Unseen Force

by winnie and Renegade

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Judy Morris smiled as she spoke to her patient, but her words were met with a stormy silence as the Texan refused to acknowledge her presence. She checked the IV line and the morphine pump before taking note of his vital signs.

“Vin, if you need anything your call button is beside your right hand. Press it if you need anything,” Morris said.

Don’t need nothin’!” the sharpshooter bit out and was relieved when she left him alone for the first time in what seemed like forever. He shifted on the bed, searching for a comfortable position, but the wounds to his body made that a lesson in futility. He’d been told the extent of his injuries and what the treatments would be and his gaze locked on the wheelchair next to his bed. He heard a sound at the door and looked up in time to see Stacey Midland take a step into the room, but closed his eyes before she spoke. Several minutes passed before he heard the physician walk away and he gave into his body’s need for sleep.

+ + + + + + +

Stacey stood watching Tanner for what felt like an eternity, but the Texan did not acknowledge her and she finally gave up and moved further along the hallway. Room 314 housed her second patient and she moved into the room just as the nurse finished taking a new set of vitals. Her eyes met Larabee’s and she tried to ignore the hatred so openly revealed in the sea green orbs.

“I don’t want you here, Doc!” Larabee spat venomously.

“Chris, you’re my patient…”

“Then get me someone e…else!” the blond said and twisted in the bed. His hands began to shake and his body jerked spasmodically. “God!” Larabee groaned as the muscles in his neck corded and he cried out even as his nurse returned with the prescribed medication.

“Easy, Chris,” Midland soothed, but was cut short by Larabee’s snarl of contempt.

“Get the fuck a…away from m…me, Doc!”

Midland knew there was nothing she could do for Larabee, at least not until he was ready. She moved away from the bed and watched the nurse inject the Soma with codeine. She knew it would not take long for the meds to take hold and watched as her patient finally grew still on the bed, but there was nothing peaceful in his sleep. Once she was sure he was going to be okay, Stacey Midland turned away and hurried toward the stairs as tears formed in her eyes.

‘God, what have I done,’ she thought as she fled the hospital and the pain that resided in her chest.

+ + + + + + +

Orrin Travis knew Vin had left word that he did not want to see anyone, but this was a member of his makeshift family. Since the team had come together and weathered more storms than he cared to remember, he’d come to think of them as his sons. He smiled as he thought about Josiah Sanchez and what the reaction would be if he knew that despite the closeness in their ages, Orrin still thought of him as one of his extended family.

“Orrin, we’ve tried everything, but he refuses to see anyone,” Martin Chadwick explained.

“My name wasn’t on the list.”

“No, but it probably will be by the end of your visit. Look, I know this is hard on everyone, but I have to put my patient first and if he doesn’t want to see you then we have to respect his wishes no matter how convoluted they may seem.”

“I know, Martin, I just wish things were different.”

“So do I,” Chadwick said, before leaving the older man alone at the doorway.

Orrin moved into the room and looked at the monitoring equipment that was still in evidence. Vin might have been moved out of ICU, but he was by no means healed. The Texan was turned slightly on his left side with the sun framing his face and most of his upper body. What he could see was masked by bandages and other medical necessities the doctors deemed necessary. The former judge reached for a chair and gently moved it closer to the bed. It wasn’t long before the blue eyes opened and focused on him.

“Judge,” Tanner whispered through dry lips.

“Hello, Son, how are you feeling?”

“Kinda tired,” the sharpshooter ground out. He didn’t feel like talking to anyone, especially not this man. Travis had done so much for him, but there was no way he could continue to work in close proximity to Chris Larabee. As soon as he thought the name his body tensed and hatred flared in his eyes. He knew he’d told the nursing staff he didn’t want visitors, but that shouldn’t have stopped Sanchez or the others from coming to see him. He knew where they were and resentment warred with anger as he tried to sit further up in the bed.

“Easy, Son…”

“I ain’t yer s…son, Judge! My name’s Tanner not Travis!”

Orrin knew it was pain and fear that caused the younger man to lash out, but it still hurt. “I know, you’re not my son, Vin, although I would be damned proud of you if you were.”

“My ma raised me ta respect my elders, J…Judge, so ya’d b…best g…get outta h…here and go s…see Larabee. I ain’t needin’ ya ta be here! Ain’t needin’ no o…one!”

Travis looked at the monitors as several began to increase in tempo and a nurse hurried into the room. She looked at the Texan and saw the agony that twisted his features and quickly moved to check the leads and IV lines.

“Is he…”

“G…get the h…hell out, Judge!” Tanner spat, crying out as he shifted again and jarred the healing wounds.

“Mr. Tanner, you need to be still!” the nurse tried, but was shocked at the strength displayed by the injured man as he twisted around in the bed and tried to slide his legs over the edge.

“I don’t n…need a…any of ya! T…tell that ta Larabee and…and…” his breath came in hitching gulps as he collapsed back against the pillows. He hated showing weakness, but the pain was more than he could bear and he groaned as the nurse injected something into his IV. He didn’t know whether Orrin Travis was still there, but he felt the lessening of agony and the draw of sleep came over him once more.

“Is he okay?” Travis asked as Chadwick hurried into the room.

“What happened, Tori?”

Travis listened to the two people as they discussed Vin Tanner’s condition. He knew Wilmington and Dunne had gone to the airport to pick up Nettie Wells. The woman had volunteered to be an escort for a group of underprivileged kids and had been camping in the mountains when Larabee and Tanner had been hurt. It had taken some time, but they’d finally contacted her and she had made arrangements to catch the next flight back to Billings.

“Orrin, did you hear me?”

“Sorry, Martin, how is he?”

“He’ll be okay, but this didn’t help him any. He’s sleeping now and the medication will probably keep him that way for several hours. How about I buy you a coffee?”

“No, thanks anyway, but I have another man I need to visit.”

“I understand. Give it time, Orrin,” Chadwick said.

“Thanks, Martin, for everything you’ve done for him.”

“I wish it could be more. I’ll check back on him before I leave this evening. Try not to worry too much, Orrin,” the surgeon said before hurrying away.

+ + + + + + +

Buck stood near the gates, sipping the strong black coffee. His right arm throbbed, but he chose to ignore it instead of taking something to ease the pain. He looked up as Dunne returned from checking the boards once more.

“It should be landing any minute,” the younger man said.

“That’s what you said ten minutes ago, Kid,” Wilmington smiled and walked over to the seats next to the window. Jackson, Sanchez, and Standish were at the office and would meet them at the hospital as soon as they finished the paperwork that had piled up during their absence.

“I talked to Casey and she can’t get any time off until Christmas. I wish she had chosen a campus closer to home.”

“When are you two going to quit messing around and get married, Kid?”

“Casey wants to finish med school first, Buck. She’s wearing my ring.”

“A promise ring, JD. It’s time to move ahead and get her an engagement ring, Son. There’s a lot of men out there who’d be more than willing to have her as his fiancé.”

“Casey’s not like that. She knows I love her…”

“Have you told her that since she left?”

“Sure…yeah…course I have.”


“What do you mean when?”

“I mean when, JD. Look, if there’s one thing I know it’s what a woman likes, especially one as pretty and smart as Casey Wells. Don’t take her for granted, JD. Tell her you love her every chance you get and I promise you, it’s something you won’t regret doing.”

“Sounds like you’re talking from experience, Buck.”

“I am, Kid, I made that mistake once and lost someone I thought I could love forever.” Wilmington took a deep breath and grew silent as the announcement was made over the speaker that Nettie Wells’ flight had arrived.

“Buck, who was she?”

“I’ll tell you about her someday, JD, but right now is not the time,” the gentle rogue explained and walked over to the gate once more.

Dunne watched the older man carefully and wondered about his past. He knew a lot about Buck Wilmington, but there were still a lot of things he didn’t know. The ladies’ man often spoke of his experiences with women, but never as a putdown. With Wilmington women knew where they stood and more often than not they took whatever he offered and were glad of the time spent in his company.

“There she is,” Wilmington said, unaware of the younger man studying him.

Dunne spotted the elderly woman as she made her way toward them. Her suitcases were on a trolley and he quickly moved to take control as she came through the electronic checkpoint.

“Welcome home, Nettie,” Wilmington said and hugged the woman.

“Thank you, Buck, JD,” Nettie said and hugged Dunne before relinquishing the handles. “How are they?”

“Not good, Nettie, but at least they’re out of ICU,” Wilmington explained as he took her arm in his.

“What happened to your arm, Buck?”

“He thought he’d feel better by putting a hole in the wall,” Dunne answered.

“Ouch,” the woman said, shaking her head at the man beside her. “Don’t you know walls fight back, Buck?”

“I do now,” Wilmington said with a grin as they hurried toward the parking area.

“Good, let it be a lesson to you. Never take your anger out on anything that’s harder than you are.” She waited for the two men to put her suitcases in the trunk and JD opened the doors. She sat behind the driver’s seat and smiled as Wilmington closed the door for her and hurried around to the front passenger seat.

JD pulled out of the airport and headed toward the hospital. He knew Nettie Wells would want to see Chris and Vin before going home and didn’t bother asking.

“Have they caught Tasker?”

“No, the sonofabitch…sorry, Nettie,” Wilmington apologized.

“No need to apologize, Buck, I’m afraid I’ve been calling him worse than that. Do the police have anything to go on?”

“Nothing, but that’s how Tasker works.”

“What does he have against Chris that would make him want to destroy him? Did Chris steal his girl?” the elderly woman asked.

“Nothing as noble as that, Nettie. Tasker’s always been jealous of Chris’ accomplishments and blames Chris for his being passed over for promotion on the teams. It wasn’t Chris though. Tasker didn’t earn a promotion and that’s something he can’t face. It’s easier to blame everyone else for his own shortcomings.”

“I remember Sarah mentioning something about Robert Tasker. It was right after Chris received that letter from Richard Powell.”

“Tasker hurt a lot of people,” Wilmington muttered tiredly.

“He still is,” Dunne added and the trio grew quiet.

+ + + + + + +

Orrin pushed open the door and stood for several seconds watching the blond. Chris seemed to be sleeping, but Travis knew that was far from true. The lines of tension and pain could easily be seen by anyone who really knew Larabee. There were dark shadows under the closed eyes and Orrin wondered at the gaunt features.

“Chris, feel up to some company?”

Larabee had known he was no longer alone, but had hoped whoever it was would think he was asleep and leave him that way. Orrin Travis was not likely to do that and Chris opened his eyes. “I’m kind of tired, Orrin.”

“Funny, that’s the same thing Vin said.”

“You saw Vin? How is he?” Larabee asked, his interest sparked as he shifted on the bed.

“He’s hurting,” Travis answered softly.

“God, I wish I could make this go away,” the blond whispered and turned his head toward the window.

“Chris,” the former judge said and waited for the younger man to turn back. When he finally did, Orrin saw something he hadn’t seen since Larabee suffered the loss of his wife and son. Just before Larabee clenched his eyes he saw a horrible darkness in the green orbs and yet there was also sorrow as moisture slipped past the closed lids. ‘How can one man cause so much devastation?’ he thought angrily.

“I’m sorry, Orrin, I just don’t feel like talking right now,” Larabee stated flatly and wished he could sleep, but there was only one thing that brought him relief. He clenched his fists tightly and waited for the pain to come, pain that would necessitate the use of medication to stop the tremors.

Orrin watched the change come over the blond and was immediately concerned about the younger man. He saw the tremors begin in the extremities and slowly advance until Larabee seemed unable to breathe. Travis quickly pressed the call button, but there’d been no need since the medical equipment had already alerted personnel that there was a problem. He moved away from the bed as a male nurse hurried to the bed.

“Chris, I’m going to give you something to stop this,” Danny Sullivan explained.


“I know it does,” Sullivan said and reached for the IV. He was well aware of the problems his patient was facing and quickly injected the medication. He watched the monitors and waited for the readings to return to normal parameters and was relieved when they finally did so.

“T…thanks,” the blond said when the effects of the drug spread throughout his body.

“You’re welcome, Chris. Do you need anything else?”

“Just want to sleep,” Larabee answered and closed his eyes. He heard Travis asking questions even as his mind and body gave into the call of darkness.

“You’ve already spilled your brother’s blood, Chris. Now you can feast upon it…Maybe Tanner’s blood will give you pause to reflect on what he sacrificed for your inadequacies, Larabee…Guess now you can consider that kiss Vin gave you as the ‘kiss of death’…”

“Kiss of death…” Larabee mumbled as he sank deeper into the nightmares that taunted him. Tasker’s voice droned on but others also joined in.

“He’s awfully lucky Dr. Midland went ahead and sent those last two units of blood up to surgery… Blood? …Sure is. Mr. Larabee is alive because of it. Just a shame they had to take it away from Vin Tanner like that, though.”

He turned slightly on the bed, darkness surrounding him as his voice joined the beeps and clicks of the monitoring equipment. “Vin’s blood… God no…don’t make me…no…”

”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.”

“So sorry, Vin,” Larabee gasped and sat forward in the bed as bile bitter and hot rose up in his throat. He turned to the side and vomited onto the floor unaware of the people who tried to help him.

“Vin’s blood! God h…help me…I’m s…sorry…so s…sorry!” Larabee raged and twisted away from those who tried to help him. In spite of being bathed in sweat, Chris felt chilled to the bone as his body trembled convulsively.

“Chris, you’re okay. Do you hear me?” Danny asked, but received no answer in return.

“No…can’t. I d…don’t want it. C…can’t make me d…drink it. G…give it…give it back to h…him.”

“What’s he talking about? Chris, give what back?” Jody Spalding asked. She’d been paged from the ER and was checking the patient’s chart while the nurse tried to calm him.

“He’s been having nightmares about what he was forced to do,” Danny explained.

“Says here his friend is also a patient. Damn, this says Larabee was forced to drink blood and had a psychological reaction to the blood transfusion he’d been given in surgery.” Spalding said and noted the medications Larabee was being given.

“Vin…p…please…I d…didn’t mean t…to. T….tried t…to stop…bastard. Tasker! K…kill you!”

“Danny, let’s see if we can get him calmed down. Give him two milligrams of Valium,” Spalding ordered.

“Yes, Doctor,” Sullivan agreed and hurried to get the medication.

“N…no. Kill b…bastard. Let h…him go! P…please…me y…you’re a…after…not Vin…”

+ + + + + + +

Orrin watched from the doorway and wished there was some way to get through to the injured blond. He’d watched the resident as she’d taken charge and wished Midland was there, but The Firm’s personal doctor needed some downtime herself. He knew she was going through a rough spurt. Physicians prided themselves on being impartial, but you don’t treat people like Larabee and Tanner and not feel some kind of connection with them. The former judge was relieved when Larabee finally grew quiet, yet he knew the medications would only keep the nightmares at bay for a short period. He leaned wearily against the wall and took a deep breath before walking away from the room.

+ + + + + + +

“Mrs. Wells, it’s good to see you again. I just wish it was under different circumstances,” the pretty nurse said when she looked up to see the woman standing framed in the doorway. She’d been checking on her patient and was relieved that he seemed to be sleeping comfortably.

“Thank you, Pamela, how is he?”

“He’s not doing very well right now, but he has his good times.”

“Is he sleeping?”

“I think so, but I’m sure he’ll be glad to see you.”

“Maybe, but why don’t we just let him rest and I’ll sit with him for a spell. I’ll call you if he needs anything.”

“Thank you,” Pamela said and walked past the elderly woman. She recognized the two men standing outside the door and wished she could wipe away the pain etched into their grim faces.

“How’s he doing, Pamela?”

“He has his good times and bad times, JD, but that’s to be expected in cases like this. Vin’s been hurt both physically and mentally and it is going to take some time for him to get past all of this,” Pamela said and regretted her words when the young man’s shoulders slumped even further. “There is something Vin has going for him that many people don’t.”

“What?” Dunne asked.

“You…all of you. I know right now it just seems like words, but at some point in time he will come to realize what you mean to him. Right now everything’s too fresh and he’s hurting too much, but eventually the pain will go away and he’ll remember all the good times.”

“Thanks, Pamela,” Wilmington said, smiling thinly as the woman walked away.

“Do you think she’s right, Buck?”

“I don’t know, Kid, but I sure as hell hope so,” the gentle rogue said, unconsciously rubbing his arm above the cast. The thought of losing the family he now had was weighing heavily on his soul and he knew the others were feeling it as well. ‘I sure as hell hope so.’ he thought and watched Nettie Wells work her magic.

+ + + + + + +

Nettie felt the tears forming in her eyes as she stood next to the bed and looked into the face of the young man she’d begun to think of as a son. His face was too pale and the dark shadows around his eyes spoke of the horror he’d endured at the hands of a madman. She reached out and touched his hair, saddened at the feel of it against her fingers.

“You need a good bath,” she whispered and bit her bottom lip as a soft cry escaped her throat. Buck had told her the extent of his injuries, but seeing them for herself brought home just how much he’d suffered. The elderly woman gently touched his cheek and felt the heat there and knew he had a long road ahead of him, but vowed that he would not travel it alone. How many times had she spoken with him over the last few weeks and heard the raspy whisper that spoke of the illness he was fighting? How often had she found herself ready to come home, but could not bring herself to leave the children when Vin kept telling her he was fine? Nettie knew he would scold her for her thoughts and guilt, but the feelings would not go away as tears flowed down her cheeks. She closed her eyes and held tight to his hand.

“God give him the strength he needs and the wisdom to see who his friends are. Don’t let Tasker tear apart what you so rightly brought together,” she whispered.

“M…Miss Nettie?” The elderly woman smiled at the softly spoken word and opened her eyes.

“Hello, Vin, g…guess I should have come home,” she said and wished she could stop the flow of tears.

“Not y…your fault…t…tol’ ya I’s okay.”

“You sounded terrible when I called and God help me I could have come home.”

“N…no…kids n…needed ya,” Tanner said and ignoring the pain the movement caused he reached for her with his left hand. He wiped away the tears and felt his throat clench tightly as she smiled at him. He heard the sound of the pump beside him and knew the medication would soon lull him back to sleep, but he had to let Nettie Wells know he was okay.

“You needed me and if I’d come home maybe none of this would have happened.”

“N…no, Miss Nettie. I…if ya’d b…been there h…he w…would h…have hurt ya too…”

“Tasker is an animal, Vin,” Nettie said and saw the eyelids beginning to droop once more. “I swear he won’t hurt you again.”

“Not T…Tasker…Chris…Ch…Chris did th…this t…ta me. N…no c…control…c…could h…have st…stopped t…this!” the Texan ground out as anger flared in his eyes. He didn’t see the sorrow written on the woman’s face as she listened to his damning words, nor did he hear her words as he sank back into the depths of sleep.

“No, Vin, Son, Chris didn’t do this to you. Chris would never hurt you. He thinks you’re family…brothers and so do I,” Nettie said and realized the injured man no longer heard her. “God, give us all the strength to help Chris and Vin face the trials you set for them.”

+ + + + + + +

Ezra watched over the sleeping blond and wished, not for the first time, that things had been different. If only they’d been able to refuse attending the conference. If only Vin hadn’t been too sick to go with them. So many variables had conspired to end with them standing vigil over the two men who seemed to be the heart and soul of their organization. The gambler reached for the book he’d been reading and silently laughed at the fact that he could not remember reading the last chapter. Knowing he couldn’t concentrate, Ezra placed the book back on the table and reached for the deck of cards tucked into the jacket of his immaculately pressed jacket.

Standish had no idea how long he’d been shuffling the deck one handed when he heard the distinct sound of someone entering Larabee’s room. Instincts kicked in and he moved as if to protect the injured man and smiled sheepishly when he recognized the woman standing there. “Welcome home, Mrs. Wells, I just wish it was under more pleasurable conditions.”

“Thank you, Ezra, how is Chris?”

“Hurting,” Standish answered and frowned when the woman chuckled softly.

“You must be tired, Ezra.”

“What makes you say that?” the con man asked.

“I don’t think I’ve ever heard you utter such a direct answer to a simple question.”

“Ah, yes, perhaps I am being remiss in my peculiarities, but alas you could be correct in your assumption.”

“That’s more like our gambler,” the woman said and moved to the bed. “The others are waiting for you to join them for dinner, Ezra.”

“I was going to…”

“I’ll stay with Chris. Vin’s sleeping and from what I’ve heard he doesn’t want to see anyone right now.”

“Indeed, I had hoped he would change his mind.”

“He will, just give him time,” Nettie said and sat in the chair the gambler vacated.

“Thanks, Nettie,” Larabee said upon hearing the other man leave.

“Hello, Son, how are you feeling?”

“I’m fine…”

“Oh, Lordy, don’t give me that crap, Chris. It never worked with my niece and it’s not gonna work with me. Now why don’t we start again? How are you feeling?”


“Okay, that’s a little better. What do the doctors have to say?” Sarah’s aunt reached behind him and fixed the pillows until he seemed more comfortable. Finally satisfied that she had done all she could, Nettie sat down and looked into the sea green eyes and waited expectantly for an answer.

“Never could keep anything from you, Nettie,” Larabee said.

“No, and there’s no point in putting it off. So, are you going to give me an answer?”

“I’m going to need physiotherapy on my leg and arm, ribs are going to take time…”

“That’s an understatement if I ever heard one,” Nettie said. “What are they saying about the effects from the electrical shocks?”

Chris averted his eyes before she could see the guilt and pain in them. He sucked in a breath of air and winced when he was reminded of the broken ribs once more. He closed his eyes tightly and waited for the nausea to stop before finally facing the woman.

“They tell me there could be nerve damage, but they’re hopeful it’ll go away.”

“I’m so sorry I wasn’t here for you, Chris.”

“You’re here now, Nettie. Have you seen Vin?”

“I was just there.”

“How is he?”

“He’s sleeping right now.”

“That’s not what I mean…he blames me for this you know?” Larabee said as the lump in his throat threatened to cut off his air supply.

“Chris, that’s not Vin saying those things. He’s just so hurt right now and everything is so mixed up for him. Give him some time to come to terms with this and you’ll see I’m right.”

“I don’t know, Nettie, too many things happened…and I couldn’t…I couldn’t stop him.”

“No one could have, Chris. Robert Tasker is a manipulative control freak and he sees you as a failure…”

“I am a failure…failed to control my pain and did that to Vin.”

“That’s not what I meant, Chris. He sees you as a failure because he’s unable to break you…”

“Oh, Hell, Nettie, from where I sit he not only broke me but…”

“But nothing, Chris Larabee! Don’t you dare lie there and wallow in self-pity because that’s not who you are and certainly not the man Sarah fell in love with! Sarah would kick your bu…behind if she heard you talking like that! Now you get that guilt out of your system because Vin’s gonna need your help…”

“Vin doesn’t want anything to do with me!”

“Seems to me there was a time when you didn’t want anything to do with Vin…did he give up on you?”

“He should have…wouldn’t be hurt now if he did,” Larabee said tiredly.

“Probably not…at least not physically, but Chris,” the woman said and waited for Larabee to look at her once more. “Don’t you think everything you’ve been through was worth knowing your friends? Was worth fighting for?”

“Yes, God help me, Nettie, I do, but I’d do anything to make it all go away.”

“You can’t do that, Chris, but you can be there to pick up the pieces and bring him home.” She looked into his eyes and knew Vin wasn’t the only one who needed to be brought home. Through the years her nephew in law had suffered more than any normal man would in a lifetime and yet he’d managed to come through when he needed to.

“I’m tired, Nettie…so tired,” Larabee said.

“I know you are, Chris, and I’m going to let you rest. I’ll get the ranch ready for you…”

“No, Nettie, please…Vin’s going to need someone with him when he gets out of here.”

“You both will,” Nettie corrected him and was pulled two ways at once.

“Vin’s not seeing anyone now, but I don’t think he’ll argue with you being there for him.”

“No, I don’t expect he will, but you’re also going to need help when you’re released.”

“Buck’s going to be staying with me and the rest of the guys won’t be far away,” Larabee assured her and saw the smile form on her face.

“Are you trying to get rid of me, Chris Larabee?”

“Never, Nettie, just trying to make it a little easier for you to make the right choice.”

“I’ll do as you ask for now, Chris, but so help me God you boys are going to get through this if I gotta get out that old wooden spoon and tan your hides,” Nettie said of the old joke.

The wooden spoon hung in her kitchen and although the threat had always been there, Sarah had told him the spoon had never once touched a child or an adult. Chris saw the twinkle in her eyes and smiled at the warmth that spread throughout him. This woman could always make him feel better and right now she was like a soothing balm on his soul.

“Thank you, Nettie,” he whispered tiredly.

“There’s nothing to thank me for, Chris. You just keep fighting and have faith in yourself and that young man down the hall. The Good Lord brought you both…brought you all together for a reason and until he’s done with you you’ll have trials like this one to face. Now you go ahead and close your eyes because I’m not gonna let anyone near you,” the elderly woman said and watched as Larabee gave into his body’s need for rest.

+ + + + + + +
You see, you’re strapped to a ‘bed of nails’ so to speak and you’re secured in such a fashion as to prevent you from moving when the spikes are released into your body… Yeah and he’s gonna get a lot sicker when Larabee gets through with him…

“No…no, Chris…d…don’t d…do this,” the words escaped the slack lips, but no one heard it in the darkened room. The Texan continued to moan softly, caught in the throes of a nightmare that threatened to test his sanity.

I’m here, Vin. I’m here… I’m not going to harm him…but you will…you will…you will…

“Hurts, Chris…s…stop…p…please…stop…”

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 t…to me…lied…lied…” the words tumbled from the Texan’s mouth as he reached for help, but there was no one near enough to ease the horror of his nightmares.

Chris won’t listen to me, Vin. I’ve tried to tell him to stop. But he just keeps on and on, causing you more pain…agonizing pain doesn’t he?

“No…no more…” Tanner cried as his eyes shot open and he tried to escape the pain. His breathing grew harsh and he heard someone speaking to him, but he could not find the strength to answer. Chris Larabee had betrayed him and now there was nothing left to do, but severe all ties with him and the other members of The Firm. He closed his eyes once more as the nurse began taking his vitals and knew the decision he’d made was final.

+ + + + + + +

Chris awoke with a start, confused and bathed in sweat as the nightmare finally released its hold on him. He breathed through clenched teeth as his hands began to tremble and his legs shook with the force of his fears. Reaching for the button on his bed, he pressed it without thinking and was relieved when a nurse hurried into the room.

“Mr. Larabee, I have your medication right here,” Janina Lawrence said as she flicked on the overhead lights. She reached for the IV line and injected the drug, watching her patient closely as the pain slowly leached from his face. His chart said he’d been in a lot of pain throughout the day and she sympathized with him.

“T…thanks,” Larabee whispered.

“You’re welcome. Can I get you anything?”

“Water? What time is it?” the blond asked before accepting the glass of ice water.

“It’s two forty four,” Janina answered. “I’m going to get a set of vitals on you while you’re awake.”

“Okay,” Larabee said and turned away from the woman. The drug was working to control the muscle spasms and for that he was grateful, but it did nothing to ease the torment raging through his mind. He knew Vin Tanner was being released the next day and envied him the freedom the discharge would give him.

“Mr. Larabee, if you need anything at all don’t hesitate to press that button,” Lawrence ordered.

“I will…thanks,” Larabee said and turned to look out the window while he waited for her to leave. He knew Tanner was probably sleeping, but the urge gnawed at him as he looked at the wheelchair next to his bed. There was a pole attached to the back of the chair and Chris knew he could hang the IV bag from it if he could just get out of bed and into the chair. He pressed the control buttons on the rail and was soon in a sitting position on the bed. Sucking in a deep breath and ignoring the twinge from his injured ribs, Larabee managed to release the locking mechanism on the safety bar and let it drop into place.

Chris slid his legs over the edge of the bed and clenched his fingers in the blankets as a ripple of pain spread throughout his body. He remained where he was for several long, agonizing minutes until the dizziness abated and finally stood on both legs. Larabee kept most of his weight off his right leg and reached above his bed for the IV bag hanging there. Ignoring the mounting pain, Chris hung the bag on the back of the wheelchair and maneuvered his body around until he could sit in the chair. It took another ten minutes before he was finally able to move the electronic wheelchair provided by Orrin Travis.

“Need to thank Orrin for this,” he whispered as he used the buttons and moved toward the door. He knew Tanner’s room number and looked out into the darkened corridor. This was probably a foolhardy expedition, but it was something he needed to do. The nursing station was across from the elevators and just out of sight of his room and again he thanked his lucky stars as the near silent wheelchair brought him closer to the Texan. Chris looked at the number on the partially open door and took a deep breath before pushing it open.

Larabee’s first look at his friend cost him dearly and he nearly collapsed, but held tight to the arm of the chair. The Texan’s body was still swathed in bandages and there were other signs of the trauma he’d been through. Chris began to shake, as he looked at the bed and the features so pale and visible in the light cast from the shadowy hallway. He closed his eyes and reached for the almost intangible connection he had with this man…his brother…the other half of his soul…his kindred spirit, but stopped when the sharpshooter mumbled and turned away.

“Vin,” Larabee whispered, but received no answer from the form on the bed. Taking a deep breath, Larabee debated about calling him again, but he opted for the silent connection once more. This time there was nothing for him to feel. No warmth, no friendship, and no spark of the brotherhood they shared and Chris felt the weight of the world on his shoulders as he turned away. He knew there would be no sleep for him this night as he slowly wheeled back to his room. Pain was a dull sensation that did little to heed his escape from the memories of Tasker’s manipulations. Chris soon found himself back in the bed, but there was no recollection of how he’d gotten there. He needed something to help him escape and looked up as the night nurse entered the room once more.

“Mr. Larabee, why didn’t you call for help? That shot should have helped by now, but the doctor left orders for additional medications should they become necessary,” Lawrence said when she saw the beads of perspiration on his brow and the shuddering spasms that shook his body.

“D…didn’t w…want to b…bother you,” Larabee answered through tightly clenched teeth. The physical pain was not as bad as he let show, but he needed something that would put him out…would end the tormenting guilt that gnawed at his inside. His hand trembled more than necessary as the woman readied an injection and put it into his IV. He knew the nurse would not overdose him, but the additional medication would put him to sleep in spite of his nightmares, allowing him to escape from the horror of the real world for a while.

“Mr. Larabee, believe me when I say it’s not bothering me. I wouldn’t be very good at my job if it did,” Lawrence explained. She noted the way the blankets were twisted around him and gently straightened them before patting his shoulder gently.

“Th…thanks,” Larabee whispered as his mind and body grew numb.

“You’re welcome. The button is right by your hand so please don’t hesitate to push it should you need anything at all.”

“O…okay,” Larabee agreed and watched through hooded eyes as the woman left the room. There was so much going through his mind, but none of it mattered now that he’d gotten what he craved. Closing his eyes, Chris gave in to the siren call of sleep.

+ + + + + + +

‘Vin’ That’s what he’d heard and chosen to ignore. The fact that the voice belonged to Chris Larabee sent bitter anger coursing through his mind. So much pain in that single word and yet he could not bring himself to forgive Larabee’s lack of control as Tasker’s words ran through his mind once more.

‘Then we can see just how many more spikes get released into Tanner’s body because in addition to your pain levels, you can’t even control your own rage… 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?

Tasker’s words and yet they played over and over in his mind and he believed everything the man had told him. The proof of that betrayal was plainly visible on his body. The wounds throbbed with each breath he took and he craved the release of sleep, but it was not to be and he knew sleep would be a commodity he would no longer have until things were settled. He needed to begin a new life away from Billings, away from The Firm, and especially away from Chris Larabee and the pain he evoked.

+ + + + + + +

Stacey Midland studied the file before her. She knew it was time to discharge Vin Tanner. Chadwick was in complete agreement with her. The Texan had beaten the odds. The pneumonia and other infections had cleared up, leaving him weak, but able to eat and drink and do most things on his own. He would need home care and she’d already made arrangements for a nurse to visit twice daily for the first two weeks and then once a day after that. A physiotherapist would also be visiting the Texan’s ranch and making sure he completed the exercises he needed.

Chris Larabee was another problem altogether. Although the blond’s wounds were healing and physiotherapy had been arranged, his team of surgeons had decided to keep him for a few more days because of the recurring convulsions brought on by the electrical currents. The poison was completely out of his system, but the nightmares that plagued him were also robbing him of the rest he needed. Once he was discharged he would also have home care provided and physiotherapy. Orrin Travis kept extensive health coverage on the members of his agency and unlike a lot of employers he cared about the seven men who formed The Firm.

Susan James had been in to see both men over the last few days and was arranging appointments for them upon their release from Saint Vincents. The psychiatrist knew both men very well and knew they could both be stubborn, but was sure she could handle things as long as they didn’t shut her out.

Midland had been in to check on Larabee, but was again disappointed when he’d literally shut her out and told her he didn’t want to see her. She knew it was anger and fear that caused his reaction, yet there was nothing she could do to change the circumstances or her decision on that fateful day nearly three weeks ago. Stacey rubbed at tired eyes as she realized just how much the seven members of The Firm had suffered because of Robert Tasker’s actions. The man was still out there, but so far the police had little to go on.

Stacey knew Vin would need someone to stay with him until he learned how to use the wheelchair and accepted his own limitations. She stood up and walked out of her office, intent on making sure the stubborn Texan would listen to her for a change. Striding purposefully into his room the physician found her patient fully dressed and sitting in the wheelchair staring out the partially open window. Midland found herself shocked by the look on his face and realized he thought he was alone. Tears were evident on the pale face and although the bruises were fading, she could still see the signs of the wounds he’d suffered from. Knowing what a private man her patient was, the physician backed out of the room and knocked, affording the Texan a chance to hide the tears she’d seen.

“Good morning, Vin, I see you’re anxious to escape.”

“Had ‘nough of hospitals, Doc,” Tanner answered, smiling thinly as the woman sat on the edge of his bed.

“I’m sure you have. I have your papers signed and ready, but there is one stipulation that hasn’t been met yet?”

“What stip…stip’lation?” the Texan asked, stumbling over the word.

“You need someone to stay with you, Vin…”

“I can manage…”

“No, no you can’t. At least not right now. You need to realize there are a lot of things you’ll need help with once you’re out of here. You’ll need someone to prepare your meals and clean up afterwards.

“Could jest order somethin’,” Tanner said.

“I’m afraid carton food is not as healthy as you would like us to believe, Vin,” Midland lightly scolded. She’d had this discussion several times over the years and knew of the sharpshooter’s penchant for pizza and tacos. “You’ll need nutritious foods that will help you gain back some weight and strength…”

“Damn, Doc, sounds more like a death sentence than a discharge order.”

“Vin, you may be getting out of here today, but you’re far from well and you need to realize that. You’ll need physiotherapy and I’ve arranged for home health care to go out to your ranch twice a day for the next few weeks. I’m also going to want to see you in my office next week and you’re not going to be able to drive…that means you’ll need someone to drive you.”

“Could call a taxi.”

“You could, but I think I have a solution for you. Josiah…” She saw the change immediately and knew she was about to be hit by a Texas twister in the form of a trim man.

“Don’t want none of ‘em stayin’ with me. Ain’t gonna depend on no one but myself from now on, Doc!”

“Vin, shutting them out of your life is not going to make them go away,” Midland explained.

“Maybe not, but at least I won’t have ta…” Tanner stopped before he said the damning word. ‘Care…won’t be hurt by someone I trusted,’ he thought.

“Have to what, Vin?”

“Nothin’,” the sharpshooter answered and stared out the window once more.

“Josiah said he’d gladly stay with you, Vin.”

“Ya talked ta him ‘bout me?”

“Actually he came to me as soon as he heard you were being discharged today.”

“Guess he’s lookin’ fer a new way ta do penance,” the Texan whispered.

“No, I think he’s looking for a way to help you, Vin. Josiah knows you’re going through hell right now and so do the others. They’ve all tried to see you, but you’ve refused their visits and that hurts.”

“Ain’t meant ta hurt ‘em, Doc, just don’t need ta be near ‘em right now.”

“Vin, what about…”

“Don’t say his name, Doc! Right now I ain’t sure what I’d say ‘bout him, but it won’t be purty. Tell Josiah he can stay at my place, but no one else. Got a lot of things need doin ‘fore I leave.”

“All right, Vin, I’ll call Josiah and tell him you’re waiting for him. I have some prescriptions you’ll need to get him to fill before you leave. There are also instructions listing what you should and should not be doing. Do you have any questions before I leave?”

“No, think ya answered ‘em already. Thanks, Doc,” Tanner said and turned back to the window. His mind instinctively turned to the man he’d called brother and he wanted to reach out to him. He felt the quicksilver resonance and realized his mistake, quickly clamping down on it in anger. ‘God damn you, Larabee!’ he thought and vowed to shut down any connection he had with the other man.

+ + + + + + +

“Josiah, he’s agreed to let you stay with him,” Midland explained when she found the six men waiting outside her office.

“What about the rest of us?” Dunne asked.

“I’m sorry, JD, but at the present time he doesn’t want to see any of you and we have to abide by his wishes for now.”

“If I ever get my hands on that sonofabitch I’ll tear him apart,” Wilmington said, shuddering angrily as he tried to come to terms with everything that had happened.

“I believe the line up begins behind me,” Standish whispered, but the others heard him.

“Violence is not the answer,” Jackson said, yet his words no longer held the certainty they once had. He knew they’d all been changed by the events of the last few weeks and prayed that the results were not permanent.

“An eye for an eye is an apt description for how we all feel, Brother, but you’re right about violence. Right now Tasker should be the least of our worries and we should be devoting our energies to helping Chris and Vin.”

“Just how do we accomplish that particular goal when Mr. Tanner has made it obvious that he intends to push us out of his life,” Standish asked.

“We wait until he’s stronger and we push back,” Dunne answered simply.

“Just don’t push too hard,” Midland ordered and turned to Sanchez. “Vin can leave as soon as you’re ready, Josiah. He has his prescriptions and discharge instructions and I confirmed with the health care nurses that they will be coming every day at nine am and seven pm. If there’s anything he needs or if you have any questions don’t hesitate to call.”

“I will, Doc. Thank you for convincing him to let me stay with him.”

“It didn’t take all that much convincing, Josiah,” Midland answered and walked away from the group before they saw the hurt in her eyes.

+ + + + + + +

Josiah studied the young man seated in the wheelchair and sighed tiredly. So many things had happened since the conference and there seemed to be no way to fix what was broken. Friendships that should have weathered the test of time had withered and seemed to have died with the spikes that had been driven into a man’s body and ripped apart his soul. ‘Their souls,’ Sanchez thought as he moved into the room.

“Are you ready to get out of here, Vin?”

“Guess so, Josiah. Ya don’t have ta stay at the ranch ya know? I can hire someone ta take care of things.”

“I’m sure you could, but there’s no need. Between Nettie and I we’ll manage.”


“That’s right. Seems she’s decided you need some good old fashioned mother henning and she’s just the woman to do it.”

“Thought she’d be stayin’ w…with him.” Tanner spat as the ex-preacher handed him the papers and took control of the wheelchair.

“He’s not getting out today, Vin, probably not for a few more days. When he does Buck and the others are going to stay with him.”

“Better tell them ta w…watch their backs,” Tanner spoke the words aloud and wished he could retract them when Sanchez stopped the chair and walked in front of him.

“Why would you say that, Vin?”

“Why’d ya think?” the Texan snapped angrily. “It’s the truth and ‘bout time ya all knew it. He promises ta watch yer back and then he fucks it up.”

“Vin, Chris didn’t…”

“Cut the crap, preacher man! I ain’t listenin’ ta any more crap ‘bout what a good man he is! Or how he’ll watch my back. Ain’t somethin’ I believe any more and if’n the rest of ya were smart neither would any of ya!”


“No! If’n yer gonna tell me what a good man he is then ya’d best leave me ‘lone now. I’ll get someone else ta come out ta the ranch!”

“All right, Son,” Sanchez said and moved to the back of the chair. ‘Someday you’ll be ready to listen, Vin, and when you do you’ll come to realize just how wrong you are,’ he thought and moved them into the elevator.