by Tonny

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


"Dammit, Chris! Who brought you all them files?"

"Hi Vin. I just wanted something more to read."

"Yeah, yeah, and make suggestions about our two new cases, hm?"

"I can't just lay here and do nothing! Did they tell you anything about when I can leave? 'Cause they sure as hell don't tell me anything!"

"Chris, not unless your skin is grown back a lot more, you know that!"

"It's damn creepy stuff they put on me Vin, look! See? Part of it is just peeling off now!"

"Idiot, leave those dressings alone! And that's what it's supposed to do, isn't it? It's the parts where that ain't happenin' yet, is what they worry about. Like yer right shoulder and that deep gash on yer back."

Chris' face clouded and Vin sighed. "I know what he's done to you there, Chris. He's a regular Hannibal, ain't he? Man, you should've seen the FBI agents that's been interrogatin' him. They looked positively green afterwards, when they came to us for some additional info. Them pictures in the files sure made them ill. They still want you to testify, you know that don't ya? They've been pesterin' me to let 'm come here and get your statement."

Now it was Chris' turn to sigh. "Guess I'll have to do that. Fuck! I really don't wanna talk about it, 'specially not in court. Can you just imagine the field day the press will be having with it?"

"Oh yeah! Chris Larabee, the very handsome Unit Commander of the new MCAT Unit and fiancée of well known society flower Linda Dubois has just courageously faced the serial killer whose last victim he's been."

"VIN! Shut up!"

Vin laughed out loud. "Yup, you sure know how to pick 'm, Lar'bee! You finally, finally fall in love again and it's a society member. That's bound to get you covered in the media, 'specially with your current job. By the way, Travis is in heaven! He confessed to me that he'd been real worried after the dirt thrown your way at first, but now you've been hurt, you're a big hero! The media just loves a good victim."

"So I've noticed," Chris hissed under his breath. He knew Josiah and Mallory had had a lot of trouble as well, especially after the profiler had been released from hospital. They had fled all the commotion and the press hanging outside their house and were now safely tucked away in a luxurious cabin Ezra had managed to get them, complete with a private nurse for Josiah. Ezra sure had his shining moments, Chris thought. It was exactly what Mallory needed, someone to share the load so soon after her delivery and with her husband hurt bad and Joanne jealous of her baby brother. The profiler might have been discharged from the hospital, he was far from well.

The media didn't give up though. The requests for interviews with the man everyone now knew was responsible for profiling the serial killer with such accuracy, were even more numerous than the requests for interviews with Chris.

What they had managed to keep a secret in all of this was CASSIE. Chris had been very adamant about that. At first JD had resented it, his eyes all aglow with the celebrity status of it all. But seeing what had been going on around Josiah made him glad they had kept her a secret, he'd confessed at his last visit. Chris had a sneaking suspicion Casey had something to do with it as well. That girl was too down to earth and levelheaded to put up with all that media nonsense and he suspected she'd given JD an earful.

CASSIE.... That still wasn't resolved.

"So now Travis isn't worried anymore about my position?"

"Nope! It's strong now. Good publicity for MCAT gives good publicity for the government and their successful idea. Oh, and the fact that the word got out you're leadin' us already from your hospital bed, that came over real good too. Especially with the dashin' pictures of you having your bed covered in files and your hair stickin' out to all sides."


"Don't worry, the janitor who got those out has been caught when he tried to videotape you. He's been charged and minus one job."

"Shit." Chris pushed back his unruly hair. "Why aren't you more in the picture anyway? You're the captain of this mess!"

"I duck!" Vin deadpanned. When he saw the sour look on Chris' face he grinned. "No, seriously Cowboy, I'll do anythin' to keep myself low profile. Kelli's part of my life now and what if someone gets an inkling as to her past? Can you see them throw themselves on that one?"

"You're right, that's the last thing she'd need! Did you make some progress in getting the man that hurt her as a child? I never asked...."

"Nope, things 've been kinda hectic. 'Sides, we were gonna do this together, remember? Pool our resources. And I can use you at my back on this one, I don't know what 'll happen if I find him and I've got no one around to rein me in."

"Who says I'll rein you in?" Chris asked heatedly, sitting up straight. The pain that slammed into him after the abrupt move made him gasp and fall back into his pillows helplessly.

"Chris, will you be careful? You alright? Maybe I should call a nurse, have them give you somethin'."

"I hate being doped up all the time, Vin, you know that! And it's getting less already! We were talking about that son of a bitch that hurt Kelli in her past and how I'd love to get my hands on him."

"You get in line! Damn Cowboy, I was countin' on you to keep me out of trouble! Ah well, at the moment it'll have to keep. First we gotta get you outta here and then we've got Inez's birthday to celebrate!"

"Yeah, Inez's birthday!" Chris grinned. "You know, Sarah called me yesterday evening! She's only two and she did that! Alright, almost three, but still, ain't that great? She wanted to discuss her present for her mother with me. God, it was good when I could see the kids again. And everyone else too."

Vin grinned back at his friend.

You missed them all, didn't you?

Yeah, I really did....

Damn Chris, ain't nothing wrong with that! Hey, is Linda sneaking in tonight?

"No, she's been here almost all afternoon, talking about presents for Inez as well! And all the plans she's got for the party. That woman, if you let her go free she's a real menace for everyone who wants a normal, peaceful birthday!"

Vin had to laugh when he saw the mixture of annoyance and pride on Chris' face. "Yeah, and you love every minute of it, don't you deny it! Speakin' of birthdays and gifts.... I gotta go, Kelli wants to meet me for some gift shopping of our own. 'Sides, I don't wanna be kicked out again by that large nurse like I was yesterday. It was downright humiliatin', I can tell you that!"

Chris smirked. "She didn't fall for your baby blues, that's for sure!" He knew how Vin hated to have someone call his eyes that and this time was no exception.

"Larabee! Stuff it! You wanna see me again or you determined to chase me off?"

Seeing that Vin was serious about leaving made Chris all business again. "Vin? Did Travis give you anything on Sam Reed, or who got him into the unit?"

"Nope. If he knows somethin', he didn't tell me. Didn't he tell you when he was visitin'?"

"No. I tried, but he was evasive. He only told me what you said as well, that the position of me as MCAT leader seemed very secure now. That's not gonna sit well with the people who sent Reed."

"Damn! I hadn't thought 'bout that! You think they'll try somethin'?"

"CASSIE is too good to get your hands on. Yeah, I think they'll try something again. Now that my position is secure, they might try and focus on you. Hell, they might even try and find someone to replace JD or Pam." Chris creased his brow, thinking. "Actually, that's what worries me the most. They would've been easier prey from the start and replacing them would've given whoever is behind this someone directly working with CASSIE."

"Yeah, but they'd have to find someone who's as good with the system as they are."

"That's true. Those two have practically made CASSIE into what she's now. And having the Commander or the Captain in their pocket means they could do more than just get their hands on CASSIE, they could use the unit for their own agenda, see that they get as many of their own men in as possible. Form a unit within the unit as it were."

"Damn, you don't think small, do you Cowboy? That's a frightening scenario! If someone has big ideas like that, yeah, they sure would try something else."

"Vin, you will keep your eyes open, won't you?"

"I will and you better do it too. SHIT, you see her out there, in the hallway? That's that nurse from yesterday! I'm outta here! 'Sides, you're startin' to look grey. So give me those files, nope, stop that and give them to me! I'm gonna put them in here and you keep your hands off 'm until tomorrow! That's an order!"

"Order from who?"

"From the official leader of your unit until you're fit enough to resume that position again. Just do it, Chris, please?"

Chris looked at his friend angrily, thinking about refusing for a moment. But the truth was he did feel like hell. Reluctantly he nodded.

"GOOD! Now, about...."

"Mister Tanner! Are you still here? There is a clock right above that door! And what have I been telling you yesterday?"

"Sorry Miss, I'm goin', I'm goin'! See you tomorrow, Cowboy!" Vin beat a hasty retreat, much to Chris' mirth. That mirth was gone in an instant though when the big head nurse, who ruled the ward he was on with an iron fist, rounded on him.

"Mister Larabee, you should not encourage your visitors to stay for so long after visiting hours are over! We are very tolerant when it comes to visits on this ward, because we believe that the presence of loved ones helps the healing process. But your family and friends do stretch our patience by coming and going at all hours! Another big part of the healing process is peace and tranquility! Even when that wouldn't apply to you, although it does, there still are other patients on this ward!"

"Yes Ma'am," Chris sighed wearily. He lowered his bed and settled himself. He was too tired to get in a fighting match with this formidable woman.

"Why, this morning we even had to stop a man from coming here as early as six a.m.! That just doesn't cut it, Mister Larabee and I would appreciate it if you told your friends to stop this!"

"Six a.m.?" Chris asked, confused. "I didn't see anyone then."

"No shit! That's because we send him packing! Well, I did! And I will keep on doing it until that unruly bunch learns to behave."

"But it wasn't Vin?" Vin was the most likely candidate to sneak in at that hour. He would have said something though if it had been him.

"Mister Tanner? No, I know Mister Tanner by now. Too well, I might add! Someone much more compact in build, with very short, almost shorn hair. Looked a bit military."

Compact? Almost shorn hair? It sounded like Reed. Chris started to feel uneasy. "I don't think he was a friend," he said softly.

"No? Oh bummer, maybe someone from the press again! Ever since those pictures came out they are a nuisance as well. Not that I blame you for that, I know you can't help those mosquito's swarming around."

"Thanks," Chris grinned. The press, that was much more likely. "So, what's for dinner? Some real food?"

"It would've been if you had eaten properly today. Ah, speak of the devil, there it is. You try to eat and don't worry, no press mosquito will get to you on my watch!"

"Thanks...." Looking at her nametag provided the answer. "Thanks, Hyacinth," Chris mumbled, looking with disgust at what he was served for dinner. Broth again, and some watery looking mashed potatoes with obscure bits of green in it.

"You are on light food until you eat better, Chris," the head nurse said softly. "Just try and eat some more, alright? And I will see what I can do about your next meal."

"I... I'll try. Thanks, Hyacinth."

"You're welcome. After your meal Peggy will be back to see if you need something to sleep. Get some rest, Mister Larabee. Believe it or not, you do need it."

"I guess," Chris said with a deep sigh, picking up his spoon to start eating the babyish mess in front of him.

+ + + + + + +

"Vin! There you are! How's Chris?" Vin grinned when his red haired lady threw herself in his arms with enthusiasm the minute he exited the hospital.

"I tried to get in and see Chris for a moment while picking you up,'' she told him, "but they were very adamant that visiting hours were over. When I tried my badge, some big nurse told me she knew I was coming to see Larabee and that we oughtta be ashamed of ourselves, believing we were above the rules!"

"That sounds like the lady who just threw me out. You must've alarmed her to the fact that I was probably still in there."

"Really? Sorry!" Not that she sounded sorry at all, Vin thought amused. Her eyes were full of mischief and he was looking forward to taking her home and have some real fun together, the bedroom kind.

Suddenly full of desire for this beautiful woman in his arms he whispered huskily, "Let's skip the shoppin', Texas. Let's just go home and have some fun!"

Kelli swatted him indignantly. "We go home! After the shopping! I'm not going to postpone again! We'll have plenty of time for fun afterwards."

"Damn," Vin mumbled with resignation.

"I heard that! For that you buy me a real dinner! With steak somewhere! And chips of course! Or Mexican, yep, Mexican will do great!"

"You're on!"

The meal was delicious. Kelli was sparkling and full of stories about her day in Albuquerque, where yesterday two taxis had been bombed. It was good that Chris couldn't lead this one personally, although the man sure did try it from out of his bed, Vin thought. At least he couldn't go to the crime scenes. He didn't know how Chris would feel about seeing a bombed car. They had been able to keep the truth of the Burn unit away from him and he seemed okay with the case while just dealing with it from a distance, but it had been a worry for him and Buck right from the start of this unit. Terrorism often involved bombings and the victims of bombings. How would Chris feel about that? He and Buck had talked it over one night with Nathan and Josiah and all they had come up with, was to hope that he would be able to handle it after all these years and to just keep an eye on their leader the moment bomb sites came in the picture.

Vin sighed and looked at Kelli, at the candlelight reflecting in her deep blue eyes and the soft sheen on her beautiful red curls. But the excitement of wanting to take her home and throw her on the bed for some real fun had gone. Something was nagging in the back of his mind, something was trying to come up from underneath layers of thoughts and wanted to warn him.

He had the feeling that it had to do with Chris.

"Vin, what did Travis tell you all this morning, after I left for Albuquerque with Buck and Katrina? Why did he want to address the team?"

"He wanted to tell us that the brass upstairs was damned pleased with us and with all the heat in the media as well, now that they are so positive about MCAT. You know, I never thought about it and I don't think Chris did either, but the media sure seem to be a part of this job. They want MCAT to work, but the first reason it's been called into action is politics and that means having the public know how great they were in inventing us. Shit, I hate that!"

"And now we're all heroes, especially Chris."

"Yep, and I can tell you he don't like it one bit! Travis also announced that we'll get our own forensic team and lab, just like Chris wanted. As soon as he's back, he can look for his own chief medical examiner, again like he wanted. Suddenly all he's asked for is bein' delivered, so at least that's good! Oh, and after seein' us work that night when we tried to find Chris, made Travis decide that JD and Pam need a data typist. You should've seen JD beam!"

"Oh, that's great! Especially since you and Chris can't shove the typing work on Reed anymore!" Kelli grinned, clearly remembering with fondness how Reed had hated that. "Speaking of Reed, even if he was still around, no way he could've gotten you or Chris discredited enough now to get one of you thrown off the team! That's good too, no matter how much you and Chris hate all the exposure!"

"No, he couldn't...."

"Vin, is it true that they had images of Chris working from the hospital in the Denver News? And on the local network as well? How did we miss that yesterday?"

"Yeah, they had...." Vin's blood turned cold. What had been bothering him suddenly connected. It wasn't one thing after all, it was two things and Kelli just had innocently put them together for him. Abruptly he stood up and threw some money on the table, not caring it was way too much. He needed to get out of here, fast!

"Vin? Vin, what's wrong?"

"The hospital, Kelli, that's what's wrong! We never made it a secret where Chris was, but we didn't make it public either and I just realized that all the press heat's been 'round Denver Memorial for some reason. But yesterday afternoon they suddenly started snoopin' 'round State University as well. After those damn pictures were on the news! I think that before those pictures they didn't know Chris was elsewhere."

"I don't get it, Vin. Sure, it's a nuisance, but why are you so upset?"

"The other thing is what Travis told us this mornin', that Chris' position as Unit Commander is damn rock solid as of now! Like you said, it won't be easy after two successes so close after one another to root him out of the team! So they'll have to use another way!"

"I don't get it! Who's they? Vin, what are you talking about?"

They had reached the car and Vin hastily pulled open the door. "I'll tell you on the way to the hospital," he said, tense. "Bottom line is someone wanted control over MCAT from the start and wasn't happy with me and Chris havin' the lead. That's why Reed was there, to get rid of one of us. That ain't gonna happen through discrediting one of us anymore."

"Oh my God, you think they want to do something more drastic, like a... a murder? Vin, that means you're in danger too!"

"But Chris is vulnerable right now, Kel. And what's more, as Unit Commander he'd be asked to pick his next captain. No one would ask me to pick the next Commander. Just get in, please. I got a really bad feelin'!"

Putting on the siren, Vin recklessly dove into the early evening traffic, not caring what kind of mayhem he caused. He had a nagging feeling he might already be too late, despite the fact that he didn't get anything from Chris yet.

Suddenly something was there after all. Even as far from the hospital as he still was, he felt Chris tense all up. With a curse he floored the car to its maximum speed. If only he wouldn't be too late!


Chris shifted. It didn't help, there just never seemed to be a good way to lay down. Not on his back, not on one of his sides, not on his stomach. There wasn't a part of him that didn't hurt, didn't have wounds. What was worse by far lately, was that there wasn't a part of him that didn't itch abominably. God, but healing skin was the worst torture a man could be put through!

No, he wasn't going to scratch. They had been very clear about what would happen if he did and about the fact that it would keep him in the hospital longer. What was growing back was far too fragile to withstand any scratching.

Oh, shit!

Chris shifted once more, trying to surreptitiously shrug his back against the mattress, only to feel pain course through him from moving too much. He welcomed it, pain was a lot better to bear than that horrible itching!

Again he shifted, trying to find a good spot. No, no use. If he wanted to sleep, he'd better ask for something. He had refused anything that evening under the pretext he was already very drowsy. The nurse had looked a bit suspicious, so he had yawned and made his eyes droop. Too much experience had taught him the finer art of deceiving nurses. He hadn't done it lightly though or out of sheer stubbornness this time, he just hadn't felt right about taking something and he still didn't.

That description of the man who had been snooping around so early in the morning, it had sounded too much like Reed.

Fingering the little scalpel he had been able to sneak from the tray when they had changed some of his bandages and which now rested under the blankets, he laughed ruefully at himself. He was definitely getting paranoid. Of course Reed wouldn't try anything here. Reed was a sniper, someone to hide high on a building and pull the trigger when he least expected it.

Now, there was a thought to make him feel better!

On the other hand, they had been going through great lengths to keep things subtle and an assassination would lead to a big investigation, not in the least by his own team. It was the only thing that had kept him from ordering Vin into protective custody. That, and the fact that someone suspiciously like Reed had been snooping here, where he was.

If they wanted it subtle, they could try and make it look like he had a relapse and died of his wounds after all.

Something made him look at the door. At first glance it seemed as if nothing was there, but he knew better and silently he waited, hand on the little scalpel. As if he could do anything with a small thing like that.

He tensed. There was movement in the shadows beside the door and then Reed stepped out. "Guess it's true, you're sharp," his former agent said ruefully. "I'd never thought you'd spot me." When Chris said nothing, he shrugged and walked further into the room. "Doesn't matter. You're probably wondering why I'm here?"

Chris shook his head 'no' and kept his eyes on the man, who slowly walked towards his bed. Reed raised an eyebrow. "No?" he asked, clearly amused. "I wonder what you think it is I'm here to do."

"I know you're an assassin," Chris said softly. "Wasn't that hard to figure it out."

Reed stopped and looked at Chris incredulously. "What did you just say?"

"I was with the SEAL teams, Reed. I know assassins were trained somewhere in the military. And you didn't come just from that, but CIA as well. Most of your files were classified. Yeah, I know what you are. Guess they sent you instead of someone competent so you could use murder as a last resort."

"Instead of someone competent? Why you self satisfied arrogant prick! You could never run a law enforcement unit decently, ever! Pretending women, WOMEN can be good cops! As if they would know how to handle themselves if a situation gets really tough. Not to mention all those loose canons from your former team who don't even deserve the name agent! That southerner with his fancy suits and that long haired idiot you took as captain being the worst! Oh, no, not the worst! That would be you, a drunken dolt who couldn't even protect his own family all those years ago and never got over it in all the years following! I guess you preferred living in the past, because the present is a bit much?"

Chris was furious. How dare Reed bring his family into this? With a cry he pushed himself up, but immediately Reed was there, slamming him back down on the bed, a hand covering his mouth.

"No, I don't think you screaming for help is part of the plan, Larabee."

His hand shot down from Chris' mouth to his throat and squeezed. Desperately Chris tried to get air, grabbing for the hand. The pressure was taken off just enough for him to get some air in his lungs, but the moment he opened his mouth the pressure was back until he saw stars. When Reed let go of his throat just enough to let the air back in once more, he only glared at the man.

"Good, we understand each other. Off course this is not going to work if you die from strangulation. It must look as if it's because of your injuries, so I brought this little poison with me." He took out a syringe, filled with a clear liquid. "This will do the trick just fine. The dosage in here won't kill you immediately, it'll give the impression you contracted one of the more deadly hospital infections that roam the halls. You'll be seriously ill, too ill to be able to be coherent and make a statement, I'm afraid. And after a few days, before they can really find out what's going on your heart will give out." Looking around, the assassin sighed. "I still don't believe how I missed you being here that first week. I've been over all the hospitals in Denver and I've been here twice! You weren't on any ward, I would have sworn to that! Ah well, not important now. Thanks to that janitor I've found you just in time. My superiors were getting restless."

He let Chris go, but before the blond could get enough air in his half starved lungs, Reed knocked him in the head, hard. Chris gasped, trying with all his strength not to black out. He couldn't afford to black out. When his vision cleared he saw Reed inject the deadly liquid in his IV. He reached for the IV attachment to rip it out, but a strong hand clasped over it.

"I don't think so," Reed smiled and put his hand on the little tap of the IV. "Any last words before I open this and let it go into your veins?"

"Knew you... were st...stupid, but never... thought you'd let your... self be set up f... for the sl... slaughter like a... a meek lamb," Chris hissed.

Another fist landed on his temple and he groaned. "Don't call me stupid!" Reed told him coldly. "You're the one who's going down here."

"And... y... you're the one who'll end up p... paying for it in j... jail as the man who... who murdered his... boss in anger over b... being fired. They're g... good, those who... who sent you, I have to g... give them that."

That's not what's going to happen, Larabee," Reed grinned. "No way, I won't let them. Say bye bye now." Savagely he opened the little tap.

Chris had no time to think, he could only do. Desperately he grabbed for the little scalpel under his blankets and when he had it, he just lashed out, first at Reed's hand over the attachment and when Reed jumped back with a cry of pain he slashed through the IV line where it entered his arm.

He just hoped he'd been in time.

Then all chance of thinking was over when Reed jumped at him, giving an inarticulate cry of anger and knocking the scalpel away. Chris tried to keep him off, but he was so damn weak. He hated it when his blows didn't have the impact on Reed that they should have. Vaguely he thought he heard some commotion outside and then suddenly he was hauled off the bed and held in an iron grip, feeling the life being choked out of him again.

"Let him go," a deadly, Texan drawl said from the door opening. Chris managed to lift his head and look. There Vin stood, gun trained unerringly at him and Reed. He locked gazes with the Texan and then he let himself sag, making sure Reed would have as much trouble as possible in taking him along.

"Back off, Tanner!"

Vin did, slowly, still having his gun trained on the pair before him. His gaze shifted from Reed back to Chris and their gazes locked again. Chris immediately stopped his resistance and let Reed pull him along as a shield. He kept his eyes locked on his friend, ready for whatever Vin needed him to do. When they were nearing the door, Vin stepped out of the room and to the right. Instinctively Reed kept Chris between him and the armed man, but he did look to the left first, gun ready, before stepping out of the room. When all he saw was a cart with clean sheets and an empty gurney, he turned slightly so he could keep his eyes on Tanner. Carefully he kept Chris between them.

The man wasn't a pro for nothing.

So was Vin. Gun aimed rock steady, he was all set when something struck Reed with force from behind. The startled man looked behind him and automatically eased his grip on Chris when he tried to duck the bedpan that came flying from behind the cart. Vin was more than ready for that split second moment. One single, deadly shot was all it took. Then Reed and Chris were on the ground, Reed quiet and unmoving, Chris gasping and shaking. Footsteps could be heard coming from everywhere, but the ones closest where the ones Chris cared about the most. Soon his head was cradled in Vin's lap and Kelli was bending over him.

"Good... aim," he mumbled at her. She blushed. "Sorry, with the bad light I couldn't see very well how he was holding you and I didn't wanna risk a bullet going through him and hitting you too." With an impish smile she added, "Didn't think you could take that with all the rest, not at your age."

"Y... your age? Vin... you know who... who she's talking about?"

"Nope, old man, not me," Vin grinned, the relief pouring out of him.

After trying a glare, Chris just simply whispered, "Thanks for... coming back."

"Yeah, well, things didn't sit well. I wonder why he didn't try sooner, when it would 've been more believable to have you die of your wounds."

"He said... couldn't... find me...."

"Because you were in lock up!" Kelli grinned. "I guess they didn't think of looking in the Burn unit and besides, that's a ward you can't get in to just snoop around."

"Lock... up?" Chris grinned back. It sure had felt that way, but it seemed it had saved his life in more ways than one. Then a doctor was there, and nurses, and a gurney and all chance of talking was gone while he was whisked away, back to his bed. Soon he was prodded and probed and trying real hard not to scream. He did yell when someone grabbed the IV.

"Care... ful!"

"This had been cut."

"Damn! What's been going on here?"

"Poison. He... put in p... poison," Chris told them. "OUCH! Shit!"

"Melanie, try and be a bit more gentle! Poison?"

The medic let go of the IV and jumped back as if it had burned him.

"Mister Larabee, did any of it reach you?"

"Don't... know...."

"Just what we need here! Jim, get some gloves and get it over to the labs. I need to know what they tried to give Mister Larabee! Melanie, get someone here to take blood samples! Alright, let's turn him carefully, I need to examine his back and shoulder."

While he was turned on his side, Chris saw Vin and Kelli standing at the door. Vin looked white, his hands were balled into fists.

Vin? Vin, don't worry, I'll be alright. You and Kel got the bastard!

You said poison!

Don't think it... it reached me. Feeling drowsy....

NO! No you don't! Don't you dare leave us now!

Leave? Ain't going... anywhere...

+ + + + + + +

"DOCTOR?" Vin yelled when he felt his friend slip away.

"Not now!" the doctor grated. "Please leave! Will someone make those two leave?"

"But he... he...," Vin stepped inside, his eyes riveted on the quiet figure.

"I know. It's the pain medication we gave him before I knew about the poison. Most of it is laying here on the floor I think, but it does worry me. We're going to take him to ICU and hook him up to the monitors, just to be on the safe side. Now, will you please leave?"

Someone pulled at Vin's arm and reluctantly he stepped away, out of the room. There he stood watching while inside Chris was bundled back on the gurney and raced out and away. He made a move as if to follow, but a big nurse stood in his way. The big nurse that had sent him packing that evening.

"I'm sorry, Mister Tanner," she said softly. "He's on his way to ICU. I'm afraid you can't see him anymore tonight."

An arm slipped around him and gratefully he leaned against Kelli.

"Mam, I've warned our team and the police about the shooting. They will come and investigate this crime scene. It would be best if you held everyone away from this room and... that." She nodded towards the body with disgust.

Vin straightened, glad Kelli had kept her head cool. "I'm going where Chris is going," he rasped. "He needs police protection."

"I'm sorry, you can't...."

"Didn't you hear me? I said he needs police protection! They tried to kill him!" Not bothering to see if she would agree he stalked past her and hurried in the direction the gurney had gone.

"SHIT! I don't know where ICU is in this hospital! We're usually laid up in Memorial."

"I'll ask." Soon Kelli was back, steering him towards the elevators and the right floor. "You go Vin. I'll wait here at the crime scene and deal with it until the others arrive."

"Thanks Kel...." Vin turned to her. "Thanks for all the backup and for being here for me.... God, I was afraid we would be too late! I'm still afraid...." For a brief moment he took her into a fierce embrace. "You are amazing, lady. Love you!"

He felt her tighten her hold on him and some of his inner turmoil drained away.

"Love you too, Vin," she whispered, "and you are pretty amazing yourself. Now, take care of that trouble magnet upstairs, you'll see that he'll be alright! I'm beginning to think Death just don't want him, he'd be too much to handle. I'll be there as soon as I can, alright?" She grabbed his head, pulled it down and kissed him fiercely. "We'll make sure everything is alright and Chris is safe and then we take a hotel close by and I'll see to it that you relax some."

"Don't know if I can...."

"Oh, don't worry, I'll know just what to do once we're together," she whispered huskily. Then she was gone, back to the crime scene and he hurried to ICU. No one would get to Chris again tonight and not ever. A deep, cold anger was building up inside him.

This was not going to blow over, he vowed. He would get whoever had tried to kill Chris, just to take over MCAT and that person was going to pay. He didn't care how high up he had to go. Soon he stood outside the room where Chris was being hooked up to the many monitors.

'Just to be on the safe side', the doctor had said. It didn't make him feel any better about the situation.

If only he'd been here sooner!


"Dead?" Chris asked, stupefied. "He just... died?"

"Verdict's a heart attack," Vin told him somberly. He was eyeing the heart monitor Chris was still hooked on. "We told 'm to examine the body for toxins, 'specially the one Reed tried to use on you."

"I didn't get that much in me Vin, stop worrying!"

"The doctors worry too. They still got you hooked to that thing."

"Yeah, well, that's 'cause they're doctors. So the man who recommended Reed is conveniently a goner, unable to talk ever again," Chris grumbled. "Any other leads? Travis got any idea who might be behind it?"

"Yeah, several, which means that's several too many. Me 'n Buck wanted to take them all in for questioning and that's when he refused to give us any names. Says you can't just haul off Senators, Generals and the like and play good cop, bad cop on them."

"Guess he's right," Chris sighed.

Vin's eyes turned hard. "I don't see it. They ain't that special in my book, they're still men."

"Vin, there's no proof whatsoever, for anything. They'll probably write Reed's motive off as revenge for being kicked off the team."

Vin crossed his arms and stared stubbornly back. After a while he rasped, "Ezra had a good idea. He asked if there was a runner up for your position and there was."

Chris raised an eyebrow and smiled. "That's smart. Is it someone we can question?"

"We? What the hell do you mean, we? Ain't no 'we' here, Lar'bee, you're stuck in that bed."

"Not for long," Chris mumbled belligerently.

"You do exactly like the doctor orders, you hear? Ain't gonna have you risked again! 'Sides, Linda would kill me."

"Just tell me about that runner up."

"Seemed a really good guy, from Frisco. Headed the homicide division there and they had a spectacular rise in crimes bein' solved after he took over. Guess he wasn't that good a guy after all though."


"He died before Ez could talk to 'm. Seemed there was a shoot out with a gang that had sworn they wanted him dead."


"Ain't that a fact? Hell of a coincidence too, if you ask me."

"Anything else?"

"Nope, no trace to find anywhere."

There was silence for a long while. Chris was staring out the window, Vin was staring at his shoes until Chris asked, "Travis?"

"He called all them VIP's together that'd been responsible for getting this unit started and they're trying to lay down some ground rules to protect it from this kind of scheming. Chris? Why'd you think someone would try and take over MCAT? How did you ever get on to that?"

Chris turned and looked at his best friend. "Because it didn't make sense, Vin. Reed didn't make sense, riling us every way. Trying to sow discontent in the team and making us look bad. And then, when JD showed me what CASSIE is capable of.... Imagine having your own men with MCAT jurisdiction, with the right to take over command everywhere, with the authority to have every other agent, cop or whoever you can think of work for you, do what you tell them to. And to top it off you've got this computer system that can get you into every government system there is. Just imagine what you could do with that."

Silence again, then Vin softly stated, "Damn!"

They sat for a while in peace, enjoying each other's company. At last Vin nodded towards the monitor. "So, when they gonna get you off that thing?"

"Don't know." Chris craned his neck to look at it, above and slightly to the left of him, showing a regular heartbeat. "The whole thing seems pointless. You know, I think they only keep me hooked up so I can't move around too much. Least not without them knowing."

He glared when Vin started to grin and then convulsed in silent laughter.

"Hi guys, everything alright?"

Both men looked up, Vin still laughing and Chris now with a happy smile on his face. "Linda!" he exclaimed. "Come and kick him out!"

Linda smiled back. "Why? Hey Vin, you alright? What are you laughing about?"

Vin grinned at her, glad that they had come to a better understanding of each other after all their time spent in the hospital together, worrying about Chris.

"He thinks they leave him on the heart monitor just to keep 'm in bed."

Linda laughed out loud and then shook her head at the angry glare from her lover. "I told you the people in here are smart, Chris. What a great idea! Vin, if you don't mind, I have to kiss a scowl away."

"Nah, I don't mind. I've got a wife waitin' for me to drive us home and have us some real fun. You kids behave now! Linda, careful with this here fragile heart patient. I'll think 'bout you two holdin' hands here, when Kelli 'n me are playin' rough, all through our bed. Come to think of it, maybe we'll just skip the bed altogether. There's plenty of interestin' places on a ranch for some... fun." He leered at them and stood up to go. Suddenly serious he looked at Chris.

Trail might be cold for now, don't mean we'll give up Cowboy.

Yeah, we'll catch them one day.

Damn straight!

With a short wave of his hand, Vin disappeared into the hallway. Chris looked after his best friend for a moment, but then he shifted his attention to the beautiful woman at his side. "Please come closer," he said softly, reaching his hand to her.

"Oh, I plan to!" she replied huskily, opening the two top buttons of her shirt and purposefully marching towards the bed. "Let's make that monitor go all wild and erratic...," she whispered and lowered the bed railing to get closer to him.

Vin smiled when he walked away from Chris' room. There was a deep contentment coming from Chris and that felt good, damn good. It was about time his friend felt like that again.

+ + + + + + +

The next day the monitor was unhooked. Chris' blood was declared clear of anything that didn't belong in it. His wounds were checked and doctor Reynard told his patient they were all still healing nicely despite the man handling by Reed. Chris was in a foul mood anyway, because the files on their new cases had gone and no one was prepared to give them back to him. Finally, at the end of that long day he heard what he'd wanted to hear so very, very much for almost two weeks now.

He could go home the next morning. With tons of instructions, lots of pain meds and anti-inflammatories, a list about how to watch for infections and very strict orders to come back with the first sign of them, a special cream against the itching and a pile of new dressing materials.

"Damn, I better come and check you twice a day at least!" Nathan sighed when all those were delivered the next morning before Chris was allowed to get into the wheelchair and finally, finally leave.

That got him a glare from Linda. "I'll be fine with this," she declared. "I did tend to my father during his illness and I'm not squeamish, so I can handle those dressings."

"We also have your first appointment scheduled for you," doctor Reynard said hastily, giving an appointment card to Chris. "Don't miss it! You'll need some regular check ups and we'll make sure you'll come to those as well. As a matter of fact, like with this one we'll just make the appointments for you ourselves."

There were snickers all around, while Chris scowled at the card. Linda quickly took it from him and more than one voice assured the doctor Chris would be there. Definitely!

"Just get me out of here," Chris grumbled, swinging his legs over the bedside. His scowl deepened when more than one pair of hands helped him into the wheelchair. When he finally sat in it, he made sure he pinned them all down with a steely look.

"You're all NOT invited to stay at the ranch or come and go as you please!" he told his friends with a clear edge to his voice that drove the point home he was very serious here.

"Except for me that is," Linda said just as icily, glaring back. Chris' hard look immediately softened.

"Hey lady, why you think I want to keep them all away?"

"Oh, that's alright then," she smiled back. Their eyes were riveted on each other and they didn't notice the happy glances directed their way.

Finally Buck cleared his throat. "Message understood Stud," he said softly. "But we will be checking, we know you too well. And Sarah and Maria need to see you, so I hope you two will leave some room for that. I wouldn't wanna walk into something embarrassing with those two."

"So? Phone first," Chris mumbled.

"Oh no, you will do no such thing for the next few weeks!" Everyone had forgotten that Doctor

eynard was still there. While Linda was suddenly blushing fiercely, Chris glared at the man.

"Your skin may be healing, it's still very fragile, Mister Larabee. You take care of it! That means being very careful when you move for the next weeks. And keep that left shoulder from doing anything strenuous like leaning on it! Those tendons are healing nicely, but they aren't up to anything yet. It will take at least two months before they are fully functional again."

"I will see to it, doctor. Don't you worry," Linda assured the man.


They all laughed.

"Well Mister Larabee, all instructions seem to have been covered and I bid you farewell. You weren't the easiest of my patients," the doctor smiled. "But you sure were one of the most interesting."

Chris smiled back. "I don't know if that's a compliment, but thanks for all the good care, doc. I know you saved my life when I was brought in and I'm grateful."

"Good, you see to it then that my work wasn't in vain and take care of yourself." With that the doctor abruptly left.

"He really likes you," the orderly who was going to wheel him out of the hospital said astonished. "How you do that? He's a really great doctor, one of the best, but he always tries to keep his distance."

That brought laughter from everyone but Chris.

"It's a gift," Vin told the man while they finally left the small room. "He's so ornery, stubborn and completely impossible to live with, it rubs off on ya somehow."

"Yeah, go and mock the patient."

Chris' complaint only brought more laughter. At the hospital door his Ram was already waiting. Chris smiled when he saw his black truck and was touched by the small gesture from Vin to come and collect him in his own vehicle. He was settled in the front seat and everyone stood around, saying good bye.

"I'll bring the girls around tomorrow morning," Inez promised. "I don't think you'll be up to it today, you'll be too exhausted. NO! Don't say it, I don't want to hear you lie and say 'I'm fine'. Don't you lie to the girls tomorrow either. They need to understand why they can't pound on you like usual, you hear?"

"I hear you, Inez," Chris answered sheepishly.

When she and Buck walked off, the others came a bit closer. "We'll all be at your ranch come Sunday Chris, to celebrate her birthday," JD whispered.

"The whole MCAT unit as well," Nathan nodded. "We didn't want all of them here now, but everyone needs to see you safe and at home, so the party seemed like the best way to do it."

Chris nodded his thanks. Vin's eyes narrowed and then he shooed everyone away.

"Come on, before the man collapses! We're goin'. Kel, Linda, get inside, Chris needs a bed and he's still got the drive ahead of him."

When they were finally on their way he looked at the blond beside him. "Travis set up a meetin' with that woman doctor you had after Sarah and Adam died. Said you'd be more comfortable talkin' with her than with the Bureau shrink."

"WHAT? I don't need...."

"Yeah you do!"

Chris, that maniac did a real number on you and don't think I don't know you got nightmares!

Chris gritted his teeth.

'Sides, you won't get out of givin' a statement anymore now you're out of the hospital and you know it! I think you better talk to this doctor first.

Damn it Vin, I don't need talking at all!

"You ain't backing out, are you?" Vin asked worried. "It's your testimony that gives us the most chance on putting the bastard away for good."

"Why? We got him nailed."

"Chris, he ain't talkin' anymore and his lawyer is callin' it all circumstantial, no matter his fake ID. He says that tellin' us you were dead was all make believe, he never had ya, and all he did to the girl was sedatin' her, not murder her. I know we got a lot on him, but your testimony still is the surest thing."

"I'll testify, you know I will," Chris sighed. "Just... I don't need a shrink."

"Yes you do," Linda told him softly. "You need to get that monster out of your head. I'll be there for you Chris. I will. But let's not think about it right now. Let's just go home."

+ + + + + + +

His own house, his own bed. Chris sighed in contentment. Now all he had to do was heal further and get his life back.

Vin and Linda had helped him into his bedroom, while Kelli had been busy in the kitchen making soup and some chicken sandwiches. No mayonnaise, butter or anything else too fatty or heavy for him yet, but luckily she had proved to be a witch with some mustard, ketchup and herbs. It sure had been a lot better than hospital food.

They had refused to let him see Pony and that still rankled. Not long, he vowed, he wasn't going to let them all dictate his life much longer.

He felt Vin's 'bye' when he and Kelli left. Then the door to his bedroom opened and Linda came in. She was carrying pills, tubes and a glass of water.

"You look like you've got big plans," he softly teased.

"Oh, I have. I've been really envious of those nurses and I aim to do what they did from now on. Bath you, rub this cream in on the places where your skin is healing and... lots more." She put down the medicines on his nightstand and carefully pushed back the covers.

"Oh Chris," she breathed. "I've missed you so much, you have no idea."

"Yes I have," he whispered back, holding his hands out to her. His body was still healing and he knew Vin was right about the nightmares, but he was home, he had his family around him and he had this woman. No matter what else was lurking in the future, he knew things were finally going to be alright again.




Chris was staring at his journal, pen in hand. He had slipped out of bed, making sure Linda didn't wake up and now he had made himself as comfortable on the couch as he could. Even after a week at home other chairs were still too hard for him to sit in without pain.

He couldn't resist rubbing his back against the armrest of the couch he was leaning against, feet tucked up in front of him. He was also rubbing over his chest before he caught himself. Damn, but the itching was driving him mad!

It was one of the reasons he'd gotten out of bed. The cream Linda put on the healing skin helped, but only so long. He cursed and looked at his journal. Writing in it would at least keep him distracted and he had lots to write.

He'd finally given his statement that afternoon and it had been more difficult than he had imagined, talking about what Cleaver had done to him. It had made him realize that he'd better make a second appointment with Doctor Susan Zeller after all and this time really talk to her about what Cleaver had done. He knew he could trust her, she'd been there for him after Sarah and Adam, even though he'd hardly made use of her help. The few times he'd gone, dragged there by Buck, had helped though to keep him from really destroying himself.

He put the journal on his knees and opened it. The first entry was made four years after Sarah's and Adam's deaths, when he and the others had started thinking about forming Larabee 7. His finger softly went over the uneven, sometimes hardly readable words. He'd been so unsure about things then, about changing anything on and around the ranch he had shared with his wife and son. Trying to force a decision inside himself, he'd planned to clean out the attic and look through all his old stuff.

There had been more things of Sarah and Adam there than he'd remembered. Between them had stood the big cardboard box he'd dubbed 'Adam's box'. After the funeral he'd taken it to the attic and stowed it in the farthest corner, unable to handle seeing it. In it were some pictures of his son, some of his first baby clothes, his first shoes, a very little baseball cap, all the things Adam had made for him and Sarah, his son's first attempts to write, school work and five thick journals.

He remembered so clearly when he started writing these journals. It had been after Adam had taken his first steps. One day his little son of eleven months had been crawling through the living room and the next instant he'd suddenly stopped, worked himself up until he could stand, like he had many times before and then he'd taken that first, little step, followed by another and another, almost as if he was stopping himself from pitching forward. A delighted open mouthed smile had bloomed on Adam's chubby face while he was tottering to his father. Chris had called out for Sarah and in tears they had watched their son until he had fallen back and had been sitting there with a look of astonishment.

That night he'd realized how fast things changed and how hard it already was to remember when exactly Adam had started sitting. It had made him decide to write it all down, all those little steps and first words and all those big events that would be there in the future for his son, like his first day at school.

It had been fun to do and often Sarah had written things in it as well, short entries because she didn't really have the patience to write much. But he had loved to do it and he'd found out it gave him a sense of peace and restored his feel for what really mattered after a rough day at work.

Home, family, those were things worth fighting for.

Four thick journals full of what he had loved so much and a fifth, empty one, the one he would have started in as soon as he'd filled the last few empty pages in the fourth. That evening, up there in the attic, he'd stopped cleaning up and looked through them all, crying like he hadn't done in years. Afterwards he'd left it all there except the fifth, empty journal. That one he'd taken with him downstairs and in it he'd started to write a letter to his dead wife. He'd felt a burning need to talk to her and he didn't know any other way to do it but write it all down for her.

Chris slowly turned the pages and looked at his letter. It was long, in it he'd poured everything that had happened after her death, everything that had been and still was going on in his life. When he'd finished he'd felt totally empty.

He had also known what he wanted to do, how he wanted to go on with his ranch. The next day he'd called the boys and they had hammered out all the agreements to form Larabee 7. Since then he'd used the journal whenever he needed to make decisions or wanted to order his thoughts and feelings. Sometimes he wouldn't write in it for months on end, sometimes almost every day.

He went to his last entry, written just after little Adam had been born and looked at it. This was one of those times he wrote often. The MCAT unit, Linda, Vin and Kelli, the birth of little Adam, Casey and Rain pregnant, there was so much going on at the moment. So much that wasn't resolved yet. He picked up his pen.

<I can't believe it was only four weeks ago that little Adam was born and we celebrated the success of our first case. So much has happened. Sam Reed revealed himself and turned out to be placed on the team by someone who wants to take it over. Having control of this team and a computer system like CASSIE can give you a lot of power and there are always those who crave that power. Luckily we could stop this threat, at least we could for now. We'll have to stay very alert, because we still don't know who was behind this attempt to take over the unit. Travis is working hard on his end to help ensure something like this won't happen again.

At least we've safely concluded our second case and caught a very brutal serial killer. I will have to learn to deal with what he has done to me, but I have my family and I have Linda to keep me sane and help me cope.

Also I finally know what's been bothering Linda about Vin. It isn't Vin himself, it turns out she really likes him, but it is the connection he and I have. She isn't as troubled about it as she was at first, because she knows it helped Vin save my life, but she still has problems with it. I will have to find a way to make her see my connection with Vin isn't a threat to our relationship, just as my still existing connection to Sarah and Adam isn't. That she and I have a connection all our own, something no one can destroy, unless we let them.

Actually, the thing that worries me the most is not this unease of Linda, the threat of someone wanting to take over MCAT or my upcoming testifying at Cleaver's trial, but the media. I can't believe how they jumped all over this last case and over MCAT itself. The fact that the higher ups wanted the positive publicity as a sign to everyone that they are dealing with terrorism and the rising crime in our country, didn't help matters. And the fact that Linda's family is well known in the jet set didn't help either. Luckily the story finally seems to be getting old news, because if I see Linda and me on TV one more time, I'll throw a rock through the damn thing!

As for the family, everything is getting back to normal there as well. Inez' birthday was great, even though I couldn't do much besides hanging out on the couch. Josiah could hobble around a little more than I could, but not by much and he mostly kept me company. He is still baffled by all the publicity around himself. Well, he shouldn't be, he was simply great and so was everyone else for that matter. He and I are taking longer and longer walks every day now, to get our strength back.

It was the most rowdy birthday we had in a long time with the new team members there as well. That was good thinking of Vin and Nathan, they have been through a tough time and needed to see that everything was going to be alright for the unit. It better be, because they were already working two new cases when I was still in the hospital and a third is waiting on the sidelines. Luckily we will have our own forensic team soon.

I think MCAT can do a lot of good given the chance and I'll do anything I can to protect this wonderful unit.>

"What are you doing, Chris? You should be in bed!"

Chris looked up at the beautiful blonde standing in the doorway looking at him. Her hair was tousled and she couldn't stop a huge yawn. "Couldn't sleep," he confessed.

"Is something wrong?" Her immediate worry warmed him.

"Nah, just itching all over."

"I can help you with that," she grinned. Suddenly her eyes weren't sleepy anymore, but full of mischief. "You better come back to bed, lose those sweats and I'll start with putting some cream on."


"Oh yeah, that's definitely just for starters, gorgeous." She held out her hand. "Let's go."

He smiled. That was an invitation he was not turning down. "I'm coming. Just let me put this away."

"I'll get everything ready," she smiled.

Chris looked at her swaying hips when she walked away, unable to pull his eyes off her. He'd been apprehensive of all the new scars on his body at first, but it was soon clear Linda didn't mind them at all. Actually, she liked kissing them, a lot. Not that he complained about that. He took his pen and wrote down a few last sentences before following her.

<And I think my relationship with Linda is worth fighting for as well. She is one hell of a woman.

Sarah, I came a long way from the first entry in this journal and I think you would approve of MCAT and of Linda as well. I know that wherever you are, you are happy for me.

Love you lady, always, you and Adam. That will never change.>


Continues in MCAT SERIES # 3 Decisions