Main Characters: Chris, Vin
Warnings: Violence, language, sexual situations (nothing explicit)...all the things that make an h/c fic interesting.
Notes: This is a Birthday Fic, originally written for Joyce, who wanted pain delivered to both Chris and Vin, heavy on the Vinjury.
The quotations included in this bit of fanfiction can be found in The New International Dictionary of Quotations (Miner & Rawson; Signet Publishers, 2000). The individual attributions can be found at the end of the story.
This is loosely based on an episode of Psi Factor, and I took the name of the vacation place from it as well.
Webmaster Note: This fic was previously hosted at another website and was moved to blackraptor in June 2012.
Chris Larabee looked out across the placid water and smiled. Turning to his friend, team member, and fellow agent, Vin Tanner, he said, “For once, you’re right. It is pretty damned spectacular out here.”
Looking up from where he was securing the last of their equipment to the canoe they had rented, Tanner frowned. “For once? I’m damn near always right, y’ smart ass. Did y' remember the coffee? Last trip we made, y’ forgot it, and I thought I’d have t’ shoot your cranky ass before it was over.”
Grinning, Larabee said, “I was only cranky because you kept me awake all night with your damn snoring, and I brought three different blends.”
Returning the blond’s grin, Vin slapped a paddle into the man’s startled grasp and said, “Reckon we’re good t’ go, then.”
The two men set the canoe in the water, settled themselves amongst the equipment, and pushed off onto the big lake.
Team Seven, Denver’s premiere ATF team, had just finished a long stretch of particularly difficult cases. Seeing how physically and emotionally battered his men were, Larabee had wrangled a long weekend off for himself and his men.
His original plan for their well-deserved break had consisted of staying home, catching up on some minor home repairs, and reading. His friend had quickly changed his mind with a brochure for the secluded “Lake of the Woods”. There were no “touristy” amenities; only a rugged, natural environment. The nature-loving Texan had been there once before, and wove tales of “bass so big, I damn near turned over my canoe tryin’ t’ land one of ‘em.”
Grouting tiles in the bathroom and re-finishing the deck quickly lost its appeal, and the older man had agreed to accompany the enthusiastic agent on his trip. Finding someone to care for the secluded ranch and his horses, Larabee joined his friend for a half day’s ride to the lake.
“Reckon we’ll find a good place t’ camp, and set up. Then we can get in some late fishin,” Vin said from where he sat at the back of the narrow boat. “There’s some real secluded islands if you’ve a mind.”
“The quieter the better,” Larabee grinned as they passed a group of young men trying to out-drink one another on one of the little islands that dotted the big body of water.
Shaking his head and sighing, the younger man said, “damn fools.”
They passed several islands before finding the one that suited them both. It was overgrown, sitting off away from the rest of the islands. They could hear nothing but birds and the sound of their paddles cutting through the water. Chris turned to look at his companion, and both men smiled. It was perfect.
Grounding the craft at the end of the narrow beach, they began unloading their supplies, neither man saying much. They had gone camping together often enough that they had developed a comfortable routine. They soon had their campsite set up, the tents and other items surrounding the fire pit in a semi-circle. As the sun dipped low, they decided on fishing from the bank, settling in to wait for their dinner.
By nightfall, they were stretched out at the fire, eating a dinner of freshly caught fish, cornbread, and vegetables Vin had grilled near the flames. Chris took a drink of his beer and stared into the fire, his mind floating from memory to memory with a lazy stride. Yawning, he considered crawling into his tent, but wasn’t certain he was ready to expend that much energy just yet.
“So, y’ regrettin’ wastin’ your down time sittin’ out here ‘stead a cleanin’ your bathroom?”
Howling with laughter at the other man’s remark, Larabee said, “yeah, sure. Just thinking about how much grout I could have taken care of by now, instead of sitting out here in all this damned nature.”
Smiling, Vin produced graham crackers, chocolate bars and marshmallows. Getting his friend’s attention, he tossed a well-stuffed baggie of the ingredients to the other man. Sitting up, he picked up a pair of slender branches, already stripped of their bark and sharpened at one end. Offering one to the blond across his forearm, he said, “Your weapon sir.”
Laughing once again, the older man said, “S’mores.”
“Can’t have a campin’ trip without ‘em,” Vin said, feigning a shocked expression.
“Forgive me,” Chris likewise feigned a contrite look. “I don’t know what I was thinking.”
Sitting cross-legged, the men toasted the marshmallows, built the s’mores, and washed them down with beer.
“Don’t get any better than this,” Tanner said, licking the mixture of sticky charcoal, chocolate and graham cracker from his mouth.
Morning came, complete with brilliant blue skies and a few white clouds, all reflected in the mirror-still lake. Crawling out of his small tent, Chris stretched himself until his joints popped, enjoying the feel of the morning breeze on his bare chest. He wasn’t surprised to see Vin already working on breakfast, his long hair dripping from an early morning dip in the cold water.
“Mornin’,” Tanner said, the glint in his blue eyes teasing the other man for sleeping so late.
“Morning. Where’s the coffee?” Chris asked as he moved into the nearby brush to answer nature’s call.
“Who died and made you King a the lake?” Vin called after him.
“You miss the elections?” Larabee quipped.
“Nope, I just voted for th’ other guy.”
While they ate breakfast, the two men considered their activities for the day. Although the lake was calling, they found themselves contemplating the raw wilderness behind them on the island.
“What do you think’s back there?” Chris mused.
“Well,” Vin said, his voice lowering and taking on a tone of mystery, “if I remember right, one a these islands is supposed t’ have a crazy family on it.”
Nodding, the younger man said, “accordin’ t’ the locals, this couple came up here back in the sixties. They were sick a the way things were goin’ in the world, so they decided t’ hide out from it. Back then, there wasn’t much a nothin’ up here, so they roamed around the whole lake. Then, as folks started movin’ in, they started pullin’ back, til they just sort a disappeared. Folks are supposed t’ see or hear ‘em every once in awhile.”
When Tanner said nothing more, Larabee held up his hands and said, “What, no tales of disappearing tourists last seen on their island?”
Scratching his chin and frowning toward the sky, the younger man shrugged. “Think maybe someone lost a dog once, but that’s about it.”
Rolling his eyes, Chris said, “As a story-teller, I’ve gotta tell you, you stink.”
“Never said it was a story. You asked what I thought was back there,” he said defensively.
Fluidly gaining his feet, the blond said, “Well? What say we see if we can find these ‘elusive recluses’?”
“C’mon, ol’ man!” Vin teased from several yards away. “You’re the one that wanted t’ go explorin’!”
“I’ll explore you,” Chris growled, slapping whip-like branches out of his way as he followed the younger man through the thick foliage. “Didn’t say I wanted to take part in an endurance contest."
“Yeah? Well, that’s good cause I gotta tell y’ pard – “ Vin’s words broke off with a startled, pain-filled, cry.
“Vin? VIN!” Larabee called out, quickening his pace along the trail the other man had been creating. Jogging through the tangled grasses he nearly fell over the prone figure of his friend. Dropping to his knees next to Tanner, he gently put a hand on the lean chest, relieved to feel a pulse. He grimaced as he saw that there was a thick, bloodied wooden stake pierced through Vin’s left leg, halfway between his knee and ankle, barely missing the bone.
The young man’s eyes fluttered opened, the black pupils residing where blue should be. He groaned as the pain flooded through his body, radiating from his leg. He frowned, trying to remember what had happened. Then, a familiar face swam into view, accompanied by a just as familiar voice.
“What... what happened?”
“Not for certain, but you’ve got a chunk of wood poking through your leg.”
Vin struggled to get to his elbows, groaning as the pain intensified once more. A strong arm around his shoulders supported him as he forced himself to look down at his leg.
Grimacing as he tentatively touched the offending piece of wood, he groaned. “L-looks like an old style trap. I-is it a...attached t’ anythin’?”
Catching his friend as he came close to passing out, Chris said, “Whoa there, Pard.” Lowering Vin to the ground, he gingerly looked the situation over. He found the stake was a part of a simple device, formed from hemp, wood and thick mud. The stake had been positioned in such a way that it would spring upward at an angle when the trap was sprung. Moving with deliberate care, the team leader carefully extracted the stake from the rest of the apparatus. Gently he moved Tanner’s injured leg, holding it above and below the wound. He cursed softly as his actions caused Vin to moan in pain.
“’S... o.... okay,” came the raspy reply.
“I don’t want to remove this yet, could just make things worse. Do you think you can get on my back if I help you?”
“Chris... y’ain’t gonna... be able t’ carry me through... this brush.”
“You’re not going to try to walk,” The statement sounded more like Team Leader Larabee giving a command.
“Only... way,” Tanner bit back a cry as the pain grew once more.
Shaking his head vigorously, the blond said, “No, there’s got to be other options. We’ve been out here for almost an hour, it’ll take at least twice that to get you back to camp now. You try walking it and you’ll bleed to death before we get there. Now, can you get up on my back?”
Sighing, Vin said, “yeah.” He moved to sit up, only to slump back to the ground, unconscious.
“Shit,” Larabee grumbled under his breath. He would have to carry the younger man back to camp in a fireman’s carry, the dead weight would –
The blond’s thoughts were interrupted as something large and heavy smashed across the back of his head. He fell bonelessly across the supine body of his companion.
Chris groaned as pain shot through his head, radiating down his neck and shoulders. Tears sprang to his eyes as he forced them open. The pain increased as he tried to lift his head, nausea ripping through him, a wave of vertigo adding to the mix, causing him to retch violently. He managed to turn his head a little, but still felt the vomit soak into his jeans. “Shit,” he grumbled.
“Hey... C-cowboy,” a pain-filled, raspy whisper called to him.
With every ounce of strength he could manage, Larabee turned his head enough to see Vin Tanner sitting beside him. The young man’s body was held in a chair by ropes and chains. It was then that the older man realized that he was bound as well. “What th...the hell happened?”
Shaking his head, the agent said, “ain’t for...certain. Just come to....few minutes...” Vin’s voice wavered, trailing off as pain overtook him.
“Vin?” Chris pushed aside his own pain as he remembered the younger man’s injury. “Vin, talk to me. How’s your leg?”
“Hurts,” Tanner bit out. “Some... someone busted off th’ wood... I think, but it’s still in there. Got a... a bandage on it... think it’s st-stopped bleedin’.”
“Have you seen them?” Larabee asked, “have you seen whoever... whoever has us tied up?”
“Nope. Ain’t been no one ‘round... since I woke up.”
Gathering up what strength he could muster, Chris pulled at the restraining bonds, testing them for give. He found nothing. He heard the jingle of chains and looked to see Vin testing his as well. For several minutes the two ATF agents worked to free themselves. Finally, the effort and their injuries sapping their strength, they looked at one another.
“Looks like we’re stuck... for now Pard,” Chris said softly.
“Reckon so,” Vin said with a groan. The pain throbbed through him, radiating upward from his injured leg. Searching his memory, he vaguely remembered arguing with Chris over the best way to return to their camp after he had been hurt, but it seemed more like a dream than reality now. The next thing he knew, he had come awake, bound in a sitting position on the chair, with Larabee next to him, so close their shoulders touched. The blond was slumped in the chair, blood caked and drying along the back of his head. Tanner had managed to survey the roughly built room they found themselves in. It was crowded with a hodge-podge of things, what looked to him to be things left behind by campers. There were rows of jars, bottles, and other containers, some were filled, others empty. There were pieces of nylon that he identified as coming from several tents, draped over broken tent poles and canoe paddles. Pieces of old coolers, camp stoves and other outdoor paraphernalia made it almost impossible to see the walls, ceiling or floor of their makeshift prison. There was a single, filthy, window that allowed in enough light to see, but offered no ventilation. The stench of death hung heavily in the air.
A variety of badly preserved animal heads stared at them from the walls as well, shoved among the clutter. Other, smaller animals, stuffed as well, were perched here and there around the crowded room.
“Hey Chris,” Tanner nodded toward one particular head that still wore a leather collar, complete with tag. “Think we solved the mystery a the missin’ pet.”
Following the other man’s gaze, Chris smiled and shook his head at the indomitable Tanner humor. They both returned to silence then, as they tried in vain to find a way out of their predicament.
A groan brought the young agent back from his thoughts, and he turned to find Chris in obvious pain from the head injury. “Hey Cowboy, take it easy. Y’ hurtin’ bad?”
“I’ll be... okay,” Larabee said through gritted teeth. His eyes were squeezed tightly closed as he fought the over-whelming nausea. Unsuccessful, he at least managed to expel what little was still on his stomach onto the hard-packed dirt floor rather than his own clothing.
“Think maybe I should ‘a let’cha stay home,” Vin said wryly.
Trying to force a smile that ended up looking more like a grimace, the blond said, “Just re... remember this next time you get one of these bright ideas.”
The two men grew quiet at the sound of someone approaching the little shed. Exchanging a look, they waited in silence. A few minutes later, the door was pulled open, revealing their captor.
“Ah, sweet travelers, you are awake.”
Vin stared openly at the apparition. Long, wild and uncombed hair filled with bits of leaves and twigs, the color indistinguishable in its filth. Dark, grayish hued skin encrusted with dirt, despite the proximity of water. Clothes just as filthy as their owner, colors long lost in the mire of dirt and mud. With closer study, Tanner decided that he was looking at a woman.
“Who are you?” The Texan croaked out.
“Ah-ah-ah, mustn’t talk pretty one,” the walking scarecrow scolded. “ ‘A sage thing is timely silence, and better than any speech’.” She smiled, showing rotting and missing teeth.
“Look,” Chris had pulled himself together, seeming nothing less than the leader he was. “You need to be aware that your kidnapping us will only lead to your being arrested. Let my friend and me go now, and we’ll make sure you’re treated fairly.”
“’Yond Cassius has a lean and hungry look; he thinks too much; such people are dangerous’. Do you plot against me handsome Cassius? Will you coax me to release you from your bonds, only to murder me upon the step?”
“Lady, I don’t know what your problem is, but you’ve been warned. Let us go.”
The wild apparition came to stand before the two men, nearly choking them with the strong odors she emitted. She stroked first Vin’s face and then Chris’. “Sweet, pretty man...dark and brooding Cassius. What a joyous sight to find you in my yard. I knew at once that one of you was meant to be the one.”
“The one, what?” Vin asked quietly.
“Why, the one to make his home with me, of course. I have waited for so long, dreaming of one and then the other,” she rambled. “They say that ‘where love is concerned, too much is not even enough’ but how shall we decide upon which, and who, and how?”
“We decide easily,” Larabee growled. “You let us the hell out of here. Now!”
His words and hard tone startled the grimy woman, causing her to back up. Blinking in confusion, she said, “’envy and wrath shorten the life,’ my Cassius. Do you worry that you’ll lose me to your sweet, sweet friend?” Returning to stand so close that her legs rubbed their knees, she stroked her hand down Chris’ face.
Pulling away so quickly that his head began to throb even harder, he said, “Spouting a bunch of worthless quotes won’t get you far. I don’t have any desire to be ‘with’ you, and neither does my friend. I’ll tell you again, let... us... go.”
The woman glared at him then, sending a shiver down the blond’s spine. If he had doubted it before, he did no longer. She was completely, utterly, insane. He watched as she turned away from him and moved to stand over Vin. Again, she stroked one gnarled, filthy hand down his pale face. Chris worried about the younger man, he looked horrible. The blood loss and shock were draining his energy; he trembled even though the room was stifling.
“Sweet, pretty man,” she cooed as she hovered over Tanner. “’A thing of beauty is a joy for ever; it’s loveliness increases; it will never pass into nothingness’. You are truly a beautiful man.”
“No offense miss, but if you’ve been out here as long as I reckon y’ have, I don’t think y’ know much a what makes for a good lookin’ man.” He pulled back, trying to stay as far away from the woman as his bonds would allow.
“I was brought into the world in this very place,” she stood away from them, spreading her arms wide. “My dear parents came here to lose themselves in the warm embrace of nature many years ago. The world was a vile, warmongering place filled with people prone to violence... ‘war is cruelty and you cannot refine it’. They wailed, and slipped into the shadows, hiding from the flames of war. My mother was already heavy with me in her belly when they made their way to this place.”
“Yeah, that’s... that’s real interestin’,” Tanner said. “So, you’ve never been anywhere but here?”
“I have been everywhere, carried on the shoulders of the likes of Shakespeare, Emerson and Byron. When I was a babe, we reigned as the rulers of this bright and peaceful land, but the peasants rose up and forced us once more to hide. I have watched them all as shadows passing across the moon, these Men who visit our once-great domain.”
“Miss,” Vin said in a soft voice, as if he were gentling a colt. “I reckon its been awful lonely for y’ out here. It’s just you and your parents then?”
She blinked several times, as if confused by his sudden interest in her. In a nearly rational tone, she said, “after I was pulled from my mother’s body by the force and will of both parents...upside down and backwards, she had no more. Papa said that her pain was so great that he could never bring himself to plant his seed in her belly again. Mama said that they both found outlets, far superior to the crass bodily delights, that satisfied them more times than not. But, from time to time they fell from grace... I watched them... rutting as the deer and wolf. When I was their childling I found it grotesque, but now as a grown one...” she smiled, and began touching herself. “I know that the baser pleasures have their place.
“I know, too, that I will only know a completion if I bring a new life into this, my Kingdom. And... for that... I will need the... touch of a... man.” Her words were punctuated by sounds of pleasure as she continued to fondle herself beneath the layers of dirt and cloth.
As she moved back to straddle his lap, Vin turned away, the taste of bile causing him to gag. He felt her hands begin to explore him, moving from his shoulders to his chest, down to his stomach. The agent’s eyes sought and found some margin of comfort in the hazel eyes of his friend and boss. Tanner drew what strength he could from that look, even managing a faint smile. Then his attention was torn away, back to their crazed captor, when she grabbed his crotch at the same time as she dropped to sit on his knees. The pressure of even her frail weight caused complete and utter agony to flare from his mangled leg. Screaming in pain, he jerked, causing the woman to fall from his lap onto the earthen floor.
What leapt from the ground could only be described as a hell-spawn demon. Regaining her feet, the wild woman threw herself on Vin, beating at him with her fists. Unable to defend himself, the young agent suffered at her hands. When she tired of using her fists, she picked up one of the broken paddles, hitting him with it over and over again.
Beside him, Chris screamed impotent epithets at her, to no avail. “Damn you! Stop! Leave him the hell alone!” He continued screaming throughout his friend’s beating, feeling the younger man’s blood splatter the side of his face and shoulder. “Stop! Please... stop hitting him,” his words became pleading in tone.
Nothing fazed the insane creature. She continued until Vin’s face was bloodied, his nose broken. He hung limply, held upright now only by the ropes and chains. Her chest heaving from the exertion, their kidnapper finally stopped, dropping the gore-covered wood. Stumbling back from the unconscious man, she stared wildly at Chris. “’Punishment brings wisdom’. He will understand that he must not defy me now, dark Cassius.” With that, she hurried from the room, weaving as if she had been drinking for hours.
“Vin?” Chris strained to see the battered face. “Come on pard, look at me. Vin, come on, wake up.” He couldn’t disguise the fear in his voice when the other man didn’t respond. “Oh God, come on Tanner. Let me see those ‘lady melter’ baby blues pard. Come on...Vin!”
Darkness fell, and still Vin failed to respond to his voice. Larabee had talked until he was hoarse, calling to the younger man. He had strained and pulled at the heavy ropes that bound him, hoping against hope that he could free himself. He ignored the ice pick’s of pain that stabbed through his head, sending black spots across his vision. Chris continued fighting, unwilling to give up hope that they would be free of this nightmare.
Pulling back the heavy wooden door, the woman re-entered, carrying an old lantern. He could see that she had washed the blood from her face and hands, taking some of the mud with it, exposing a face much older than she professed to be. She ignored him, walking instead to the unconscious Tanner. She stroked the bloody head, tilting it up to look in the swollen face. Hours of hanging face down had left his features grotesquely swollen and distorted.
“Ah, Vin,” Larabee moaned.
“Where is my sweet, pretty man?” She asked, turning to Chris. “Has he gone away?”
“You killed him,” Chris growled. “You bitch, you killed him with your stupid games.”
“No,” she shook her head. “He is only hiding.” Leaving the lantern on the floor, she hurried from the shed. Returning a few minutes later with an old bucket, she began wiping at his bloodied features with a cloth.
Larabee cringed at the sight of the filthy rag being used to clean his friend’s open wounds. “Let him alone!”
She straightened, glaring at him. Her features were made even more demonic by the flickering lantern light. “Dark and brooding Cassius, you do not hold court here. This is my domain, and it is you who shall pay homage.” Letting the tousled head drop carelessly from her hands, she moved to straddle the blond’s black clad thighs.
Chris glared at her, feeling as if he were witnessing the opening of the very gates of hell. He felt her hands begin to explore his chest, felt them make their way down his body. Visions of tearing her head off with his bare hands helped him suffer her attention; he knew what he would have to do if he had any hope of getting free. Of saving Vin... if it wasn’t already too late. Clearing his mind of fantasies of her death, he said, “What’s your name?”
She stopped her groping, staring at him in something very close to amazement. “What?”
“Your name...what is it? I really can’t enjoy being with you if I don’t even know your name.”
“’What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet’.”
“Then shall I call you Rose?” He managed a smile, pretending with every ounce of his soul that he didn’t want to spit in her face.
She giggled coyly. “You may call me as you wish, I will answer.”
“Then, Rose, will I do? I would find it a fine and honorable thing to give you a child.” He fell into her oddly romantic way of speaking and found that she responded quickly.
Smiling until her entire mouth of rotting teeth shown, she said, “You, my fine Cassius, will do quite nicely.”
He continued to smile, and dredged up his own meager list of quotations. “’license my roving hands, and let them go... Before, behind, between, above, below’.” She looked at him, puzzlement in her face. “Let me loose, dear Rose. How can I properly show my love bound as I am?”
“No... I... if I let you go –“
“If you let me go, I will give you every pleasurable moment that you have dreamed of all these years. I can’t do that tied as I am.”
“But... if I untie you, you’ll leave me. No, I must keep you as you are.”
His heart pounding, the agent pretended to pout. Then, in a sultry voice, he said “then you do not trust me. ‘Trust men and they will be true to you’, my sweet Rose. If you wish me to stay and share your Kingdom, you must trust me.”
Hope flared in her eyes. “Do you mean it?”
“With all my heart,” he lied.
Smiling once more, she moved to a nearby shelf and returned with a big, wicked looking knife. From somewhere in the layers of tattered rags she wore as clothing, she produced a key. In a few very long moments, she had him freed of the bonds. Looking up at him from where she still knelt by his feet, she didn’t see the knee that came up to connect with her chin at the same time a fist crashed into her jaw. Like a blossom torn from its stem, Rose fell to the dirt.
Sighing as he pulled himself from the chair, Chris gathered up the key and knife she had freed him with. He quickly fastened the chains around her feet, tying her hands behind her back. Satisfied that she no longer posed a threat, he knelt at his friend’s side. Gently lifting the unconscious man’s head, he leaned him back in the chair. Working as quickly as possible, Chris freed Vin from his bonds and lay the insensate man on the floor. He had to pull the unconscious woman over as far as the chains would allow, so that he could straighten Tanner’s long limbs out. Checking the bucket their captor had brought in, he decided that the water inside would suffice for the moment. Pulling off first his shirt, then the tee-shirt beneath it, he tore the jersey material into strips. Soaking one of the strips in the tepid water, he gently began bathing the swollen and bloodied face. Finishing there, the blond checked over the rest of the lean body. He found a spongy bruise that indicated damage to some of Vin’s ribs, but most of ‘Rose’s’ attack had been concentrated on the younger man’s head and shoulders.
Moving at last to Tanner’s original injury, he split the bloodied jeans from hem to mid thigh. Pulling the material back, he found that she had, indeed, broken the thick piece of wood off, leaving most of it inside his leg. Cursing, the blond pressed at the wound, causing blood to well up, and the unconscious man to cry out. “Sorry pard, I know it hurts, but I need to see how badly infected the wound is.”
To his relief, the blood that pulsed up from the injury was relatively clear. If he could keep it clean, his friend might manage to escape a serious problem with infection. Turning Vin gently to his side, he repeated the process with the second wound at the back of his leg. That done, he cleaned the areas with water and carefully bound the jagged holes with more of his shirt. Carefully moving his friend to his back once more, he was rebuffed with a raspy curse.
A pair of swollen slits had parted, revealing a hint of blue. Torn lips moved, and a faint, garbled voice whispered, “C’ris?”
Cupping his hand gingerly along the swollen jaw, the blond smiled. “hey, Tanner. It’s about time you woke up.”
“Ha... ha,” Vin managed. Then he gasped as pain stabbed through him. “Oh... God... hur’s.”
Stroking the swollen face, Larabee gently took the other man’s hand. “You hang on to me, pard. Squeeze as hard as you need to, cuss, scream, whatever. I am going to get you out of this. As soon as it’s light, I’m going to get you back to the canoe, and we’re going home.”
Vin nodded, then collapsed back into unconsciousness.
Chris spent the rest of the dark hours caring for his friend. Vin grew cold and clammy as shock took hold of him. Larabee rummaged around the littered shack, finding pieces of nylon and canvas large enough to spread beneath and over the shivering body. At some point he realized that ‘Rose’ was awake. As he approached to check her bonds, she began a keening ,wild animal sound that ploughed through his throbbing head like an axe. When he found he couldn’t get her to stop, he gagged her. Reinforcing some of the ropes, he left her huddled in the corner, and went back to sit with Vin. The lean body continued to shiver; Chris pulled his friend into his lap, wrapping him in his arms. Slowly the trembling stopped, and Tanner clung to the strong embrace in his unconsciousness.
Tanner didn’t wake during the night. He moaned occasionally, suckled at the damp rag that Chris pressed against his mouth, but nothing more. Larabee prayed for daylight and continued his vigil. As soon as it was light enough to see, he formed a sort of sling from the refuse he found in the shack. When he finished, he slipped it beneath the injured man, fastening him into it. Lifting Vin to a sitting position, he fastened himself into it as well and, after some unsuccessful trials, he managed to get to his feet. Tanner dangled from his back like a rag doll. Pulling the long arms over his shoulders, he held them there, shifted the deadweight that Vin had become, and started off. As he exited the shack, he glared down at the insane woman. “We’ll be back for you.” He found that he enjoyed the look of unadulterated fear in her eyes.
It took some time to decipher where they were. Chris wished that Vin was awake; knowing that the younger man would have easily been able to guide them out of the wild and tangled vegetation. After walking for only a few minutes, Larabee decided that walking slightly bent forward, he could more easily carry his friend. Letting Vin’s arms dangle over his chest, he put his hands under the man’s knees. Ignoring the throbbing behind his eyes, the blond marched out of hell.
“Thank God,” Larabee sighed when, sometime later, he saw their campsite. He had been forced to stop several times along the way when pain nearly blinded him. Afraid to release Vin from his back, he had positioned the unconscious man to lean against whatever he could find, then leaned gently back against him. Ever mindful of the younger man’s injuries, he kept most of his weight off his injured friend. As a result, Chris was exhausted by the time they reached the camp.
Sitting next to the remains of their campfire, the blond cut himself free from the sling. Vin slipped from his grasp and landed with a weak cry on the sandy ground. “Shit!” Larabee cursed.
“C’ris?” Vin mumbled, speech made difficult by the grotesque swelling of his face. He didn’t even seem to register the new pain. “W’a’z ‘rong?”
“Nothing,” Larabee smiled. “How are you feeling?”
“Awfu',” the younger man admitted.
“I figured as much. Look, we’re back at the campsite. Let me rest for a few minutes, then I’ll get you ready to travel.”
Vin wanted to say something, to ask what had happened to make him feel so bad; to make Chris admit to needing rest. He wanted to know where they were, and why. All he could manage, however, was a feeble, “’kay.”
Gently squeezing the slender shoulder, Chris simply sat for a few minutes, until the blackness left his vision and the trembling subsided. That accomplished, he moved to the cooler and retrieved two colas. For once thanking Tanner’s penchant for sweet things, he opened one of the chocolate bars and swallowed it in three bites. Opening the sodas, he poured sugar in one and carefully shook it. Going to Vin’s side, he carefully lifted the semi-conscious man. “Vin, I need you to drink some of this. As the swollen lips parted, he carefully dribbled the heavily sugared drink into the man’s mouth.
“’Uck--“ Vin frowned at the taste.
“Don’t tell me I finally found something too sweet for you,” Chris jibbed.
“Nas’y,” he managed the garbled complaint.
“I know, but it should help you feel a little better.” Feeding the man as much as he could stomach in an effort to combat the shock, Chris lowered him back to the ground. Retrieving both sleeping bags, he struggled to get Vin inside one. Zipping up the bag, he put the second in the bottom of the canoe, then lifted his nylon-encased friend into his arms.
“Take it easy, Pard,” he said softly as the battered body stiffened with pain. “We’re going home now, Vin, you just rest easy.” He smiled when the other man answered with a weak nod.
Placing the injured man onto the padded floor, he retrieved the sodas and some bottled water. The rest could be retrieved or replaced, it wasn’t important. Pushing the narrow boat out onto the water, he waded along side until he could get in without grounding them. Pulling Vin up to rest in his lap, he picked up the paddle and headed them toward the main campground, and home.
Vin opened his eyes, struggling to focus on the hazy world around him. Frowning at the bright light that assaulted his aching eyes, he blinked. To his relief the light was dimmed, and he sighed. Trying to smile, he found it only caused pain. He realized that he hurt from the top of his head to his the soles of his feet. Then a gentle, cool touch on his hand got his attention. Slowly rolling his eyes in that direction, he saw a figure leaning over him.
“About time you woke your lazy ass up.”
“Sm... smar’ ass,” he managed to whisper, the effort leaving him breathless. The hand on his moved, warm fingers wrapping around his cold ones. He squeezed the hand, letting it offer him some comfort from the pain.
“You take it easy, okay? Just relax and feel better,” Chris said. He reached up and gently stroked the furrowed brow, watching the other man’s expression slowly ease. After several moments he said, “I’m gonna let you sleep some more, okay?” He started to move his hand.
“Chris?” Vin’s fingers tightened around his friend’s hand as a frightening apparition appeared behind his closed eyes. He wasn’t certain who or what it was, but fear caused his heart to leap into his throat.
“Want me to stay here awhile?”
Tanner nodded shyly, embarrassed at his wordless admission.
Smiling, Larabee said, “It’s okay. I’ll stay right here as long as you need me to.”
Settling back against the pillows, the battered man relaxed. He kept his hand tucked inside the warmth of his friend’s grip.
Chris leaned back on the chair he rested in, dropping his bandaged head against the cushioned backrest with a tired groan. They had been in the hospital for just over a day, but he still felt exhausted. Returning to the boat rental dock, he had found help; had held Vin in his arms until the EMT’s had arrived and carefully lifted him onto a gurney. Standing to follow them, he found himself falling toward the graveled walkway, darkness closing in before he landed face first in the rocks.
Waking up in the local hospital, he had quickly established a reputation for being a difficult patient. Demanding to see his friend, he had made the nursing staff’s life hell for several hours before he was wheeled to the battered man’s bedside. Vin was hooked up to an IV and oxygen, his bed elevated to alleviate the pressure on his broken ribs and a bruised lung. His injured leg was elevated as well, swathed in heavy bandages and immobilized to keep him from injuring it further. Thankfully the swelling had gone down in his face and, other than multiple bruises and a bandage over his broken nose, he was beginning to look more like Vin Tanner.
When it became obvious that Chris wasn’t going to stay away from his friend, the hospital staff had moved him in with Vin. Even though he had a convenient bed then, the blond spent much of his time in the chair at the younger man’s bedside.
“Hey stud,” A quiet voice brought Larabee from his thoughts. Turning, he saw the other five members of his team entering the room. For the first time in days, he genuinely smiled.
“Damn, can’t we trust you two to even take a few days off?” Buck quipped, though the concern was well evident in his deep blue eyes.
“I believe that we may have to restrict the two of you from unsupervised recreational pursuits,” Ezra Standish said from where he had parked himself at the head of Vin’s bed.
“Chris, what happened?” Nathan asked quietly.
The men settled themselves around their leader as if they were children waiting to be told a story. The tale Larabee related, however, was not one meant to ensure pleasant dreams. He ended with what had happened after he and Vin were delivered to the hospital.
“I gave the local authorities all of the details, and told them where she was. They went out there yesterday morning to arrest her.”
“And?” JD asked when Chris grew quiet.
The older man shook his head. “She’d managed to escape. Chief Jeffries of the local PD stopped by a little while ago and told me they’ve looked everywhere they could on that island. Hell, it’s not that big, but she’s no where to be found. They’re going to keep looking for her, and he promised to keep me updated. It’s been her home all her life though, she hasn’t been off it for at least twenty-five years they think. She could be hiding anywhere, and they might never find her. They did find two graves... her parents. Her mother’s was dated 1986 and her father’s 1989.”
“You mean she’s been hiding out there, alone, since then,” Dunne asked, “twelve years? All alone?”
Nodding, then groaning as the movement made his head throb, Chris felt a big hand on his shoulder. Looking up, he found Josiah looking at him with concern. “I’m okay,” he said automatically.
“Well, you’re disguising that fact quite well,” Standish admonished. All of them watched with concern as the color drained from Larabee’s face. None of them had missed the dark smudges beneath his eyes, or the tremble of his hands.
“Brother, you need rest,” Sanchez said firmly. “As Hippocrates said, ‘natural forces within –“
“Josiah, unless you want me to shoot you, you won’t quote anyone or anything around me for a very long time,” Larabee warned.
Chuckling, the big man said, “sorry boss.” He lifted the smaller man to his feet and guided him to the second bed in the little room. Nathan was at his side, and together they got the exhausted man settled in. Chris was asleep before they got the blankets over him.
Buck lifted the chair Larabee had just vacated, placing it between the two beds. Sitting down in it, he let them all know that he would be staying, knowing Chris would rest better with someone ‘watching his back’. He looked around at the others, smiling at the ease at which they each took up positions around their fallen friends. Ezra was carefully brushing through Vin’s always unruly curls with his fingers. JD was perched on the foot of Chris’ bed, his eyes going from one injured man to the other, finding comfort in each rise of their chests. Nathan was going over their charts, double checking to make certain he knew everything about their physical health. Josiah stroked back the long blond hair from Chris forehead, his lips moving in a silent prayer. After several long minutes, four of the team members drifted toward the door, making plans to return later.
Alone with his two friends, Buck heaved a trembling sigh of relief. “You two are gonna make me old before my time,” he complained. Settling back in the chair, he folded his arms across his chest and prepared to stand guard over the two sleeping figures.
Chris Larabee smiled as he heard a familiar drawl coming from the hospital room. Vin was trying unsuccessfully to get the nurse to forgo the customary wheelchair ride to the door. He entered the room to find the pretty angel in white looking more like an avenging angel of doom.
“Want me to shoot him Joyce?”
Turning, the woman smiled at his teasing expression then said sarcastically, “would you? That would be great. Then we could put up with ‘Mr. Charming’ for yet another week.”
“Hey, would y’all stop talking ‘bout me like I ain’t in the room?” Tanner grumbled.
“I’m sorry, did someone say something?” The blond quipped.
“Ha... ha... ha,” Vin responded. “Chris, I don’t see why we have t’ go through this every time. I don’t need no one pushin’ me through the hallway like I’m some sort a parade float.”
“Well, for one, you’re supposed to stay off that leg for a few more days. For another, I’m not in the mood to pick your skinny ass up off the floor when you fall down, and I don’t think Joyce or the other nurses should have too, either. Now, if you want to leave here and go home with me, you’ll shut the hell up, stop arguing, and plant that ass of yours in the wheelchair.”
“Damned, bossy, good-for-nothin’,” Vin groused as he eased himself from the bed into the chair.
“What?” Larabee hovered over him, arms folded and eyes flashing.
“Nothin’,” Tanner replied shortly.
“Yeah, right. Do you have everything?” He turned to the now chuckling nurse.
Holding up a bag, she said, “everything’s in here, including instructions, ‘scrips and a couple of pain pills for the ride home. He just had one about 20 minutes ago, by the way. Copies of the records have already been faxed to Denver to his regular doctor.”
Nodding, the agent put out his hand and said, “thanks Joyce.”
Nothing more was said until they reached the front doors of the hospital. After he directed the nurse to his black truck, the blond turned to her, smiling, and said, “I guess I’ll take ‘Mr. Charming’ off your hands now.”
“My heartfelt thanks, “ the nurse teased, squeezing the wheelchair bound man’s shoulder. Sobering, she said, “you two take care of yourselves, all right? Hopefully the next time you come for a visit, we’ll show you a better time around here.”
With a chuckle, Chris said, “don’t be offended if we don’t visit anytime soon.” He put the bag on the floor of the truck to rest Vin’s injured leg on, then helped the nurse ease his friend into the cab. Waving good-bye, he climbed into the driver’s side and started the truck. Easing out of the hospital drive, he looked over at his friend. Vin was pale, a thin sheen of perspiration on his still bruised face. “We could stop about halfway, at a motel, give you a little time to get used to being out and about.”
Shaking his head adamantly, the young agent said, “just get me th’ hell outta here, Larabee. I wanna go home.” Then, he added, “and pard, next time? I’ll help y’ with the groutin’.”
Laughing, the blond said, “it’s a deal.”
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