Vin walked into the bullpen where JD and Buck were shooting rubber bands at each other. Josiah sat at his desk reading the paper while Nathan scolded the combatants. They were waiting for Ezra to return from lunch. The Southerner had insisted that the sustenance adequate enough to fortify him for the coming ordeal could be obtained only at an exclusive French restaurant clear on the other side of town.
Chris stepped out of his office and looked around
"He ain't here yet?" Chris asked.
"Nope," Vin smiled. "But it takes awhile to pull all them snails outa their shells."
"Well he gets ten more minutes then we're leaving," Chris grumbled. "The sooner we get this over with, the better."
"Here he comes," JD announced as he saw Ezra exit the elevator.
"Let's go," Chris grunted to the others, grabbing his jacket.
No one moved. No one was in a hurry to face the task before them, even if the cause was worthwhile, and even if it meant the rest of the afternoon off.
Chris glared at them, and reluctantly, they filed out of the bullpen, Buck pulling Ezra back into the elevator he had just exited. Chris glared at Ezra, too, just so he wouldn't feel left out.
Chris hid his misgivings about the upcoming mission well. He knew his men, and he knew their limitatons and capabilities. But the idea for them to do this as a team had been Nettie's. Damn the woman. She knew none of them would dare say 'no' - especially since she asked them as a group. How would it look if one of them had declined?
It was decided that Nathan and Josiah would drive. Vin chose to go with Josiah since Chris was riding with him. JD went with them also to get away from Buck's lecturing him on what to expect, thinking that he never should have admitted that he hadn't done this before.
Josiah led the way as Vin gave him directions to the community center in Purgatorio. As they pulled into the parking lot a bright banner flapped in the breezing announcing the Red Cross blood drive. Since it was a mild day, a table had been set up outside where donations were being collected for a group of families who had lost all of their belongings in a recent apartment fire in the neighborhood.
Josiah was reaching for his wallet when Vin stopped him.
"Not here," he said and jerked his head slightly to the left. Standing across the street was a trio of tough-looking youths. They were dressed like gangbangers, but weren't wearing any colors that Vin could see.
"Ma'am you got any money in that box?" Vin asked.
"Yes," she said nervously.
"Best let us take it inside for you," Josiah offered.
"Thank you," she said handing him the money. "I didn't even notice them."
"It's all right ma'am, I know them," Vin said. "Think I'll have a talk with them."
Chris made a move to follow Vin, but Josiah stopped him. They watched as Vin approached the three young men. They could hear them arguing in Spanish. One went to take a swing at Vin and he grabbed the kid in a wristbreaker and forced him to his knees. After a brief conversation, Vin released his grip, and returned to the table with the wannabe gangster and his friends grudgingly following him
"Looks like you have three more donors, ma'am," Vin said as he motioned to the boys.
The volunteer looked uncertain, but forced a smile and said "Welcome, gentlemen, let me show how to sign up.
She led them away and Josiah gave the money to one of the other workers and suggested that there always be two outside. They took his advice and one of the men went out to the table. The center was busy, as a number of people from the community were there to give blood. Team 7 walked in and was immediately noticed by one of the volunteer nurses.
"Vin Tanner is that you?"
"Carmen," Vin said as she came over and gave him a hug.
"You came to give blood?" she asked. "Or just to make my young nurses swoon?"
"To give blood ma'am," Vin replied with a shy smile then quickly turned to the others. "Brought some friends with me."
"The more the merrier," Carmen said as she passed out a clipboard to each man with a medical information form attached.
"So have you all donated before?" Carmen asked.
Vin answered for the group. "All of us except JD here," he pointed to their youngest agent.
Carmen handed JD another form that told him what he might expect after his blood was taken. As soon as Carmen walked away, Vin snatched it from him. "Don't read it," he said. "If ya read it, ya start gettin' all them symptoms on the list." He knew this to be true from experience.
Chris just snorted. This was not his idea of fun.
After they'd had a few minutes to fill in the required information, a pretty brunette in a lab coat approached and asked, "So who's first?"
"That would be me," Buck said, striding forward confidently, seeing the prospect of a new conquest on the horizon.
"Excellent," the brunette took his arm. "You can go with Jonathan," she handed him over to a male technician. JD giggled and Buck swatted him on the head as he passed.
One by one, they were lead into small cubicles where they were asked to verify the medical histories they had just filled out, and where they had their blood pressure and temperature taken and their fingers pricked so that a drop of blood could be tested for sufficient iron."Ouch!" Nathan yelped when his middle finger was lanced.
"I thought you said you were an EMT?" the technician with Nathan asked.
"Don't mean I gotta like gettin' stuck," Nathan said defensively.
"Thank you for persuading those boys to donate," Vin's technician referred to the troublemakers. "Many people don't realize that blood from minority ethnic groups is a valuable resource in most communities."
"Yeah, well I jus' told 'em it was either donate or we'd kick their ass."
"What kind of question is that?" JD gasped, appalled that he'd just been asked if he'd ever had sex with another man in exchange for drugs or money.
"Just routine. We ask that of everyone."
"And you expect people to say 'yes'?"
"Ahh... You're O negative," Josiah's technician was pleased. "The universal donor."
"Yes, ma'am," Josiah beamed. "The Lord giveth, and so do I."
"Well, I suppose 'phlebotomized' is the correct term, Mr. Standish, but that does sound so... sinister."
"You haven't met my friends, have you?"
"Say, Jonathan, you wouldn't happen to have a phone number for that cute little brunette, would ya?" Buck winked at his technician.
"I should hope so. She's my wife."
"160 over 98... Is your blood pressure usually this high, Mr. Larabee?" the technician frowned.
"No," Chris grunted, and let it go at that, except to add, "I'm fine."
In due time all the questions had been asked, and all the paperwork was in order. Each man was left in private to select a bar-coded sticker which would allow them to provide information tney may have not felt comfortable revealing as to whether their blood was safe to use or not. The appropriate sticker was affixed to the paper work, the other was affixed to a separate form and discarded.
They were handed the bags and other periphernalia for their donation and escorted to a waiting area. It was big blood drive, so there were 10 beds. It looked like all seven of them would be called at about the same time.
JD was in the first chair, looking nervously at the tubing and plastic bag he held in his hands, but when the technician approached, Carmen said, "Hold on Lydia, take Vin first. He has to stay quiet for awhile after he gives blood."
Vin's face flushed. "I"m fine, Carmen."
She patted his cheek. "Yes, I know. You always say that..." she laughed, but didn't say anything more, not wanting to embarrass Vin in front of his friends.
Lydia motioned with her hand for Vin to follow her to the donor tables.
"Why'd Vin have to go first?" JD asked, although, he wasn't the least bit disappointed they hadn't taken him.
"Vin's been giving blood here for a few years now," Carmen explained. "In the beginning he used to do it for the money."
"Money?" JD asked confused.
"Yes, JD," Josiah said. "You can sell your blood, if you really need to."
"Oh," JD said realizing Vin must have needed the extra money as a kid.
Carmen smiled. "The first time Vin gave he just got up and walked away as soon as we were done. Next thing we know he drops like a stone and cracks his chin on one of the tables. He ended up getting three stitches."
"Well you don't have to worry about me darlin'," Buck smiled. "I don't swoon, but women swoon for me."
"Buck, you're full of crap," JD said then blushed. "Uh, sorry ma'am."
"That's' all right, son," Carmen laughed. "I've heard worse lines," she looked at Buck, "...although I don't remember when."
Over the next few minutes, each of them were taken to a table. Vin turned his head away when the needle was inserted in his vein, but after it was taped down, he relaxed. Ezra was careful to fold his expensive jacket and to roll up the sleeve on his equally expensive dress shirt, lest there be some type of hideous mishap. Buck was flirting with the woman taking his blood, even though she had to be at least 10 years older than he was. Josiah calmly read a Reader's Digest he had picked up in the waiting area. Nathan squeezed his eyes shut tight as the needle went into his arm, and the technician had to remind him it was okay to breathe. Chris looked like the whole thing was pissing him off. JD ended up being last, so he was good and nervous by the time they got to him, but, as it turned out, he didn't even feel the needle pierce his vein, and once it was in, there was only a very faint, dull ache at the puncture site.
After a few minutes, JD and Buck were having a contest to see who could fill their bag first, and Ezra was taking wagers from everyone but Chris, who seemed intent on ignoring everyone. Carmen came over and scolded them all, reminding them it wasn't a race.
Nathan finished first, and breathed a deep sigh of relief when the needle was withdrawn from his arm. He didn't mind poking them in other folks, but he sure as hell hated having them poked in him.
Josiah was next, and he joined Nathan at the table where an assortment of snacks, soda, and juice were waiting to replenish the fluids and blood sugar that was depleted by the procedure. A volunteer checked the time and added 15 minutes, then handed each man a napkin with the time it would be okay for him to get up and leave.
JD and Buck finished together - Ezra having determined the contest was a draw. JD discovered he was a little light-headed when he sat up, but not enough so that he didn't feel totally stupid when Lydia took him by the arm and walked him to the snack table like an invalid. They were soon joined by Vin, who enthusiastically grabbed two packets of Oreos, and a Baby Ruth, and asked for not one, but two Cokes.
JD was surprised that the volunteer at the table was more than happy to honor his request, so he helped himself to a half-dozen twinkies in addition to a can of grape juice.
"This is the best part," Vin said around a mouthful of Oreo. "Junk food without guilt."
"Since when do either of you have any guilt about eating junk?" Nathan grunted as he sipped on some grapefruit juice and nibbled whole wheat crackers.
"They're growin' boys," Buck said, and messed up JD's hair for him. "They need the four basic food groups..."
"That would be sugar, salt, fat and chocolate, in their case," Ezra said, pulling up a chair.
Another volunteer came over and gave them each a Colorado Rockies tee-shirt, for being among the drive's first 100 donors.
"Wow, cool!" JD said.
"Thank you for donating," the volunteer spoke to all of them.
The others were obviously pleased with their tee-shirts, too, but Ezra said, "Just don't let mother find out. She'd be mortified at me donating anything..."
It was when the volunteer left an extra shirt on the table for Chris that they realized their team leader was not among them.
"Chris still ain't done?" Josiah said, looking over to the donor tables.
"Must be all that ice in his veins," Ezra remarked.
"I think you only come to eat all the junk food you can," Nathan remarked as Vin took more cookies.
"Ya think?" Vin laughed, not even bothering to deny the accusation.
Lydia was checking on Chris. When she found his bag was full she pulled out the needle and placed a cotton ball over the puncture, then had him hold his arm up in the air for few seconds and keep pressure on it while she finished preparing his blood to be transported for processing. She then checked the cotton ball to be sure the bleeding had stopped, and then replaced it with a clean one that she secured with a band-aid.
Then she had him sit up, slowly, noticing that he seemed to be breathing rapidly.
"How are you doing, Mr. Larabee?" she asked. "Feeling okay?"
Chris felt cold and a bit dizzy, but he looked over at the other six, relaxing at the snack table, and said, "I'm fine."
"Lydia frowned. "You look a little pale," she said, concerned.
"I'm fine," Chris said, and then took a deep breath because it felt really stuffy in that room all of a sudden.
Lydia lifted his feet back onto the table. "Stay here. I'm going to go get a cuff to check your blood pressure..."
As soon as she walked away from the table, Chris was up again. Vin had been watching and knew something wasn't right when Lydia had made Chris lie down again, so when he saw him getting back up, he hurried over to him.
Chris was already on his feet. "I don't think you better do that, Chris..."
Vin watched as Chris swayed slightly then stood straight and started walking towards the table. He had only taken a couple of steps when Vin saw his eyes roll back and his knees buckle.
"Chris!" Vin yelled and ran to him, grabbing him before he could hit the floor.
As he stood there holding onto Chris, Vin suddenly realized it was a big mistake to get up from the table as fast as he had as the room began to spin around his head. He sank to the floor as his vision started to fade out, and landed with Chris's limp body draped across his lap.
By then, several technicians had come running - and were soon joined by the other five members of Team 7. Vin didn't pass out, but he was disoriented and continued to cling to Chris as they tried to lift him off the sharpshooter.
"Mr. Tanner, you can let go," Ezra said quietly. "Vin?"
"Ezra?" Vin said blinking a few times.
"Yes it's me," Ezra said. "Let go of Chris."
"Huh?" Vin looked down to see Chris in his arms. "What happened?"
"Apparently Mr. Larabee stood up too fast," Lydia explained as six technicians lifted Chris back onto the table.
Buck made a move to help Vin up, but Carmen was in his face in an instant. "All of you! Sit down!" she pointed to the snack table. "Now."
Properly chastized, the other five returned to their places.
After convincing everyone that he wasn't going to pass out, too, Vin was allowed to join them.
"Quick thinking there, Mr. Tanner," Ezra commented as he pulled out a chair for Vin and handed him another packet of cookies.
"I saw him going down and didn't want him to hit his head," Vin explained.
"Admirable," Ezra commented. "But you seem to have joined him on the floor."
"But he didn't hit his head," Vin smiled. Then he looked back to where Lydia was looking Chris over. "Do you think he's okay?"
"I'M FINE!" Chris barked from across the room, and all six of them cringed. "What happened?" he asked Lydia.
"I told you to lie still," Lydia admonished him. "You fainted."
"I did not faint," Chris snapped.
"Okay... then you and Vin suddenly decided to sit on the floor."
Chris raised his head. "Vin? Is he okay?"
"He's eating cookies, if that tells you anything." Carmen approached with a can of orange juice, which she handed to Chris. "Drink all of this before you try to get up again."
"Woohoo, Chris is never gonna live this down," Buck beamed.
"Might I suggest taking out a large life insurance policy if you plan to spread this news?" Ezra suggested.
"It'd be worth it," Buck laughed.
After a few minutes, a very shaky Chris Larabee joined them.
"How are you feelin'?" Nathan asked.
"I'm fine," Chris repeated. "I musta tripped or something."
"You passed out," Nathan scolded. "They told you to take it easy."
"I tripped," Chris said, his tone - and the glare in his eyes - leaving no room for argument.
"I think I need more cookies," JD said.
Vin nodded his agreement and reached for another candy bar.
Buck grinned and started to say something, but a stone cold stare from Chris cut him off.
"One word of this gets out, Buck, and you're a dead man," Chris warned.
"Face it, brother, you're tough as nails image is slightly tarnished," Josiah smiled.
"That goes for you, too, Josiah. I tripped. End of story," he stared pointedly at Vin.
"What'd I do?" Vin said defensively.
"You tell me. You hit the floor first."
Chris continued to stare at his best friend.
Vin opened a small bag of Fritos. "Sorry Chris...." He looked up and said what he hoped Chris wanted to hear. "It was all my fault?"
Larabee grabbed a packet of chocolate Teddy Grahams. He proceeded to bite the heads off as he aimed an uninterrupted glare at the other six. "Next time, I do this alone."