by Tonny

Chapter 1 - 3 | Chapter 4 - 6 | Chapter 7 - 10 | Chapter 11 - 13
Chapter 14 - 16 | Chapter 17 - 19 | Chapter 20 - 22


Vin and Kelli were just heading into Denver when Nathan called. "Vin, he ain't in Denver Memorial, they flew him to State University Hospital."

"University?" Vin's heart dropped. "Why?"

"They had contact with the hospital on their way in and when they told them 'bout Chris' injuries and how... how he was sk... skinned in places, it was decided to see if University's Burn Unit would wanna take him. They said yes."

"Burn unit? Nate, he ain't burned!"

"Nope, but he's missin' a lot of skin. University has the best equipment and know how when it comes to that."

"Makes sense," Vin said softly. "Kel, we need to leave the Interstate at the next exit. Do you know the University campus?"

"No, that's a place I haven't been to yet."

"Don't matter, just follow my directions." Exhausted Vin laid his head back. He didn't want to think about Chris in a burn ward of all places. He just didn't.

Briefly he wondered what Buck would have to say about this.

+ + + + + + +

They could hear Buck's opinion from miles away when they had entered the hospital. Buck wasn't pleased, not pleased at all. Vin found out why soon enough when he tried to enter the Burn unit. He was firmly stopped by a nurse.

"Sorry sir, but you can not enter here. Not like this."

Vin looked down at himself. Granted, there was still blood on his jeans and he hadn't gotten it all off his hands, but he had donned another sweater, so he didn't look too frightening, did he?

"The Burn unit is an isolation unit," the nurse told him forcefully. "Burn patients are very susceptible to infections and diseases and we can not take any risks. You have to be clean and healthy in order to be given permission to enter."

"Oh shit! Why didn't Nathan tell us?"

"He's been calling everyone and he had a very long talk with Linda, she really needed to hear what had happened. She's on her way, Rain is bringing her," Buck said softly, sounding very tired all of a sudden.

At that moment an equally exhausted looking Nathan came walking up. He had clearly attempted to clean himself. When he saw the nurse he shook his head. "Not good enough, I know. I'm going to go and clean myself at home as soon as Rain and Linda are here. Then I'll be back. But we do have a problem here," he told the very determined woman.

"Really? What's that?" The matronly woman didn't look impressed while she gazed up sternly at the big medic and crossed her arms before her.

"Vin here's the one with Power of Attorney for the patient that's been flown in. So that means he's gotta be in there. They wanna go on with procedures they need him. The patient was unconscious when we got here."

"He was?" Vin and Buck asked together.

"Yeah, he was. Just as well, I think he was hurtin' a lot despite the pain meds they'd given him."

At that moment a haggard looking man in a white surgical coat walked through the doors to the unit. "Dianne, is there anyone here for Chris Larabee? I need to find a relative, there are decisions to be made." He stopped and looked at the bedraggled group in front of him, taking a step back. He particularly looked at the blood marks on Nathan and Vin.

"Gentlemen, are you two wounded? Dianne, maybe these men had better go to first aid."

"Ain't our blood, doctor, it's Chris's," Vin said curtly, trying to wipe his hands a bit more on his jeans.

"These men are here for Mister Larabee," Dianne said with a deep sigh. "But no way can they enter the Burn unit like this."

"No, they can't. You really are alright, then? Are you family?"

"Yes," said Buck, while at the same time Nathan said, "No."

"We're his friends, the only family he's got," Nathan stated.

"Not good enough. I need someone next of kin and I need someone fast. At the moment we are still trying to get all his wounds cleaned up, but then I need permission for further treatment."

"How is he?" Vin asked worried. He didn't like the look on the doctor's face.

"Are you family?" the doctor answered him pointedly.

"Yeah, I am," Vin said coolly. "I was designated next of kin by Chris and I hold power of attorney."

"Good, then we need to talk. But you need to get cleaned up first. Do you have any clean clothes with you?"


"Oh well. Dianne, show him a place where he can shower and give him some hospital garb. Then lead him to the family waiting area. I better go back to the patient. I will see you there then, as soon as possible please."

"Yeah, we'll be there."

"We? I don't think so, only family is allowed in here and never too many. Dianne, you better get them one of our pamphlets with visitor's rules. They need to know what kind of unit they are dealing with." With those words he walked off in a hurry.

"He might sound a bit scruffy, but Dan Reynard is a great doctor," Dianne told them all with an indulgent smile on her face, while she was looking at the doctor's retreating back. "Your friend is in the best of hands, I can assure you. Eileen? Eileen, will you come over for a minute? I need some help. These people need to know how the Burn unit works, will you see to that?" Looking back at Vin, she measured him for a moment. "I'll get you something to wear, wait here."

Soon Buck and Nathan were staring morosely at a colorful brochure that told them how to behave in the Burn unit, while Mark was trying to locate the hospital cafeteria or at least a coffee machine and Kelli was staring after her husband. Vin followed Dianne to where he could wash and change clothes. The nurse carried a bundle for him with what looked like scrubs and Vin shuddered, thinking about himself in that dirty green color. But it would get him to Chris.

This close to his friend it didn't matter that Chris was unconscious, he could still sense him and he didn't like the pain he was feeling inside the blond. He wanted to see him, see what was going on.

Chris? he tried again. Still no answer came. No, he really needed to get in there.

When he was finally clean and dressed in the scrubs, he hastened back to the admittance into the Burn unit. The first thing that struck him when he went through the doors was the warmth in this part of the hospital. Sweat immediately poured down his forehead. He was pointed his way to a waiting area immediately to his left and told that he wasn't allowed into the rest of the unit without consent and even then only after the proper precautions. With a sigh he decided he'd better read one of the pamphlets on visitor's regulation that were laying around all over the waiting room.

At least this room had an almost normal temperature.

He had just grabbed a pamphlet when the door to the waiting room opened and Doctor Reynard came in. A breath of warm, moist air followed him.

"How's Chris, doc? Please, can you tell me more?"

"Yes, I will. You can prove you have Medical Power of Attorney?"

Vin nodded and handed over the right documents. Reynard looked them over briefly. "Good, I'm glad I have found the right person so fast, because a decision needs to be made and the sooner, the better for my patient. Mister Tanner, one reason your friend was brought here, is that we deal with the saving of heavily burned patients and a big part of that is trying to replace the skin they lost. Now, Mister Larabee is not burned, luckily, but he has lost large parts of skin and we need to deal with that as soon as possible, because these wounds didn't happen only a few hours ago, did they?"

"No," Vin said softly. "No, the bastard who did this to 'm got his hands on him yesterday mornin'. I figger he's done his worst yesterday evenin'."

The doctor sighed. "So the first wounds could have been made as long as 24 hours ago. I was afraid of that. There are already signs of infection, especially in the deeper wounds. We had a hell of a time cleaning them all, but since we are used to much, much worse unfortunately, it wasn't a real problem. It was hard to see what's been done to him though, one nurse even had to leave. He... he must have really suffered...." The doctor's voice trailed off and he swallowed.

"Yeah, it's hard to imagine how some people can do this to someone else, ain't it?"

"He... I saw the news about the serial killer, that's what he did to... to the women he captured?"


The doctor shuddered and then he became all business again. He had a patient waiting. "Mister Tanner, we have to decide how to treat Mister Larabee's wounds. The first 48 hours are always the most critical and we already lost too many of those hours. Due to severe trauma and blood loss, Mister Larabee lost consciousness on his way in and I have to say, he really wasn't good when he arrived. We nearly lost him and it has been difficult to stabilize him enough so we could start and clean his wounds. He needed blood transfusions and is still receiving them, together with antibiotics. My colleague is cleaning the last wounds even as we speak. After they are all clean, we have to treat them immediately. That is where I need your decision. The skinned parts on his chest and back and on his right arm and right upper leg can be treated the traditional way, where we cover those places with dressings to keep infection out and the area moist enough to help the healing process. These dressings need to be changed twice a day and the wounds cleaned as well to prevent infection. I can tell you that this is painful process. We do have another option though and that is to cover the skinned areas with the newest type of artificial skin. An artificial skin actually promotes skin regeneration."

"Ar... artificial skin?" Vin felt the need to sit down and hold his head. This was too much information all at once. They nearly lost Chris? How could that be? Chris was awake and looking at him when they put him in that chopper! And artificial skin?

"Yes, artificial skin, Mister Tanner. It has two layers, an outer layer to protect the wounds from the outside environment like our first layer of skin is doing and a second layer that in a way replaces the lost second layer of skin. This second layer of the artificial skin is the part that promotes the skin regeneration and in essence will eventually be incorporated into the body. While the much faster healing process is the main benefit of this product, there is also another significant one for the patient. This artificial skin need not be replaced, it will stay on and when there is sufficient new skin the outer layer just peels off."

"Incorporated? Ya mean, that stuff gets absorbed or something?"

"Yes, it does, but please don't let that frighten you. So are many stitches we use today. After the wound is closed they get absorbed in the body as well, so we do not have to remove them and cause the patient discomfort again."

Vin nodded, a bit dazed. That he could see the benefit of. But a whole piece of... of some stuff he didn't know anything about? In Chris' body?

"Mister Tanner, I can assure you that we have very good results with these artificial skins. The one I'm thinking about is the newest in this area and looks even more promising. Because we don't need to replace it, this treatment is a lot less painful and the patients we use it on are less scarred than the patients that are treated in the traditional way."

"Scars?" God, this got worse and worse.

"If we use this new product, I don't think that Mister Larabee will be too scarred. The wounds are very regular and they aren't deep either. The main problem is the fact that we are talking about big open wounds here, but with this artificial skin Mister Larabee's own skin will have the chance to heal a lot faster and more evenly."

"If that artificial skin is so good, why don't you just do it?" Vin asked wearily.

"Well, that IS why I'm here, to discuss using it with you," Doctor Reynard said, a surprised look on his face. "And to recommend it. We are talking however about a relative new treatment, one that is not adopted universally. So I do need your approval."

Vin sighed and looked through the window of the waiting room to the sky outside. It was fast getting dark He reached out with his mind, wary that he had to do this, had to make these kind of decisions. He'd done it before, too often to tell the truth, but he never got used to it. Used to deciding over Chris' body, Chris' life sometimes.

Chris? Hell Cowboy, you there?

"He's still unconscious," he said softly.

The doctor looked at him strangely. "Who? Do you mean Mister Larabee? Yes, he would be. Cleaning those wounds, so many wounds, we had to do it under full sedation."

It was logical and something he was grateful for as well, after all he had felt Chris' pain when Nathan had tried to help him in that damn cellar. Still, it left him with the mess of making the decisions.

"Do it," he said softly. "When that's the best for Chris, you just hurry and do it!"

"Good, then I better get to it. I think they will have reached the final stages of the cleaning process." He looked at his watch. "The antibacterial ointments are probably being applied about now, if they haven't encountered any complications." He looked at Vin gravely. "To tell you the truth, Mister Tanner, he really doesn't need any complications right now, but I do fear highly for infections. We will have to monitor him for that most of all. There were also signs of fever."

"Shit," Vin mumbled. He knew that fever and infection were two closely related things and just hoped the one wouldn't automatically mean the other.

"I really ought to go, but first, do you have any questions?"

"Yeah. They said to us that only family members are allowed in here? I saw the same in that there pamphlet. It also states that there can't be more 'n two visitors at a time."

"Yes, that is correct. We do have to try and keep infection out of this unit for our patient's sake. One of the ways to do that is to keep visitors to a minimum. We also want rest and peace around here, it is our strong belief that it helps the healing process."

"Doc, Chris' family ain't a normal family. We sort of chose each other, friends but more than friends, you know? We formed our own family. I know that don't count legally, but it's family all the same and he'll need us. He'll need us to heal. It'll be too damn hard on him when he can't see the others."

"I'm sorry, but his real family comes first. They can come to visit if they abide by the rules of this ward and inform him about all of your concern."

"There ain't no other family," Vin said softly, "only us."

"Right now it isn't a problem, no one can visit him at the moment anyway. He will be in the OR until the artificial skin is in place and all the wounds are treated properly. Mister Tanner, as soon as the nurse has come with the appropriate papers for you to sign, my advice is that you go home and get a good night sleep. You can come back tomorrow afternoon."

"No, I can't! I need to see him! And what do ya mean with tomorrow afternoon? We'll be here first thing in the mornin'!"

"You will find yourself outside a locked door, Mister Tanner. No visitors are allowed until noon. This is done purely for the patients. In the morning their dressings get renewed and rehabilitation practices are given. We need those mornings for the treatment of our patients and we can not allow visitors at those times. There is also an absolute phone silence."

"Chris don't need those treatments! You just said that that artificial skin doesn't need to be replaced."

"They still can't just lay there on his body, they have to be covered with special, non sticking dressings and those need to be replaced, together with the dressings on the wounds with signs of infection. And then there is the area where he's... chewed upon.... That part must be observed very closely, it worries me the most to tell you the truth."

"Dammit!" Vin cursed. He didn't like it, not at all.

The doctor's beeper sounded. "Time for me to go back, we are ready to treat the wounds now." He looked at Vin with compassion in his eyes. "If as you say these friends are the only family he has, I will see what I can arrange. Being surrounded by loved ones is very important for the healing process. We will talk about it tomorrow." He nodded to Vin and wanted to hurry off.

"Doc, wait, one last thing, please! There's... there's somethin' you should know 'bout Chris. I don't like him bein' here 'cause he lost his family to fire, his wife and little boy. And seeing burn victims...." Vin's voice trailed off. He looked at the doctor hesitantly.

"I understand you're concern, Mister Tanner. With a loss like that, seeing what a fire does to a body, seeing the pain of the victims would be even harder to bear for him than it already is for us. Do not worry, he will be in his own, separate room, as are all patients. We have a strict isolation policy here and keeping the patients separate in their own room is part of that. We will see that Mister Larabee is not confronted with the burn patients. He has enough to contend with. Now, if you'll excuse me?"

A moment later a nurse came in with the necessary legal documents stating that Vin had given permission for the type of treatment Chris would receive. Silently Vin signed them and then he looked at the nurse pleadingly.

"Please, I need to see him," he said softly. The young nurse blushed when she saw those mesmerizing blue eyes fixed on her.

"I... I... I'm sorry, you can't. You really can't," she stammered.

"Then I'll wait here." Not listening to her, he lowered himself onto the big, deep couch that was standing in the waiting room. A couch that was a damn sight more comfortable than anything he had ever been sitting on in Denver Memorial, he thought ruefully.

"Sir, please...."

"I ain't goin' nowhere until I've been to Chris and 've seen him," he told her with force. "Sorry, y'all can just forget that! I stay here. All night if I have to."

She fled. A moment later Dianne came in, looking at him with compassion. "Please sir," she said softly. "It is of no use and I really would prefer not to get security. The burn unit is already closed for visitors, you were only allowed in because the doctor needed you for the decisions that had to be made. Now your friend is getting the treatment he needs and you can all see him tomorrow. We have the papers with your telephone number, so when you are needed we will call you immediately. Please, there is a whole group of distressed people waiting outside this unit, who need to hear how their friend is."

"Oh shit!"

Nothing, there was nothing he could do about it, or about Chris. He suddenly thought about Linda and how frightened she had to be. How frantic as well, not being allowed in to see the man she loved and had almost lost so soon in their relationship.

"Shit!" he said again, not caring who heard. What a horrible mess. Now he had to tell the others, tell Linda, what the doctor had told him. Wearily he stood up and followed the relieved nurse outside. Through the doors he already saw his friends and the new agents of their unit, pacing up and down the hallway outside. He saw Linda standing like a statue, staring at the door. Kelli was holding her.

"They didn't want to wait in a waiting room," Dianne told him with a suffering sigh. "No matter what I tell them, they look ready to just burst into here anyway. That really can not happen!"

"They wouldn't do that," he told her softly. "It's just that they're concerned. I'll talk with them." For a moment he needed to gather his waning strength, then he stepped through the door to let the worried group of friends and agents know what he knew. And then he was going to see Josiah and survive the time he had to wait before being allowed to see Chris.

At least they had Chris back, alive! That would have to suffice for now.



He felt hands and then the pain got even worse. Something else touched him as well.


/How about here, Larabee? How about taking this part of skin? Here's my knife, do you feel it? Do you feel it cutting your skin off?/


"Doctor, I can't hold him!"

"Mister Larabee? Mister Larabee, please, it's alright, you are safely at the hospital. Mister Larabee?"

/Larabee? You with me again? It's alright, I just cut off a small strip there. Now, how about I'll take some more skin right beside it? Let's go see how you look underneath that skin. Here goes..../

"I really can't hold him, he keeps fighting!"

"We need to sedate him! Get the Propofol, I need a 3 mg solution!"

Black, everything went black.

+ + + + + + +

Pain. Lots of pain. Laughter, that awful laughter in his ears. And hot, he was so hot, it felt as if he was burning.


Linda? Was that Linda? No, he couldn't have gotten Linda, he was sure he'd felt Vin telling him that Linda was safe. He was sure!

He tried to say her name, only his voice wasn't working and his throat was so dry.

Eyes, have to open my eyes.

He tried, but when he thought he'd managed it everything was a blur.


Hey Cowboy, you with us?

V... Vin?

I'm here and Linda too.

C... Cleaver?

He moved his head to try and see the woman he loved and his best friend, but immediately pain seared through him and he screamed.


There was so much anguish in her voice and suddenly he saw Cleaver looming over her with a knife. Then he was cutting her and he screamed again, lunching forward to try and stop him.

Chris, stop, you're safe, you're in the hospital!

It didn't make sense, nothing made sense. Only pain and heat and fear.... And blackness, he welcomed the blackness.

+ + + + + + +

Voices. Through it all he heard voices. Cleaver... no, not Cleaver's voice.

"It looks bad. We have to clean it very thoroughly this time. Luckily he's still out."

"He always freaks out when we touch his shoulder, even when we think he's unconscious."

"It has to be cleaned! It's the worst of the sources of infection and his fever is way too high, we have to do something. I will have to cut some of the flesh away I'm afraid. Get the saline ready."

"Yes doctor."

Hospital? He was in the hospital?

Something bit in him, into his shoulder and like before he felt teeth tear at him there.



"The Propofol, get the Propofol!"

He kept fighting the madman until he felt himself slip away.

+ + + + + + +

Cool, something lovely, cool was touching his hot face. Chris opened his eyes and the first thing he saw were the eyes of a woman. Friendly, green eyes. Not the eyes of Linda though. Where was he, anyway? He tried to shift and pain slammed through him.


God, he hurt!


V... Vin?

Chris, you're awake! Hang on, I'll tell the doctor to wrap it up and we're coming!

Linda? he wanted to ask, but the woman above him was talking to him, trying to make him understand something. He looked at her in confusion. It was too difficult to make sense of what she said, so he just closed his eyes to wait for Vin.

"Did he wake up, Denise?"

"Yes doctor. I think he's still awake."

"Really? Mister Tanner, how could you know?"

"Eh, just a feeling. Chris?"


Yeah. The doctor is here as well and there's someone waitin' to see you.

That got Chris' attention and he opened his eyes, looking up hopefully at the two figures beside his bed, seeing a man in a long white doctor's coat and Vin. He smiled at Vin, immensely glad to see his friend. Then he tried to see if someone was behind the two men, if Linda was there. He craned his neck and started to lift his head, but the pain was too much and with a moan he fell back.

"He's gonna be sick!" Vin warned. The next instant someone was helping him lean to the side while he threw up. Not much came out, only some green bile. That and the pain made him even sicker. A glass was held against his lips and greedily he drank the ice-cold water.

"Easy, not too much. Does this help?" a woman's voice asked. "Doctor, do I need to give him something for the nausea?"

"Let's see if it will stop by itself. He is getting enough medicines already."

"What are you givin' him?"

"Besides the pain medication he is being given antibiotics. It seems we now have the right combination, because his fever finally broke."

Vin? What's happening?

You're in the hospital, Chris. Do you remember what happened?

Shot...Oh my God, Josiah! He shot Josiah! And he... he....

Chris jerked away from the hands of the nurse and tried to sit up. He looked around himself frantically.

Cleaver! He went for Linda! Vin, where's Linda?

"Linda's alright Chris. Chris? Look at me, Linda's alright. She's waitin' to come in, but first the doctor wanted to see you and talk with you."

"Mister Larabee, you shouldn't move too much. We had to give you artificial skin and you have to make sure that it doesn't tear. By now your skin has started to repair itself, although the high fever you had the last two days will have slowed down the healing process. At the moment the artificial skin on your eh... wounds is still very fragile."

Fever? And then it hit him, artificial skin? What the hell?

"Ar... artificial skin? What's... that?"

"Best you see it as a super band aid Mister Larabee. A band aid that actually helps your skin repair itself, where you lost it."

Lost it, lost his skin....

"He's gonna be sick again!" Vin called out.

While Chris was hanging to the side throwing up, he vaguely noticed the nurse walking around the bed. She injected something into the IV standing there.

"What... you do?" he managed to get out, despite the fact that his throat felt like sandpaper.

"It's something against the nausea," the doctor informed him. "Denise, you better give him some more water. No Mister Tanner, not you! I know you have scrubbed your hands, but I still do not want you to touch the patient, we need to keep him in isolation for a while longer, we haven't won the battle against his infections yet."

Chris and Vin looked at each other ruefully.

What does Kelli think of that mask?

She hasn't seen me with it, but I can just imagine her comments!

She hasn't?

No, Chris there's something you gotta know....

"Mister Larabee, did you hear me? Mister Larabee, are you still with us?"

Chris tried to focus on the doctor and nodded. Bad idea... pain immediately throbbed through his skull. Why was that? He hadn't hurt his head, had he?

"It's probably that damn fever, Chris. You had it bad. Doc, I don't think he can take much in of what you wanna say, he's got this headache."

The doctor looked at Vin and raised an eyebrow. "And how would you know, Mister Tanner?"

"Eeeh... the way he's squinting his eyes? I just know Chris, doctor."

Chris smirked at his friend, the smirk turning into a grimace when another movement filled him with pain again.

"It is understandable with all the fever you have had, Mister Larabee. It has broken now, but it still isn't gone entirely and that is why I was telling you that you need to stay in isolation for a few more days, just to be sure."

"I... isolation?"

The doctor smiled and shook his head ruefully. "You really didn't hear me, did you? It doesn't matter, you seem to be with me now. Mister Larabee, you are currently in an isolation unit, which means some strict protocols and not too many visitors. Hopefully the antibiotics we are currently giving you will do the trick and you can get out of here soon. But for the moment you are stuck here, I'm afraid. And again, for the artificial skin we have grafted on you, please try to move slowly and carefully and not too much. Some of it had to be grafted back during your more... shall I say volatile moments during the fever?"

"Vola... tile?"

"You have woken up a few times, only to try and fight us off while we were treating you."

Chris blushed. He had? "Sorry," he mumbled.

"Don't be! It's not your fault when you don't know where you are. Now, there is a very eager lady waiting outside, so I will leave and let you enjoy the company. Mister Tanner, you know it has to be a brief visit, Mister Larabee is still too weak. Denise, no more than ten minutes, max. If necessary, they will have to leave sooner."

"Yes doctor."

Chris wasn't paying attention, he was gazing longingly at the door. For a moment he didn't know who was entering when the doctor left, because all he saw was a mask. Then he took in the blond hair that was tied back severely and the eyes... there was no mistaking those eyes! She looked at him and he felt himself drown in those pools of gold and brown flecked green. Next she was there, holding his hand before the nurse could stop her.

"Miss, please...."

"Leave 'm," Vin said softly, his voice rasping. "It's only holdin' hands and she scrubbed. So what's the danger in that? I think it'll do him more good than harm!"

Chris closed their voices off, his sole attention was for the woman now standing at his side.

"Linda," he whispered.

There were tears in her eyes. "Chris, oh Chris, I'm so glad y... you're back! For a moment I thought, I thought.... Well, it doesn't matter, you're here and you're awake, really awake!"

"When... he said... he w... was going a... after you...."

"Sssssh, he didn't even get near me! I was in Denver, in your office, being protected on all sides. You... Vin said you warned him."

"I... tried. Thought he... he heard, but so far away... I couldn't... couldn't be sure."

"Chris, please, don't talk, you don't need to talk. It worked, Vin stopped me from going back to the ranch because you reached him. Otherwise... well, let's not think about that, it didn't happen. The only one who got hurt here was you."

"And that... girl. And all... the... others."

"You and your team put a stop to that, don't you forget that, Chris Larabee!"

"Miss, I'm sorry, but I think you better leave. He's getting upset."

"Please," Linda pleaded.

Chris grabbed her hand and glared at the nurse. The elder woman sighed and shook her head.

"I don't think that's wise. You wouldn't want the fever to start again, would you? Please Miss, let's not make this difficult."

"Oh, alright! Chris, I have to go, I'll see you soon."

"Tomorrow," the nurse said. "They will see you tomorrow."

"Can't we come back tonight?" Linda pleaded.

"I am sorry, I really am. But I have strict instructions not to let anyone visit here again today. Tomorrow afternoon you can come back, when the patient has gathered more strength."

Chris heard the determination in the woman's voice and knew Linda was fighting a losing battle. He couldn't let her and Vin go without the answer to one question though.

"Wait! J... Josiah?"

"Josiah's fine Chris," Vin said softly, coming to stand beside Linda. "He had a good weekend and today he could leave ICU."

Weekend? How long...?

We got you here late Friday, its Monday now and almost evening. Ya had a real bad fever, pard. Come on, you better sleep and get strong. Me and Linda'll be back tomorrow.

Chris nodded and looked at Linda again. "To... morrow?" he asked softly. She smiled through the tears he suddenly saw in her eyes.

"Nothing can keep me away," she whispered. Chris tried to raise a hand to wipe those tears away, but suddenly the nurse was there.

"I am sorry, it's really time!"

"Bye Chris, see you tomorrow," Linda smiled. She made a move as if to kiss him despite the mask, but the nurse immediately stopped her.

"That I cannot let you do, I'm sorry, I really am. But we cannot chance another infection, he really isn't strong enough for any extra complications."

"Sorry, you are right." Reluctantly Linda let go of Chris' hand. "Until tomorrow."

"T... tomorrow, I'm... waiting."

She smiled at him and his day immediately became brighter.

See you, Cowboy.

See you, Vin. Say hello to everyone and that I'm looking forward to seeing them.

For a moment Chris thought that Vin wanted to say something, but then the Texan smiled at him, waved and took Linda by the elbow.

Nice ponytail! Chris couldn't help smirking when he saw the back of his friend. Without breaking stride Vin flipped him the finger. Then the door closed behind the two people who were closest to him and Chris suddenly felt alone, very alone.

/Alone? Why? I'm here, I'm here in every movement you make, in every pain you feel. Me and my knives!/

With a soft moan he curled up, trying to keep the nightmares at bay.

Chris, no, you're not alone! I'm here! We're all here and Cleaver is gonna pay!

No, not alone, he wasn't alone. With that thought he fell asleep, a real, deep sleep.

+ + + + + + +

"Vin? Are you alright?"

The far away stare vanished and Vin looked at Linda, who was disposing herself of her mask and getting the ponytail out of her hair. She was examining him worriedly.

"Yeah, I am, everything 's fine now," he smiled and suddenly Linda realized what a nice smile he had, especially when it lit up his eyes. She'd seen it when he and Kelli first started dating, but worry about her chosen sister and later her unease about the connection between Vin and Chris had made her lose sight of that. Sight of the fact that this was a really great man to know. Hesitantly she smiled back, still a bit unsure. Because frankly it had given her the chills again when he and the doctor had come out of conclave because Vin insisted Chris had finally come around.

Finally! Finally her life promised to be all right once more.

She had been so afraid. First when Chris had been kidnapped and after that when he'd been so terribly sick with fever. Now, now she could hope again.

"I... I never thanked you for saving his life," she hesitantly told Vin.

"Ain't nothing to thank me for, was the same as Chris would do for me."

"You two are very close, aren't you?"

"Yeah," Vin said softly, escorting her out of the Burn unit. Once more she was immensely grateful that she wasn't here to visit someone who had been burned. What had happened to Chris was rough, very rough, but he would heal a good deal better than when his wounds had been from a fire. Those were wounds that sometimes took years to heal, she knew and that was something she wouldn't wish on anyone and certainly not on the man she had come to love so much.

It had been so good to see his smile today, that great smile that made her go all weak in her knees. So much better than her earlier visits during the days he had been wracked with fever, battling a man who wasn't there anymore to torture him. The one time he'd seemed to come around, had ended with Chris' eyes full of fear and panic and it had shaken her to the core. Vin later had told her that Chris at that time had believed she had been captured by Cleaver as well.

She hadn't questioned what Vin said, she was beyond that. It still made her uneasy, but she knew it was that connection between the two men that had enabled Vin to find Chris and she also had been very grateful for Vin's insight in to how Chris was doing. Suddenly she realized that Vin was talking.

"We been close from the first time we saw each other," he said soflty. "We took one look at each other and it was as if I was comin' home, finally comin' home after too many years of loneliness. Chris' friendship was a lifeline for me, Linda."

"Kelli says that your friendship was a lifeline for Chris."

"So I've been told. What I know is that he was still hurtin' a lot about his family's death and that he found some peace in our friendship. And me in his."

Linda was silent after his words. Vin had said nothing about telepathy, about something more than friendship. She looked at him and saw his eyes scrutinizing her.

He never would, not ever again after that one time in the parking garage, she knew. Not even to Kelli. Like Chris never would. It was there and they didn't deny it, but they also didn't talk about it.

Damn, those two deserved each other!

"I'm truly sorry you don't like me that much, Linda," Vin said softly. "I know Chris has waved it away until now, not wanting to examine it. But I also know it worries him, deep down inside."

"Oh, it's not...!" Shocked she stopped with what she had started to say as well as with walking. It wasn't that she didn't like Vin at all. Jutting her chin upwards and staring into his eyes defiantly she told him the truth, like she always took her battles head on, not looking to spare herself. "It's not that I don't like you, Vin. You are a very likeable man and I think Kelli is incredibly lucky she found you. It's not that at all. What I don't like is the bond you have with Chris. I mean... I love Chris and I'm pretty sure he loves me, but it's you he senses and your thoughts and feelings he knows, not mine. I don't think that's how it should be. I think that when two people are in love, they should be number one to each other."

Vin stared at her, shocked.

"Sorry," she mumbled, looking down at her feet. She resumed walking, wanting very much to leave the Burn unit and see the others. A hand grabbed her arm and stopped her. When she looked up, Vin was staring at her intensely.

"What if you had a child with Chris, Linda? Wouldn't that be an all consuming love? Where would that leave Chris then, second place?"

"WHAT? I would still love Chris just as much.... Oh."

"I know how much Chris loves you, I KNOW! If I ever hurt you, he'd punch me in a heartbeat, no matter how much we're connected."

"I get your point Vin, I do. And I know it's childish, but.... Besides, Chris doesn't want any ch... children." Oh, she hated how pathetic that came out. Shit, and that it had come out at all, Chris wouldn't be pleased she had blurted out something that private, even if it was to his best friend!

"He might not want them now, might not feel ready for them, but don't think that's the end of it, Linda. It's Chris we're talking about here! That man can leap right into danger without thinkin', but when it comes to things of the heart he's got this tendency to worry it all to death!" Vin grinned. "He'll get there. But Linda, when that doc and me were standing beside Chris' bed, all he was interested in was where you were, he was searching for you. Don't that tell you somethin'?"

"He was?" she whispered. "He really was?" She couldn't help it, it made her choke all up and start the tears. She felt Vin's arms around her and leaned into him, crying like a little baby. It embarrassed her to no end, but she just didn't seem to be able to stop.

"I know," Vin murmured, still holding her. "I know Linda, I thought I'd lost him too."

"Doesn't m... make you bawl your eyes out!" she managed to croak, pulling away slightly and starting to look in her pockets for a handkerchief. Damn, she never had a handkerchief!

"Who says? But you forget that I've got Kelli. If she hadn't been there for me these last few days, she and the rest of the family, I'd be a wreck right now. Here."

Suspiciously she looked at the hankie he was holding out to her. "Don't you dare go and start reading my mind too," she snapped indignantly, grabbing it out of his hand and blowing her nose ungracefully. She heard him laugh.

"I won't, don't worry! One cantankerous, stubborn mind is more than enough for me to know!"

"Did Chris 'hear' that?"

"Nope, he's finally sleepin' and I mean a real sleep! Come on, those two nurses are definitely givin' us dirty looks. I think they're getting' ready to throw us out."

She nodded and together, side by side, they walked to the doors and exited the unit. Outside their friends were waiting, anxious to hear about Chris. Yes, she thought, Vin is right. The family he and Chris were a part of was great. She wouldn't have survived these last days without them.


One more day here and he was going to die of boredom, Chris decided. He was sitting in his bed, well, it was more like hanging, sitting still hurt too much, and looking ruefully at the phone beside him. At least he had a telephone now, his lifeline to the outside world and sanity. He'd thought the previous times he'd been in a hospital had been bad, but this...! With this isolation he really had hit the jackpot of worst times in your life! His days in here were an endless repetition without relief, except for the few visitors he was allowed during the afternoon. A repetition of blood being taken, dressings being changed, rehabilitation exercises and frankly of pain, lots of pain.

He was getting real tired of the constant pain.

After the treatments it was almost noon, when he would be allowed to use the phone. Allowed! Like some little kid! He couldn't call that many people though, they all had their jobs and he didn't feel he could keep disturbing them while they were working. Luckily they called him or by the time visitors were permitted he'd be screaming mad! And he could call Josiah. That had been the best moment when he'd finally been strong enough and been given a phone. Hearing Josiah, hearing that rumbling voice in his ear and talking to the profiler had at last freed him from the haunting images in his head of his friend going down with a bullet in his chest. Going down because of him and laying on the concrete in a growing pool of blood, while Chris hadn't even been able to move enough to go to him! It had been great to hear Mallory too and to ask her how she was coping with her husband in hospital and with Joanne and little Adam. She'd cried then and told him that they were all doing okay and he'd better think about himself for a change.

The best time of the day though, by far, was when he was finally allowed some visitors. The bad part of it was that only Vin and Linda had permission to see him. And even that had almost not happened. As soon as he had been coherent enough, he had been asked if Linda really was his fiancée. He still got fuming mad thinking they had wanted to keep her away too.

It hurt that he couldn't see his family because they weren't his kin legally. Although he suspected the hospital might have lightened up on those rules if it hadn't been for the bad fever he had had, a fever they said had almost killed him.

That would have been a way to go, killed by a fever of all things, after surviving....

NO! He wasn't going to think about that!

He looked at the television hangi

g above his head, but made no move to turn it on. It was difficult to concentrate on it, because he was still a little feverish. His vision often blurred and his head would start to hurt. He had seen enough though to know that he and Linda were figuring prominently in the news. It should have been about MCAT and about the fact that his team had apprehended a serial killer, but those idiots on the networks preferred showing him and Linda. And the parts of the press conference in which he'd dressed down some reporters were repeated endlessly as well, for some unfathomable reason.

A lot of it had to do with Linda, he knew. He'd never realized she was jet set and actually, he didn't know how he felt about that. No, he was lying to himself, he knew exactly how he felt about it, he hated it! On one of her visits, when he was still looking with disbelief at some of the nonsense about them on television, she had just waved it away. "That utter garbage," she had snorted. "It'll pass, it always does. Luckily gossip lovers have a short time span, you'll see Chris."

'You'll see?' Talking about a worrisome statement! It sounded as if she expected this kind of thing to become a normal part of everyday life! He hadn't thought about it long though, because she had looked at him so fiercely protective that all he could focus on was how much he wanted, needed to kiss her!

Not allowed.... Not a damn, single thing seemed to be allowed in here!

Carefully Chris changed his position, hissing when numerous wounds immediately started to let him know they were there. If he ever got his hands on Cleaver, he'd show him a thing or two! He looked at the drapes before the window, which told him nothing about the time. All he knew was that it wasn't seven a.m. yet, because the vampire hadn't been around.

Vampire, that was rude. The nurse who came for his blood three times a day really tried to do it nicely. This one at least did. The first one, a male nurse, hadn't come back when he'd told Chris he couldn't believe a man, a cop if he had understood correctly, could be so squeamish about giving a little blood. Chris had icily told him he felt he'd had given enough blood when he had been chopped up in a cellar by a blood drinking maniac, thank you very much and had turned away, not caring that the young man hadn't finished his job yet. Vaguely he had heard Denise whisper to the man and she hadn't sounded friendly. He had never seen him again.

Now it was a cheerful girl, who always seemed on the verge of bursting into a song. She made him almost wish the first, rude one back. At least that one hadn't pretended life was a party.

To hell with it!

Chris grabbed the phone and dialed Linda's number. He knew she loved sleeping late, but he needed to hear her voice so bad, it almost hurt. To his deep disappointment there was no answer on her cell phone and he had never bothered to take down her home number. Stupid, stupid! Now what? After a moment of hesitation he dialed another number and soon he heard a curse on the other side. "This better be about that bomber case or you're dead!"

Bomber case? Tanner was sooo screwed when he came to visit this afternoon!

"It wasn't at first Buck, but it is now! What bomber case?"

"Who the hell is this? Chris? Chris, is that you? What you doing phoning so early? Do you have any idea what time it is? It's hardly past five! Is something wrong?"

"Me being stuck in here, that's what's wrong. Nope, I don't know what time it is, they think a clock is bad for the patient or something, makes him look at it too much in anticipation of those few visiting hours, I guess! Only five? Shit!"

"You sure sound a lot better than you did yesterday!"

"Guess I feel better. At least I'm not nauseas anymore. So what's the bomber case?"

"Someone is blowing up taxis all through five states. It landed in our lap two days ago and now we have the great prospect of flying all over the country to examine crime scenes."

"Taxis with people still in it?"

"Yeah, afraid so."

"Fuck! Any leads yet?"

"Chris? I don't think it's a good idea for you to talk about a case! Vin said you still had some fever yesterday."

"I think it's a great idea, because frankly the biggest threat to my health right now is boredom. Tell me about it, please!"

With a sigh that said, 'I'm going to get into trouble but I really can't say no to this idiot', Buck did. Soon Chris was asking him about times and places and also if there was something which might connect the drivers of these taxis.

"The drivers? Except that they're dead, I wouldn't know. We haven't really looked into the drivers yet except what the locals told us about them. No connections so far."

"You said that some of the taxis had passengers, others hadn't, but they all had their driver in it. So why didn't you try and look into them more?"

"Chris, there have been bombings in ten different city's! What could possibly connect these drivers?"

"Just... just let CASSIE look... at it. Damn!" Chris couldn't suppress a groan when his body told him in no uncertain terms he had been overdoing it.

"Chris? Shit! I knew this was a bad idea! I'm going to hang up! Oh, hello baby? Has the phone woken you up? No, it's your Uncle Chris." Some commotion could be heard and then a happy voice shouted, "Uncl' Chris! Uncl' Chris!"


"Uncl' Chris, I'm with daddy now in the liv' room! Mommy said, leave me alone and go to daddy!"

"Really, sweetheart? So your daddy isn't in bed?"

"No, he was on the couch!" Giggles and then, "He is aaaall nekkid Uncl' Chris. He looks silly!"

"Sarah, give me that phone and go back to bed!" he heard Buck yell in the background.

"NO! Mommy said you talked too much! I can talk now! Uncl' Chris?"

"Yes, Sarah?"

"You do that? Sit in the liv' room nekkid?"

Chris started to cough, a vivid image of him and Linda naked before the fire jumping up in his mind.

"Sarah, enough! Your uncle is not well and we were just ending this conversation because he needs to sleep." Buck again in the background.

"You still sick, Uncl' Chris?"

"I'm afraid so, Sarah."

"When can I see you? It's no fair only Uncl' Vin and Aunt Linda can see you. I wanna come too! Mommy says it's no fair too! We saw Uncl' J'siah another day and now I wanna come see you!"

"You saw Josiah? That's good, munchkin. I... I wish you could come too, Sarah. I miss seeing you, all of you."

"Me too."

At that moment his nighttime nurse, Sylvia, stepped inside and the look she threw him didn't promise much good.

"Soon, alright? Soon we can see each other again. You better give your daddy back now, I have to hang up shortly."

"Luv you!" A smacking sound like a wet kiss sounded.

"Love you too, sweetie. Buck? That you? I have to go now, I don't think the nurse is very pleased."

"Well, what did you expect? Just hang on in there, alright? They can't keep you in isolation that much longer. Sarah? Sarah, keep your pajamas on! NO, you can not go around naked! And you can't go outside like that, no! Oh, shit, Inez will kill me!"

Chris couldn't help but grin. He could just see Sarah throwing her pajamas off to be like daddy and he knew there were a lot of embarrassing moments looming in Buck Wilmington's nearby future.

"Have to go. Don't forget, look into the drivers more carefully, don't trust what the locals gave you on them!"

"Mister Larabee! That is enough! Put the phone down!"

"I will. I really have to go now." Suddenly a memory hit him. The day, he had totally lost what day it was!

"Buck? Inez, Inez's birthday? I screwed up her birthday, didn't I? Shit!"

"You and Josiah both, stud, you didn't really think we were gonna celebrate without you two? Don't worry about it, she...." He couldn't hear anything else, because the nurse had taken the phone away.

"Hello? This is Sylvia Allegro, Mister Larabee's nurse. I am very sorry, but Mister Larabee really has to hang up. What? Very funny, but I will tell him anyway. And what... oh, hello sweetie. Yes, I will tell him that too. Is this the father again? Thank you for understanding." She put the phone down and looked sternly at her recalcitrant patient. "Mister Larabee, you know that telephone calls are only allowed during the afternoon and evening! Why are you persistently trying to do break hospital rules now that you are fit enough to sit a little? Don't give me that look, it's what you've been doing! We really only try and get you well Chris, and frankly we try and get you well enough as fast as we can so we can kick you out!"

"Why shouldn't I use the phone now?" Chris asked stubbornly. "It's not like anyone is busy with me! And I disturbed no one!"

"Chris, please. You were disturbing yourself! You don't look very good right now and if I'm not mistaken, you don't feel so fine either, do you? Well, do you?"

Chris only stared at her. He wasn't going to let her know he felt like hell at the moment and that the nausea had come back too.

"Chris, when it's seven o'clock your blood will be taken and after that you have to go through the changing of your dressings and your rehabilitation exercises. You are far from well and I know the things they have to do must be heavy for you! I'm not here when they treat your wounds, but I know how many you have and how long it approximately takes to change those bandages. Please, settle down and try to sleep for a while longer, so you hopefully feel a bit better when they have to start working on you! I am going to give you something light to help you sleep again for a few hours."

She added something to his IV, lowered the head of the bed back down, busied herself with his pillows and gave everything a check over. Chris felt himself get drowsy despite his resistance. He really didn't feel good.

"Your friend on the phone said I should tell you not to worry so much and make more work of the nurses when Linda isn't looking. Is she your wife? And then what sounded like a little girl started shouting that she wanted you to come and take her to see the horses. If I understood her correctly that is. I did think she said that she wanted to go without clothes, just like daddy? And you should too, because that would be fun?"

Chris choked. The nurse smiled at him and after giving the blankets one last tuck in, she was ready to leave. Just then a nurse knocked at the window in the door.

"Excuse me."

She went out and Chris saw the two nurses talking for a moment. A few moments later Sylvia stuck her head back into the room. "Your lady called. Seemed you tried her first? Anyway, she was too late at the phone and when she saw your number here in the Burn unit on the display she got really worried and called the hospital, since this unit can not be reached directly until noon. My colleague is letting her know that you are alright. Just, please, don't do this again Chris. Or we will take that phone away during the night and morning."

The door closed and he was alone again. He felt bad that he'd given Linda a scare, but then he thought about little Sarah and he was glad he'd called Buck. At least now he knew what was going on with the unit.

Having talked to Sarah had been the icing on the cake though. He smiled, remembering the sweet voice with a little lilt and the wet smacking sound she had made when she said goodbye. Thinking about the little girl and then about Linda and how he longed for her visit that afternoon, he fell asleep.

+ + + + + + +

"Someone sure's in a good mood!"

"Hell yeah!" Chris answered Vin with a huge grin plastered all over his face.

"So? What's the occasion?"

Chris' grin grew wider and Vin whooped.

"Tomorrow, really?"

"What tomorrow? Don't do that!" Linda said annoyed, swatting Vin since she wasn't allowed to swat Chris. Truth to tell, even if she was allowed she couldn't have swatted Chris, he had bandages everywhere.

"Linda, they say I can leave this place tomorrow! God, I can't wait to see everyone else. Never thought I would miss all those ugly faces."

"Lar'bee, you're all heart."

Just then doctor Reynard stepped inside and saw all the smiles. "Doc, is it true? Chris gets out of here tomorrow?" Vin asked.

"Maybe, I've only said maybe. Miss, will you excuse us for a moment?"

"Doc, I told you before, she can stay," Chris said, annoyed. They had this conversation every time, but doctor Reynard was adamant. Besides Chris he only spoke with one relative about Chris' medical condition and that was Vin. It wasn't all because of the protocol around the Power of Attorney, it was also to protect the doctors and nurses of the unit so they could do their very hard, demanding job. In order to do that, contacts with others besides the patients were held to a minimum. Vin and Linda had seen some of the work that had to be done when they walked over to Chris' room and they had come to understand why the unit had such strict policies, even though they knew it was hard on Chris. So Linda just smiled and swept out of the door. She was impressed with the people working here and wasn't going to be in their way. She had already made a huge donation to this hospital ward after the glimpses she had seen and especially after what they had done for Chris, were still doing for him.

"Alright, Mister Larabee," the doctor started as soon as Linda was outside. Chris sighed. He'd stopped trying to make the man call him Chris. He had the feeling that doctor Reynard needed to keep some distance in order to survive the horrors he saw in this ward. "Your blood is almost clean of infection signs. If the blood of this afternoon's and tomorrow morning's tests come out clean as well, then, after we have changed your dressings and thoroughly examined your wounds, you will be allowed to go to a normal ward. No more infection, then no more isolation. This is also possible because the artificial skin is doing its job. Now, if you would eat some more, then we could dispense with the IV with nutritional solution. I would like for that to happen before you are moved." Chris nodded, more than ready for one less IV himself. He had been forcing himself to eat, first to get rid of the stomach tube they had inserted to get food in him and also hopefully keep it in him. Now he was trying to satisfy his doctor enough to keep the tube out and to hopefully get rid of at least one of his IV's.

"Before I will give you your antibiotics, I see that we better change places for your IV's again."

"Damn!" Chris hissed. Another needle stuck in and another place to go sore from the IV attachment, as if he hadn't enough wounds already. His good mood was evaporating. He always hated the feeling of helplessness he had when in a hospital, but never more than these past days in isolation. He couldn't wait to get out and now, when he thought he was finally going to leave, it was maybe? He hissed when the needle sank in and so Vin beat him to the big question.

"Why maybe? Doc, is he going to get out of here or not?"

"We think that probably he will, but it all depends on the last blood tests," the doctor said solemnly.

"He is right here," Chris said in exasperation. "And he wants some time with his woman alone, it's been too long!"

While Vin smirked, the doctor looked positively panicked.

"Mister Larabee, no, you are still in isolation until we are sure it's safe to let you out! If you cannot abide by that, we will just forbid all visitors for the remaining time."

That got Chris' attention. "Shit," he mumbled, looking at the door, trying to get a glimpse of Linda.

"So we'll know for sure in the mornin'?" Vin asked. "You'll let me know then? I want some people around when he finally can get to a normal ward."

"I'll call you, Mister Tanner. Believe it or not, I understand how frustrating this week must have been for all of you. Don't worry, I don't think there will be any complications and he'll be out of here tomorrow. Now, Mister Larabee, enjoy your visitors. Hopefully tomorrow you will see them in a less strict environment."

"Thanks Doc," Chris said softly, his eyes already on Linda coming in. Vin smiled.

"You two be good. Linda, I'll wait outside."

The two lovers didn't hear, they were too absorbed in each other and in the joy of soon being able to touch each other again.

+ + + + + + +

The next day a whole gang was waiting outside the doors to the Burn unit. It was around noon and word was that Chris could come out any moment now. They were all eagerly waiting for the first time in a long week they could see their boss, friend and chosen family member. When finally a gurney was spotted whoops of joy could be heard.

"Please!" A very harassed looking nurse was trying to get their attention, but all eyes were on that gurney and the blond hair they could see sticking out from under the blankets. The doors opened and there was a rush in the direction of the gurney. A high piercing whistle stopped everyone cold and then Vin's voice could be heard bellowing, asking everyone what the HELL they thought they were doing. The person on the gurney moved, the blanket slipped a bit and then glazed green eyes were looking at the ragtag group. Everyone was suddenly very quiet, shocked by their leader's appearance.

Then a well known and unmistakable grin appeared on the white, gaunt face before them and everyone was whooping again. The nurse and the orderly escorting the gurney looked appalled, at a loss how they could get their patient through this throng. They didn't need to worry long. Vin took over and herded the whole group out of the way.

"You take yer time to settle him," he told the nurse. "I'll keep this bunch in line and make sure they know that out of isolation don't mean he's out of the woods yet, alright? Don't worry, they don't mean no harm, they're just very happy to see 'm."

Denise smiled. She had asked if she could escort Chris herself, having become attached to the quiet, suffering man she had been looking after and she was glad that he had such a big group of people who obviously cared about him. Chris had refused to talk about what had been done to him, but seeing this strong group ready to rally around him took some of her worries away. They looked like a group that could help anyone through anything, she thought. When she and the orderly wheeled the gurney past the now more quiet group there were grins and calls like 'Chris, good to see you', 'Hey boss!', 'Give'm hell, stud', 'Commander!' and more. After a stern glance from Tanner who kept a close eye on everything, no one tried to come too close though. Chris just smiled, a tired but happy smile and Denise could feel some tension leave the man.

At the end of the line stood the blond woman, Linda, who had been visiting him together with Mister Tanner. She and Chris locked eyes and when they moved on to the room that would be Chris', Denise saw how he craned his neck to keep that eye contact going as long as possible.

"See you soon, Chris!" Linda called right before they rounded a corner and went to the elevators.

Yes, he would be alright, Denise was sure of it.