” Nathan snapped. “Hell, without knowing what kind of damage there could be internally, if we remove these spikes he could bleed to death before we get him to the hospital! But we can’t move him on this thing!”

“Then we have a conundrum, Mr. Jackson,” Ezra sighed.

Josiah nodded and placed a hand on Nathan’s shoulder. “What do you suggest, my friend? We’ll follow your lead.”

Nathan met Sanchez’s concerned gaze, then Ezra’s. He looked over to Buck, JD and the trembling blond on the other table before finally drawing his eyes back to Vin’s pale face. “You’re the spiritual one, Josiah. Start praying.”

Buck watched the dark brown eyes well with unshed tears as the decision was made. He swallowed hard, silently echoing the prayer Josiah was reciting, then heard a whispered apology and plea for forgiveness leave Nathan’s lips as the medic grasped the spike in Vin’s shoulder. The ladies’ man fought to quell the nausea that arose in his gut when a piercing scream cut through the darkened warehouse as the offensive object was swiftly pulled from Tanner’s flesh.

“Vin!” Chris cried. “Buck help…him!”

“Easy, Chris!” Buck said, holding the blond man back against the table. “He’s all right. Nathan just pulled that spike out of his shoulder. He’s got to take it slow until he knows what he’s up against!” Wilmington tried to ignore the litany of curses that were streaming from the medic’s mouth and the worried voices of Josiah and Ezra as they tended the sharpshooter. He motioned to JD. “OK…let’s get Chris off this damn thing,” he directed and went to wrap his arm around the blond’s shoulders. “Nathan can look him over as soon as he takes care of Vin.”

“No…” Chris tensed and shoved Buck’s hand away. “Help…Vin. Get Vin…first. S…spikes,” the blond pleaded weakly. “Trig…triggered…spikes. L…left lung…p…pierced.”

“What?” Nathan asked, fear creeping into his voice. The medic shot a worried gaze to Buck and then looked to the two shocked men standing near him. “Get those other straps off him, now!” he yelled.

Josiah and Ezra immediately went into action. Five men tried to ignore the agonizing moans as the metal bindings were released from the fevered flesh.

Buck watched the medic’s eyes quickly scan Vin’s body. The ladies’ man felt his heart break in two. They could all see the damage from the four remaining spikes that protruded from the sharpshooter’s body, but he knew Nathan was searching for other signs. Injuries they couldn’t see.

“Get…Vin…please…save…him,” Chris pleaded between pain filled gasps.

Wilmington felt Chris tremble beneath his hand and turned his attention back to the blond. “Easy Chris! They’re gonna get him! Just lie still for a minute!”

When the remaining straps were released, Nathan leaned over Vin and spoke quietly to the tortured man. “Vin…Vin if you can hear me, try not to move, OK? I’m just going to reach my hand under your back for a minute to check on something.”

No response came.

Nathan drew a long breath and slowly eased his hand under the sharpshooter’s left side – dark brown eyes widened in shock when he did so. “Shit!” He looked over to Buck and JD. “Buck stay with Chris! I need JD over here for a minute! There’s a spike embedded in his left lung all right! And who the hell knows how many more are impaling him! We’re going to have to lift him straight up and off the table and it’s going to take four of us to do it! I can’t let his body shift and risk any more damage to vital organs!”

Buck paled and nodded to JD. “I’ll take care of Chris.”

The young man raced to the other side of Vin. “What do you want me to do, Nathan?”

“Lift him from the right side, JD. Ezra you take his left. Josiah, you lift his legs. I’ll handle support of his head and shoulders.”

The men quickly took their positions and awaited Nathan’s order to lift. Three pairs of hands were trembling as they each reached out to take hold of their friend.

Nathan looked down into Vin’s face as blue eyes stared up at him. The medic swallowed hard and put his hand on the tracker’s cheek. “Hey there…how you doing?”

“H…h…hurts…” came the strangled reply.

Five hearts sank. They knew the two men they were rescuing too well. For there to be any answer to that loaded question other than ‘I’m fine,’ meant that the sharpshooter was in agony.

The EMT nodded and leaned down close. “I know…but I can’t give you any morphine just yet, Vin. You’re breathing is too unstable with that pneumonia.”

“P…pl…please…,” the tracker pleaded mournfully. “H…hu…hurts…too…much…”

Nathan shook his head and Buck watched the medic fight to control the tears and remain strong.

Jackson’s voice wavered when he continued. “As soon as we can get you off this table and I can get you on some oxygen, I’ll give you a small dose, OK? But you have to bear with me just a little longer. This is gonna hurt like Hell, but try not to move, Vin. Just let us do all the work.” Nathan positioned his hands on both sides of Vin’s head, just under his shoulders, and nodded to the other three men. “I know it’s going to be tough but you need to ignore his pain and stay focused. There’s no room for error! Lift straight up. On three. One.”

“Vin…” Chris rasped.


“Vin…” Chris repeated and started to move.


Four men lifted their precious cargo in unison. A strangled scream was ripped from the tracker’s damaged throat.

“Vin!” Chris yelled.

Nathan shifted and Vin’s head rolled slightly to the left.

Buck wrapped his arm around the blond’s trembling shoulders and eased Chris away from the table.

Suddenly, the last spike was released, barely slicing through muscle along the lower side of Vin’s neck where it met his shoulder as it travelled upward with blinding speed. He shuddered once and then fell limp in their arms.

“Shit!” Nathan yelled in shock. He was barely able to keep hold of the sharpshooter’s head as he pulled his right hand away in a reflex action.

+ + + + + + +

The effects of the sudden action sent shockwaves through the team. Nerves already on edge were thrown into an abyss of despair as they lowered the sharpshooter’s still form to the floor.

“Vin! Oh my God! Vin!” Chris screamed and broke Buck’s hold. The blond lunged toward the bloody body of his friend.

Nathan put himself between the crazed blond and the injured sharpshooter. Grabbing Chris’ shoulders Nathan tried to push him away and glared up at Buck. “Get him away from here!” he ordered and reached for his kit, frantically pulling forth bandages when Chris was pulled back. Ezra and Josiah quickly took position next to the medic and tried to help him stem the flow of blood.

Buck wrapped his arms around Chris and pulled the struggling blond away from the bloody scene. “No! Let Nathan help him! Please, Chris!”

Chris thrashed wildly, raising his arms in front of him; he reached toward his friend. “Buck, I’ve killed him! I’ve killed him!”

“No you didn’t! Now calm down, Chris!” Buck yelled and fought to keep his hold on the man he held against chest. “JD! Get over here!”

JD staggered backward away from the sharpshooter’s body, staring at his hands and forearms in disbelief. “T…there’s so…so much blood….”

“JD!” Buck yelled. He watched his young friend double over and heave the contents of his stomach. “Josiah! Help JD!”

Nathan nodded and shoved a syringe into Josiah’s hand. “Give him this! It’ll help with the nausea!” He turned his attention back to the sharpshooter. Grabbing Ezra’s hand he placed it over the wound in Vin’s neck. “Hold that tight and don’t move!”

Ezra nodded and closed his eyes.

Josiah went to JD’s side and quickly shoved the hypo into the younger man’s arm. “There, son. That should help. Breathe through your nose, JD. It’ll pass in a minute.”

Hitching breaths as the heaves subsided, JD shook his head. Mucus and bile dripped from his mouth and nose. “So much blood, Josiah.”

“I know, son, but you must have faith that Vin will survive.” He rubbed his hand between the shoulders of the youngest team member and sighed deeply when JD raised his head. “Feel better, now?” the ex-preacher asked, handing the young man a cloth.

“Yeah.” Dunne slowly nodded and wiped his face and mouth. “Thanks. Is Vin going to be all right?”

Josiah took a deep breath and glanced toward the two men hovering over the bloody sharpshooter. “Nathan is doing everything he can. Right now…Buck needs your help, JD. We need to get Chris calmed down until Nathan can check him over.”

“OK.” JD stood erect, his legs visibly shaking and walked over to help Buck hold Chris down.

“Vin!” Chris struggled violently. “Let me go! Please! I need to get to Vin!” Blood seeped from the corners of his mouth. He clutched his stomach and doubled over in Wilmington’s lap, convulsing as the ladies’ man held him.

“Oh fuck! Hold on Chris! Hold on!” Buck yelled and wrapped his arms around the blond, trying to help him endure the spasms and dry heaves.

Nathan quickly took Vin’s vitals once more. “Shit! No!” he cried and pulled the stethoscope from his ears. He grabbed a syringe and shoved it into the sharpshooter’s chest. “Dear God! Where the Hell is that chopper?!”

Chris twisted in Wilmington’s arms. Tears running down his cheeks he reached once more for his chosen brother. “No…Vin…please…hold…hold…on.”

Buck and JD held fast to the Firm’s leader. “Take it easy, Chris,” Buck said softly, stroking the blond hair back from reddened and tear-filled eyes.

Chris was breathless and now too weak to struggle. The blond finally stilled in the rogue’s arms. His voice was barely above a whisper. “It’s all my fault…all my fault.”

“No, Chris.” Buck shook his head, tears welling in his eyes as he watched his three comrades fight to keep Tanner alive. “It’s not your fault. You’ve got to believe that!”

“M…my…fault. I…I hurt…him…Buck.” Chris gasped. “I…I hurt…him.” He winced and grabbed his forearm, collapsing against Buck’s chest.


A frantic voice interrupted Buck. “Damn it, Vin! No! Don’t do this to me!” the medic yelled. “God! I’ve lost his pulse! I’m losing him!”

+ + + + + + +

A sharp intake of air passed over the blond’s lips and he felt a dull squeezing sensation consume him. He released his arm, to clutch at his chest.

The blond felt himself being lowered to the floor. A trembling hand was on his forehead; pushing the hair away from his face. Worried eyes looked down at him. I’m sorry Buck. Take care of JD. You need each other…like Vin and I did. Take care of the team. I will miss you, my friend…I will miss all of you.

His eyes clouded with shadows and blurred images. Suddenly he felt like he was floating, drifting away from the pain that had been his constant companion for the past forty hours. He was drifting toward a darkened void and he knew it was Hell. So it is true then…. If it were heaven, he thought, there’d be a light. Vin…I’ve killed him. I’ve killed my brother…. Cowboy…. Through a haze he heard the horrible words, ‘…lost…him…’ and he surrendered to the blackness that beckoned.

+ + + + + + +

“Fuck!” Buck yelled and lowered Chris’s body to the floor. “Nathan! I think he’s having a heart attack!”

“Shit!” Nathan cried and looked at Josiah. “Josiah, start CPR on Vin! I’ll see about Chris. Ezra, keep pressure on those neck and shoulder wounds.”

Ezra nodded and looked toward the gaping hole in Vin’s abdomen. “And what of that one, Mr. Jackson?”

The medic’s eyes locked on those of the gambler. “Pray, Ezra. Pray like you’ve never done so before.” He squeezed Standish’s shoulder, grabbed his kit and ran to Chris’ side.

Ezra and Josiah exchanged quick glances. “You heard the man,” Josiah said determined. He folded his hands over Vin’s breastbone, locked his elbows and pressed down, whispering the Lord’s Prayer between breaths into the sharpshooter’s mouth.

“Jesus, Chris.” Nathan whispered when he reached Chris’s side and checked the blond’s vitals. “Buck, breathe for me!” he ordered and started compressions. His voice sounded harsh as he repeated his mantra. “Come on, Chris! Please…don’t do this! It’s not your fault! You’ve got to believe that and snap out of this! Please hold on! Vin needs you! We all need you! Now damn it, you both have got to hold on!”

+ + + + + + +

Seconds became an eternity as the voices of the team’s medic and father figure pierced the darkness surrounding them. Repeating their mantras and their prayers. Desperately trying to breathe life into their fallen brothers and restart their fragile hearts.

JD sat on his haunches, out of the way but close enough to Buck’s side. His hand was on the shoulder of the ladies’ man. His eyes shifted between the team’s lead and the sharpshooter and the computer wizard wiped the tears away from his eyes with the back of his other hand.

A noise from the direction of the entrance drew his eyes upward. He squeezed Buck’s shoulder and jumped up. “The paramedics are here!”

“Nathan! I’ve got a pulse!” Josiah exclaimed excitedly.

“Thank God!” Nathan breathed, looking up as one of the teams reached them and watched the other head to Tanner. He stood, quickly stepping aside to allow the first set of paramedics to tend to Chris. The team’s medic watched the EMT’s begin taking vitals on their patients and prepare the mobile defibrillators.

Nathan turned to another paramedic and introduced himself quickly. “Nathan Jackson. Licensed EMT.” Nodding toward Chris he gave his debriefing. “Victim one is in full cardiac arrest. Appears to be suffering from severe dehydration, nausea and vomiting, multiple contusions and abrasions. Cursory examination reveals abdomen is tender and distended, possible internal bleeding, four broken ribs, however, no lung puncture prevalent. Victim has a broken right forearm and severe gash to his right thigh. Possible nerve damage as well. Electrical shocks were applied to victim for prolonged periods.”

“Charging!” the EMT announced and yelled, “Clear!” as he depressed the paddles against the blond’s chest.

Nathan watched the faces of JD and Buck visibly fall when the monitor failed to respond. He didn’t have to turn to know that two others behind him were just as devastated as they hovered close to Vin. The medic heard the second order for all clear and started to watch the monitor closely, when the voice of the lead EMT pulled his gaze away.

“Mr. Jackson, stay with me. Your debrief, please.”

Nathan heard the second discharge into Chris’ chest and prayed the subsequent sound he heard on the monitor was not a false reading. He turned his gaze to the sharpshooter, closing his eyes when he heard the paramedic working on Vin order a stronger dosage of epinephrine. Opening them he took a deep breath and continued, his voice wavering slightly. “Victim two is also suffering from severe dehydration. In addition, severe blood loss from multiple through and through puncture wounds, including right shoulder, right thigh, upper left arm and left calf. Puncture wound in left abdomen may have damaged his spleen. Breath sounds indicate acute pneumonia and probable collapsed lung from puncture in rear upper left quadrant. Additional internal injuries from puncture wounds unknown.”

“I’ve got a pulse!” the EMT next to Chris announced. “Pulse is 60 and thready, but BP is 90 over 60. I think we’ve got him back.”

Nathan’s shoulders sagged in relief. He glanced back at Buck and JD and nodded slowly. The medic smiled wistfully when he watched both men grasp each other’s shoulder to steady one another.

“Thank you, Mr. Jackson,” the EMT said and squeezed the medic’s arm. “We’ll take it from here and take good care of them. We can take two of you in with us.”

“T…thanks.” The Firm’s medic barely managed a word of gratitude as he choked back his emotions. He turned to face the other four men that now stood near him, watching as intently as he was at the efforts of the two EMT teams to save the lives of their friends. He knew in his heart that all four of them wanted to ride in with Chris and Vin, but that was a physical impossibility. Josiah’s voice pierced the low din of the activity around them and the medic was thankful that the older man made the decision he could not.

“You need to stay with Chris and Vin, Nathan. Buck, you go with him. The rest of us will take care of things here and meet you at the hospital as soon as possible.”

Nathan nodded. “All right.” When the older man squeezed his arm, he forced a smile to his lips. “They’re going to be all right, I know they are.” He needed the ex-preacher to confirm it as fact.

Josiah swallowed and nodded succinctly. “They’re going to be fine, Nathan.”

Another voice interrupted the revered silence of the five worried team members. “All right, let’s move people! These gentlemen’s lives are hanging in the balance!”

Josiah clasped Buck and Nathan’s shoulders. “Go! And take our prayers with you!”

The two men exchanged quick glances with their comrades and quickly trotted off behind the gurneys holding their brethren.

As the helicopter lifted off, Nathan looked down at the three men left standing on the ground. He raised his hand to the window and nodded once, then closed his eyes to the image of their tears.

+ + + + + + +

Tears welled behind tightly closed lids. He didn’t want to open his eyes. He didn’t want to face the harsh reality that he had been reluctantly pulled back into. The horrible words ‘…lost…him…’ kept resounding in his head, reminding him of his failure to protect his closest friend…his brother.

Why couldn’t they have just let him go, Chris thought angrily. I deserved to die. I killed him. I killed Vin.

His pain had returned in full force. His chest felt as if a ton of bricks had been dropped on it and now he was positive that an elephant had taken up residence there. Annoying tremors and twitches were causing his muscles to spasm uncontrollably. Frustrated, he tried to control them but with no luck. The tensing only heightened his pain.

The blond felt the dull throbbing in his right thigh and shifted slightly, only to regret doing so. Ribs protested the movement and when he went to clutch his side, a broken right arm reminded him that he was still alive. The blond heard a sharp gasp, muffled under something and wondered where it came from. A strong hand was on his and he felt it squeeze gently around his.

Cowboy… he thought briefly, a moment of happiness dispelling the pain consuming him.

“Easy Chris. Try not to move around too much,” the voice said.


“You just rest, Pard. We’ll be at the hospital in less than five minutes.”

Buck? The blond mused once more, confused as to why Vin wasn’t by his side. Where’s Vin? Why isn’t Vin here? He thought, fear grabbing at his heart. Vin! Where are you?! I need you!

He couldn’t breathe now. The pain was returning. The happiness was gone.

Vin! Oh my God! Vin! Realization struck. I killed him!

Chris’ eyes shot open and he screamed.

“Fuckin’ Hell!” Buck cried and grabbed the blond’s shoulders. “Stay still, Chris!”

“Vin!” the dazed blond cried and thrashed beneath the safety straps holding him to the gurney. “Vin! I killed him!”

“Keep him still, Mr. Wilmington!” An EMT ordered.

“I’m trying, Goddamn it!” Buck retorted in a harsh voice. “Chris, calm down!”

“Let me go, Buck!” Chris ordered and twisted in the playboy’s grip. “I killed him, Buck. I let Tasker win! I let him win and Vin died because of it!”

“Oh fuck, Chris! Tasker didn’t win! Vin is still alive, you hear me?! He’s still alive!”

Green eyes stared up at the ladies’ man in confusion. “No…Buck…he’s…he’s…dead.”

Buck shook his head sharply. “No Chris. He’s right over there.” He nodded toward the other side of the helicopter. “Nathan’s with him.”

Chris turned his head and tried to focus on the figures on the other side of the cabin. His eyes sought out the sharpshooter behind the trained medics hovering over the injured victim. “Vin…”

Buck pushed the hair back from Chris’ face. “He’s alive, Chris. But I ain’t gonna lie to you, Pard. He’s in pretty bad shape. Tasker really worked him over.”

Bitter tears welled in the blond’s eyes. A painful lump formed in the back of his throat. His eyes still locked on the prone form of his friend, he rasped the words of guilt. “No…Buck…I did. I worked him over. I did that to him.” Swallowing hard, he closed his eyes, as the tears broke free. “I’m the one that hurt Vin. It’s all my fault…it’s all my fault,” he repeated, pounding his right fist against the gurney, ignorant of the sharp lancing pains that were traveling up his arm and across his shoulders.

“Chris, stop!” Buck yelled and reached for the blond’s right arm.

Chris yanked it free of Buck’s grasp. “Leave me alone! Just leave me the fuck alone!” The blond felt a warm rush in his veins and he looked up at EMT angrily.

“If you can’t calm down on your own, Mr. Larabee, I’ll see to it that you do.”

“B…bas…bastard…” Chris choked out.

“Call me what you will, Mr. Larabee. But for the next few minutes, you’re still under my care and I’ll not have you succumbing to another cardiac arrest on my watch. Is that understood?”

The Firm’s leader gazed up at the EMT and then to Buck, before shifting his eyes toward Vin’s still form. “Vin…please…forgive me…Cowboy,” he whispered. The green eyes closed to the sight of Nathan burying his face in trembling hands and shaking his head.

+ + + + + + +

The head of the St. Vincent’s Trauma One team stood in the main corridor. Impatiently tapping her foot, Stacey Midland’s eyes were glued to the elevator doors that lead to the roof. If they didn’t open soon, she promised herself, she would go to the roof and pull that damn helicopter out of the sky with her bare hands.

“They’ll be here soon enough, Stacey,” Tom Parker said reassuringly and placed a comforting hand on her shoulder. “They’re both strong and they’re going to be all right.”

Stacey turned to face her long time colleague and friend. “I hope you’re right, Tom.” Sighing deeply she continued. “Vin’s vitals are dangerously low and the paramedics said that there was possible damage to his spleen and a punctured lung. Who knows what else! Not to mention the severe blood loss.”

“I know, but Vin is a fighter.”

Stacey looked up at her colleague. “How much more fighting does he have to do, Tom? And what about Chris? He was in full cardiac arrest when they got to him! Had he already given up the fight?” She lowered her gaze and turned away, wiping a tear from her eye. She had to stay strong, she thought. Chris and Vin’s lives depended on her trauma team’s abilities and her aptitude for keeping a clear head and thinking straight. Not letting her emotions dictate her decisions. Stacey felt Tom’s hand on her shoulder once more and turned back to face him.

“You don’t believe that for one minute and I know it! Chris Larabee is one of the strongest men I’ve ever known. With everything that man has been through, with as much pain as he’s had to deal with over the past few years, there’s no way in Hell he would still be alive today if he wasn’t a fighter! You know it as well as I do!”

“Yes,” Stacey smiled wistfully and nodded, “Yes I do.” She took a deep breath and straightened her shoulders. “David and Brandon standing by?”

“They’re already scrubbed and ready, as well as Martin.” Tom replied.

Stacey nodded. “Excellent. Martin’s a good man.”

“Martin Chadwick is one of the best internal surgeons in the business. If anyone can save Vin, it will be him.” He squeezed her shoulder and smiled. “Now, I’d better go scrub up myself. I’ll buy you a cup of strong black coffee after we get the boys taken care of. Sounds like we might be in for a long night.” Another smile and he turned to walk down the hall.

Stacey watched him disappear into the elevator and sighed heavily. Long night indeed.

“Dr. Midland?”

Stacey pulled her thoughts back when she heard Pamela voice. “Yes, Pamela.”

“They’re on their way down.”

“Thank God!” Stacey said and turned toward the elevator as the doors opened and a gurney carrying Chris was rapidly pushed toward her. Casting a knowing and heartfelt glance toward Buck, she yelled, “ER 1!” Pushing the doors forward with force, she issued her directions as Chris was repositioned onto the table. Another glance toward the closing doors and she forced a smile onto her lips to help dissuade the fear in the playboy’s eyes.

The team worked like a well-oiled machine, firing on all cylinders as they quickly took Chris’ vitals, inserted the necessary central bore lines, drew blood, took x-rays, mobile CT scans and prepared the blond for emergency surgery.

Stacey Midland didn’t like the data being relayed to her. His pulse had dropped to 42, BP was now 70 over 40 and the constant tremors coursing through his body worried her. She was glad David Frost was on hand as Orthopedic Surgeon on duty tonight. The experienced trauma doctor feared the worst – nerve damage – and prayed the distinguished surgeon would be able to help Chris and stave off any permanent damage.

Continuing to check the blond’s injuries, she glanced up at Pamela. “Where’s Vin? I thought you said they were both on their way down.”

The paramedic that had tended to Chris spoke quickly. “Tanner crashed when we got them off the helo. They were still trying to stabilize him upstairs.”

“Shit!” Stacey cursed and looked at one of the other nurses. “Check on him! Damn it to Hell I need to know about Vin Tanner’s condition!” When she sensed a moment of hesitation, she yelled harshly. “Now! Goddamn it!” She turned her full attention back to the man lying before her and found herself gazing into a pair of worried green eyes.

“V…Vin?” Chris rasped beneath the oxygen mask.

The head of the trauma team stared into her friend’s eyes and gently stroked the damp hair back from his forehead. She knew in her heart that Chris Larabee would see right through her if she tried to lie. “They’re trying to stabilize him, Chris.”


Stacey forced a faint smile onto her lips and nodded. “As soon as he gets down here, I’ll do everything I can for him, OK?”


Out of the corner of her eye, she could see Pamela cast a concerned look and knew immediately that Tanner was on his way down but that his condition was critical. She could feel the blond’s hand wrap around her wrist and looked down at the trembling appendage. Chris’ weak and pain-filled voice cut her to the core as it drifted upward once more.


Midland’s heart broke in two. Based on the earlier information she had received from the paramedics and the look on Pamela’s face, she knew she couldn’t make a promise she may not be able to keep. She started to respond when one of the CT techs yelled out.

“Helical scan is positive! It looks like the bleeding is concentrated in his lower left abdomen,” he announced.

“BP is dropping! 70 over 30 now!” Another nurse asserted.

“All right, let’s get him upstairs and into Dr. Parker’s capable hands!” Stacey ordered quickly. She started to step away from the table so they could move Chris, but his hand tightened.


Forcing back tears, Stacey gently wrapped her other hand around Chris’ and pulled it away from her wrist. I can’t!

Free from his grasp, she patted his shoulder and stepped back. “Get him upstairs,” she ordered, her voice wavering as she did so. “Now.”

As the doors closed behind her patient and the departing team, Stacey looked down at her hands and clenched them to stop the trembling. Chris’ frantic pleas for her promise were left ringing in her ears and she closed her eyes to the tears.

+ + + + + + +

Managing to quell the flood of tears she feared would come if her emotions were left unguarded, Dr. Midland turned when she heard Sandy’s strained voice announce that Vin had just been brought down and placed in ER 2.

She pushed the connecting doors between the two rooms open and stopped dead in her tracks. “Oh my God,” she gasped out loud when her eyes fell on the bloody sharpshooter.

Pamela and the team were frantically trying to stabilize Vin’s vitals and insert a chest tube to inflate the collapsed left lung. Once again, despite being visibly shaken and upset at the extent of injuries to a man they all called friend, her team was reacting expediently and professionally – firing on all cylinders like they had done only moments before in the other room.

The Foley was already in, an NG tube had been introduced and the low hiss of the suction pump could be heard beneath the ordered chaos humming through the room. Central bore lines were now in place and warm Ringers Lactate was being rapidly infused into the sharpshooter’s battered body. The various technicians were running mobile CT and helical scans, while Sandy, the trauma team’s assistant head nurse, was now taking Vin’s vitals personally.

“Status!” Stacey yelled and stepped toward the table.

“Helical scans on his left lung, upper and lower abdomen are positive for blood, as well as the Foley. Pulse 125 and very weak. BP 60 over 30 and dropping. Temp is 104.2. ABG indicates O2 saturation levels are at seventy-two, content is at ten percent, carbon dioxide levels are sixty and rising.” Sandy responded, the concern evident in the trained nurse’s voice.

“Shit! He’s in acute respiratory failure! Get him ventilated now!” Stacey ordered. A quick glance to her right and she saw Nathan standing at the foot of the table, visibly shaken. “Nathan, wait outside with Buck.”

The Firm’s medic didn’t remove his eyes from his comrade. “What about Vin?”

“We’ll do everything we can for him! You know that! Now go! Stay with Buck! He needs you!”


“Serious. We just sent him up for emergency surgery. He’s got abdominal hemorrhaging and four broken ribs, but I didn’t discern any lung damage. Parker and Frost are working on him. Silverman is there also to check him out since he had that cardiac arrest.”

“That’s good,” Nathan nodded, “They’re the best.”

“That they are,” Stacey agreed. “Martin Chadwick is waiting in the wings to work on Vin as soon as we can get him stabilized enough for surgery. Now please, Nathan. Wait outside and let us try and save Vin’s life.”

“You’ll let us know as soon as you know something?” the tired medic pressed.

“You know I will. Go. Sit with Buck. He looked pretty upset earlier.”

Nathan turned and walked to the door. Placing his hand on it, he paused but didn’t turn. His voice was low and strained. “Save him, Doc. Chris is blaming himself for all of this. He says that it was him that caused Vin’s injuries. He keeps saying that he hurt Vin…and that cardiac arrest he had earlier, happened when he thought he killed him.”

“Oh dear God…” Stacey whispered. Will that man ever stop blaming himself for every blasted thing that happens to Vin?!

Nathan looked at her and she could see the tears welling in his dark brown eyes.

“If Vin dies, we’ll definitely lose Chris this time.” Nathan choked out and pushed the doors open with such force that the glass rattled when they slammed against the outer wall. “Damn you to Hell, Tasker!”

Shaken by the medic’s departing words, Stacey Midland steeled her resolve and turned her attentions back to her other close friend.

Pamela’s voice cut through the harried voices. “Damn it! I’m not in! The neck wounds are causing his throat to swell. His airway is closing up!” Nodding to another nurse, she spoke quickly. “Shift him toward me so I can tilt his head back more. I’ve got to get this airway in!”

Stacey and another nurse grabbed Vin’s shoulders and shifted him enough to allow Pamela to lower the sharpshooter’s head.

Agonizing seconds were ticking off the clock.

“That’s it! I’m in!” Pamela confirmed. She quickly secured the plastic tubing and hooked up the respirator.

Stacey closed her eyes in relief and then opened them quickly as the machines took on a life of their own. “Levels?”

Pamela studied the readings. “Saturation is only at seventy-eight, content is up to twelve and CO2 is fifty-five.”

“Damn it!” Her shoulders sagging, Stacey pushed a stray lock of the dark brown hair away from the pale face. “He’s still not stable enough for surgery yet. Continue to monitor the readings closely.” She stroked Vin’s forehead tenderly. “Come on, Vin. Fight. Please. Chris won’t make it without you…”

A worried voice interrupted her soft mantra.

“Are you sure?” Sandy asked worriedly. “Oh no…. Yes! … As many as they can send! … An hour and a half?! … Yes, yes. All right! Just do it!” Sandy hung up the phone and turned to face Dr. Midland.

Midland looked into the worried eyes. “What is it, Sandy? What’s wrong?”

“That was the blood bank upstairs. The accident yesterday drained their supplies of O pos and O neg. and they have only two units left of B positive. Deaconess has a few units left but they can’t get it over here for another hour and a half! They have to find and wake the damn lab tech!”

Stacey Midland felt her heart stop. She knew she had just suffered a cardiac arrest. Her eyes shot down to the sharpshooter and then back to Sandy. Dear God…no….

“Dr. Midland…what are we going to do?” Sandy asked. “Chris is already in surgery but Vin…he…he…needs…”

Stacey gripped the sides of the table. Dear God, can this night get any worse? Please, please…don’t let me have to make that decision! With every breath she took, it felt like her lungs were made of cast iron, weighing her chest down and clamping around her heart like a steel trap.

She felt all eyes in the room turn on her and she closed her own, refusing to meet the troubled and accusatory looks. When she opened them, Stacey gazed down once more at the ashen face and the equally as pale body lying so still, so lifeless, on the examination table. Vin’s skin was covered in a fine sheen of perspiration and appeared to be translucent, a visual testament to the shock wrapping its deadly cloak around his battered body, despite the fever ravaging and cooking him from within.

Drawing a trembling hand across Vin’s forehead once more, she placed it against his right cheek and stroked her thumb across his high cheekbone. She inhaled deeply and leaned over, placing a tender kiss on his other cheek. Stacey closed her eyes again when she felt the threatening tears starting to breach her defenses. Slowly pulling back, the trauma team’s doctor opened her eyes and sent a silent prayer to the heavens, God give me strength. She kept them locked on the unconscious man fighting for his life and finally answered her assistant head nurse, “Send the two units upstairs to surgery, Sandy.”

“But Dr. Midland…” Sandy started to protest.

Stacey shook her head. “Send them upstairs, Sandy,” she said once again and tried desperately to keep her voice from faltering. “Chris needs them.”

“And what about Vin?” the young nurse asked.

The bitter, angry tone creeping into the young nurse’s voice only served to unnerve Stacey Midland even more. Pray that Deaconess gets that blood over here ASAP.

“Order two units of plasma,” she said quietly, ignoring an emotional confrontation with her nurse. “Maybe we can keep him stable enough with that until the other units of blood arrive.”

“And if we can’t?” Pamela inquired, stepping closer to Stacey’s side. She lowered her voice. “We can’t send him up to surgery without those units, Sta…Dr. Midland.”

Her last frayed nerve had finally been severed with those words and Stacey Midland turned on her head nurse. “Don’t you think I don’t know that?!” Stacey retorted harshly. Seeing the shocked and hurt look wash over Pamela’s face, Dr. Midland sighed and lowered her head in shame. “I’m sorry, Pamela. That was uncalled for.”

“It’s all right,” Pamela replied and put her hand on Dr. Midland’s arm, squeezing it slightly. “We’re all a bit on edge right now, but Vin’s a survivor. He won’t give up without a fight.”

Stacey nodded, thankful when she saw Pamela motion for the others to step aside or move back, affording her a moment of privacy with the sharpshooter. As she gazed down at him, her eyes took in the multitude of injuries and the pale skin that only a few days before, had still held a dark tan from the summer months. She tried to remind herself of the words that Pamela had just spoken but as she listened to the monitors, her eyes studying the readings, the hopeful words grew hollow and distant.

Even with the respirator, Vin was struggling for every breath. The chest tube to help inflate his left lung had done little to alleviate the danger of the collapse. They had barely managed to stave off the shock, but his temp was dangerously high from the fever raging through his body, aggravated by the pneumonia consuming the weakened lungs. If they couldn’t get Vin’s temperature under control and soon, seizures and no doubt coma would follow. Yet, as she continued to inventory the sharpshooter’s injuries, Stacey knew that without surgery, Tanner would die within hours. Only without the necessary units of blood, surgery was out of the question.

“Forgive me,” she whispered to the unconscious sharpshooter and wiped her eyes to stop the tears that threatened.

Stroking the dark brown hair away from the fevered face, Dr. Stacey Midland felt the weight of the world on her shoulders. She just made the hardest decision she had ever had to make, not only in her medical career but also in her entire life. In one brief moment, she had made the choice to save the life of one friend at the cost of another.

Lowering her head, she finally allowed the tears to fall, her thoughts drifting painfully to the man in surgery upstairs. She hitched a breath and swallowed hard. How in the world would she ever again be able to face Chris Larabee, she wondered? He’d never forgive her for what she had done. Vin Tanner was more than a close friend to Chris. He was like a younger brother to the leader of the Firm. No, she corrected herself. The ‘connection’ they shared made them closer than brothers, she mused. There was an unseen force that bound them together like nobody’s business. They were each a half of the other’s soul.

Gazing down at the handsome sharpshooter, Stacey Midland took a deep breath and prepared herself for the inevitable if Deaconess didn’t deliver in time.

Nathan’s words haunted her and sent a chill down her spine. ‘If Vin dies, we’ll definitely lose Chris this time.’