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.

+ + + + + + +

Vin heard footsteps and opened his eyes to see Josiah Sanchez standing next to his bed. He couldn’t speak, but he knew Sanchez could read the anger in his eyes. The man’s large hand was placed over his forehead and Vin heard the words that were meant to sooth the pain.

‘Get the fuck away from me, Josiah! Don’t want none of yer preachin!’ he thought.

“God grant you the strength and courage you need to see this through, Vin,” Sanchez said and moved to sit in the chair.

‘Ain’t God givin’ me strength, Josiah. Just get the fuck out of my life!’

“I know things seem at their darkest right now, Son…”

‘Ain’t yer fuckin’ son either! the Texan’s eyes blazed with anger and the blue orbs were darker than ever before as Vin turned away from the man he’d once enjoyed listening to. The rich baritone voice had delivered more sermons and spread warmth through more people than most priests could ever hope to. His way with words and the delivery in which they were given made people come back not just for the warm words, but also for the man who delivered them. There was none of that warmth in Vin Tanner today, just a cold empty feeling that burned with an icy intensity that chilled him to the core.

Josiah watched Vin turn away and sighed heavily. This was going to be harder than any of them had ever imagined. The Texan kept turning away from anyone who offered a hand. He refused to acknowledge that he needed help, and any mention of Chris Larabee was met with the iciest of glares. He had no doubt that once the tube was removed from his throat and Vin could speak; he was going to tell them to leave. The events of the last two weeks were playing havoc with their emotions. Orrin Travis had called them into a meeting early that afternoon and put him in charge of the team. There were still cases to finish and they wouldn’t go away just because two of their family were down. One case was pressing at the moment and he was sending Ezra Standish undercover with JD as his back up.

Sighing heavily he rubbed at tired eyes and pulled the dog-eared bible from his pocket. It was a gift from his father and would always be a source of wisdom, courage and strength for him. Turning to his favorite passage he silently read the words and prayed for the strength to get them through.

+ + + + + + +

Chris looked at the clock on the wall and knew the time was close and shifted his body on the bed. The tubes and wires made it hard, but he needed to show them how badly he was hurting. With each movement he awakened the dormant pain and sent tremors through his body while it felt like a knife stabbed through his skull. Tears formed in his eyes, but it wasn’t enough. He struck his arm against the railing and bit his lip in an effort to keep from crying out.

He needed to put on the performance of a lifetime!

He needed the pain to go away!

He needed the memories to fade!

He needed to forget!

“Easy, Chris, I have your medication right here. I wish there was something more I could do,” Sandra Murphy explained. She’d come on duty less than an hour before and spent the time updating files before checking on each patient. The pain this man was suffering was obvious in the tightly clenched jaw, the white knuckled fist of his left hand and the moisture that trailed down both cheeks. She injected the medication and placed a comforting hand on his chest.


“You have nothing to be sorry for, Chris. I just wish you’d press the button by your hand when things get really bad.”

“D…don’t want t…to bother y…you.”

“You’re not bothering us, Chris. We’re here to help you and there’s really no need of you being in such pain when we have the means to make you comfortable. Okay?”

“O…okay,” the blond said worrying at his bottom lip and then closed his eyes to wait for the numbing sensation he craved. ’You’re damn good, Larabee! Deserve an Academy award for that one!’

“How is he?”

Chris recognized the voice immediately, but kept his eyes closed. He felt his mind drifting and without realizing it his tooth cut into his lip and he tasted blood in his mouth. ’Vin’s blood!’ The thought hit him at the same time the substance hit the back of his throat and his gag reflexes kicked in. Hampered by the IV lines and other paraphernalia, Chris struggled to sit forward, but succeeded only in putting pressure on his healing body. The cry that tore from his throat at the same time as hot bile rose at the back of it was not a performance this time, but the real thing and he knew what pain really was.

“Sweet Jesus, Chris!” Wilmington cried when his friend’s body reacted to whatever was happening to him. Buck knew there wasn’t anything he could do except talk to him and he reached out to take Larabee’s trembling hand in his own. The spasms were intense and the fingers wrapped tightly around his own in a death like grip that made him wonder where the blond got his strength.

“You’ll have to leave!”

“I’m not going anywhere!” Wilmington spat and tried to keep his own fears at bay as he found his voice once more. “Come on, Chris, don’t do this to me! Okay? I can’t do this any more! I can’t stand by while you tear yourself up over something you had no control over! That bastard is the one we need to be blaming! You hear me, Chris Larabee! Enough is enough and it’s about fucking time that you and Vin quit being so fucking stubborn and put the blame where it belongs!”

Sandra knew her patient was in trouble as again and again his body was shaken with tremors and bitter fluid escaped around his tightly clenched teeth. She pressed the call button and was relieved when several minutes later one of Larabee’s doctors entered the room.

“What happened, Sandra?” Parker asked.

“He was in a lot of pain so I gave him the Soma with codeine and it seemed to help.” Sandra explained and moved to help the physician with the convulsing patient.

“Buck, you’ll have to leave!” the physician ordered as the monitors began emitting a sound they all recognized.

“I’m not going anywhere, Doc, not until I know he’s going to be okay!” Wilmington spat and fought to keep his warring emotions in check. “Chris, come on, Pard, it’s okay! You’re okay! Vin’s okay!”

Chris could hear there voices, but could not make sense of them. His mind kept repeating one thing, a silent mantra that would not quiet in spite of the medications he’d received. ‘Vin’s blood…Vin’s blood…Vin’s blood…’

“Vin’s blood,” the words escaped tightly clenched teeth and Chris rocked with the spasming pain in his stomach.

“What? Chris, what did you say?” Wilmington asked, afraid he already knew the answer, but the body suddenly went rigid and with a cry born of pain and horror, Chris Larabee dropped back on the bed and lost the fight to stay conscious.

“Sandra, I want him on oxygen!” Parker ordered.

“Doc, is he?”

“He’s unconscious, Buck, but his numbers are good and hopefully this won’t be repeated! Now, please wait outside and let me make sure everything is okay.”

“All right, Doc, but I’ll be right outside the door!” Wilmington vowed. He left the room and leaned heavily against the glass before looking into Tanner’s room. He knew Chris and Vin were two halves of a whole and it would be hard for either man to survive knowing he was the cause of the other man’s pain. He remembered how hard it was to bring Chris back from the edge when he pushed Vin away after the ill fated encounter with Whelan, and prayed it would not take so long to make the two men whole once more.

Buck closed his eyes and rubbed his hand along his throbbing arm. The pain was nothing compared to what Chris and Vin were going through, but it was a reminder that they were not the only two caught in the aftermath of Tasker’s actions.

“Buck, what’s wrong? Chris!”

“Easy, JD, Chris is okay, he just had another attack of some kind. The damn tremors are bad enough, but with his injuries it makes them ten times worse!”

“Jesus, for a minute there I thought…you know?”

“Yes, I do, Kid, but I’m not about to let that stubborn sonofabitch quit just because he looks like he went ten rounds of shock treatment! Somehow or another we’re going to make damn sure our team is whole again. Where is Ezra? Thought you were supposed to be his backup tonight.”

“The meet was cancelled. Ezra went home to shower and change his clothes.”

“Damn, who cancelled the meet?”

“The other side. Something about not being able to deliver the goods until tomorrow night.” JD turned as the physician exited the room. “Doc, how’s Chris?”

“He’s resting right now, but that doesn’t mean another attack won’t happen. We’re dealing with electrical shocks and that could have long-term damage. The neurologist on Chris’ case will be watching him closely, but right now there’s not much more we can do for him.”

“What about Vin?” Dunne asked.

“Stacey was in a meeting with his doctors this afternoon and I spoke with her just before I got this call. They’ll be taking Vin off the ventilator tomorrow morning as long as his numbers remain within normal parameters.”

“At least that’s a bit of good news,” Wilmington said tiredly.

“Buck, have you managed to get any decent sleep?” Parker asked.

“Slept some,” the ladies’ man said, shrugging his shoulder and wincing as stiff muscles protested even that small movement.

“Thought I told you to go home and get some rest before you came back here?” the physician gently chastised the weary man.

“I can’t sleep with Chris and Vin needing me,” Wilmington told him.

“They’ll need you more once they begin physiotherapy, Buck. Vin and Chris aren’t going anywhere for some time and they are getting the care they need! You, on the other hand are about to fall over and make a mess of this place. Go home and sleep. JD, get him out of here and I don’t want to see him back until he’s slept a minimum of eight hours, showered, shaved, and changed his clothes! Do I make myself clear, Buck!”

“Yes,” Wilmington said, shoulders sagging with defeat.

“Good, I swear, Buck, you’re as stubborn as Larabee and Tanner put together!”

“I’ll make sure he gets some sleep, Doc!” Dunne assured the older man.

“And who’s going to make you do the same, JD?” Parker asked.


“Give it up, Kid, he knows us too well.”

“Yes, I do. Now, I’m heading out myself, but I’m going to alert the nursing station and if you two show up I’ll leave orders to call security and have you banned from the floor. Understood?”

“Understood,” Dunne repeated. “I just wanted to see Chris before…”

“Five minutes!” Parker ordered and saw the dark head bob once. “Buck, sit down before you fall down!”

“I’m going to see Vin first.” Wilmington snapped then looked at the younger man. “JD, I’ll meet you downstairs in five minutes.”

“All right, Buck,” Dunne said and watched as the older man moved toward the room where Vin Tanner was sleeping, if you could call it sleeping with the extra paraphernalia hooked up to his body. He moved into the room and over to the bed, swallowing past the lump in his throat when he was reminded how close they’d come to losing the heart and soul of the team.

+ + + + + + +

Buck entered Tanner’s room in time to see the ex-preacher place his hand on the Texan’s forehead and quote one of the bible passages he was so fond of using. “How is he, Josiah?”

“No change, Buck, but they may be getting rid of the ventilator sometime tomorrow morning if his numbers stay where they are.”

“That’s great. Hate seeing him like this!”

“We all do, Buck, but we can offer our strength and support to help him through this.”

“If he’ll let us. He’s still blaming Chris for this shit and if we can’t make him see it was all Tasker’s doing I’m afraid it’s over. The team won’t be able to work together if Chris and Vin aren’t talking!” Wilmington sank onto the chair and ran his fingers through his hair.

“Buck, I thought you were going home?”

“I am, Josiah, just wanted to check on Vin. JD’s supposed to meet me downstairs.”

“JD? I thought he was working on a case with Ezra?” Sanchez frowned at the ladies’ man.

“He was, but the meet got rescheduled, so JD came here. I think he said Ezra went home to get some shut eye.”

“And that’s where you’re going. There’s JD!”

“I’m too damn tired to argue with you, Josiah.” Wilmington said and stood up. “Take care of him.”

“I will, Buck, now get out of here.” Sanchez watched the younger man leave and nodded to the cop standing on the other side of the door. The officer was one he’d known for many years and he trusted him to keep the two men safe, but he would not relinquish their safety to anyone except a member of the team.

+ + + + + + +

Robert Tasker smiled and accepted the drink from Clifford Learson and placed the paper he’d been reading on the small table between the lounge chairs. The story they were interested was no longer on the cover of the Billings Gazette, but there was still a full-scale write up on page six.

“What are they saying?” Learson asked curiously.

“Larabee and Tanner are under police protection at Saint Vincents. There’s nothing much about their condition just says the doctors are guardedly optimistic,” Tasker explained.

“What are you going to do if they survive?”

“Nothing! They don’t know where we are and they have no way of finding us unless we do something stupid.”

“Won’t they come after us?”

“Are you kidding? It’ll take Larabee and Tanner months to get back on their feet and we both know Chris and I understand each other. He knows from the last time he tried to find me it’s useless. My connections will keep giving out false leads; meanwhile we sit back and enjoy the aftermath of our actions.”

“You enjoy doing this don’t you?”

“Hell yes, what’s not to enjoy. I get to jerk Chris around and watch Buck act like he’s a machine while he tries to protect Chris. Buck knows I’m not going to do anything…not for a while anyway. It’s so much more fun to let them think I’ve given up and then strike when they least expect me too.”

“What is it about Larabee and Wilmington that makes you like this?” Learson asked.

“Their white knight attitude is so out of date and yet that’s what they are!” Tasker spat. “Chris just wouldn’t let it go back then and he cost me my own team.”

“I thought you were part of his team,” Learson said.

“I was, but I could have had my own. I was good. Damn fucking good, but Chris didn’t like the way I did things. It pissed him off because I got the job done!”

“No, what pissed him off was how you got it done, Robert.”

“That’s because Chris and his type don’t believe in taking the gauntlet! They like to do things within the law…”

“You’re kidding, right? Since when would you call what Larabee has done over the years within the law? He’s got some black strikes against his name and I know a lot of people who would like to take him down!”

“Yes, I guess you’re right. Larabee does have his hard side and he’ll need that when I’m ready to go another round with him, but…”

“We have another job to do,” Learson finished and pulled out the file he’d just received. He smiled when Tasker’s eyes grew wide with excitement. Their target was a well-known dignitary and one they’d both had run ins with before.

“Oh, this is going to be a pleasure,” Tasker smiled and reached for his drink, Chris Larabee temporarily forgotten as a new plan formulated.

+ + + + + + +

Martin Chadwick looked at his patient with concern as he tried to explain what he was about to do. Vin Tanner looked at him with a vacant stare that spoke volumes and left him feeling shaken. He looked across the bed to Stacey Midland before placing his hand on the tube and looking into the blue eyes once more.

“Vin, I want you to cough or breathe out and we’ll have this thing out in no time,” Chadwick explained. He saw the eyes blink once and knew the younger man understood what was expected of him. “Now, Vin!”

Vin closed his eyes and tried to cough as he felt the sickening feeling of the tube being extracted. The pain in his chest was instantaneous and he cried out in spite of his resolve to remain quiet. He heard Stacey Midland speaking to him, but wasn’t sure he would have answered even if he could. The room around him faded in and out as he tried to make sense of the agony twisting through his gut. He felt someone touching his arm, but it wasn’t until later that he realized they’d given him medication to ease the pain that coursed through his nerves, building to an inferno of agony in his skull. It ended in a white explosion that sent him over the edge and into the pain free world of unconsciousness.

Stacey looked at the monitors and was relieved to see that the numbers were returning to normal. She knew Vin had one hell of a fight ahead of him, and the guilt she felt inside her made her want to scream. So much pain, so many injuries, and yet the bastard who did this to the two men was out there somewhere. The cop at the door was a constant reminder that Chris and Vin were both still targets of a sadistic man hell bent on pitting them against each other.

“Stacey, are you all right?” Chadwick asked.

“Not really, Martin, but right now I’m not the one we have to worry about.”

“I wouldn’t say that, Stacey. Come on, I need a coffee. My treat!”

“All right,” Midland said with a small smile. She checked the monitors and the dialysis machine before following Chadwick out of the room. Once in the doctor’s lounge, Stacey sat wearily on the sofa and rubbed at tired eyes. She leaned her head back and listened to the other physician moving around the room.

“Here, Stacey,” Chadwick said and sat in the chair opposite her.

“Thanks, Martin.”

“You’re welcome,” Chadwick studied the woman for several long seconds before speaking again. “You’ve known Chris and Vin a long time.”

“You could say that,” Midland said.

“Are you sure you’re not too close in this case?” Chadwick asked.

“Martin, I care what happens to all my patients!”

“I know you do, Stacey, it’s just the decisions you were forced to make would be hard on anyone and they weren’t normal decisions.”

“I did what I had to do!”

“Exactly, so wipe the guilt off your face and do your job!” Chadwick said, his smile taking away some of the harshness the words implied.

“Shit!” Midland said and rested her head back once more. “Sometimes I wonder why I ever became a doctor in the first place!”

“I don’t know, but I’m glad you did, because you’re damn good at it and I don’t want to see you throw it away because you feel guilty about a decision made in the heat of the moment in an ER overrun with emergencies.”

“Thank you, Martin, I needed to hear that!”

“You’re welcome,” Chadwick said and stood up to leave. “I guess I’ll see you later.”

“I’ll be here…at least for another hour,” Midland explained. She watched the older physician leave and then let the tension drain from her body. She knew the man was right, but the guilt still nagged at her and probably always would. Finishing the last of her coffee, Stacey stood up and went back to work.

+ + + + + + +

Chris tried to control the pain, but there was no way to do that with the physician probing the wounds. His hand clenched into a fist and grabbed at the sheet underneath him. Since waking his body had been one mass of agony and he knew his injuries were only partially to blame. The nightmares were increasing in strength and frequency and he wished there was something to make them go away. He’d been given the muscle relaxants and pain meds, but there were times when even those didn’t give him the relief he wanted, relief that only came with deep, dreamless sleep. At times he heard voices talking to him, but he wouldn’t answer his friends, choosing to turn away from the ones he needed more that anything.

“Easy, Chris, just lie still, we’re almost done,” Parker explained as he examined the patient. Larabee wouldn’t respond to anyone since the painful tremors the day before. Even now with the obvious pain showing on the blond’s face and the rigidity of his body, Chris did not speak or ask for anything. He refused to even look at Stacey Midland and Tom knew how hard this was on his colleague. The nurse worked along side him as they changed the IV line that had gone bad.

“Chris, I’m giving you your pain medication now,” Jolene Harding explained and shook her head at the lack of response to her words.

“All done, Chris,” Parker assured him and lifted the chart. He studied the latest test results and made several new notes explaining what was to be done to ensure his patient’s recovery continued along these lines. “Jolene, if there are any changes have me paged.”

“Yes, Dr. Parker,” the woman said and eased the blanket back over the trembling man before motioning Ezra Standish into the room.

“How is he?” Standish asked.

“Hurting,” Harding answered sympathetically, touching her hand against the pale cheek before picking up a cloth and wiping away the moisture that seeped from the tightly clenched eyes.

“I believe Mr. Larabee and Mr. Tanner have found out hell is still prevalent on earth,” Standish said and knew his words were never truer. The physical injuries were evident and he knew they would heal, but it was the emotional wounds that were festering and threatened to ruin a friendship that had been built on trust. The two men were well known for a connection that transcended the norm, but somehow Robert Tasker had managed to sever that connection as surely as if he’d cut it with a knife. He sat down and watched over his friend, silently praying that this was not the end of his family.

+ + + + + + +

Vin felt awareness returning and with it came the loss of everything he held close. No longer could he feel the slightest quicksilver touch of the man he once held closer than a brother. No longer could he seek out the other half of his soul, for that part of him was dead. It died on a table when Larabee’s own lack of control stabbed him again and again. Now he felt the loneliness and latched onto it in an effort to keep everyone at a distance. He heard a familiar voice and forced his eyes open.

“Hello, Vin, how are you feeling?” Midland asked.

“N…not feelin’ m…much of nothin’,” Tanner answered and shifted slightly on the bed, which set off fireworks and explosions throughout his body. He felt the woman’s hand on his shoulder and tried to jerk away from her touch. He didn’t want her, didn’t need anyone, and wished they would all leave him alone.

“Vin, just breathe slowly and it’ll ease up,” Midland ordered and thought she heard the young man try to speak. “I’m sorry, I didn’t hear you.”

“S…said I’m o…kay,” the Texan lied.

“Sure you are. I just wanted to see how you were doing. Josiah and JD are waiting…”

“G…go,” Tanner whispered, his eyes opening and shifting toward the door.


“I said…t…tell them,” he stopped and breathed in the oxygen supplied by the face mask before finishing. “Go. D…don’t want t…to s…see them.”

“They are your friends, Vin, and they are worried about you.”

“D…don’t n…need them. D…don’t n…need anyone!”

‘Yes, you do,’ she thought, but kept it to herself. She knew it would take time to heal, both physically and mentally and was glad that Susan James would be involved in Chris and Vin’s case. She would be there to speak with both men about their experiences and Midland prayed she would be able to get through to them.


“I’m right here, Vin,” Midland answered.

“Please…tell them to g…go away!”

“You need someone to help you, Vin,” Midland explained.

“H…hire someone,” Tanner told her.


“No!” the Texan said when he heard the familiar voice behind Midland. “Get out!”


“Just g…get the f…fuck out…out…of m…my…”

“Vin, calm down,” Midland ordered.

“T…tell them t…to go!” Tanner ordered and tried to turn away.

“Josiah, you and JD need to leave!” Midland told them.


“JD, come on,” Sanchez ordered. One look at the blue eyes told him the Texan was deadly serious about their leaving and until Vin was ready to see them, they would have to abide by his wishes.

“Josiah, why won’t Vin see us?” Dunne asked.

“JD, Vin’s been put through hell and right now he’s blaming it on Chris.”

“Why? It wasn’t Chris…it was that miserable bastard!”

“Yes, it was, but until Vin is ready to accept our help and forgive Chris for his part in this we have to give him his space.”

“Jesus, what a fucking mess!”

“Yes, it is, but somehow we’ll find a way to clean it up.” Sanchez stood in front of the window watching as Midland and the nurse tried to make the patient comfortable. He knew the younger man had a long hard road ahead, made even harder now that he refused the help of his friends and blamed Chris Larabee for the hell he was living in.

+ + + + + + +

Chris winced when he tried to sit further up in the bed. He’d been moved out of ICU after spending nearly a week there and was relieved to have a small amount of freedom. There was still a lot of equipment in use, but at least he could see the area around him. He also knew that Tanner was still in ICU, but would be moved to a step down unit the following day. The others told him Vin was doing okay, but he didn’t believe them. He knew the Texan blamed him for what happened and knew the young man was right. He was the cause of the sharpshooter’s pain. He had driven the spikes into his restrained body because he could not control his own reactions to the electrical current running along his nerve endings.

“Chris, can I come in?”

Larabee blinked back the tears and turned to see a familiar figure standing in the doorway. This woman had talked him through some of the roughest times in his life. She’d seen him at his worst and didn’t turn away. She offered him the chance to talk things through without making a judgement, but he did not need her now. He knew he was at fault this time and no amount of talking could change that.


“Come on in, Doc, but I don’t think you can help me this time no matter what everyone else says,” Larabee told her.

“Talking always helps, Chris. You just have to be willing to trust me again.”

“I trust you, Doc, but this time it’s different.”

“Different? In what way?” Susan James asked and pulled a chair closer to the bed.

“This time I am at fault, Doc.” Larabee swallowed the painful lump that threatened to choke him and tried to speak once more. “I did that to him…no amount of talking is going to change that!”

“Chris, blaming yourself for what happened to Vin isn’t going to help. From what your friends told me and what I’ve read in both your files, Robert Tasker…”

“Tasker may have set up the test, but I’m the one who failed it. I could have stopped those spikes from…from,” Chris turned away as hatred flared in his eyes. How could he make any of them understand how he felt? How could they know what it was like to nearly kill the other half of his soul? He was the one who weakened each time a jolt raced through his body and because of that, spike after spike was driven into an innocent man.

“Chris, blaming yourself for something beyond your control is not going to help…”

“That’s funny, Doc, oh, God, that’s so funny,” Larabee laughed, a hysterical sound in the quiet room.

“What’s funny?”

“Control, Doc, that’s something I did have. All I had to do to stop Vin from being hurt was control my own pain, but I couldn’t and Vin’s lying up there fighting for his life and I can’t do a fucking thing about it!”

“Chris, that kind of control goes beyond the norm for any man. Pain is something our mind has no choice but to acknowledge.”

“You forget I had special training, Doc. I should have been able to ignore the pain and stop what happened to Vin! He trusted me and look what I fucking did to him!” Larabee’s body suddenly began to twitch as if a jolt of electricity raced through his body. Nerve endings snapped with liquid fire and he bucked upwards, his body shaking as he tried once more to control the involuntary reactions to firing synapses. He didn’t hear Susan James call for help, but he did feel someone at his IV and soon felt the familiar sensation of medication entering his blood stream. His breathing grew labored as again and again his body reacted to the images now flashing across his mind. Nausea rolled through his stomach and again he tasted blood in his mouth. He spit it out in an effort to rid himself of the unwanted memories that once more threatened to throw him back into a dark abyss.

Tom Parker knew his patient was in trouble and counted the seconds until the medication began to have the desired affect on the injured man. He knew from experience on another case that the muscle spasms and jerking motions were caused by the electric shocks Larabee had been exposed too, and also understood that it could keep happening for a long time.

“I don’t like his blood pressure readings and his heart rate is too high. Keep an eye on them and let me know if it doesn’t level off soon!” Parker said and made several notations on Larabee’s chart.

“Yes, doctor,” Harding said and reached for the facemask. She knew without asking that the physician would want Larabee back on full oxygen because his levels were way below the norm. As a SICU nurse she knew what was expected of her and excelled at her job.

“I’ll check back on him before I leave for the day,” Parker said before leaving the room.

Harding cared for her patient and made sure the monitoring equipment was recording everything. She motioned for Larabee’s friend to come back into the room and easily read the worry and fear on the man’s face.

“He’s sleeping right now, Mr. Standish.”

“What did Dr. Parker have to say?”

“He doesn’t like the elevated blood pressure or his heart rate.”

“Mr. Larabee does not know how to do things the easy way,” Standish said tiredly. The gambler had never had a real family until he met these men and now he was in danger of losing what he treasured more than anything else in his life. All through his childhood he’d tried to fit in, but when he did find his niche in life Maude would come along and pull him away from those he cared about. He knew he’d grown cynical through his teen years, but it was a way for him to defend himself from caring about anyone or anything, until the day Chris Larabee had waltzed into his life and showed him he could fit in.

“I won’t let that bastard destroy my family, Chris,” he whispered and rubbed at tired eyes.

+ + + + + + +

Vin distanced himself from everything and everyone who tried to offer comfort in one form or another. He didn’t want to let anyone in, to let them see how hurt he was, how his world had once more been torn apart, leaving him with images that he sought to destroy. He felt betrayed and angry. He felt sorrow and remorse, and he felt bitter and filled with rage.

Vin tried to turn onto his side, but was reminded once more of the reason he was in this bed in the hospital and stuck in the SICU. His body ached with a dull throb and he knew without the medication being fed into his body he’d be in serious pain, but somehow he would welcome that pain now. It would remind him why he’d chosen to be alone and keep a safe distance between himself and the people who tried to worm their way into his life. He’d allowed Chris Larabee to lull him into a false sense of security, but he wouldn’t be fooled again. Larabee had been the instigator in all of this and it was because of his trust in the blond that he was lying here hooked up to more machines than he’d ever seen before. The beeps, clicks, whines, and shushing noises reminded him of a cartoon he’d seen years ago, but it was all too real to him now.

“Mr. Tanner, I need to change the bandages on your neck,” the nurse said.

“Go away,” the Texan whispered.

“I’m afraid I can’t do that. This is my job…”

“And this is my fucking body and I don’t need you or anyone else touching me! Leave me the hell alone!”

“Mr. Tanner…”

Vin glared at the woman as he tried to calm his breathing. Why couldn’t these people leave him alone? Couldn’t they see he didn’t need anyone…couldn’t need anyone ever again? His chest heaved and he fought to stay conscious as agony twisted like a knife through his ribs. The tubes and leads made it impossible for him to move very much in the bed and he silently cursed his own weakness. He cried out as his body felt ready to explode with agony and felt someone touching his arm. He opened his eyes and looked up at the nurse who seemed to be injecting something in his IV.

“That should help, Mr. Tanner. It’s also going to make you sleepy so why don’t you just close your eyes and I’ll finish up with the bandages?”

Vin could easily read the sympathy in her eyes, but turned away without saying a word. He didn’t want their help or their sympathy. He wanted to be left alone, free of pain, and not have to worry about anyone or anything. His mind began to drift as he felt the nurse touching the bandages on his neck. His eyes closed and he gave in to his body’s need for rest, but Tasker’s words followed him into the depths of darkness, making him cower away from those who cared about him and closing him off from the life he’d once embraced.

+ + + + + + +

You see, I’m not going to harm him…but you will. You can’t seem to protect the ones you love, can you? All you do is hurt them, don’t you, Larabee? Did Vin’s blood taste good, Larabee?… Yesterday we talked about lies, remember? You said I was lying, Mr. Tanner. But I ask you. Who’s lying now? I’m certainly not. Not like Larabee over there…Awww…yes. I know it hurts, doesn’t it? Chris has lied to you, Vin. All these years, he promised you that he’d never hurt you, didn’t he? …He told you that he’d watch your back and protect you didn’t he? Yet, here you are…a pawn in the game that Chris and I have played on several occasions over the years. If he had kept his promise to watch your back you wouldn’t be here now…enduring all this…now would you? He’s lied to you, Vin. You believe that now, don’t you?”

“Lied…Chris lied…watch back…never…never. Lied, he lied, b…bastard lied.”

Sheila Morris wished there was some way to calm her patient, but since she’d come on shift the young man seemed to have been inundated with dreams, or to be more precise nightmares. She’d been a nurse in the SICU for nearly two years now, but this was only her third night at Saint Vincents. Never had she seen someone so beaten. She’d heard stories, but hadn’t really believed there could be this much cruelty in the world, and yet she’d seen it before, during her time in Viet Nam. She placed her hand against her patient’s forehead and tried to break through the nightmares that trapped him.

“Chris…bastard…lies…always lies…”

“Mr. Tanner, you’re safe now. No one is going to hurt you. I’ll see that whoever this Chris is he won’t get anywhere near you,” the nurse soothed. She took a warm washcloth and wiped it gently over the trembling form as she spoke.


Sheila smiled as a pair of blue eyes finally opened and looked at her. She could see the confusion on the face and spoke softly. “You’re okay, Mr. Tanner. You’re in the hospital, but you’re doing so much better.”

“Better? C…can go home?” Tanner whispered, his voice still raspy and dry. The wounds around his throat were still painful and he opened his mouth when she offered him some water.

“Now, I didn’t say you were miraculously healed, young man,” Sheila gently chided.

“Hate hos…hospitals.”

“I’m sure you do, but they are needed and I believe you’re in the best place for you right now. How do you feel? Are you in any pain?”

“Feel tired. No…not really,” Tanner lied.

“I don’t believe you for a minute,” the nurse told him.

“What t…time is it?”

“Two fifteen.”

“Day or n…night?”

“Night, I’m afraid you and I are probably the only two people awake right now,” Sheila explained and changed the empty bag of IV solution over his head.

“Hate sl…sleep. Dreams,” Tanner told her.

“Bad ones?”

“The worst kind. Man I thought was a brother…did this…” the Texan said, gritting his teeth as pain washed over him once more.

“I take it this friend’s name was Chris?”

“Yeah…it was. W…won’t be f…fooled again,” Tanner assured the woman.

“I’ll see that he doesn’t get in here. Now why don’t you close your eyes and sleep. No one can get to you here,” Sheila explained and watched the blue eyes slowly close. ‘No one will hurt you on my watch,’ she vowed, unaware that just down the hall Chris Larabee was locked in his own version of hell.

+ + + + + + +

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.

The words followed him from his nightmares and he tried to breathe past the familiar pain that was always there, always constant. Chris opened his eyes to the all too familiar feel of tremors coursing through his body. It started in his hands, working its way along the nerves until exploding in an all out convulsion that shook him against the bed.

“No! NO! Can’t…can’t control…have t…to control. STOP! TASKER! Bastard!” He jerked against the restraints and tried to come off the bed, but his body twisted until white-hot fire engulfed it and burned deep into his soul. There were people in the room with him, but he could not find the strength to acknowledge them as he fought to get past the pain and treachery he felt. He’d nearly killed the other half of his soul and now he was paying for it, and with every firing synapse, he felt and heard Vin Tanner’s soul shattering cries of pain.

“God help me!” he cried and felt a hand placed on his chest. The tremors continued, increasing and decreasing with each beat of his heart, driving home the reality of his betrayal. He tasted blood and his stomach churned when he looked into a pair of blue eyes that were filled with insurmountable pain. For a second he thought they belonged to a certain Texan, but his eyes finally focused and he saw the hurt was real.

“Hold on, Chris. The nurse is giving you a muscle relaxant,” the ladies’ man explained and gripped his friend’s hand in his own. Larabee’s right arm was in a cast and he knew it would be a long time before the blond regained full use of it, but he would. Somehow, Buck knew no matter how bad things got their friendship and unique brotherhood of seven would survive. He would see that it did no matter what it took.

“Buck…Jesus, Buck, don’t l…let don’t let them do it!” Larabee cried, as his body grew rigid and arched upwards with the force of the spasms.

“Do what, Pard? Tell me and I swear to God I’ll find a way to make it happen!”

“Vin…Vin’s blood. D…don’t let t…them g…give it to m…me. N…needs it…God I k…killed him…I…I…”

“Chris, listen to me!” the worried rogue ordered and wished he could get through to the blond, but it seemed as though Chris had locked himself away from those around him. He breathed a sigh of relief as the muscle relaxant seemed to take hold and Larabee dropped back to the bed as if an electrical current had been shut down. ‘That’s exactly what’s happened,’ he thought angrily. He heard a raspy cough and reached for the cup on the table and offered it to his long time friend.

“P…please, Buck, d…don’t m…make me d…drink it…”

“It’s just water, Chris,” Wilmington explained, confused by Larabee’s reaction to the cup.

“Not water…blood…Vin’s blood! Vin’s blood…can’t d…drink…can’t…can’t. Oh, God, Buck, don’t make me d…drink it!”

Wilmington threw the cup across the room and reached for the trembling man. He understood why Larabee reacted to the cup of water and wondered if they’d ever get him past it. Again he thought about what he would do to Tasker if he ever found him. The man had nearly destroyed Chris Larabee when he’d subjected Richard Powell to similar pain reactive treatment as he’d given Vin Tanner, but there was one major difference. Buck felt his stomach churn at the thought of what Tasker had done this time by using spikes. Ignoring the tubes and leads, Buck pulled the blond close, with his left arm and felt the tremors against his chest. Chris was stronger than anyone he’d ever known, and yet his heart had been broken and now his resolve had been shattered.

‘I’ll tear you apart, Tasker, so help me God I’ll see you in hell for this!’ Wilmington vowed silently as he felt the blond go slack in his arms. He knew by the beeping of the monitors that Larabee was sleeping, but he was unwilling to release his grip, afraid his long time friend would not be able to live with the horror of what had been done to him, to Vin, to them all.

+ + + + + + +

Stacey Midland folded her arms and stared out over the city as another day drew to a close. So many people were leaving their normal nine to five jobs and would soon be at home with the family they loved. She knew she should have left hours ago, but she’d called her brother and told him she would be late. James had grown so much since the accident that had left Chris Larabee with a broken leg and she loved him dearly. He was planning on entering med school and for that she was also thankful, yet there was a part of her that wished he would change his mind and find something that would allow him regular hours and far less stress than what her profession entailed. She heard a soft knock on the door and turned to see Tom Parker enter.

“Hi, Tom, are the others with you?”

“They should be here shortly. Have you eaten yet?”

“I had a sandwich…”

“That was hours ago, Stacey. Look, I know you’re trying hard to distance your self from what’s happening with Chris and Vin and I know damn well it’s harder on you than you’re letting on.”

“Tom, I don’t treat them any different than I do my other patients.”

“We both know that’s not true, Stace, because if it was you wouldn’t be having such a hard time with the decision you made. I know it doesn’t make it any better, but you did make the right choice. Chris was already in surgery and without that blood he would have died.”

“Tom,” Midland said, speaking around the lump in her throat. “You’ve treated Chris and Vin before. Hell, I think every doctor and nurse in this hospital has probably had a hand in treating them. What if I made the wrong decision, Tom? What if I cost Vin Tanner his life?”

“You’re the one who’s there to pick up the pieces. You’re the one who makes the final decision in treatment and so many things were against you the day they came in. I don’t think there was a right or wrong decision in this case. You made the decision in the heat of the moment and for all it’s worth I believe it was the right one.”

“Thanks, Tom,” Midland said, looking toward the door as it opened and Susan James, Martin Chadwick, and Brandon Silverman joined them. She knew the trio had been in to see their patients and this meeting was to discuss the next stages of treatment.

“Stacey, are you okay?”

“I’m fine, Susan,” Midland said and couldn’t help but laugh at the use of those words. Words she’d heard so often from the members of The Firm that they held little meaning any more.

“Seems those two are rubbing off on you, Stacey,” Susan James said with a grin as they moved to the conference room opposite Midland’s office. She knew about the decision in the ER and the ramifications that resulted from it and would speak with Midland when the meeting adjourned. Susan moved to the coffee pot and poured five cups before returning to the table and placing the tray at the center. James watched the others opening their files and placed her notes in front of her before sitting down.

“Susan, did you get a chance to speak with Chris and Vin?” Parker asked.

“I stopped by to see Vin several times, but he’s not being very talkative and sleeps most of the time,” James explained and opened her notebook. “I’ve seen Chris just once so far and I’m sure you know how much guilt he’s shouldering over this.”

“Between the two of them they have the market cornered on that one,” Midland agreed.

“Yes, well, Chris seems to think he should have been able to stop what happened to Vin,” the psychiatrist told them.

“I don’t see how he comes to that conclusion. From what I’ve seen and heard about Tasker’s layout there was no way in hell Chris could have stopped this from happening,” Chadwick assured them.

“Martin, how long have you been at Saint Vincents?” Silverman asked.

“A little less than six months,” Chadwick answered bewildered.

“Ah, that explains it,” Parker said with a grin.

“Explains what?”

“You haven’t been around long enough to know these guys,” Parker answered. “They are seven members of an elite team called The Firm. It’s owned and operated by a man named Orrin Travis. He hired Chris Larabee and then gave him carte blanche to pick out a team of professionals who could do things that no one else has been able to. Larabee handpicked his team and there’s not a better agency than this one and they look after their own. If one’s hurt the others are close by to make damn sure nothing goes wrong.”

“Close bunch?” Chadwick asked.

“You won’t find a closer bunch and in the case of Vin Tanner and Chris Larabee you’re talking as close as brothers could ever be. Don’t get me wrong, Martin, the seven men together are unstoppable, but there’s something about Larabee and Tanner that defies description,” Midland answered.

“Sounds like the type of friends everyone needs,” Chadwick observed.

“Exactly,” James told him. “Chris told me because of his training he should have been able to control his own reaction to the pain and stop Vin from being hurt. From what we know Chris was enduring electrical shocks that surpassed the safe levels and could have caused permanent damage.”

“Actually, Susan, it may have done just that,” Parker explained and opened his file to his latest notes. “The electrical shocks are having an adverse affect on Chris. We’ve had to put him on Soma with codeine in order to help him deal with the tremors.”

“We also have to deal with the muscle and nerve damage to his leg. Physiotherapy is going to be painful and it’s going to take a lot of work on his part,” Silverman told them.

“How long before he’s released?” James asked.

“Well, we moved him out of ICU two days ago and Physiotherapy starts tomorrow. I’d say we’re looking at another four or five days possibly as long as a week,” Midland explained.

“Does Chris know?” the psychiatrist asked.

“Not yet. I’m going to speak with him tomorrow morning,” Midland answered.

“All right,” James said. “We also have to deal with Chris’ nightmares. Stacey, I believe you mentioned that Tasker forced Chris to drink Vin’s blood.”

“Yes, but that’s not the only reason for the nightmares. As you all know when they were brought in we were dealing with a backlog of injuries from several emergencies and it seriously depleted our blood supply. Chris was already in surgery when we were notified and I had to make a snap decision. I believe part of Chris’ nightmares stem from that as well as what Tasker forced him to do.”

“Stacey, you made a decision and for what it’s worth I think it was the right one.”

“Listen to Dr. James, Stacey, she knows what she’s talking about,” Parker said.

“What about Vin? How is he doing?” James asked.

“He’s not saying much and the medications are keeping the pain under control. He also starts physiotherapy tomorrow and we’ll be working on getting him mobile. That’s going to take a long time and I believe Orrin Travis has arranged for a wheelchair for his personal use,” Chadwick answered.

“The wheelchair was delivered this afternoon,” Midland told them.

“How did he react to that?” James asked.

“He didn’t react at all. Vin’s withdrawn from everyone around him. He refuses to see anyone including the members of his team.”

“That’s normal in this situation, Stacey. I’d be surprised if he wasn’t withdrawn. He’s dealing with a lot of pain and on top of that he’s been convinced that Chris did this to him. Does he know what Tasker did to Chris?” James asked.

“I don’t think so,” Chadwick shook his head and moved to refill his coffee cup. “Vin isn’t talking about anything and he’s ignoring anyone who tries to engage him in any sort of conversation. I’m finding it hard to get him to tell me whether he’s in pain or not.”

“Vin’s always been close-lipped when it comes to pain, Martin, he’ll never admit to needing help,” Parker told his colleague.

“It’s going to take a miracle to get them through this,” Silverman said.

“This team is a miracle, Brandon, and I’m not giving up on them,” Midland stated. “If there’s nothing more I’m going to head for home and hopefully have dinner with my brother.”

“How is James doing, Stacey?” the psychiatrist asked.

“He’s doing very well. You know he’s been working with Chris and helping him with the chores around the ranch.”

“Yes, I remember.”

“Stacey, I’ll see you at rounds tomorrow,” Parker said.

“Thanks for your input,” Midland said tiredly.

“Stacey, get some rest,” Silverman ordered and nodded to James before leaving the room.

“I’m going to check with my service before I leave. Stacey, Susan, if there’s anything else you can think of don’t hesitate to call,” Chadwick said.

“Thank you, Martin,” Midland said and soon found herself alone with Susan James.

“Stacey, how are you doing?”

“I’m tired, Susan.”

“I can see that. You do realize the others are right and the decision you made was the only one that made sense?”

“Tell that to Chris and Vin, Susan,” Midland snapped and sat back at the table.

“I will when they are strong enough to listen,” James told her friend. They’d been working together since another madman had tortured Chris Larabee in a twisted form of revenge against Vin Tanner. Through the years they’d developed a rapport that made them friends and confidants.

“Do you think they’ll be okay? I don’t mean physically, Susan, God knows they’ve got a lot of healing to do.”

“They’ve been through hell several times over and made it back, Stacey. There’s something about their friendship that just can’t be broken…at least not permanently. Have faith in them and in yourself because you’ve helped them through before and sooner or later they’ll need you.”

“They’ll need you too, Susan,” Midland said.

“I’ll be here,” James assured her. “Now why don’t you get out of here and check on that brother of yours?”

“I will, Susan, thank you for understanding.”

“Anytime, Stacey. Good night,” James said with a grin before leaving the weary physician alone.

Stacey Midland rubbed her eyes and rinsed her empty coffee cup before leaving the conference room. She grabbed her jacket and gloves and walked toward the stairs. Chris and Vin had both been moved to new rooms on the third floor, but unlike the other times they were not together. She hurried down the stairs and pushed through the door before walking along the corridor toward room 310. She didn’t enter the room, but stood watching the nurse as she cared for Vin Tanner.