Unseen Force

by Winnie and Renegade

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It had continued to march forward. The minutes continued to tick off the clock, turning the situation into a veritable version of Hell for the trauma team’s doctor.

Wiping the tears from her eyes, Stacey took a deep breath and started to turn. A trembling finger grazing over her hand, however, caused her to look down and into the intense blue eyes gazing back at her.

She wrapped her hand around his and leaned over to place her other hand on his cheek, wiping away the perspiration from the deep shock that was still trying to take hold. “Hey there,” she said softly. She caught the flicker of an answer being formed in those sapphire pools and shook her head slightly, putting a finger to her own lips to stop him. “Don’t try and talk, Vin. You’ve got an endotracheal tube in to help you breathe. Your left lung collapsed and you’ve got an acute case of pneumonia.” She forced a smile onto her lips. “You didn’t take your meds like I told you to. Did you?”

One blink.

Stacey allowed herself to release a giggle at the obvious lie. “Now Vin… I’m your doctor. I know better. Wanna try again?”

Two blinks.

She snorted and shook her head in agreement, “I thought so.” The perceptive doctor felt the hand in her grasp tremble and knew instinctively that the sharpshooter was in pain. Stacey soothed the furrows in his brow with her fingers. “I know you’re in pain, Vin. I’m afraid all we can give you right now is a limited dosage of Demerol. We can’t risk anything stronger until you’re stable.”

Watching the blue eyes struggle against the pain, Stacey also knew that Vin was trying to control his fears as the eyes focused on the various pieces of equipment positioned around the head of the table. Along with Chris Larabee, Vin Tanner was a frequent patient and all too familiar with the trappings of the emergency room. The learned doctor knew trying to calm the sharpshooter with hollow words of reassurance would be futile. The truth, however painful for him, or devastating for her, had to be told. Vin Tanner deserved to know the gravity of the situation.

Swallowing hard, she took a deep breath and leaned down close. Squeezing his hand gently, she spoke quietly and firmly, trying to keep the emotions from her voice. “Vin, I’m not going to lie to you and tell you everything is going to be all right, because right now I don’t know if it will be. Do you want to know the truth?”

One blink.

“All right, I owe you that much,” she sighed. “You’re in critical condition, Vin. You’ve got multiple puncture wounds, some of which are life threatening, but I’m afraid you’re still in ER. We haven’t been able to get you stable enough for surgery. That’s not all, though. They can’t operate without enough units of blood, which right now there is not any of your type in the blood bank.” She dropped her eyes, avoiding the intense blue gaze and felt his trembling hand tighten around hers when she did. Stacey didn’t want to look him in the eyes when she told him the rest of the truth, but she knew it would be a huge mistake on her part if she didn’t.

Taking another deep breath she raised her eyes and looked into a pair of blue orbs filled with fear. It unnerved her. Vin Tanner never showed any fear about his own life…any fear he had shown was always for the life of the man in surgery upstairs…Chris Larabee.

Chris Larabee. The man she had sent the last two units of precious life giving blood to in order to save his life…and now she had to tell Vin Tanner – the man that was probably going to die because of that decision.

“There was a terrible accident yesterday and the blood bank is out of O pos and O neg…and there were only two units left of yours and Chris’ blood type.” Despite her best effort, her voice faltered, “I…I sent them upstairs for Chris’ surgery.”

Knowing the relationship that the two men had, she believed that Vin would be relieved that Chris Larabee would be all right, but instead…the flash she saw in the sharpshooter’s eyes took her breath away.

“Vin…I’m sorry. I had to make a decision based on facts not emotions. Chris was hemorrhaging badly and already in surgery. We couldn’t send you upstairs until you stabilized!”

He turned his head slightly to the left and broke eye contact with her. The monitors reacted and Stacey’s heart jumped into her throat.

“Vin, please. Calm down. You’ve got to hold on. We’ve placed a call to Deaconess. They’re sending over more units. As soon as they get here, we’ll send you up. I promise!” She squeezed his hand tighter, trying to get his attention. “Vin, please. Listen to me. What do you think Chris is going to say if he finds out that you gave up the fight?”

Blue eyes turned to her and flashed icy hot once more.

She drew back in shock. Stacey had been positive that the flash she had seen seconds before was borne out of fear, but there was no disputing the origination in this one. Hate. Pure unadulterated hate.

Oh dear God, no…

All the experience and training she had received over the years and the friendship that she shared with this man and the other members of the Firm had not prepared her for what had just happened. Stacey watched the monitors and studied the data. The topic and the direction of the discussion had to be altered and altered quickly, before the sharpshooter finally succumbed to the deep shock that was threatening. She forced herself to look into the blue eyes and meet his ire head on. “Buck and Nathan are outside waiting. Do you want to see them? Or the others when they get here?”

Two blinks.

“They’re worried about you, Vin.”

Two blinks.


Two blinks, harder, more determined and then the eyes turned away once more.

Stacey straightened her shoulders and stood erect. She squeezed his hand and pulled her own away from his face. Placing it on his shoulder, she patted it gently and nodded. “All right,” she said, taking a deep breath and looking deep into those tormented pools, “I’ll tell them.”

Glancing at the monitors once again, she nodded to Pamela, “One milligram of Valium and two milligrams of Demerol, IV push. Let’s see if we can’t dull the edges enough to keep him comfortable until we can get him upstairs.”

As she watched the blue eyes close to the effects of the drugs, Stacey took a deep breath and turned toward the doors. She had another tough job ahead of her. A job she never thought she’d have to do. Tell the men waiting outside that one of their closest friends didn’t want to see them. Not to mention the fact that she had to tell them the truth – the truth that would tear the close brotherhood of the Firm apart…possibly forever.

+ + + + + + +

“Damn it Doc! We’ve been waiting forever!” Wilmington said in exasperation. “How is he?”

“Critical,” Dr. Midland replied.

“Can we see him?” Nathan asked.

“No,” she replied, surprised by the succinctness of her answer. She looked into five pairs of stunned eyes, oddly thankful that she would only have to repeat herself once…if she was even able to do so the first time, that is. “I’m sorry, guys. No visitors right now.”

Josiah stepped forward and placed his hand on her arm. “He needs to know we’re here, Dr. Midland. He needs to know he is not alone.”

She pulled away from the ex-preacher. “I said no, Josiah.” Stacey stepped back and into an unmoving wall. She turned and looked up at Buck Wilmington.

“What are you not telling us, Doc?” the ladies’ man asked, his eyes narrowing.

Midland felt her throat constrict. She couldn’t do it. She couldn’t tell them the truth. Not after seeing the pain and concern in their eyes. The truth would destroy them…just like it had done her. She took a deep breath and set her jaw. “Look, why don’t you head upstairs and wait for word on Chris. I’ll let you know about Vin as soon as I can, all right?”

Nathan stepped closer. “Sandy said the blood bank was out of units and that you’ve asked Deaconess to send over some. Is that true?”

Stacey nodded. “Yes.”

Buck looked at her. “She also said that you sent up the last two units of B positive to Chris. Is that right?”

“Y…yes.” Her voice wavered. Damn it to Hell!

“But Nathan, Josiah and I are type O. We could…”

Nathan shook his head, interrupting his dark haired teammate. “No, Buck. None of us can give any since we were each injured recently and lost some ourselves. It could be too risky.”

“Then they can’t operate on Vin until the other blood gets here, right?” JD asked nervously.

Her throat had closed, preventing her from speaking. She could only nod.

“Then there is a possibility that Mr. Tanner could expire before the necessary units of blood arrive,” Ezra said quietly. “Or perhaps even in surgery, because of his injuries and the need to wait…is that not so?”

Her eyes dropped and she finally managed a feeble answer. “Yes.”

Josiah pressed on. “Then we need to be able to see him, Dr. Midland. Vin needs to know that we care and that we will be there for him every step of the way. He needs to have our strength to help him pull through this. You know we’re very concerned about him, as will Chris be when he comes out of surgery. Chris is blaming himself for this horrible series of events.”

Stacey’s eyes shot up and she looked at Nathan first, then to the others in succession, finally meeting Josiah’s gaze. The caustic words were out of her mouth before she could stop them. “Chris doesn’t need to blame himself for what happened. Vin already does.”

The collective gasp tore through her. Shit!

Buck wheeled around and slammed his fist into the wall twice, in rapid succession. “Fuck you, Tasker! You Goddamn sonofabitch!”

“Damn it, Buck! Stop!” JD cried, grabbing after the playboy’s arm to stop him from hitting the wall a third time.

Stunned, Stacey stared at the hole in the wall. A sudden moan of pain pulled her eyes toward the ladies’ man. “Shit! Buck! Now look at what you’ve done!” she said angrily and reached for the bloody hand. Gingerly taking the damaged hand in hers, she didn’t need an x-ray to tell her the obvious. “Damn it, Buck! You’ve broken it!” Nodding to JD, she motioned toward ER 3. “Get him in there.” Glancing down the hall, she yelled toward the emergency room desk. “Karen, get x-ray down here and page Dr. Moreland from Orthopedics. Tell him he’s got a customer.” Returning her gaze to Buck’s, she smiled hesitantly. “A very irate customer.”

“It’s fine, Doc,” Buck said, swaying on his feet.

Stacey shook her head. “Sure it is, Buck. You always look pale as a ghost and sway on your feet from shock.”

“Well, he sways…or at least sash shays when there’s ladies around,” JD snickered.

Stacey allowed herself to laugh at the attempt of humor to lighten the mood. She motioned toward the ER. “Get him in there, JD. And stay with him! I don’t want him wandering around the halls this late at night without a hall pass, much less without supervision!”

Josiah turned to Ezra. “Ezra, I think it best if you join them. You can keep our young friend here from wandering while he does the same for Buck.”

“Well, at least you did not attempt to attach a feeble moniker to my persona as well, Mr. Sanchez. Heaven forbid that I should be likened to a member of a nomadic tribe,” Ezra droned. He smiled and stepped forward to put his hand on Buck’s shoulder. “Right this way, Mr. Wilmington. There is a lovely table reserved in your name. You don’t mind if Mr. Dunne and I accompany you? I understand the view of the waiting room from ER 3 is outstanding.”

“I said…I’m fine!” Buck grumbled as he was flanked on both sides and led down the corridor to the other ER.

Stacey sighed and shook her head. “I really need to find you guys a book on phrases to use other than ‘I’m all right’, ‘It’s nothing and ‘I’m fine!’” She turned back around and looked up at the two men staring back at her with eyes clouded in pain and regret.

Josiah stepped closer. “Dr. Midland…”

The trauma team doctor shook her head. She knew what the ex-preacher was going to ask of her. “No, Josiah. I’m sorry, but I have to respect his wishes. Right now he’s in a lot of pain. Pain we can only dull at the moment because of the severity of his condition. I’m sure it’s clouding his judgment and preventing him from thinking clearly.”

“Is that what you believe, Doc?” Nathan asked quietly.

She looked into the warm brown eyes and shook her head. “No. No I don’t, Nathan. I saw something in Vin’s eyes earlier that took my breath away and caused my heart to stop.” Midland forced back tears that she felt stinging her eyes and looked at the two men standing before her. “Vin Tanner is blaming Chris Larabee for every ounce of pain he’s feeling and every agonizing breath he takes. Right now…Vin hates Chris with every fiber of his being.”

She watched two pairs of eyes drop to the floor and shoulders visibly sag in defeat. Reaching forward, she put a hand on each of theirs. “Look…why don’t you go on upstairs and wait for Chris, OK? When he comes out of surgery he’ll need you there with him.” She glanced toward the ER room where the other three members had disappeared. “All of you.”

Nathan looked up at her. “And tell me, Doc…just what are we supposed to tell Chris when he asks about Vin?”

Midland drew a long breath. “Anything but the truth, Nathan.”

“Surely you can’t expect us to lie to Chris,” Josiah replied, raising an eyebrow. “He would read right through us like a plate of glass.”

“Particularly where Vin is concerned and you know that, Doc,” Nathan added.

“Believe me, I know all too well, Nathan,” Stacey agreed. “But I don’t want Chris knowing the whole truth right now. Avoid talking about it if you can. You guys are masters at dancing around the truth when you have to be. Lie about it if you have to. I don’t give a rat’s ass how you do it. But don’t let him know what’s going on with Vin. I have to be concerned about Chris’ welfare as much as Vin’s.” She looked at Nathan. “If what you said is true about Chris having a cardiac arrest after he thought he killed Vin in that warehouse and that he is already blaming himself for everything that has happened, what do you think will happen if you tell him that Vin hates him right now?”

Josiah sighed heavily. “It will destroy him.”

“Precisely,” Stacey nodded. “I’ve already got one patient at death’s door. I don’t need another.” she said angrily and pushed by them with fierce determination. Pausing at the doors to ER 2, she turned and faced them once more. “Head upstairs, gentlemen. I’ll send word as soon as I can.”

+ + + + + + +

“I’m telling you, Buck, they’re doing everything they can! Now would you please sit down?!” Josiah admonished and forcibly pulled the pacing playboy into the chair next to him. “I’m sure we’ll hear something about Chris soon.”

“I know that, Josiah! But just what the fuck are we going to do then, I ask? What the Hell are we going to tell Chris when he gets out of surgery?! You know damn good and well that the first questions out of his mouth will be to ask how Vin is and if he can see him!” The ladies’ man ran his good hand through his dark head of hair. “This is just fuckin’ great! I don’t know about you guys, but I can’t…I won’t lie to him!”

Nathan sighed and turned back to face the window where he was standing. “No one is asking you to lie, Buck. If anyone has to lie to Chris, it should be me.”

“I disagree, Nathan,” Josiah retorted. “None of us are going to lie to Chris when we see him.”

“So what do we do? Just not tell him?” JD asked sharply. He folded his arms across his chest and looked at the other four members of the team. “Like that’ll really work,” he snorted. “He’ll see through that cover-up as well and we all know it.”

“I suspect, Mr. Larabee would see through all of our false facades, no matter how truthful we want them to appear.” Ezra said quietly from his perch on the back of the couch in the center of the room. “Perhaps we should not be as concerned about telling our illustrious leader that his closest friend does not wish to see him, as we should be about telling him the gravity of Mr. Tanner’s condition. It has now been well over the appointed hour and a half and we have yet to learn if the necessary units of blood have arrived from Deaconess, nor whether Mr. Tanner’s condition has stabilized enough, so that he can be taken into surgery. Might I suggest, gentlemen, that we concentrate our efforts on figuring out how to keep Mr. Larabee calm when Mr. Tanner’s condition is revealed to him?”

“Ezra’s right,” Nathan replied quietly and turned from the window to face his four teammates. “Even when Chris is out of surgery, he’ll still be in serious condition for a couple of days. Great care will need to be taken not to upset him…especially since he had that damn cardiac arrest.”

JD looked over at him. “You think it damaged his heart bad, Nathan?”

Nathan sighed. “Any cardiac arrest, no matter how minor, will damage the heart muscle, JD.” He stepped toward the youngest member of the team. “The extent of the damage, however, won’t be known until Dr. Silverman gives us the rundown. In the meantime, all we can do is wait,” he looked to Josiah, “and pray.”

“Amen, Brother. Amen.” Josiah agreed and nodded succinctly.

+ + + + + + +

The tired doctor nodded quickly when he entered the waiting room. Tom Parker didn’t need to stand on ceremony with this group of men. He took quick note of their demeanor as they each stood. They were as tired and frazzled as he was. At least they looked that way, he noted.

The hospital’s general surgeon studied the dark haired man standing behind the Firm’s medic. Knowing Buck Wilmington all too well, Tom Parker raised an eyebrow in amusement. Obviously, some inanimate object had crossed swords with the Firm’s resident playboy and by the looks of things, had won. He didn’t bother asking for an explanation, knowing too well that all he would get is a series of expletives and a resounding, ‘I’m fine’ at the end of it all. Besides, he figured he’d get the full run down from Stacey over that cup of coffee he had promised her over five hours earlier.

“Doc, how’s Chris?” Nathan asked worriedly.

“Out of recovery and on his way to ICU.”

“ICU?” JD asked incredulously. “But I thought…”

“It’s precautionary after a cardiac arrest, JD,” Nathan quickly replied.

“Yes,” Parker nodded. “You’re absolutely right, Nathan. Although I have to be honest with you, boys, we almost lost him again. Chris suffered another one during surgery.” Ignoring the collective gasps, the surgeon continued. “Brandon will brief you after he checks on Chris.”

“Dr. Parker, what about his other injuries?” Josiah inquired, stepping forward hesitantly.

“Well, I think you all know the gist of it. The maniac worked Chris over pretty well. We were able to take care of the abdominal hemorrhaging without too many complications. David was able to repair his ribs and the damage done to his thigh, but Chris won’t be running any marathons anytime soon. Maniac cut the muscle all the way to the bone. David had to do some pretty fancy needlework to repair the damage. I think you should know that therapy is going to be extremely painful for him.”

“We’ll be there for him, you don’t have to worry about that, Doc,” Buck said adamantly.

“I know that, Buck, and as always I’m glad to hear you say it. I’m afraid though, that we weren’t as lucky with Chris’ right forearm. It was mangled pretty badly. It wouldn’t align correctly so David had to insert two plates in it in order to set it properly. It’s going to be quite painful for Chris for some time, I’m afraid. Once the bones stitch together, if there are no complications, David will remove the plates.” Watching the faces fall, he wondered how they would take the remainder of his news. “That’s the least of our worries, gentlemen. Quite frankly, all three of us are worried about those tremors Chris is continuing to have, from being exposed to those electrical shocks for extended periods of time. It’s too soon to tell, but we’re hoping there is no permanent nerve damage.”

“When will you know, Doc?” JD asked quietly, a tremor of fear evident in the young voice.

Tom shrugged. “Couple of days…couple of weeks. We really don’t know, JD. Chris has been through Hell again, I’m afraid. He’s dehydrated and extremely weak. That damn poison he was given didn’t help matters any.”

“Poison?!” Five voices cried as one.

“Yes. I thought you knew. His blood tests came back with residual amounts of an intestinal poison present in his bloodstream. Not life threatening in itself but it could be over time. It causes severe nausea and vomiting. If you hadn’t found Chris when you did, I hasten to say that he would have died in his own vomit.”

The Firm’s conman stepped close to Dr. Parker and put his hand on Tom’s shoulder. “Mr. Larabee will recover though, yes?”

“Yes, Ezra. We’ve administered an antidote and I’ve given him a dosage of phenergan to help with the nausea. It will also make him drowsy, so at least he’ll sleep.”

“So Chris is going to be all right, then?” Nathan pressed.

Parker frowned. He knew they wanted answers. Answers he couldn’t give them at the moment. He sighed heavily and looked at each of them in turn. “In time…yes. But mind you…all of you…listen to my words of caution. The muscular damage to Chris’ right leg is substantial and that break in his right forearm is not something to take lightly. When and if the tremors ever stop

we’ll be able to ascertain the true extent of the remaining damage to his nerves.”

“And if they don’t stop? What then?” Buck asked, his eyes narrowing.

Tom Parker took a deep breath and let it out slowly. “Then Chris Larabee will never work in the capacity that he does now.”

“He’ll be a desk jockey,” Buck said flatly, animosity clearly evident in his voice.

Ezra let out a soft whistle. “For Mr. Larabee, a fate worse than death.”

Josiah sighed and looked into the doctor’s eyes. “We understand, Dr. Parker. Let us pray that it does not come to that. May we ask about Chris’ state of mind?”

Parker frowned. “If you want to know if he’s woken up yet and asked about Vin…no. Anything other than that, we’ll have to wait and see what happens when he does come out of it.”

“And what about Mr. Tanner, Dr. Parker? You have surreptitiously avoided that topic of discussion.” Ezra said, raising an eyebrow.

Parker stiffened.

“Ezra, that’s enough,” Josiah warned. “Dr. Parker was attending to Chris. I’m sure if he knew anything about Vin’s condition, he would’ve told us without hesitation.”

“Thank you, Josiah.” Tom looked them each in the eye. “I’m afraid all I know is that they took Vin into surgery little over an hour ago. Dr. Martin Chadwick is attending internal surgeon. He’s one of the best. David was called in to assist on Vin’s leg. Other than that, there’s no word yet…and won’t be for some time I’m afraid. His injuries…well…they were…”

“Extensive.” Nathan finished for him. Closing his eyes, he shook his head. “Will this nightmare ever be over?”

Josiah put his hand on Nathan’s shoulder and squeezed it gently. “Have faith, my friend.” He turned to Parker. “Then they received the additional units of blood from Deaconess?”

Parker swallowed hard. “Only five units I’m afraid, Josiah.” He lowered his head and sighed heavily. “Considering the amount of blood loss and the surgery…it wasn’t enough. More units have been ordered from St. James in Butte, but it’ll be tomorrow afternoon at the earliest before they arrive. In the meantime, the surgical team will try to compensate for the lack of whole blood with additional units of plasma.”

Tom Parker studied the five men standing before him and took another deep breath. Waiting for word about loved ones was always tough, but waiting for the unknown…that was even tougher. The five men standing before him were anxiously awaiting answers to questions that he truthfully just did not have at the moment. He wished like Hell that he had more information, but he didn’t have any left to give them.

Chris Larabee was in very serious condition. The constant tremors were cause for concern, but the full impact wouldn’t be ascertained for several days yet. The fact that the Firm’s leader had suffered another cardiac arrest while he was under the knife worried the hell out of him. Chris Larabee had been in tough scrapes before and had always pulled through…fighting tooth and nail to get well. Now…now, however, it seemed like Chris was giving up.

Parker shook his head and pushed the thought out of his mind. Chris Larabee was a fighter…pure and simple. To entertain any other thought other than that was ludicrous. The Firm’s leader was just worried about his closest friend, Tom mused. He knew Chris was worried about Vin, that was a given. Just like the sun rising in the East and setting in the West. Vin Tanner’s condition was critical, of that he was sure. He could only pray that the sharpshooter had enough strength and will left to fight. For if he didn’t, Tom Parker wondered if Chris Larabee would survive.

+ + + + + + +

Chris heard the all too familiar hum of the monitors by his head and knew he was in ICU of the surgical wing. His whole body seemed to quiver uncontrollably and he instinctively tried to tense his muscles, only to become fully aware of the pain coursing through his body.

Eyes closed he began taking stock of the areas on his body that hurt the worst. His ribs and chest still ached. He felt an uncomfortable tenderness in his left abdomen and his right arm and right leg felt like they were made of lead.

He could hear voices softly talking near him. Female. Must be the nurses, he thought, wonder who’s on duty tonight? His mind tried to focus on the words, to make sense of the conversation.

“Should I disconnect this last unit?”

Disconnect what?

“Not yet. It’s almost gone. We’ll take it then. Shouldn’t be long now.”

Gone? What’s almost gone?

“He’s awfully lucky Dr. Midland went ahead and sent those last two units of blood up to surgery.”


“Sure is. Mr. Larabee is alive because of it. Just a shame they had to take it away from Vin Tanner like that, though.”

Vin’s blood…oh God no…

Green eyes shot open and focused on the IV’s next to the bed. An agonized scream left Chris’ lips when he saw the unit of blood. “No!” he cried and immediately convulsed, vomiting as one of the nurses pulled the oxygen mask away from his face in time to shove the small basin under his mouth.

“Take it easy, Mr. Larabee! Breathe through your nose!” she directed. Nodding to the other nurse, she motioned to the door. “Get Dr. Parker!”

Chris clutched his side with his good arm, as tears collected in his eyes. “Oh…God! B…blo…blood! V…Vin’s…blood!” he repeated over and over again, heaving violently. His body shuddered as spasms consumed it, sending sharp lancing pains through his ribcage and abdomen.

Dr. Parker bolted through the door and grabbed Chris’ shoulders as another convulsion washed over the blond. “Easy Chris! I’ve got you! Two milligrams phenergan!”

“No!” Chris cried and twisted in Parker’s grasp, his eyes never leaving the plastic bag containing the blood. “Oh God! It’s Vin’s blood! It’s Vin’s blood!”

Parker frowned and tightened his hold. “Take it easy, Chris! Calm down! That’s not Vin’s blood! Two milligrams Valium! Now!”

Did Vin’s blood taste good, Larabee? I’ll bet it was sweet, wasn’t it? I know that was just an appetizer, but I’ll make sure you’re able to feast on it tomorrow.

Another violent heave and Chris convulsed once more. “No! Please! Not a feast!” The adrenaline rush made him impervious to the drugs entering his system. His eyes stayed locked on the bag. “No! I can taste it! It’s Vin’s blood! Take it away! Please! Don’t make me do it! Please don’t make me drink anymore!”

“What?!” Tom asked in disbelief. He grabbed Chris chin and forced the tormented blond to look at him. “Chris! Look at me! It’s me Dr. Parker! It’s me Tom! What are you talking about?!”

You’ve already spilled your brother’s blood, Chris. Now you can feast upon it.

“No!” Chris struggled against the firm hold on his chin and heaved the bitter bile once more. “Let me go! Please don’t make me drink his blood any more! Please…please!” he cried, tears streaming down his face.

Three pairs of eyes widened in shock. Tom Parker glanced up at the IV and yelled at the young nurse standing near it. “Disconnect that line and get that damn bag out of there!”

As the convulsions slowed, he eased Chris back against the pillows but held fast to the shuddering form. “Easy, Chris. It’s over. You’re at Saint. Vincents…in SICU.”

“B…blood?” A weak voice asked, the green eyes searching frantically about the room.

Tom Parker swallowed hard and nodded. “It’s gone, Chris.”

Chris looked up at him. Confused and frightened, the blond’s eyes continued to dart around the room. “G…gone…w…won’t…make…me…d…drink?”

Parker soothed Chris’ forehead and pushed the hair back from the tormented face. “No, Chris. We’re not going to make you drink it,” the doctor said, his voice faltering. “It’s all gone, now. You’re going to be all right.”

“All right?” Chris asked, his eyes trying to focus once again. “H…hospital…” he whispered, as the phenergan pulled him back into a haze. “Not…drink…Vin’s…blood?”

“No, Chris. Not any more.” Parker confirmed quietly, stroking the damp hair. “Everything is going to be all right, Chris. Just rest.”

“Not…drink…any more…. R…rest…” Chris repeated and closed his eyes. Did…didn’t wa…want…to drink it…I’m sorry…Cowboy…

+ + + + + + +

Dr. Tom Parker exited Room 412 of SICU and headed to the water cooler to get a drink. Wishing like Hell that it were a bottle of Kentucky bourbon instead. Visibly shaken by what had he had just heard, he clenched his right hand when it started to tremble. Five figures appeared in his peripheral vision and he turned to face the concerned friends of his patient.


“Are you all right, Dr. Parker?” Josiah asked worriedly, placing a hand on Parker’s shoulder.

Tom nodded abruptly and swallowed the water. Reaching for another cup, his hand shook again and he pulled it back in frustration. “Damn it!” he cursed and clenched it again at his side.

“Here, Doc. This one’s on me. I need to take my pain meds anyway.” Buck said, smiling sheepishly. He filled the doctor’s cup and handed it to him, then drew one for himself.

Parker inhaled and nodded once more. “Thanks, Buck,” he replied, looking at the ladies’ man gratefully.

The playboy’s smile broadened. “Don’t mention it.” He nodded toward the room. “Chris can make anybody mad enough to shake with unspent rage if he wants to.”

Parker smiled at the honorable attempt at forced humor to put him at ease. He raised his cup in a toast. “That he can, Buck. That he can.” He finished off the last of the water and stared at his hands; silently thankful the trembling had ceased. Chris’ words had unnerved him and set him on edge. Dear God…was he made to drink Vin’s blood? he asked himself in disbelief. A worried voice drew his thoughts back into the corridor.

“Doc? What happened in there?” JD asked.

He looked up and realized he must have had a stunned look on his face when the question was repeated.

“Doc? What happened?”

He blinked and sighed heavily. “I’m sorry JD. What did you ask?”

“What happened with Chris just now?” Nathan interjected.

Parker took a deep breath and looked at the five men standing before him. “This man that took them hostage and did this…did you catch him?”

Buck shifted uncomfortably. “No. Tasker and his men were already gone when we got there. It’s his trademark. Hurt ‘em and leave ‘em.” He clenched his good hand at his side. “But we will. We’re gonna find him and make him pay.”

The general surgeon nodded and clenched his jaw. “After what I just heard…I sure hope so, Buck.” Five pairs of eyes locked on his and he straightened his shoulders. “You make him pay dearly for what he put Chris and Vin through, you understand me?”

Josiah cleared his throat and placed his hand on Tom’s shoulder. “Seeking vengeance Dr. Parker? This is entirely not like you. Please…tell us. What just happened?”

“Oh nothing!” Parker crumpled the paper cup in his fist and threw it into the waste can with force. “Nothing except I just found out that maniac forced Chris to drink Vin’s blood!”

A sharp intake of air passed over five sets of lips at once. Exclamations of

“Oh dear God!”, “Fuck!”, “Holy shit!”, “Damnation!” and “Jesus Christ!” could be heard as one.

Sanchez was the first to recover from the shock and looked at Parker. “Is he all right?”

Parker nodded. “Yes…for now. I had to give him another shot of phenergan and one of Valium to calm him down. He’s resting.”

Nathan ran a hand over his head and around to the back of his neck. “Any idea what triggered it?”

The doctor sighed heavily. “Not sure. Apparently, when he saw that unit of blood hanging from the IV pole he lost it…literally. Chris became violently ill.”

“Mr. Larabee will be all right though. Correct, Dr. Parker?” Standish inquired, his eyes shifting to the window of the room.

“Physically…yes, in time. Mentally…. Well, as I’m sure you can imagine, I want Susan James to talk to him when he’s out of here and in a regular room.”

“Of course,” Josiah nodded in agreement. “I realize that Chris is still resting but may we be allowed to see him now?”

“Yes,” Parker nodded and walked toward the door, “of course. Your presence always does Chris a world of good.”

“Vin’s presence would be even better,” Wilmington muttered under his breath, as he followed the others into Chris’ room. Stopping by the door, Buck turned to face the doctor. “Doc…”

Tom nodded and put his hand on Buck’s shoulder. “I’ve already talked to Dr. Midland, Buck. I know what needs to be done. Turn your pager on silent and I’ll page you as soon as I know something about Vin. All right?”

Buck smiled wistfully. “Thanks, Doc,” he said quietly and walked into the room to join the others.

+ + + + + + +

Other than the low hum of the monitors and the soft hiss of the oxygen flowing through the small canula tubes in Chris’ nostrils, the only sound prevalent in the room was the nervous tapping of JD’s fingers on the arm of the chair he sat in.

Choosing to sit quietly, rather out of concern for waking their sleeping friend or from fear for saying something that Chris might overhear, five men had decided to communicate via their text pagers rather than speak out loud.

JD glanced down at his pager and sneered across the room at Standish when he read the message. ‘Would you please refrain from fidgeting, Mr. Dunne, and cease that incessant tapping?! It is only five minutes later that it was the last time you asked how long!’

Frustrated, the young computer whiz keyed in his reply and shot the gambler a fiery glance. ‘It’s been well over seven hours! Why haven’t we heard anything?!’

Josiah inhaled and keyed in his reply. ‘Calm down, JD. No news is good news.’

‘Tell that to my nerves, Josiah.’ JD retorted. He keyed in another message. ‘Anybody want some coffee? I need some fresh air.’

Ezra was quick to respond. ‘If it will silent that infernal drumbeat of yours, please allow me to accompany you!’

‘Only if you promise not to use those five dollar words!’ JD shot back.

Nathan shot them both a harsh look. “That’s enough!” he hissed through clenched teeth. “Both of you get out of here!”

Josiah gripped the medic’s arm and shook his head slightly. He nodded to the two younger men and motioned for them to leave, shooting them a warning glance to do so quietly. Watching the door close behind the two departing men, he turned to Nathan. “Take it easy on them, Nathan. They’re just worried,” the older man whispered. Casting a glance toward the sleeping man in the bed, he leaned in closer and lowered his voice. “It has been a long time, since he was taken into surgery.”

Nathan drew a long breath and looked from Buck to Josiah. He keyed a message into his pager. ‘I know…too long. That’s what has me worried. I’m afraid there might be complications. Vin lost too much blood. With that collapsed lung and pneumonia, he’s too weak to endure a grueling operation. Especially one as long as this one is apparently taking.’

Buck had been rubbing his broken hand and forearm absentmindedly. When he read the message, he ran his good hand through his hair, cursing under his breath. “Fuck!”

“Something you boys want to share with me?” a feeble voice asked from the bed.

Three men stood up at once.

“Chris!” Buck cried and stepped toward the bed.

+ + + + + + +

“Vin?” Chris whispered, trying to push himself up.

Buck dropped his eyes and rubbed his hand. “Ah…he’s…he’s…” Running his good hand through his hair nervously once more, he turned away from the bed. “Oh fuck, Chris…”

Josiah stepped forward quickly and put his hand on Chris’. “Vin’s still in surgery, Son.”

Green eyes gazed up at Sanchez in confusion. “Surgery?” Chris’ eyes darted to the clock on the opposite wall and then back to Nathan. “Surgery…I don’t understand.” He tensed and gripped the side rail, struggling to pull himself up further. His thoughts sought out his friend. Vin! Where are you? Answer me, Goddamn it! Where are you, Cowboy?!

Josiah grabbed his shoulders and pressed him back against the pillows. “Easy, Chris. Just lay back.”

“No!” Chris shook his head and struggled against the hands that were trying to force him back against the bed. “Vin! Where’s Vin?!”

Buck turned back to the bed and helped press Chris down with his good hand. “We told you, Pard. Vin is still in surgery.”

Chris shoved his friend’s hand away harshly. The blond’s eyes darted to the clock once more and then locked on the Firm’s medic. “Nathan…what’s wrong?” he demanded, his voice becoming strained. “We were brought into Emergency over twelve hours ago! Why is Vin still in surgery?!”

Nathan swallowed hard and stepped next to Buck. The medic’s eyes darted to the monitors next to the bed. “Jesus Christ, Chris! You need to take it easy! You’ve got to calm down before you have another heart attack!”

“Fuck no! I’m not going to take it easy!” he yelled and twisted beneath Josiah’s grasp. “Let me go, Josiah! I need to get to Vin!”

Josiah shook his head firmly. “No! Chris! You need to stay here and rest! Vin is going to be all right!”

Green eyes flashed and Chris shoved Josiah’s hand off his right shoulder. “What the Hell do you know, Preacher Man?! He’s not all right! It’s my fault he’s in here! Now let me go!” Chris thrashed on the bed, ignoring the sharp pains lancing through his left side. He felt something pull in his right leg and grimaced, biting back the cry of pain.

Buck grabbed Chris’ right shoulder. “Chris, calm down! Goddamn it!” the playboy admonished.

Chris glared up at Buck and grabbed the collar of the playboy’s jacket. He yanked his friend over the railing and glared at him. “Don’t you dare tell me to calm down! Vin needs me! I know he does! He’s in trouble!”

Nathan pulled Buck back and pried Chris’ fingers away from Wilmington’s jacket. “Step back, Buck! You can’t hold him with that broken hand! Get Dr. Silverman!” the medic ordered, reaching for the button next to Chris’ head.

“Stay away from me! All of you!” Chris yelled and grabbed Nathan’s wrist. “Don’t you fuckin’ touch it! I don’t want any drugs!” The blond glared at the three men hovering over him. “What are you not telling me?!”

Josiah inhaled deeply and looked over at Buck. “Buck…do as Nathan asks! Now!”

Buck looked down at Chris through welling tears, turned on his heel and quickly left.

Vin…oh God! No…. Breathing heavily, Chris collapsed against the pillows. He tightened his grip around Jackson’s wrist. “No…please, Nathan. Don’t. Not yet….” Chris pleaded weakly. He gazed up at Nathan and Josiah through tears. “Please…tell me….”

Suddenly, the blond’s eyes shifted. Stinging tears welled in his green eyes as he stared into space. He released Nathan’s wrist and raised his left arm into the air, reaching toward the foot of the bed. “Vin…please don’t…don’t go!”

Nathan and Josiah exchanged quick looks.

“Chris…what is it? What do you see?” Josiah asked worriedly.

“It’s Vin… Oh God! He’s leaving!” Chris cried in agony and strained to pull himself forward. “Vin…don’t! Please…I’m sorry! I never meant to hurt you! You have to believe me!” The blond inhaled sharply, gasping for breath. His gaze didn’t waver; instead he kept reaching into thin air, pleading with his friend. “Please…Vin! D…don’t…l…leave…me! I…I…n…need…you…Cowboy! No! You can’t leave! Please…Brother…don’t leave me alone! Vin! Oh God! No! No!”

“Chris!” Josiah wrapped his arms around the blond’s shoulders. “Where the Hell is Buck with that doctor!”

Chris collapsed against the ex-preacher. His eyes still locked at the foot of the bed, he stared aimlessly into the darkness of the room. Vin…please don’t leave me…Cowboy…

Nathan watched the monitors jump and put his hand on Chris’ face. “Chris? Chris, look at me! Damn it!” Nathan pressed his hand against Chris’ cheek once more and then grabbed the blond’s hand. Pulling it to his own chest, he pleaded with the Firm’s leader. “Chris! Hold on! Don’t do this! Please! Vin is going to be all right! You hear me! He’s going to be all right!”

Chris pulled his eyes away from the end of the bed and gazed up at Josiah and then Nathan. Tears streamed down his face and he shook his head slightly. “No…he’s not…coma…dying….”

A sharp intake of air across his lips and Chris lurched in Josiah’s arms. “Cowboy…” he breathed as his head dropped back on the ex-preacher’s arm and he fell suddenly still.

+ + + + + + +

The medic looked up at ex-preacher. “Lower him to the bed, Josiah! Quickly!” When Sanchez did so, Nathan glanced at the monitors once more. “Shit! He’s crashing! Breathe for me!” he yelled and started compressions on the blond’s chest. Nathan’s voice wavered as he relayed the count. His eyes were glued to the heart monitor. “Jesus, Chris…don’t do this! Please! You’ve got to hold on!”

He heard the door open behind him and then Brandon Silverman’s concerned voice.

“What the Hell is going on?!”

“He’s crashing!” Nathan yelled in one breath to Silverman. “Breathe!” he continued in the next to Josiah.

Silverman issued a string of orders and grabbed the crash cart. “Charge to 300! One-milligram epinephrine, IV push! Now!”

Nathan and Josiah stepped back and allowed Silverman’s team to take over. The medic’s eyes locked on those of Wilmington and he stepped closer, placing a comforting hand on the shoulder of the ladies’ man. “Silverman will bring him back, Buck. You have to believe that.”

Buck nodded, his eyes glued to the team of doctors and nurses trying to revive his oldest friend. “I knew it was a bad idea keeping the truth from him,” Wilmington said despondently.

Josiah stepped to the other side of Buck. “I know, but we did what the doctors thought was best…what we thought was best for Chris.”

Silverman’s voice pierced the hushed voices of the three men. “Charging! Clear!”

The sound of the electrical charge being released into his friend’s chest and the sudden lurch of the blond’s body caused Buck to jump and tense. A sharp hiss passed over his lips. “We lied to him, Josiah.”

The trained medic studied the Firm’s resident scoundrel and steadied him. “Come on, Buck. Let’s wait outside.” He knew Wilmington was in pain by the intake of air and the paling color of the playboy’s skin.

“Goddamn it! He’s in V-Fib! Three milligrams epinephrine!” Silverman barked. “Damn it to Hell, Chris! You come back, you hear me?! Don’t you dare die on me, you sonofabitch!” the cardio vascular surgeon threatened.

Nathan watched the surgeon’s face and clenched his jaw tight. He squeezed Buck’s shoulder once more and glanced at Josiah. “Outside. Now.”

Buck’s eyes shot to Nathan’s and then to the bed. He twisted out of the medic’s grasp and lunged toward the end of the bed. “Chris! No!” he cried. “Don’t you dare leave us!”

Once more the playboy lurched in response to the charge being released into Larabee’s chest.

“Oh God…please…no,” he pleaded.

“Five milligrams epinephrine!” Silverman ordered. He threw the paddles aside and began manual compressions. “Larabee! You listen to me you stubborn, ill-tempered arrogant sonofabitch! You die on me and I swear to God I’ll march right into Hell after your ass and pull you back by your ear!” he shouted his ire to the blond between compressions. “You will not die on my watch, Chris Larabee! You hear me?! You will not…”

The monitor reacted.

Buck grabbed the end of the bed. “Come on, Chris!”

Nathan and Josiah were by his side in a heartbeat.

“Come on, Son. You can do it.” Josiah said, closing his eyes to say a quiet prayer.

Nathan held his breath. His eyes darted between the monitor, Chris’ face and Silverman’s. He watched the surgeon’s eyes closely, looking for a reaction, anything that would tell him the condition of their friend. Finally, he saw it – the faint glimmer of hope…the slight movement of the doctor’s shoulders when they sagged in relief.

The medic’s eyes closed and he exhaled the waiting breath. “Thank you, Lord,” he whispered under his breath. When he opened his eyes he saw Josiah nod and heard him whisper.

“Amen, Brother. Amen.”

Nathan breathed another sigh of relief and listened to Silverman’s orders to place Chris on life support. He knew his face held a questioning glance when Silverman spoke to him.

“It’s precautionary, Nathan. I can’t risk another episode like this. Chris is too weak right now.”

The Firm’s EMT nodded slowly and squeezed Chris’ leg. “You hold on, Chris.”

Silverman turned to face the three men and nodded toward the door. “Outside, gentlemen. Now,” he ordered.

A concerned glance by all three men toward their unconscious friend and they stepped toward the door and into the corridor.

+ + + + + + +

Once in the corridor, Silverman turned on the three elite team members. “Just what the Hell happened in there?! We told you to keep him calm!”

Buck glared at the doctor. “We fuckin’ tried! Goddamn it! Chris read us like an open book when we tried to avoid telling him about Vin!”

“Goddamn it!” Silverman hissed and ran his hand through his hair in visible frustration. “Chris Larabee has had three cardiac arrests in the past twelve hours!” He raised his hand and pointed toward the room. “I’ve just had to place him on life support, because we almost lost him for good this time! Now what the Hell happened?!”

Nathan sighed and shook his head. “Damn if I really know, Dr. Silverman. Buck is right. Chris saw right through us when we tried to avoid telling him the severity of Tanner’s condition.”

“We couldn’t lie to him, Doc,” Buck said, rubbing his hand again.

“I didn’t expect you to lie to him, Buck. But I had hoped you could’ve avoided the topic a bit longer until Chris had a chance to stabilize from surgery.” Silverman said, his voice softening. “This has really set him back.”

“Believe me, it certainly wasn’t our intent to do so,” Josiah replied.

Silverman smiled faintly and put his hand on Josiah’s arm. “I know that, Josiah. I’m sorry. I’m just trying to look out for Chris’ best interests. He is my patient.”

“I know, Doc. It certainly wasn’t our choice to tell him. But Chris instinctively knew something was wrong with Vin the moment he woke up.” Josiah continued. “You know how close they are.”

“Yes. All too well I’m afraid.” Silverman nodded. “Chris has been concerned about Vin before and has suffered setbacks because of it, but what just happened in there has me genuinely worried about his welfare, Josiah. Chris was in full cardiac arrest for the third time today. Not very good odds to have if he expects to make a full recovery.”

“Will he be all right, Doc?” Buck asked nervously. “I mean…will he make it?”

Silverman sighed and looked at the ladies’ man. “Only time will tell, Buck. He’s in very serious condition right now. The next twenty-four to forty-eight hours will be the determining factor. Life support will help take some of the strain off his heart and lungs and allow him to heal physically, but quite frankly, I’m concerned about his mental state. I agree with Dr. Parker that Dr. James needs to see him when he’s stable enough. As far as I’m concerned even before he is moved out of ICU. The longer he’s depressed, the worse his physical condition will become.”

Their shoulders sagging, all three men nodded in understanding. A concerned voice broke through the silence.

“Dr. Silverman? I think you’d better come in here,” the nurse said quickly.

Three faces paled.

Silverman turned on his heel. “What is it Julie?”

“Mr. Larabee ripped open the wound in his leg. He’s bleeding out.”

Silverman put his hand up to stop the three men from entering the room. “Stay here! We’ll take care of him!” He turned toward the ICU desk. “Page Dr. Parker and Dr. Frost and get them up here, STAT!”

“Dr. Frost is still in surgery with Mr. Tanner!” the nurse shot back.

“Then page Dr. Moreland! Now!” Silverman ordered and pushed the door open, quickly closing it behind him.

+ + + + + + +

Watching the closing door, Josiah sighed and leaned against the desk. A look of defeat washed over his face. “Nathan…please…wake me up from this nightmare.”

Nathan lowered his head and shook it. “When I wake up from my own, I’ll be happy to do just that, Josiah,” the medic sighed and looked up at the ex-preacher. “We should’ve told Silverman the rest of it.”

Josiah chuckled derisively. “He wouldn’t have believed us if we did. Besides, what difference would it make? The end result was the same. Our close friend just suffered a heart attack.”

Buck’s eyes shot between the two men. “What are you talking about? What happened?”

Josiah raised an eyebrow and sighed. “Oh nothing. Nothing except, Chris apparently thought he saw Vin.”

“What?!” Wilmington exclaimed.

“He kept calling to him. Pleading with Vin not to leave.” Nathan added. “I’ve never seen anything like it. It was like Vin was right in the room with us!”

“Well, apparently to Chris, he was,” Josiah replied.

Nathan nodded, “Yes.”

“You’re kidding right?” the ladies’ man asked in disbelief.

“I’m afraid not, Buck,” Nathan said, shaking his head. “Chris thought Vin was in that room and he kept pleading with him to hold on and not leave.” He looked toward Josiah. “Did you hear what he said when I told him that Vin was going to be all right?”

Josiah clenched his jaw and nodded. “All too well, Nathan. All too well.”

“What?!” Buck grabbed Josiah’s arm and turned the ex-preacher to face him. “What did he say?”

Josiah grabbed Buck’s shoulders to steady him. “Easy, Buck. Chris was delirious. He didn’t know what he was saying.”

Buck stared back at Josiah and then to Nathan. “Tell me what he said!”

The Firm’s medic swallowed hard and looked into the playboy’s eyes. “Chris said that Vin was in a coma…that he was dying.”

A sharp gasp, a curse and the sound of cups dropping to the floor behind them turned the heads of all three men.

“JD. Ezra. What the Hell?” Josiah asked, looking at the two shocked faces.

JD staggered backward, reaching for the desk and Ezra grabbed after him. Buck raced to his young friend’s side. “JD! What’s wrong?!”

JD tried to take in enough air and clutched his chest. He looked at Buck with tears in his eyes. “Chris…he was…he was…” The young man broke eye contact and shook his head.

Buck looked down at his friend. “He was what, JD?”

JD kept shaking his head, repeating, “No…no…”

Wilmington looked up at the three men hovering over them. “Help me get him to that chair.”

Nathan and Josiah wrapped their arms around the trembling computer wizard and eased him into a nearby chair. Nathan nodded to the nurse when she handed him a packet of smelling salts. “Thanks.” He broke it open and waved it under the young man’s nose.

JD jerked his head back in response and coughed, shoving Nathan’s hand away.

“Take it easy, JD,” Nathan said quietly, putting a comforting hand on JD’s shoulder. He looked up at the pale face of Ezra and his eyes narrowed. The normally verbose conman hadn’t said a word other than the eloquent curse that had left his lips a moment before. “Ezra? Are you all right?” The medic handed the salts to Buck and stood slowly. He put his hand on the gambler’s shoulder, trying to draw his attention. “Ezra? What’s wrong?”

Ezra and JD locked gazes and the gambler broke eye contact after JD nodded. He turned his gaze to Nathan and swallowed hard. “You indicated that Mr. Larabee said that Mr. Tanner was in a coma?”

Nathan’s eyes narrowed. “Yes…but Chris was delirious. Out of his mind with worry and guilt.”

Ezra shook his head slowly. “I am inclined to disagree, Mr. Jackson. Mr. Dunne and I are delayed in joining you because we ran into Dr. Chadwick outside of surgery.”

Josiah stepped behind Nathan. Buck put his hand on JD’s shoulder and stood slowly.

Standish looked at each man in turn and started to speak only to close his eyes and turn his head away.

Nathan grabbed his arm. “Ezra! What’s wrong?!”

“Vin…” JD whispered instead, “he’s…he’s in a coma…and may not make it through the night,” his voice wavering until it finally faded as he choked on the words.