Unseen Force

by Winnie and Renegade

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Chris knew he was playing with fire, but the blessed relief and emptiness he craved only came when the drug was administered and he felt it flow through his veins, easing the tremors, and making him forget for a little while. That’s all he needed…all he wanted…to forget. Forget about the pain and the emptiness and the loss. He’d killed the friendship that he’d coveted. Killed the connection that soldered him to the other half of his soul!

The nurse, he frowned trying to think of her name even as he tried to forget everything that had happened, was checking the monitors above his head. She hummed softly, but the sound was irritating and he wished she would just shut up and leave him alone until it was time for his next performance. His mind wandered over the events of the last week and Tasker’s face flashed before his eyes. He could hear Tasker’s voice droning on and on, burning a trail of sadness through the fiery depths of his soul. Darkening his mind with the bitter defeat that had cost him so much. Branding him with an acid that scarred him to the core of his being.

Chris felt sleep beckoning to him, but fought it with every ounce of his rapidly dwindling strength. There was only so many ways to stay awake and too many things conspired against him to send him back into the hell he’d lived a short time ago.

Chris tried to pull his head free, but felt Tasker’s nails dig into his skin. He suddenly felt sick when he felt Tasker’s fingers on his lips and then tasted the blood. Words of hatred formed in the back of his throat but he couldn’t speak. He swallowed hard to force back the rising tide, but it was no use and he vomited the meager contents of his stomach just as Tasker released him and stepped back. Convulsing against the restraints, he heaved over and over again at the taste that lingered on his lips. His whole body screamed in pain and his head pounded in rhythm to the throbbing in his right thigh and left side. His ears heard Tasker’s voice disappear into the darkness, further sickening him with the knowledge that he had tasted his best friend’s blood.

“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. Come along, Gentlemen. I’m hungry for ox blood soup.”

“No…no, God help me, no! Can’t…can’t drink it…Vin! Vin!” The words were whispered, but the body on the bed struggled with the nightmare images and cried out when pain slammed home and hot acidic bile rose in his throat. Over and over images flashed and froze as he tried to swallow the bitter pill that he’d drank his best friend’s blood.

Johanna turned when she heard the strangled cries from the bed and quickly moved to help her patient turn. Years of being an ICU nurse gave her the strength she needed to deal with any and all emergencies. She knew the signs of a patient in trouble and reached for the call button that would bring the necessary personnel. Next she tried to calm the trembling form as his body shook with the violent tremors brought on by the electrical shocks that had been inflicted upon him. She looked up as Tom Parker entered the room and quickly watched as he measured the required dosage of Soma with Codeine that would help control the patient’s quaking limbs.

“How long has he been like this?” Parker asked.

“A little over a minute,” Johanna answered and reached for a cloth as the tremors began to subside.

“Any idea what brought it on?”

“I heard him say something about not being able to drink,” the nurse explained.

“Damn it!” Parker said and ran his hand through his hair as Larabee’s eyes began to open and a single tear followed a path down his cheek. He watched the nurse wash the evidence away, but he knew it was not the first tear shed and would not be the last. “Chris, take it easy now, the medication should help.”

“C…can’t…” Larabee moaned and turned toward the door in time to see a familiar figure enter the room. He closed his eyes as the words came back to him. The decision she’d made in the heat of the moment had nearly cost Vin Tanner his life. That was something he could not forgive her for because it was a horrid reminder that not only had he drank the blood of his best friend, but he’d also been given the blood needed to save Vin’s life. “G…get out!”

“Easy, Chris, lie back!” Parker ordered, placing his hand on the blond’s shoulder.

“NO! Damn you! Get out!”

“Who?” the physician asked.

“All of you get out!”

“We need to take care of you, Chris,” Midland said.

“I don’t fucking need you to! Get out of my life, Dr. Midland! I don’t ever want you to touch me again! You made the wrong fucking decision and I’ll never forgive you for it! You had no right! He needed it! You could have killed him!”

“What are you talking about, Chris?” Parker asked, but he saw the truth of Larabee’s words written on Midland’s face. The horror of a decision made in the heat of the moment was weighing heavily on Midland’s heart and he knew this strong woman was close to crumbling under Larabee’s vicious verbal attack.

“The blood in the ER! When we came in! Vin needed it didn’t he, Doc?” Larabee’s eyes flashed green daggers that cut through Stacey Midland as if they were real.

“I did what I had to do, Chris. You were already in surgery,” Midland explained softly.

“You made the wrong decision, Doc!” Larabee said and turned away. “I’ll n…never forgive you…or me.”

“He’s sleeping, Stacey,” Parker told her and turned her away from the bed. “Come on I think we could both use a coffee.”

“Thanks, Tom,” Midland said, fighting the guilt that Larabee had placed on her shoulders.

Johanna watched the two physicians leave the room and turned her attention back to her patient. The violent tremors were painful to watch and she knew it was going to take a long time for this man to heal, both physically and mentally. She began to hum the soft nameless tune and cleaned up the area around the patient’s bed unaware that Chris Larabee was still awake.

God, Vin, I’m so sorry! I should have been able to stop that bastard, he thought and began to work on setting his body for another wave of pain and the medication that would eventually ease it.

+ + + + + + +

Cowboy… He whispered silently in the darkness to the lifeless form he cradled in his arms.

Blue eyes void of life gazed up at him accusingly. Cracked lips fraught with pain trembled. ‘P…please…stop…C…Chris…D…don’t…h…hurt…me…any…anymore.’

Tears streamed down his face and he clutched the body closer to his chest. Oh God…I…I never meant to hurt you…Vin. Y…you h…have to believe that!

The demon hovered over him, taunting him. Smiling demonically as the eyes pierced his soul. ‘You’ve just destroyed the only thing that mattered to you! … Look at what you’ve done to him, Chris! … Look how much pain he’s in! … See how much blood there is?!’

‘D…don’t…h…hurt…me…any…anymore,’ came the anguished whisper in his arms.

‘You’re going to have to live with that for the rest of your life, Chris! You’re going to have to live with the fact that you killed your own brother!’ The demon sneered, its eyes flashing fire.

I didn’t kill him! Vin! Answer me! Please! He shouted, shaking the lifeless form, pleading with his friend.

The demon was circling around him, jabbing him in the shoulders with sharp talons for each taunt from its slimy lips. Its breath gagged him. The pus oozing from the corners of its mouth sickened him. ‘Cry for him all you want, Chris. He can’t answer you any more. He won’t answer you any more! You’ve betrayed and lied to him, Chris. You hurt him when you promised you wouldn’t. You killed him, Chris.’

No I didn’t!…Vin…No! No! He yelled at the demon and then clutched his friend to his breast once more.

The demon grabbed a handful of his friend’s hair and yanked the handsome head back across his right forearm. A sharp lancing pain shot into his shoulder but he couldn’t pull away. His eyes were transfixed on the demon and its claws hovering over Vin. It raised a talon above the neck and glared into his eyes menacingly. ‘You’ve already spilled your brother’s blood, Chris. Now you can feast upon it,’ the demon taunted and drew its talon across Vin’s throat.

Warm blood sprayed into his face and he heard two angels behind him laughing.

‘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.’

‘P…please…stop…C…Chris…D…don’t…h…hurt…me…any…anymore.’ A painful gasp left the lips of his brother, Vin’s hand reaching out to grab at his own. It clutched at his weakly, as the sharpshooter pleaded with him.

There was blood everywhere now – drenching his clothes, soaking his hands and arms. It streamed from the corners of his mouth, staining his face and neck dark red. The taste lingered on his lips.

‘Did Vin’s blood taste good, Larabee? I’ll bet it was sweet, wasn’t it?’ The demon asked, holding forth a tall glass.

He tried to pull away from the vessel being offered to him but he couldn’t move. The weight of his friend’s lifeless body was preventing him from running away from the horror. The glass came closer and closer, and still he could not distance himself from it. It was pressed against his lips.

No! Oh God! No! It’s Vin’s blood! Don’t! Get it away from me! Please! Please don’t give it to me! Vin needs it! Please! Don’t make me drink his blood!

He heard the final anguished plea from tortured lips as he swallowed the warm, thick liquid.


He gagged as the substance collected in the back of his throat, choking him, preventing him from breathing. It didn’t matter. Gasping for air he struggled fiercely now, trying to hold on to what he loved most in life. The bloody body of his brother was being pulled from his arms.

Vin! No! Don’t leave me!

“Chris!” A stern voice cried in the distance.

He felt hands on his shoulders -- holding him back and preventing him from getting to his brother.


The words continued to spill from lifeless lips, echoing in his tormented mind. He reached out for his friend, straining his blood drenched arms forward into thin air, ignoring the sharp pains lancing through his leg, arm and side.

“Vin!” Chris cried and thrashed violently against the pair of hands that were trying to hold him down. “Oh God! Vin! Let me go! Let me go! I have to get to Vin!”

“Bloody Hell! Chris calm down!” Orrin Travis ordered.

Green eyes shot open and stared at his arms. His beleaguered mind saw nothing but streams of blood dripping from his hands as blood oozed rapidly from the cast on his right arm. Blood…Oh God… its Vin’s …. The blond thought and the wave erupted suddenly.

Bitter bile spewed forth as he retched over and over again. He convulsed and clawed at the cast with his good hand, ignoring the pulling sensations from the IV’s that were attached to it. “Get it off of me!” he cried between spasms.

“Chris! For God’s sake, calm down!” Orrin yelled.

“No! No!” Green eyes flashed and he glared at the Firm’s owner. “Get it off of me! It’s bleeding! It’s Vin’s blood! Stop the blood! Please! He can’t lose any more!”

Orrin gasped and grabbed hold of the blond’s shoulders. “Chris!” He shook him fiercely. “Chris! Wake up, damn it! It’s a nightmare! A horrible nightmare!”

After several agonizing moments, the firm voice finally pierced the darkened void and Chris blinked rapidly, trying to focus on the concerned face of the older man leaning over him. “Orrin?”

A sigh of relief passed over the owner’s lips. “Yes, Chris, it’s me,” he said quietly, wiping Chris’ mouth with a washcloth and soothing the sweat soaked hair back from the blond’s forehead. “Calm down. It was just a horrible nightmare. You’re safe now.”

Chris sagged against the pillows, exhausted and drenched in sweat. His breathing slowed as he stilled in the older man’s arms. He slowly reached up and touched Orrin’s shoulder. “Vin?” he rasped his voice strained from the screams only moments before.

Orrin closed his eyes briefly and then opened them. He looked down at his friend. “Still critical, Chris. There’s been no change.”

Chris felt the tightness return to his chest. “H…how…long…now?”

“Seventy-two hours since he came out of surgery.”

“Oh my God…” The blond closed his eyes and turned his head away. “Three days…three whole days and still nothing?”

Orrin sank back into the chair next to the bed and squeezed Chris’ shoulder gently. “I’m afraid not, Chris.”

Chris choked on the lump. “He’s dying…”

Travis inhaled deeply and shook his head. “Chris, don’t even think that. You’ve got stay optimistic about this. You’ve got to understand that the doctors are doing everything they can for him.”

The blond shook his head as tears welled in his eyes. “No, Orrin. You don’t understand. Vin is dying. I don’t expect you to believe me but I know he is. I can sense it. I can feel it.”

“Look Chris. You’ve been in and out of it pretty much the past couple of days. You’ve been delirious and in a great deal of pain. They have you pumped full of antibiotics and painkillers right now, including morphine. You know what side effects it can have. Your mind is just playing tricks on you, that’s all.”

Chris’ head shot back and he glared at the older man sitting next to him. “That’s fuckin’ bullshit and you know it! Don’t patronize me you arrogant sonofabitch!” he yelled harshly and clenched the sheet with his left hand. “You don’t understand! None of you understand the bond we have!” he hissed. “Or rather had!”

“Chris that’s enough!”

Green eyes flashed once more and Chris felt the stinging tears break free. His voice was hoarse. “Vin is dying! And it’s my entire fault! Don’t you understand! I did that to him! I put him in here! I hooked him up to those damn machines! I killed him! I killed my closest friend…my own brother!”

“Christopher Adam Larabee! That’s a fucking lie and you know it! Robert Tasker put Vin in here! And you!” Orrin bellowed and stood abruptly. “This is not your fault! I won’t hear you berate yourself like this! I won’t stand for it, you hear me?!”

Chris closed his eyes and turned his face away once more. An instinctive need for desperate isolation washed over him like a rolling tide. The other half of his soul was dying and he was powerless to stop it. “Leave me alone, Orrin. Just leave me the fuck alone.”

Orrin Travis took a deep breath and put his hand on Larabee’s chin. He turned the face of his friend toward him. “No, Chris. I’m not. None of us are going to leave you alone to face this. Now you’ve been pretty hard on yourself as well as the boys these past couple of days and I think it’s time it stopped. You’ve got a bunch of friends that care about you and what happens to you.”

“What about Vin? Do they care what happens to him?” the blond grated. “Do they even give a damn about him?”

“What the Hell kind of question is that?” Orrin asked, incredulously. “Oh course they give a damn! Hell they wouldn’t be lurking in the corridors of this Godforsaken place at all hours of the day and night, if they didn’t!”

“If they gave a damn, they wouldn’t have let Dr. Midland send those last two units of blood to surgery!”

“Chris! That’s not true and you know it! It wasn’t their decision to make!”

“Oh that’s right! It was the Doc’s! She made a decision about Vin’s life she had no right in making! She sacrificed his life for mine! Only she made one fatal error in her judgment! I’m not worth it! Vin Tanner is! He’s the only good thing about my life and she, you and everyone else had no right to take that from me!”

“We didn’t take that from you! Vin is still alive! And he will remain alive as long as all of us…you especially…keep the faith that he’ll make it!” Orrin argued and pulled the trembling blond into his arms. “You’ve got to believe, Chris. It may be the only thing that keeps Vin alive.”

Oh God…please…I didn’t mean what I said before. I don’t want him to die! Please…don’t take him from me. I need him. I need my brother. Tears streamed down the blond’s face as he began to sob unashamedly. Hitching breaths, he clutched his left arm around Travis’ shoulder and held onto him as if his life depended on it.

Slowly, the tremors stilled and the blond sagged against the chest of his friend. He turned his face upward and gazed into the eyes that looked down at him with concern. Swallowing the semi-permanent lump in the back of his throat, Chris rasped his request across trembling lips. “I want to see him, Orrin.”

Orrin drew back and stared down at his friend. “I really don’t think that’s a good idea, Chris. You’re in no condition right now to…” His voice trailed off.

“To see him like that?” Chris finished for him. “Please…Orrin. I need to see him. I need to see for myself that he is still here…even if he is hooked up to those damn machines. I need to let him know that I’m here for him…no matter what. Please…I’m not asking you…I’m begging you. Please…let me see Vin before it’s too late.”

Orrin inhaled deeply and nodded. “All right, I’ll speak with Dr. Chadwick and Dr. Parker.” He laid the blond back against the pillows. Squeezing Chris’ shoulder, he forced a strained smile to his lips. “But at the first sign of trouble, I’m pulling you out of there, you hear me?”

Chris nodded weakly. “Yes.” He touched Travis’ arm when the older man started to turn. “Orrin?”


“Where are the guys?”

“They were ordered home a couple of hours ago by Dr. Parker. He said he already had two stubborn patients, he didn’t need five others,” the owner said, smiling. “They’ll be back later.”

Chris took a deep breath and sighed. “Good…need…need to apol…apologize.”

“I don’t think you need to worry about that. They don’t need an apology from you.”

“No…need to tell them…I’m sorry…for what I said…especially to Buck.”

Travis patted the blond’s shoulder. “They’ll be plenty of time for that later, Chris. Now you rest and I’ll see what I can’t do to get you visitation rights. OK?”


Orrin smiled wistfully. “Thank me if they’ll let you see Vin, Chris.”

+ + + + + + +

“Chris, I want you to understand that Vin is in very critical condition.” Dr. Parker said quietly, withdrawing the hypo that had been filled with phenergan from Chris’ arm. “I know you’ve seen him in bad shape before, but this is far worse than anything like that. He’s not just on a respirator…he’s on full life support, Chris. You understand?” The surgeon tucked in the blanket around Chris’ hips, making sure the brace under his right leg was secure and supporting the full leg cast properly.

“Y…yes,” came the ragged response from the blond.

“Good.” Dr. Parker gently positioned Chris’ right arm across his abdomen and covered it as well with the thick blanket. Placing his hand on the blond’s shoulder he looked into the green eyes. “Now I want you to listen to me very carefully, Chris. You’re still in serious condition yourself. You’ve had three cardiac arrests and you’re still extremely weak. Quite frankly, I think this is a bad idea. I don’t think you’re going to be able to handle what you’re going to see in there, but I understand why you want to. I know you and Vin are close and I know you want to be left alone to talk to him, but I’m afraid I can’t allow it. Orrin and I will be in the room with you and the minute you start to get upset, I’m pulling you out and back to this room. Understand?”

Chris nodded once more, feeling helpless to keep the two men out. He wanted to be alone with Vin. He needed the privacy that solitude would give him, knowing that he was going to say things that he only wanted the sharpshooter to hear. Yet, he knew if he insisted on it, they would squash this visit to his closest friend’s bedside.

Dr. Parker sighed and released the brake on the wheelchair. “All right, then. Let’s go.”

+ + + + + + +

Chris sighed heavily as he watched Orrin place his hand on the door to Vin Tanner’s room.

“Chris? You all right?” Dr. Parker asked concerned.

“Yes…please…go on…” he barely choked out through the emotions closing the back of his throat.

He felt his palms grow clammy and a bead of sweat trickled down his right temple. Raising his left hand, he quickly wiped it away as the door slowly opened and the wheelchair was moved forward into the darkened room. Despite the preparations for what he was going to see, he couldn’t control the gasp that left his lips when his eyes adjusted to the dimly lit room.

Tears welled instantly as he took in every square inch of Vin Tanner’s bandaged body and he raised his left hand to his gapping mouth in disbelief.

His closest friend was a hollow shell of what he had been. The color of his skin was a ghastly shade of gray that paled against the stark white of the sheets and bandages that surrounded the frail body. Numerous tubes and IV’s entered the tortured flesh from various points in Vin’s nose, mouth, neck, chest, arms, legs and lower abdomen. The sharpshooter’s chest rose and fell in tandem with the soft hiss of the machine to the left of the bed. Swish-swirling sounds could be heard from the dialysis machine as it filtered his friend’s blood and tried to purify it from the escalating amounts of drugs and dangerous impurities building up in his system.

The blond’s eyes were drawn to the multiple drainage tubes and he swallowed back the bile that instantly rose when he saw the blood swirling through the lines. Vin’s, he thought, desperately trying to keep from getting sick, knowing that if he did, the visit would end before it even began. He prayed the phenergan would kick in soon. His shoulders shuddered and he convulsed forward slightly, foolishly grabbing his stomach with his right arm while his left hand covered his mouth. Inhaling deeply through his nose to stem the rolling tide of nausea, he turned his head away quickly, trying to compose himself further.

“Chris?” Orrin asked, apprehensive.

“I…I’m…OK. J…just g…give me a min…minute to adjust.”

Travis and Parker exchanged worried looks and Parker started to pull the chair back toward the door. “I knew this wasn’t a good idea.”

“No!” Chris’ left hand shot down to the wheel. “No…please…I’m all right. Don’t make me leave. Not yet. Please,” he pleaded, his green eyes never leaving the face of his friend. “Please…push me over to the side of his bed.”

Tom Parker sighed and pushed the chair forward. Positioning the chair as close to the bed as possible, he set the brake. He adjusted the blankets over the blond and looked into Chris’ moisture filled eyes, nodding slowly as he stood erect. Tom placed his hand on the blond’s shoulder and squeezed it gently before stepping away from the bed and further into the darkness of the room to stand next to Orrin.

Ever so slowly, Chris reached his left hand up and through the side rail. Careful to avoid the IV’s, he gingerly wrapped his trembling hand over Vin’s left and squeezed it gently. “Vin…Vin…I’m here, Cowboy,” he whispered softly. “I’m here…”

Green eyes clouded with bitter tears as he looked at all of the monitors and machines that were keeping his closest friend alive. Oh God…please…don’t let him die. Please God…spare him…save his life, he prayed silently, fervently.

He lowered his head and allowed the tears to fall freely. His shoulders shuddered under the strain as he released his innermost emotions for the man lying so still and lifeless next to him. Raising his head slowly he locked his eyes on the face of his chosen brother. Leaning forward, he gripped his trembling hand tighter around the pale and frail one that lay so lifeless on the bed. Shuddering breaths left his lips as he spoke his mantra to the man that shared the other half of his soul.

“Oh God, Vin…I’m so sorry. Please…for…forgive me. I never meant for this to happen. I swear on Sarah and Adam’s graves, I never wanted to hurt you…ever. You have to believe that. Dear God in heaven, if I could trade places with you I would. You’re my closest friend! You’re my brother for God’s sake! Please, Cowboy! Please! D-don’t…l-leave…me! Y-you’ve got…got to hold on! You’ve got to fight this and come back to us…come back to me, Vin! Don’t you understand?! The others…sure they’re my friends…but you, Vin…you’re not only family…you’re the other half of my soul, Cowboy! I…I…can’t…lose…you! I won’t lose you! You hear me?! Please Vin…please…don’t leave me! I need you…Cowboy….” he repeated softly between his cries, over and over again to the still form that refused to awaken to his pleas.

Lowering his head to his forearm, the blond sobbed uncontrollably, gasping for air as his own pains started to awaken. Slow, distinct tremors started in his extremities and he grimaced as the sharp pains shot through his muscles. The dull squeezing sensations started once again in his chest, causing him to clutch his right arm to it rather than release his left from Vin’s hand.

He felt the brake being released on the chair and stiffened.

“No!” he cried, his head snapping up. His eyes still locked on the face of his closest friend, Chris tightened his hand around Vin’s. “Please! I can’t leave him! I won’t leave him! He needs me!”

“Chris! That’s enough for now! Let go!” Parker admonished as he pried Chris’ fingers from around the sharpshooter’s hand.

Chris grabbed for the railing of the bed with both hands then, hissing sharply as his right arm protested the violent movement. A cry of pain escaped his lips and he cursed. “Fuck!” Grabbing Vin’s hand once more, he pleaded his cause. “Leave me alone! Please! I need to stay here with him!”

Orrin wrapped his arms around the blond’s shoulders and pulled him back against the chair. “No, Chris! Now come on! You’ve been here long enough!”

“Too long!” Parker declared, and fought to release the trembling fingers from the death grip they had on Tanner and the rail of the bed. “Let go of him, Chris!”

“No!” Chris cried and twisted violently in their grasps. “Let me go! Vin needs me!” Another sharp pain shot up his right arm and he cried out, yanking it back quickly to cradle it against his chest. Violent muscle spasms shook his whole body as he fought the two men.

Parker grabbed a prepared syringe from the prep table near the bed and shoved the hypodermic into the blond’s upper left arm. Depressing the plunger quickly, he released the sedative into the tormented and struggling man.

Chris glared at him. Feeling the warm liquid race into his body, he spat. “You fuckin’ sonofabitch! What the Hell did you give me?!”

Parker grabbed Chris’ hand and pulled it free from Tanner’s. He yanked the chair away from the side of the bed and then grabbed Larabee’s shoulders. “Something to knock some fucking sense into you and calm you the Hell down!” he retorted sternly. “Orrin, get the Goddamn door and let’s get him out of here and back to his room!” Parker ordered.

Chris felt the haze wash over him and he twisted in the wheelchair. Reaching his arm toward the bed, he strained to hold on, futilely grasping at the sheets and rails. “No! Vin! Vin!” he cried desperately, repeatedly, as the image of his closest friend grew fainter, shrouded in the edges of darkness that were surrounding him.

The door to the room opened and the anguished word left his lips as a plea, “Cowboy….” A final fleeting glance toward the lifeless form of Vin Tanner and Chris Larabee succumbed to the drug induced darkness. His eyes closed to the image of his closest friend…his brother…being kept alive by machines as he felt Tanner’s life slowly ebb away.

+ + + + + + +

“I should’ve pulled him away before it got out of hand, Orrin.” Dr. Parker said, his voice belying the frustration he felt. “I knew it was a bad idea to let Chris see Vin like that. They’re too close. Chris is too weak at the moment to endure that kind of emotional strain and right now, I’m worried this set him back. I should’ve never allowed this. Never.”

“Tom, don’t beat yourself up over this. I implored you to allow Chris to see Vin. It’s just as much my fault.” Travis argued.

Parker shook his head and helped the nurse hook back up the monitors and morphine pump. He glanced at the blond’s legs and arms, frowning as he examined the muscles. Looking over at the nurse, he said, “Two milligrams Flexeril, IV push. STAT.”

Travis looked at him questioningly. “What is it, Tom?”

“I don’t like these tremors. They’ve grown worse since we let him see Vin. Even with the sedative I gave him, I can tell Chris is in a lot of pain. The Flexeril is a muscle relaxant. It should help control them and ease some of his discomfort.”

The nurse released the drug into the IV line.

“He should sleep for a few hours.” Motioning toward the door, Parker nodded to Travis. “Come on. I’ll buy you a cup of coffee.”

“That’s the best offer I’ve had all evening, my friend.” Travis smiled and put his hand on the door. “The guys should be here soon to take up watch. I could use the break.”

Tom smiled and walked toward the Firm’s owner. “You and me both,” he said, placing his hand on Travis’ shoulder.

Travis opened the door and the alarms went off.

Two pairs of eyes turned suddenly to watch Chris’ body arch against the bed.

“What the Hell?!” Tom cried and raced to Chris’ bed.

Chris’ chest heaved as it struggled to pull in enough oxygen.

“He’s in respiratory failure!” the nurse yelled, depressing the button to notify the emergency team. She pulled the bed away from the wall and moved the monitors aside quickly, forming a clear path for Parker.

“Shit! He’s having a reaction to the Flexeril! Get that IV off and let’s get him ventilated, now!” Parker yelled. He looked up at Travis. “Wait outside, Orrin!”


“Just do it! I don’t have time to argue!” the surgeon ordered and dropped the head of the bed. Placing his hand under Chris’ neck, he tilted the blond’s head and pried his mouth open. “0.2 mgs atropine.”

After the drug was administered, Parker took the tube from the nurse. The learned doctor quickly intubated Chris and stepped aside to allow the nurse to hook up the respirator. “100% oxygen,” he ordered.

Studying the readings displayed on the monitors, he sighed and turned to the second nurse that had entered. “1 mg lidocaine and 2.5 mgs fentanyl, IV push, with 2 mgs ketamine.”

Wrapping his hand over Chris’ he leaned over and spoke softly to the Firm’s leader. “Come on, Chris. Hold on. Fight it. Remember what I told you…Vin needs you. He can’t make it without your help.”

Glancing at the monitors once more, the general surgeon took a deep breath and exhaled slowly. His eyes shifted to the team of nurses and technicians that were ensuring everything was secured and hooked up properly. Out of the corner of his eye he saw the shadows of five men encircle Orrin Travis and lower their heads. He knew by the way their shoulders sagged and the looks on their faces, that Orrin Travis had just told them about the last few moments. No doubt starting from the visit to Vin Tanner’s bedside.

With a deep sigh of regret, Dr. Tom Parker turned toward the door and prepared to deliver the news to the six men waiting just outside – the horrible news that he had once more placed Chris Larabee on life support.

+ + + + + + +

“For the life of me, I don’t know why I said those things to you, Pard.” Buck said quietly, running his hand through the dark head of hair in frustration.

Pulling a chair closer, he sat down next to the unconscious blond and reached his good hand through the side rail to touch Chris’. He frowned as he felt the tremors of the hand beneath his. Buck wondered just how bad the damage was to Chris’ nerves for his muscles to still be twitching like they were, even with Chris under heavy sedation and hooked up to a respirator for the past twenty-four hours.

Shaking his head, he spoke softly but firmly to his long time friend. “Fuck…if I could take ‘em all back I would, Chris. I should’ve never said anything about you havin’ to sign those papers to take Vin off life support. Not now…not ever.”

The ladies man swallowed hard. The lump in the back of his throat was growing larger as he studied his friend’s pale face and listened to the soft hiss of the respirator that was helping Chris breathe. His emotions were beginning to show and he wanted to remain strong during this visit. More for him than for the injured man whose hand he held.

He desperately had to mend the fissure that had been opened between them. The fissure caused from harsh words said out of anger and concern for a man they both cared about – each in their own way – before it was too late. Above all, he needed to reassure Chris that all would be well. Not only between them…but also with Vin, despite the fact that the sharpshooter’s condition had deteriorated rapidly in the past twenty-four hours. The dark haired man sighed heavily as his heart sank in desperation and grief. He wondered when Chris finally became conscious once again, how he would tell his long time friend that the likelihood of Chris having to sign those papers was more of a certainty now.

“Hell, I know you two gave each other authority to do it, but I can’t imagine what it would be like to have to do that and I pray to God you won’t have to. Especially since he means so much to you, Pard.” Dear God…just as sure as I live and breathe, I know it’ll kill you, Chris.

The scoundrel paused and wiped a stray tear from his face on the sleeve of his shirt. He looked over at his trusted friend and blinked back the other tears that were threatening. Hell…maybe it already has.

He fought back the emotions once more and continued. “Shit, I know ya think I’m jealous of what you have with that damn Texan, but I’m not. Not really anyway. Oh Hell. Maybe I am a little,” he admitted reluctantly.

“You two…well…it’s just different between you and Vin than it is between us. I can’t explain it really. Not sure I want to, to tell you the truth. But then I guess you knew deep down how I really felt…otherwise you wouldn’t have said what you did to me.”

Hitching a breath, Buck wrapped his hand tighter around Chris’. “Oh Hell, Chris…you and me been friends over fifteen years now and you’ve known that sharpshooter…what…a whole three years? I don’t understand it. I mean…well…I always figured we were best friends. That we’d always be there for each other…to watch each other’s back, but now it’s you and Vin watchin’ each other’s back. Takin’ care of each other…worryin’ ‘bout each other…knowin’ if the other was in trouble or sensin’ each other’s pain. Guess I was jealous of all that cause we never had it.”

He leaned forward and gazed at the blond’s eyes, hoping that they would open and look up at him in understanding. That the pain he knew the blond was feeling both physically and mentally would go away with his emotional admission. The words came harder now, as the lump had closed off his throat. Unable to swallow he knew his voice would falter and finally surrendered to the wavering tone.

“Hell…you two just clicked from the first moment you set eyes on each other. You really did connect, you know? It was weird. It’s like…oh shit…it’s like he really is the other half of your soul. Only now…now if things don’t change with his condition, you’re gonna lose not only him…but a part of yourself.”

Lowering his head, the ladies’ man closed his eyes and finally allowed the tears to fall freely.

“I know you’re not gonna’ believe me when I say this, but I really do care about Vin and what happens to him. Not only cause he’s a partner, but also ‘cause he’s a friend…and because he means so much to you…for that alone, I’d do anything for him. I swear to you, Chris, I’ll do everything in my power to make sure he doesn’t give up. I can’t lose you, Pard…and I can’t lose him either.”

Silence engulfed the ladies’ man and he inhaled deeply, trying to get his emotions back under control. Opening his eyes, he looked up slowly and swallowed back the lump. Removing his hand from Chris’ he quickly wiped the tears from his face and stood slowly. He turned and then stopped. Facing his friend once more, he gazed down at the blond and reached over the rail to touch Chris’ hand one last time.

“Shit…listen to me would ya? Rambling on like a fool. Hell…you can’t even hear me.” Forcing a smile onto quivering lips he leaned over close and whispered in the blond’s ear. “No matter. I’m gonna leave you now, Chris, but I’ll be back later. I’ve got something I need to do. I need to talk some sense into your better half.”

His eyes shot down to the side of the bed as he felt fingers lightly graze his skin and wrap over the top of his hand, squeezing it weakly. The breath left his lungs in one beat of his heart and the ladies’ man suddenly realized that even though the green eyes were closed, Chris Larabee had just heard every emotional and soul barring word he had uttered.

+ + + + + + +

Every word that he had uttered to the blond two doors down, he had found himself repeating without reservation to the pale and still form of Vin Tanner over the past forty-eight hours. Saying anything he could to make the sharpshooter hold on and fight. Only his words had gone unheeded and the sharpshooter still lay at death’s door. His condition unchanged for yet another day.

Another day, he thought. “Another fucking day in Hell!” he cursed as he exited the ICU room and entered to the corridor to join his four comrades and their boss, Orrin Travis.

“Take it easy, Buck,” Josiah said quietly and placed his hand on the shoulder of his emotionally drained friend.

“Fuck you, Josiah! I don’t want to take it easy! I’m tired of taking it easy! It’s been seven days for Christ’s sake! A whole fuckin’ week! You heard what Dr. Parker and Dr. Chadwick said earlier!” Grabbing the papers Josiah held in his hand, he raised them towards Chris’ room. Seething with bitter rage his eyes flashed when he spoke. “Which one of us is going to walk in there and hand Chris these papers and say ‘Sign here. Sign here so you can finally put an end to Vin’s suffering and let him die!’” He threw the papers to the floor. “Well take me out of the equation boys, because I’m not going to do it! I’m not going to be the one to tell Chris that he’s going to lose the other half of his soul!”

“None of us are expecting you to do it, Buck!” JD retorted and stepped next to his friend, grabbing at Buck’s shoulder. “If it comes to that, then we’ll do it together! Working yourself up like this is not going to do Chris or Vin any good and you know it. Now calm down!”

Buck turned and glared at the computer wizard. He shoved JD back with his good hand, jabbing at the young man’s chest as he tore into him. “Stay out of this you insolent pup! What do you fuckin’ know about it?! Huh?! You’re too young to know a Goddamn thing about death and what it’s like to lose a good friend…probably two because of what one madman did!”

“Oh yeah?!” JD yelled and shoved Buck’s shoulders. “Why you sonofabitch! I guess that means that I’m too young to care about what happens to two men I look up to and respect?! That I consider to be older brothers as well as friends?! I thought after all this time, you knew me better than that, Buck. I thought we were friends…brothers like Vin and Chris. Guess I was wrong, huh?!”

“Why you little piece of shit!” Buck cried and started to lunge toward JD.

“That’s enough, Buck!” Orrin yelled and stepped between them. He put his hand on Buck’s chest, pushing him back harshly. “Get a hold of yourself!” He turned and glared at the younger man behind him. “That goes for you too!” Pushing the ladies’ man back further, he looked at the men around him. “Jesus Christ, listen to yourselves! You’re worse now than what you were a week ago when this madness started! Each of you is not the enemy! Tasker is! Save this ire for him!”

“Mr. Travis speaks the truth, gentleman. We’re only making matters worse arguing amongst ourselves like this.” Ezra interjected and stooped to pick up the papers that had fallen at his feet. “Doctors Chadwick and Parker only indicated that we should prepare ourselves for what may occur…not what will occur.”

Buck shook his head mockingly. “Come out of that delusional world you’re living in, Ezra, and come into reality.” He took a deep breath and let it out sharply, cursing as he pointed toward Vin’s room. “Vin is in a fucking coma and has been for a week! There’s been no change in his condition! If anything…it’s worse! The pneumonia has consumed his lungs and his fever is off the scale! Even if he does…by some fuckin’ miracle…pull through and open those baby blue eyes of his, you heard the Doc. Brain damage is likely! Brain damage for God’s sake! What do you think that’s going to do to him, huh?! To Chris?!”

Nathan shook his head. He put his hands on Buck’s shoulders and turned the ladies’ man to face him. “Like I’ve said…we’ll cross that bridge when and if we come to it, Buck. We’re not going to let either one of them go through this nightmare alone.”

Buck just looked at him and lowered his head in disbelief. “But brain damage, Nathan…. Dear God in heaven do you have any idea what that means?”

Nathan took a deep breath and stared back at the dark haired man. “Yes. Yes I do, Buck…all too well. Anytime a patient is in a coma, brain damage is a possibility…and yes that possibility becomes greater the longer the patient is comatose. But you have to understand that even if there is any damage, it could be slight. We just won’t know anything until Vin wakes up and the doctors can assess his condition.”

Dark eyes raised and gazed into the warm brown ones staring back at him. “And just when do you think that’s gonna be? You heard that neurologist, Dr. Foreman. No change. He’s still comatose…being kept alive by all those fuckin’ machines.” Stepping back from the medic, he ran his hand through his dark hair. “Shit, Nathan. He doesn’t deserve this! None of this! Tasker used him to get to Chris!”

“We’re all too painfully aware of that, Buck.” Orrin agreed and touched Buck’s shoulder. “But he’s going to make it…and so will Chris.”

Buck hitched a breath and laughed derisively. “Oh yeah…let’s not forget about Chris’ condition, shall we? Just in case you’ve forgotten what Tasker did to him, let me spell it out for you.”

His eyes flashed and he looked at each of the other five men standing before him in turn, locking eyes with each one before proceeding to the next. His voice grew low and menacing. “The fuckin’ lunatic inserted needles under Chris’ skin. Needles that severed tissue and nerves. Needles that were hooked to leads running between him and the table Vin was strapped to. Needles that sensed every painful sensation that coursed through his body. Triggering a deadly spike into the body of his closest friend each time he moved, while he was forced to watch – helpless to do anything about it. Needles that turned white-hot with fire as the electrical shocks were released, sending agonizing sharp pains coursing through his muscles and igniting every nerve ending in Chris’ tortured body.”

“Buck…” Josiah growled. “Take it easy.”

Wilmington shook his head and continued. “And let’s not forget about the beating that he endured that caused four broken ribs and severe abdominal hemorrhaging. Or the gash in his right thigh that sliced through muscle all the way to the bone. That will take weeks to heal properly…if it ever does…possibly even crippling him for life! Or the break in his right forearm that Dr. Frost had to piece together with two plates, because it was so mangled from the repeated abuse and Chris’ thrashing against the table as he endured the constant torture. Not only to himself but to Vin!”

“Mr. Wilmington, please,” Ezra pleaded, his face paling.

“Come on, Buck…don’t do this to yourself.” JD urged and stepped forward. “To us.”

“I’m not finished, JD,” Buck said harshly and stepped away from his young friend. “Then there’s the poison that Tasker gave him. The poison that caused him to heave his guts out over and over again, magnifying his pain, adding to his dehydration, weakening his heart and lungs as the hours wore on until he finally had not one…but three fuckin’ heart attacks in the span of twelve hours!”

Orrin sighed. “Buck, that’s enough.”

“Enough?” The ladies’ man glared at his boss through eyes clouded with tears. “When is it ever going to be enough?! I ask you! That fuckin’ bastard made Chris drink Vin’s blood for God’s sake! Hell! When everything else is just a bad memory, he’ll be haunted by that one nightmare for the rest of his life!”

“Gentlemen!” Dr. Parker bellowed, standing outside Chris’ door with his hands on his hips, a noticeable glare in his eyes. “For God’s sake this is an ICU ward! Not the fucking halls of Congress! Leave the arguments and debates to the politicians and pull yourselves together!”

“Our apologies, Doc,” Josiah said sheepishly. “I’m afraid we’re letting the strain of the past few days and our various emotions get the better of us.”

“Save the apologies, Josiah,” Parker remonstrated. “I know what you’ve been going through, but you need to calm down and put your best faces on.” He nodded toward the door. “Chris is coming out of it.”

Six men stepped forward quickly.

Tom put his hand up to stop them. “Whoa…slow down. There are a couple of things you need to be aware of before you go in there, gentlemen. He’s still on a respirator. I’m afraid his lungs are still too weak after that reaction to the Flexeril and the respiratory arrest two days ago.”

“How much longer, Doc?” Nathan inquired hesitantly, concern evident in the calm voice.

“Wish I knew, Nathan. It’s still too soon to tell.” Parker sighed. “Chris has had one set-back after another since he came in here. He’s still very weak and in serious condition. The tremors have not decreased any so I’ve put him on soma with codeine in the hopes that it will alleviate his pain and stop them.”

The Firm’s medic shook his head and sighed. “That’s a pretty strong muscle relaxant, Doc. Are they really that bad?”

The general surgeon nodded. “Unfortunately, yes. Only, what’s worse is that I’ve had to place him in restraints.”

“Restraints! What the fuck for?!” Buck’s eyes narrowed dangerously. “Hasn’t he already been restrained enough for God’s sake?! Or are those fuckin’ bandages on his wrists and ankles there for some warped fashion statement?!”

“Buck,” Orrin reprimanded and placed a firm hand on the scoundrel’s arm. “Enough. Let him finish.”

Wilmington pulled his arm free abruptly and glared at his boss, silently daring him to touch him again. He staggered back and clutched his right arm to his chest in obvious pain and discomfort. The strain of the past few days had caused him to lose sleep, getting no more than one to two hours a night. The results of which were now all too evident, as it had left the scoundrel with dark circles under his eyes, an incessant headache that wouldn’t quit and a lack of appetite. All of which, had combined to leave him weak, irritable and on the edge of exhaustion.

“Easy, Buck.” Dunne grabbed after his friend, wrapping firm fingers around trembling shoulders.

Tom Parker looked at the Firm’s ladies’ man and frowned. “Buck, would you calm down please? Or do I need to give you a sedative as well?”

“Just you fucking try.” Buck snarled through clenched teeth, his rage palpable. The broken hand was throbbing mercilessly now and he breathed heavily, trying to dispel the pain as he sagged against the window of his friend’s room.

JD spoke quietly to the man he called his mentor and best friend. “You can’t keep this up, Buck. You’ve been driving yourself too hard lately. Please. Calm down or so help me God, I’ll hold you down myself while the Doc gives it to you. You look like crap, Buck.”

“Oh Hell, JD, you know that’s just not possible,” the scoundrel retorted painfully. “Then again…maybe it is…” he admitted as a lancing pain shot through his fractured forearm and he doubled over against JD, thankful the young man had such a firm hold on his should

rs. “Oh fuck!”

“1 milligram of morphine!” Parker yelled over to the nurses’ desk and steadied the scoundrel, helping JD to lower him into a nearby chair.

Buck clenched his jaw and cradled his arm, trying to regain his composure and still the nauseating throbbing that was coursing through his arm and across his shoulders. “Don’t need any more pain meds, Doc. Need to keep a clear head if we’re gonna see Chris.”

Taking the hypodermic from the nurse, Dr. Parker knelt down next to Buck, rolled up the sleeve of the ladies’ man shirt, swabbed an area and inserted the needle quickly. “Well, right now, Mr. Wilmington. I beg to differ. That hand and forearm are never going to heal if you keep aggravating them like you are. Besides, this small amount will dull the edge but shouldn’t put you out.”

Buck released a sharp hiss when he felt the sting and looked into JD’s concerned eyes. “Oh Hell, JD, quit lookin’ at me like I’m gonna keel over. I’ll be all right.” He glanced toward Parker and asked his question once again, his voice slurring slightly as the opiate pulled him into a veiled haze. “Why did you have to put Chris in restraints, Doc.”

Parker put his hand on Wilmington’s shoulder and stood slowly. “It’s more for his own protection than anything, Buck. So he won’t harm himself if he started thrashing about. That leg of his is still a cause for worry. To tell you the truth, I’m concerned he could rip it open again and I don’t need Phillip Moreland coming down on my ass because he had to redo his embroidery work on that muscle. Look…Chris woke up disoriented and started convulsing violently again. I think he was having another nightmare about drinking Vin’s blood.”

“Dear God…” Orrin breathed.

“Not only that, but I believe he knows Vin’s condition is worse. He’s become severely depressed and quite frankly, Chris seems confused and frightened. I don’t really know what to make of it. I’ve asked Dr. James to come up.”

“Anything we can do?” JD asked.

“I really don’t want to have to put him under supervised observation, but quite frankly, considering this latest turn of events, I don’t want Chris left alone. Hell, I know you’ve all been here round the clock and I realize you’re all tired, but I think it best if one or two of you were with him twenty-four hours a day until this crisis with Vin is past.”

“I think you know by now that you didn’t need to even ask, Doc,” replied the ex-preacher.

Tom smiled and put his hand on Josiah’s shoulder. “I understand that, Josiah…but considering how all of you have been acting the past couple of days, I had no choice.”

Five heads dropped and stared at the floor guiltily.

Buck swayed a little. Grabbing at JD’s shoulders to steady the spinning floor he took a deep breath. “Sorry, Doc. Shit! I guess it goes without saying that we all have been acting like jackasses…and I’m the biggest offender.”

Parker turned to Buck and touched his arm. “Concern for a loved one will sometimes make you say and do harsh things, Buck. I’m sure there’s not one man standing here that doesn’t understand the strain you’ve been under.”

Staring at the floor in frustration, Wilmington tried to stop the nauseating turnstile he was on. Slowly, he nodded and swallowed back the lump in his throat. Raising his eyes, he looked at each one of his brethren. “Yeah…and they’re true friends to put up with my bullshit because of it.”

Ezra put a comforting hand on the scoundrel’s shoulders. “You’ll receive no argument from us on that accord, Mr. Wilmington.”

Parker sighed and looked at the six men. “Look…you’re all on edge now as it is and you need your rest as much as Chris does. Considering everything that has gone on with Chris and Vin, I know I’ve been lax the past few days in allowing all of you to stay here ‘round the clock, but it’s got to stop. I don’t want all of you to be here at the hospital at the same time. You need to do this in shifts, gentlemen. Beginning with getting Buck home and in bed before he passes out.”

“I’m okay, Doc. I need to see Chris first.” Buck said, slowly pulling himself up from the chair.

Parker folded his arms across his chest. “Buck, you collapse in that room while Chris is still awake and you’ll only be adding to his concerns.”

“Won’t.” The ladies’ man shook his head. “JD and Ezra will see to that. But I gotta see Chris first.”

The doctor nodded, his eyes shifting down to the floor quickly.

Buck watched him struggle to suppress the erupting emotions. He placed a trembling hand on the doctor’s shoulders and locked eyes with the surgeon, nodding in silent understanding when Parker looked up at him.

Tom nodded and took a deep breath. “Look…take it easy…all of you. Chris is going to need your strength to get through this.” Turning to face each member of the Firm, he straightened his shoulders and folded his arms across his chest. “Do I make myself clear?”

“As crystal.” Orrin cleared his throat. “Now that the ground rules have been set, may we see him?”

Tom stepped back. Placing his hand on the door, he opened it to allow the six concerned friends into Chris Larabee’s room.

+ + + + + + +

Striding toward room 412, Martin Chadwick called out quietly to the men as the door opened. “Wait.”

Six men bristled at the tone and turned as Tom Parker pulled his hand away from the door and allowed it to close.

“Tom, gentlemen.” Chadwick said, quickly nodding his greeting. He directed his attention to his colleague. “Tom…I need to know how Chris is.”

“Still serious, Martin. Looks like he’s coming out of it, but I’ve still got him on the respirator.”

“How’s his mental state, right now?” Chadwick asked.

Parker’s eyes narrowed and he stepped forward. “Fragile at best. Why?”

Chadwick shifted uncomfortably, sighed heavily and then glanced down at the floor. “Shit.”

Orrin pushed by the frozen figures of Buck and Josiah, stepping forward to stand in front of his friend. “Martin…what the Hell is wrong? Is it Vin?”

“Yes. Dr. Foreman and I just examined Vin again.” Closing his eyes, Martin grimaced and turned his head away to gather his thoughts. Inhaling deeply he turned back to face the worried faces of six men. “Gentlemen, if there was any other way…if only…” he stammered uncomfortably. “Dear God…I’m so sorry.”

Orrin grabbed Chadwick’s arm. “What are you trying to tell us?”

Martin Chadwick felt his chest constrict. He’d had to say the words countless times before. One would think he would’ve gotten used to it by now, he thought sardonically. Yet, standing here in front of these six men, these paragons of strength and fortitude, he knew he would watch them each break down…their hearts shattering in the wake of the next words from his mouth. He skirted Josiah’s penetrating gaze and managed to ignore the concerned and terrified looks of Ezra and JD, respectively. A side-glance to Nathan told him the medic probably already knew, but he avoided looking at Buck. The flagrant glare from the pain filled eyes was more than he could tolerate. He locked his eyes on Orrin’s and swallowed hard. “We believe it’s time to disconnect the life support.”

+ + + + + + +

The words hit the six men hard – very hard – despite the fact that they had tried to prepare themselves for this moment for the past week.

JD and Ezra instinctively grasped Buck’s arms firmly as the ladies’ man seemed to buckle under the weight of the words. A strangled gasp left his lips. “No…I was just in there…”

“Oh my God…” JD breathed, steadying his friend with both hands now, one supporting his elbow firmly.

Orrin’s hand squeezed around Martin’s arm and he stepped closer. “Martin, please…you can’t be serious! Surely he’ll pull out of it! He’s got to! Hell, it’s only been a week! I know of cases where the patient came around after weeks of being in a coma…with no ill side effects to show for it!”

Martin lowered his gaze and shook his head grimly. “I’m sorry, Orrin. If Dr. Foreman or I felt like there was any chance, you know we’d think differently.” He swallowed and looked at the other five men standing close to each other, helping to support each other by sheer proximity to the next. “Look…I know how upsetting this is, but Vin’s vitals, are almost non-existent at this point. That damn fever has been devastating and he’s fading now. With the loss of his spleen, between the severity of the injuries and the loss of blood he doesn’t have the strength any more to fight the pneumonia. We’ve kept him on ice as much as we could risk. We’ve pumped enough antibiotics and fluids into him to choke an elephant but nothing has helped! I’m sorry, but I think it best for everyone concerned…”

“No! Goddamn it!” Buck yelled and cast a knowing glance to Josiah. “Chris ain’t signin’ those forms! Vin’s a fighter! He ain’t never run from a fight yet! We’re not givin’ up on him!”

“We’re not giving up on Mr. Tanner, but we must now face the horrible truth that Mr. Tanner has given up on us.” Ezra admitted softly, gripping Buck’s arm. The words sounded choked and forced. The gambler raised a trembling hand and wiped the tears from his face.

Wilmington turned a harsh glare to the conman and tried to yank his arm free. “Fuck you, Ezra.”

“Buck! Stop! Please!” JD pleaded, tears streaming down his face as he tried to gain control over his best friend’s shuddering form by grasping both of Buck’s shoulders. The youngest of the team turned his friend toward him and shook Buck fiercely. “Don’t turn on us!”

Buck resisted and pushed JD back. “No, JD! I ain’t fuckin’ listenin’ to this shit! Vin ain’t dyin’ and leavin’ us all here to go on without him! He ain’t leavin’ Chris to just exist, his soul finally withering up and dyin’ because he’s lost his family again!” He twisted free of JD’s and Ezra’s grasps, spun on his heel and strode towards Vin’s room. “Chris ain’t signin’ those papers! I won’t let him!” Buck yelled as he opened the door to Tanner’s room and entered, nearly knocking over Stacey Midland in the process.