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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. Thats all he needed all he wanted to forget. Forget about the pain and the emptiness and the loss. Hed killed the friendship that hed 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 Taskers face flashed before his eyes. He could hear Taskers 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 hed lived a short time ago.Chris tried to pull his head free, but felt Taskers nails dig into his skin. He suddenly felt sick when he felt Taskers fingers on his lips and then tasted the blood. Words of hatred formed in the back of his throat but he couldnt 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 Taskers voice disappear into the darkness, further sickening him with the knowledge that he had tasted his best friends blood.
Did Vins blood taste good, Larabee? Ill bet it was sweet, wasnt it? I know that was just an appetizer, but Ill make sure youre able to feast on it tomorrow. Come along, Gentlemen. Im hungry for ox blood soup.
No no, God help me, no! Cant cant 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 hed drank his best friends 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 patients 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 Larabees 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 cant 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 shed 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 hed also been given the blood needed to save Vins life. G get out!
Easy, Chris, lie back! Parker ordered, placing his hand on the blonds 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 dont fucking need you to! Get out of my life, Dr. Midland! I dont ever want you to touch me again! You made the wrong fucking decision and Ill 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 Larabees words written on Midlands face. The horror of a decision made in the heat of the moment was weighing heavily on Midlands heart and he knew this strong woman was close to crumbling under Larabees vicious verbal attack.
The blood in the ER! When we came in! Vin needed it didnt he, Doc? Larabees 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. Ill n never forgive you or me.
Hes 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 patients bed unaware that Chris Larabee was still awake.
God, Vin, Im 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 dont 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. Youve just destroyed the only thing that mattered to you! Look at what youve done to him, Chris! Look how much pain hes in! See how much blood there is?!
D dont h hurt me any anymore, came the anguished whisper in his arms.
Youre going to have to live with that for the rest of your life, Chris! Youre going to have to live with the fact that you killed your own brother! The demon sneered, its eyes flashing fire.
I didnt 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 cant answer you any more. He wont answer you any more! Youve betrayed and lied to him, Chris. You hurt him when you promised you wouldnt. You killed him, Chris.
No I didnt! 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 friends hair and yanked the handsome head back across his right forearm. A sharp lancing pain shot into his shoulder but he couldnt 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. Youve already spilled your brothers blood, Chris. Now you can feast upon it, the demon taunted and drew its talon across Vins throat.
Warm blood sprayed into his face and he heard two angels behind him laughing.
Hes 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 dont h hurt me any anymore. A painful gasp left the lips of his brother, Vins 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 Vins blood taste good, Larabee? Ill bet it was sweet, wasnt it? The demon asked, holding forth a tall glass.
He tried to pull away from the vessel being offered to him but he couldnt move. The weight of his friends 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! Its Vins blood! Dont! Get it away from me! Please! Please dont give it to me! Vin needs it! Please! Dont make me drink his blood!
He heard the final anguished plea from tortured lips as he swallowed the warm, thick liquid.
D dont h hurt me any anymore.
He gagged as the substance collected in the back of his throat, choking him, preventing him from breathing. It didnt 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! Dont 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.
D dont h hurt me any anymore .
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 Vins . 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 IVs that were attached to it. Get it off of me! he cried between spasms.
Chris! For Gods sake, calm down! Orrin yelled.
No! No! Green eyes flashed and he glared at the Firms owner. Get it off of me! Its bleeding! Its Vins blood! Stop the blood! Please! He cant lose any more!
Orrin gasped and grabbed hold of the blonds shoulders. Chris! He shook him fiercely. Chris! Wake up, damn it! Its 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 owners lips. Yes, Chris, its me, he said quietly, wiping Chris mouth with a washcloth and soothing the sweat soaked hair back from the blonds forehead. Calm down. It was just a horrible nightmare. Youre safe now.
Chris sagged against the pillows, exhausted and drenched in sweat. His breathing slowed as he stilled in the older mans arms. He slowly reached up and touched Orrins 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. Theres 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. Im afraid not, Chris.
Chris choked on the lump. Hes dying
Travis inhaled deeply and shook his head. Chris, dont even think that. Youve got stay optimistic about this. Youve 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 dont understand. Vin is dying. I dont expect you to believe me but I know he is. I can sense it. I can feel it.
Look Chris. Youve been in and out of it pretty much the past couple of days. Youve 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, thats all.
Chris head shot back and he glared at the older man sitting next to him. Thats fuckin bullshit and you know it! Dont patronize me you arrogant sonofabitch! he yelled harshly and clenched the sheet with his left hand. You dont understand! None of you understand the bond we have! he hissed. Or rather had!
Chris thats enough!
Green eyes flashed once more and Chris felt the stinging tears break free. His voice was hoarse. Vin is dying! And its my entire fault! Dont 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! Thats 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 wont hear you berate yourself like this! I wont 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 Larabees chin. He turned the face of his friend toward him. No, Chris. Im not. None of us are going to leave you alone to face this. Now youve been pretty hard on yourself as well as the boys these past couple of days and I think its time it stopped. Youve 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 wouldnt be lurking in the corridors of this Godforsaken place at all hours of the day and night, if they didnt!
If they gave a damn, they wouldnt have let Dr. Midland send those last two units of blood to surgery!
Chris! Thats not true and you know it! It wasnt their decision to make!
Oh thats right! It was the Docs! She made a decision about Vins life she had no right in making! She sacrificed his life for mine! Only she made one fatal error in her judgment! Im not worth it! Vin Tanner is! Hes the only good thing about my life and she, you and everyone else had no right to take that from me!
We didnt 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 hell make it! Orrin argued and pulled the trembling blond into his arms. Youve got to believe, Chris. It may be the only thing that keeps Vin alive.
Oh God please I didnt mean what I said before. I dont want him to die! Please dont take him from me. I need him. I need my brother. Tears streamed down the blonds 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 dont think thats a good idea, Chris. Youre 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 Im here for him no matter what. Please Im not asking you Im begging you. Please let me see Vin before its too late.
Orrin inhaled deeply and nodded. All right, Ill 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, Im 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 didnt need five others, the owner said, smiling. Theyll be back later.
Chris took a deep breath and sighed. Good need need to apol apologize.
I dont think you need to worry about that. They dont need an apology from you.
No need to tell them Im sorry for what I said especially to Buck.
Travis patted the blonds shoulder. Theyll be plenty of time for that later, Chris. Now you rest and Ill see what I cant do to get you visitation rights. OK?
Orrin smiled wistfully. Thank me if theyll 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 youve seen him in bad shape before, but this is far worse than anything like that. Hes not just on a respirator hes 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 blonds shoulder he looked into the green eyes. Now I want you to listen to me very carefully, Chris. Youre still in serious condition yourself. Youve had three cardiac arrests and youre still extremely weak. Quite frankly, I think this is a bad idea. I dont think youre going to be able to handle what youre 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 Im afraid I cant allow it. Orrin and I will be in the room with you and the minute you start to get upset, Im 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 friends bedside.
Dr. Parker sighed and released the brake on the wheelchair. All right, then. Lets go.
+ + + + + + +
Chris sighed heavily as he watched Orrin place his hand on the door to Vin Tanners 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 couldnt 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 Tanners 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 IVs entered the tortured flesh from various points in Vins nose, mouth, neck, chest, arms, legs and lower abdomen. The sharpshooters 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 friends blood and tried to purify it from the escalating amounts of drugs and dangerous impurities building up in his system.
The blonds 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. Vins, 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 Im 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 wasnt a good idea.
No! Chris left hand shot down to the wheel. No please Im all right. Dont 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 blonds 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 IVs, he gingerly wrapped his trembling hand over Vins left and squeezed it gently. Vin Vin Im here, Cowboy, he whispered softly. Im 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 dont 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 Im so sorry. Please for forgive me. I never meant for this to happen. I swear on Sarah and Adams 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. Youre my closest friend! Youre my brother for Gods sake! Please, Cowboy! Please! D-dont l-leave me! Y-youve got got to hold on! Youve got to fight this and come back to us come back to me, Vin! Dont you understand?! The others sure theyre my friends but you, Vin youre not only family youre the other half of my soul, Cowboy! I I cant lose you! I wont lose you! You hear me?! Please Vin please dont 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 Vins 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 Vins. Please! I cant leave him! I wont leave him! He needs me!
Chris! Thats enough for now! Let go! Parker admonished as he pried Chris fingers from around the sharpshooters 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 Vins hand once more, he pleaded his cause. Leave me alone! Please! I need to stay here with him!
Orrin wrapped his arms around the blonds shoulders and pulled him back against the chair. No, Chris! Now come on! Youve 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 blonds 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 Tanners. He yanked the chair away from the side of the bed and then grabbed Larabees shoulders. Something to knock some fucking sense into you and calm you the Hell down! he retorted sternly. Orrin, get the Goddamn door and lets 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 Tanners life slowly ebb away.
+ + + + + + +
I shouldve 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. Theyre too close. Chris is too weak at the moment to endure that kind of emotional strain and right now, Im worried this set him back. I shouldve never allowed this. Never.
Tom, dont beat yourself up over this. I implored you to allow Chris to see Vin. Its 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 blonds 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 dont like these tremors. Theyve 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. Ill buy you a cup of coffee.
Thats the best offer Ive 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 Firms 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.
Hes 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! Hes having a reaction to the Flexeril! Get that IV off and lets get him ventilated, now! Parker yelled. He looked up at Travis. Wait outside, Orrin!
Just do it! I dont have time to argue! the surgeon ordered and dropped the head of the bed. Placing his hand under Chris neck, he tilted the blonds 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 Firms leader. Come on, Chris. Hold on. Fight it. Remember what I told you Vin needs you. He cant 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 Tanners 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 dont 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 shouldve 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 friends 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 sharpshooters 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 cant imagine what it would be like to have to do that and I pray to God you wont have to. Especially since he means so much to you, Pard. Dear God just as sure as I live and breathe, I know itll 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 Im jealous of what you have with that damn Texan, but Im not. Not really anyway. Oh Hell. Maybe I am a little, he admitted reluctantly.
You two well its just different between you and Vin than it is between us. I cant 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 wouldnt 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 youve known that sharpshooter what a whole three years? I dont understand it. I mean well I always figured we were best friends. That wed always be there for each other to watch each others back, but now its you and Vin watchin each others back. Takin care of each other worryin bout each other knowin if the other was in trouble or sensin each others pain. Guess I was jealous of all that cause we never had it.
He leaned forward and gazed at the blonds 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. Its like oh shit its like he really is the other half of your soul. Only now now if things dont change with his condition, youre 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 youre not gonna believe me when I say this, but I really do care about Vin and what happens to him. Not only cause hes a partner, but also cause hes a friend and because he means so much to you for that alone, Id do anything for him. I swear to you, Chris, Ill do everything in my power to make sure he doesnt give up. I cant lose you, Pard and I cant 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 cant even hear me. Forcing a smile onto quivering lips he leaned over close and whispered in the blonds ear. No matter. Im gonna leave you now, Chris, but Ill be back later. Ive 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 deaths 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 dont want to take it easy! Im tired of taking it easy! Its been seven days for Christs 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 Vins suffering and let him die! He threw the papers to the floor. Well take me out of the equation boys, because Im not going to do it! Im not going to be the one to tell Chris that hes 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 Bucks shoulder. If it comes to that, then well 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 mans chest as he tore into him. Stay out of this you insolent pup! What do you fuckin know about it?! Huh?! Youre too young to know a Goddamn thing about death and what its like to lose a good friend probably two because of what one madman did!
Oh yeah?! JD yelled and shoved Bucks shoulders. Why you sonofabitch! I guess that means that Im 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.
Thats enough, Buck! Orrin yelled and stepped between them. He put his hand on Bucks 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! Youre 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. Were 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 youre living in, Ezra, and come into reality. He took a deep breath and let it out sharply, cursing as he pointed toward Vins room. Vin is in a fucking coma and has been for a week! Theres been no change in his condition! If anything its 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 Gods sake! What do you think thats going to do to him, huh?! To Chris?!
Nathan shook his head. He put his hands on Bucks shoulders and turned the ladies man to face him. Like Ive said well cross that bridge when and if we come to it, Buck. Were 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 wont 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 thats gonna be? You heard that neurologist, Dr. Foreman. No change. Hes 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 doesnt deserve this! None of this! Tasker used him to get to Chris!
Were all too painfully aware of that, Buck. Orrin agreed and touched Bucks shoulder. But hes going to make it and so will Chris.
Buck hitched a breath and laughed derisively. Oh yeah lets not forget about Chris condition, shall we? Just in case youve 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 lets 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 dont do this to yourself. JD urged and stepped forward. To us.
Im not finished, JD, Buck said harshly and stepped away from his young friend. Then theres 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, thats 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 Vins blood for Gods sake! Hell! When everything else is just a bad memory, hell 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 Gods 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. Im afraid were 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 youve 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. Hes still on a respirator. Im 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. Its still too soon to tell. Parker sighed. Chris has had one set-back after another since he came in here. Hes still very weak and in serious condition. The tremors have not decreased any so Ive put him on soma with codeine in the hopes that it will alleviate his pain and stop them.
The Firms medic shook his head and sighed. Thats a pretty strong muscle relaxant, Doc. Are they really that bad?
The general surgeon nodded. Unfortunately, yes. Only, whats worse is that Ive had to place him in restraints.
Restraints! What the fuck for?! Bucks eyes narrowed dangerously. Hasnt he already been restrained enough for Gods 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 scoundrels 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 wouldnt 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 Firms 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 friends room.
JD spoke quietly to the man he called his mentor and best friend. You cant keep this up, Buck. Youve been driving yourself too hard lately. Please. Calm down or so help me God, Ill hold you down myself while the Doc gives it to you. You look like crap, Buck.
Oh Hell, JD, you know thats 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. Dont need any more pain meds, Doc. Need to keep a clear head if were 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 shouldnt put you out.
Buck released a sharp hiss when he felt the sting and looked into JDs concerned eyes. Oh Hell, JD, quit lookin at me like Im gonna keel over. Ill 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 Wilmingtons shoulder and stood slowly. Its more for his own protection than anything, Buck. So he wont harm himself if he started thrashing about. That leg of his is still a cause for worry. To tell you the truth, Im concerned he could rip it open again and I dont 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 Vins blood.
Dear God Orrin breathed.
Not only that, but I believe he knows Vins condition is worse. Hes become severely depressed and quite frankly, Chris seems confused and frightened. I dont really know what to make of it. Ive asked Dr. James to come up.
Anything we can do? JD asked.
I really dont want to have to put him under supervised observation, but quite frankly, considering this latest turn of events, I dont want Chris left alone. Hell, I know youve all been here round the clock and I realize youre 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 didnt need to even ask, Doc, replied the ex-preacher.
Tom smiled and put his hand on Josiahs 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 JDs 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 Im 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. Im sure theres not one man standing here that doesnt understand the strain youve 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 theyre true friends to put up with my bullshit because of it.
Ezra put a comforting hand on the scoundrels shoulders. Youll receive no argument from us on that accord, Mr. Wilmington.
Parker sighed and looked at the six men. Look youre 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 Ive been lax the past few days in allowing all of you to stay here round the clock, but its got to stop. I dont 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.
Im 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 youll only be adding to his concerns.
Wont. 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 doctors 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 Larabees 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 hes coming out of it, but Ive still got him on the respirator.
Hows his mental state, right now? Chadwick asked.
Parkers 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 Im so sorry.
Orrin grabbed Chadwicks arm. What are you trying to tell us?
Martin Chadwick felt his chest constrict. Hed had to say the words countless times before. One would think he wouldve 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 Josiahs 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 Orrins and swallowed hard. We believe its 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 Bucks 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.
Orrins hand squeezed around Martins arm and he stepped closer. Martin, please you cant be serious! Surely hell pull out of it! Hes got to! Hell, its 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. Im sorry, Orrin. If Dr. Foreman or I felt like there was any chance, you know wed 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 Vins vitals, are almost non-existent at this point. That damn fever has been devastating and hes fading now. With the loss of his spleen, between the severity of the injuries and the loss of blood he doesnt have the strength any more to fight the pneumonia. Weve kept him on ice as much as we could risk. Weve pumped enough antibiotics and fluids into him to choke an elephant but nothing has helped! Im sorry, but I think it best for everyone concerned
No! Goddamn it! Buck yelled and cast a knowing glance to Josiah. Chris aint signin those forms! Vins a fighter! He aint never run from a fight yet! Were not givin up on him!
Were 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 Bucks 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 friends shuddering form by grasping both of Bucks shoulders. The youngest of the team turned his friend toward him and shook Buck fiercely. Dont turn on us!
Buck resisted and pushed JD back. No, JD! I aint fuckin listenin to this shit! Vin aint dyin and leavin us all here to go on without him! He aint leavin Chris to just exist, his soul finally withering up and dyin because hes lost his family again! He twisted free of JDs and Ezras grasps, spun on his heel and strode towards Vins room. Chris aint signin those papers! I wont let him! Buck yelled as he opened the door to Tanners room and entered, nearly knocking over Stacey Midland in the process.