Lessons Learned

by Winnie

THE FIRM Universe

Disclaimer: Still not mine, but I just love to fool around.

Comments: This is being written for Sasha, who wanted Chris on crutches...feedback welcome.

The hot rays of the sun brought a warmth to the faces of the two men riding across the open field. The smell of wildflowers and Ponderosa Pine permeated the air and gave the men a heady sense of excitement as man and horse moved as one across the open field of greenery.

Chris Larabee gazed sideways at his companion. The younger man was special in more ways than one. He'd succeeded in bringing Chris back from the brink of complete breakdown when his family was murdered and both men were now bonded by something even stronger than friendship. They were brothers in heart and soul and they'd been through more in the past three years than most people went through in a lifetime.

Vin Tanner kept his eyes straight ahead until he felt the green eyes staring at him. He turned sideways and smiled at his friend, content in the warmth of the day and even more in the warmth of the friendship he shared with this man. "How're you doin, Cowboy?" Tanner shouted above the wind as they continued to race across the wide open meadow.

Larabee's answer was a cocky grin that he knew Vin would interpret as doing just fine. Truth was he felt wild and free, something he enjoyed sharing with the younger man. Vin's excitement when riding was something Larabee loved to see and he knew this was something they needed to do more often. He vowed to make it a point to invite the younger man riding at least once a week.

As if on cue the two men slowed their horses and let them set their own pace.

"What time do we have to be back?" Tanner asked.

"No set time. I told Josiah we wouldn't be coming in today. He said he'd take care of things."

"Great... What the hell is that?" Tanner asked as the thunderous sound of an explosion sounded ahead.

"I don't know, Vin, but it's coming from the old quarry. I hope no one's stupid enough to be blasting there."

"You wanna check it out?"

"I think we'd better," the excitement of the day was quickly replaced with the seriousness of the situation. The quarry was a dangerous place and in spite of warning signs teenagers sometimes used it as a hangout. "Dammit," he swore as another explosion sounded from the quarry.

Horses and riders once more moved as one in their haste to get to the quarry. The ground disappeared below them as the Pony and Peso erased the distance between them and the quarry.

"There they are," Tanner shouted, pointing to three teenage boys mindlessly tossing sticks of dynamite into the abandoned quarry.

"Son of a bitch! Where the hell would they get dynamite," Larabee snapped as they rode towards the boys.

"Will you just throw the damned thing, Warren?"

"T...throw it w...where, Terry?" Warren stammered nervously as his friend lit the stick of dynamite.

"Anywhere you damn fool," Terry snapped as the fuse hissed and sputtered to life.

"Oh s...shit," Warren cried and threw the dynamite towards the edge ten feet in front of him.

"Chris, stop," Tanner shouted as the stick of dynamite flew towards them. He veered Peso to the right and raced along the edge.

Larabee veered to the left and prayed they'd be out of range of the dynamite. The repercussion from the explosion caused the horse to rear up and lose its footing in the loose dirt. Chris tried to hold the animal steady, but knew it wasn't going to work as horse and rider went down in a tangle of arms and legs.

Larabee bit back a cry of pain as he felt Pony land on his left leg, sending shards of agony ripping from ankle to hip.

"Oh, fuck, Warren, you killed someone," the third boy cried.

"W...wasn't my f...fault," Warren stammered, his eyes glued to the struggling horse at the edge of the quarry. The animal finally made it to his feet and stood beside a writhing blond haired man.

"Chris," Tanner saw the horse and rider fall after the explosion and he turned back the way he'd come. "You three get your asses up here, NOW!" he shouted as he dismounted by the trembling form. "Where are you hurt, Chris?" He asked automatically.

"I...I t...think my leg's broke," Larabee hissed painfully. "Where the hell are those kids?"

Tanner turned to watch the three boys slowly working their way up the side of the quarry. "They're comin' up now," he said, turning his attention back to Larabee's left leg.

"I'm gonna kill the little..."

"Chris, hold still," Tanner warned as he used his knife to slit the side of Larabee's black jeans. "Hell, Chris, could you have found a tighter pair?" he grinned, trying to get the other man's mind off the injury.

"Ah, hell, Vin, don't make me laugh right now," Larabee grimaced as Tanner pulled the material away from the leg.

"You three stay put," he ordered as the three boys finally reached them.

"Hey, you can't tell us what to do," Terry shouted.

"He j...just did now sit down and shut up!" Larabee ordered.

"What gives you the right..." the third boy shouted.

"This fuckin' broken leg does!" Larabee snarled as Tanner probed the bruised limb.

The Texan winced as Larabee gasped for breath when he touched an area above the knee. "I need to get you to the hospital, Chris."

"No shit!" the blond snapped. "S...sorry," he apologized immediately.

"We g...got a t...truck," Warren stammered.

"Where?" Tanner asked.

"It's parked on the other side of the quarry," Terry answered.

"What's your name?" Tanner asked the one who stammered.

"Warren Baker."


"Terry Lawson."

"James Midland."

"M...Midland," Larabee's eyes shot open and he glared at the dark haired boy.

The boy cringed from the icy glare coming from the perspiring man. "Y...yes, Sir," he muttered.

"Any relation to Stacey Midland?" the injured man asked.

"She's my sister."

"Just my luck," Larabee said, as Tanner finished checking his leg. "She's gonna give me hell and her brother just put me there," he groaned.

"Any of you old enough to have a license?" the sharpshooter asked.

"Yes, Sir," James answered, the fear in his voice making him seem even younger.

"Alright, James, you go bring the truck around here," Tanner ordered. "You two stay put."

"Yes, Sir," Midland repeated as he raced along the edge of the quarry.

"Chris," Tanner said and waited for the injured man to open his eyes. "We're gonna get you out of here."

"Just don't let these yahoos drive," he groaned and held his hands to his head. "Shit, Vin, what about Pony and Peso?"

"Well, Cowboy, the doc's brother will have to drive you back to the ranch. I'll ride Peso and lead Pony. We'll leave the horses there. I'm gonna call and have an ambulance meet us at your place," Tanner told him as he pulled out his cell phone and placed the call.

"Hell!" The blond exclaimed as he stared at the two boys. "Where the hell did you three get your hands on dynamite?"

"We found it in the old shack at the edge of the quarry," Terry explained.

"There was nothing left there. That place was emptied years ago," Tanner told him.

"This stuff was under a trap door. Warren found it by accident."

"That stuff could've blown up in your faces," Larabee scolded, realizing the three boys could've been killed by their own ignorance.


"No buts, Kid, how many pieces of that stuff did you find?" the sharpshooter asked.

"A dozen," Terry answered.

"You used three? Four?"

"T...three," Warren stammered.

"You all could've been seriously hurt or killed," Tanner told them. "You know we're gonna report this to the police?"

"I g...guess so," Warren muttered.

"We'll send the police out to collect the remaining sticks of dynamite. Easy, Chris," he soothed as a low moan escaped from the blonds throat.

"Vin, hide the damn s...stuff so nobody else decides it's a nice new toy to play with," Larabee told him.

"You two stay with him," Tanner rushed down into the quarry and gathered the remaining dynamite. He buried it in the loose earth and marked it with rocks, before hurrying back to his fallen friend.

The injured man opened his eyes and watched as the sharpshooter returned from the bottom of the quarry. He felt beads of sweat running down his face and groaned as he reached for his swollen limb.

"You alright?" Tanner asked.

"Think so," Larabee spat as he turned his glare on the two kids sitting on the ground beside him. "Damn," he swore and lay back on the ground

"Chris, looks like James is here with the truck. We're gonna need to lift you into the back," Tanner explained.

"Shit!" he cursed and tried to sit up.

"Lie still. These boys will help me get you in the back."

"D...don't want them helping..."

"There's not much choice, Chris. We're gonna need to keep that leg as straight as possible. Just lie there ‘til I make sure the back of the truck is clear."

"All right," the blond mumbled, painfully aware of how much this was going to hurt. He rested his head on the hard ground, eyes clenched tightly as pain throbbed up and down his leg. He listened to Vin ordering the boys around, telling them what he wanted done and how to do it. He wasn't sure how much time passed before he felt a hand on his shoulder.

"Chris, we're gonna lift you into the truck. I ain't gonna lie, it's gonna..."

"Hurt like a son of a bitch," Larabee mumbled through clenched teeth. "Just get it over with!"

Tanner nodded and turned to the three boys. "You three are gonna help me out. You two," he pointed to Lawson and Baker, "Take his arms. You," his eyes turned on Midland, "Take his right leg. We need to keep him as still as possible."

"Yes, Sir," the three teenagers answered.

"Chris, you ready?"

"Not even a l...little," he gasped.

"Sorry, Cowboy, there's really no choice here."

"J...just get it done," the injured man muttered impatiently.

"Okay, Boys, lift on three," Tanner explained. "One, two, three."

Chris gasped as he was lifted from the hard ground. He bit his lip in an effort to take his mind off the shards of pure agony assaulting his leg. He breathed through clenched teeth as they carried him the short distance to the truck. He felt beads of perspiration running down his back and knew it wasn't from the arid heat of the day. He knew there was more pain coming in the ride back to the ranch. A drive over uneven ground, in the back of a truck, with his leg demanding his attention was something Chris Larabee was not looking forward to.

"Sonofabitch," he gasped as the four people holding him lifted him into the back of the truck.

"Almost there, Chris," Tanner explained as he gently placed the swollen limb on the floor of the vehicle. He'd found a few old blankets in the back storage compartment and spread them over the floorboards.

"Sit me up," Larabee gasped as the boys let his shoulders down on the blanket.

Tanner lifted the blond forward, ignoring the mumbled groans emanating from his mouth. He knew from experience his friend would not want to lie down on the trip back. He'd unsaddled Pony placing the saddle and blanket in easy reach. "James, push the saddle behind him and throw the blanket over it."

James Midland hurried to do as he was told, his eyes full of regret as he listened to the sounds made by the injured man. "How's that?"

"That's good," Tanner smiled knowingly at the kid as he eased his friend back on the saddle. "You alright, Chris?" he asked. The pale shade of grey, mingled with the fine sheen of perspiration told Tanner that his friend was nowhere near alright.

"F...fine, Vin," Larabee's shaky voice belied his words.

"Chris, got some water here."

The injured man took the bottle of water from his friend and drank greedily. The moisture on his throat made him sigh in relief. "T...thanks," he said, passing the bottle back to the younger man.

"James, You follow the road until you meet up with the highway. Make a right and keep going until you see a ranch on the right side of the road. Follow the driveway up to the house and stay put ‘til I get there."

"Yes, S....Sir," Midland's stammering voice revealed his nervousness.

"Make sure you s...stay away from the p...potholes," Larabee warned, hating the thought of the trip out of the quarry.

"I'll see you back at the ranch, Cowboy, hopefully the ambulance will meet us there," Tanner patted the blond's shoulder and jumped out of the truck. He turned to Lawson and Baker. "You two sit in the back here and make sure he doesn't bang up against the sides of the truck. James, take it slow going back."

"I will," Midland assured him.

Tanner nodded, then looked down at his friend. Blue eyes met green and the silent signal flowed between them, an easy communication that no one else could hear.

Midland hurried to the front of his truck and pulled open the door. He slid behind the wheel and slipped the keys into the ignition. 'Stacey's gonna kill me,' he thought as the face of his older sister swam before his eyes.

The drive back to the ranch was nothing less than torture for Chris. The two miles of unpaved road leading from the quarry to the highway being the worst. Every bump sent new waves of pain to mingle with the already throbbing pain in his leg. He felt two sets of hands steady him when the truck hit a particularly deep rut.

"Are you okay?" Warren asked worriedly.

The leader of the Firm bit back a sharp retort as he gripped the edges of the blanket he was lying on. "Yeah, I'm just fu..., fine," he caught himself and stopped the curse from leaving his mouth. He felt the truck turn onto the highway and breathed a sigh of relief that the worst part of the trip was over. He let his eyes slide closed and concentrated on keeping his breathing under control. He could feel the two boys beside him and knew they'd have to pay for their actions. If it was up to him they'd be taught a lesson they'd never forget. He knew it was the pain making him think of the worst possible punishment for their crime of stupidity. He wondered what the judge would sentence them to and if they had any priors. Something told him the three boys deeply regretted the injury he'd suffered as a result of their need for adventure.

"We're at your ranch," Terry informed him.

"Thank God," Larabee muttered as the truck began the drive into his yard. He opened his eyes and fought the growing nausea building in his stomach. ‘Not now,’ he thought, swallowing deeply. The truck drew to a stop in front of the ranch house and he felt a sense of relief from the two boys seated beside him.

"Are you okay, Mr. Larabee?" Midland asked as he joined the three people in the back of the truck. He lowered the tailgate and sat on the edge. He'd seen the name on the sign at the gate and knew this man from his sister's descriptions of the enigmatic leader of The Firm. He knew how much she admired Chris Larabee and he wondered what she'd have to say about his part in the man's injuries.

Larabee cocked an eyebrow at the young man and his friends. "I will be if your sister doesn't shoot me for this."

"Why would she do that?" Midland asked seriously.

"She told me she didn't want to see me for at least six months. I missed it by three weeks," Larabee told them. "I g...guess it is kind of a record," he closed his eyes and once more fought the nausea. He knew he was going to be sick and warned the boy on his right to move. "Shit, sorry," he mumbled as he only partially made it over the edge.

"It's okay," Midland assured him. "I remember when I broke my leg and I got sick just like that. Stacey said a lot of people do."

"She's right about that, Kid," Larabee trembled and let his eyes drift closed once more.

The three teenagers watched the injured man. Neither one spoke in case he was sleeping. They sat in the back of the truck, waiting for the second man to show up.

A sigh escaped Larabee's mouth as he heard the sound of hooves coming towards them. "Vin's here," he muttered.

The boys looked at each other, scowling as they tried to figure out how the injured man knew his friend was here yet he hadn't opened his eyes. They were even more shocked when Tanner hurried towards them a few minutes later.

The sharpshooter hurried to the truck and looked at the blond. "How're you doing, Chris?" he asked worriedly, noting the skin was paler than the last time he'd seen him.

"I'm okay, Vin. Let's just go get the damn cast put on so I can get back here and go to bed," Larabee's exhausted voice mumbled painfully.

"Sounds like the ambulance is here," the sharpshooter said as the warbling sirens grew louder.

The blond nodded and leaned heavily on the saddle. "You boys better follow us in," he ordered, his eyes clenched tightly as he spoke to the three teenagers.

"I'll make sure they do," the Texan assured the injured man as the ambulance pulled in and two Paramedics climbed out of the front seats.

They opened the back door, pulled out a gurney and hurried towards the truck.

A burly red head looked at the three boys and then at the two men. "What happened?' he asked as he moved into the back of the truck and began examining Larabee's leg.

"It's a long story," Tanner answered his eyes seeking out those of the three boys. "Let's just say his horse rolled over on him."

"Ouch," the paramedic sympathized. "What's your name?" he asked the injured man as his own partner started taking vitals.


"Well, Chris, I'm Steve and this is Kelly. I'm gonna immobilize your leg and give you something for the pain," Steve said as he noticed the grimace on the pale face. He readied an area on the blond's arm and injected the pain medication.

"Thanks," Larabee muttered as he felt the needle slide into his shoulder.

"You're welcome," Steve told him. He looked to his partner and the two men began immobilizing the injured limb. "All right, Chris, let's get you on the stretcher," the paramedic said.

Vin moved in to help as they lifted the injured man from the bed of the truck and secured him on the gurney.

"Are you taking him to Saint Vincents?" Tanner asked.

"That's right," Kelly answered as they wheeled the stretcher to the ambulance and lifted it inside.

"I'll see you there," Tanner told his friend as Steve climbed inside and the door was closed. "You three follow me," he ordered icily. The soft, barley audible moans from his friend wiping away any sympathy he had for the boys.


The ambulance pulled into the emergency department an hour later. The occupant on the stretcher held tightly to the edge while they lifted him out. Steve and Kelly wheeled him into the emergency department where they were met by a nurse who smiled at Larabee.

"It looks like I get to collect," she grinned.

Larabee opened pain filled eyes and looked at the petite brunette standing beside him. he recognized her from previous visits and asked. "What's Ezra betting on now?"

She smiled at him as she answered, "he had a bet going on whether or not you could last six months without a visit to the ER and I think I won."

'I'll get you for this, Ezra,' he thought as Vin Tanner came through the door, the three teenagers following slowly behind him.

"Hi, Doc," he smiled weakly as the woman who'd become the Firm's main caregiver hurried towards him.

"Hi yourself, Chris. I thought I told you I didn't want to see you here for six months?" Stacey Midland told him.

"A...almost made it. Missed it b...by three w...weeks," he groaned as she examined his left leg.

Midland nodded to Tanner, but continued to check the injury. "How long ago did this happen?" she asked.

"About three hours ago out at the old quarry," Tanner answered.

"The quarry?" Midland asked and noticed her brother and the two boys he hung around with. "What do you three have to do with this?"

Tanner listened to James Midland take complete blame for the injury. His two friends stood beside him and kept their eyes trained on the floor

"Let's get you into a room, Chris," Midland said. Her eyes raked over her brother and his friends when she heard about the dynamite. "I'll speak to you three when I'm done," she assured them as she angrily walked away.

Vin turned to the three boys and spoke softly. "You three best go sit in the waiting room. I'm gonna call the police department and have them send someone over."

"Are we gonna go to jail?" Warren Baker whined, his eyes filled with fear.

"I guess that'll be up to the judge. You need to realize you very nearly killed a man!"

"But we didn't know he was there," Terry Lawson complained.

"It's still our fault," James Midland told them as Vin led them towards the waiting room.


Chris waited for the pain in his leg to ease up. He was alone in the small examination room, waiting for the results of the X-ray. From experience he knew it was a bad break. The look of sympathy from the X-ray technician as she maneuvered it to take the pictures assured him he was in trouble. He kept his eyes closed as he remembered the white-hot agony when the leg was first broken. He was grateful for the pain medication the paramedics gave him, but it was quickly wearing off. He sighed as he closed his eyes and waited for the doctor to show up.


Larabee looked up to see the sharpshooter enter the room. "Hi," he mumbled and tried to sit up more in the bed. He pressed the button on the side rail until he could look at the worried young man without much strain.

"How are you doing?"

"I'm okay," he answered, grinning sheepishly at the ‘I don't believe you' look on the sharpshooter's face. "It's not bad yet, Vin."

Tanner nodded and sat in the lone chair next to the bed. "Has the doc been in to see you?"

"Not yet. Wish they'd hurry up so I can get out of here," Larabee grinned in an effort to ease the worry on his friend's face.

"I called Buck at the office."

The blond's eyebrows arched, "is everything okay?"

"Yeah, they're working on the files and I told them I'd call back as soon as we know anything."

The pain was rapidly approaching the annoying level and Larabee forced a smile to his face. "I hope they're not letting JD arrange the filing system. The last time he took it into his head they needed fixing we lost half of them."

Tanner returned the smile, thinking of the fake dressing down The Firm's leader bestowed on the newcomer. "It's a good thing we were able to find everything. I'd hate to think of JD having to search through the paper files in the basement."

"Hell, Vin, I wouldn't have made him do that. I just wanted to see him squirm a little."

"Oh, he did squirm," Tanner laughed.

"Chris, the X-ray results are back," Midland said as she entered the small room. "The femur is broken right here," she pointed to an area above the knee.

"Damn, so when can you put on the cast and get me out of here?"

"I'm afraid it's a little more complicated than that," she told him.

"Shit," he swore. "Sorry, Doc. Complicated how?"

"You need surgery to realign the bone and you'll need pins to hold it in place."

Larabee let his head fall back on the pillow, letting his eyes slide shut at the thought of surgery and a hospital stay. "When and how long?"

"Dr. Thompson will perform the surgery. They're setting up the OR right now."

The injured man groaned inwardly before looking back at the doctor. "So how long will I have to stay in here?"

"A couple of days just to make sure everything's okay," she answered. "Look, Chris, I'm sorry for what my brother and his friends did. I've called Warren and Terry's parents and they'll pick them up at the police station."

"I'd rather not talk about them, Doc. I'm madder than hell right now and I don't even want to think about those three."

"Alright," Midland agreed "The nurse will be in to set up an IV in a couple of minutes. Make sure you don't eat or drink anything. I'll let you know when Dr. Thompson is ready for you."

Larabee's only response was a slight nod as he hid his frustration and anger. He heard the doctor leave and turned to the sharpshooter. "Go home, Vin," he said, knowing before he said it what the answer would be.

Tanner's eyebrows rose and he smiled at the injured man. "No way, Cowboy. I'll be here when you come out of surgery. I'll wait until they come for you before I call the office."

The patient smiled without opening his eyes. Recently, the one thing he could count on above all else was waking to see the long haired sharpshooter standing guard over him. Watching his back and making sure he didn't do anything reckless. He'd done the same over the couple of years since they first met and that friendship continued to grow.

The pain in his leg was getting worse, but he tried not to let it show. He heard the door open and opened his eyes.

"Mr. Larabee, I need to start an IV," she smiled sympathetically as he moved up on the bed. She took his left arm and searched for an appropriate vein. She found one on the top of his hand and soon had the IV flowing properly. "Dr. Midland said to tell you she's ordered a shot for pain when you need it."

"I'm okay right now," he told her.

Tanner could tell by the lines on his face that he was far from okay. He was able to read the other man and knew the pain was steadily increasing as the shot the paramedics gave him wore off. Chris Larabee would never readily admit to needing help in controlling the pain in his body.

"Just press your call button if you change your mind."

"I will," the injured man assured her. He watched her leave and felt the man beside him staring at him. "What's wrong, Vin?"

"I was jest wondering why ya gotta be so damn stubborn all the time."

"What's that supposed to mean?"

"Why didn't ya tell her ya needed something?"

"I said I'm okay."

"I can see that," Tanner spat sarcastically. "Those lines on your face are there because of all that laughter you're cuttin' loose with."


"Chris, stop being so damned hard-assed. Let them give you something for the pain."

"Seems to me I've said the same damned thing to you a time or two."

Tanner couldn't help but smile. "Yeah, but I ain't the one in pain right now, Cowboy."

Larabee didn't answer as he struggled to contain the mounting pain. He bit his lip and held back the involuntary groan, but knew Vin didn't miss it. He had no idea how much time passed when his hand found the call button and he pressed it.

The nurse's voice came over the tiny speaker and Vin told her his friend needed something for pain.

"Thanks, Vin."

"No problem," Tanner said as the door opened and the nurse returned with the shot.

The blond opened his eyes and watched as she used an alcohol swab to clean the juncture in the IV and inserted the pain medication. He closed his eyes, "thanks," he muttered tiredly.

"You're welcome, Mr. Larabee. It shouldn't be long more," she told him before she left.



"Don't worry so much," he smiled, knowing the younger man thought he was hiding things from him.

"I'm not worried," Tanner lied. "Hell, this should be a cake walk for you."

"A cake walk?"

"That's right. A cake walk. You know the game kids play."

Larabee smiled as he remembered the game. The object was to walk in a circle as music played. Once the music stopped you stayed on the number. Unlike musical chairs their was a number for each participant. People were eliminated when the number they were standing on was called. "Yeah, played it at the school fair with Adam."

"How'd you do?" the sharpshooter asked. He knew his friend found it easier to talk about his wife and son. He was grateful the older man trusted him and spoke openly about his family life.

"Let's just say Sarah didn't have to bake for a week. Adam was a natural." He heard the door open and watched the doctor enter.

"They're ready for you upstairs, Chris," she informed him as two orderlies followed her into the room. "Vin, you know where the waiting room is."

Tanner stood up and looked at his friend. "I'll call the guys. See you soon, Cowboy."

"Try not to worry, Tanner," Larabee smiled as the younger man clasped his forearm. "See you in a bit."

"I'll be there."

"Never doubted that for a minute." The blond watched his friend leave and settled back on the stretcher.

"Everything's going to be fine, Chris."

"I know, Doc," Larabee assured her as the orderlies wheeled him from the room.

"I'll come up to see you when it's all over," she assured him. 'Right now it's time for me to have that talk with my baby brother,' she thought as the stretcher disappeared.

Chris lay back against the pillow as he was wheeled from the room. The bright overhead lights were something he hated seeing from this position. It always meant tests or surgery. The trip to the OR didn't take long and Chris was helped from the gurney to the operating table.

"Hello, Chris, I'm Dr. Mitchell. I'm going to be putting you to sleep in a few minutes. Dr. Thompson will be here shortly and once he speaks to you I'll add the anaesthetic to your IV and the next time you wake up will be in recovery."

Larabee nodded as the blue hospital gown was removed. His arms were stretched out to either side and loosely strapped down. He felt leads attached to his body and knew they would monitor his vitals during the operation. He knew they'd be putting him on a ventilator, but he also knew it would be removed before he woke up.


The patient turned his head slightly and looked at the newcomer.

"I'm Dr. Thompson and I'll be performing the operation. Do you have any questions or concerns?"

"I don't think so, Doc."

"Then let's get that leg of yours fixed, shall we?" Thompson patted his bare shoulder and signaled Mitchell that he was ready.

"All right, Chris, I'm adding the anaesthetic," Mitchell explained as he inserted the syringe into the IV and watched the patient closely.

Chris felt his eyes close and knew the drug was putting him under. He sighed as he gave into the anaesthetic, knowing the next time he woke up it would all be over.


James Midland knew he was in trouble. He saw the fire burning in his sister's dark brown eyes as she entered her office. He sat quietly, knowing he deserved whatever she was about to say to him. He felt bad about his involvement in the accident that injured Chris Larabee. There was no way he could tell her how much he regretted the disappointment he saw on his sister's face.

"Well?" her voice was icy as she sat at her desk.

James couldn't meet her gaze. His sister meant the world to him. She was his only family and raised him since their father's death. They were half siblings but were closer than most brothers and sisters. Stacey's mother died in a car accident and her father remarried, James was a result of the second marriage. Stacey loved her step mother and they got along well. When James came along she proudly showed him off. The difference in their ages was never a problem between them.

When their father and mother were killed in a plane crash Stacey took on the role of both parents. James was eleven at the time and she swore he would never go into a foster home. He loved her and knew he'd hurt her trust in him.

"We thought it would be fun, Stacey..."

"Fun! Dammit, James, you know better than that. You nearly killed a man!"

"I know and I'm sorry. W...we just didn't think..."

"Think! What was there to think about? You know how dangerous dynamite is and from what I heard this stuff was old and unstable! This was..."

"Stupid! I know that..."

"Do you? If Chris and Vin hadn't come along when they did you three probably would've been killed. You're lucky they were riding out that way. We've talked about this James. We've talked about guns. I even showed you what can happen if a gun misfires. You've seen people who were hurt in explosions! You've seen the damage done by carelessness and here you go and show me how stupid you can be!"


"You've hurt a man to the point where he has to have surgery. His leg's gonna bother him for a long time. Not to mention the therapy he'll need once the cast comes off."

"I'm sorry," her brother muttered, his eyes staring at a spot on the carpet.

"Sorry just doesn't cut it. What did the police have to say?"

"They took our statements and released us into the custody of our family. We have to appear before a judge tomorrow. I'm scared Stacey," he mumbled.

"You'd better be. This is gonna go on your criminal record. I thought you had more sense than to play with something so dangerous," she fought back the anger she felt building again. Her brother was smart and she knew he usually thought things through. "James?"

He looked at his sister, fighting back the tears that misted his eyes. He felt bad about the man they'd injured and wished he could take it back. It was his sister's anger that drove home the callousness of his actions and he knew she'd lost faith in him. He breathed deeply and waited for her to continue.

"This is not something an apology can make go away. There's a man upstairs who's undergoing surgery to fix his broken leg and you helped put him there. Oh I know it wasn't you who threw that particular stick of dynamite but you're just as guilty."

Her voice had lost the icy edge, but this calm Stacey Midland was even more dangerous. James stared at his sister, wishing he could turn back the clock and start the day all over again. "I know, Sis, There's nothing I can do to change what happened, but..."

"But what," Stacey interrupted softly.

"I can help Mr. Larabee at his ranch if he lets me."

"That's a start, James. I just don't know if Chris Larabee will want you anywhere near him."

"Will you talk to him for me?"

"I'll ask him if he'll see you, but you'll have to make your offer yourself. Do you think you can face him?"

"I think so, Stacey, and for what it's worth I'm sorry I disappointed you."

The woman nodded as she stood up and walked to the window. "It means a lot, James. It doesn't make it any easier, but I'm glad you understand what you did was not only wrong, but stupid."

"I do and I'll find some way to make it up to you. I know it'll take a long time before you trust me again, but I'll do everything I can until you do.

"You can start by going home and staying there. You're grounded little brother."

James nodded as he left the room. At seventeen he knew he could've argued, but he didn't want to make things worse between himself and his sister. He walked to his truck and tried to think of ways to make things up to her.


Awareness was slowly returning and with it came new pain and discomfort. He moaned and tried to force his heavy lids open.

"Mr. Larabee, you're in recovery. Do you need something for the pain?"

"Hmm," he mumbled as his sleep drenched eyes opened. He felt his hand lifted and knew the nurse was placing something in his IV. His throat was dry and he felt something cold pressed against his lips. The medicinal sponge wet his mouth and he felt a little better. He hated waking up after surgery, hated feeling detached from reality as the effects of the anaesthetic wore off.

"We're going to move you to your room now, Mr. Larabee."

"Okay," he muttered as his eyes slid closed. He felt the bed move and kept his eyes shut. His stomach churned slightly and he wondered if he was picking up Vin's aversion to anesthetics. It wasn't long before he felt the stretcher he was on pulled up to a bed.

"All right, Mr. Larabee, we're gonna move you onto the bed. You just relax for a minute and we'll make you comfortable."

The patient nodded and bit back a groan as he was lifted off the gurney and placed onto the bed. He looked around the room, through heavy lidded eyes, as the stretcher was moved out of the way. Something was placed in his hand and he frowned at the nurse who put it there.

"This box gives you control of how much pain medication you use. Just press the button when you need to and it'll deliver the required dose. My name's Joanna. I'm going to take your vitals and let you go back to sleep. Your call button is right here by your right hand. Just press it if you need anything."

"I will," Larabee assured her. He smiled as she left the room and six men walked in. "Don't you guys have better things to do than stand around here?"

"How are you feeling, Chris," Jackson, ever the medic asked.

"I'm not feeling much of anything right now, Nathan. They gave me something just before they brought me down here."

"Don't you just love the drugs they give you after surgery?" Wilmington laughed.

"I wouldn't say I love them, Buck, but they do make things a little easier," the injured man yawned tiredly.

"Chris, we just stopped in to make sure you were okay. We'll let you get some sleep and see you in the morning," Sanchez told the tired man.

"I am kinda tired," Larabee said and turned to the sharpshooter. "Go home, Vin, I'm just gonna sleep and you look like you could use some too."

"You sure, Cowboy?"

The blond head bobbed once as the medications took over and his eyes closed.

"You heard him, Vin, let's go," Jackson ordered. The six men walked out the door, knowing their friend was sleeping peacefully and in no pain.


"Mr. Larabee, how are you feeling?" Teresa asked as she turned on the small overhead light. She carefully wrapped a blood pressure cuff around her tired patients left arm.

"I'm okay," he answered. He used his tongue to moisten his lips. The stale taste in his mouth made his stomach churn. "My m...mouth feels like it's full of c...cotton."

She smiled at him as she checked the readings. "Let me just finish your vitals and I'll get you a glass of ice water."

"Thanks," he muttered gratefully. His eyelids felt heavy, but he managed to keep them open as the tall nurse took his temperature and pulse. He watched her make the notations and smiled as she placed everything back where it belonged. "What time is it?"

"It's a little past two in the morning," she said as she changed the IV bag over his head. "I'll be right back with your water."

He nodded once and watched her exit the room. He pressed the button on the side of the bed until he was in a semi sitting position. His eyes drifted closed and he groaned as his leg throbbed wildly. He kept the pain from showing on his face as the nurse returned with the water. He drank greedily, grateful for the moisture spreading through his arid throat. "Thanks," he smiled as she placed the glass on the table beside his bed.

"If you need anything else, Mr. Larabee, just press the button."

"I will." He smiled as she turned off the light and left the room, letting the door slide closed behind her. He lay in the dark for half an hour before giving into his body's demands for some kind of relief from the mass of agony growing in his leg. He pressed the button in his hand and welcomed the warmth of the drug. 'Kids and fucking dynamite. Just my luck,' he thought as sleep reached out to capture him.


"Chris," Vin muttered softly, not really sure he heard the soft sigh issuing from the sleeping man. When an answer wasn't forthcoming he settled back in his uncomfortable chair once more. He was surprised to see the IV was already gone.

Larabee slowly opened his eyes, letting the dregs of sleep leave him at their own pace. He smiled at the man sitting in the chair by his bed. "M...morning, Vin."

Tanner opened his eyes and returned the smile. "How're you feeling, Cowboy?"

"Alright. Thirsty. Do you mind getting me some ice water?"

"No problem," Tanner assure him and picked up the Styrofoam glass.

Chris watched the younger man leave the room and pressed the button to raise his head. He looked towards the window and waited for the throbbing in his leg to ease.

"Good morning, Chris."

"Morning, Doc," Larabee greeted Stacey Midland.

"How're you feeling?"

"Not too bad."

"Glad to hear that."

"When can I get out of here?"

"Probably tomorrow. Dr. Thompson wants to make sure you rest and there are no complications."

"Hell, Doc, I can rest at home."

"Tomorrow, Chris, and with orders to rest and take it easy on that leg."

"Shoot, I guess that means soccer is out?" he grinned cockily at the female doctor.

Stacy laughed, "I would think so. At least for a while."

"Morning, Doc," Tanner smiled as he noticed the woman talking to his friend.

"You're here early, Vin. Did you go home at all last night."

"Yes, ma'am, just woke up early and figured I'd come keep Chris company."

"Ah, I see. Well I have other patients so I'll leave you two alone. Chris, James would like to come see you later if you're up to it."

Larabee's eyebrows rose as he looked at the doctor. "This afternoon will be fine,' he told her.

"I'll let him know. Physiotherapy will be here in an hour or so to set you up with crutches."

"How long will I have to use the damn things?"

"Six weeks at least. It depends on how well you take care of yourself. Here comes your breakfast."

"Six weeks," he muttered as he sipped the water.

"At least," Midland smiled and bid the two men goodbye as a nurse placed a breakfast tray on Larabee's table.

The blond looked at the tray as Tanner lifted the cover off the plates and bowls. He smiled as he looked at the simple fare of cereal, muffin, fruit cup and coffee.

"At least it's not Jell-O," the sharpshooter grinned wryly.

"Don't mention that stuff," Larabee laughed as he poured milk on the dry cereal. He picked up the cup of coffee and held it under his nose. "Hell, this stuff smells worse than the shit Buck makes."

"Don't drink that stuff, Mr. Larabee."

Chris smiled as the conman came into the room. The man carried three cups and the blond knew what they contained. "Please tell me that's the good stuff?"

"I assure you I am a connoisseur when it comes to good Coffee. I would never consider bringing you anything but the most extravagant and flavorful coffee."

"Ez, quit with the five dollar words and give him the damned stuff," Tanner laughed. "While you're at it I'd love to have one of those extravagant and flavourful coffees too."

Standish stared at the sharpshooter and passed him a cup before placing one in front of Larabee.

"Thanks, Ezra," the blond smiled as he took the offering and sipped the aromatic liquid, a look of contentment on his face as he let the flavor sooth him. "You have to tell me where you get this."

"That would be giving away trade secrets, Mr. Larabee," Standish smiled as he sat in Tanner's chair.

"How did you know to bring me one, Ez?"

"Easy, Mr. Tanner. Where else would you be? I was quite shocked when you agreed to leave with us last night."

"Why wouldn't I. Chris was just going to sleep."

"That never stopped you before."

Chris listened to the two men as he ate breakfast. They bantered back and forth, laughing and smiling. It hit him that for once he was in the hospital, but there were no bad guys about. By the time he was finished he was restless and wanted out of the bed.

"I don't think that's a wise idea yet, Chris. The doc said physio was coming to fit you for crutches," Tanner told him

"Don't remind me. I hate the damned things."

"I assure you we realize how much you dislike crutches, but you have very little choice in the matter. You'll be grateful for the mobility they'll provide."

"I wouldn't say that, Ezra," Larabee told him. "Hell, I need a shower. You guys have any idea how I'm supposed to manage that one?" he asked, his voice slightly irritated.

"I'd say you're stuck with sponge baths for a while. Maybe she's here to show you how," the sharpshooter grinned.

"Tanner!" Larabee hissed as a young woman came into the room.

"Good morning, Mr. Larabee. My name is Janette and I'm from the physiotherapy department. I'm here to fit you with crutches. Do you feel like getting out of bed?"

"Call me Chris," the blond corrected. "I'd love to get out of this bed."

"Very well. Gentlemen, if you'd kindly move out of the way for a few minutes."

"Sure," Tanner and Standish moved away from the bed and watched the proceedings.

"Alright, Chris, I'm gonna ease your leg over the side. What I want you to do is move slowly. Take things at your own pace and don't overdo it. Are you ready?"

"As I'll ever be," he answered. He clenched his eyes as she moved his injured limb over the side of the bed. Beads of sweat formed on his brow as he slid to the floor. He held the edges of the bed, waiting for the dizziness to pass.

"Are you alright, Chris?" Janette asked.

"Will be in a minute."

"You just rest there until you're ready. There's no hurry with this."

"There is for me. I need to be able to move around."

"Don't worry about him, Janette. Chris just don't like to be tied down," Tanner explained.

"Don't you two have anything better to do than stand around watching me?" Larabee asked.

"I assure you we have no plans for the near future, Mr. Larabee."

"There's got to be something down at the office that needs your attention."

"Nothing at all, Cowboy."

"Are you ready to proceed, Chris?"

"I think so," the blond muttered.

"Alright. Let's see if we can't get these fitted properly," she said as she slid one crutch under each well muscled arm. "Perfect," she said. She knew the size from reading his charts and adjusting them to his height. "Now you have to lean on..."

"I know," Chris smiled at her. "I've been on them before," he moved around the room, ignoring the renewed throbbing in his thigh.

"Very impressive," Janette remarked. "I think that's enough for now, Chris. Let's get you back in bed."

"I'd rather sit by the window for a while."

"Alright, but you have to keep your leg elevated," she told him as she followed him to the chair.

Tanner pushed a small foot stool towards him. Janette placed a pillow on it before lifting his leg on top of it.

"Thanks," Larabee told her.

"You're welcome. Just make sure you take it easy on those until you're strong enough to do more. Goodbye, gentlemen."

"By, Janette," the three men called after her.

"How're you doing, Chris?" Tanner asked, noting the pale face and the perspiration soaked brow.

"I'm okay, Vin. I just need to catch my breath."

"I bet. That looked painful just watching," Standish told him. "Wouldn't you be more comfortable on the bed?"

"Probably, but you know Chris would never admit to that," Tanner observed.

"You know you two really should go to the office and at least make it look like you're useful," Larabee quipped.

"You don't seem to appreciate our company, Mr. Larabee."

"It's not that I don't appreciate it, Ezra, but I'm the one who has to explain the expenses at the end of the month. I don't feel like explaining why two agents spent the day sitting around the hospital. Seriously, Boys, there's no reason to stick around. I'm gonna get back in that bed in a few minutes, probably ask one of the nurses to bring me something for the pain and go to sleep. I'd appreciate it if you'd both go get some work done."

"I tell you what we'll do, Chris. We'll help you back into bed and then we'll leave," Tanner suggested

Larabee's eyes glared at him, but he couldn't quite muster the stern look that made criminals cringe. "I don't need any help."

"Okay, we'll just stand beside you while you hobble to the bed."

"Hobble?" Standish looked stunned. "I beg to differ. Mr. Larabee does not hobble. Mr. Larabee stumbles with style."

"You two would make a great comedic relief duet at Buck's place," Larabee quipped. "Alright, give me a hand up," he ordered.

The two men helped him to his feet and placed the crutches under his arms. They stood on either side of him till he safely reached the bed. Vin smiled as the injured man slid under the blankets.

"Now get out of here," the blond ordered.

"You sure you're gonna be alright?"

"Vin, it's a broken leg. What the hell can go wrong?" Larabee snapped irritably. "Get out of here."

"Okay, Cowboy, I'll be back later."

"Okay. Thanks for coming by. Ezra, I appreciate the coffee. Any chance of a refill when you boys come back."

"I shall endeavor to fulfill your request," Standish assured him.

Chris settled back on the bed and watched the two men leave. He waited until the nurse came in to do his vitals before asking for something for pain. She returned five minutes later with a shot.

"Just ease over on your side, Chris," she ordered.

Larabee turned on his side, cringing as he felt her pull back the hospital gown. He felt the cold swab of alcohol and the sharp sting of the needle.

"All done," she said and disposed of the syringe in the safety sealed container.

"Thanks," he smiled as he lay back on the bed.

"You're welcome. You know it's been almost eight hours since you had anything for pain. Dr. Thompson ordered this to keep you comfortable. When you need it just let us know."

"I will."

She smiled at the handsome green eyed patient, "Now why is it I don't believe that for a minute."

"Probably because you've read my chart," he laughed.

"Yours, Mr. Tanner's, Mr. Wilmington's..."

"Okay, I got it," he interrupted, a genuine smile on his face.

'Oh, Boy, what I'd do to have you smile like that just for me. I wonder what you'd be like in bed. Damn, Sally, get a hold of yourself,’ she thought as she felt the rising heat in her cheeks. "I'll be back to check on you later," she told him and hurried from the room before he saw how red she'd turned.

Chris settled back in the bed, feeling the medication ease the painful throb in his thigh. He sighed and drifted off to sleep.



Larabee looked up from the book he was reading and smiled at the blond haired woman. "Hi, Mary."

"How are you doing?"

"I'm fine, Mary. I'll be out of here tomorrow."

Mary Travis stood next to the bed, unable to hide the worry she felt. She forced a smile to her face as she looked at the handsome blond. "That's great news, Chris. I couldn't believe it when Orin called. He said it was just a broken leg and then I heard you needed surgery as well."

"It's okay, Mary, nothing I haven't been through before," he joked.

"How can you say that? You could've been killed. Who would sell those kids dynamite?" she asked, the newspaper woman in her coming to the front.

Larabee smiled at the woman whose eyes danced with ice blue fire. "Mary it really is okay. A couple of boys found it stashed at the old quarry and thought it would be fun to throw a few pieces. It was my misfortune to be in the wrong place at the wrong time."

"Who are the boys?"

"You know I can't remember offhand," he told her. "I know one of them was Stacey Midland's kid brother. He's supposed to be coming in to see me this afternoon. I have no idea what's happening to the other two."

"I hope they've been read the riot act. From what Orin told me they were no more than boys."

"They were old enough to drive, at least James was. Look, Mary, why don't we take a walk?"

"Should you be out of bed?"

Chris held up his hands and laughed. "Don't start that. They gave me the crutches so I can get up and around. If you'll pass me the robe at the end of the bed we'll take a walk to the lounge and get a coffee."

Mary passed the thin hospital robe to the injured man and waited for him to put it on.

"Ah, Mary, could you," he pointed with his hand for her to turn away, noting the tiny smile on her face.

"I didn't know you were shy, Chris?" She turned away as a slight flush formed on Larabee's face.

"I...I'm not shy, Mary." She missed the smile on his face as she turned. "I just didn't want you to be embarrassed. It's kinda drafty under this hospital gown."

"Chris," she snapped indignantly.

He could hear the embarrassment in her voice and almost regretted his teasing. "You can turn around, Mary," he said as he reached for his crutches.

Mary turned to the injured man and grinned. Her eyes were drawn to the heavily muscled thigh as Larabee quickly pulled the gown down. "I can see why they'd be drafty, Chris," she said and was pleased to see she'd paid him back.

"Why couldn't they make the damn things big enough to cover..."

"Let's not go there, Chris. Now what about something for your feet, or should I say foot?"

"There's a hospital slipper in the bottom drawer," Larabee grinned as she bent to retrieve the slipper. 'Not bad at all, Mary,’ he thought as he watched the dress pull tight around her shapely form.

"Sit down," she ordered as she stood up. She saw the gleam in his eyes and smiled. "You really are incorrigible, you know?"

"I've been told that a few times," he said as she slipped the slipper over his foot. "Thanks."

"You're welcome. Are you sure you're up to this?"

"Oh, I think so," he teased, the shine in his eyes told her he wasn't talking about the walk.

"Lets go," she laughed as she watched him stand with the aid of the crutches. Mary watched the man beside her, admiring the well muscled arms as he leaned heavily on the supports. She turned away as her thoughts turned to the glimpse of the muscled thigh she'd seen.

"Are you alright, Mary?" Noting the color of her cheeks.

"I'm fine, Chris, it's just a little warm in here."

"It is?" he grinned as he watched her discomfort, knowing he was partially the cause. The two were dating, not exclusively, but they'd grown closer and both knew there was a mutual attraction there.

"Yes, it is. Now where's this lounge?"

"Just at the end of the hall. Follow me," he said.

Mary stood to the right and slightly behind her handsome companion, her thoughts straying in dangerous grounds once more. 'To bad you're not wearing a certain pair of jeans,' she thought. 'Get your mind out of the gutter, Mary,’ she berated herself as she turned her eyes away from the well honed body.

"Are you sure you're feeling alright?" Chris asked as he moved slowly down the hallway.

"Huh, oh, yeah, I'm just fine, Chris. Why do you ask?"

"You're a bit flushed."

"Must be the new blush I'm using."

"What's it called, Au Natural?" the two garnered the attention of patients and visitors alike as they burst into laughter. "S...sorry, couldn't resist," he said breathlessly.

"I'm sure you couldn't. You owe me a coffee, Chris."

"Damn, I left my money in my other gown," he laughed.

"How convenient."

Chris listened to her quicksilver laughter and couldn't help but smile. He enjoyed the sound and wished he could hear it more often. "I'll owe you one."

"No, you'll owe me two."


"That's right. One will cost you two."

"You sound like Ezra," he laughed, knowing the gambler would always find a way to place a bet or get two for the price of one. It was his nature and Chris sometimes admired the trait.

"Do we have a deal?" Mary's eyes twinkled as she looked into the green eyes. He smiled and the effects were devastating.

Chris leaned forward and whispered in her ear, "Deal," he breathed softly, enjoying the effect he had on this beautiful woman.

Mary moved away and walked to the coffee machine. She shook off the giddy feeling and smiled. 'Quit acting like a school girl on her first date,' she thought as she made her selections. She turned to see the lean blond lower himself into a chair, a fine sheen of perspiration told her he was in more pain than he let on. She carried the coffee to him and sat in the next chair. "How long will you be in a cast?" she asked sympathetically.

"They haven't really said. It looks like around six weeks. Then something about physiotherapy to get it back in shape."

"Is it hurting right now?"

"Not really," he told her.

"How long are you gonna be off work?"

Larabee's eyebrows rose as he looked into her blue eyes. "I'll be back to work as soon as I get out of here."

"Orin said he thought you'd be off a couple of weeks."

"Orin's wrong. I may not be able to do any," he tapped the heavy cast, "leg work, but I can get caught up on the paperwork on my desk. How's Billy?' he asked, changing the subject.

"He's doing fine. He loves school, but he misses seeing you."

"I've missed him too. Why don't you both come out to the ranch on the weekend? That'll give us a chance to talk."

"Are you sure you're up to a rambunctious seven year old coming to visit?"

"Oh, I think I can handle it," Larabee assured her as he sipped the hot coffee. "Come out early in the afternoon. I'll invite Vin along and have him volunteer to barbeque."

Mary stared at him as her eyebrows narrowed. "I thought you said Vin doesn't know how to barbeque?"

Larabee showed her the cocky grin she loved so much as he answered. "If I told him he did everything perfectly it would go to his head."

"Ah, I see," she returned his smile.

Chris moved his broken leg and gritted his teeth. He placed the empty coffee cup on the small table and rubbed his leg just above the opening of the cast.

"Maybe we should get you back to your room."

"I think that's a good idea right now, Mary. Can you hand me my crutches?" he asked.

"Why don't I get you a wheel chair?"

"No!" he snapped. "Sorry, I don't need a wheelchair. Let's just go slow, okay?"

"Alright, Chris," she said as she helped him stand and place the crutches under his arms. They slowly made their way back to his room. Mary worried as she watched his face grow paler with each step. "Are you sure you don't want me to..."

"Mary, I'm fine, really," he assured her as they continued to walk towards his room. 'I could've sworn the distance was shorter,’ he thought.

She stood beside him wondering why he always had to be strong. Or always had to prove he could do something in spite of the pain. She shook her head at his endurance as they made it to his room. She helped him ease down on the bed and removed the crutches.

"T...thanks," he gasped as he tried to lift his leg up on the bed.

"Let me help, Chris," Mary lifted the heavy cast on the bed and watched as the blond leaned heavily into the pillow. "Do you want me to see if you can have anything for pain?"

"Not right now, Mary," he answered.

"Mr. Larabee, can I come in?"

Mary looked to the door to see a dark haired boy standing there. "Can I help you?" she asked.

"No, Ma'am, I need to speak with Mr. L...Larabee," he stumbled over the name as he saw the glare from the injured man. "I...I can come back."

"That's alright, Kid, I'd rather do it while I'm hurting. Makes it easier not to let you get under my skin."

"Chris, would you like me to stay?"

"No. Thanks, Mary, but this is something James and I need to talk about man to man. Right, James?"

"Y...yes, Sir," he walked towards the bed, catching the look of sympathy from the pretty woman as she left.

"I...I'm sorry, Mr. Larabee. I...I didn't think...

"No kidding, Kid. Do you realize you and your friends could've been killed. Dynamite is not a toy and you're old enough to know better," he watched as the boy's eyes looked anywhere but at him. "Where are the other two anyway?"

"T...they stayed home."

Larabee's green eyes filled with anger, not all of it pointed towards the kid before him. "Are they leaving you to take all the blame?"

"I don't know. I haven't heard from them since their parents picked them up."

"Well, Kid, it seems to me they don't want to own up to their part in this."

"Maybe," James Midland lifted his head and stared at the pale man on the bed. "I don't know about them, Mr. Larabee, but I know how I feel about my part in it. I r...really didn't mean for anyone to get hurt. We were stupid. We were just looking for something to give us a kick. You know something we could brag about with the other guys," he stood up and walked to the window.

Chris watched the young man as he stood up and headed for the window. He was amazed at the family resemblance between James and Stacey Midland. The same dark hair and brown eyes. The same caring attitude and he knew if James Midland followed in his sister's footsteps he'd make one hell of a fine doctor. He found himself warming up to the kid in spite of his vow to remain angry at him. He knew the kid had more to say and he let his eyes close while he waited. The pain in his leg was growing worse, yet he wanted to finish this talk with Stacey's brother.

James Midland put his hands in his pocket and turned back to the injured man. "It was a stupid mistake, Mr. Larabee, and I'm sorry you got hurt. I'm willing to do whatever the judge tells me to make things better. I know I can't make things right, but there must be something I can do and maybe show other teenagers that doing things for kicks can hurt people. I really am s..."

"Alright, Kid, I believe you're sorry. You don't need to apologize anymore," Larabee tried to push himself further up in the bed, but winced as the movement jarred his injured leg. "Damn," he swore sharply.

James moved closer to the bed and tried to help. "C...can I do anything?"

Chris heard the sympathy in the teenager's voice and knew it was legitimate. The kid wasn't looking for an easy out, he really was sorry for what happened. Larabee managed a thin smile, "Just pass me that water, Kid," he said.

James picked up the glass of ice water and passed it to the man in the bed. He watched as the blond slowly sipped at the water, tiny beads of sweat forming on the pale brow. "Do you want me to get the nurse?" he asked.

"N...no. It's okay. Just have to stop moving the damn thing. You'd think they'd be able to make a cast that's easier to move around in or at least doesn't weigh as much."

James watched as the green eyes closed and waited for the blond to either speak or fall asleep. He sympathized with the man on the bed having broken his own leg a few years before. He watched as the lines of pain slowly receded before speaking again. "Mr. Larabee?"

"Kid, call me Chris. Mr. Larabee makes me sound old."

"Sorry, Mr. Lara... I mean sorry, Chris. I was wondering if maybe I could do something to help you."

The blond opened his eyes and looked into the concerned face of the young man standing beside the bed. "Like what?" he asked softly.

"Well maybe I could come out and do some chores around your ranch."

"I don't know, Kid, you're probably gonna have to do some community service for what you did. I doubt you'll have time to be doing chores for me."

"I'll make time, Chris. I know I can do it. I don't have to go back to school for a few weeks yet. I can do the community services during the morning and come out to your ranch in the afternoons and on the weekends. Please, Mr. Larabee..."

"Chris," the blond corrected, his admiration for Stacey Midland's brother growing as he listened to the kid volunteer to help him while he was injured.

Midland nodded, "Chris, please let me do this. I know it's not gonna make up for what I did, but maybe it'll make things easier for you. I can drive you to doctor's appointments and pick up things at the grocery store. I can do this. I really can."

"What does your sister say about this?"

"I haven't told her everything yet, but I know she'll agree to it. I'm grounded right now, but she'll let me do this. She's always telling me I have to take responsibility for what I do."

"It wasn't just you, James. The other two should take some of the responsibility for what happened."

"I know, but that's for them to decide. I know what I want to do."

Larabee looked into the sad brown eyes and knew the kid was sincere. He couldn't help but admire the boy's courage and knew he was about to accept his offer. "All right, Kid, I should be getting out of here tomorrow."

"Do you want me to pick you up?"

"No, that's already arranged," he saw the disappointment on the boy's face. "But if you can meet us there say around six tomorrow evening we can discuss the chores you'll be expected to do."

"I'll be there, Mr. La... I mean Chris," he amended as the door opened and Stacey Midland stepped inside.

"Can I come in?" she asked.

"Sure, Doc," Larabee answered. "James and I were just setting up a time for him to come out to the ranch."

Midlands eyebrows rose as she looked at her brother. "You were?" she asked.

"Yeah, Sis, I asked Chris if I could come out and help him around the ranch since I'm one of the ones who caused him to be hurt."

"Is that alright with you, Doc?" Larabee asked, trying, but failing to hide a grimace of pain.

"That's fine, Chris. I think it's a great idea for James to help you out. It doesn't mean he gets out of the mess he's in. He'll still be grounded except for the times you need him," Midland assured them both. "Now, I think it's time for James to go home and for you to get some rest. How's the pain right now, Chris?"

"Truth, Doc?"

Midlands eyes rose again, unable to hide the shock on her face. "That'd be nice for a change," she said.

"It's not good right now."

"Have you been overdoing it on the crutches?"

"I don't think so. I just went for a short walk with Mary Travis and came back here," Larabee told her.

"You have to go easy for a few days, Chris. The crutches are there to help you get around, but only when necessary for the next three days. After that we'll have to rely on you to set limits for yourself. This was a bad break and it's gonna cause you some pain for a while yet."

"No shit! Ah hell, sorry, Doc. It's not your fault," Larabee apologized and let his head sink onto the pillows under his head.

"Apology accepted, Chris. Now I'm going to take my little brother out of here and make sure he goes home and stays put. I'll send one of the nurses in with a shot to help ease the pain some. Make sure you stay off the leg for the rest of the day. Maybe when the others get here they'll help you sit in the chair by the window. For now, rest, drink, and sleep," Midland ordered.

"Alright," Larabee agreed as he watched the two people leave his room. He didn't have long to wait until one of the day nurses named Jane entered with a needle in her hands.

"Hi, Chris, I've got your pain medication here for you. Any particular hip?"

Larabee grumbled under his breath, but turned onto his right side. He felt the cold swab of alcohol and the sudden stinging pain of the needle. He sighed as he turned onto his back once more and lowered his head.

Jane lifted the side rails in place and turned to the handsome patient. "Would you like me to pull the drapes closed and turn out the lights?"

"Please," Larabee smiled thinly and waited for the throbbing in his leg to subside. It wasn't long before he gave in to the call of sleep.


"Looks like he's sleeping, Vin," Wilmington observed as they pulled open the door and looked into the room.

"Maybe we should come back later," Dunne suggested.

Larabee opened his sleep drenched eyes and smiled at the three men in his room. "You boys here to take me home?"

"Not likely, Stud," the ladies man answered.

"Chris, Dr. Midland said tomorrow," Tanner reminded him.

"Well, it was worth a try," the blond told them as he raised the head of the bed. He groaned as he slid his good leg over the side and then tried to ease the plastered one down. "T...thanks," he muttered as the sharpshooter grasped the leg and helped him stand up.

"You're welcome," the longhaired man answered.

"JD, can you hand me my crutches?"

"Sure, Chris," the kid hurried to pick up the crutches and handed them to his mentor.

Larabee put them under his arms and headed for the chair by the window. He eased himself into the chair and shook his head as Wilmington placed a stool beside him, JD added a pillow and Vin lifted the injured limb onto it. His eyebrows lifted as he glanced from one man to the next. "You boys have nothing better to do than come in here and baby sit me? Shouldn't you be at the office?" he asked.

"Now that's gratitude for ya," the ladies man grinned at his friend. "We come in here to help you and all you can do is tell us where we should be. Besides the office closed an hour ago."

The blond looked at his friends curiously, "What time is it?"

"Five fifty," Tanner answered.

"That must've been some shot she gave me. Shoot, I slept the afternoon away."

"You probably needed it, Chris," the sharpshooter observed.

"Where are the others?' Larabee asked.

"Nathan, Josiah, and Ezra are picking up dinner. They should be here in about half an hour," Dunne explained.

Larabee's eyes lit up at the thought of real food. "What are they bringing?"

"Probably ribs from Buck's place," Tanner smiled as he answered his friends question. He knew Buck's place made the best ribs and Chris ordered them almost every time they ate there.

"I hope they remember extra sauce," the blond smiled at the thought of the ribs.

"Knowing Josiah he's probably bought an extra jar," Wilmington said of Josiah's love for the spicy BBQ sauce Buck's place used.

"He does seem to have a taste for the zesty stuff," Dunne agreed, his nose wrinkling at the thought of the extra hot and spicy sauce Sanchez used.

"Yeah, we just have to remember not to light a match around him," Tanner told them as the door opened and the missing members of The Firm entered.

"Hey, Chris, how're you feeling?" Jackson asked.

"Fine, now that you guys are here. Bring on the ribs," Larabee ordered hungrily.

"Ah, Chris, the ribs are not..."

"Don't say it, Nathan..."


"Nathan, I broke my leg. There's nothing wrong with me eating ribs..."


"Vin, gimme a gun! Nathan, you can't make me sit here and eat the shit they bring me while you guys pig out on ribs from Buck's place!"

"Yeah, Nathan, a man's got a right to real food," Dunne said as he watched an orderly bring in the blond's dinner tray.

"The food they give you is good for you. It goes through a dietician and nutritionist to help you get strong," Jackson explained, fighting to keep the smile off his face.

"Nathan, hospital food is not gonna be too healthy for you," Larabee glared at the medic.

"What do you mean?" the dark skinned man asked innocently.

"This hospital food is liable to get you killed," the blond said.

"How's it gonna do that, Chris?"

"Because, Nathan, if you attempt to get between me and my ribs I'll shoot you," the Firm's leader told him in a voice that was half serious.

"You'd better stop while you're ahead, Nate," Sanchez warned as he pulled out a stack of paper plates.

"That's mean, Nathan, how could you do that to Chris?" Wilmington laughingly scolded.

"You're just mad you didn't think of it, Buck," Tanner said knowing the ladies' man's penchant for practical jokes. He pushed the table over to where his friend sat and handed him a plate.

"Thanks, Vin," Larabee said as he filled his plate with the sticky ribs.

"All right, Chris. Mild, medium, hot, or suicide?" the ex-preacher asked.

"Think I'll stick with medium, Josiah."

"You sure you're all right, Pard?" Wilmington asked.

"Yeah, Chris, you and Josiah usually go with the suicide," Dunne stated.

"Not today, JD. I don't think my stomach could handle it. Nathan, it's not what you think. I'm fine. I just don't feel like the spicy stuff tonight."

"Medium it is, Brother. Enjoy," Sanchez smiled as he placed the plate of BBQ sauce, celery and carrot sticks and Caesar salad dressing on the table.

Chris picked up the first tender rib, dipped it into the sauce and sighed heavily. He leaned back in the chair, ignoring the throbbing pain in his thigh as he sank his teeth into the tender rib.

Tanner and Wilmington locked gazes across the room. Both men smiled as they watched their injured friend relax and devour the ribs, the excess sauce dripping down the sides of his mouth.

"Mr. Larabee, I do believe the hospital is responsible for negating your usually impeccable manners," Standish observed as the blond wiped at the sauce with his hands.

"Ribs were not meant to be enjoyed any other way, Ezra. My father always said you had to leave your manners at the door when it came to eating ribs or chicken wings," the blond informed him as he picked up a second rib. He looked at the others and noted he was the only one eating. "Dig in, boys, it's bad form to let a man eat alone."

"Yeah, Ez, live a little. Get your fingers dirty," Tanner suggested.

"Mother would be appalled," Standish said as he lifted a rib from the wrapping and placed it on his plate.

"Bet your mother probably eats them the same way," Dunne grinned at the conman.

"Mother eats ribs by cutting the meat off with a sterling silver fork and knife, Mr. Dunne."

"Yuck, that's against the rule of rib eating isn't it?" Wilmington asked as he sat on the edge of the bed.

Larabee continued to enjoy his meal until everything was gone. He was content to listen as the others talked and ate. He finished what was on his plate and shifted uncomfortably in the chair. The throb in his leg had intensified and he knew it was time to climb back into bed and elevate it. He pushed the table away and reached for his crutches. He made his way to the washroom, aware of six pairs of eyes watching his every move. He smiled inwardly at the feeling of family he had whenever these guys were around. He washed his face and hands and made his way back to his bed. The crutches were taken from his hands as he sat on the edge.

"Thanks, Josiah," he said as he rubbed the top of his injured leg.

"Are you okay, Chris?" Dunne asked.

"Just a little sore, JD," Larabee answered.

"Why don't you lie back and put your leg up for a while?" Nathan asked, his medical knowledge kicking back in.

Larabee smiled at the medic as he slid back on the bed. He knew this man well and knew how much he worried about all of them. "That sounds like a plan, Nathan," he said as Vin helped lift the heavy cast onto the bed. "Thanks, Vin." He leaned back into the pillows and listened to the others clean up what was left of dinner. He enjoyed spending time with these men, loved the friendship they'd built since each man joined the team.

"Chris? I need to take your vitals."

Larabee opened his eyes as the nurse came into the room and moved up to his bed. He sighed and raised the head of the bed as she lifted the covers off his dinner tray.

"You didn't eat anything, Chris. Are you feeling okay?" she asked.

"I'm fine, Tina," he assured her. "The guys brought dinner for me."

"Tired of hospital food after only a day," Tina laughed as she placed the thermometer in his ear.

"Was tired of it before I got here," Larabee answered and smiled as the other men snickered.

Tina finished taking his vitals and turned to leave. "Would you like something for pain, Chris?" she asked, knowing before he answered what he would say.

"I'm fine, Tina," he lied.

She shook her head and said, "buzz me if you change your mind."

"I will," he told her.

"You guys are too stubborn for your own good," Jackson observed.

"Wait a minute, Nathan, what did we do?" Dunne asked.

"Nothing this time, JD, but you're all guilty of being worried about your macho image. I mean if you look at Chris you can see he's in pain, yet he won't ask for it. Hell, he won't even accept it when it's offered."

"It's not that bad," Larabee assured him.

"Oh, I believe you, Chris. Just like I believe Vin or Buck or..."

"We get the point, Nathan," Tanner said with a grin.

Chris smiled and switched on the baseball game. The seven friends settled back to enjoy it and each others company. It wasn't long before the announcement was made that visiting hours were over and that visitors should leave the hospital immediately.

"Vin," the blond called as the others left.


"You'll be here..."

"First thing in the morning," Tanner finished.

"Good. Don't forget a change of clothes."

"I won't. Night, Cowboy."

"Goodnight, Boys," he settled back and rubbed at his leg. The pain was getting worse and he pressed the button for the nurse. It wasn't long before Tina came in with the shot. He turned slightly on his side and waited for the inevitable stinging sensation before settling back to wait for the shot to take hold. "Thanks," he said as she pulled the blankets up over his waist.

"You're welcome, Chris. That shouldn't take long to kick in," she assured him. "Who's winning?"

"The Yankees. They have a good team this year."

"Yes they do. I'll check back with you later," she told him. She smiled as she left the room, wondering why men couldn't or wouldn't show pain in front of their friends. She checked on her patient an hour later to find him asleep with the TV volume turned down. She flicked off the ball game, turned out the lights and left the room.


Chris was awake early the next morning, sitting in the chair by the window, waiting patiently for the tracker to show up. He had a prescription and a follow up appointment with Dr. Thompson. The surgeon advised him that morning that he would need physiotherapy on the leg. He hated being incapacitated, especially when it meant he'd be on crutches for the next six to eight weeks. What really bothered him was not being able to ride, something he enjoyed, and often used as a stress reliever.

The patient gazed out the window, his mind on the young men who'd caused his injury. Of the three, James Midland was the only one who stood up and admitted that this was their fault. The others continued to deny their guilt, saying they'd been just out for kicks, and didn't mean for anyone to get hurt. Whereas Midland said it was their fault and they all knew exactly what they were doing when they lit the sticks of dynamite. He looked at the cast covering the entire left leg and shook his head, knowing there was nothing he could do about it.

He reached for the coffee on the table in front of him and sipped at the strong brew. 'God, even Vin's tastes better than this shit,’ he thought, placing the cup back on the tray.

"Hey, Cowboy, you ready to blow this joint?"

"Jesus, yes. Need to stop for a good cup of coffee on the way out to the ranch. Tired of the mud they serve in here."

"I bet you are?"

"Did you bring my clothes?"

"Sure did," the tracker said, passing the blond the bag of clothes.

Chris looked at the bag suspiciously and frowned as he opened it. "What's this?" he asked, pulling out the top article of clothing.

"Figured you wouldn't be able ta paint on those black jeans with that cast, so I bought you something a little easier to put on."

"Thanks, I think," Larabee said sarcastically. He eyed the black satin shorts with the Nike insignia on the front pocket. The shorts had snaps down both sides and he knew they'd be much easier for him to pull on than his jeans.

"Need any help getting them on?" the tracker asked and received a glare for his trouble.

"Get out of here while I get dressed," the blond ordered.

"Ah, Chris, Pard..."


"How are you planning on getting the shorts over the cast?"

Larabee looked down at his swollen toes, which were the only things protruding from the cast.


"So ya want some help putting them on or do you plan on leaving in that wonderful gown you're modeling."

"Shut up, Tanner!" the blond hissed, begrudgingly handing the satin shorts to his friend. He couldn't help smiling at the look on the sharpshooter's face.

"Never thought I'd see the day I'd be helping you into your shorts."

"You must be thrilled?"

"Fuck you, Larabee," the Texan hissed as he pulled the shorts over the casted leg.

"I can handle it from here," the blond said as he reached for the Nikes.

"Alright. Ya got your walkin' papers signed?"

"Signed, sealed and delivered."

"Prescription for painkiller?"

"With the discharge orders."

"Alright then. Soon's you finish getting dressed we'll get out of here." The tracker walked to the door, but stopped before exiting and turned to his friend. "Oh, Nathan said to ask if you got follow up orders from Dr. Thompson."

"Got them too," the blond said and waited for the other man to leave. He finished dressing and reached for the crutches, just as a soft knock came on the door. "Come in, Vin."

"Ya ready?"

"Yeah, can you grab the paperwork?"

"Sure," the tracker said and picked up the envelope on the table.

"Alright, let's go!"

"Aren't ya forgetting something, Cowboy?" the tracker asked with a sly grin.

"Don't think so," the blond said and swore as one of the day nurses came in with a wheelchair.

"Are you ready, Chris?" Connie asked as she pushed the chair towards him.

"Hop in, Pard," Tanner said and received another glare.

"I'd expect that from JD, but not you Vin." The injured man smiled in spite of himself as he hopped into the wheelchair, and the nurse adjusted the leg rest to accommodate his foot. The special boot with the Velcro closures over the top looked strange, but he knew he'd have to get used to it, or go barefoot. He handed the crutches to his friend as Connie took control of the handles.

"Don't forget to get your prescription filled, Chris!" the nurse ordered as she pushed him into the hall.

"I'll get that done as soon as we leave," Tanner answered, and received his third glare of the day.


Chris used his arms to lever himself up onto his crutches as Vin pulled the jeep in front of the main doors of Saint Vincents. He walked the few steps to the jeep and leaned against the side to open the door.

"Ya could've waited until I came around to help you, Chris," Tanner told him.

"It's my leg that's broke, Vin, not my hands," the blond said as he slid onto the high seat. He smiled gratefully as the other man lifted the heavy cast into the jeep and closed the door, before returning to the drivers side.

"Thanks, Vin," Chris said.

"No problem. How's the leg feel?"

"Sore, but..."

"In other words it's killing you." Tanner looked at his friend before turning on the engine and driving away from the hospital. "It's me, Pard, you can't hide it from me," he said simply.

"Never could," the blond answered softly, shifting in his seat to find a more comfortable spot.

"Did you take anything for it this morning?"

"No, wasn't as bad and I figured I could wait until I got home."


Larabee choked at the softly spoken word. "Guess that makes two of us. Wasn't too long ago I called you the same thing when you wouldn't take the prescription Dr. Midland gave you."

"I didn't need it."


"Nah, see, I figured you guys talking about your love life would put me to sleep so I wouldn't need the painkillers."

"Very funny," Larabee mumbled, wincing as the jeep hit a deep rut in the road.

"Sorry, Chris."

"What for?"

"Hurtin ya."

"Hell, Tanner, you didn't put the damn bump in the road," Larabee said and turned a warm smile on the tracker. "You didn't, right?" he quipped.

"Nah, if I'd've done it ya would've bounced out on the damn road with the seat up your..."

"I get the point."

"Yeah, you would've," the sharpshooter grinned, but kept his eye out for the pharmacy they used. He pulled into the parking lot and pulled into a vacant spot.

"I'll be right back. You stay put," he ordered.

"Just where the hell could I go?" the blond hissed, leaning his head back against the rest. He heard the younger man walk away and let down his guard while he had the chance. He winced in pain as he shifted the casted leg, the wound throbbing as he did so. "Damn!" he swore. He lost track of how long Vin was in the pharmacy, but opened one eye as he felt a slight tap on his right shoulder.

"Got somethin' for you," Tanner told him.

"What?" the blond asked irritated at being caught half asleep

"Your medication."

"Don't need it!"

"Thought we already had this discussion?"

"We did...and I still don't need it."

"Jesus, Larabee, take the damn things and maybe you'll be able to check on Pony..."

"Do that anyway..."

"Not if you can't stand on that leg..."

"I'll lean on the crutches..."

"Not if I hide them," the tracker said, a cocky grin plastered on his face.

"Jesus, Tanner, you would too..."

"Course I would. Now here, take them!"


"Why not?"

"Nothing to drink," Larabee said, his own cocky grin showing on his face, but slipping off as Tanner held up a bottle of water. "Damn," the blond swore, accepting the pills and swallowing them begrudgingly.


"Yep, least now I won't have to listen to you bitchin'..."

"I don't bitch!"

"Like hell," the tracker said, and hurried around to the other side. The remainder of the ride to the ranch was quiet as Chris rested his head against the seat, and Vin concentrated on getting them home without hitting too many bumps.

Vin pulled into Larabee's yard and came to a stop in front of the ranch house. He turned to his friend and wasn't surprised to see him already opening the door.

"Hang on and I'll get your crutches," the tracker ordered, opening his door and hurrying around to the other side. He helped his friend out of the jeep and reached behind him for the crutches.

"Thanks, I'm gonna go see, Pony and then I'm..."

"Gonna go lie down for a while."

"You won't get any arguments from me this time, Tanner. Damn pills make my head swim."

"Yeah, I know they do, Pard, but right now you need them. Come on and I'll help you to the barn."

They walked side by side, one man on crutches, the other standing by should his strength be needed.

Vin winced inwardly as he watched his friend use the crutches to help him walk to the barn. Pony was already in the corral and he smiled as he saw the look on Larabee's face. They'd hired a man named Drake Hobson to care for the horses whenever they were unavailable, and the man would often show up just to visit them. The tracker knew by the absence of the battered green ford truck that Hobson had already left or the man would've been out to greet them.

Chris smiled as he heard the soft whine from Pony. The horse's head came up as soon as they'd drove into the yard and now the animal seemed to prance back and forth in the corral. As the throbbing pain in his leg intensified he knew he wouldn't be able to stay long. He smiled at the worried look on the sharpshooter's face as the young man opened the gate and they stepped into the corral.

"Hello, Boy, I see Drake's been spoiling you again," Larabee said, patting the animal on the neck as the gelding stood before him. He laughed as the dark head bobbed up and down as if giving a positive answer to his words.

Vin stood back and watched as Larabee paid attention to the beautiful animal. The lean form on crutches seemed to rally now that he was home and the sharpshooter wondered how much trouble he'd have to get him into the house and resting the leg. For now he leaned both elbows back on the fence and crossed one leg over the other, enjoying his friend's happiness.

Chris knew he couldn't stay on his feet much longer, and patted Pony's rump before turning away. The sight of Vin Tanner relaxing against the fence, a blade of grass between his teeth made him smile.

"Ya ready to go up to the house?"

"Yeah, think so."

"Well, come on ol' man, ‘cause it's probably gonna take us a hour or two ta get there," the tracker said. His eyes twinkled mischievously as Larabee glared at him.

"Ya know, Vin, sometimes I wonder why I keep you around!" the blond hissed as he lost his grip on one of the crutches and it dropped to the ground.

Vin knew the older man wasn't serious and his instincts kicked in as Larabee seemed to lose his grip on the crutches. He grabbed for his best friend's arm, just as he lost his balance. Pony had moved into the center of the corral and the tracker used all his strength to keep both himself and Larabee on their feet.

"Fuck!" the blond swore as the weight of the cast continued to cause problems and seemed to pull him down. He felt Tanner's strength added to his own and they managed to make it to the fence without mishap. Chris leaned heavily on the railing and tried to control the mounting nausea the quick move caused.

"Think you can stay put for a minute?" the sharpshooter asked worriedly.

"Y...yeah, I'm fine," the blond said, watching as Vin moved to pick up the fallen crutch.

"Here you go, Cowboy," the sharpshooter said, studying the other man's face, not liking the grey pallor he saw there.

"Thanks, Pard," the blond said and smiled at his friend as the queasy feeling in his stomach began to subside. "I'm okay, Vin."

"Good, ‘cause I don't think I could've carried your scrawny butt..."

"Gettin' weak, Tanner."


"Well, if my butt's so scrawny you should be able to carry me...must be gettin' old!" the blond said with a grin.

"Ain't gettin old, Larabee, yer butt is scrawny! Hell, I bet that damn cast weighs more'n you do!" the tracker said, holding the gate open for his friend to exit the corral.

"Right now I'm not arguing with you. Damn thing feels like it weighs a hundred pounds," the blond admitted as he moved out into the yard.

'Damn, should've made you get some rest before letting you come down here.'

"You couldn't have stopped me, Vin," Larabee said, as if reading his friend's thoughts.

"Didn't say I could!" the sharpshooter replied.

"Never said you did, but you were thinking it!" Larabee said, grinning as the tracker turned an exasperated gaze his way.

"Hell, can't keep secrets around you!"

"No point in even trying. Maybe some day we'll figure out just what this connection is."

"I don't think so, Pard, whatever it is we're just plain stuck with it," Tanner said, glad when they finally made it to the house and he unlocked the door. He turned towards the driveway at the sound of a car approaching. He knew Larabee had heard it too and watched as his friend sat in the porch swing and waited for his guest to arrive. Both men smiled as a red Jeep Cherokee pulled into the yard and stopped behind Larabee's black Ford.

"Hey, Jake," Vin greeted.

"Hi, Vin, Chris."

"Hello, Jake, what brings you out here?" Larabee asked of the older man. They'd met during a time when Chris Larabee had been tortured and drugged and was put on suicide watch because of a madman's need for revenge. At the time Jake Taylor was one of the hospital appointed ‘sitters' watching over Larabee. Once he'd been dismissed from that job, Chris had been able to accept the ex-cop's friendship, and the man often visited him at the ranch.

"Heard you got banged up a bit and thought I'd come see how you were doing."

"I'm okay, Jake," the blond answered.

"So that cast is just a new fashion statement? Gotta tell ya the ladies would probably enjoy those black jeans ya usually wear!" Taylor said with a grin.

"Well, Jake, you know Chris likes to do things with a bang..."

"Do tell...what happened?" the ex-cop asked.

Chris knew the older man just got back from a four day trip to Las Vegas and didn't know what happened to him. He winced as he tried to get comfortable and explained.

"Vin's not kidding when he said I do things with a bang. Three kids...teenagers...found some dynamite out at the old quarry and thought they'd get their kicks by seeing if they still worked..."

"Jesus, of all the stupid, idiotic... they could've been killed!" Taylor swore, and sank down on the front step.

"I know...they've been read the riot act!" Larabee told him.

"So how did you manage to end up in that cast?"

"Me and Chris were riding just west of the quarry and heard the first explosion. We rode close to the edge just as one of the kids threw a stick of Dynamite. Chris happened to be too close to it when it blew up and Pony couldn't stay on his feet. He landed on Chris' leg."

Taylor winced sympathetically as he again looked at the full leg cast.

"So how bad is the break?" he asked.

"Needed surgery..."

"Ah, hell, Chris," Taylor hissed.

"Hell's right, he spent the last few days in the hospital. Just escaped from there this morning," Tanner explained.

"Escaped? As in signed himself out?" Taylor turned a serious gaze on the blond seated in the swing.

"Hold no, Jake, I got my walking....okay maybe I should say hopping papers," Larabee said with a smile.

"Good, otherwise me and Vin would have to haul you back to Billings. Now, how long will you be in the cast?"

"Doc says between six and eight weeks," the blond answered.


"Yeah," Larabee said, unconsciously rubbing the area above the cast.

"What's happening with the kids who did this?"

"Two of ‘em will probably be assigned community service. James Midland..."

"Midland...as in..."

"Stacey Midland's younger brother," Tanner supplied.

"Damn...so how was he involved?"

"He was one of the three ‘getting their kicks'," Larabee said. "He's also the only one admitting responsibility for his actions. He knows he may have to do community service, but he's also volunteered to help out here."

"Sounds like a good kid," Taylor observed.

"He's a lot like his sister," the tracker told him, and noticed Larabee's actions. "Chris, why don't we get you inside and elevate that leg?"

Larabee was about to protest, but reconsidered as he shifted his left leg. He looked from one man to the other and knew they understood the pain he was in.

"Sounds like a plan, Vin." The blond winced as he used his crutches to ease up off the swing. Sweat beaded on his forehead as he finally made it to a standing position.

"Chris, I'll come by and see you when you're feeling a little better. Just make sure you do whatever Nathan tells ya too!" Taylor ordered.

Larabee smiled and shook his head as he walked to the door. "I will, Jake."

"Oh, man, I wish I had a tape recorder for that one! I'm sure Nathan would love to hear that you're gonna do everything he says!" Tanner exclaimed as he opened the door for his friend.

"Shut up, Tanner!" Larabee said, a weak, but cocky grin on his face. "Thanks for coming by, Jake."

"Anytime, Chris," the older man said and headed for his Jeep Cherokee.

Vin watched him get into the jeep and drive away, before turning back to his friend who waited just inside the door.

"Alright, Chris, let's get you settled and I'll see about making something for lunch."

Larabee smiled and a twinkle shone in his eyes. "Chicken Caesar would go down real good right about now," he said.

Tanner shook his head as he followed the other man into the living room. He knew where Larabee was headed and walked in front of him, placing his hands on his hips.

"You want Chicken Caesar?"

"Yeah," the blond said tiredly.

"It'll take a couple of hours to get everything ready so you might as well be comfortable."

"I plan on," he said, moving towards his recliner.

"Not here," the tracker said moving to intercept once more. "You need to elevate that leg."

"That's why I was headed for the recliner," Larabee told him.

"Uhuh, Chris. You can turn on the TV in your room if you want, but the chair won't let you rest like you do in bed. Let's go!"

"Shit!" the blond said, but knew his friend was right. He really did need to get off his feet, and the wave of dizziness that washed over him only verified that. He moved towards the hallway leading to his room and smiled as the sharpshooter opened the door. He grinned as the ‘mother hen' plumped the pillows and helped ease him down on the bed. The cast made it hard for him to lift his leg and again the younger man helped him, elevating it on a king size pillow before pulling a black and white checker afghan up over him.

"You want the TV on?" Tanner asked as he pulled the heavy drapes across the window.

"No thanks, Vin, think maybe I'm gonna grab some shut eye."

"You go ahead, Chris, holler if you need anything."

"I will," Larabee assured the younger man.

Vin nodded and walked towards the open door, laughing as four softly spoken words reached his ears.

"Make lots, I'm hungry."

"I will, now go to sleep."


A soft sigh left the injured man's lips as he slowly opened his eyes. Chris smiled as they focused on the familiar surroundings of his own room. The door was partially open and he could hear The Eagles singing Hotel California. He moved on the bed and quickly remembered why he was lying down in the middle of the day.

"Damn!" he hissed as he looked down at the elevated leg. He eased his leg off the pillows, knowing he was being stubborn by not calling for help. Slowly but surely he inched his leg towards the edge of the bed. Once his right foot touched the floor he pushed his body into a seated position. Using both hands he eased the immobilized limb over the edge of the bed, wincing as the cast hit the floor a little harder than he intended. He reached for the crutches and stood up, his eyes falling on the lean form standing in the door.

Tanner's face showed what he thought of his stubborn friend as he moved into the room and held the door for him.

"Why didn't ya call me?" he asked.

Larabee turned a serious gaze on the younger man and smiled as he answered.

"Vin, you won't be here all the time and I'm not an invalid. It's just a broken leg and in a couple of days I'll be coming back to the office." His eyebrows narrowed as he met the worried blue eyes of his friend. "You don't plan on being in this mother hen mode once we're back at work do you?"

"No," the tracker said with a grin.


"Figure you'll have the others taking care of ya so I can get some paperwork done!" the sharpshooter said, again smiling at the look on the older man's face.

"Damn! Forgot about that. Maybe I can sneak in and out before they even know I'm there."

"Yeah right, Chris. You're talking about Buck, JD, Ez..."

"What was I thinking," Larabee interrupted, laughing at the thought of hiding from his friends.

"Blame it on the pain meds." The two men laughed as they headed for the patio off the dining room. Vin watched his friend closely, making sure the older man was really okay.

Chris sat in the lounge chair and smiled as Tanner eased a footstool under his leg. "Thanks...now about lunch..."

"Lunch was over hours ago," Tanner told him.

"What?" he asked in surprise. "What time is it?"

"Nearly 4:30."

"Damn, why didn't you wake me?"

"What for? You needed to rest and the Chicken Caesar wasn't going anywhere."

"It is now. Jesus, I'm starved, Tanner, hope the hell you made lots!" The blond went to stand up, but a hand on his shoulder eased him back down.

"Stay put. I'll bring it out here..."

"Sounds good and bring a cold one too."

"Sorry, Cowboy, no beer!"

"Shit, Vin, no one's gonna know but me and you!"

"That's not what I meant...I meant there's none...zilch...nada."

"Oh, hell, forgot to pick some up after the BBQ last week. Call Buck and have him pick up a dozen..."

"No way, Cowboy, I'm not being part of that. Nathan finds out you're drinking while taking pain meds he'll shoot us both."

"Hell, I won't take the..."

"No way, Chris. Nathan just seems to have a radar when it comes to this. He'll know if you're taking the pain meds or not...remember the last time?"

"Oh! Yeah, maybe you got a point," Larabee said as he remembered the soft hearted medic reading him the riot act for not taking his prescription meds properly. "Maybe I'll take a diet Pepsi for now."

"Good choice. Be right back."

Chris sat back and looked out over his land. The hills, the wildflowers, trees, and the mountains in the distance, were part of the reason he'd bought this ranch. He'd also been looking for a place where he could be alone when he needed to, which seemed to be less often since Vin Tanner and the others decided he was a worthy cause after all.

"Penny for your thoughts, Cowboy."

"Huh...Oh, sorry, Vin, just enjoying the view."

"It is beautiful out here," Tanner said, placing a plate of salad on the table beside the blond.

Chris looked at the plate of salad, his mouth watering as he lifted the fork. No one made Caesar like Vin Tanner. His simple recipe of Romaine Lettuce, Canadian bacon, sharp cheddar cheese, croutons, green peppers, Parmesan cheese, and creamy Caesar Salad dressing was made even better by chunks of BBQ chicken breast mixed through it. The salad was a meal in itself and Chris smiled his thanks as he ate the tantalizing meal.


James Midland drove the pick-up into the driveway, stopping behind the black ford. He sat for a few minutes, his hands on the steering wheel as he waited for his churning stomach to relax. He knew he was doing the right thing, yet he was nervous about seeing Larabee again. The hospital had been neutral ground, this ranch and everything on it was Larabee territory. He reached for the handle and stepped out of the truck. The yard was deserted as he made his way to the front of the house. He tapped lightly at the door and shuffled his feet as he waited for an answer. The last time he'd been here he didn't have time to look around the area, but now he took the time to see it for what it was.

The single level ranch house fit Larabee perfectly. The home was painted in dark hues and again seemed to reflect the man he'd known such a short time. The rolling front lawn was immaculately kept, the grass cut to the same depth, the flowers bloomed perfectly in a small garden near the front. Rose and lilac bushes were in abundance along the white picket fence at the front of the property. He heard the sound of a horse and moved down the steps, but stopped as he heard someone come to the front door. He recognized the man and smiled thinly at him.

"Hi, Vin."

"Hey, James, come on in. Chris is expecting you," the tracker said as he held the door.

"Thanks," the dark haired youth said as he scrambled inside.

"He's out on the deck. Come on, I'll show you."

"Okay," Midland said, following Tanner through the foyer, the dining room and out into the back yard. Larabee sat in a chair with his cumbersome leg resting on a stool.

"Chris, James is here," the sharpshooter said.

Larabee turned his head and smiled as he saw the young man standing beside his friend. He sensed Midland's nervousness and attempted to put him at ease.

"Hello, James," he greeted.

"Hello, Mr. Larabee."

"Thought we agreed you'd call me Chris," the blond said, gesturing for the teenager to come forward.

‘C...Chris," the kid stammered.

"Contrary to what you've probably heard, James, I don't bite..."

"Remind me to show you the teeth marks I have to prove he's lying..."

"Tanner, stop scaring the kid!" Larabee hissed, smiling at the spark of fear the tracker's words elicited from the younger man.

"Oh, yeah sorry," the tracker said, but leaned close for only James to hear. "Just watch yourself, kid."

Larabee couldn't help smiling at his friend's antics. He waited for James to come forward and indicated the chair across from him. He lifted a glass and poured lemonade from the pitcher next to him and slid it to the young man.

"Here, Kid, you look like you can use a drink."

"Thanks, Mr. La...I mean...Thanks Chris."

"You're welcome," he turned to the tracker and smiled as he spoke. "Vin, you might as well go on home and get some rest. I think James can handle things around here."

"You sure? I mean I can stick around and show the kid what's expected of him."

"I'm sure we can handle things," Larabee told him.

"Yeah, I bet you can, but you're supposed to go easy on that leg."

"I will. Look, most of what I need to explain can be done sitting down. I don't think it'll take much for him to understand what he's to do. Go home."

"Alright. If there's any problems..."

"I'll call, Vin. Now get on out of here before I have James bring me my gun," the blond said, smiling as he watched the shocked look come over Midland's face.

"See, Kid, told you to watch yourself." The tracker enjoyed teasing as much as anyone and he bent low to the young man's ear once more. "Don't worry, James, I locked all the guns away so he can't shoot anyone."

"O...kay," Midland stammered, unsure whether this had been a good idea or not.

"Chris, I'll see you tomorrow."

"Alright, Vin," the blond said and watched the younger man leave. He listened for the sound of Tanner's jeep before turning to the youth. "Thought he'd never leave."

"But, I thought he was your friend?"

"He is, Kid, but sometimes a man's friends are not always what he needs. Vin and the others tend to turn into mother hens when you least expect it."

"Mother hens?"

"Yeah. It means they won't let me do a damn thing on my own. They seem to think they know what's best for me."

"Oh, I know what that's like."

"Really? You've been mother henned."

"You haven't been mother henned until Stacey decides she knows what's best for you. She's practically made it into an art form."

"Ouch, yeah I could see the doc being a mother hen. I feel sorry for you, Kid, must've been hard growing up with a doctor for a sister."

"Nah, wasn't that bad, except when I pulled a stupid stunt like the one that got you hurt. I'm really sorry about your leg, Chris."

Larabee turned serious as he saw the look in the young man's eyes. He knew Stacey Midland had probably lectured her brother on the merits of what he'd done, but one look at the cumbersome cast reminded him of what could've happened. He took a sip of the lemonade before speaking seriously.

"Look, James, what you boys did out there was stupid and irresponsible. This leg proves that, but it could've been a lot worse."

"I know that, Sir..."

"Do you? That stuff was old and unstable. It's a miracle it never went off in your hand. Do you know what that would've done? Hell, Kid, if even one of them sticks had gone off while one of you were holding it you could've lost your life. As it is you were lucky you didn't lose a hand or an arm. Dynamite is not something to mess around with. No explosives are. It's taken years for Buck to become an expert in explosives and he'd be the first to admit he doesn't know everything by half. Next time you find something like that, think about what you're doing before you decide to have some fun."

"I will, Chris. I won't touch that stuff again."

"Good. Now why don't I take you on the grand tour?" Larabee asked, reaching for his casted leg.

"Are you sure you should be walking around?"

"James," the blond spoke the name menacingly.


"I just got rid of one mother hen...I don't think I can deal with another one. Get my drift?"

"Oh, Yeah...Sorry, Chris, I forgot."

"Good, now hand me my damn crutches and we'll go introduce you to Pony."


"My horse."

"Is he the one you were riding?" Midland asked as he retrieved the crutches from their resting place beside the door.

"Yes, he was."

"Is he okay? I mean he didn't get hurt or anything, did he?" He passed Larabee the crutches and stood back as the blond tried to get no his feet.

"No, he wasn't hurt in the blast... just spooked, but it could've been a lot worse, James."

"Yeah, I know," the boy said, keeping his eyes downcast.

"Come on, Kid, let's go out to the barn and I'll tell you what I need you to do."

"Okay," the youth said as Larabee finally stood on the crutches. They walked across the backyard until they came to a well kept barn at the northwest end of the property.

Pony was still in the corral and Chris smiled as the animal whinnied a greeting. He walked up to the gate and placed one crutch against the fence while he reached over the top of the rail and rubbed Pony's neck. The horse returned the touch, its head bobbing up and down as it showed its affection.

"Hey, Boy, that feels good, doesn't it?" Larabee asked as he rubbed the gelding's ears.

James watched as the older man talked to the animal. He'd never really been around horses, but somehow he knew this one understood its owner. Each time Larabee spoke to it the gelding would nuzzle against him or a soft whinny would escape its throat. The blond haired man was something of an enigma to the kid, as he watched the two interact.

"Pony, this is James. He's gonna be helping out here for a while. You gonna behave yourself?" the injured man asked and again received an answer from the horse. He laughed as the gelding trotted across the confines of the corral before retuning and standing with it's head down next to Midland.

"Go ahead, Kid, he wants you to rub his head. Sometimes I think he's part human."

"He's beautiful, Chris," Midland said, patting the neck gently, and smiling as the animal leaned heavily into his touch.

"Yeah, he is, and I swear he knows it too. Hell of it is when you put him and Peso together there's no shame between the two of ‘em. Especially if we happen to bring home a date, they tend to prance around until the ladies turn their attention to them. Okay, Pony, I'm going to show James here what's expected of him. Now you just behave yourself until we're done. This way, Kid," Larabee ordered as he grabbed the crutch and slowly walked towards the main doors of the barn.

"Let me get it, Chris," Midland said as Larabee reached for the door handle. He pulled open the heavy wooden barrier and held it for Larabee to enter.

"Thanks," the blond said as he entered the barn. He made his way to the stalls and waited until Midland caught up with him.

"Okay, part of your job will be to clean out these stalls everyday. That means getting rid of the mess and replacing the hay and feed. The feed is over this way. The hay is in the loft. Pony likes fresh water so you'll have to make sure there's plenty on hand for him. I have a man who comes out to exercise Pony when I'm not around and I've already arranged for him to come out daily, but I'd like you to give him a hand with that as well."

"Sure, Chris."

"Have you ever been horse riding, James?"

"N...No...Least not since Stacey used to take me to the fair when I was little."

"The ponies," Larabee said with a smile. His mind wandered back to the times he took Sarah and Adam to the town fair and how his son reacted to the pony rides. The boy raced towards them as soon as he saw the small white animal at the end of the tether. They spent the next hour and forty minutes letting his son ride the pretty white pony.

"Chris, you okay?" Midland asked as he watched Larabee's face fill with emotions.

"Y...yeah, I'm fine, James. Just thinking about something." He took a deep breath and turned back to the job at hand.

"You look kind of tired..."

"James, mother hen..."

"Oh, sorry, Chris."

"Okay. Now, there's other things I'll be expecting you to do, but you make sure you do what your sister tells you to as well."

"I will, Chris. Stacey has me grounded remember? I've cleaned every room in our house in the last few days."

"Good, but I have a house cleaner who takes care of that. The main reason you're here is to help with the stable and grounds and maybe run an errand or two for me."

"Sure, Chris, I'll do anything you say."

"I don't want you to do everything I say, James. I want you to do what you know is right," Larabee explained as he led the way outside.

"Okay," the youth agreed as they made their way back to the main house. Chris placed his crutches against the table and refilled both their glasses with lemonade. He smiled as the kid ran his hand across the condensation and knew Midland was still on the nervous side.

"Is there something bothering you, James?"

"Not really, Chris."

"James, if you ever feel like talking."

"I was thinking about what we did. I just don't understand why Terry and Warren think they did nothing wrong."

"Some people don't want to face up to what they've done. They'd rather hide their guilt and let someone else take the blame for it. I'm glad to see you're doing the right thing, James."

"Stacey taught me responsibility, Chris, and I know I'm responsible for what happened to you."

"Only partially responsible, James. Terry and Warren are equally at fault here."

"I know, but they aren't facing up to it."

"James, how do you feel about the choice you made?"

"What do you mean?"

"Well, could you live with yourself if you went the same route as your friends and denied any responsibility."

"No! No way, Chris. I couldn't do that."

"That makes you a better man than your friends, James. Be proud of your choices and make sure you always take responsibility for your actions."

"I will, Chris," he said as he finished the glass of lemonade.

Chris watched as the younger man eagerly cleared the table and brought everything into the kitchen, before returning to the deck.

"Alright, Kid, now why don't you get on home before your sister gets worried about you."

"She knows where I am."

"I know," Larabee said with a smile. "I just want a little time to myself. I don't think I've had a minute to myself since this happened."

"You'll be okay here? I mean what if something happens."

"Oh, hell, damn, Kid, I told you I don't need another..."

"Oh, sorry, Chris, I forgot, it won't happen again," the teenager said as he stood up.

"I'll hold you to that," Larabee said.

"See you tomorrow afternoon."

"Sounds good," the blond smiled as the kid moved towards the door.

"Do you need me to bring you anything?"

"No, thanks, Kid, Vin took care of everything."

"Okay, Chris, thanks."

"You're welcome. Drive carefully," Larabee stood up and reached for the crutches.

"Yes, Sir."

The two men walked to the front of the house and Chris watched as the youth walked towards his truck and climbed inside. James Midland was a smart young man and Chris realized he'd make a wonderful doctor, if that's what he chose to be. He waved as the younger man blew his horn before driving out of the yard.

The blond turned carefully and edged his way back into his home. He made his way into the living room and sank wearily down onto the couch. His leg was throbbing, but he refused to take anything for it. He lifted the heavy cast and placed it on the couch, stretching his long frame until he found a comfortable spot. He reached for the remote and switched on the TV. He flipped through the channels, stopping on the local news broadcast. It wasn't long before his eyes closed and he slept peacefully.


Over the next few days Chris had fun showing James Midland the chores he expected him to do. The young man was an eager and willing student and he did things without questioning Larabee's orders. He cleaned the stalls, made sure Pony had plenty of food and water, and offered to brush him down, but that was the one thing Chris could still do and he refused the youth's offer every time.

Chris spent as much time as he could with Pony, leaning heavily against the fence when his leg began to throb. Most times he could ignore it, but he knew he'd overdone things this time as the throb had grown steadily worse and nothing seemed to ease it. He looked toward the house, frowning, as it seemed like the distance was greater than he remembered; yet knowing that was impossible. He looked at the crutches beside him and reached for them, tucking one under each arm. He heard Pony behind him and turned towards the beautiful animal. He scratched between the perked up ears and laughed, as the animal seemed to nuzzle him towards the house.

"Alright, I'm going," the blond said, smiling weakly as he turned once more to the task at hand. The sun shone down on him as he made his way across the short cropped grass. He was only halfway across the yard when he felt his energy giving out. Glancing around he looked for a place to sit, but the closest thing was the swing at the side of the ranch house.

"Damn!" he spat, and looked longingly at the ground. He wanted nothing more than to sink onto the grass and stay there. He knew if he did that he'd be stuck there until James or Vin showed up or he'd be forced to crawl across the yard, dragging the casted leg through the tufts of grass. Taking a deep breath and ignoring the pain he placed the crutches ahead of him and began what seemed like an endless trip across the yard. He stopped several times to catch his breath and see if the pain would diminish, but it didn't and he was again forced to move ahead. Finally the swing came in sight and Chris dropped the crutches and sank onto the cushions. He rubbed at the top of his leg, grimacing at the pain emanating from the sight of the break. He looked at his watch and realized it would be a couple of hours before anyone showed up, and for once he wished one of his mother hens was around to bring him a couple of pain killers.

Chris sat where he was for several minutes, waiting for some of his energy to return before making his way into the house. He knew the pain in his leg wouldn't ease this time until he took the meds and elevated it, but he couldn't summon the energy he needed to stand up, let alone walk into the house. The hot rays of the sun added to his discomfort and he felt sweat soaking through the shirt he wore. He rubbed his eyes and tried to stand, but was forced to admit defeat for now. He lost track of time, sitting there, cursing his own stubbornness, and wishing he had his hands on a cold beer. A sound caught his attention and he looked up to see Vin's familiar jeep turn into his driveway. He tried to sit up straighter, to hide just how bad he was feeling, as Tanner strode quickly towards him.

"Hey, Cowboy, you're looking a little rough," Tanner stated worriedly.

"Feel more than a little rough, Vin," Larabee answered honestly.

"Overdoing things again?"

"Reckon," the blond answered, hoping the one word would put his worried friend at ease.

"Come on and we'll get ya inside where it's a little cooler," the tracker ordered sympathetically.

"Sounds like a plan," the blond told him, as the younger man reached for the crutches and held them out to him.

"Lean on me, Chris," Tanner ordered, seeing the weakness and pain on the other man's face.

"Thanks, Vin...Fuck!" he cursed when his stomach began to churn as he placed his weight on the casted leg.

Tanner waited for the blond to signal that he was ready to move, hating how much pain his friend was in. Finally Larabee signaled that he was ready to move and they started taking small shuffling steps towards the front door. Vin heard Larabee's muffled grunts of pain, and wished Sanchez was there. The older man could've easily picked the injured man up and carried him into the house. He smiled at the idea of Larabee being tucked into bed by the ex-preacher, scowling the whole time and asking for his gun.

"What's funny, T...Tanner?" Larabee ground out as they made it to the front door.

"Just thinking if Josiah was here you'd be tucked into bed already. He'd have picked you up and..."

"Don't ne...need anyone picking me up, Tanner!" the blond warned.

"Hey, I couldn't even if I wanted too, Larabee. I mean normally it wouldn't be a problem, but hell that cast probably weighs more'n you do...don't think my back could handle that."

"Well, Nathan keeps telling me I need to gain we...weight," Larabee hissed as they made it through the door.

"I don't think a full length leg cast was what he meant, Cowboy," the tracker said, hoping to keep his friend's mind off the pain as he headed towards the other man's bedroom.

"Sofa is fine," Larabee said once he realized their destination.

"Bed is better," the tracker told him and continued towards the back room.

Chris knew the younger man was right and forced his legs to move. Once inside his room he sat on the edge of the bed and again rubbed at the top of his leg.

"Chris, where are the meds the doc prescribed for you?"

"Don't need them, Vin, just need to rest awhile," Larabee answered, his stubborn pride making it impossible for him to acknowledge the need for pain relief.

"Look, Larabee, I agree ya need ta rest for awhile, but that ain't gonna happen until you get some relief from the pain. I can see it, Chris, you're in pain, now where are the pills?"

"In the medicine cabinet," Larabee answered reluctantly.

"Stay put!"

Chris didn't have the energy to argue anymore. He reached for his t-shirt, slowly eased it over his head, and dropped it on the floor. The air conditioning was turned on and he felt it cooling his heated skin as Tanner came out with the bottle of pills and a glass of water.

"Take ‘em!" the tracker ordered when it looked as if the blond was ready to refuse the pills once more.

Chris reached for the two pills and reluctantly popped them into his mouth and accepted the glass of water. He drank it down and placed the empty glass on the nightstand.


"Not quite, let's get you into bed."

"Jesus, Tanner, I can do that myself."

"Yeah, you could, but I doubt if you've got the energy to lift that cast yourself." The sharpshooter positioned the pillows behind Larabee and eased him back against them. Next he lifted the leg and placed it on a pillow, making sure it was elevated to help ease the throbbing pain he knew Larabee felt. He reached for the comforter and eased it up over the blond.

"Anything else I can get ya?"

"No, think you've done it all, but..."

"What?" the tracker asked worriedly.

"You pat me on the head and I might just get my gun," Larabee said, hoping to ease the other man's mind. He heard the Texan laugh and the sound did more to ease the pain than any medications ever could.

"Try to sleep, Chris, I'm going to make dinner," the sharpshooter said, closing the heavy drapes before walking to the door.




"Anytime...now go to sleep!"

"Yes...boss," the blond said, laughing as the other man closed the door. He moaned softly as he turned slightly on his right side to wait for the meds to kick in and ease the flaring agony in his leg.


Nathan opened the door and looked in on the still sleeping man. They'd arrived at the ranch, loaded with pizza and wings, only to find a worried Vin Tanner sitting in the living room. The Texan told them how he'd found Chris sitting in the swing at the side of the house, hot and in pain.

The medic had been checking to see if the blond was awake ever since. The pizza was in the oven, waiting for the injured man to wake up and join them. He began to close the door, but was stopped by a soft voice from the bed.

"I'm awake, Nathan."

Jackson moved into the room and sat on the side of the bed. The green eyes were open and focused on him. "How do you feel, Chris?"

"Better, what time is it?"

"It's nearly six..."

"Six! Shit, why didn't Vin wake me?"

"Because you obviously needed the sleep. You need to realize when you overdo things it sets you back. How's the leg doing now?"

"Pain's gone." Larabee could see the disbelief on the other man's face and smiled sheepishly. "Okay, it's not completely gone, but it's getting there."

"Good, you hungry?"

"Starved...what've we got?"

"Pizza. Want me to bring you some?"

"No...I can get my own," Larabee said, before realizing the medic wasn't serious.

"Come on then," Jackson told him.

"Can you hand me my shirt?"

The medic picked up the shirt he'd discarded earlier and threw it in the hamper before going to the armoire and pulling out a clean one. He pitched it to Larabee and waited for the blond to put it on.

"Thanks," Larabee said when the other man helped ease his leg over the side of the bed, placed the cast boot on his foot and a soft moccasin slipper on the other.

"You're welcome, Chris." He passed Larabee his crutches before moving to the door and holding it for the injured man.

Chris heard laughter from the patio as he walked towards the dining room and turned towards the open doors. He walked outside to find the others relaxing and joking in the evening sunshine. James Midland was seated with JD Dunne, and Chris smiled as he realized Dunne had finally found someone who appreciated his jokes.

"Hey, Chris, how are you feeling?" Midland asked when he spotted the blond in the doorway.

"Better, James," Larabee answered as he moved towards an empty chair.

"Can I get you something to drink?"


"Forget it, unless it's root beer," Jackson explained, smiling at the look of distaste on Larabee's face.

"Damn...How about coffee?"

"That you can have," the medic said and smiled as Midland hurried to get it.

"Hey, Chris, I heard a new joke today about a man with a broken leg..."

"JD, gimme a hand with the pizzas," Wilmington ordered, before the kid could continue.

"Yeah, okay, Buck, just let me tell Chris..."

"Later, kid...or never, wouldn't want Chris getting sick now would we?" the rogue asked with a grin.

"My jokes are not that bad!"

"Yeah, they are kid," Buck told him as they hurried into the house.

"Those two never seem to stop," Larabee said, laughing as Buck and JD continued to bicker all the way to the kitchen.

"Here you go, Chris," Midland said, placing a cup of black coffee in front of the blond.

"Thanks, James. Did you get the stalls cleaned out?"

"Sure did...made sure Pony had plenty of feed too," the young man said exuberantly.

"Great, are you doing your chores at home?"

"Yeah, Stacey won't let me get away without cleaning my room and doing the laundry and dishes."

"That's good...you just keep doing what she says," Larabee told him as Buck and JD returned with the pizzas and plates. Chris watched his friends as they helped themselves to the food and drinks and smiled as Tanner handed him a plate.

"Josiah, anything new on the Robards case?"

"Nothing, Chris. Seems like Mr. Robards took off with the designs, but what his plans are we don't know yet. Ezra's been in contact with several designers, but so far Robards hasn't contacted them."

"Damn, thought that one was gonna be easy to crack," Larabee said, placing his untouched pizza on the table and reaching for his coffee.

"Well, Mr. Larabee, Robards is attempting to end his wife's career and what better way than by making her miss the premiere fashion show of the century. This private showing of her designs would've placed her in the higher echelon, but unless she has her original designs, she can't prove they were hers."

"Keep working on it!" Larabee told the two men.

"We will, Chris," Sanchez assured him.

"What about the Barkers?" Larabee hated thinking about the missing boy, but he needed to keep abreast of all pertinent and pending cases.

"Well, now, Chris, I do believe Vin has some good news on that front," Sanchez told him.

"He does...you do?" Larabee asked, frowning at the Texan.

"Yeah, I do. Would've told you earlier, but well...you sort of ran yourself into the ground! Next time maybe you'll wait until one of us is here to help you." The younger man grinned as Larabee tried to hide his guilt.

"Alright, I get the point. Now tell me about the Barker case."

"Well, it seems Joey Barker was angry with his parents for fighting all the time. Kid decided it was time to give them something they could do together, so he..."

"Disappeared," Larabee said, angry that a child of eight would be forced to do something so drastic.

"Exactly. He didn't go far though. Hid out in the backyard of a school friend two blocks from his home. The Pearson boy crumbled when he saw me and Buck...Think maybe Buck scared the crap out of him when he got stuck climbing through the tiny window in the tree house."

"You didn't tell me you got stuck, Buck!" Dunne laughed at the image of the bigger man stuck in a child's tree house.

"Yeah, well, the kid had the door locked...had to get in somehow and that seemed like the best way at the time," Wilmington answered.

"Besides, Buck's had plenty of experience climbing in and out of windows," Larabee said, smiling as he remembered the scoundrel's attempts to meet a young woman who'd captured his heart.

"Yeah, but those windows were usually bigger," the ladies' man explained.

"Okay, so what happened with the kid and his parents?" the blond asked.

"Parents grounded the kid, but not before a lot of hugging and kissing and agreeing to go to counseling. I know the kid went about this all wrong, but I think he's going to get what he wanted. The Barkers are at least attempting to get things on an even keel again," Tanner answered.

"Good...glad it worked out for them," the team leader said.

"Something wrong with the pizza, Chris?" Jackson asked.

"No, just not hungry right now...and before you ask if I'm feeling sick, the answer's no. I feel fine, just not hungry."

"Alright, but make sure you..."

"I'll eat, Nathan, just not right now. What about the meeting with Travis? How did that go?"

"Orin said to tell you everything is fine...no complaints on his end," Sanchez assured his boss.

"Well, that's a first," Larabee told them. "James, what time did Stacey want you to be home?"

"She said I could stay as long as you needed me."

"Well, you might as well head on home. These guys can clean up before they leave. You go ahead and make it an early night."

"You sure?" the teenager asked.

"We got it covered, James," Wilmington answered.

"Chris, I'll be back tomorrow evening," Midland told him.

"Tomorrow is Friday, Kid. Take the night off and if it's okay with your sister go see a movie."

"But I..."

"James, you've been a great help to me, but you shouldn't be spending all your free time out here. I'm sure there's a young lady who would agree to go to the movies with you."

"Well, I would like to see Amanda..."

"Then give her a call."

"I will, thanks, Chris. I'll be here early Saturday morning..."

"Not too early, Kid, I've decided to do an Ezra imitation Saturday."

"A what?" Midland asked.

"What Mr. Larabee so eloquently said was he is going to sleep in," Standish explained, laughing along with his friends at the running joke.


Chris opened his eyes and smiled as the aroma of fresh brewed coffee alerted his senses that breakfast would soon be ready. Josiah had arrived early in the morning and used the extra key to let himself in. Chris had finally agreed that he would need help with certain things until he was more proficient with the normal daily routine. He shifted on the bed until he was able to slide his right leg over the edge and then grabbed hold of the heavy cast and slid it to the floor. The crutches were leaning against the nightstand where he'd left them the night before. He grabbed them and placed them under his arms before moving to the bathroom. It didn't take long to wash up and get ready to face another day and this was one he was really looking forward to. Finally finished he walked back to his bed and quickly dressed in the shorts and T-shirt laid out on the chair. The shorts were the style that opened along the side and had snaps to keep them in place.

"Chris, breakfast is ready," Sanchez called from the kitchen.

"Coming, Josiah," Larabee answered as he slipped his foot into his shoe and stood up once more. Hobbling out to the kitchen he wasn't surprised to see the medic had also shown up. "Good morning, Nate."

"Morning, Chris. How's the leg feeling?"

"A little sore, but nothing like it was yesterday."

"Good, now if you'd just do as you're supposed to there won't be any more days like yesterday," the paramedic warned.

"You know me, Nate, I hate being tied down," the blond said and smiled as a plate of pancakes were placed in front of him. "Thanks, Josiah."

"You're welcome. Nathan, you sure you don't want some. I brought along the pure maple syrup Aunt Shirley sent me."

"You twisted my arm," Jackson said, grinning as a plate of pancakes was placed before him.

"We're lucky Vin's not here," Larabee said as he poured the sweet syrup over his meal.

"Yes, well, I've had to hide it when he comes to the house. He seems to like a little pancake with his syrup," Sanchez said and smiled as the two men dug into the meal.

"It's a wonder he's got a tooth left in his head with the shit he eats," the medic said pouring a fresh cup of coffee for himself.

"He does have a sweet tooth," Larabee agreed.

"And then some," Sanchez offered and nodded as Jackson motioned with the coffee pot towards his cup. "So, Chris, what are your plans for today?"

"Well, Billy and Mary are supposed to come out for a BBQ this afternoon. I was going to ask Vin to come out and cook up some steaks, unless you feel like putting on an apron again," Larabee asked hopefully. Sanchez was well known for his expertise when it came to cooking a steak to perfection.

"I might be tempted if Nathan would put together a potato salad," Sanchez said.

"Blackmail will get you anything you want, Josiah. Potato salad ala Mama Jackson to go with the steak. What else do we need?"

"Mary is making Cheesecake. Maybe we should call the rest of the guys and have them bring something if they don't have any plans."

"Sounds like a plan, Chris," Sanchez agreed and the three men finished their meal in companionable silence.


Chris smiled as the familiar car drove into his driveway. He took his crutches and moved towards the vehicle as Billy opened the back door and ran towards him.

"Hi, Chris...wow, Mom said you had a big cast, but I didn't know it was that big. Can I sign it?"

"Sure, Kiddo, as soon as we help your Mom bring the stuff inside," Larabee answered and smiled at the blond woman who kissed his cheek. "Hi, Mary, thanks for coming."

"Thanks for inviting us. How are you doing?"

"I'm fine," Larabee said, grinning as she looked at him disbelievingly. "So, did you make the..."

"Mom made your favorite, Chris," the boy interrupted and motioned for Chris to lean down conspiratorially. "I think Mom's got a crush on you."


"She does? Well, maybe I have one on your mom too," Larabee answered and saw the woman's cheeks blush bright red.

"You do?" Billy asked as Mary moved to get the packages from the back of her car.

"Sure do. Your Mom is a beautiful woman..."

"Nah, she's just mom," Billy said and again looked at Chris' leg. "Does it hurt?"

"Sometimes, but if I do what the doctor's tell me too it's not so bad," Larabee explained. "Give me one of those, Mary."

"I can handle them, Chris, besides you've got enough to handle with the crutches. "Billy, could you get the door?"

"Sure, Mom," the child agreed and hurried towards the house.

"So, is everyone here?"

"No, Vin and JD are running a little late, but they'll be here."

"Wonderful. Orin and Evie send their best and Evie said to tell you to listen to what the doctors tell you," Mary said as she walked beside the blond.

"Chris, can we go see Pony?" Billy asked as he reached the door and held it for his mother.

"Billy, Chris has an injured leg..."

"That ain't gonna stop him."

"That's not going to stop him," Mary corrected her son.

"That's not going to stop him," Billy repeated and looked at Larabee for confirmation.

"Well, Billy, why don't we help your mom get the stuff inside and maybe the three of us can take a walk over to the stable and see Pony. Vin should soon be here with Peso too," Larabee explained.

"Can we ride today?" the boys asked excitedly.

"Billy, Chris can't ride right now," Mary explained.

"Oh, the boy said disappointedly as he looked at the full length cast. "I forgot. I'm sorry, Chris."

"That's okay, Billy, maybe Vin will let you ride with him," Larabee suggested as they entered the house.

"Do you really think so?"

"I don't see why not." Larabee led them towards the kitchen where they were greeted by Josiah and Nathan before Chris took them through the back door towards the barn. He smiled as Billy ran on ahead and climbed the corral fence to watch Pony in the enclosure.

"Hey, Boy, come here!" Billy called as he grabbed a handful of hay and gestured toward the horse.

"Mary, have you ever thought about getting Billy his own horse?"

"When Steven was alive we talked about it, but never seemed to get around to it and lately I haven't had much time to even think about it much less act on it."

"Would you mind if Vin and I took a look around. Maybe find a pony that he can keep here and visit as often as he wanted."

"You would do that for us?"

"Of course, Mary. I was thinking it's time to get a few more horses anyway. One of the things Sarah and I wanted to do was raise horses, but we never got around to that either," Larabee thought sullenly.

"I didn't know Sarah, Chris, but Orin and Evie thought highly of her."

"I know and I'll always be grateful for their help after...after Sarah and Adam were killed."

"Chris, Pony likes me!"

"Course he does, Son," Larabee said smiling as he joined the boy outside the corral.

"Billy, Chris is going to look for a pony to keep here for you," Mary explained.

"He is?"

"Sure am, Kiddo, is there anything in particular you want?" the blond asked.

"I want one just like Pony," Billy answered as the animal lifted his head and whinnied as if understanding what the child was saying.

"Watch it, Billy, Pony is already too full of himself," Larabee explained as Pony nudged his hands. "I know, Boy. Vin will be here soon and he'll take you for a ride."

"Can I ride Pony?" Billy asked.

"I think that could be arranged, Billy," Chris said as Pony took the offered hay from his hand. "You wouldn't mind taking Billy for a ride would you Boy?"

The trio turned as the sound of an approaching vehicle reached their ears. Chris recognized the familiar truck and waved to the young man who opened the door and climbed out.

"Hi, Chris."

"Hi, James, thought you were going to stay home and help your sister with her gardening today?" Larabee asked as Midland joined them at the corral.

"I did. Between us we did it all and I had a choice between being grounded or coming out here to see if you needed anything. I figured I could maybe check the stalls and see about finishing the repairs we started on the corral fence."

"Chris, don't tell me you've been mending fences with your leg in a cast?" Mary scolded.

"All I did was pass some nails, Mary, James did all the heavy work," Larabee explained, smiling at the woman who was standing with her hands on her hips.

"Make sure that's all you do or you'll find yourself on the wrong end of one of Nathan's lectures."

"I know, Mary, believe me I know. I don't think you've met James have you, Mary?"

"No, I don't think I've had the pleasure," the newspaperwoman answered as she shook the young man's hand.

"Mary and Billy Travis meet James Midland."

"Pleased to meet you, Mrs. Travis...Billy."

"Hi, James," Billy said, but continued to feed Pony hay from where he leaned against the top rail of the fence.

"It's nice to meet you, James."

"Thank you," Midland said and turned to Larabee. "I didn't know you had company, Chris, guess I should have called first."

"That's okay, James, you might as well stick around for the BBQ and Mary's cheesecake."

"I love cheesecake," James agreed. "I'll just check on the stalls first."

"Josiah took care of them earlier. Why don't you and Billy check with Nathan to see if he needs anything done?"

"All right. What do you say, Billy, want to see if we can help in the kitchen?"

"Sure, maybe Josiah's making a cake and we can lick out the bowl," Billy said hopping down and following Midland toward the house.

Mary smiled at the duo before turning back to Larabee in time to see him trying to hide a grimace of pain. "Chris, why don't we go sit down for a while?"

"I'm okay, Mary," he tried reassuringly.

"No, you're not, and you won't be if you don't start taking it easy. Contrary to popular belief amongst Billy and James you're not a superhero and need to give yourself a chance to heal. Now why don't you go sit down and I'll get us some lemonade?"

"Sounds like a plan, Mary," Larabee said as he shifted the crutches under his arm and slowly walked back toward the house. He smiled at the worry on the woman's face and tried to let her know he was doing okay as they walked up onto the back deck. He sank down on one of the chairs and watched as the pretty woman made her way inside. The day was even hotter than predicted and he brushed back the sweat soaked blond hair as he watched a horse and rider approaching. He recognized them immediately and waved as they neared the corral. It didn't take long for Vin to remove the saddle, give Peso a quick rubdown and released him into the corral.

"Hey, Cowboy," Larabee greeted as Tanner joined him on the deck.

"See ya got comp'ny."

"Yes, I told you Mary and Billy were coming. James showed up a few minutes ago and wanted to work on the fence."

"Jesus, Chris, ya haven't been doin'..."

"Shit, Vin, I just got that lecture from Mary. No, I haven't been doing anything I'm not supposed to be doing. All I do is hand him a couple of nails."

"Well, I know ya and I know how hard it is ta keep yer hands off when there's work ta be done. Leave it be and I'll come by ta help James with it tomorrow."

"Vin, I can do things myself you know."

"I know ya can, but right now ya've gotta take care of that leg and let it heal. Ya go gettin' it wet and havin ta get it repaired and Nate's gonna blow a gasket..."

"Nate's gonna blow a gasket about what?" Jackson asked as he stepped out on the deck. Mary and Josiah joined them as the medic placed a tray of glasses and juice on the table.

"Vin thinks I'm overdoing things," Larabee answered with a sheepish grin.

"Oh? Now why would Vin think such a thing?" the medic asked slyly as Sanchez poured the tangy juice into the glasses.

"Forget it, Chris, Nathan knows all of you too well," Mary said as she watched James chasing Billy across the back yard.

"Anyone hear from Buck and JD?" Larabee asked in an effort to change the subject.

"They'll be here in an hour," Jackson answered.

"What about Ezra?" the injured man asked.

"He'll be here any minute, said he was stopping off to get his special supplies," Sanchez told him.

"Special supplies?" Mary asked.

"Ezra makes the best coffee in the state...maybe even the country. He buys his beans fresh and adds several things to them until he has the perfect blend," Larabee explained.

"Hmm, it's hard to find good coffee since I tried the coffee at Tim Hortons in Toronto," Mary said.

"I've never had Tim Hortons, but if it's anything like Ezra's then it has to be good," Larabee said, smiling as James tagged Billy and was joined by Vin and Josiah. The group of four chased each other around the back yard and Chris sighed wearily as he watched them.

"Chris," Mary called as she noted a look of sadness on Larabee's face. His eyes shone with unshed moisture and she knew something had jolted his memory.

"Adam would've loved this. Tag was one of his favorite games and he was good at it too. I remember Sarah and I chased him all over the h...house one time. He could get into the strangest places and we'd have to go the long way around. By the time we reached where he'd been he was no longer there. We played that game for two hours one day. Even after we gave up he still kept just out of reach. Sarah and I laughed so much and when we finally caught him we were all exhausted and Adam convinced us to take a nap with him in his tent. T...that was a couple of weeks before t...they died. God, I miss them so much."

"I know, Chris," Mary said and handed him the box of tissues. She watched him wipe at his eyes before turning her attention to the antics of their friends. She still grieved for her own husband, but at least she still had her son with her. Chris' loss had been doubled and she wondered if she could've survived losing Billy.

"Thank you, Mary," Larabee said and knew the woman understood what he was saying.

"Chris if you ever feel like talking."

"I know and maybe someday I'll take you up on it," Larabee said as he unconsciously rubbed the top of his injured leg.

"Is there anything I can get for you?"

'My wife and son,’ the blond thought and felt the grief encompassing his heart once more. He knew there was nothing anyone could do and he slowly shook his head. "No, thank you, Mary, right now I'm just a little tired. Think maybe I'll go lie down for a while. Tell Josiah I said to wake me when dinner is ready."

"I will, Chris," Mary assured him and watched as Larabee made his way into the house.


By the time he reached his bedroom Chris knew the tears he'd kept at bay were streaming down his cheeks. He seldom had this overwhelming sense of grief anymore, but when it hit he wanted to be alone, to let his feelings out without anyone watching over him. Sarah and Adam Larabee had been his life and with their death a part of him had died too, but with time things had been a little easier. He lifted his leg onto the bed and lay back against the pillows. Turning slightly on his side he closed his eyes and pictured the two people he loved more than life itself.

"Miss you guys," he whispered as he wiped away the tears and drifted toward sleep.


Chris opened his eyes as a soft knock reached his ears. He looked at the clock and realized he'd slept nearly two hours. Sighing, he shifted on the bed and eased his leg over the side as the knock was repeated.

"Come in," the blond called smiling when Mary entered the room.

"Dinner will be ready in a couple of minutes, Chris."

"Thanks, Mary, I'll be out in a couple of minutes."

"Are you okay? I could bring your dinner in here…"

"No, thanks anyway, but I'm okay. Need to get up anyway," Larabee answered as she handed him the crutches. "Thanks."

"You're welcome," the woman said and watched as Larabee made his way toward the bathroom. He seemed to have gotten the handle on how to use the crutches and Mary stood for several seconds admiring the accoutrements the good Lord had given him. Chris Larabee was a good looking man who worked hard to keep his body in shape and it showed. His body was lean, but not scrawny, the muscles in his arms and thighs gave proof that his workouts were just the right tone for his body.

"Mary, are you all right?"

"Oh, yes, I'm fine," Travis blushed and turned away when she realized she'd been staring.

Chris had caught the slight blush to Mary's cheeks, but did nothing to cause her any more discomfort as he made his way into the bathroom. He looked in the mirror and wondered what she ever saw in him and was quickly reminded of his wife's love and the smile she always turned in his direction whenever he'd asked her what she saw in him. Chris reached for the face cloth and quickly washed his face and hands before leaving the bathroom once more. He used his crutches and cursed the awkwardness they cause as he finally made it through the door.

"Hey, Chris, we were just about to send a search party for you," Dunne said.

"Hey, JD, when did you and Buck get here?"

"About half an hour ago. Would have been here earlier but Buck was busy helping Tania and Tonya with their buns."

"I'm sure he was," Larabee said and opened the refrigerator door.

"Not those kind of buns, Chris. Hot cross buns…"

"I'm sure they were…"

"Hey, Pard, Josiah says your steak is getting cold," Wilmington said from the patio doors.

"I'm coming…was just waiting for JD to finish telling me about Tania and Tonya's hot cross buns."

"Oh, they weren't just hot, Chris, they were sizzling," Wilmington explained and moved out of the way as Larabee maneuvered through the doors.

"I bet you'd love to cool them off, Pard," Larabee said with a grin.

"You got that right…sticky lickin' good," the rogue told him.

"Hey, Chris, Vin says he'll take me riding after dinner," Billy said excitedly.

"If you eat everything on that plate, Pony might not be able to carry you," Larabee teased, sitting next to Mary as she poured him a glass of lemonade.

"Mom says I'm a growing boy."

"Growing is putting it mildly. I've had to but him all new summer clothes this year and will probably have to buy him all new stuff for school," the blonde woman said.

"Kids grow fast," Sanchez said and joined the others at the table. This was his family and it seemed like it was constantly growing. The only ones missing were Orin and Evie Travis and Nettie and Casey Wells, and only because they'd already made other plans for the day.

"Can I tell a joke?" Billy asked.

"Sure, kid," Tanner said.

"How does a frog feel when he has a broken leg?" Billy asked, frowning when the others looked at him strangely.

"How does he feel, Billy?" Larabee asked before Mary could scold the boy.

"Unhoppy," Billy answered with a grin and turned to Dunne when everyone laughed. "Did I say it right, JD?"

"Huh…yeah…yeah you did," Dunne said as Wilmington slapped him on the back.

"You're a bad influence on him, JD," the rogue said.

"Come on…it was funny and…"

"JD, I owe you one," Larabee said, smiling in spite of the younger man's strange sense of humor.

"I didn't do it right?" Billy asked.

"Yes, Son, you did it right, but the next time you feel like telling a joke come see me first. I'll give you some class…"

"Ah, Buck, the jokes you tell should be accompanied by an A rating and should not be said in front of kids," Larabee teased.

"Hey, I can tell you some good knock knock jokes," Wilmington stated.

"You can?" Billy asked excitedly.

"Sure can…knock, knock?" the rogue said.

"Who's there?" Billy asked.


"Dwayne who?" the boy asked.

"Dwayne the tub I'm dwoning." Buck delivered and laughed with the boy.

"Knock knock," Billy said.

"Who's there?" Buck asked.


"Tail who?"

"Tail me all your knock knock jokes," Billy answered and began to laugh uncontrollably.

"Okay, Billy, that's enough," Mary said.

"Ah, Mom…"

"That's okay, Billy, we'll tell some more later. Okay?" the rogue said.

"Okay," Billy agreed and picked up his hamburger and began to eat.

"Mr. Dunne, I believe you are not the only one who needs to replenish his repertoire," Standish said.

"Knock knock jokes are classics," Ez," Wilmington said.

"Buck, there are classics and then there are knock knock jokes, let's not have any more of either for now," Larabee said. The rest of the meal was eaten in friendly teasing and several more jokes were told until everyone was finished eating.

"Ya ready fer that ride, Billy?" Vin asked.

"Sure, Vin…"

"Billy, you do as Vin tells you," Mary said and began clearing the table.

"I will, Mom," the boy said and hurried after the Texan.

"We won't be gone long, Mary," Tanner said.

"Thank you, Vin," the woman said and smiled at the blond. "Thank you for today, Chris."

"You're welcome, Mary," Larabee said and stood up to help.

"Chris, you might as well stay put and leave the cleaning to us," Jackson ordered.

"Mr. Larabee, I'll make coffee," Standish offered.

"Sounds great, Ez…coffee and cheesecake," the blond said with a grin. He sat back and watched Vin saddle the horses and help Billy onto Pony's back before riding along the edge of the property line. Vin was a natural with the horses and Chris knew he could handle both Pony and Peso and that Billy was safe with the Texan. Part of him wanted to stand up and go with them, but he knew with the cast on his leg it was not possible. For now he was content to watch his friend and knew the ride was doing Pony a world of good.


Chris sat watching the others and again wished he could join in, but getting the cast wet would not be a good idea. Vin and Billy had returned to find Sanchez watering the back lawn and had ended up starting the water fight. Larabee sat at the patio table, savoring his third cup of coffee and enjoying the last of Mary's chocolate cheesecake while the others chased each other with the water hose. Right now the hose was in Billy's hands and he was chasing after his mother who ran behind the deck as Vin raced by the child. The boy sprayed the Texan and anyone who thought they could outrun him. The laughter was heartfelt and warm as the friends relaxed in the late afternoon sunshine. Chris knew his friends kept a change of clothes at his house and didn't care about getting wet.

"Dang, that's cold!" Dunne said as he was showered with the spray. He raced away, nearly colliding with Buck Wilmington, but the two managed to stay on their feet.

"I think we need to plan some strategy!" Standish shouted above the child's laughter.

Chris smiled as he heard the gambler's voice. If Maude Standish could see her son now she'd be hard pressed to recognize him, but Chris and the others knew this was the real Ezra Standish. He was a gambler and conman when his mother was around, a special agent with a playful heart of gold when she wasn't. Standish had come a long way since coming to work at The Firm and used his special talents to help others instead of for his personal gain.

"Watch out, Billy," Larabee warned as Dunne tried to grab the hose and Billy ducked under his outstretched hands and doused the Bostonian with a stream of water. Dunne's cry as the cold water hit him full in the back made the others laugh, but Billy wasn't about to give up either as he turned the hose on Jackson. The medic took off running as James Midland raced by the child and danced out of the way as Billy lost his balance and spun around.

Chris could only sit and watch as the hose slipped from the boy's hands and seemed to dance with the force of the water. Tanner reached for the hose and Chris automatically stood up to escape the icy spray. Unprepared for the cold water that hit him full force, Chris overbalanced on his leg and twisted away. The combination of the cast and the slippery deck was his downfall. The others could only watch as Chris landed hard on his left side and screamed as agony twisted like a knife in his leg.

"Chris!" Billy cried and tried to rush forward, but was caught and held in Josiah's strong arms. "Let me go!"

"Easy, Son, let Nathan and Buck take a look at him first," Sanchez warned as a very pale Mary Travis joined him.

Chris' world had narrowed until all he could feel was the nauseating agony that knifed through his upper leg. He heard Billy cry out and wished he could find the strength to console the boy, but his vision blurred and he fought to keep from being sick. He felt a hand on his shoulder and opened his eyes to look up at the blurry shape kneeling beside him.

"Chris, just be still now," Jackson ordered and knew the others were giving him room to work. The fun and games were forgotten in the wake of the very real pain that shone in Larabee's eyes.


"I know, just hang on…how bad?"

"I…I don't…hell…"

Nathan understood that Larabee did not want to worry any of them, especially when he heard Billy's soft sobs. He knew there would be no consoling the boy until he knew Chris was all right, but right now things didn't look very good in that department. Larabee's face was pale and he was sweating profusely as he tried not to show just how much pain he was in.

Mary knew she should take Billy inside, but could not tear herself away from the injured man until she knew he was going to be all right. The boy reached for her and she pulled him close, bending down as he wrapped his arms around her neck.

"Mommy, I hurted Chris…"

"No, Billy, you didn't honey," the woman tried and felt the tears in her own eyes.

"Billy, what happened was an accident and nobody's fault. Chris is going to be just fine," Sanchez said, rubbing circles on the child's back. He watched as Jackson tended to the injured man, hoping and praying things weren't as bad as they looked.

Chris continued to hold his hands to his head as he tried to get past the nauseating pain, but nothing seemed to ease his torment as Jackson placed a hand on his shoulder.

"Vin, we're going to need to get his leg checked out. Can you bring my car around?"

"On it, Nate," Tanner said and raced to do what the medic asked.

"No…no, Nate, just g…give me a few min…minutes," Larabee tried, but he knew his words were falling on deaf ears as the medic took control. His vision narrowed even further as he fought the tremors that shook him to the core. The pain was intense and again he lost touch with those around him as he fought to steady his body and mind.

"I don't think so, Chris, we need to get that cast checked out anyway," Jackson explained and turned to the ladies' man. "Buck, can you help me get him on his feet?"

"Sure, Nate," Wilmington said and moved to help the medic. "Easy, Chris, just lean on us."

"O…kay…shit…sorry, Mary," the blond said once he was on his feet and leaning heavily on the two men. He forced a smile to his face and looked at the child as he spoke. "Billy, I'm okay, Son. Just need to make sure the cast isn't too wet."

"See, Billy, Chris is going to be fine," Mary said. "Call me as soon as you know anything."

"I will," Jackson said as Tanner pulled the car up to the deck. They eased the injured man into the back seat and allowed him to stretch his leg out straight before Jackson moved to the front passenger side.

"Chris, we'll clean this place up," Wilmington assured the blond.

"T…thanks, Buck, ta…take care of Billy and Mary," Larabee said, closing his eyes as the throbbing pain continued unabated.

Buck watched them leave before turning back to the others. He saw the very real fear on each face and could see guilt in James Midland's eyes and knew the young man still blamed himself for the original injury to Chris Larabee. How could a day that started out with such promise end with Larabee on his way to Saint Vincents once more. He sat on the bottom step and looked at the tire tracks left in the soil by Jackson's car.

"Buck, he's going to be fine," Standish said and joined the other man on the steps.

"I hope so, Ez, ‘cause I'm getting' to old for this shit," Wilmington said softly.


Chris leaned against the door of the car and closed his eyes against the nauseating pain radiating form the wound in his leg. He knew he'd landed hard, had felt his own weight on the broken limb as he landed wrong and now could feel something wet inside the cast itself. Not wanting to alarm his friends to the fact, Chris kept quiet, except when the car hit a particularly deep rut in the road.

"Chris, you okay?" Jackson asked from the front seat.

"Think so…just wondering who the sonofabitch was that decided roads needed to be built like a roller coaster ride…"

"Sorry, Chris, I'm tryin' ta miss ‘em," Tanner said, his voice edged with worry.

"Don't think that's possible," Larabee stated and closed his eyes once more. Again he fought the nausea and pain and could hear Jackson and Tanner talking, but he concentrated on being still. He knew the moisture he felt was from the wound and that the fall had reopened the incision, but prayed he was wrong and that it was just from the water he'd been doused with before he'd fallen.


The people left at the ranch were somber and silent as they began to clean up from the earlier festivities. Mary held Billy for a long time after Vin and Nathan had taken Chris away in the car. The boy still hiccupped with the force of spent sobs, but he helped clear the dishes and cleaned up from the water play before looking at his mom once more.

"Mom, is Chris okay?"

"Chris will be fine, Billy. They might have to fix his cast because it got wet, but that's about all," the newspaperwoman explained, hoping and praying that was all that was wrong with the blond.

James Midland watched the woman and child and realized he'd gone through similar talks with his sister after they'd lost their parents. Stacey had been his rock during those years and he still wanted her approval on everything he did in his life. He'd let her down when he'd gone to the quarry with Terry and Warren, but she'd given him a chance to prove himself once more. The other two boys still denied any guilt when it came to Chris Larabee's broken leg, but he'd stood up and taken his punishment, including some he'd imposed on himself.

Thinking about it now, James realized his self imposed punishment felt more like a reward. He enjoyed coming to the ranch, working with the horses and doing the chores Chris required. He loved spending time with Larabee and the members of his team. He'd even thought about what it would be like to get into their line of work, but his heart belonged to the medical field and there was no turning away from that. Stacey was a big influence in that regard and he loved seeing that look on her face when she came home after a long day and told him one of her patients had made a turn for the better and was going to recover.

There'd been several stories about Chris and his men and her worries over one particular injury or another, but this one had been partly his fault. She'd read him the riot act and he knew she was right, dynamite was not a toy and had resulted in a serious injury to Chris Larabee. Now he was paying the price again, and James wanted to make sure things at the ranch were done properly for his return.

James knew there were enough people to clean up the leftovers from the BBQ and decided to take care of the horses. Pony and Peso were in the corral and he knew he could handle putting them into the barn and making sure they had everything they needed. He spoke to pony first and led him into the barn before returning for Peso. Once inside he made sure they were set for the night and gave them both a brisk rubdown.

"I was wondering where you got to," Wilmington said upon entering the barn.

"I figured you guys could handle the house while I took care of Pony and Peso," Midland replied.

"You're really good with them," the gentle rogue said as James hung up the brush.

"Thanks, they're easy to work with…"

"Yeah, right," Wilmington said with a grin. "Listen, Kid, don't let them to fool you. Pony and Peso are as friendly as a coiled rattler."

"I don't have any trouble with them," James said with a frown.

"They're just getting on your good side. Believe me when you're least expecting it they nip you in the butt!"

"No way!"

"Yes way!" Wilmington acknowledged. "Now, we've got everything cleaned up at the house so I'm guessing it's time for you to head home. Wouldn't want to get on the doc's bad side."

"I thought I'd wait and see how Chris was," Midland said, unable to look the other man in the eye.

"James, what happened was an accident. No one blames you or Billy or any one else for what happened," the ladies' man explained.

"If it wasn't for me Chris wouldn't be in a cast…"

"And we never would have met you, James. I think Chris would count this as one of those where the reward was worth the pain. Go home and get some rest. I'll call as soon as we know how Chris is doing," Wilmington assured him.

"All right," Midland reluctantly agreed and followed the other man back to the house where everyone was getting ready to leave.

"Thanks for taking care of the horses, James," Sanchez said.

"Figured I'd get them done while you guys finished here," Midland said.

"Saved us having to do it," Dunne said, leading the way out of the house and waiting while Wilmington locked up. Mary and Billy had left a few minutes earlier and would be waiting for them to call when they had any news. It had taken less than an hour to clean up and JD knew Chris was probably just getting to the hospital.


Vin pulled the car to a stop outside the main ER doors and turned off the ignition. He knew he couldn't stay there, but at least he could help get Larabee into a wheelchair before parking the car in the main parking lot. Grabbing the first wheelchair he pushed it to the car just as Jackson began to help Larabee from the back seat.

"Just give me my crutches!" the blond stated. The pain had grown worse with each passing minute and with it his temper shortened greatly. The last half hour of the drive had found him complaining over every little bump in the road and several expletives had found their way past his lips. He knew he was being an asshole, but at least it kept his mind from what was happening inside the cast.

"Chris, that cast is soaked…"

"I know!" Larabee snapped at the medic. "I can lean on the crutches!"

"No," Jackson said and pointed to the wheelchair. "It's this or Vin can get you a stretcher!"

"Damn it, Nathan!"

"Damn it, Chris! Stop being so stubborn and get in!" Tanner snarled, his own patience wearing thin as the blond argued over the simplest things.

"Shit!" Larabee groaned and knew he was posturing over nothing.

"Nate, I'll park the car while you bring Mr. Sunshine inside!" the Texan said.

"Fuck you, Tanner!" Larabee snarled and heard the sharpshooter chuckle as he climbed behind the wheel once more. He felt Jackson take control of the handles and bit his bottom lip as the pain in his leg returned with a vengeance. He closed his eyes and tried to calm the nausea rising like bitter bile in his throat.

"Hello, Nathan, what happened?"

"Hi, Rain," Jackson said as the pediatrician joined them. "Chris got his cast wet and fell on his leg. He's being a bear right now…"

"He's sitting right here, Nathan!" Larabee snapped.

"Oh yes, he sounds like it. Why don't you put him in room three? Dr. Carlyle is the orthopedic surgeon on call tonight, but Dr. Morgan will see Chris first," Rain Goines explained and walked alongside Jackson. She could read the pain etched on Larabee's face and knew it was mostly to blame for his short temper. She signaled the nurse at the desk to get things rolling even as they entered the treatment room. Reaching for a green hospital gown she placed it on the bed and turned to the irritated patient once more. "Might as well put on the gown and take off those shorts, Chris…"

"Can't they just check it without me changing into that thing?" Larabee asked.

"Afraid not, hospital rules and all," the exotic beauty said with a mischievous grin. "Besides you have such a wonderful ass…"

"Rain, if you finish that I'm leaving right now!" the blond said.

"And deny all your adoring fans a little peek…"

"Shit, Rain!" Larabee said, but couldn't help smiling at the pretty woman.

"Ah, that's what I was looking for. You know, Chris, when you smile like that one could almost believe you're human," Goines said, before kissing Jackson and leaving the two men alone.

"Nathan, when are you going to marry her?"

"Soon, Chris," Jackson admitted and helped the blond change into the gown before helping him onto the stretcher.

"Hello, Chris, Nathan," Linda Drake said upon entering the room.

"Hi, Linda," Larabee said and relaxed as the young nurse took his vitals.

"Dr. Morgan will be right in. He'll probably want x-rays done and prescribe something for pain," Drake said, turning as the physician entered the room.

"Mr. Larabee, I spoke with Mr. Tanner about what happened to you. I'm going to take a look at the cast and then send you for x-ray. How's the pain right now…on a scale of one to ten? One being the best…ten being the worst you've ever felt."

"Probably around a six…"

"Doc, that usually means it's up around eight," Jackson said.

"Mr. Larabee, you might as well be truthful because I'd rather not have a patient in pain when there's no need."

"He's right," the blond admitted reluctantly.

"All right. I'll have Linda administer a shot of morphine before I send you for x-rays. Once we get those taken care of Dr. Carlyle from Orthopedics will be in to see you and discuss what's going on with your leg. For now you might as well relax because you won't be going anywhere for a while," Morgan explained and wrote up the orders for pain medication. He carefully examined the cast, frowning when it gave way beneath his touch. He knew they'd need to replace it, but first they would need to know what kind of damage the wound underneath had sustained. From the look on the patient's face, there was a considerable amount of pain.

Linda Drake read the orders and hurriedly measured the prescribed dose of medication into a syringe before injecting it into her patient. "That should help, Chris."

"Thanks, Linda," Larabee said, rubbing at the injection site.

"Linda, let me know when he's back from x-ray," Morgan said before leaving the room.

"All right, Chris, let's get you into the wheelchair" the nurse ordered and was glad when they managed it with only a minor expletive from the injured man. She wheeled him from the room, nodding at the young man waiting just outside the door.

"Nice gown, Cowboy," Tanner said with a grin.

"Vin, I got one nerve left and you're getting on it!" Larabee stated, pulling the blanket around him as an orderly took control of his chair and they headed toward the elevator. "You two might as well get some coffee or something!"

"Coffee? Not a bad idea," Jackson said.

"How long will he be in x-ray?" Tanner asked.

"It could be a while, depending on how many people are ahead of him," the nurse answered.

"Nate, I'll stay with him and keep him company," the Texan said.

"All right, Vin. See you back here, Chris."

"Thanks, Nathan," Larabee said and closed his eyes. The shot he'd been given was effectively numbing the pain and he was grateful for the reprieve as they made it to the department.

"Chris, I'll let them know you're here. It shouldn't be long," the orderly explained and hurried off with the paper.

"Feel any better?"

"As a matter of fact…yes. Amazing what the stuff they give you here can do," Larabee said.

"Too bad they can't give ya a sunny dispo…dispo…"

"Disposition?" Larabee asked, a hint of a smile on his pale face.

"Yeah, that's the word," Tanner agreed.

"What do you want me to say Vin? I'm sorry for being such an a…"


"I was going to say arrogant…"


"Jesus, Vin, was I that bad?"

"And then some, but don't worry about it. I think Miss Nettie would probably say it was time ta wash out yer mouth with soap."

"Oh, hell, Vin, it's me. If I had a sunny disposition you boys'd think someone had switched me with…"



"The guy in Susan's Plan. Damn funny movie and the he looks a bit like ya…younger… longer hair hangin' over his eyes, but he could be yer much younger brother…"

"Younger brother?" Larabee's eyebrows rose.

"Much younger and he had a sense of humor…"

"I have a sense of humor…"

"No, ya have a sensitive humerus…"

"Haha," Larabee mock chuckled.

"Mr. Larabee, we can take you in now," a young female technician said and looked at the band on his wrist.

Vin stood and watched as the woman wheeled Larabee into the room before sitting and rubbing at his eyes. He reached for the dog-eared magazine and began flipping through the pages while waiting for Larabee's return. He knew the others would soon be arriving in the ER and felt sorry for the staff because there was nothing like a horde of Larabee's friends swooping down on the unsuspecting medical staff. He chuckled softly when he realized the staff was probably ready for them because they were becoming adept to dealing with them. It didn't take long for the technician to return with a grumbling Chris Larabee and Vin couldn't help, but smile.

"Someone will be here shortly to take you back to the ER," the tech said and hurried away before the patient could reply.

"That bad?" Tanner asked.

"Jesus," Larabee cursed and rubbed at the top of the crumbling cast. "Told him the fucking thing was broke, but did that stop him from trying to make it go where he wanted it to!"

"Chris, they need to look at it from different angles."

"Well, it's not gonna move when it's encased in this shit!" Larabee stated and closed his eyes.


"Yeah," the blond answered, the anger dissipating as quickly as it had come over him. "Sorry, Vin, guess I'm just a little short tempered."


"Mr. Larabee, I'm here to take you back to your room," a young woman said upon entering the waiting area. She took the handles and began pushing the chair back to the ER.


"Nathan, any word?" Wilmington asked as the four men entered the waiting room to find Tanner and Jackson staring out the window.

"Dr. Carlyle is in with him now," Jackson answered.

"Carlyle?" Sanchez asked.

"Orthopedic surgeon on call," the medic told him. "He said he'd send the nurse when they're through."

"How long ago was that?" Dunne asked.

"About fifteen minutes," Tanner answered.

"Damn, hope it's nothing serious," Wilmington said.


"Chris, the x-rays show the bones are still aligned, but there's evidence that the incision has been bleeding and I'm afraid we're going to have to check that. I don't believe it's anything serious, but I'd rather not take the chance," Carlyle explained.

"Damn, I was afraid of that. How long will it take?"

"Well, we need to remove the cast and put in new stitches if necessary…should be able to do that first thing in the morning. We'll arrange a room for you tonight…"

"Can't I just come back tomorrow morning?" Larabee asked.

"I'd rather not. We need to take care of this right away and make sure there's nothing else going on. We don't want any surprises down the road," Carlyle explained and wrote up the orders on the chart. He handed them to the nurse before leaving the room.

"Chris, it may take an hour or so to get your room ready…would you like me to send one of your friends in?"

"That'd be great. Thanks, Linda," Larabee said and listened to her leave the room. It wasn't long before his team showed up and crowded the small room. "Hello, boys."

"Hey, Chris," Dunne said.

"What did Carlyle have to say?" Jackson asked.

"Says the bones are still aligned, but he wants to cut off the cast and check the incision," Larabee explained.

"Did he say why?" the medic asked.

"Yes," Larabee answered. "He thinks it might be bleeding and wants to make sure it's okay before they put on a new cast."

"When do they propose to accomplish this procedure?" Standish asked.

"Tomorrow morning."

"You're staying?" Wilmington asked.

"For one night," Larabee answered and looked from one man to the other. "If even one of you thinks the word complication I'm gonna find him something real nasty…"

"Wouldn't think such a thing, Brother," Sanchez said with a toothy grin.

"Yeah, right," the blond said. "Look, I'm stuck here so you guys might as well get out of here."

"You sure?" Wilmington asked.

"Yes, get out of here…but make sure someone's here to pick me up in the morning!"

"Don't jinx yourself, Mr. Larabee," Standish said.

Chris listened to them leave and waited silently for the nurse to return. When she did she told him his room was ready, but he'd be in a semi-private room for the night because there were no private rooms available. Half an hour later he was settled in a new bed and banged his fists on the edge in frustration. The day had started out so well and ended with him back here.

'God, I'm beginning to hate this place,’ he thought, listening to the man in the other bed snore loudly. Chris had no idea how much time had passed since he'd been brought to this room, but something told him he wasn't going to get much sleep. He opened his eyes when the night nurse came in to check on him.

"Mr. Larabee, there was a note on your chart about you being anxious while in the hospital. Dr. Carlyle ordered a sleeping pill if you'd like it."

Chris thought about refusing, but the loud sounds emanating from the bed by the window decided it for him and he looked at the sympathetic nurse. "Think it might be a good idea."

"I think you're right," Carol said and hurried from the room. She returned a few minutes later with the sleeping pill. "Put it under your tongue and let it dissolve."

"Thanks, Carol," Larabee said.

"You're welcome," Carol said and left the room. She checked several times during the evening hours and found both patients sleeping soundly. The patient in the bed by the window was an elderly man whose family had all but forgotten about him and she felt sorry for him. Leaving the room, the nurse missed the movement at the end of the hall and the white-coated figure who moved in the shadows. It was time for her break and the other nurse would be keeping an eye out for any problems where her patients were concerned.


Chris frowned and turned onto his right side, but did not come fully awake. Something had changed, but what it was he couldn't say as he struggled to come fully awake, but the effects of the strong sleeping pill conspired to keep him in a semi-conscious daze. He could hear muffled voices from the other side of the closed curtain and wondered who would be visiting at such a late hour.

"Who's th…there?" he asked, his voice slurred as he tried to come fully awake. The sound from the other bed grew muffled and Chris' eyes narrowed as he tried to make out what was happening. There seemed to be two shadows hanging over the other bed, but Chris could not tell who they were. One shadow moved and the curtain was drawn back slightly and he tried to focus on the blurry image, but it doubled and tripled and he could not tell what was real anymore.

"Who's there?" he repeated.

"Sh, it's okay. You're dreaming…"

"Not…what are y…you do…doing?" Larabee asked and reached for the button he knew was pinned somewhere on his pillow.

"Sh, go back to sleep. Everything is all right."

"No…" his hand fumbled with the button, but before he could press it his arm was knocked away and a pillow placed over his face. He struggled with his attacker, but soon felt something jabbed into his left shoulder and consciousness began to recede and the pillow was removed from his face.

"Kill him…"

"No time. We have to leave now…the nurse will be returning…"

The sound of retreating footsteps reached his ears and he could barely make out two dark forms leaving his room. His breathing grew ragged and he reached for the button and fumbled to press it, but darkness reached up and dragged him under.


Doreen Jennings checked on her patient at 6:15 and found him sleeping soundly. His chart showed he'd been given a sleeping pill during the night and she was glad it seemed to have given him a full night's rest. She knew she'd need to wake him soon and bring him down to see Dr. Carlyle, but for now she could leave him in peace. She had several other patients who needed her attention and eased the door closed once more.


Chris opened his eyes as light streamed through the window and stabbed at his head. He heard the cheerful nurse and groaned when she reached out to take his vitals. "Is this really necessary? I'm just having my cast changed!"

"It's standard procedure, Mr. Larabee," the blond woman answered.

Chris closed his eyes and lay back against the pillows while she completed her task. He had no idea what time it was and turned to check for a clock, but there wasn't one. "What time is it?"

"7:15. Dr. Carlyle is waiting for you in the fracture clinic," Doreen Jennings explained. "I'll be right back with a wheelchair."

"Okay," Larabee said and turned to look at the bed next to his. It was already made up with nothing to say there'd ever been a patient there, yet he remembered thinking about the man's loud snoring before falling asleep. He sat further up in the bed and frowned as the nurse entered the room.

"Is something wrong, Mr. Larabee?"

"What happened to the patient who was in that bed last night?"

"Mr. Adamson passed away during the night," Jennings explained and helped him into the chair.

"I didn't hear anything," Larabee said.

"That's probably because of the sleeping pill you were given," the nurse assured him and placed a blanket over his legs.

"Maybe…not sure the sleeping pill was that strong. I never sleep that soundly," the blond said, but realized he could still feel the effects of the medication.

"Perhaps you were more tired than you thought?" The nurse wheeled him from the room and handed his chart to the orderly waiting there. "Peter, Dr. Carlyle is ready for him in the fracture clinic."

"Okay," the orderly said and took control of the handles. He wheeled the chair into the elevator and hit the button for the first floor. "Mind me asking how it happened?"

"Couple of kids playing with dynamite," Larabee answered, rubbing at his arm.

"You're kidding right?"

"Wish I was, but I'm reminded of it every time I look at my leg," Larabee answered.


"I think I said a few more explicit words at the time," the blond said with a grin.

"I bet. Is it coming off for good today?"

"I wish…it's coming off so they can check the incision and replace the damaged cast," Larabee answered.

"It does look like it got a little wet."

"A little?" Larabee said when they exited the elevator and moved down the hallway. Even at this early hour, the hospital was already busy with day clinic patients and their families, but Chris didn't pay much attention to them as he closed his eyes and tried to relax.

"Here we are," Peter said and parked the chair near the main desk. "Chris Larabee for Dr. Carlyle."

"Thank you," the receptionist said and placed his file in the slot. "Dr. Carlyle is with a patient, but he'll be with you shortly, Mr. Larabee."

"I'm not going anywhere," Larabee said with a slight smile. He sat in the chair and realized he must still be feeling the effects of the sleeping pill. He rotated his shoulders and rubbed at tired eyes in and effort to stay awake. Something nagged at his mind, but before he could grasp the fleeting image a nurse latched onto the handles of his chair.

"Good morning, Mr. Larabee. My name is Thelma and I work with Dr. Carlyle," the woman said and grabbed his chart from the shot. "He's ready for you now."

"Good…I'd like to be out of here in time for breakfast," Larabee said with a grin.

"Something wrong with the hospital food?" Thelma asked with a hint of laughter in her voice.

"Hell yeah, especially when there's no reason for me to be here," the blond stated.

"Well, Dr. Carlyle must have had a reason for admitting you last night," the woman said, stopping next to an examination table and helping him onto it.

"Good morning, Mr. Larabee. Did you sleep well?" Carlyle asked and pulled up Larabee's information on the computer.

"Pretty well," Larabee answered.

"Well, relax now and we'll see what we can do about getting you out of here."

"Okay," the blond said and leaned back on the bed. He listened to the two people talking about his leg and what they were going to do. It wasn't long before the cast was removed and he felt them probing the wound. There was some pain, but not as bad as it had been when he'd first landed on it.

"Mr. Larabee, I believe we have some good news."

"Could use some, Doc," the blond said.

"The wound bled a little, but the stitches held so all we have to do is clean it up and replace the cast. Should have you out of here in about an hour," the surgeon explained.

"Sounds like a plan, Doc," Larabee said.


James Midland parked his truck in the visitors lot and hurried toward the main doors. He'd called Vin and told him he'd pick Larabee up at the hospital and make sure he got home. Tanner sounded as if he was going to refuse, but something must have changed his mind because he told Midland he'd be waiting for his call at home. James was not sure if Larabee would be discharged, but if he was he had to call the Texan and meet him at the ranch.

James knew the room number and raced up the flight of stairs until he was at the third floor. Larabee was in room 209 and he smiled at the nurses when he passed the desk and walked along the corridor to the room at the end of the hall. He knocked on the closed door and pushed it open when there was no answer. He moved back to the desk and waited for the nurse to acknowledge him.

"Can I help you?"

"Hope so. I'm looking for Chris Larabee. He was in room 209," Midland explained.

"Oh, yes, he's in the fracture clinic right now, but should be back shortly."

"Do you know if he's being released today?"

"Let me check for you," the woman said.

"Thanks," Midland told her.


Chris waited for an orderly to bring him back to his room. Again he rubbed his left arm and lifted the sleeve of the gown until he could see the red mark there. He tried to remember hitting it, but could not remember an incident, except the fall the day before.

"Ready to go back to your room, Mr. Larabee?"

"Yes…at least until someone comes to pick me up," the blond answered, the tender area on his shoulder quickly forgotten at the thought of getting out of here. It didn't take long to return to his floor and Chris smiled at the young man sitting in the chair by the window.

"Hi, Chris."

"Morning, James, guess you got stuck with taking me home."

"I don't call it getting stuck…I told Vin I'd pick you up," Midland said.

"Chris," Jennings said upon entering the room. "I see your ride's here so I'll get your discharge papers ready."

"Thanks, Doreen," Larabee said and looked at the clothes on his bed, glad someone had made sure he had a change of clothes to go home in. The dark shorts were the kind with snaps up the outside legs and he picked them up.

"Do you need any help, Chris?"

"I think I can handle it, James. Would you mind closing the curtains?" Larabee waited until the young man drew them across and then stood up. He reached for the bed as a wave of dizziness came out of nowhere, but quickly shook it off and grabbed the shorts once more. It took some doing, but he managed to dress in his street clothes before the nurse returned with his discharge orders.

"Are you finished, Chris?" the nurse asked.

"Think so," Larabee answered and sat in the wheelchair. The woman had a new boot for his casted leg and he had no choice but let her place it on his foot.

"Now you know you need to give the cast a chance to dry before you go doing anything strenuous," Jennings said.

"I know," the blond said, impatient to leave.

"And no water play…unless I'm invited," the nurse said with a teasing smile.

"I'll keep that in mind," Larabee told the pretty woman.

"Here are your orders and follow up appointments. If you have any questions please don't hesitate to call," Jennings said.

"Thanks, I'll remember that," Chris said as an orderly came into the room and took control of the chair. It wasn't long before he was seated in Midland's truck and ready to go home.

"I told Vin I'd call him when we were leaving," the young man explained and reached for his cell phone.

"I'll call Vin…you drive," Larabee ordered and smiled before speaking again. "I've always wanted to say this…"

"Say what?" Midland asked.

"Home…James," the blond said and was glad when the younger man laughed softly. He could see the resemblance between James and Stacey Midland and knew the kid would make a hell of a doctor when all was said and done. He had more sense than a lot of people his age and he had his priorities straight. As far as he knew he no longer hung out with the two boys from the quarry and that was another plus. Midland had learned some valuable lessons from that fateful day, and he'd grown up in more ways than one. Chris pressed the numbers and called Tanner's home as Midland drove away from the hospital and felt his eyes growing heavy in spite of the early morning hour.


Chris opened the door and reached for his crutches. Tanner had met them in front of Larabee's house and had reached into the back of the truck and retrieved them for his friend.

"Hope yer hungry," Tanner said.

"Does a bear shit in the woods?" Larabee quipped and hopped toward the house.

"Chris, I have some errands to run for Stacey. I'll be back tonight," Midland said.

"James." Larabee shook his head and turned to face the young man. "Do the errands for your sister and then take some time to yourself. Go see that girlfriend of yours and see a movie or something. There's no need of you hanging around an…"

"Ol' fella like Chris," Tanner teased.

"Ha ha, very funny Tanner!" Larabee said, using his crutch to strike the Texan on the back of the leg.

"Ouch! Grouchy fer an ol' guy…"

"You'll get grouchy!" the blond said and limped after his friend. "I'll see you tomorrow, James."

"You sure, Chris…I really don't mind coming out here."

"I'm sure. Besides I think I'm going to take it easy today…"

"See, James…old man can't handle…"

"Fuck you, Tanner!"

"Better watch it, Vin," Midland said, a slight grin on his face. "He slept most of the way home so he's raring to go!"

"Still couldn't catch me if'n he had two good legs," the Texan said, grinning as Larabee swung the crutch toward him again.

"Sure you don't want me to stick around and referee, Chris?" James asked.

"No thanks, James, get out of here and enjoy yourself!" Larabee answered.


"Reckon I can handle the ol' guy!"

"Old guy my ass!" Larabee said; the smile on his face letting them know he was enjoying the light hearted humor even if he was the butt of the teasing.

"Don't ya mean yer scrawny ass!"

"You're one to talk."

"Are you two sure you're friends?"

"Might not seem like it sometimes, Kid, but there ain't a finer friend ta be had," Tanner said.

"Oh, hell, he's gone from snappy to sappy," Larabee said. "Better get out of here, Kid, before the saccharine smile of his rubs off."

"Better'n bein' a sour puss," Tanner said, holding the door open for the injured man.

"Smells pretty good in here."

"Stopped by Miss Nettie's place and picked up some of them muffins of hers. They's still hot," the Texan said. He led the way to the patio and smiled when Larabee sat down.

Chris' mouth watered when he looked at the plate of muffins laid out on the table and he quickly reached for one.

"Ya want coffee?"

"Did you…"

"Yep, I made it, but I kept in mind who I's makin' it fer…weak and wimpy," Tanner declared and poured two cups.

"Better than that sludge you drink," Chris said and suddenly felt very tired. He shifted on the chair and reached for the coffee.

"You still tired?"

"I'm okay," Larabee said.

"Ain't no one but us two here, Chris…no need ta act like everythin's fine," the Texan said, concern evident in his words.

"Guess you could say I'm still a little tired. Just can't figure out why."

"No one ever sleeps ta good in the hospital, Cowboy."

"Even when they take a sleeping pill. I slept damn near nine hours or so," Larabee said before biting into the strawberry muffin and sighing heavily.

"Maybe yer jest getting’…"

"You finish that sentence and you'll find out who's getting old!" Larabee said.

"Shakin' in my boots," Tanner quipped. "Why don'tcha finish up and lie down fer a spell."

"Sounds like a plan," Larabee said. By the time he finished two muffins he really was feeling tired and reached for his crutches. "You might as well go home, Vin. I'm just going to take it easy the rest of the day."

"I'll stick ‘round…take care of Pony and make sure he gits a good rub down," the Texan said.

"All right…thanks," the blond said and hopped toward the door. It wasn't long before he was stretched out on his bed, fully dressed with the soft breeze wafting over him from the open window.


Chris cried out and sat forward in the bed, his breathing coming in ragged gasps as he tried to catch his breath. It took a few seconds to remember where he was, but there was no safety in that realization. He looked at the door as it opened and saw recognized the worried sharpshooter instantly.

"Chris, ya okay?"

"I…yeah, I think so."

"Heard ya cry out."

"Must have been dreaming," Larabee said and ran his fingers through sweat soaked blond hair.

"Must have been some dream. Do ya want ta talk about it?"

"I would, but I can't remember what it was about," Larabee said, but wasn't sure that was the whole truth. He unconsciously rubbed his left shoulder as if remembering something, but the dream like images were gone.

"Ya sure yer all right?"

"Think so…need a shower though," Larabee said.

"Yeah…ya do," the Texan said with a grin and went to get the items the blond would need.

Chris sat where he was, trying to grasp the fleeting images that seemed to be superimposed over each other. There was something there, but for the life of him, he just couldn't latch onto them. He looked at the clock and noted he'd been asleep for nearly three hours, yet the fatigue still nagged at him. Fighting the urge to lie back on the bed, Chris reached for his crutches and made his way toward the bathroom and the relief a hot shower promised.


Chris opened his eyes and stared at the ceiling for several long minutes before glancing at the clock on the table beside him. He'd still been tired after the hot shower and had collapsed on top of the bed and slept once more. Forcing his weary body to obey his tired minds commands, Chris sat up and eased his leg over the edge. He sat where he was, thinking about the dreams that had invaded his sleep and wondering at the strange voice in his head that kept repeating the same thing.

"Sh, go back to sleep. Everything is all right."

But everything wasn't all right. There was something he kept trying to remember, but only blurred images ran through his mind. His instincts told him the images were more than simple dreams and that something had happened while he'd been in the hospital, but he couldn't quite grasp what it was. Finally shrugging it off as something his mind conjured up while under the influence of the sleeping pills, Chris reached for his clothes and slowly dressed.


Vin watched as Larabee slowly made his way to the dining room table and sat down. The blond had slept for several hours, yet he still looked as if he was plagued by fatigue. Something didn't quite sit right with him and he wondered if there was something else going on that Larabee was keeping to himself.

"Chris," the blond didn't answer and he tried again. "Chris?"

"Huh," the blond head came up and the brows furrowed in thought. "Sorry, did you say something?"

"Are ya sure yer all right?"

"Yes…no…Jesus, Vin, I don't know."

"Okay, glad ya cleared that up," Tanner teased, hoping to ease some of the tension evident in the sea green eyes.

"Shit, I keep thinking there's something I need to remember and yet I don't know what it is! Could be nothing…"

"Chris, if'n ya feel somethin's wrong I don't think ya should brush it off. Yer instincts are better'n most…when did this start?"

"This morning…I think," Larabee frowned and shook his head. "No, that's not right. It started last night. I think it was a dream, but I'm not sure."

"Bein' in the hospital's ‘nough ta give anyone nightmares," Tanner assure the blond. "What was the dream about?"

"Not sure, but someone was speaking to me and I felt something in my arm."

"Which one?" Tanner asked, suddenly afraid for his friend.

"Left," Larabee answered softly and flinched when he touched his arm. "Damn!"

"Let me take a look," the Texan ordered and lifted the sleeve of the blue t-shirt. "Chris, did the nurses or Dr. Carlyle give you a shot today?"

"No," Larabee answered. "Why?"

"'Cause there's a bruise here and looks like a needle mark," Tanner told him.

"Oh, Hell!" the blond cursed and tried to look at the small wound.

"It's hard ta see, but it's there. Maybe we should take ya inta the hospital…"

"Not in this lifetime, Tanner," Larabee warned.

"My turn ta be reasonable, Chris. Might be best fer ya ta get tested and make sure there's nothin' in yer body ain't supposed ta be there. Blood test's'll be needed."

"Shit, we just came home from there."

"Yeah, I know, but if'n it was me ya'd have my ass back there faster'n I could spit a wooden nickel. Come on…"


"Look, Chris, how do you feel right now?"

"Fine!" Larabee lied.

"Still tired?"

"No…a little. Okay, yes," the blond answered truthfully. "Look, call Nathan and see what he says."

"He'll jest tell us he'll meet us at the hospital," Tanner said, standing and handing the blond the crutches.


"Yep," the Texan said and led the man out of the house. He locked the door once Larabee was outside and hurried over to his truck. He prayed whatever was injected into the blond was not something dangerous, but wouldn't know until after they had the test results.

Chris climbed into the passenger seat of the jeep and closed his eyes as he leaned back against the headrest. He automatically fastened his seatbelt as Tanner climbed behind the wheel. Again he was struck by how utterly wiped he felt and wondered if maybe the sharpshooter was right. They'd know soon enough, but no matter what happened he was not spending another night in the hospital.

"Chris, you all right?"

"I'm fine…just…" Larabee stopped when he realized what he was about to say.

"Tired?" the Texan asked.

"A little," the blond answered reluctantly.

"Damn," Tanner cursed softly and sped out of the driveway.

"Vin, slow down…won't do any good if we get in an accident," Larabee told him and watched the younger man fight to regain control of his emotions. The blond closed his eyes and was soon wrapped in the arms of Morpheus and listening to the strange voices from his dreams.

"Chris," Tanner said and pulled into and empty visitors parking spot. "Chris, wake up."

"Hmm…lemme be," the blond mumbled tiredly.

"Not fuckin' likely, Cowboy," the Texan swore and exited the jeep. He hurried to the ER and grabbed a wheelchair for the injured blond. Returning to the jeep he found a bleary eyed Larabee trying to get out without the crutches.

Chris could not believe how lethargic he felt. It was as if the sleep he'd gotten was making him weaker instead of stronger and the blond grumbled when Tanner eased him into the wheelchair and locked up the vehicle before wheeling him into the ER.

Linda Drake looked up and blinked several times at the two men who entered the ER. She shook off the sense of déjà vu and moved to meet them.

"Thought you were already a patient here, Mr. Larabee," the nurse said, half serious and noticed how pale the blond was. "Don't tell me you had another accident?"

"No accident," Tanner told her.

"What's the problem?"

"Not sure, but Chris spent last night here and was sent home this morning…he's been acting kinda strange ever sense," the Texan supplied.

"Strange? How?" the nurse asked, leading them toward an empty cubical.

"Sleeping a lot and still tired when he wakes up. I know they gave him a sleeping pill last night, but wouldn't that have worn off by now."

"It should have," Linda said and watched the blond carefully. He did seem to be fighting to stay awake, and she told the Texan the doctor would be in shortly.

Vin nodded and watched her leave and helped Larabee sit on the bed. "Damn, I forgot ta show her yer arm."

"Vin, I thought I saw Linda bring you in here," Stacey Midland said and frowned when she looked at the blond. "What's going on?"

"Ya know Chris was here last night."

"Yes, Dr. Carlyle contacted me this afternoon. He said Chris was doing fine," Midland said and flashed a light in Larabee's eyes.

"Shit, Doc," the blond winced and turned away from the bright light.

"Easy, Chris, have you been drinking?"

"Hell, no," Larabee told her and found a weak smile. "Least not today."

"Doc, someone gave him somethin' last night."

"What? While he was here?"

"Yeah, look at this," Tanner told the pretty physician. He lifted the sleeve and watched Midland examine the small puncture site.

"All right, Chris," Midland said. "It looks like you were definitely given something, but I won't know anything until we take some blood and see what turns up. You might as well get him into a gown…"

"No," Larabee stated firmly.

"Chris, until we know what's going on with you I want to monitor your stats. That means you get into a gown and into bed and I'll send a nurse in to hook you up," Midland ordered.

"Doc, I'm not staying here!"

"Chris, you might need to if this turns out to be something dangerous."

"This place is dangerous for me, Doc…whoever gave me this shit did it while I was already a patient here."

"That may be, but it's still the best place for you until we find out what's going on, besides, I'm sure Vin and the others will stay with you while you're here," the physician said with a grin before turning and leaving the two men alone.

"Might as well give it up, Cowboy," Tanner said and was shocked when Larabee gave in too easily. Whatever he'd been given was definitely effecting him and Larabee seemed to be drifting off to sleep sitting in the chair. "Chris, come on Chris stay with me a little longer!"

"Huh…shit, sorry, Vin, just feel so damn tired," Larabee told him, accepting the other man's help to get from the chair to the bed. Once there, Vin helped him out of his shirt and into a hospital gown before settling him back on the bed. He watched as Larabee fought to stay awake, and wished the nurse would hurry up.

"Vin, I'm okay," Larabee said, reading the worry on the other man's face.

"Sure ya are," Tanner said when Linda Drake entered the room.

"Mr. Tanner, could you please wait outside," the nurse asked.

"Don't think so, ma'am," Tanner said but moved aside to allow the nurse room to work.

"Mr. Larabee, Dr. Midland wants me to hook you up to the monitors and get some blood samples," Linda explained as she began attaching the leads to her patient.

Chris tried to fold his arms across his chest and glare at the Texan, but a yawn gave it a comical effect that made his friend smile. "Damn sorry assed Texan!"

"Damn straight," Tanner said and watched the monitors, wishing he understood what the readings meant. He watched the nurse take blood from Larabee's inner arm and nodded when she left them alone. "You okay?"

"Yeah, Vin, I am," Larabee said, sighing heavily before plumping the pillows behind his head. His eyes closed and he drifted toward sleep, but a soft tap on his arm brought him awake once more. "Hey, Doc."

"Hey yourself, you seem pretty out of it, Chris."

"I'm just tired…"

"So I see, but from what Vin's told me you've been sleeping all day," Midland said. "Chris, I'm going to have Linda start an IV…"

"Hell, Doc…"

"Hear me out. Your heart rate is not what it should be and I want to monitor you because that probably means whatever you were given was a high dose and that it's still wreaking havoc with your system. You're here for at least the next twenty-four hours and yes, I realize that whoever drugged you did so while you were a patient here. Vin, you and the others have special clearance to stay with him."

"Shit!" Larabee cursed and ran his hands through his hair.

"Linda will be right in to set up your IV." Midland said and studied her patient's pale face for several long minutes while he went through a gamut of emotions before his shoulders slumped and his arms folded across his chest.

"Twenty-four hours!"

"That depends on how long it takes for your vital signs to return to normal, and Chris…"


"Your blood pressure rising will only add to your stay so you might as well relax."

"In here?" Larabee quipped and saw the small smile form on her face before she patted his right leg and left him alone with the Texan.

"Sorry, Cowboy."

"Not your fault, Vin," Larabee said and let his eyes close, shaking his head when the nurse returned and set up the IV in the top of his left hand.

"They're setting a room up for you now, Chris."

"Just as long as it's not 209," Larabee told her tiredly.

"No, it'll be on the cardiac wing so they can monitor your heart rate and blood pressure," Drake answered, missing the inside joke between the two men. She finished taping the IV in place and told them she'd be back as soon as his room was ready.

"Vin, I'm okay," Larabee said, knowing the Texan was worried.

"Sure ya are," Tanner said, watching as Larabee's shoulders slumped and his eyes closed. He knew the blond wasn't sleeping and the lines of strain had him worried. Someone had given Larabee a substance that was effecting his friend's heart and Vin knew that was dangerous.

"Not going to die, Tanner!"

"Better not…don't got anythin' black ta wear," the sharpshooter teased and heard the soft chuckle from the blond. "Could go through yer stuff though…gotta be somethin' worth takin'. Maybe somethin' fer the whole team…save us buyin' black!"

"Cheap fuckin' bastard…not even in my grave and your fleecing my stuff." Larabee opened his eyes and smiled at his friend, reaching out and clasping Tanner's wrist in their familiar handshake.

"Figure I'll stay the night…"

"Hard ta sleep in a chair."

‘Ain't plannin' on sleepin'. Gonna watch yer back fer ya!"

"Figured as much," Larabee said, his arm dropping to his side when he closed his eyes.

Vin knew his friend was sleeping and turned to pull over a chair when the nurse and an orderly entered the room.

"They've got his room ready," Linda explained and handed the orderly Larabee's chart. She helped maneuver the bed out of the room and then watched the Texan walk alongside the stretcher. There was something special about their friendship and she smiled at the protective way the man hovered at the side.


Stacey Midland glanced over the results of Chris Larabee's blood work and sighed heavily. There was no doubt in her mind that her decision to keep him was the right one. The numbers suggested a very high level of a sedative and she knew the only thing ordered from the night he'd spent in the hospital was a sleeping pill. The two drugs were effecting his heart and she wanted to make sure there were no further complications. That was a word she hated to even think around this particular patient. It was as if someone had defined it as a natural part of Chris Larabee's life, whether he was healthy or injured.

"Doc, is Chris gonna be all right?" Wilmington asked. He'd been at Buck's Bar and Grill when the call came from Vin and he'd hailed a cab before coming directly to Saint Vincents. The others had also been called, but he'd assured them he'd call if they needed anything through the night.

"Buck, I'm sure Vin told you why I've decided to admit him," Midland said.

"Something about his being given an unauthorized substance?"

"That's right. From his lab work we know it was given in a large dose, probably by injection at the puncture site on his arm. I've called the police because it looks like this was done intentionally," Midland explained.

"What room is he in?" Wilmington asked.

"507, it's near the end of the hall," Midland told him. "Just hold on and I'll go with you."

"Okay, who the hell would do this to Chris?" the gentle rogue asked and then couldn't help, but laugh at the absurd question. Larabee had a lot of enemies, hell they all did, but this had happened while he was in the hospital waiting to have his leg checked by an orthopedic surgeon.

"Buck, are you all right?"

"Yeah, Doc, just thinking…not a good thing to do in here."

"No, probably not." Midland pushed open the door to Larabee's room and saw the Texan turn toward her. She looked at the man in the bed and knew he was sleeping before she checked the monitors. The cardiac specialist had been in to see him and had ordered adrenaline to counteract the effects of the strong sedative. They'd be watching him constantly through the night, but she hoped the adrenaline was all they'd need to give him.

"Hey, Vin, how's he doing?" Wilmington asked.

"Sleeping…bout all he's done today," the Texan answered worriedly as Midland checked the flow rate on the IV.

"Vin, we've given him drugs to counteract the effecting of the sedative. His heart rate is better and sleep is probably the best thing for him right now."

"Thanks, Doc," Tanner said. "Bob's sending a couple of officers to take his statement, but I don't think he's up to it. There ain't much he can tell ‘em anyway ‘cept that he thought it was a dream."


"Hey, Cowboy, thought you were sleepin'."

"Was…can't seem to stay awake," Larabee whispered and fought to open his eyes. "Doc, when can I get out of here?"

"You only just got here, Chris. You're here for at least twenty-four hours…then we'll see how things are going. I'm on my way home…"

"Lucky," Larabee whispered and then noticed the ladies man standing beside her. "What are you doing here, Buck?"

"Came here to see a friend…seems he's being a bit of a slacker wanting to sleep all day," Wilmington said with a weak grin, but Larabee seemed to be sleeping again. He looked at Midland and saw she was checking the monitors. "Doc?"

"It's the drugs in his system, Buck. His heart rate is better, but until it's back to normal he'll be a guest here," Midland explained. "Now, I'm not going to bother telling you about visiting hours…"

"Ain't leavin' ‘im, Doc, not after what happened last time," Tanner said.

"That's what I figured. Look, I'll have a chair sent in, but only one stays at a time," Midland said. "The other can sleep on the couch in the lounge at the end of the hall."

"We hear you, Doc," Wilmington assured her.

"Try not to worry, Gentlemen, he'll be fine," Midland said before leaving the two men to watch over her patient.

"Vin, go grab a couple of hours…I'll stay here and handle things with the officers Bob sends over," Wilmington said.

"You come get me if anything…you know?"

"I know…but it's not gonna happen. Get some rest, Vin, you look worse than he does," Wilmington ordered and moved out of the way to let the other man leave. He took a deep breath and settled down to watch over the sleeping man.


Jason Wallace was not sure he could believe his eyes, but he'd pretended to be reading a patient's chart while looking toward the elevator. Chris Larabee was indeed being moved up to a room and that worried him. He watched the numbers above the door and breathed a sigh of relief when the elevator made only one stop on the fifth floor. He hurried toward his office and closed the door, locking it before grabbing the phone and dialing the familiar number. A woman who worked at the home answered it and he asked to speak with her employer.

"This better be good!"

"Carl, it's Jason Wallace."

"What the hell are you doing calling me here…now!"

"I had no choice. Larabee's back!"


"The sonofabitch we drugged when we killed your father, moron!"

"Why's he there?"

"How the hell do I know I'm not his doctor?"

"Is he there as a patient?"

"It looks that way. They had him hooked up to heart monitors and he's on an IV."

"Then it's probably a result of the sedative we gave him. Stop worrying until there's something to worry about, Jason! Now I have several distraught family members arriving and I must get back to the grieving process."

"Grieving…you hated everything your father stood for…"

"Yes, and now I'll be able to use his money to erase those horrible memories. I'll see you at the funeral, Jason. Wear something black."

Wallace heard the line go dead in his hands and slammed it down on its receiver. He rested his face in his hands before rubbing them through his hair and leaning back in his chair. He'd find out why Larabee was really here and if it had anything to do with Craig Adamson's death they'd have to do something about it before he ruined everything they'd worked so hard for.


Chris opened his eyes and stared at the figure slumped in the chair next to his bed. Wilmington's arms were crossed and his head rested on his chest, but Larabee knew the ladies' man was far from sleeping. He pressed the button to raise the head of his bed and reached for the glass of water on the table. He took several sips and closed his eyes, fighting to find out what had woken him in a cold sweat.

"Hey, Pard, how are you feeling?"

"I'm okay, Buck," the blond said and frowned when he heard the clicks and beeps of the monitoring equipment. It took a couple of minutes for the confusion to clear and he placed an arm over his eyes.

"Chris, what's wrong?"

"I'm in this place again, Buck, what the hell could possibly be wrong? What time is it? Where the hell are my clothes?" the blond snarled.

"Whoa, easy there, Chris," Wilmington placated and touched the man's shoulder. "You're here so the doc's can keep an eye on you. It's nearly four in the morning and lastly your clothes are in the closet and don't you dare think about getting out of that bed!"


"Chris, I'm not helping you and there's no damn way you can get out of here on your own," the rogue stated.

"Where's Tanner?"

"Sleeping, although with the racket you're kicking up the whole floor is probably awake by now!" Wilmington snapped and tucked the blankets around the blond once more.

"Shit, Buck, hate this."

"What's going on, Chris?"

"I don't know…I just…I can't figure out why the hell someone would shoot me full of drugs and then do nothing!" Larabee spat.

"What do you remember about the other night, Chris?"

"Not much except being pissed that I had to spend the night in here."

"Well now that's understandable," Wilmington said and moved to refill Larabee's glass. "What else?"

"Not much. I remember Linda bringing me the sleeping pill and thinking about how tired I was of being in here," Larabee said and again placed his arm over his eyes. "There was someone in the other bed, but I couldn't see him because the curtains were drawn."

Wilmington watched when Larabee's arm dropped back to his side and he seemed to be concentrating on something. He waited for the blond to look at him and hoped his memory returned and they could figure out what the hell was going on.

"Linda told me he died during the night," the blond said tiredly.

"Who died?"

"Adamson. At least I think that's what his name was. I remember…" Larabee frowned and tried to find the elusive memory, but it stayed just out of his reach and he slammed his fists on the bed angrily.

"Easy, Chris, it'll come back to you…just give it time," the rogue assured him.

"Guess so, but something tells me it may be too damn late if and when it does," the blond told him and closed his eyes in sleep.

Buck placed a finger to his mouth when the door opened and Vin Tanner entered.

"How's he doin', Buck?" the Texan asked softly.

"Frustrated and angry," Wilmington answered, standing and stretching the kinks from his back. "He was awake…seems to remember something about a man dying in his room, but that's it."

"Wait a minute. A man died in the room with Chris? When?"

"The other night. Chris said Linda told him Adamson died during the night. What are you thinking, Vin?"

"I'm not sure, Buck, but two and two don't add up to four anymore," the sharpshooter stated.

"Are you thinking Adamson died of foul play?"

"Maybe…too late ta check it out now, but it's somethin' we should check in ta. Chris was def'nitely shot up with somethin' that night…well just maybe it's a place ta start."

"You could be on to something, Vin."

"Go on home and get some rest, Buck, I'll watch his back," Tanner vowed.

"All right, just call me if anything happens," Wilmington ordered.

"You know I will," the Texan said and placed his hands behind his head before leaning back in the chair. If something had happened to Adamson they'd need to make sure someone stayed with Larabee at all times while he was in the hospital.


Buck left the hospital and went directly to the office and lay down on the comfortable sofa in Larabee's office. It was only a couple of hours before the workday began and he knew he wasn't going to get much sleep. If Vin was right about Chris being drugged, and the evidence certainly pointed in that direction, then they needed to find out who and why. Adamson was the only name he had, but it was enough to start with and as soon as the paper arrived he'd look in the obituaries. It was as good as any place to start and once they had a name it was possible to come up with a reason.


Chris awoke to a nurse checking the monitoring equipment and shifted on the bed. He spotted Tanner standing at the window and raised the head of his bed, blinking when bright sunlight struck his face.

"You look like hell, Vin…why didn't you go home?"

"Chris, Dr. Midland will be around shortly," Cassie Bellows advised.

"Thanks, Cassie, tell her I'm ready to get out of here," Larabee ordered and watched the petite nurse hurry from the room.

"I think that's up to the doc, Cowboy," Tanner said. "How do you feel?"

"Pretty good considering where I spent the night."

"Where ya spent the night? Least ya had a bed and blankets and pillows and someone lookin' after ya," Tanner told him.

"It's a hospital bed, Tanner…nothing comfortable about it," Larabee stated, but was stopped when the rest of his team pushed their way into his room.

"Chris, I think we have some news," Wilmington told him and placed the open paper on the table before pushing it closer to the bed.

"What's this? Obituaries? I'm not dead, Buck," the blond assured his friend.

"No, but Craig Adamson is," the rogue said and pointed to a large section with a picture of a grey haired man in a business suit.

"Who is he?" Tanner asked.

"He's the man who died the night Chris was drugged," Sanchez explained.

"Still doesn't mean anything to me," Larabee told them.

"Me either, but Ezra had some news about him. Go ahead, Ez, tell them," Wilmington ordered.

"Craig Adamson is a multimillionaire, but he's not well known in this country because most of his holdings and dealings are done in Europe. I met him and his two sons on several occasions when Mothah was entertaining in Naples. Adamson Enterprises deals in pharmaceuticals and have been trying to push through several new drugs, but have run into problems with the FDA. It seems at least one of their new super drugs has adverse affects on the liver."

"If the drug doesn't go through it will damage their reputation, but no more so than any other company that's backed a bad deal. From what you say it won't even dent the Adamson Corporation," Jackson said.

"No, it would be like taking a single drop of water from the Lake Placid…it would not be noticed. They are rich beyond most people's comprehension, but again very few people know this," Standish explained.

"I still don't get what this has to do with my being drugged?" Larabee told them.

"We haven't come up with a connection yet, Chris, but we're working on it," Jackson told him. "JD and Ezra are checking into the pharmaceutical companies that deal with Adamson. Josiah and I are going to check out Adamson's family and see who'd benefit from his death."

"With that kind of money they all would," Dunne observed.

"Yeah, but not ever'one would be willin' ta kill for it," Tanner countered.

"We don't even know if he was killed," Larabee said, running his fingers through his hair.

"Still, everything seems to point to something happening that night," Sanchez told him.

"Well, gentlemen, it's a little early for visiting hours," Stacey Midland said upon entering the over crowded room.

"Morning, Doc," Tanner said.

"Yes, it is…early morning. Chris, how do you feel?" the physician asked.

"Better…when can I get out of here?" Larabee asked.

"Let me take a look at the test results and I'll let you know after breakfast," Midland answered.

"Doc, I'd rather get out before breakfast…maybe eat at home," the blond told her.

"I thought you liked hospital food?"

"Doc, your sarcasm is as bad as Vin's," Larabee chuckled when the woman folded her hands across her chest. "Come on, Doc, spring me before I go stir crazy."

"All right, but I want you to take it easy," Midland ordered.

"I will, Doc," Larabee said and heard several muffled snickers from his team.

"I'll sign the discharge papers…but I want to see you in my office next week," the woman told him.

"Boys, hand me my clothes before she changes her mind," the injured man ordered.

"I'll come get the papers, Doc," Jackson said and followed the woman out of the room.

Chris waited until the nurse came in and removed the IV and monitoring equipment. Sighing in disgust, he let the others help him out of the bed and was soon dressed in street clothes with his crutches under his arms. Before he could move toward the door it opened and an orderly entered with a wheelchair.

"Your chariot has arrived, Cowboy," Tanner teased. He watched Larabee reluctantly sit in the chair and took the crutches. It didn't take long to reach the parking lot and Chris eased himself into the passenger seat of Tanner's jeep.

"Chris, we'll be out…"

"Nathan, I'm going to grab something to eat and meet you boys at the office," Larabee stated, his tone brooking no argument and for once he didn't hear any.

"All right, but you might as well get enough for the rest of us while you're at it," the medic ordered. He watched the duo drive away and shook his head in disgust. Larabee and the others would never change and he might as well give up fighting the inevitable.

"Coming, Brother?" Sanchez asked. He knew Dunne, Wilmington, and Standish were already in the van and waited for Jackson to take his place in the passenger seat before driving toward The Firm's office building.


Carl Adamson found it hard to play the part of mourning son, but he knew it was the only way to keep the others from suspecting what he'd done. His father had always been tough on him and his siblings, but the old bastard had been coming down especially hard on him over the last two years. As the eldest of five sons, the company was to pass to him upon Craig Adamson's death. Unfortunately his father had found out some damning information that could upset everything the family stood for.

Carl was a betting man, and not very good at it. At one point he'd been in to his bookie for well over a million dollars. That alone had necessitated a rash decision and he'd used his position to embezzle a sizable sum from the company without being caught. It seemed like the perfect scheme to line his own pockets, or so he'd thought.

Craig Adamson had been doing some snooping of his own and had confronted his eldest son the day he'd died. The elderly man had a weak heart and should never have been at the head of such a conglomerate, but he'd refused to step down as head of the board.

Carl remembered the call from his father and meeting him at the family home in Billings, Montana. He had no idea why his father was calling for him specifically, but thought maybe he wanted to talk about his retirement. He'd been shocked when the elderly man had handed him a file with times, dates, and numbers…all coinciding with calls to, and from, his bookie.

Carl hadn't bothered to deny the evidence; he'd simply smiled and told the bastard where he could go. He knew that there was no way Craig would disclose the information in the file because it would mean scandal for his family name. There'd already been enough of that over the last few years and Craig did not wish to have the family name dragged through the gutter once more.

That had been three days ago and Carl watched his father's face be overcome with pain and then shock when he'd grabbed the Nitro pills and refused to give them to his father. When Craig Adamson had finally collapsed he'd called for help and the old coot had been taken to the hospital. Through a glitch in the system he'd wound up in room 209 and that gave easy access to him while he was helpless. The problem was that he'd gotten a late roommate and it had been necessary to make sure the man didn't remember what he'd seen.

Wallace had provided him with the drug they thought would sedate his father, making it easier to subdue and finally kill him for good. The old man had been unconscious and they hadn't needed anything to keep him from crying out. Unfortunately the roommate, who he now knew as Chris Larabee, had woken up and they'd been forced to shoot him full of the drug.

Carl moved to the liquor cabinet and poured himself a stiff shot of whiskey, downing it with a smile before filling the glass again. Everything he'd hoped and dreamed of was about to come true, but there were two people who could ruin all his plans. Jason Wallace was one he could easily be rid of, Chris Larabee could be another problem altogether. Perhaps some of his old contacts could help him with Larabee. An idea began to form and he smiled at the thought of getting rid of both problems.

"Carl, the guests are beginning to arrive," Marla Adamson told her husband. She'd seen him come into his father's private sanctuary and knew he was feeling the depth of his loss. She moved to his side and wrapped her arms around him.

"I wish we didn't have to do this today, Marla," Carl whispered and smiled inwardly at how easily she was duped.

"I know, but your mother insists on putting on a brave face. She is making sure everyone is properly greeted and that there is no doubt when the funeral services are being held," Marla said.

"Mother was always the pillar of strength when it came to society and how our family is seen in other people's eyes. Father may have thought he ran things, but he was simply a vessel through which she made her wishes known."

"Are you sure cutting her off from the company is the right thing to do, Carl?"

"I have been named Director of the Board and the decision has already been made. I won't kowtow to her wishes as Father did."

"You stand to alienate the rest of the family."

"Does that really bother you, Marla?"

"What do you mean?"

"Well, now that I hold the highest position at Adamson Enterprises you have risen on the social level as well. You'll be invited to all the ritzy dinners and…"

"I could easily get used to that, but I just thought you should be warned in case the rest of the family decides to protest…"

"They won't…father never had a chance to change his will," Carl assured her and held her arm before walking out to meet the mourners.


Chris unconsciously rubbed at his leg and tried to force his fingers underneath the cast when it began to itch. The others were already in the conference room when he and Tanner had arrived. It didn't take long to clear the table once they saw the cardboard box filled with food. The name on the outside of the box promised they were in for a real treat. Delvecchio's had found its way to their hearts by way of their stomachs and good food was the reason.

"Vin, did you get them to put hot chili peppers on mine?" Dunne asked.

"Is there any other way to have a Meatball sub, JD?" Tanner asked.

"It's a wonder you two have any lining left in your stomachs," Jackson interrupted and watched Dunne and Tanner hand out the sandwiches. His was a plain ham and cheese on rye with a pickle on the side and he knew without a doubt the bread had been fresh baked that morning.

"Yer just jealous you can't handle the good shit, Nate," Tanner said.

"No, Vin, he's smart enough to know what's good for him," Larabee interrupted, happily removing a hot roast beef on a Kaiser from its wrapper.

"This from the man who has extra suicide sauce on his ribs," Wilmington teased and opened the wrapper to reveal a juicy steak sandwich smothered with onions and mushrooms.

"I'll tell you one thing," Sanchez said before biting into the Chicken Cordon Suisse sandwich. "No matter what you order, Mama Delvecchio only makes the best."

"I agree wholeheartedly," Standish said and bit into the turkey club with Canadian bacon and sharp cheddar.

Chris sat back and watched his team closely. It amazed him that they could be so different and yet be so alike. There were times when he thought they were falling apart, but they banded together and warred whatever storm was thrown their way. Once the meal was finished and the garbage taken care of, the team settled down to find out what they could about Craig Adamson.

"Ezra, did you get a chance to ask Maude about the Adamson's?" Larabee asked.

"Indeed I did and mothah was quite surprised she hadn't heard anything from Noreen Adamson. She is going to call her today and find out where the services are being held and if all goes well I should be able to finagle my way into accompanying her," Standish assured them.

"Just be careful, Ezra. Until we find out exactly how Adamson died then I don't want you taking any chances," Larabee ordered.

"Mothah will see that I stay out of trouble and use the right fork at the correct time," the gambler said.

"Did they do an autopsy on Adamson?" Larabee asked.

"I haven't been able to find any record of one being performed," Dunne answered. "I've been checking the records and spoke with Robert Miller, but the family sited valid reasons for not wanting an autopsy and unless there's evidence of foul play there's nothing we can do."

"Chris was sedated with an unknown drug, Kid, if that's not evidence I don't know what is," Wilmington snapped.

"Easy, Buck…"

"I don't think so, Nathan…Chris could have died and JD says there's no evidence," the rogue told them.

"That could have been an accident, Buck, maybe as simple as a nurse giving the wrong meds," Jackson explained.

Chris listened to their arguments and rubbed at his aching skull. The headache he'd kept at bay for most of the morning was rearing its ugly head once more. He took a deep breath, frowning when he remembered something being held over his face and suddenly gasped for air.

"Chris!" Dunne snapped and moved to help the injured man.

"What's wrong, Chris? Is it your leg? Do you have any chest pain?" Jackson asked, unsure what was happening with their leader.

"No…no I'm okay," Larabee assured them and held up his hand to stop Jackson from coming to his aid. "But I'm beginning to think Adamson was definitely murdered. I think I came close to meeting the same fate."

"What do you remember?" Sanchez asked.

"I remember feeling punch drunk…probably because of the damn sleeping pill, but I woke up when I heard someone in the room. I'm pretty sure there were two of them because someone held a pillow over my face and I think that's when they gave me that shot," Larabee answered.

"I think it's time we got Robert involved," Wilmington advised.

"Not yet, Buck," Larabee stopped the rogue. "Whoever did this is probably worried about how much I saw or what I remember…there's no need of letting them know I didn't see a fucking thing that night. What I'd like to do is let Ezra go with his mother and see what he can find out about the Adamson family."

"Chris, if I'm not mistaken you want to find out whether one or more of his family had a reason to want him dead?" Standish asked.

"Exactly, but you keep a low profile and don't get in too deep…I'd rather not have to put out feelers for another agent with your unique qualifications," Larabee said with a grin.

"Not many men who could cheat a cheater," Wilmington observed.

"Or con a conman," Tanner quipped.

"I am not sure whether I should be pleased or offended," the gambler said.

"Ezra, it goes to show that we all know how good you are at your mother's game and have no doubt that you could run a scam with the best of them if you so chose," Sanchez told the younger man.

"Don't sweat it, Ez…"

"Mothah says a Standish does not sweat…we perspire," Standish said with a hint of humor.

"Too bad we never see you sweat…perspire like the rest of us," Dunne added.

"I do hope that was another lame excuse for a joke, JD," the gambler said.

"All right, Boys, let's get back to the problem at hand. The way I see it is whoever murdered Adamson is going to get nervous about leaving me alive," Larabee told them.

"Chris, I think we should put a guard on you…"

"Not yet, Nathan…we don't want to tip our hand…"

"Our hand is all bluff at the moment, Chris," Standish said.

"It could be worse," Larabee said.

"How so?" Tanner asked.

"Aces and eights," the blond answered.

"Don't even joke about that, Chris!" Wilmington snapped of the reference to a dead man's hand. The team settled down to work on the files before them, working out exactly how they could protect Larabee while going after Adamson's murderer.


Chris sat back and relaxed in the chair, his crutches leaning against the wall next to him. The others had left with some coaxing on his part and a promise that he wouldn't do anything stupid. He'd laughed and asked what they expected him to do when they didn't have any real evidence to go on. Buck and Vin had been the last to leave, but only after they made sure everything he needed was in easy reach. He'd jokingly called them mother hens, but quickly realized that was exactly how they were behaving. His fingers ran along the top of the cast that covered his left leg and he unconsciously reached inside to scratch an itch, cursing when he couldn't quiet reach it.

Chris heard the sound of the front door opening and reached for his crutches, but the familiar voice made him relax in the chair.

"Chris, it's James."

"I'm in the living room…thought I told you to take some time off?"

"You did, but I ran into a couple of friends and well, I got to thinking I'd rather come out here and maybe share a pizza with you," Midland said and placed the pizza box on the table.

The young man seemed a lot quieter than normal and Chris knew something was bothering the teen. "James, what's wrong?"

"I…I," the young man stammered and stood up, pacing in front of the injured blond. "Chris, I ran into Terry and Warren at the basketball court and they just don't seem to give a damn about what happened. Warren's father seems to think it was your own fault you got injured, because you were riding your horse too close to the edge of the quarry. How stupid can people be?"

"Some people just don't learn until it's too late, James. Warren's father doesn't seem to understand there are consequences to actions and if he's trying to protect Warren…he'll find out he's the one who needs to learn how to take responsibility for his actions. What about Terry? How is he dealing with what happened?"

"His dad's after him to straighten up his act. I think Terry will be okay, but like I said Warren's not who I thought he was," Midland told him.

"Life's all about lessons learned or not learned, James. You've got a good head on your shoulders and you'll go far. Terry and Warren have to learn to deal with what they did," Larabee told him. "Now what's on the pizza?"

"It's BBQ chicken with onions and green peppers," Midland answered and stared at the cast that covered Larabee's left leg. He regretted his part in what had happened and wished there was some way to change things, but for now he'd have to do whatever he could to help the injured blond.

"Sounds good," Larabee said and waited for the teen to open the box. The smell hit him immediately and his stomach rumbled in anticipation. He reached for the slice of pizza Midland passed him and wished there was some way to ease the guilt on his face. James Midland had learned his lesson and it was easy to see his sister's influence on him, something Chris knew would give him an edge over other teens his age. James had plans to go to med school and follow in Stacey's footsteps, and with hard work and determination, Chris knew he would make it.


Maude Standish smiled at her son and hugged him lightly before placing a simple kiss on each cheek. She'd flown in as soon as she'd contacted Noreen Adamson and been told the funeral service was set for the following day with a simple luncheon afterward at her home on the east side.

"Ezra, Dawling, I have missed you," the woman said, inwardly pleased with the way her son had turned out, although she would never acknowledge the pride she felt.

"I have missed you as well, Mothah. Naples agrees with you," Standish said.

"Naples would agree with anyone, Sugah," she said and turned to the man who accompanied her on the flight. "Sven, make sure you have everything."

"Yes, Mrs. Standish," the tall, blond Swede answered.

"Sven? Where did you find him?" Standish asked, watching the big man searching the luggage carousal.

"Donald insisted I should have a body guard and servant while travelling…Sven simply fills both roles handsomely," Maude said, smiling as she watching the bulging muscles when the Swede lifted her heavy bags.

"Yes, I'm certain he does," the conman said. "Mothah, I have the guest room ready for you…"

"Ezra, I know your chosen field keeps you coming and going at all hours and I would hate to intrude on your social life or lack thereof, besides, Dawling," Maude said with a slight smile. "I have already reserved a suite at The Grand Montana. I was informed by several acquaintances that they have the best of everything and you know I love to indulge myself while traveling. You will join me for lunch won't you?"

"Yes, Mothah," Standish agreed. His mother had never been one to show affection and he knew he should have expected this, but he felt a slight disappointment that she would rather stay at a hotel than spend time with him.

"Will you be accompanying me to Craig Adamson's funeral service and the luncheon afterward?"

"If that is what you want," Standish said.

"Ezra, I know there must be a reason for your call about Adamson's family and the services, but I won't ask you to explain right now. What I do want is a promise from you that you will not do anything to make a scene. These people are part of the upper echelon and deserve the respect of their station."

"Mothah, everyone deserves respect…"

"Mrs. Standish, I have your luggage."

"Thank you, Sven," Maude said and turned back to her son. "I took the liberty of hiring a limousine to take us to the hotel. Will you join us?"

"I have the Corvette with me," Ezra answered and linked his arm with his mother before walking out of the airport.


Carl Adamson sat back in the chair that had belonged to his father and enjoyed the feeling of power it symbolized. The house was quiet now, most of the guests having left at a decent hour in order to give the family a chance to be alone. His brothers and their families had retired to the guest quarters, while Marla had taken to their bed an hour before. Now, with the house quiet and no one to hear his conversation, Carl picked up his private cell phone and dialed a number he hadn't used in over a year. The call was redirected through several servers until a familiar voice answered.

"John, it's Carl Adamson."

"Heard about your father…guess there's no need to tell you I'm sorry for your loss since you're probably going to be celebrating soon."

"You know me too well, John," Adamson said with a slight smile. "I need to call in a favor or two."

"It'll cost you."

"You don't even know what I'm going to ask for."

"I don't have to…I know you only call me as a last resort. Who and when?"

"There are two targets this time, but I don't want them to have a connection with each other or with my family."

"It'll cost extra."

"Name your price."

"That depends on the targets."

"Jason Wallace and Chris Larabee."

"I've heard of Larabee…he's got a mean reputation and it'll be hard to get to him."

"Are you saying you can't do it?"

"No, I'm saying it'll take some doing, but I'll find a way. Who's Wallace?"

"He was my father's physician, but he ran into some money problems and I helped him out…"

"You mean you helped give him the money problems and took advantage of his weakness?"

"Of course…I was able to use him to help me with my problems, but now he's a dangerous link that could ruin everything. I want him taken care of, but I don't want his death to be suspicious or bring unwanted attention to my family," Adamson explained.

"No problem, Carl, just leave it to me. Deposit half my fee in the usual manner and I'll start working on getting rid of your problems."

"I knew I could count on you, John…do this for me and I'll see there's a nice bonus in it for you," Carl Adamson said before placing the phone in his pocket and leaning back in the chair. He laced his fingers behind his head and smiled at the heady sense of power he felt.


Jason Wallace knew he should attend Craig Adamson's funeral, but he couldn't help feeling as if people could see the guilt in his eyes. He'd known the Adamsons since graduating med school nearly twenty years ago and had been the Patriarch's personal physician for fifteen of those years. The elderly man had treated him fairly during that time, but somehow he'd wound up in debt for nearly half a million dollars. It had come as an unpleasant surprise when he found out the man holding his IOUs was none other than Carl Adamson.

Carl had come to his office with a proposition he could not refuse. Help him kill his father, who was dying anyway, and Carl would rip up the IOUs and throw in some extra cash for his troubles. That had been nearly a month ago and it had all come to a head when Craig was admitted to the hospital and Carl again reminded Jason how much he owed and how easily he could wipe it all away.

Jason knew there was no going back now, but there was trouble brewing because they'd been careless and wound up leaving a potential witness alive. Chris Larabee was a dangerous man and so were his men. They were probably looking into what had happened in room 209, and that did not bode well for him. Carl Adamson could easily buy his way out of any problems, but if it came right down to it, Jason Wallace was as broke as the homeless man who begged for money at the supermarket.

Wallace looked at the file on his desk and knew he could not concentrate on his patients, not when there was so much going on in his life. He closed the file, reached for his jacket and headed out the door without a backward glance at his secretary. His car was parked three spots away from the main door and he hurried toward the three year old black Mercedes, bought before he ran into financial difficulties.

Wallace pulled open the door and sat behind the steering wheel for several long minutes before placing the keys in the ignition. He had no idea where he was going, but he needed time to think and that could not be done when there were people around. Jason drove away from the hospital, his hands shaking as he passed the hospital and headed out of Billings. He'd sold his soul in room 209, but maybe he could buy it back if he had a chance to think things through.

The worried physician left the city behind and drove south toward Red Lodge, hoping the answer would come to him before he returned for Craig Adamson's funeral. The sound of a car passing him reminded him where he was and he shook his head, hoping to clear the images running through his mind. A second car passed on his left and gave him the middle finger, but he kept the Mercedes at the same speed.

Rain began to fall as Wallace drove along the dangerous curves and he glanced into his rear view mirror several times, noting a battered truck was keeping pace with him. It wasn't close enough to rouse suspicions, and Jason turned his attention back to the road.


Donald Trevette was a small time hood who prided himself on his ability to get the job done, no matter what it was. He'd received a call early morning that peaked not only his curiosity, but his wallet as well. This job would bring him ten thousand dollars if he was able to bring it off and make it look like an accident. He'd been watching Wallace's office all morning and was slightly surprised when the man exited the building and hurried toward his Mercedes.

Trevette had tinkered with the brake line, but had not cut it, opting on taking Wallace out himself whenever the chance arose. When the physician had driven south and out of the city he'd followed, staying several car lengths behind until the rain started. There was very little traffic on the road, and he smiled as he pressed down on the gas and gained on the Mercedes. Without a thought for his own safety, Trevette slammed into the back of the car and smiled when the vehicle swerved dangerously on the slick road.


Jason Wallace felt the impact and cried out as he gripped the steering wheel and tried to get the car under control. The truck slammed into him again and the car swerved dangerously close to the steep embankment.

"Oh God…Oh God…Oh God…" he prayed, but there was no stopping the car once the front wheels hit the gravel shoulder and the car was shoved forward once more. It hung precariously for several long seconds, but gravity won out and the Mercedes plummeted toward the rocky base of a deep gorge. There was no time to think about how this was going to end, but a small part of him realized he wouldn't have to worry about his soul anymore.


Trevette watched as a ball of flame erupted from far below and knew there was no reason to stay around. The car had erupted in flame and would be a burned out husk by the time it was discovered. With any luck, Jason Wallace's body would be fed upon by the wild animals before anyone even realized he was missing. Mentally counting every bill he was paid for this job, Trevette continued south in search of a woman who was looking for a good time.


Ezra and Maude Standish arrived at the funeral service and were seated near the front as the family gathered to share their grief with friends. Ezra recognized many of the upper echelon of Billings' society, but there were many faces he didn't know.

"Ezra, I didn't know the Adamsons were so well connected. Perhaps you could introduce yourself and find a way into a large corporation. With my help you could even be running it within a year," Maude whispered conspiratorially. She nodded to several people she recognized from her travels abroad and was delighted to be in the company of such well renowned socialites. When it was their time to view the deceased and meet the family, she linked her arm through his and walked slowly toward the open casket.

"Mothah, this is neither the time nor the place to indulge one of your whims…besides, I am perfectly happy with the job I have…and there are fringe benefits…"

"Getting shot is not what I would call a fringe benefit, but as you said now is neither the time nor the place," Maude repeated, a hint of anger in her voice. She remained quiet until they reached the family members and she hugged the woman as if they were old friends. "I am so sorry for your loss, Noreen."

"Thank you, Maude," the elderly woman said. Her youngest son had a list of names of those who would be attending the service and he had prompted her as each guest entered. "This must be Ezra…the last time I saw him he was eleven and full of energy. You have grown into a fine young man."

"Thank you, Mrs. Adamson, my condolences on your loss," Ezra said and walked with his mother toward their seats. He watched the people who entered and listened to the priest deliver the sermon, but his attention was on the family members. If anyone stood to benefit from Craig Adamson's death, it was his family, but would they stoop to murder in order to gain the man's fortune. If there was a will, and it stood to reason there was one, then who was the main beneficiary and what stipulations were spelled out for the other family members.


Ezra watched his mother renew old acquaintances and make new ones, amazed at how easily she fit into the high society gatherings. The funeral service was over, but the family had asked several close friends to join them in a small celebration of Craig Adamson's life. Maude had managed to get them both invited and for that Ezra was thankful. It gave him the chance to speak with Adamson's sons, but so far he'd turned up nothing out of the ordinary. He reached for a glass of Chardonnay, and turned when someone called his name.

"Ezra, your mother says you work for a major firm here in Billings," Marla Adamson offered by way of conversation.

"Well, I actually work for an agency called The Firm," Standish answered simply. There was no point in pussyfooting around the truth, not when information about The Firm was easy to find. It was the black ops work that was hidden so deep very few people even knew they had ties with the government.

"What does the agency do?" Carl Adamson asked. He'd spoken with several contacts and had quickly found out that Ezra Standish worked for Orin Travis' pet agency, and that Chris Larabee was in charge of The Firm. He didn't know much about the agency, but he would certainly check into it. He was skeptical about the real reason Ezra Standish was here, but Marla had assured him that Maude Standish was a long time friend of his mother.

"The Firm is Orin Travis' baby and…"

"Judge Orin Travis?" Marla asked.

"That's correct," Standish answered.

"I remember him setting up an agency to investigate dealings by the mob," Marla said.

"So The Firm is just a place for big boys to play cops and robbers?" Carl asked, smiling as he took a sip of brandy. He turned away before Ezra could say anything and was talking with a group of businessmen who were interested in the reading of Craig Adamson's will.

"Please excuse my husband…he's not very good at the grieving process," Marla explained.

"I would never have guessed he's grieving," Ezra said softly. The truth was Carl Adamson seemed to be enjoying himself too much for someone who'd just lost a beloved father. Ezra would lay odds that the man was probably next in line as CEO of Adamson Enterprises and that meant he had the motive and probably the opportunity.

"Ezra, Dahling, it's time for us to leave."

"Yes, Mothah, it would not be fashionable for us to overstay our welcome," Ezra said. The truth was he knew his mother would be looking for him, but he'd hoped to stay a while longer and maybe get some more information on Carl Adamson. They said their goodbyes, but as Ezra was leaving he caught sight of Carl watching him and something about the man's demeanor told him he was definitely looking in the right direction.


Chris Larabee, that was a name he knew all too well, and he'd wanted to take the man down on more than one occasion. Now the time was right and the price made it imperative that he make the hit. The only stipulation was that it be done within the next forty eight hours and that it was made to seem like a random act of violence. Larabee worked for an agency that was shrouded in danger and many times one of his agents had been injured when they stuck their noses where they didn't belong.

Gregory Darcy, one time sergeant under Captain Emmet Riley Anderson, had lost his left eye during a skirmish in Iraq, but his ability as a sniper surpassed many two eyed snipers. His was a gift, one he'd used for the military on several occasions up until he lost his left eye. Once he'd left the army, he'd found it much more profitable to hire himself out for more money than he'd ever see in a lifetime of serving his country.

Darcy whistled an old confederate tune he'd learned from his grandmother as he cleaned the scope of the M40A3 rifle he'd bought with the money he'd received when he left the army. Every inch of the barrel had felt his caress, every bullet had been lovingly chambered, and every hit filed away as a success. No one would ever see the file he kept on his ‘kills', but he kept them as a labor of love, and in his mind that was exactly what they were.

Darcy knew where Larabee lived, where he worked, and even where he relaxed on Friday nights. All he needed was to set up somewhere that would give him a killing shot and Larabee's picture would be added to his files. Gregory made sure the barrel was properly cleaned and finally placed the rifle inside its protective case, before walking into the kitchenette and making himself a sandwich. He thought about the best place to make the hit, and knew when the time came his money would be well earned.


Ezra knew his mother would always be part of his life no matter how much she protested his choice of professions. She'd never really told him she was proud of him, but there were signs that she did indeed have pride in what he did. Craig Adamson's funeral had given them a chance to spend some time together and they'd actually taken the time to talk about how things were in their lives. It had shocked him when Maude had told him she missed the times when they'd worked together, not because of the work, but because it had given her a chance to watch her son in action.

Two days had passed since Craig Adamson's funeral and Maude was ready to leave and go meet her newest paramour at his Villa in the south of France. He'd spent most of his time with her while she was in Billings and made it a point to let Chris know just how much he appreciated the time off. He'd taken his mother to several of the best restaurants in town and was pleased when she seemed to enjoy herself and their conversation.

Now came the hard part, saying goodbye to her and watching her fly out of his life again. What he really wanted was for her to stay and share more of his life than just a telephone call or postcard from some obscure place. They reached the gate and she turned to him with a half smile on her face.

"Ezra, are you sure you wouldn't rather join me in France?"

"Mothah, I have a job to do here and I cannot leave on a whim…"

"A job? You work for a firm that hunts down would be criminals. Please tell me you won't be bothering the Adamson family during their bereavement process," Maude said.

"Just because the Adamsons are high society does not make them above the law, Mothah. There comes a time when money can no longer buy your way out of trouble. Murder is a serious charge and must be investigated to the best of our ability. The team knows what it's doing and Chris…"

"Chris what? Sees things when he's in the hospital under the influence of heavy drugs…"

"Mothah, Chris was awake enough to know something happened and he remembers someone trying to smother him," Standish said.

"Oh, Ezra, do you realize you sound like a little puppy who's in awe of his master. I knew it was a mistake to think you were ready to take your rightful place in society…"

"I am where I want to be, Mothah," Ezra told her, sighing as the old arguments were rehashed. They may have come to an understanding in many things, but his mother would never be happy with his choice of occupation. Her flight was called and he was relieved that it wouldn't go any further.

"Well, Dear Boy, Mothah has to go," Maude said and hugged him gently. "We may not always agree, but I am proud of you."

Ezra watched until she disappeared beyond the security gates with a hint of a smile on his face. No matter how many times they parted, she never ceased to amaze him. Maude Standish was an enigma, even to him, and he loved her dearly for all her faults. He turned and walked out of the airport, ready to get back to work on the Adamson case.


Gregory Darcy knew it was time to earn his money. He'd scoped out several areas where he could take out his prey and tonight was as good as any to take Chris Larabee down. He'd checked the area around The Firm's office building and found several possibilities, but there were too many variables. The same problems came up when he checked Buck's Bar and Grill on the south side. There were several areas along the road leading to Larabee's ranch, but again none of those grabbed his attention.

Darcy whistled as he unlocked the trunk of his car and pulled out the case with the M40A3 rifle nestled inside. He leaned against the car and glanced around, listening to the sounds of the country and wondering how anyone could sleep when it was so damn quiet. The sound of the crickets alone would drive him crazy, but he shrugged his shoulders and made his way into the woods. He'd been out earlier in the day and driven along the back road until he'd come across the seldom used access road. It didn't take him long to find a place to park his car and make his way south until he reached Larabee's home.

Darcy now retraced those steps until he reached the back property line and the tree he'd chosen for the best possible vantage point of the house and barn. He climbed into the tree, easily reaching the sturdy branch he'd chosen and placed the rifle case on the thick limb. Opening the case, Darcy smiled and caressed the rifle as if it was a warm blooded lover. He knew it could be hours before Larabee made an appearance, but sitting still had never been a problem for him.

Darcy had spent many hours huddled under a tarp or laid out along the branches of a tree while waiting for his victim to show just enough of himself to make the ‘kill' shot possible. Larabee seemed to enjoy being outside and that was something that made him an easy mark right now. There was movement near the back of the house and he pressed the rifle scope to his right eye, easily finding his mark and realizing it wasn't the one he was waiting for.

Darcy reached into his pocket and pulled out a plug of tobacco. It wasn't long before he was chewing away and humming softly as he watched the property and waited for his prey to put in his final appearance.


Chris Larabee took a deep breath and made his way out onto the patio of his home. There was a single file on the table and he knew this one was going to be a tough one to crack, but he had confidence in his team. The cumbersome cast was beginning to grate on his nerves and he wanted it off, but that would not be happening for a couple of weeks yet. It wasn't so much the extra weight that bothered him, it was having to rely on others to get around.

James Midland was in the barn, cleaning the stalls and making sure Pony had plenty of feed before he left for the night. Chris knew Vin would probably stop by later in the evening, but for now he wanted to enjoy the quiet of early evening when the sounds of the country soothed his nerves. There was a pot of coffee on the table beside the file and a cup already filled to the rim and he took an appreciative sip before settling onto the chair.

Chris reached for the file and shook his head when he realized there wasn't a whole lot of progress. The family was arguing about having Craig Adamson's body exhumed and so far they'd been unable to convince a judge to go against the family's wishes. Chris read the information, but could not find anything concrete as he shoved the file away.

"Hey, Chris, do you want me to stack the bails of hay?"

"Not tonight, James," Larabee said and reached for his crutches. He stood up and fixed them under his arm before making his way toward the steps leading off the patio.


Darcy smiled when he saw Larabee step out of his house and take a seat at the table. It would be so easy to take the shot right now, but he liked to watch his prey during the last few minutes of its life. The fact that Larabee was human made this an even more dangerous assignment than if he faced down a wound bear. He eased back in the shadows and sighted down the barrel of his weapon as Larabee reached the top steps and the kid he'd seen earlier exited the barn.

"Time to die, Larabee," he whispered and eased back on the trigger.


James watched as Chris reached the bottom step and began to cross the back yard. He could only watch, slack-jawed as something slammed into Larabee's chest, driving him backward against the steps. He rushed forward, unsure what he was seeing as a blossoming red stain formed on the right side of the man's chest.

"Son…ofa…bitch…" Larabee cursed in hiccuping gasps.

"Jesus…you were shot!" James stated.

"James, call….call Vin," Larabee said and held his hand to the wound while reaching into his pocket for his cell phone.

"No…I gotta call 911…"

"Get Vin…speed dial 2…then 911," Larabee said, knowing the shooter could be bearing down on them even as the young man made the call.


Darcy knew his shot was true and slowly replaced the rifle in its case before making his way down the tree and back to his car. He whistled a sharp tune as he left the young man to make arrangements for someone to pick up Chris Larabee's body. Life was good and his kill shot even better.


Vin's stomach rumbled appreciatively, but he ignored it as he drove along Old Pear Tree Road toward his ranch. He'd stopped in and bought pizza and wings for dinner and planned on sharing it with Chris and James instead of driving home. His cell phone began to ring and he reached for it, placing it over his ear and speaking into the mike, glad they'd invested in the hands free adapters. "Yer quarter…my time…"

"Vin…help…I need…"

"Chris…that you?"

"No…it's James Midland…I'm at Chris…he was shot…"

"I'm on my way. Did ya call for help?"

"No…he told me to call you first."

"Stubborn fool…I'll be there in about three minutes…call 911."

"I will…"

"James, be careful!" Tanner warned and hung up. He hit speed dial and prayed Nathan would answer.


"Rain…is Nate there?"

"He's in the shower, Vin, is something wrong?"

"James just called me…Chris was shot…don't know how bad, but the kid's callin' 911. Tell Nate ta call the boys and get the police out here!"

"I will, Vin…call as soon as you know anything!"

"Ya know I will," Tanner said and hung up, the food forgotten on the seat beside him as he pressed down on the accelerator.


Chris found it hard to breathe as he tried to sit up and look around. Instincts, honed by years of living with danger had him checking for possible attacks. He could hear James, but it was as if he was speaking through a wind tunnel and Chris found it hard to focus. "James, stay down…shooter c…could still be out…out there!"

"Chris, she says you need to lie still!" Midland ordered, relieved to hear the sound of a vehicle pull into the yard. "I think that's Vin…Sorry, I was talking to Chris. Yes, Ma'am, he's lying down and it's bleeding a lot…"


"Back here, Vin!" Midland called as the Texan came around the side of the house and rushed to Larabee's side.

"Hey, Cowboy, can't let'cha outta my sight fer a minute," Tanner said. He tore open Larabee's shirt and grimaced at the raw wound in his chest. He reached beneath him, searching for an exit wound, but not finding one. "Damn…"

"No shit!" Larabee cried out and tried to move, but the Texan's hand on his shoulder put a stop to that. "Shooter could be s…still out th…there!"

"Not likely…ain't nothin' ya can do if'n he is," Tanner said.

"Yes, he's conscious and talking to Vin…"

"Chris, I'm gonna get the first aid kit," the sharpshooter told him and hurried into the house, returning with a large first aid kit supplied by Nathan Jackson. He pulled out several thick gauze pads and pressed it to the wound, eliciting several sharp expletives from the injured blond. "Sorry…"

"The ambulance is on the way," Midland told them.

"Thanks, James…"

"James, go grab the whiskey bottle from the bar," Larabee ordered.

"Oh no ya don't, James. Sorry, Chris, ain't gonna let'cha drink…docs don't like that," Tanner advised and quickly replaced the blood soaked bandages.

"Shit!" Larabee ground out as the Texan pressed against the wound and a police siren sounded in the distance. "Guess they got the order."

"What order?" Larabee asked, glowering at the other man who wouldn't meet his eyes.

"Me and the boys were worried about ya. We asked Robert to have a couple of his boys do a drive by and keep an eye on you," Tanner answered honestly.

"I don't need…"

"Oh really…then why are ya layin' there with a bullet in yer chest?"

"Damn…hate it when you're right," Larabee said, eyes closing as his mind and body reacted to the shock of blood loss.

"Chris, stay with me, Cowboy!" Tanner tried, but the blond was unresponsive to his call.


Gregory Darcy smiled as he dialed the number he'd memorized. It wasn't long before a man's voice answered. "Mr. Adamson, please deposit the rest of my fee into my bank account."

"He's dead?"

"Isn't that what you paid for?"

"Yes, but I didn't expect it to happen so soon."

"I believe in making short work of my problems…or is that your problems? It doesn't matter…just send the rest of my fee and you'll never hear from me again."

"I'll do it as soon as Larabee's death has been verified."

"Don't wait too long, Mr. Adamson, or you might find yourself on the wrong end of my rifle. You have 24 hours to pay for the job or I'll be gunning for you!" Darcy hung up the phone and smiled. He knew Adamson would hold off on paying him until word of Larabee's death got around, but that didn't mean he couldn't make the man squirm. It was time to find a bar and maybe spend just a little of his money on the pleasures of the body for a change.


"James go flag them down!" Tanner ordered as the police siren grew closer. He knew the officers would probably know Larabee's address anyway, but the young man looked washed out pale. Giving him something to do seemed to be the best course of action and Vin returned his attention to the injured blond once Midland hurried away.

"Come on, Cowboy, help's on the way," Tanner said, exchanging the bloodied bandage for a clean one even as footsteps sounded from the side of the house.


"Back here!" Tanner answered as two police officers hurried to join him.

"How is he?" Troy Avery asked worriedly.

"Bad," Tanner answered and looked toward the tree line. "I figure the shooter was out there…somewhere along the back tree line."

"I'll have my men check it out," Avery assured him and turned to give orders to the newcomers even as James Midland ushered two paramedics toward the injured man.

"He's got a bullet in his chest," Tanner explained as he moved aside to allow the two men to do their job. He nodded to Midland who moved to stand beside him.

"Is he allergic to anything?" Barry Fitzgerald asked.

"Nothin'," Tanner answered, and looked at James worriedly. "You okay, Kid?"

"I'm fine, Vin…I saw him…saw him get hit and I couldn't…couldn't…"

"Easy, James," Tanner said, eyeing the younger man closely. "You did what you had to do and got Chris the help he needs."

"He's going to be okay…right?"

"Chris'll be fine…yer sister'll make sure of that," Tanner said. He watched as the paramedics worked together on his friend. One started an IV while the other hooked up monitoring equipment. They changed the bloodied bandage and hooked up an oxygen mask as Larabee sounded like he was struggling for air.

"We're ready to move him," Steven Turner said and was glad to have the extra hands to help get the patient on the stretcher. Between them they got the injured man on the gurney and wheeled him toward the waiting ambulance.

"James," Tanner said, watching the young man closely and realizing he was showing signs of shock. He nodded to the ambulance driver and stayed back as they drove out of the yard.

"I thought you'd go with him," James said softly.

"I figured you and me could ride in together," the Texan told him and motioned toward his jeep. "Come on, Kid, we can get your truck tomorrow."

"Thanks, Vin," Midland said and hurried around the side of the jeep.


Nathan and Rain were the first to arrive at the hospital and checked with the ER desk for an update. The ETA for the ambulance was ten minutes and Nathan turned to see JD and Buck hurrying inside.

"Nathan, any word yet?" Wilmington asked.

"The ambulance should be here in ten minutes," Jackson answered and knew there'd be no point in telling Wilmington not to worry or to go to the waiting room. He motioned for them to move out of the way as several newcomers made their way to the main desk.

"Did Vin say how bad it was?" Dunne asked worriedly?

"No, he was still in the jeep when he called me," the medic answered, looking past the others as an ambulance, sirens warbling, pulled up to the ambulance bay doors. "That's probably him now…"

"Boys," Midland greeted them as she hurried outside. This was not her normal rotation, but she was filling in for a colleague who'd come down with a bad case of the flu. She made her way to the ambulance as they were pulling the patient from the back and shook her head in surprise when a pair of pain glazed, sea green eyes opened and tried to focus on her.


"Hey yourself…I could have sworn I told you to use the visitor's entrance next time," Midland said and turned to the paramedic as they pushed the stretcher into the hospital. "Trauma one is set up for him!"

"Chest wound…bullet's still inside him," the medic rattled off the vital signs and the treatment Larabee had received from the minute they'd arrived at the ranch until Midland exited the hospital. They quickly transferred Larabee to the hospital bed and reconnected the new equipment. Once he finished the paramedic exited the room and joined his partner at the main door.

Midland checked the wound to Larabee's chest and ordered several tests and x-rays to locate the bullet and see what they were dealing with. Pamela Wallace drew several vials of blood as Carol Monroe cut the clothing from the patient. "Let's get another line in him and put in a call to Brandon Silverman," she ordered, knowing Silverman was the vascular surgeon on call.

"Doc," Larabee whispered.

"I'm right here, Chris…we're going to give you something for pain right now and I want you to relax and let it work, okay?" Midland ordered with a hint of a smile.

"…try…tired…chest hurts…" the blond told her.

"I'm sure it does. Didn't I tell you the body doesn't need that much extra iron?" Midland asked as the nurse injected the requested medication into the existing IV line.

Larabee smiled weakly and soon felt the drugs enter his system and the pain eased to a more bearable level. He closed his eyes as he felt Midland checking his wound and heard a second voice join hers. He knew it was Silverman and tried to hear what he had to say, but the darkness surrounded him and he couldn't fight it any longer.

"Stacey what have we got?" Silverman asked, hurrying to the bedside as a nurse carried several vials of blood out of the room.

Midland went over the injury and the vital signs as her colleague moved in to help her care for one of her most frequent patients. She worked side by side with the vascular surgeon until the x-ray tech showed up. "I'm going to speak with his men."

"All right, Stacey, as soon as X-ray is through and we've got him stabilized I want to take him to the OR," Silverman explained and looked toward the tray being brought closer. "I might as well intubate while he's out."

Midland nodded and hurried out of the room, relieved to see her younger brother and Vin Tanner standing near the desk. She noted the blood covering his shirt and hoped it was from Larabee and not a wound to her sibling. "James, are you okay?"

"I'm fine, Stacey…how's Chris?"

"He's listed as critical and Dr. Silverman and I will be taking him to the OR as soon as we get a read on where the bullet is," Stacey explained.

"Is he gonna be okay, Doc?" Tanner asked.

"We're going to do everything we can to make sure he is," the physician answered. "He lost a lot of blood and we're giving him a transfusion…"

"Ya need us ta donate blood?" the Texan asked.

"It wouldn't hurt," Midland said. "You two should change before you scare the hell out of the other patients."

Vin looked down at his shirt and realized she was right because it was covered in blood…Chris' blood. "Ain't got nothin' with me…"

"James, take Vin to the doctor's lounge and grab a set of scrubs. I'll clear it with the nursing staff," the woman told them as the rest of Larabee's team joined them.

"Before you ask there's not much I can tell you except we're getting Chris prepped for surgery. He's already been given a transfusion, but he'll need more," Midland explained.

"Can I see him, Doc?" Wilmington asked worriedly.

"Not right now, Buck, we need to get that bullet out and see what we're dealing with," the physician told him. "I have to get back…but I'll let you know as soon as he's out of surgery."

"Doc, we may have to move Chris to a safe house," Jackson said and saw the horror in her eyes.

"You won't be able to move him, Nathan," the physician snapped.

"There may not be a choice, Doc," Sanchez told her. "Chris' life depends on us being able to protect him from the bastard who did this."

"We'll make sure he's protected, Doc," Wilmington told her.

"That may be, Buck, but he's my patient and right now there's no way I'm going to give this plan my blessing…it's akin to murder if we move him," Midland told them. "Find another way to keep him safe, because it'll be a few days before I'm willing to let you take him out of here!"

The team watched her leave and knew she was right, but it would be hard to protect Chris Larabee in a hospital the size of St. Vincents. They'd tried it before, but there were too many variables that could cost a man his life and none of them were willing to take that chance with Chris Larabee. Orin Travis had already been notified and was making arrangements with a small, but well established clinic outside of Billings. They'd used it several times and so far the medical facilities and staff were top notch in both their care and in their discretion.

"Vin, you and James go change…the rest of us will go give blood," Wilmington ordered.

"All right…we'll be down as soon as we change," Tanner said, wishing he could follow Larabee to the surgical floor, but right now it was not possible. He followed James away from the trauma room and hoped nothing more would go wrong. Larabee was already in rough shape, now he had a bullet in his chest and they needed to move him in order to keep him safe.


Buck Wilmington was the first to see Stacey Midland walking toward them. They'd donated blood and called Nettie Wells and anyone else who would have been shocked about the shooting. The look on the woman's face sent him to his knees and Buck shook his head in denial as the others watched Midland's approach with a mixture of horror and loss.

"I'm sorry…we did everything we could. There was just too much damage. Dr. Silverman brought him back twice, but the trauma and blood loss were too much," Midland explained, watching the men even as her eyes swept past them to her younger brother. She knew there were reporters lurking nearby and wished she could speak to Larabee's team without interference, but this needed to be done quickly.

"Oh, God," Wilmington whispered and finally managed to get to his feet. He stumbled toward the washroom, hit stomach churning with the shock and disbelief.

"Chris can't be dead…we've got tickets to the ball game Sunday," Dunne managed and looked toward the others for confirmation.

"Doc, we know you did everything you could," Sanchez said as James Midland moved to his sister and hugged her. He could see the tears in the young man's eyes and yet there was nothing he could do to ease his grief.

"We did, Josiah…I…if we could have gotten to him sooner, but…"

"Can we see him?" Tanner asked.

"I guess," Midland agreed and motioned for the men to follow her. "James, why don't you go to the doctor's lounge and I'll be there as soon as I can?"

"I…I…" James stammered and finally nodded his head before hurrying away. Chris Larabee was dead and James Midland knew he was partially to blame because of a stupid mistake with old dynamite. If it hadn't been for him, Terry, and Warren, Chris would not have been in the hospital and witnessed the murder that had gotten him killed. He needed to lash out at someone and he exited the hospital with thoughts of finding his two friends and showing them that their dangerous, childish behavior had cost a good man his life.


Carl Adamson watched the TV closely, but so far there'd been no news about the shooting at Larabee's ranch. He'd received a call from the man who'd done the job, but refused to pay the remainder of the fee until he had confirmation and he could breathe more easily. The man had threatened him, and Adamson knew it wasn't an idle threat, but he could not allow the man to see any weakness in him.

Carl reached for the remote and turned up the volume when Orin Travis' face appeared on the screen with a picture of Chris Larabee in the upper right hand corner. He leaned closer and listened to the female reporter whose eyes were dark with emotion.

"Chris Larabee, team leader of Orin Travis' elite agency known as The Firm was shot down at his ranch earlier this evening. Former Judge Orin Travis is with us in the studio…Judge Travis, can you update us on Mr. Larabee's condition?"

"Caroline, I just spoke with Josiah and it is with a heavy heart that I tell you Chris Larabee did not make it through surgery. Dr. Stacey Midland and Dr. Brandon Silverman did everything they could, but the shock, trauma, and blood loss were too great. Agent Larabee succumbed to his injuries shortly after being taken to surgery."

"Thank you, Judge Travis; it is with a sad heart that I report the loss of an individual who has helped countless victims…"

Carl Adamson did not need to hear anything else as he flicked off the television. His troubles were over with Larabee's death and all that was left was to transfer the funds to the hired assassin's account. Whistling softly he dialed the number for his accountant and had him make the transfer from one of the accounts set up so it was untraceable.


Vin Tanner stood watching as Larabee's body was removed from the OR and the orderly pushed the stretcher toward the elevator that would take them down to the basement. The morgue was expecting them, but Vin wasn't ready to release his friend's body yet. He wanted to see for himself, but not while there was a possibility of other visitors or patients seeing Larabee, Chris wouldn't want that.

"Vin, is that…is that, Chris?" Wilmington asked, his voice edged with what the loss of his long time friend cost him.

"Mr. Tanner…can you tell us how you feel?" a reporter asked from behind the two men.

"Get the hell out of here!" Wilmington snarled and found himself held back by the quiet Texan.

"The public has a right to know what happened to Chris Larabee. Will this mean the dismantling of your agency?"

"Ain't got no comment!" Tanner spat as Josiah, Nathan, Ezra and JD joined them.

"A man died here tonight and your time would be better spent in praying that whoever did this is caught and brought to justice!" Sanchez said and followed the others toward the second elevator. He blocked the doors so no reporters could enter and breathed a sigh of relief when the doors closed and the elevator descended toward the basement.

No one spoke during the short trip, but the look on each face told a story of grief and pain as the doors opened and the six men stepped out. They headed toward the morgue, a trip they'd made countless times, before, but never had it been made with such devastation. A man, a friend, a brother was lost to them now and by unspoken agreement they needed to see that even in death Chris Larabee was treated with dignity.


James Midland had never been so filled with anger and remorse and he needed to vent or his head would explode. He knew where Terry Lawson and Warren Baker hung out and drove his truck toward the small diner at the south end of the city. His face was set, his mouth drawn, his eyes filled with grief at the thought of the man lying on a cold slab in the morgue. He spotted Lawson's car parked in a handicapped spot and wondered why he'd ever thought they were good friends. They were shallow and cared only about themselves and that was something he didn't want for himself anymore. He owed his sister much more than that.

James parked a couple of spaces over and exited his truck, slamming the door as he spotted Terry and Warren laughing with a couple of girls they'd known from school. He pulled out his cell phone and made a call before striding toward the table.

"Well look who's here…you finally stopped hanging with the old people, James?" Warren asked.

"He's dead, Warren and we're responsible," Midland spat and slammed his fist on the table as he stared at his former friends.

"What are you talking about?" Terry snapped.

"Chris Larabee was murdered today and it's our fault!" James snarled.

"How is that our fault?" Warren asked as the two girls got up to leave.

"We're the reason his leg was broken and he wound up in the hospital and witnessed a murder. Well whoever the killer was shot him at his ranch today and he died! God help us, but we put him in that situation and because of that he's dead!"

"That's not our fault, James," Terry snapped.

"You still don't get it do you, Terry? None of this would have happened if we hadn't played with that damned dynamite! You and Warren never took the blame for what we did!"

"And you have?" Warren asked.

"Yes, but it was too little too late," Midland spat and pointed to Lawson's car angrily. "Even now you think your folks can buy you out of any situation…handicapped parking is for people who need it…it's not your own reserved spot!"

"Jesus, James, get with it…"

"Get with what, Warren…don't you two understand I'm not in it for the rush anymore."

"That's your loss!" Terry snapped.

"No, Terry, it's yours. Your folks might be able to buy your way out of trouble, but until you face what you do then you're not worth a damn. I know what I'm going to do and I don't think I'll be hanging with you guys anymore."

"You're an asshole, James!" Warren spat.

"Maybe I am, but at least I know what's right and wrong now…it was a hard lesson learned, but it'll stay with me. I wish you both good luck because you're going to need it. Oh, Terry, I hope you check where you park from now on," Midland said and ignored the look of disbelief on Lawson's face as he made his way toward his truck as a uniformed officer placed a ticket on Lawson's car. He knew this would not make up for their part in Chris Larabee's death. James doubted it very much, but it felt good knowing maybe, just maybe Terry Lawson would learn a lesson today as well.


Orin Travis exited the room where he'd spoken with the TV reporters and leaned heavily against the wall. This had been one of the hardest things he'd ever had to do and was chalked up there with the death of his son, but it was a necessary evil and he prayed six men would forgive him for making this decision without informing them. Orin made his way toward the hospital morgue and knew that's where he would find Larabee's team.

Travis took the elevator to the basement just in time to hear voices raised in anger and knew he'd have to hurry before the six men did something they'd later regret. He hurried toward the morgue, not surprised to find a security guard standing ion front of the closed doors. He'd arranged this before meeting with the reporters in order to keep up the ruse.

"Boys, come with me!" Travis ordered, his tone one Chris Larabee would have recognized immediately because he'd been chastised more than once by the former judge.

"Orin, did you hear about Chris?" Wilmington asked.

"This guy won't let us inside!" Dunne spat.

"My orders were to keep everyone out until I got here," Travis told them and motioned for the six men to follow him.

"What's goin' on, Orin?" Tanner asked, his eyes filled with anger as he followed the older man toward the vending room and was relieved to find it empty.

"There was no time to speak with any of you before I spoke with the reporters, but you need to know it was a decision I made on the spur of the moment. Chris isn't dead…"

"What did you say?" Buck asked incredulously.

"I said Chris isn't dead, but it was important that everyone believe he is. I know we spoke about transferring him to Kojay's clinic and I made the arrangements while he was in surgery. Kojay is ready for him and Stacey has already sent him the pertinent information. I'm sorry, boys, but it happened so quickly I never had a chance to tell you how we were going to play this," Travis told them and saw the anger in their eyes as he continued with his explanation. "I needed you to be convincing when the reporters got here…"

"Orin, we were planning on moving Chris to a safe house," Jackson began.

"I know and that's another reason for the duplicity. If you boys are correct then whoever is behind Adamson's murder will think his problems are over and that gives Chris time to heal. We're going to have to go through with a funeral and services and I'm afraid everyone else has to be kept in the dark until the arrests are made," Travis explained.

"Miss Nettie…"

"I know, Vin, and I don't like it any more than you do, but right now the less people who know that Chris is alive the better our chances of keeping him that way," the former judge explained. He knew Larabee's men well enough to know they didn't like keeping things from family, but this was something he had to convince them was the right thing to do. "Look I don't like this any more than the rest of you, but I know you all understand what will happen if word gets out that this is a ruse. Right now the important thing is Chris and we'll deal with the consequences after the murderer is behind bars."

"Orin's right," Jackson told them. "Right now the most important thing is to keep Chris alive."

"I just hate to think what this will do to Miss Nettie," Tanner observed.

"It won't be for long, Vin, and Nettie Wells will understand once she realizes why it was done," Travis assured him.

"In that case I hope you are volunteering to explain the situation to Mrs. Wells face to face when the time comes," Standish said, angered at the thought of being conned, but understanding why Travis had found it necessary to do so.

"Yes, I will," the older man assured them. "Now I know you all want to go with Chris, but right now it would not be in his best interests to do so. I need all of you here when the reporters ask to speak with you and I want to make damn sure no one sees his ‘body'."

"Someone should go with him," Jackson said.

"Someone is, Nathan. I spoke with Rain before I met with the reporters and she's riding in the ambulance with him. She'll stay at the clinic with Kojay and make sure no one gets in to see Chris."

"She's not a cop, Orin," the medic said, angered that Rain was being put in a dangerous situation.

"I know, but she's a doctor and Chris needs her during the trip," Travis said. "I need all of you to be conspicuous during the next few days so that people…particularly the murderer will believe Chris is dead."

"We'll need to have someone out there watching Chris' back," Wilmington advised.

"I spoke with Jake Taylor and asked if he would be willing to do a special assignment," Travis told them.

"Does Jake know who he'll be protecting?" Tanner asked.

"Not yet, but he's willing to do it without question. Vin, I'd like you to pick Jake up as soon as his shift is over in fifteen minutes and take him to Kojay's clinic. I've already called to update Kojay."

"What about the rest of us?" Dunne asked.

"I need you boys to make arrangements for Chris' funeral," the former judge told them.

"We can do that," Sanchez said.

"Sure can and we'll make damn sure he goes ‘out' in style," Wilmington added.

"Good," Travis said. "Check with Thompson at the morgue to find out when he'll release the ‘body'?"

"You heard him, Boys, it's time to plan a funeral," Buck said, but there was just a hint of humor in his voice because he was still worried about Chris Larabee. The team broke up and went to complete their assignments with Vin heading to the psyche ward to pick up Jake Taylor.


Stacey Midland had no idea where her brother had disappeared, and her worries intensified with each passing moment. She knew he'd been devastated by the news of Chris Larabee's death, but right now there was no way she could tell him about the ruse. Larabee's life depended on secrecy and the fewer people who knew the truth the better his chance of survival. She made her way toward her office and pushed open the door to find James sitting on the sofa bathed in the light from the hallway.

"James, are you all right?"

"No, Stacey, I'm not," the young man answered honestly and looked up as he fought to keep his emotions in check.

"What's wrong?" the physician asked, moving to sit beside her brother. She knew why he looked as if he'd lost his best friend, yet there was no way she could tell him the truth about Chris Larabee.

"We…I'm responsible for Chris' death…"

"God, James, don't say that! You're not responsible for what some animal did…"

"He wouldn't be dead if Warren and Terry and I hadn't found that damned dynamite."

"You can't know that…there is a reason for everything that happens in our lives and Chris would not want you feeling guilty for something you could not prevent. He knew how you felt about what happened at the old quarry, and he was proud of the way you took responsibility for your actions."

"My actions got him killed!"

"No, James, your actions showed him how much you've grown over the last few weeks and I don't think he'd like it if he knew you were trying to take on the guilt that's not yours to hold onto," Midland told her brother and wrapped her arms around him in a gesture she'd seldom used since he turned sixteen and decided hugs were something he didn't need from his big sister.

"I'm sorry, Stacey, I know you thought a lot about him," James said.

"I did, James," the physician assured him and smiled as she looked into his eyes. "I'm proud of you, James…proud of the way you're turning your life around."

"Thanks, Sis, I'm proud of you too," the young man told her.

"Have you eaten yet?"


"Come on…I'm done for the day and we can pick up a pizza on the way home."

"Hawaiian with green peppers?"

"Is there any other kind?" Stacey asked and released her hold as they stood up and headed for the door. 'I hope you'll forgive me for not telling you about Chris,’ she thought and fought back the guilt that seeped into her mind.


Rain checked the IV lines and other monitoring equipment as the special, unmarked ambulance drove toward the outskirts of Billings. Chris showed no signs of waking up, and Rain hoped he would stay under until they had him tucked in a more comfortable bed with the extra equipment they'd need to keep him alive. She knew he'd lost a fair amount of blood, but had come through the surgery with only a few minor problems.

"Dr. Goines, we'll be there in two minutes," the driver told her. He was an off duty police officer who'd agreed to take the patient to the clinic when Travis had asked him for a favor and requested he not ask any questions.

"Thank you, Gary," Rain said, noting that the patient seemed to be on the verge of waking up. She knew he would panic on waking and began speaking softly to him. "Easy, Chris, you're going to be fine. You have an oxygen mask covering your mouth and nose and…well hello…"

"God…what…what happened…Rain, why…where are we…"

"You were hurt. We don't know why, but we're going to Kojay's clinic. We should be there any minute and then we'll make you more comfortable," Goines explained.

"O…okay…everyone else all right?"

"Everyone else is fine, Chris," Goines assured him as the ambulance pulled to a stop in front of Kojay's clinic. The elderly man had garnered a great deal of respect from everyone in the community for his care and easy going nature. The man had quickly taken Nathan under his wing and was still trying to convince him he should go to school and become a doctor. Rain agreed with him, but the decision could only be made by her fiancé. "Chris, we're here."

Chris opened his eyes slightly as the back doors were opened and Kojay entered. "Ko…Kojay…"

"What have you done now, Chris?" the elderly man asked, shaking his head as he studied the readouts.

"Tackled with a meat grinder," Larabee answered honestly.

"Yes, I am sure that is how it feels. We will get you inside and settled in a more comfortable bed," Kojay explained. He helped Rain get the stretcher out of the ambulance and watched as the driver pulled away before returning his attention to the patient. Stacey Midland had faxed over the vital information and treatment he'd received so far. She'd also called and spoken to him about Larabee's condition and he'd assured her he would take special care of the new arrival.

Chris kept his eyes closed during the short trip inside and swallowed convulsively as nausea churned through his gut. He heard Kojay and Rain speaking and all too soon they told him they were ready to make the transfer. Chris gripped the sheet and held his breath as he eased his body onto the bed.

"Chris," Kojay spoke softly and waited for the injured man to look at him. "I'm going to set up a PCA and I want you to use it, but Rain is giving you something for pain and nausea right now."

"Th…thanks," Larabee mumbled and soon felt the medication enter his body. It eased the nausea and pain and he felt the call of sleep and gave into it.

Kojay and Rain tucked the blankets around the sleeping man and made sure the monitoring equipment was working properly. Rain hooked up the PCA while Kojay made several notations on Larabee's chart before leaving the injured man to sleep.

"Rain, thank you for your help," Kojay said and handed her a cup of strong black coffee.

"Any time, Kojay," Goines assured him. She sat opposite the older man and turned toward the main door as it opened and two familiar figures stepped inside.

"How is he?" Tanner asked.

"He's resting comfortably," Goines answered, noting how pale the Texan looked. "Hello, Jake, I'd like you to meet Kojay."

"Hello, Jake," Kojay greeted and shook the newcomer's hand.

"Nice to finally meet you, Kojay, I've heard a lot of things about you and what you do here," Taylor told him.

"Vin, have you boys been spreading rumors again?" Kojay asked, a hint of a smile as he turned to the long haired tracker.

"Ain't me," Tanner assured him. "Can I see Chris before I head back?"

"For a couple of minutes, but he's still under the influence of the anesthesia and the other medications," Kojay told him and pointed toward the room where Larabee had been sequestered.

"Thanks," Tanner said and carefully opened the door. He entered to find the room bathed in a soft white light as he made his way toward the bed. Kojay had everything he needed to look after Chris Larabee, and Vin trusted the elderly man with his life. He stepped closer to the bed and listened to the clicks and beeps of the monitoring equipment, but remained silent as he looked at Larabee's face. The blond was whiter than the sheets he lay on and Vin wondered just how much blood he'd lost. He heard the door open and turned to find Kojay watching him. "He looks like hell."

"That good?" Kojay asked softly and motioned for Tanner to follow him out as Jake Taylor stepped into the room. "I will take good care of him, Vin."

"I know ya will, Kojay," Tanner said. "Guess I'd best get back ta town and help make the arrangements."

"Vin, can I get a ride home with you?" Rain asked.


"I will call if he needs anything, Vin," Kojay assured the younger man. He knew how close Larabee and Tanner were and understood how hard it was for the Texan to leave knowing someone could still be gunning for Chris Larabee. Kojay took the time to lock the clinic's main doors and turned out the lights before entering Larabee's room and explaining to Jake where he would be should the patient need him.


Vin knocked on Nettie Wells' door and turned to look out over the front yard. He'd dropped Rain off and driven directly here and wished there was some way he could tell the elderly woman the truth, but they'd all agreed that the less people who knew the truth the better. Mistakes were made when too many people were brought in on a plan and he knew when everything was said and done Nettie would forgive him. She'd be pissed at him, but she'd also be relieved to find out Chris was alive.

"Land sakes, Vin, what are you doing here?"

"Hi, Miss Nettie, can I come in?"

"Of course…what's got you lookin' like ya lost yer best friend?"

"I have, Nettie," Tanner said, keeping his eyes downcast as he moved toward the kitchen.

"Vin, where's Chris?" the elderly woman asked worriedly.

"Nettie…he's gone…"

"What do you mean he's gone? Gone where?"

"He….someone shot him out at his place. James Midland was with him and he called 911 and they took him to the hospital, but it was too late. He died on the operating table," Tanner explained, his eyes misting with unshed tears as he reached out and pulled her to him. ‘God forgive me,’ he thought as Nettie cried in his arms.

"When…when did it happen?"

"This afternoon," Tanner told her. "Buck and Josiah are making the arrangements with Father Thomas at Saint Joseph's, and I told them they'd have to clear it with you."

"He's really gone?"

"Yeah, he is…I wish it wasn't true, but I saw him myself before coming out here."

"Oh, Vin, are you all right?"

"No…no I'm not, but I'm gonna hold it tagether fer Chris."

"Damn it…I can't believe it, Vin, I need ta see him."

"I know you do, Nettie, but the morgue hasn't released his body yet. They're doing an autopsy and need to wait until the results are given ta the investigatin' officers."

"Vin," Nettie said releasing the young man and picking up the kettle with shaking hands.

"Let me get that…"

"No, I got it…I need to keep busy….I gotta call Casey. She'll want to be here."

"JD'll call her," Vin said as he accepted a cup of strong tea from her.

"Do they know who…who did it?"

"Not yet, but we'll find out who it was, Nettie."

"I know you will, but don't go doin' anythin' stupid…bad enough losin’…losin' Chris," she whimpered and sagged onto the chair as her body shook with sorrow. "At least he's with Sarah and Adam now."

"Yeah, he is," Tanner said and hated the fact that he was hurting this woman.

"There's so much to do, Vin. So many people to notify," Nettie told him.

"We'll take care of that, Miss Nettie," the Texan assured her and again felt as if he was betraying her trust.

"There's flowers to order…and I think Chris would have liked for people to donate money to Saint Vincent's pediatric unit instead of flowers," Nettie told him. "We also need to talk to Inez…maybe Buck could do that and arrange for a luncheon there after the…the funeral service."

"I'll take care of that, Miss Nettie," Tanner told her.

"We should tell Buck and the others to come out here and talk this through," Nettie suggested.

"I'll call Josiah and have him get the others. Are ya sure yer up ta the comp'ny?"

"It helps havin' somethin' ta do, Vin," Nettie said.

"I'll have them bring some pizza," Tanner told her and reached for his cell phone.


Kojay stepped into the room and moved to check his patient, relieved to see that his temperature wasn't any higher. He checked the IV line and changed the nearly empty bag hanging over Larabee's head. He checked the heavily bandaged chest and made sure there was no excessive bleeding before gently easing the blanket up over the blond's torso and turning down the lights.

"Jake, there is a fresh pot of coffee and sandwiches if you would like some," Kojay offered.

"Thank you, Kojay, but I need to stay with Chris," Taylor explained.

"I will be here until you return," Kojay assured him and waited for the former officer to nod in agreement. He turned back to the bed when he heard a soft moan and watched as the eyelids slowly fluttered open. He laid a calming hand on Larabee's shoulder as the blond tried to shift his position on the bed. "Easy, Chris, you're okay."

"Ko…Kojay, what the he…hell…what happened?"

"You were shot, Chris, but you're safe," Kojay offered as Jake Taylor entered the room. "Jake was asked to stay with you and help keep you safe."

"Safe…from who?" Larabee managed tiredly.

"The people who tried to kill you," Kojay answered. "Right now they are being told you're dead and hopefully that'll give you time to heal while Vin and the others find out who wants you dead."

"Too many…too many people," the blond managed, grimacing as pain flared through his chest.

"Push the button, Chris," Kojay ordered and saw the hand move slightly and heard the sound of the PCA pump delivering the medications.

"How lo…long?"

"You have been here about eight hours," Kojay answered. "You took a bullet in the chest and it will take time to get back on your feet."

"Where is everyone?" Larabee asked seriously.

"Making funeral arrangements," Kojay answered with a hint of a smile as he offered the blond a drink of cold water.

"Funeral arrangements?"

"That's right…they want you to go out in style," the elderly man told him.

"Nettie…does she…is she…"

"The only ones who know you're alive are your team and a few others, Son," Kojay answered. "It's best if we keep people in the dark until they find out who's trying to kill you."

"Nettie wouldn't tell anyone…"

"I know, but the more people that know the truth the harder it is to keep it from going public. Mrs Wells will understand when the time comes," Kojay offered.

"Hate put…putting her through that," Larabee said tiredly.

"I know, but it is necessary right now. Close your eyes and rest, Chris," Kojay ordered watching as the blond succumbed to the combination of exhaustion, blood loss, and medications.

"Damn shame he has to hide from them bastards," Taylor said.

"Yes, it is, but it goes with the territory," Kojay said and moved to the cot he'd placed on the opposite side of the room. "Wake me if he needs anything."

"I will, Kojay," Taylor said, enjoying the cup of strong black coffee and the roast beef and mustard sandwich.


Gregory Darcy smiled at the pretty prostitute who was sharing his bed. She'd been more than willing to do anything he asked once he'd shown her the wad of bills he had in his pocket. She was well paid and they'd both enjoyed the night of casual sex. He'd been surprised at how pretty she was and at how well toned she kept her body. She'd given her name as Lolita, but he knew that was an alias, much the same as the one he'd given her when he picked her up on the corner near Buck's Bar and Grill.

Darcy sat on the edge of the bed and looked at the sleeping woman whose long auburn hair was spread out across the pillow. He knew the scent of jasmine that covered her body was something he'd specifically requested and had even used the sweet scented soap and shampoo on her when they'd showered together.

Darcy wondered what her life was like before she'd become a prostitute, but he knew her life was her own and he would not delve into it because he was secretive about his own life. He glanced at his cell phone and quickly keyed in the numbers, listening as he heard an automated reply to his inquiry about his account.

Darcy's eyes grew dangerously cold as he listened to the recording and knew Adamson had not followed through on their agreement. There was no way the man would be allowed to live, not when he'd obviously tried to put one over on him. Gregory Darcy was not a man you screwed with, not if you valued your life.

"Hey, Lover, want to go once more…a freebie?"

"I'd love to, Lolita, but I'm afraid I have pressing business to attend to," Darcy told her, tucking a fifty dollar bill between her ample breasts. "Maybe we'll meet again."

"I hope so," Lolita said and watched as he hurriedly dressed and left the room. She briefly wondered who he was, but it didn't matter because he'd paid well for her services and he'd made sure she'd enjoyed herself as well.


Nettie looked at the group of men seated around her dining room table. She'd never seen such a solemn lot, and understood how hard this was on each man, but especially on Vin Tanner and Buck Wilmington. She reached for the cup of luke warm coffee and added a shot of brandy to warm her insides before offering the strong liquid to the others.

"I talked to Inez and she says we can have the place…said she'd provide a small luncheon too," Wilmington advised as he rubbed at tired eyes.

"Father Thomas said to let him know as soon as the police release his…release Chris' body," Sanchez told them.

"I spoke with Mary Travis and she's making sure the announcements are in the Billings Gazette," Standish explained.

"Orin's taking care of the funeral arrangements with the mortuary," Wilmington said.

"JD, did you call Casey?" Nettie asked.

"I spoke to her this afternoon. She's got a flight out tomorrow morning and I'll pick her up at the airport. She was pretty upset," Dunne answered.

"There's a lot of people to notify," Jackson told them.

"I believe we should split the list up," Dunne offered.

"Miss Nettie, are ya okay?" Tanner asked.

"No, Vin, I'm not," the elderly woman answered honestly. "I'm not ready to say goodbye…not again."

"None of us are, but sometimes we don't gotta choice," the Texan offered and listened to the others discussing Chris Larabee's funeral and silently cursing the need to keep so many people in the dark.

"I know…sometimes it just feels like God had it in for Chris. He took Sarah and Adam and nearly took Chris so many times I was beginning to think he was invincible. I just need a few minutes alone, Vin," Nettie told him and turned to walk out onto the back porch, closing the door behind her.

"I hate what this is doin' ta her," Tanner snarled.

"We all do, Son, but it's necessary right now if we want to keep those bastards from coming after him again," Sanchez told him. "She'll understand…they all will."

"We're the ones who'll have to live with the choice we made," Wilmington told them, growing somber as Nettie returned and offered to make a fresh pot of coffee, but each man bowed out by citing the time and saying there was a lot of work to do the next day.

"Miss Nettie, is it okay if'n I stay?"

"I'd like that, Vin," the elderly woman answered and bid the rest of the group goodnight before moving to the recliner and reaching for the photo album she kept inside the end table. It was Chris and Sarah's wedding album and she felt tears in her eyes at the thought of how much she'd lost. She felt Vin's hand on her shoulder and let the tears fall as she ran her fingers over the gold embossed lettering.


Kojay opened his eyes and sat up in the bed. He'd slept soundly, but was alert to any sound that might signal his patient was in trouble. He glanced at Jake Taylor and found the man reading a novel on the old west. He stood up and moved to the bed, checking the monitors and making sure there were no problems he needed to assess.

Kojay lifted the blanket and heard a soft moan escape from the injured man. He glanced at the PCA and realized Larabee had used it once during the night, but it was obvious he needed to press the button again. A hint of a smile formed when he heard the machine kick in as Larabee opened his eyes.

"Kojay, wha…what the hell happened?" Larabee asked, confusion evident in his voice as he glanced around the strange room.

"What do you remember?" the elderly man asked.

"Not much…shot?" the blond asked and panicked as he looked around and tried to sit up. "James…where's James?"

"I'm not sure who James is…"

"Dr. Midland's brother," Taylor answered and moved to the bed. "He's been helping Chris since he broke his leg. He's fine, Chris…saw him yesterday with his sister."

"Thank God," the blond mumbled tiredly and frowned. "Why here?"

"Orin Travis wanted to make sure no one else took a shot at you," Kojay explained.

"That's why I'm here," Taylor explained.

"Why you…not one of the boys?" Larabee asked.

"That's a long story…"

"Seems like I have all the time in the world," the blond said, but his eyes closed of their own volition as sleep once more beckoned to him.

"He's going to be pissed off when he finds out," Taylor offered.

"Yes, but at least he'll be alive," Kojay said and finished checking his patient before leaving to make breakfast.


Carl Adamson could not believe the problems that had cropped up in the last 24 hours. The transfer of funds from his private account to Larabee's assassin had not transpired and he knew that did not bode well for him. Gregory Darcy had warned him what would happen if he failed to pay and for the first time in his life Carl Adamson was afraid.

"Carl, there's a phone call for you."

"Marla, I told you not to disturb me!"

"I'm sorry, Carl, but he says it's important…a matter of life and death," Marla Adamson said.

"I got it," Adamson said and snatched up the receiver with hands that trembled uncontrollably. "Adamson."

'I warned you what would happen if you fucked with me, Carl…"

"Look, there's a problem with the bank. The computers must be down and no transfers are going through. I've tried…"

'Try harder…"

"What do you expect me to do? Go down there and physically transfer the funds?"

"Carl, is everything all right?"

"It's fine, Marla, just leave me alone!"

'I wonder what your wife would think if she knew you paid to have your father killed?"

'Look, I'll keep trying…"

'If I don't get confirmation in the next six hours then you should make arrangements for your funeral."

"I'll keep trying…"

'You do that…just remember I'll be close by and you won't hear the bullet that hits you."

The phone went dead in his hand and he slammed it back on the receiver even as the door opened. "Marla, I'm busy…"

"Your mother and I are going out for a few hours, but I wanted to see if you need anything before we leave."

"No, just leave me alone. I need to get these papers filed before the next board meeting and your constant interruptions are not helping!"

"I'm sorry…it's just…"

"Marla, please, just go and enjoy yourself with Mother. I really need to finish this!"

"We should be back for lunch."

"That's fine," Adamson said and returned his attention to the computer and again tried to access his hidden accounts.


Vin Tanner had always been a man who needed very little sleep, but tonight he hadn't even managed that. Several times during the night he'd heard Nettie Wells moving around the house and on one occasion he'd heard her crying softly, but did not want to intrude on her sorrow.

Guilt gnawed at him when Nettie emerged from her room and the early morning sunlight illuminated her face. Her eyes were rimmed with dark circles while her eyes were streaked with red and the telltale sign of tears still rolled down her cheeks. He knew he could trust her, but if he told her the truth would she still be able to carry out the grief they needed people to see.

"Vin, would you like some breakfast?"

"No, thanks, Miss Nettie, I'm fine."

"Are you sure? I think I still have some muffin dough left over from yesterday."

"I'm sure, why don't ya come sit down?"

"If I sit down I think too much and right now I'd rather not do that. God, Vin, who did this?"

"We don't know yet, Miss Nettie, but we'll catch the bas…we'll catch him and he'll pay," Tanner said and held her while she cried.

"Lordy, Vin, look at the time! Why didn't you wake me?"

"You were tired."

"We have so much to do. I need to arrange for the flowers and make sure the…"

"The boys are taking care of all that. You just take care of you. Why don't'cha sit down and I'll make ya some breakfast?"

"I'd rather keep busy, Vin," Nettie said and moved into the kitchen. She reached into the fridge and brought out the sealed bowl of muffin dough and began spooning it into the tray as tears slipped silently from her eyes. "These were Chris' favorites…"

"I know," Tanner said and poured two cups of coffee while the elderly woman finished the muffins and placed them in the oven.

"I should get dressed…we need to pick Casey up at the airport."

"JD's picking her up and we'll meet him and the others at the saloon," Tanner told her.

"There's so much to do," Nettie said and rubbed her hands across her face.

"We'll get it done tagether," the Texan vowed and again cursed the need to keep Larabee's friends and family out of the loop. He knew Buck and Ezra were at the office and hopefully they'd be able to find something that would confirm Adamson was behind his father's death and the attempted murder of Chris Larabee. Until they knew for sure, there was no way he could tell anyone, not even Nettie Wells. He'd just have to live with the guilt that was eating a hole through his gut.


Chris opened heavy eyelids and licked at dry lips before searching the unfamiliar room until his eyes came to rest on the man reading a book in the chair by the window. "Jake…" Was that really his voice? Licking his lips he tried once more to find enough moisture to call to the man, but something must have alerted Taylor to the fact that he was awake.

"Hey, Chris, hold on and I'll get Kojay," Taylor said and hurried to the door. "Kojay, Chris is awake."

Chris knew by the heaviness of his limbs and the fog surrounding his mind he was hurt, and probably hurt badly if the concern on Taylor's face was any indication. He heard footsteps and watched as Kojay crossed the room and stood next to the bed.

"How do you feel, Chris?" Kojay asked.

"Not feeling much of anything right now," Larabee answered and was relieved when a straw was placed against his lips and he took several sips of cold water. "Thanks…what happened?"

"What do you remember?" Kojay asked.

"Explosion," Larabee said and frowned as images flashed across his mind. "Horse threw me…broke my leg."

"Yes, you did," Kojay said.

"Why does it feel like the horse stampeded over my chest?" Larabee managed and fought the drugs that were drawing him back toward sleep.

"Go ahead and rest, Chris…"

"Kojay, why here? Why not hospital?"

"I'll explain it all when you've had…"

"No, need to know. Keep thinking someone died…who?" Larabee said and struggled to sit forward.

"Lie still and I'll explain it as best I can," Kojay ordered. "No one died."

"Are you sure?"

"I'm sure, but it was decided to lead people to believe that you had succumbed to your injuries."

"Why?" the blond asked.

"According to Vin someone put a contract out on you and they nearly collected on it. You were out at your ranch with James…"

"Damn…I remember…shot," Larabee said and placed his hand on his chest. "Is James all right?"

"James is fine…he saved your life," Kojay told him and adjusted the flow on the IV when his patient showed obvious signs of distress. "It is time you rested."

"Kojay, who knows?"

"Who knows what?" the elderly man asked.

"Who knows I'm alive?"

"Your team, Orin Travis, myself, Jake and a few others," Kojay answered.


"Chris, it is important that people truly believe you are dead so…"

"Sonofabitch!" Larabee snapped and tried to sit up, crying out as pain shot through his chest.

"Let that be a lesson to you!" Kojay warned. "She will understand when this is over."

"Nettie…can be tr…trusted," the blond said.

"Yes, she can, but it is easy to make a mistake and right now any mistake could cost you your life. She will understand when this is over and whoever is behind this is in prison."

"No, Kojay, she's been through e…enough har…hardship," Larabee said and struggled feebly when the man placed his hands on his shoulders and held him in place.

"You are in no shape to fight me today, Chris, so be still because there is also nothing you can do right now, but allow yourself to heal and grow strong," Kojay ordered.

"Hell, Kojay," the blond said, but knew the man was right and that fighting would only set him back. "Damn, Kojay, she doesn't deserve this."

"Neither do you, but right now we have to make the best of a bad situation and that means you should rest or I will give you something to make you sleep. If you feel up to it you may have something to eat when you wake again."

"As long as it's not shimmering shit," Larabee said and closed his eyes as sleep beckoned to him once more. A picture of Nettie Wells formed and he silently cursed the fact that she was being kept in the blind about his being alive.

"Jake, I have made coffee and sandwiches and will stay with Chris while you eat," Kojay said and quickly checked Larabee's vital signs and noted the man's temperature was higher than it had been the last time he'd checked.


Buck and Ezra studied the file before them, but there was nothing new that could prove Carl Adamson was behind his father's death or Chris' shooting. Their frustration grew with each minute and it was easy to see the anger in their eyes.

"Carl Adamson is a smart man, but smart men make mistakes too," Standish stated.

"I know," Wilmington agreed as he opened another file on well-known hit men. "I know we've been over these files, but something tells me the man is in here. We just need to find him."

Ezra turned toward his desk when he heard a distinct sound and dropped the paper he'd been studying back on the desk. He crossed the short distance and tapped several keys until a file opened. He studied the numbers for several minutes, ignoring Buck's repeated questions as a smile formed on his face.

"Ezra, tell me you got something?"

"I have something, Buck, I just don't know how we're going to use it yet," Standish said and shifted so that Buck could look over his shoulder.

"What am I looking at?" Wilmington asked.

"Thanks to JD's exceptional computer skills and my intuitive…"

"Cut the crap and tell me what this is," the rogue snapped impatiently.

"JD flagged Carl Adamson's personal accounts at the bank…"

"Isn't that illegal?"

"Certainly, but when did that ever stop us?"

"True," Wilmington said with a hint of a smile. "So what's this supposed to tell us?"

"If I'm right Carl is having trouble accessing his accounts…particularly when it comes to transferring funds."

"Tell me you and JD are behind that?"

"I would, but then I'd have to kill you," Standish said and continued checking the readings. "It appears he has been trying to send money to an account overseas."

"Can you tell who owns the account?"

"Not yet, but given time I'm certain I'll be able to find a name."

"Why don't you just key in the names of the hit men…maybe we'll get lucky for a change."

"Hand me the list," Standish said as there was more activity with Adamson's account.

"How long can you keep this up without being discovered?"

"Not long, but we have the information we need to find out who Adamson is paying off. The problem is getting to the man behind the overseas account."

"But you can do it?"

"Certainly, given the time and…"

"We don't have a whole lot of time, Ezra, so you concentrate on this and I'll keep going through the damn files," Wilmington said and moved back to his desk, confidant that if anyone could pull this off it was Ezra Standish.


Vin could hear Nettie Wells moving around in the kitchen and understood this was her way of coping with the loss of a loved one. The smell of fresh baked muffins permeated the air, but it did nothing to help his appetite. God, he hated himself for what he was doing, but until Adamson was brought up on charges and the hit man arrested, he'd have to keep his mouth shut and go along with the plans.

Vin wanted to go to Kojay's clinic, but right now it was important to keep up appearances and he knew he could trust Jake Taylor to protect Larabee. Kojay would make damn sure the blond didn't do anything stupid, although right now he doubted Chris could do anything on his own.

JD had picked Casey up at the airport and they were meeting him at the church to speak with Father O'Neill. Orin Travis had taken care of the arrangements and the obituary was in today's edition of the Billings Gazette. Once they were through at the church they were all meeting at Buck's Bar and Grill. Inez was keeping the bar closed for the afternoon so that they could talk and celebrate one man's life.

"Vin, are you ready to go?" Nettie asked.

"I'm ready, Miss Nettie," Tanner answered, and fought the urge to pull her into his arms. He knew she was keeping a tight rein on her emotions and hoped he could do the same as they hurried out to the jeep. He opened the door for her, and again felt a wave of guilt wash over him at the look of sorrow on her face and the deep-rooted sadness in her eyes. "Everything's gonna be all right, Miss Nettie."

"Will it, Vin?" the elderly woman asked softly. "How could this happen? Who did this, Vin? Who got through his defenses and why aren't the police doing something about it?"

"They're doin' ever'thin' they can. We'll find the bastards, Miss Nettie…they'll pay for what they did."

"I hope so, Vin, because I'm tired of watching killers go free or be shut up in prison with more to eat than the homeless people on our own streets."

"You always told me ta have faith, Miss Nettie…"

"Faith can only go so far," the woman said and closed her eyes as she fought past the emotional trauma of the last few days. She heard Vin move around to the driver's side and climb in, but did not look in his direction as he drove away from her home.


Chris silently cursed the injuries that sapped him of his strength as he faced down Kojay and Josiah Sanchez. Jake Taylor had been relieved by Raphael Cordova De Martinez and stood nearby with a hint of a smile on his face as he watched the scene. Chris wanted to wipe the smug smile off the man's face, but right now all he could manage was a weak curse.

"Look, Josiah, tell me what the he…hell's going on!" Larabee snapped.

"Chris, you go busting open those stitches and I will be forced to keep you sedated until the wound is healed," Kojay warned and lifted the syringe so that his recalcitrant patient could see he meant business.

"Sonofabitch!" the blond spat, but lay back against the pillows. "All right, Josiah, fill me in on everything you've found out."

"We've been concentrating on Carl Adamson and believe he is the one behind his father's death and the attempt on your life…"

"Didn't we already decide Carl killed his father?" Larabee asked.

"Yes, we did, but we didn't really have the evidence…"

"Until now?" the blond asked hopefully, cursing when Kojay eased the bandage away from the wound on his chest.

"We still don't have the evidence we need for an arrest, but Ezra and JD were able to run a program that would alert them if Adamson tried to transfer a large sum of money to an unlisted account."

"Did it work?" Larabee asked.

"It worked better than they expected and they were able to use another program to interfere with the transactions."

"So he can't send the funds?"

"Exactly, and if he is trying to send payment to a hit man then said hit man is not going to be happy with the delay."

"He's going to come after Adamson," Larabee observed.

"And when he does we'll be waiting for him," Sanchez answered and saw the change in Larabee's demeanor as Kojay cleaned the area around the bullet wound.

"Chris, your temperature is up a little and I don't like your BP readings," Kojay warned.

"If you'd leave me alone my BP would be fine!" Larabee spat.

"Chris, calm down," Sanchez ordered.

"I can't calm down," Larabee snapped and suddenly seemed deflated. "I can't…not when everyone thinks I'm dead, Josiah. Nettie and Casey…"

"They'll understand, Chris," the ex-preacher offered.

"I know, but it doesn't make this any easier," the blond said softly.

"Chris, I am going to change the antibiotics and do a blood culture to make sure we are not in for any surprises," Kojay told him.

Chris knew there was nothing he could do and lay back against the pillows as Kojay took a swab from the wound and placed a sterile dressing over it. He closed his eyes and thought about the people who now thought he was dead and felt the guilt wash over him.

"Chris, there's nothing you can do about this," Sanchez offered. "Nettie and the others will understand."

"I know, Josiah, but it doesn't make this any easier," Larabee snapped.

"Chris, I am going to warm up some soup for you."

"I'm not hungry, Kojay."

"Chris, you need to eat," Kojay warned.

"I know, just not right now," Larabee said and closed his eyes. His mind took him places he really didn't want to go and yet, there was nothing he could do but ride out the images that flowed across his closed lids. Nettie Wells was someone who did not deserve what they were putting her through, but he understood the reason behind it. Keeping up appearances was important in any case and right now that's what his team was treating it as. He knew he would do the same thing, but it didn't make this any easier. He opened his eyes when he felt Kojay at the IV line and soon felt the lessening of pain as the heavy medication helped drag him under.


There were over a dozen people at Buck's Bar and Grill when Vin and Nettie entered and joined the group at the table Inez had set up. Nettie moved toward her niece and hugged her, fighting back the grief that threatened to manifest itself in full-blown tears.

"Aunt Nettie, I'm so sorry I wasn't here," Casey said.

"You couldn't have known this was going to happen, Casey," Nettie told her and moved to sit next to Rain who hugged her and reached for the box of tissues as Josiah joined them.

"Josiah, did you speak with Father O'Neill?" Buck asked.

"I have and he's making the arrangements for the service. I told him we'd like a full service with mass," Sanchez told them as Inez joined the group with the drinks they'd ordered.

"Buck, you're going to give the eulogy right?" Jackson asked.

"I guess…not sure what to say," Wilmington said.

"It will come to you, Buck," Nettie assured him.

"Nettie, would you do a reading from the Bible?" Tanner asked.

"Are you sure you want me to do that? Wouldn't it be better coming from you?" the elderly woman asked.

"I ain't much fer speakin' and I know this is what Chris would want. Yer as close ta family as he had," the Texan told her.

"I wish…" Nettie said, struggling to find the right words as Rain passed her the box of tissues. "Thank you."

"You're welcome, take your time, Nettie," Rain offered softly. God, it was hard not to blurt out the truth, but to do so could mean Chris Larabee's death and that was something they were trying to prevent.

"I want you all to know I'm closing the bar during the funeral and will only open the doors to those who knew Chris and want to talk about…about the things he did in his life," Inez told them.

"Thank you, Inez," Wilmington said, surprised when the woman reached out and took his hand in hers.

"It is the least I can do," Recillos told them.

Buck reached out and hugged the woman as tears threatened to spill, but she refused to let them fall as she looked around the table.

"I doubt there's anyone in this room who hasn't been touched by Chris Larabee. He is…was a good man and I wish…I wish he was here to see just how strongly we all feel about him," Inez said.

"Thanks, Inez," Wilmington said and kept the guilt of their deceit from showing as the others began discussing the funeral service and what was to happen afterward.


Carl Adamson cursed as he tried once more to make the transfer of funds, but no amount of cursing or threatening could make the computer do as he ordered. He'd been on the phone with the bank manager for nearly an hour, but the woman had no answer as to why his accounts were suddenly frozen.

"I'm sorry, Mr. Adamson, but there is nothing I can do until tomorrow. If you'd like to come in…"

"Tomorrow is too late! I need to make this transfer now or I stand to lose more than you'll ever know," Adamson snapped.

"Banking hours are…"

"I don't give a damn about banking hours! This is my money and if you're too stupid…"

"Excuse me, but insults will not get you the answers…"

"Look, get me someone who will get me answers or I'll make fucking…"

"Mr. Adamson, I am just doing my job…"

"Well, it's obvious the money they pay you is wasted!" Adamson said and heard the click of the phone and slammed it down before making his way to the window and staring out at the empty yard. "Goddamned bitch doesn't know who she's fucked with!"

"She is not the only one, Adamson."

"How the hell did you get in here?"

"Your security is a joke," Darcy said as he leaned against the doorframe. "Now as I see it you have two choices. You pay me the money you owe me or I kill you…which one do you prefer?"

"I am trying, Darcy, but my accounts are frozen. I've been on the phone all fucking day and can't get an answer from anyone!" Adamson said. "Just give me another day and I'll get you the funds!"

"You've already had more than enough time. Perhaps I should simply contact the police and tell them you hired me to get rid of Chris Larabee…"

"You can't do that!"

"Oh really?" Darcy said and smiled, a cold calculating grin that held little patience.

"Look, I have a couple of thousand dollars in the safe…"

"That's not what we agreed on, Mr. Adamson. In my business it does not pay to allow clients to negotiate their way out of a deal."

"That's not what I'm trying to do," Adamson said and hurried to a picture hanging behind his desk. "Look, just take this as a bonus and I'll pay the full amount as soon as my accounts are free and clear. I'll even add an extra $10,000 to your fee on top of the money I give you now."

"I didn't make my reputation by letting clients run the show, Mr. Adamson…"

"I know, but killing me now wouldn't get you your money," Carl said and worked the locking mechanism with trembling fingers. "I promise I'll have the money to you by tomorrow evening at the latest."

"You're already on shaky ground…"

Carl Adamson didn't hear the man as he stared at the small revolver he kept in the safe. There were two neat stacks of one hundred dollar bills at the back and other important papers including his father's will.

"I'm not a man you want as an enemy, Mr. Adamson…"

"Neither am I," Carl snarled and pulled out the gun. He turned and fired and felt something enter his upper chest even as the hit man stared at him, surprise etched on his face as blood seeped from a single wound in the center of his forehead as Darcy fell backward. He knew Marla and his mother were still out of the house and felt the pain the instant before the gun dropped from his own hand.

Carl leaned heavily against the desk and knew he needed help, but he had to fix things so that it looked like he'd been surprised by a burglar. He closed the safe and made sure the picture was back in place as he held his hand against the wound. His gun was on the floor beside him and he left it there as he called 911. It didn't take long to tell the operator what had happened and that the police and to learn that the ambulance were on the way.

"Carl, we're…oh God!" Marla Adamson said and dropped the shopping bags before placing her hand over her mouth as she looked from the dead man to her husband sitting behind the desk. "What happened?"

"Bur…glar," Adamson said and fought to stay conscious.

"Are you…" Marla didn't finish when she saw the blood on her husband's shirt. "Mother, bring me some towels!"

"Ambulance is o…on the way," Carl told her and allowed the darkness to claim him, but not before a relieved smile formed on his face.


Vin looked at the elderly woman whose face was drawn and eyes were rimmed with red. He knew she was fighting back the tears and silently cursed the decision to keep her in the dark about Larabee. They'd spent the last two hours at the church and visiting Sarah and Adam's graves. He'd listened as she cried out her sorrow over the two graves and forced himself to remain silent by reminding himself that Chris' life could very well depend on pulling off the funeral.

The next two days would be the hardest as the people who did know the truth would be forced to watch the sorrow on the faces of those who knew Chris Larabee. JD was driving Casey home and should already be at Nettie's place, leaving Vin to bring Nettie home. The woman was distraught and she'd asked him to help her choose the readings for the funeral. He drove into the yard, parked his jeep behind JD's car and turned to the woman who was as close to family as they came.

"Things will be okay, Miss Nettie," Vin said and wished he could wipe away the new lines etched in the woman's face. For the first time since he met her, Nettie Wells looked far beyond her age and he silently cursed the people who'd forced them into this position.

"I don't think so, Vin, not for a long time," Nettie said sadly as she walked dejectedly toward the house. She waited while Vin opened the door and hurried inside to find JD and Casey had a light dinner on the table.

"Aunt Nettie, I made tea," Casey said and hugged the elderly woman before leading her into the kitchen.

"Ain't sure this is the right thing, JD," Tanner said.

"I know, but what about the others? What about Chris...we tell Casey and Nettie the truth and they'll want to go see Chris," Dunne said.

"JD, Vin, are you coming?" Casey asked.

"We'll be right there," Dunne answered. "Come on, Vin, it won't be much longer…we'll catch the bastard and all this will be over."

"I hope so, JD, but would you be forgivin' if you were kept in the dark?"

"Probably not, but if it meant someone's life I'd understand," the Bostonian said and followed Tanner in to the kitchen.


After leaving the saloon, Buck and Ezra had gone back to the office. Ezra and JD had come up with a program that just might give them the answers they needed. The computer was running through the data correlating the information they had and flagging anything that might have come from one of Carl Adamson's accounts.

There were a total of five transactions that had been sent to Adamson's folder and Buck pulled his chair closer to Ezra's desk as the man opened it. The names displayed were the account holders, but both men knew they were probably aliases and would need to be tracked down before they found anything that would point to Carl Adamson.

"How long will it take to run down these names?" Wilmington asked.

"It depends on how bad they wanted to hide their true identities," Standish answered and tapped several keys as small windows opened and closed faster than Buck could read them.

"Jesus, Ezra, I'm no speed-reader," the rogue groused.

"Neither am I so I've ordered the computer to sift through the files we have and save any names that are in our ‘hired killer' database."

"How long will that take?"

"If I was Vulcan I would compute to the…"

"All right…I get it," Wilmington said exasperatedly and moved back to his own desk. "I'm going to call Kojay and check on Chris."


Chris could hear people talking, but lay still until footsteps approached his bed. It didn't surprise him when he opened his eyes and found Nathan Jackson standing there. "Tell me Nettie's okay, Nathan."

"I'd be lying if I did, Chris, but she'll understand," Jackson assured him.

"So everyone keeps telling me," Larabee grumbled and cursed the weakness that kept him on the bed. He lay back on the pillows and rubbed his eyes tiredly.

"We need to keep up appearances."

"Now you sound like Maude," the blond said. "How close are you to finding out who put the hit out on me?"

"We believe it was Carl Adamson, but he's covered his tracks. Ezra and JD wrote a program to sift through his accounts. Hopefully they'll have something concrete before the…before…"

"Before my funeral," Larabee spat and tried to sit up, gritting his teeth as he held his arm tight against his chest.

"Where do you think you're going, Chris?" Kojay asked upon joining Jackson at the bedside.

"I can't just lie here…"

"That's about all you can do right now, Chris," Jackson said and easily forced the injured man back down on the bed.

"Damn it, Nathan, I can't do this to Nettie…"

"She'll understand, Chris," the medic said and kept his hand on Larabee's shoulder.

"You already said that, Nathan," the blond snapped and again tried to sit forward, crying out as pain exploded in his chest.

"Chris, I warned you what would happen if you tried to move around too much! I believe it is time for you to sleep," Kojay warned and reached for the syringe he'd loaded earlier.

"Don't…look, Kojay, I can't do this to her," Larabee said, cursing as the elderly man injected the medication. He knew it wouldn't take long for it to work and glared at the two men.

"It will work out, Chris, just give us time to find the evidence against Adamson," Jackson said.

"By that time you'll have me d…dead and buried," Larabee said and turned away from the two men.

"Are we doing the right thing?" Jackson asked as Kojay straightened the blankets around the sleeping man.

"Do you believe the threat against his life is real?" Kojay asked.

"I know it is," the medic answered.

"Then you are doing what you must to protect him."

"The bastard deserves to pay for what he's done…not just to Chris, but to Nettie Wells and everyone who cares about Chris," Jackson said.

"You will find what you need, Nathan, and perhaps once this is over you can all celebrate his life instead of his death," Kojay said.

"Now that sounds like a good plan," the medic said and sighed tiredly as he settled in to watch over the injured blond.


Orin Travis flipped through the channels before settling on the local news. Evie sat next to him and he knew she was thinking about Chris Larabee. He fought the urge to tell her the truth and hoped she would forgive him when the time came. He'd called Buck and found out that they were close to finding out who Adamson was trying to pay off and hoped it would happen before they had to follow through on Larabee's fake funeral.

"Orin, are you all right?"

"I'm fine, Evie."

"I wish I could do something, Orin, I know what Chris meant to you," Evie said.

"Chris was a good man, Evie."

"I know," Evie said as tears formed in her eyes. They'd lost their only son several years ago and Chris Larabee had helped fill that void. It didn't mean that they'd forgotten Steven, just that they'd found a way to get beyond the tragedy and turn his memory into something that would help others. That had been the reason behind her husband's decision to form the agency that was now well known and highly regarded.

Orin felt her tremble and held her close as he listened to the reports of the day's news. He leaned forward as the anchorwoman spoke a familiar name.

"What's wrong, Orin?" Evie asked when he released his hold on her and turned up the volume.

"Hold on a minute," Travis said.

"…Carl Adamson was shot in his own home. The police say a man broke into the Adamson home and was shot when he surprised the homeowner…"

"I need to call Buck," Travis said and reached for the phone.

"Orin, what's going on?" Evie asked worriedly.

"It's a case they've been working on and might just be the break they need," Travis answered.

"Now…God, Orin, can't it wait until after the funeral?"

"Not this one, Evie…I'll explain it to you later," the former judge said and hit Wilmington's number as he walked out of the room.


Buck reached for his cell phone as Ezra continued to search through the files they'd been filtering. He frowned when he saw the familiar name and quickly pressed the button to accept the call. "Wilmington."

"Buck, where are you?"

"Ezra and I are at the office. What's going on?" the rogue asked. He'd picked up on something in Travis' voice and held up his hand to stop Ezra from asking him a question.

"There was a break in at the Adamson home. Carl Adamson was shot by a burglar."

"Is he dead?"

"I don't know, but the burglar was also shot."

"Did they give the identity of the burglar?" Wilmington asked.

"Not yet."

"I'll call Miller and find out," Buck said.

"Buck, this is too much of a coincidence. I believe we'll find a connection between Adamson and the burglar."

"You're probably right, Orin. Once I find out who shot Adamson I'll have Ezra run the name against the ones we have. Something tells me whoever the shooter was he's probably the same bastard who shot Chris," Wilmington advised.

"You keep me up to date on this."

"I will, Orin," the ladies' man said and hung up before explaining the conversation he'd just had with Travis. "I'm going to call Miller."

"I've got the filter running a check on Adamson's recent transactions and today there's been more than usual," Standish said and grew quiet as Wilmington spoke with the captain at the Billings' Police Department. Robert Miller was a good man and one they'd all worked closely with since joining The Firm. Unlike a lot of cops, Miller didn't resent their interest in police work, instead he asked them for advice and offered some in return.

"Thanks, Robert," Wilmington said and quickly wrote down the name. "I know and I'll make sure you're notified of the time for his funeral. Thanks again for all your help."

"Did you get a name?" Standish asked.

"Gregory Darcy," Wilmington answered and saw Ezra's eyes grow wide. "Tell me you got something?"

"I believe we have our hitman," Standish said and hit several keys until he brought up the pertinent file. "John Reinhold also known as Gregory Darcy. It seems the man wasn't quite as careful with his aliases as he should have been. Carl Adamson has been trying to transfer funds to an overseas account owned by John Reinhold."

"How do we know Reinhold and Darcy are the same man?"

"We don't until we check into a few other holdings, but my instincts tell me they are one and the same," Standish answered.

"Are there any pictures of Reinhold or Darcy?"

"Not that we could find, but I'm sure there'll be plenty in tomorrow's paper or on tonight's news broadcast. Let me run a couple of more programs here and see if I can find concrete proof that Reinhold and Darcy are one and the same."

"Work fast. The quicker we get this done the faster we can tell people the truth about Chris," Wilmington advised.

"It would indeed relieve everyone's mind if we did not have to proceed with the funeral arrangements," Standish said and turned back to the screen as he spoke. "Perhaps we should have Josiah and Nathan visit Mr. Adamson at the hospital."

Wilmington smiled at the idea. "They should definitely drop the names and just maybe they'll get a rise out of him."

"I should hope so," the conman said as Wilmington hit speed dial and waited for Sanchez to answer his call.


James Midland parked his vehicle in front of Chris Larabee's home, but didn't open the door. He leaned his head back and closed his eyes, reliving the moment when the shot had taken Chris Larabee down. It felt like a lifetime ago, and yet it wasn't even three full days since the shooting.

God, how could things have gone so bad so fast? Why couldn't he have seen what Terry and Warren were like before they'd nearly killed Larabee? How could he have been so blind to what they were really like? The problem was, he knew the answer to that because he was just as bad as they were. He'd been out for a thrill that day and now it looked like circumstances had led them all to this point.

James exited the vehicle and slammed the door closed as he walked along the path toward the barn where the horses were kept. He knew Vin Tanner had been out to care for them, but it still felt like it was something he owed Chris. He made sure Peso and Pony had plenty of feed and water before mucking out the stalls and rubbing down both animals.

Stacey was at work and he knew she was feeling the pain of losing not just a patient, but also a close friend. Chris had spent a lot of time under Stacey's care and once he met Larabee, he'd seen why she had so much respect for him and his team. He'd heard stories about The Magnificent Seven, and had quickly realized they were more than just stories. The Magnificent Seven went beyond the norm to make sure the city and the people who lived there were as safe as possible. Now that team was down a member, and he wondered if they could still do the same job with the same integrity and grit that followed the seven men.

With an angry curse, James walked back to his vehicle and drove toward the city, vowing that he would do everything in his power to follow in his sister's footsteps and make sure men like Chris Larabee had the best medical care available if they needed it.


Tanner made his excuses to Nettie Wells and told JD he was going to check on Chris' place before heading home for the night. He was honestly exhausted, but he knew if he did go to bed he'd lay awake staring at the ceiling. This case had left a bad taste in all their mouths, but there was no way to change what three kids playing with dynamite had put in motion. It was hard to believe that was less than a month ago.

Vin quickly checked both ranches before driving toward Kojay's clinic. God, he hoped and prayed they would not have to continue with this ruse much longer. He'd stopped at Delvecchio's and picked up three cups of coffee and several of the sweet pastries Kojay enjoyed. He drove along the deserted street and pulled into a parking spot not too far from the clinic. He didn't think anyone had followed him, but he sat where he was for several minutes before exiting the jeep and making his way to the clinic.

Tanner knocked lightly on the door and waited until Kojay opened it before entering and closing the door behind him. "How is he, Kojay?"

"He's running a fever, but he's lucid when he's awake."

"Is he awake now?"

"No, he overtaxed himself with Nathan earlier and is finally sleeping."

"Any idea what's causing the fever?"

"Hopefully it is just a result of being shot and the surgery. He is on a strong course of antibiotics and Tylenol. Hopefully nothing will show up in the swab I sent to the lab. We just have to keep an eye on him," Kojay answered as they walked in to the small lounge.

"Is Jake with him?"

"Yes, he is," Kojay said and watched as the younger man took a cup of coffee and one of the pastries before making his way toward the room they were using to treat Chris Larabee.

Vin could hear the clicks and beeps of various medical equipment as he neared the open door. He used his foot to open it the rest of the way and wasn't surprised to find Taylor standing in front of him with a gun held in his hands.

"Good way to get yourself shot, Vin," the ex-cop said and re-holstered his weapon before accepting the coffee and pastry. "Anything new to report?"

"Not yet, Buck and Ezra are working on something," Tanner explained and cursed when his phone began to ring and Larabee opened his eyes to half-mast. "Tanner."

"Vin, it's Buck, we may have caught a break? Where are you?"

"I'm at Kojay's. What's going on," the Texan said and knew there was no point in leaving the room because Larabee seemed hinged on his every word.

"Adamson was shot in his home this afternoon."

"Good riddance," Tanner said.

"I wish, but the bastard's not dead. He's at Saint Vincents. Josiah and Nathan are on their way there now."

"Keep me posted on what..."

"That's not all of it, Vin. It looks like Ezra's got us a name or two names in this case."

"The shooter?"

"We think so. We'll know more as soon as Ezra runs the two names through the database and after Josiah and Nathan question Adamson."

"That's good news, Buck. Keep me updated on what you find."

"I will...how's Chris?"

"Glaring green daggers at me right now so I'd better update him before Kojay decides to use restraints." Tanner placed the phone back in his pocked and turned his attention to the man on the bed. If anything, Larabee looked even worse than the last time he'd been here and Vin wondered if moving him had been the wrong thing to do.

"Spit it out, Vin," Larabee ordered.

"We may have caught a break," Tanner said and quickly relayed the info Buck had given him.

"How bad was Adamson hit?"

"I don't know. Buck will call back as soon as he hears from Josiah and Nathan," the Texan said.

"Damn it. I hate being out of the loop on this!"

"I know ya do, but right now ya don't got a choice, and neither do the rest of us."

"I need to..."

"Stay put and let the rest of us do our jobs," Tanner said when Larabee tried to sit forward.

"Damn it, Vin, I can't just lie here while you boys..."

"We ain't boys."

"I know that...and you know exactly what I meant," Larabee snapped. "Nettie..."

"Chris, if this goes the way I think it will we'll be able ta tell everyone yer alive and ornery as hell," Tanner said.


"Yer not goin' anywhere so suck it up, Larabee!" the Texan snarled as Kojay came into the room.

"Is there a problem?" the elderly man asked and looked at the monitoring equipment.

"Yes!" Vin answered.

"No!" was Chris' as he struggled to get out of the bed.

"Chris, if you insist on getting out of that bed then at least let me unhook the equipment."

"Kojay, you can't be serious!" Tanner snapped.

"On the contrary, Vin, I'm very serious. I will unhook all the tubes and leads and then Chris can get up."

"Thank you, Kojay," Larabee said and realized his mistake when the elderly man smiled.

"I would not thank me, Chris, you see once you try this fool-hardy task you will fall flat on your face. Then we'll put you back to bed...probably have to replace ruptured stitches and add on a few more days to your stay," Kojay explained and reached for the IV in Larabee's left hand.

"Sonofabitch!" Larabee cursed when he realized the man was right. Just sitting forward had taken every ounce of energy he had as he fell back against the pillows and cursed softly.

"I take it ya ain't doin' anythin' stupid," Tanner said.

"Shut up, Vin," Larabee said and stared into his best friend's eyes. "Get the bastard...I want this over!"

"We'll get 'im, Chris, ya got my word on that," Tanner said and awkwardly clasped the man's arm in their unique forearm grip.

"Good," was all the blond could manage as he pressed the button and listened while the pump delivered the medication that would take the physical pain away.


Josiah and Nathan were tired of waiting, but understood there was no way they'd get in to see Adamson until the doctor was finished with him. They'd managed to get a little information in that his injury, although serious, was not life threatening. The main concern the doctor's had was blood loss.

"Josiah, do you want a coffee?"

"Sounds good, Brother," Sanchez said and watched as Jackson left the waiting room. Josiah heard Robert Miller talking outside the room and couldn't help listening in when he heard him mention Adamson's wife. The woman was with her husband and had given her statement to the officers, but she really wasn't much help.

Josiah stood up and walked over to the door, and nodded to Miller as the man finished and came toward him.

"Josiah, I know you boys are working hard to try to find out who shot Chris and I want you to know we're doing everything we can to find the bastard too," Miller said.

"Thanks, Robert," Sanchez said. "Do you remember Craig Adamson's death?"

"It's still under investigation," Miller said.

"Are you looking at Carl Adamson as a suspect?"

"I can't really go into that, Josiah."

"I know, but the man Adamson put in the morgue."

"What about him?"

"His name is Gregory Darcy isn't it?"

"How did you find that out so fast?"

"We've been trying to find out who shot Chris and Carl Adamson was trying to transfer funds to an overseas account registered to a man named John Reinhold."

"Okay, so how does that tie in to Darcy?"

"We think Reinhold is an alias Darcy has used on several occasions."

"Do you have any proof?"

"Not yet. Buck and Ezra are working on it. If they find anything we'll contact you immediately."

"Do I even want to know how they found out this much?"

"No, you're probably better off not asking," Sanchez said as Jackson returned with two cups of coffee.

"I'll be in touch, Josiah...let me know when the funeral services are," Miller said and left the two men alone.

Josiah told Nathan exactly what he'd told Miller and what the police captain had told him. There wasn't much more they could do until they heard from Buck and Ezra.


Buck poured two cups of coffee and carried them to Ezra's desk. They'd been going through the files, searching for anything that would prove Carl Adamson had hired Gregory Darcy. They'd found several items that pointed to Darcy having served under a disgraced army captain named Emmet Riley Anderson. There were a few things about the man that pointed to him being dirty before he'd left the service because of the loss of an eye. "Maybe we should give it up for the night, Ezra."

"I can't help feeling we're close, Buck," Standish said and took a sip of the hot coffee. "There are files here that are protected and sealed, but I believe I will be able to get into them with a little more time."

"What kind of files?"

"Personal files from Darcy's computer. It seems the man has a back up of his files at one of those impenetrable servers."

"Impenetrable...you and I both know there's no such thing," Wilmington said.

"I just have to figure out his password," Standish said.

"I'm guessing you tried the obvious combinations?"

"You guessed right. I've gotten through several layers, but there's one that seems to be 'overkill'," the gambler said.

"Should we get JD back here?"

"No, I'll keep working on it for another hour and if I can't figure it out I'll shut it down and come at it with fresh eyes tomorrow," Standish said.

"All right...tell me what I can do to help."

"Take a look at his personal file and see if there's anything there that a man might use as a password for something he doesn't want seen," the gambler said.


Chris knew Jake Taylor was still in the room with him, but he wasn't in the mood for small talk. Since Vin had left he'd been thinking about his life and how it affected the people he cared about. He thought about Nettie Wells, and understood the reason for keeping his whereabouts secret, but he couldn't help worrying how his 'death' would effecting her.

Larabee knew there was nothing he could do about that now, but he vowed to find a way to make it up to her. He turned his head slightly and licked at dry lips, not all that surprised to see Kojay standing in the doorway.

"How do you feel, Chris?"

"Thirsty," Larabee answered, avoiding the answer he knew Kojay really wanted. The elderly man stepped into the room and poured water into a glass before holding it toward Larabee.

"I have your Tylenol here as well," Kojay said.

"I thought the IV was for pain meds," Larabee said.

"It is, but Tylenol will help keep the fever under control," Kojay answered and waited for the injured man to take the pills.

"What time is it?"

"Two in the morning. I would have thought you'd be sleeping."

"Too much on my mind," Larabee said.

"I could give you something to help you sleep."

"No. Too many heavy drugs as it is."

"Without the medication you would be in misery," Kojay said.

"I know, but I need to think...I need to figure this out so I can stop hurting the people I care about," Larabee said.

"None of this is your fault, Chris."

"Tell that to Nettie and Casey," the blond snapped and apologized immediately.

"Are you hungry?"

"Not right now, think I'll try and get some sleep," Larabee told him and closed his eyes. He thought it would take forever to fall asleep, but the medication and after effects of the trauma soon pulled him under.


Ezra could hear Buck snoring, and reached for his nearly empty cup of coffee. Wilmington had finally given up and crawled onto the couch in Larabee's office. That had been just after midnight and although he wanted to do the same, Ezra couldn't help thinking he was close to the answer.

Gregory Darcy was a man obsessed with guns and ammunition. He had a ten-year subscription to several militia magazines and was also an active member in two relatively unknown militia groups. It had taken Ezra two hours to correlate what information he did have and he realized several words and numbers stood out and when placed together he'd come up with a numerical pattern that matched the account Adamson had been trying to transfer funds to.

Ezra was a man who didn't believe in the impossible, and right now, after hours of working through numerous files, he was pretty sure he had the answer. All that remained was to put the password in and see if his 'luck' was as good as he thought it was. He'd been so used to seeing the words 'access denied' that it took several seconds to realize he was being prompted for his next move.

There were more than two dozen folders and sub-folders, most of them marked, but there were several that had been locked and Ezra knew his search was not quite finished as he searched through the unlocked folders. He found several that referenced his days under Anderson and quickly skimmed over the list of people he'd killed while employed as a sniper. The man had killed men, women, and sometimes children, and it sickened Ezra that someone could kill a child so heartlessly. He knew Vin had killed in the name of his country, but he also knew Tanner had never killed a child.

Standish heard movement from Larabee's office, but continued to work on what was in front of him. There were cryptic notes next to each person Darcy accredited to himself. What surprised Ezra, was the fact that unlike most snipers, Darcy often tried to meet his kills face to face. He also managed to snap several pictures of almost every victim.

Ezra took a deep breath and opened a folder dated less than a week ago. He wasn't surprised by what he saw, but he heard a sharp curse from the man who'd just came out of Larabee's office.

"Is that Chris?"

"It certainly appears to be our illustrious leader," Standish offered and zoomed in on several shots. "It appears Darcy enjoys watching his targets."

"Does it say anything about who hired him?"

"I believe that is what's hidden in the last folders. It's going to take me some time to get into them," Standish said.

"Maybe not," Wilmington said and pointed to a paragraph that was written on one of the pages Ezra had opened. There was something about it and he read the first letter of each word down and the last letter of the last word up. He knew if Ezra hadn't been so damn tired he would have seen it.

"What are you looking at so intensely?"

"Read this," Wilmington said when he wrote down the letters and numbers.

"Barrett MnineeightB...what is that?"

"Put it together. Barrett M98B."

"And that is?"

"One of the newer sniper rifles. Vin was showing me an article on them last month and he said this one was a thing of beauty," Wilmington said. "Why don't you see if that gets you into those locked files."

"It would make sense for him to keep a prompt," Standish said and keyed in the combination of letters and numbers. The folder opened and the two men looked at each other before reading the names and numbers written there. Chris Larabee's was the last one, followed by a number, and followed by the name Carl Adamson.

"We got the bastard!" Wilmington spat.

"Well said, now we just have to make sure this gets to the right people before Adamson decides to make his escape."

"I doubt he'll be going anywhere for about 25 years," Wilmington said. "Print all of it and let's take it to Travis. I'll call him now."

"We should inform Josiah and Nathan so they can keep Adamson from going anywhere," Standish said.

"I'll call them first," Wilmington said, relief evident in his voice as he hit the speed dial for Jackson's phone.


Carl Adamson lay back against the pillow with his eyes closed as his wife spoke to the doctor. The heavy drugs made it hard to think, but he felt the tension of the last few weeks ease with the death of Gregory Darcy. The bastard could not tell anyone what he'd done, and for now that meant there was no one who could link him to his father or Larabee's death.

"Carl, I'm going to take your mom home, but if you need anything tell them to call me."

"I don't think I'll do anything, but sleep, Marla," Carl told her and smiled when she placed a hand on his shoulder. "I'll see you in the morning."

"Actually, you'll see me later in the morning," Marla said and left the room.

Carl watched her leave and allowed the smile to form again at the thought of being in the clear. First thing tomorrow he was going to start taking control of everything in his life. With Darcy's death, he no longer had to worry about anything and it was time to celebrate the freedom that now belonged to him.

"Can't this wait until morning."

"I'm afraid not."

Carl looked toward the doorway as a police officer and two men entered the room. "I already gave my statement," he said.

"I understand that, Mr. Adamson, but we have a few more questions for you," Robert Miller said and pointed to the two men beside him. "This is Josiah Sanchez and Nathan Jackson...they work for an agency called The Firm."

"I'm sorry, but I can't think straight. What does this have to do with my being shot?"

"The man you shot tonight..."

"You mean the man who shot me?" Adamson interrupted.

"His name was Gregory Darcy," Jackson said.

"I'm glad he's been identified. Did you find out why he was at my house?"

"Probably came to pick up his fee," Sanchez told him.

"I have no idea what you're talking about," Adamson said.

"Gregory Darcy is a professional hitman," Jackson said and watched as the injured man tried to hide his surprise.

"Are you saying someone hire him to kill me?"

"No," Jackson answered. "Unless you paid for the hit on yourself."

"I have no idea what you're talking about," Adamson said.

"Buck Wilmington and Ezra Standish..."

"I'm sorry, Captain, am I supposed to know those names?"

"They work with us," Sanchez told him.

"Is that supposed to mean something to me?" Adamson asked.

"They were digging in to Chris Larabee's murder," Miller said.

"Chris Larabee?"

"Cut the crap, Adamson, we know you hired Darcy to kill Chris because you saw him as a threat," Jackson observed.

"I have no idea what you're talking about," Carl spat.

"Really, well, I'm sure your memory will be jogged when you see the copy of the report we've sent to the police," Sanchez said.

"What report?" Adamson said.

"Darcy kept meticulous records of his 'kills'," Sanchez answered.

"What does that have to do with me?"

"According to his records, you paid him to kill Chris Larabee," Jackson said.

"He lied," Adamson said.

"Somehow I doubt that very much," Sanchez said. "I'm sure the DA will be more than happy to discuss the matter with you further. Robert, I'll call you later."

"Thanks, Josiah...Nathan." Miller said and returned his attention to the injured man as two uniformed officers entered the room. "Carl Adamson, you're under arrest for conspiracy to commit murder..."

"We need to get together with the others," Jackson said once they were in the elevator.

"I told Buck we'd meet them at Kojay's clinic. Buck said he'd call Travis," Sanchez told him.

"What about JD and Vin?"

"Vin's already on his way to the clinic. JD's staying with Nettie and Casey so we'll call him once we decide what to do," Sanchez said as they exited the elevator and hurried toward the parking lot.


Kojay opened the door, not really surprised to find Vin Tanner standing there, what did surprise him was the hint of a smile on the man's face. "Has something happened?"

"Ya could say that," Tanner said and followed the older man into the kitchen. "How's Chris?"

"He is sleeping, but his fever is still too high," Kojay answered and poured two cups of coffee. "Tell me what has happened."

"Buck and Ezra found proof that Carl Adamson hired the hitman to kill Chris," the Texan went on to explain what the two men had done to get what they needed and that Adamson was now under arrest for conspiracy to commit murder amongst other charges.

"So Chris is no longer in danger?"

"No, not from Adamson or his hitman anyway," Tanner answered.

"Then I would like to have him transferred back to the hospital," Kojay said and saw the frown on the Texan's face. "It is better for him there since they have the equipment necessary to perform the tests he may need if this fever continues to be a problem."

"We need ta hold off on that fer a little longer."

"I don't know if that is wise, Vin. This fever has me worried and I do not have the right equipment for a man in Chris' condition. It was adequate when there was a threat to his life, but now it is no longer necessary to keep him from the help he needs," Kojay told him.

"Can we wait until the others get here? We'll know for sure if Chris' out of danger," Tanner said.

"It will take time to set up the transfer and make sure Stacey Midland is ready for him. I believe that will give you a couple of hours," Kojay told him as the door opened allowing Josiah and Nathan to enter the room.

"How's Chris?" Jackson asked and moved to the coffeepot.

"He has a fever. Kojay wants to get him back to Saint Vincents," Tanner answered.

"Is it that bad, Kojay?" the medic asked.

"I believe it is. The Tylenol works for a while, but the fever is persistent and could signal an infection somewhere," Kojay told them. "I was about to call for an ambulance."

Nathan nodded and placed his cup on the counter before heading toward the room where Larabee was a patient. He nodded to Jake Taylor before looking at the monitors and sighed worriedly as the others joined him. He knew Kojay was right and cursed the circumstances that had forced them to move Larabee in the first place. He looked at the blond's face, worried about the gaunt features and flushed cheeks.

"The ambulance will be here in an hour. There's been an accident and several vehicles are involved," Kojay told them and moved to the bed when a soft moan escaped the slack lips and green eyes opened to half-mast. "Chris, why don't you push that button and let the medication do what it's meant to do?"

"I'm okay," Larabee lied and looked at the other men in the room. "Never saw a sorrier looking bunch since Ezra wiped them out in a poker game."

"Ezra's always wipin' us out," Tanner said with a hint of a smile. "Got some news fer ya, Cowboy."

"Do I want to hear it?" the injured blond asked.

"Think so. Buck and Ezra found the proof that Adamson hired Darcy to kill ya," Tanner said.

"Tell me you called Nettie," Larabee said and fought to sit up.

"Not yet..."

"Why the hell not? She needs to know, Vin!"

"I know she does, Chris, and as soon's the ambulance gets here..."

"Ambulance? For what?" Larabee snapped.

"Chris, I want you to calm down and listen," Kojay ordered and moved to the opposite side of the bed. "The ambulance will take you back to Saint Vincents, because you need several tests to find out where this fever is coming from."

"I'm fine..."

"No, actually you're Fubar," Wilmington said from the doorway where he and Ezra had been listening to the conversation, relieved when he saw a hint of a smile on Larabee's face. "Now you know what that meant when we were on the TEAMs so don't think you can fool anyone with the old 'I'm fine' routine. No one believed it then and no one believes it now."



"Now that I believe," Wilmington said, and placed a calming hand on Larabee's shoulder. "Look, Pard, go to the hospital and we'll bring Nettie and Casey there. I guarantee it's a trip she'll be happy to make."

Chris knew his long time friend was right and leaned back against the pillow with a heavy sigh. His chest hurt and his hand found its way to the small box and he pressed it. He knew it wouldn't be long before the medication did its job and he'd probably drift off to sleep, but he needed to know they would take care of Nettie Wells.

"Don't worry, Chris, I'll head on over ta Miss Nettie's..."

"Now," Larabee told him.

"All right," the Texan said and turned to the others. "I'll see ya at the hospital."

"Thanks, Vin," the injured blond said and closed his eyes. He heard them talking in hushed tones, but didn't have the energy to open his eyes. He jolted awake when someone touched his arm and was surprised to see two paramedics in the room with Kojay.

"Chris, We are going to get you on to the gurney. You just relax and let us do all the work," Kojay ordered.

Chris nodded his head and clenched his fists at his side as the two strong men used the sheet he lay on to move him from the bed to the gurney. He licked at dry lips, and bit back a cry of pain as nausea churned through his gut.

"Easy," Kojay warned as they settled the injured man and covered him with a blanket. He'd been watching the monitors and knew Larabee was fighting to stay quiet during the move. He helped the two men secure the patient to the bed and moved to the side as they hooked up the mobile equipment.

"Hey, Doc, are you coming with us?" the redheaded paramedic asked.

"Yes, I will," Kojay answered. He knew once they reached Saint Vincents they'd need to go through proper channels, and he was glad that so far the reporters had not gotten wind that Chris Larabee was not as dead as the reports suggested. He looked at Larabee's face and knew the man was sleeping and hoped he stayed that way until they had him settled in a room at the hospital.


Nettie Wells sat at the table, slowly paging through the album that had once belonged to her niece. Sarah had painstakingly gone through all her photos, from the day she'd married Chris Larabee up until the County Fair. That was the last time they'd really been together, because Ella Gaines had been an obsessed woman who murdered Sarah and Adam and nearly killed Chris as well. The woman was still out there somewhere, and Nettie hoped someday she would pay for what she'd done. The problem was, even if she did, it would not bring her family back to her.

"Aunt Nettie, did you get any sleep?" Casey asked as she poured three cups of coffee.

"Not really," Nettie answered honestly as she pushed the album away and used a tissue to wipe the tears from her eyes. "Where's JD?"

"He's getting dressed," Casey told her and moved to the window when she heard the sound of a car pull to a stop outside. "Vin's here."

"He said he'd be out early. We have to meet with the funeral director and I want to speak with Father Thomas," Nettie explained.

"Do you want me to come with you?" Casey asked.

"No, Child, but I would like you to stop by the flower shop and make sure they have enough Roses for the spray I want," Nettie said as the front door opened and she heard voices from the other room. She stood up and hugged the Texan when he and JD came into the kitchen. "I'll be ready in a couple of minutes, Vin."

"Miss Nettie, we need to talk," Tanner said and took her hands. "Why don't you sit down for a minute."

"Oh , no. Please tell me nothing else has happened," the elderly woman said, swallowing as Casey came over and wrapped her arm around her.

"No, nothing else happened, but I have some news."

"Unless you're gonna tell me that the last three days didn't happen then..."

"I can't do that...leastways not all of it, but Chris ain't dead, Miss Nettie..."


"Listen to me. Chris ain't dead. We had to make sure everyone believed he was so that we could keep him safe until we found the proof we needed," Dunne finished as Casey's face was set with anger.

"You didn't trust us, JD?" Casey asked.

"No, that's not why we did it, Casey," Dunne said and reached for her hand, but she pulled it away and glared at him. "The fewer people who knew that Chris was alive the better. We couldn't take a chance that someone would let it slip..."

"So it was better to make us think Chris was dead? How could you put us through that, JD?" Casey's voice was edged with anger as she stared at JD.

"Casey, it doesn't matter why they did it," Nettie told her as tears shone in her eyes. "The only thing that matters is that Chris is alive. Where is he, Vin?"

"Kojay was taking care of him at the clinic until we could get the evidence on Adamson. They were getting him ready to transport to Saint Vincents. He was shot and the injuries are serious, Miss Nettie."

"Did Chris know?" the elderly woman asked.

"No," Tanner answered and saw the disappointment in her eyes. "I'm sorry, Miss Nettie, I wish there'd been another way."

"I do too," Nettie said. She understood why they'd kept her in the dark, but it didn't change the fact that she'd honestly thought Chris was dead. "I won't tell you I don't feel angry, Vin, but I do understand."

"I don't blame you for bein' angry," Tanner said and handed the woman her sweater as she headed for the door.

"We need to make some phone calls, but first I want to see Chris," Nettie said and motioned for Casey to follow her.


Stacey Midland knew it wouldn't be long before the reporters got wind that Chris Larabee was not as dead as they'd been led to believe. She wanted him settled in a room with strict limitations on who could visit him until she was sure he was up to what was sure to be a media circus.

So far they'd been lucky and Midland prayed it continued that way as the ambulance pulled into the ER bay. She moved to the back doors as they opened and nodded to Kojay as an orderly joined them and helped ease the gurney from the vehicle. Her eyes swept across the monitors before settling on the pale features bathed in sweat.

"Where would you like him, Stacey?" Kojay asked.

"Trauma One," Midland answered and helped maneuver the gurney through the main doors and in to the ER. She watched Larabee's face, shaking her head when the stubborn man opened his eyes and looked at her. "Welcome back, Chris."

"Thanks, Doc," Larabee said and closed his eyes as they shifted him from one gurney to another inside the trauma room. God, he was so damn tired of all this and couldn't wait to go home.

"Chris, we're going to run some tests before we get you settled in a room," Midland explained as Kojay handed her the chart with the treatments Chris had received at his clinic. She went over everything as a nurse took several vials of blood from the injured man before leaving the room.

"Stacey, I have several early appointments today so I'll talk to you later," Kojay said.

"Thanks, Kojay, I'll call you when we get the test results," Midland explained and listened while Kojay told Chris he would check on him later.

"Does James know?" Larabee asked her.

"Not yet," Midland answered. "I couldn't tell him."

"He'll understand, Doc. James is smart...like his sister," the blond said and closed his eyes as the call of sleep became too much for him to ignore.


Stacey Midland looked at the results of the blood work; concerned that Larabee's fever was so persistent. He'd been moved to a room on the third floor, but until everyone was notified, his new status would be kept secret. She heard footsteps coming toward her and silently cursed that she hadn't taken the time to call her brother.

"Stacey, are we going to lunch?"

"James, I'm sorry, I totally forgot. We've had an influx of patients and I can't get away yet," Midland told him.

"That's okay...I'll come back later," James said and placed his hands in his pocket.

"James, come with me."

"Where," the young man asked.

"To the doctor's lounge. We need to talk."

"Did I do something wrong?"

"No, I did," Midland said and took his arm. She led him to the small lounge and poured two cups of strong coffee.

"What's wrong, Stacey?" James asked, concern evident in his voice.

"James, you know I trust you, right?"

"I know," the young man said with a frown.

"Sometimes we're forced to keep things from people we trust."

"Stacey, is something wrong with you? Are you ill?"

"No, it has nothing to do with you or me," Midland assured her brother. "There's no easy way to say this, but if I tell you it stays between us until the official announcement."

"Okay," James said, confused by his sister's choice of words.

"James," Stacey said, placing her cup on the table and taking his hands in hers. "Chris Larabee is not dead."

"What...what did you just say?"

"You heard me, Chris is not dead, but he is in bad shape and I'm sorry I couldn't tell you before now, but his life was in danger. It was a necessary ruse so his team could find the evidence to arrest the man behind it. I wish I could have told you, but it was best to keep everyone in the dark. You can shout at me..."

"No, no shouting," James said with a slight smile. "Chris is alive."

"Yes, he is."

"Can I see him?"

"Not yet. He needs his rest and right now it's family only," Stacey explained.

"Will he be all right?"

"If he listens and does what he's supposed to do, but it's going to take time."

"When can I see him?"

"Maybe tomorrow, but check with me first, okay?"

"Chris is alive," James said with a hint of a relieved smile. "Doesn't this call for a celebration?"

"It does...pizza and wings tonight...my treat," Stacey said and hugged her brother, relieved that he wasn't angry at the deceit. "I'd better get back to work, but I'll be home around five and we can order in."

"Thanks, Stacey...I'll grab some donuts from Delvechio's," James said and followed his sister from the room. He was upset about being kept in the dark, but he knew his sister had done what she needed to do. At least Chris Larabee was alive and with Stacey taking care of him, James had no doubt that he would recover.


Nettie Wells took a deep breath before pushing open the door to Room 320. It was at the end of the hall, but close to the nursing station and she knew they were keeping a close watch on Chris Larabee. She'd spoken with Stacey Midland and knew the woman was worried about the fever.

Nettie entered the room and studied the man whose pale face was turned toward her. The fact that he looked like hell was nothing compared to the fact that he was alive. She eased the door closed and walked slowly to the bed, sinking tiredly onto the chair by the window. She couldn't take her eyes from the man's face as tears slipped unchecked down her cheeks.

Nettie wanted to touch him, to feel the warmth of his body, to reassure herself that all of this was real, and that Chris Larabee was alive. She closed her eyes and thought about the last week and how hard she'd taken his death and knew she could forgive Vin and the others for keeping this from her. A soft sob escaped and she reached for a tissue, but stopped when a sound reached her ears.

"Nettie," Chris whispered and reached through the rail to take her hand. He'd been awake the minute she'd pushed open the door, but didn't really have the strength to speak until now.

"God, Chris, I thought...I thought..."

"I know...and I'm sorry," Larabee told her.

"You have nothing to be sorry for," Nettie said. "None of you do, but that doesn't mean I'm going to let them off easily...it'll just have to wait until I'm ready to give them a piece of my mind."

"I'm glad I won't be on the receiving end," Larabee said and sighed as she stood, leaned over the bed and kissed his cheek.

"I'm just glad the news of your death was wrong."

"You and me both," the injured blond said.

"You look like hell, but at least you're alive," Nettie observed and ran her fingers through his stiff blond hair. She looked into his eyes and knew he was fighting to stay awake. "Go ahead and sleep, Chris, I'll be here when you wake up."

"Thanks, Nettie," Larabee said and sighed as his eyes closed.

Nettie heard the difference in his breathing and knew he was sleeping as she moved to the window. She allowed the relief to wash over her and felt her body tremble as she sat down. Her eyes were drawn to the sleeping man and she vowed he would take the time to heal no matter how hard he fought her.


Buck and Ezra knew their luck had finally run out, but it didn't matter how many reporters wanted to talk to them, they'd make damn sure they stayed away from Chris' room.

"Come on, Buck, just a couple of questions," a female reporter tried.

"Marcia, you know damn well it'll wind up being a lot more than that," Wilmington told her and made sure the reporter could not get past him.

"How is Larabee?" another reporter asked.

"Chris is recovering," Standish answered simply.

"Can we see him?" Marcia asked.

"No," Buck and Ezra answered as one.

"Come on...doesn't he want to tell his story?" a third reporter asked.

"He will, once he is sufficiently recovered," the gambler told them.

"Excuse me, but this is a hospital and you people are disturbing the patients," Stacey Midland warned when she saw the group of people near Larabee's room.

"The people have a right to hear Larabee's Lazarus story," Marcia Wallace snapped.

"Chris has the right to privacy while he is recovering," Midland snapped. "Now, the way I see it there are two ways this can go. You leave quietly now or I have security escort you out. If you force me to choose the latter I assure you it will be a long time before any of you are allowed back through the doors."

"A threat, Dr. Midland?" a male reporter asked.

"No, a promise, now get out of here," Midland ordered. She watched them leave amidst a jumble of whispered cursing and microphone squabble before turning to Wilmington and Standish. "You do realize visiting hours don't start for another hour?"

"Yeah, well, you know Chris is still..."

"Don't say it, Buck," Midland warned, but the hint of a smile formed on her face. "I know damn well he's no longer under protective custody, except by his own bunch of broody hens..."

"I take offense at that reference, Dr. Midland," Standish said.

"Me too," Wilmington told her. "Hens are female and I can assure you I'm not qualified or equipped to be that gender."

"I could fix that, Buck," Midland teased and moved to the door of Larabee's room. "Now I need to examine my patient, so you might as well go get a cup of coffee because this will take some time."

"Come on, Ezra, I'll even let you buy me a coffee," Wilmington said.

"Why am I the lucky one?"

"I don't know...maybe it's because I know how hard that heavy wallet is on your back," Wilmington said as they headed toward the elevators.

Stacey Midland chuckled softly at the conversation between the two men and allowed the door to close before heading for the single bed next to the window. Larabee's temperature was down, but it was still high enough to worry her and she'd ordered more blood work and wanted to check the bullet wound and get an x-ray of the injured leg in case something was happening there. It didn't surprise her in the least to find Larabee watching her.

"You're here early, Doc," the injured blond managed,

"Not that early, Chris," Midland said.

"What time is it?" Larabee asked and shifted slightly on the bed.

"It's a little after 10 in the morning. You've been asleep for nearly 24 hours," the physician explained.

"Damn, someone could have woke me."

"What for? Sleep is something you obviously need so relax and enjoy not having to worry about anything."

"I need to get out of here," Larabee said.

"And go where?"

"Home," the blond told her.

"I can't say as I blame you, but until we get your fever under control I'm afraid you're staying put," Midland said as a nurse came in carrying a tray. "I took the liberty of ordering you a light tray, Chris, and I want you to eat as much as you can."

"Dr. Midland, the latest blood work results are back," Cassie O'Brien said as she pushed the tray table across the bed and helped the injured blond sit up further in the bed.

"Thanks, Cassie," Midland said and took the chart from her. She studied the results for several seconds before turning her attention back to the patient. "How do you really feel, Chris, and please, none of that macho 'I'm fine' since we both know you're not."

"Hell, Doc, I'm not fine, but I'm alive."

"Yes, well, all things considered that is good for your health."

"What would be even better for my health is if you'd send me home."

"I can't do that until we find out what's causing the fever."

"Let me see...I think I was shot...not sure how long ago that was," Larabee stated.

"Close to a week, and you lost a lot of blood. You've been through a lot in the last six weeks..."

"Six weeks? Does that mean this damn cast can come off?"

"That depends on Dr. Thompson. He'll be in later today and will check the results of the x-rays that were done yesterday."

"I had x-rays yesterday?"

"And several other tests. You slept through them all," Midland explained.

"Damn," the blond said and smiled when a woman appeared in the doorway.

"Am I interrupting?"

"Not at all, Mrs. Wells," Midland said and looked at her patient. "I'll check back with you after Dr. Thompson has seen you."

"Thanks, Doc," Larabee said. "Hi Nettie."

"Good morning, Chris," the elderly woman said and nodded to Midland as she and the nurse left her alone with Larabee. She'd done a lot of thinking through the night and decided she could forgive Vin and the others for keeping her in the dark, because Chris was alive. That was all that counted right now. "How do you feel?"

"I'm okay, Nettie," Larabee said as she moved to the opposite side of the bed.

"I'd be more inclined to believe you if you didn't look like somethin' the cat dragged in," Nettie observed.

"I'm sorry for what you went through."

"Don't be. I did a lot of thinkin' and I understand why it was done. I'm just glad I'm visiting you in the hospital and not at a grave," the elderly woman told him and reached over the rail to place her hand on his shoulder as tears glistened in her eyes. "We thought we'd lost you."

"I know, Nettie, and I wish there'd been some other way."

"There wasn't and it's all water under the bridge now, so you need to concentrate on getting better. I'm going to have some things moved out to your place..."

"You don't have to do that," Larabee said, but deep down he knew it was a moot point because she would be there when he was released no matter how much he protested. "Thanks, Nettie."

"You're welcome. I'll go out to your place today and see what we'll need," Nettie told him.

"Can we come in?" Vin asked from the open doorway.

"Chris, are you up for company?" Nettie asked.

"Depends on whether Ezra brought some of that good coffee of his," Larabee said.

"I was told I would be barred from the hospital if I attempted to bring anything without consulting with Dr. Midland. As soon as she clears it I will bring you my specialty," Standish said.

"Chris, I'm going to go help with the children in Pediatrics, but if you need anything just have me paged."

"I will, thanks, Nettie."

"You're welcome," Nettie said and turned to face the six men who'd entered the room. She knew by the way they hung their heads and couldn't quite look at her that they were feeling guilty for lying to her. "You have no reason to hang your heads. I may have been angry at first, but I've come to realize you did what you had to do to keep Chris safe. Now, that's all I'm going to say on the matter and I know everyone else feels the same way."

"Thanks, Miss Nettie," Tanner said.

"You can all thank me by helping me get Chris' place ready for his homecoming. We'll need to make sure everything is clean and the cupboards are stocked. We can meet later today if you're all available."

"At The Saloon?" Wilmington asked.

"What time..."

"Chris, you won't be there," Nettie said and smiled. "The Saloon at seven."

"We'll be there," Tanner said.

"Good. Chris, I'll stop by later. Boys, don't stay too long," the feisty woman ordered and left the room.

Chris looked at his team, and knew the guilt they harbored at keeping Nettie and so many others in the dark was not so easily assuaged. It would take time, but that was something they had thanks to the plan they'd put in motion. He heard the pump kick in and knew it had just delivered the prescribed pain medication and sighed tiredly while it eased away the pain.

"We should let him rest," Jackson said as the lids dropped over the glazed green eyes.

"I'm good," Larabee said, but his voice was so soft they knew he'd be asleep before they left the room.

In the hall outside Chris' room Dunne said, "Someone should make sure the reporters don't barge in on him."

"I can stay with him," James Midland told them.

"James, we can't ask you to do that," Tanner said.

"You didn't ask, I offered. Look, you can trust me, Vin."

"I know we can, James, but can you handle things if reporters show up?" the Texan asked.

"I can and if not I'll call security," Midland told them.

"That's about all any of us can do," Jackson said and looked at the young man. "James, just make sure you call security if they try anything."

"I will, Nathan," Midland said and moved to the door. He stepped into the room and his breath caught when he saw the pale figure on the bed. He couldn't help feeling guilty for his part in putting Chris Larabee in this position no matter how many times Larabee and his friends told him otherwise.

James sat in the chair by the window and discreetly reached for the headphones before turning on the television. There wasn't much on, but he settled on a channel that showed the news and wasn't surprised that the lead story dealt with the fact that Chris Larabee was alive.

The nurse came in several times during the morning and brought him a can of soda at one time. His stomach rumbled and he heard a soft chuckle from the bed and was surprised to find Larabee watching him. "Hey, Chris, can I get you anything?"

"Water," Larabee answered and adjusted the controls on the bed so he was sitting up a little more. He took the glass and took several sips before placing it on the table. "Shouldn't you be in school?"

"Holidays, Midland answered.

"Don't you have better things to do than sit here and watch me sleep?"


"Come on, James, there's got to be a girl you're interested in?"

"There is, but she understands. Besides I told Vin I'd stay here and watch out for you."

"Why...I thought the threat was over?" Larabee asked, frowning as he tried to remember everything that had happened.

"It is, but the reporters are trying to get in."

"Oh, hell, that's a fate worse than death," Larabee said and saw the shock on the young man's face. "Shit, sorry, James, I didn't mean..."

"Don't apologize, Chris," Midland told him, surprised when the door opened and Orin Travis entered the room. "I'll go grab something to eat and be back in a few minutes."

"Thank you, James," Travis said and turned his attention to the injured man. "Chris, I wanted to come by and tell you not to be angry with your team. I set things in motion and they had no idea what was going on. I wanted them to be believable when the reporters interviewed them."

"I understand, Orin, just hard knowing so many people were hurt because of Adamson," Larabee said.

"I know, but he's been charged with his father's murder and conspiracy to commit murder," Travis went on to explain that Adamson had been denied bail and would remain in jail until the trial. When James returned he smiled and shook Larabee's hand. "You take the time you need to heal, Chris...let your team do the leg work until Stacey clears you for active duty."

"I hear you, Orin," Larabee said and drifted toward sleep as James took the seat by the window.


It was a week later when Vin picked Chris up from the hospital and drove him home. The blond was in the passenger seat with his head tilted toward the window. He'd fallen asleep just after they picked up his prescriptions and reached the outskirts of the city. Larabee's long legs were stretched out in front of him and the cast had been removed the day before, but he would need to use a cane and make sure he kept his physiotherapy appointments. The fever had finally broken two days ago and his blood tests were clear, so Stacey Midland and Greg Thompson had both cleared him for release this morning.

Vin turned to glance at his friend and wasn't surprised when his eyes shot open the instant he turned onto the gravel driveway. "We're here, Cowboy."

"Thank God...did you have to hit every pothole?"

"Tried to, but some of 'em were on the other side," Tanner said with a grin. "Come on, Ol' Man, let's get'cha inside."

"Keep it up and I'll get my gun," Larabee warned as the Texan hurried around the jeep and opened the door for him.

"Ya prob'ly couldn't even lift it," Tanner told him and handed his friend the cane.

"Thanks," Larabee said and headed toward the path that led to the back of the house.

"Going somewhere, Chris?"

"Hi, Nettie," Larabee said smiling as he turned and sheepishly made his way toward the front door. He heard Tanner chuckle softly and glared at him before stepping into the house. The smell of fresh baked bread was the first thing that hit him and his stomach rumbled in anticipation.

"Hi, Chris," Casey Wells said as Larabee made his way into the kitchen.

"Hi, Casey," Larabee said and sat down at the breakfast nook.

"Are you hungry?"

"A little...any coffee?" the blond asked.

"Sure, Ezra dropped off some of his special brew so give me a couple of minutes to set up the coffee pot," Casey told him.

"Chris, I gotta get to work, but James is taking care of Pony," Tanner explained.

"Thanks for picking me up, Vin," Larabee said.


"Vin, I'm making chicken and dumplings if you want to stop in for dinner," Nettie offered.

"Ya mind, Chris?"

"Not if Nettie doubles the recipe," Larabee said.

"I think we have everything we need for that," the elderly woman said and moved to sit beside the injured man. "Chris, you need to eat."

"I'll see ya later," Tanner said and swiped two muffins from the tray Casey placed on the table before leaving the trio alone.

Chris shook his head as Nettie buttered one of the warm blueberry muffins and placed it in front of him. He smiled and bit into it, sighing contentedly as his taste buds enjoyed the experience. Casey poured four cups of coffee as James Midland joined them. "How's Pony?"

"He's good. I took him for a run this morning, but I bet he'll be happier when you're able to ride him again," Midland said and thanked Casey when she passed him the sugar and cream.

"James, Stacey told me you are going to enroll in med school," Nettie observed.

"I am," James said.

"That's great, James," Casey said. "If there's anything I can do to help just let me know."

"I will...thanks, Casey," the young man said.

"Chris, why don't you finish that and go lie down for a while," Nettie suggested.

"I'm good, Nettie, but I might just take advantage of that hammock and read for a little while," Larabee said of the new addition to his patio. He stood up, reached for the cane and wasn't surprised when James took his coffee cup and carried it outside. Chris sat on the hammock and lay back, basking in the warmth of the sun on his face.

"Chris, I told Stacey I'd meet her when she finished her shift, but if you need anything..."

"I'm good, James, go meet your sister and tell her I'm doing exactly what she said."

"You want me to lie?" Midland teased.

"No, she told me to rest and that's exactly what I'm going to do, and James?"

"Yes, Chris?"

"I'm glad you're following in your sister's footsteps. She's one hell of a role model," Larabee said.

"Yes, she is," Midland agreed. "I'm not a kid anymore."

"Chalk it up to lessons learned, James," Larabee said and closed his eyes as Midland walked back into the house. James Midland had come a long way since that day in the old quarry with Terry Lawson and Warren Baker. The latter two still had some lessons to learn before they were half the men James was proving to be. He sighed tiredly as sleep reached out for him and he knew there'd be many more lessons learned in their lifetimes, he just hoped they were smart enough to learn them as James Midland had.

The End

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