It was nearly midnight when the auburn-haired beauty made her way to the room. She called patient information from the airport and came directly, not intending on bothering any of the team. She took a deep breath and entered the room. Her heart froze when she saw him. Bruised and bandaged, face slick with fever. She felt tears welling up and picked up the limp hand. She bent and kissed his forehead, pushing the wet hair from his face. She smiled at the slumbering form of Chris Larabee. Vin's best friend was just where she knew he would be, right at his side. The blond had his head resting on his crossed arms, on the bed next to Vin's chest. She eyed the empty pitcher of water and went to get more ice in it.
As she exited and went one way, the duty nurse entered the room. She flipped the light on and shook Chris's shoulder.
"Vin..." He croaked, before his eyes opened. He jumped up and the nurse steadied him.
"No change." She soothed. "I have to bathe him and take his vitals. Why don't you go get a cup of coffee?"
Chris rubbed his neck and decided that would be a good idea. He made his way to the lobby and slid into the coffee shop. Sierra returned to the room and slipped inside. She nearly dropped the pitcher of water and her trembling hands barely got it onto the nearest table. The nurse didn't see her right away. She had the sheet pulled down and was changing Vin's dressings.
"Oh My God..." She gasped, coming to the side of the bed and seeing the extensive damage close up. "Vin...what did they do to you?"
"You shouldn't be..." The nurse paused in her warning ,seeing all the color drain from the young woman's face. She grabbed her and sat her down. "You feel faint? Put your head between your knees."
She left the visitor to return to the patient. She recalled the man's chart stating he was single. This distraught young woman, must be his girlfriend.
"How...What happened to him?" Sierra asked, sitting up and taking several deep breaths.
"I'm not sure of all the particulars." She replied, returning to the burn dressing. "Just that he was held against his will and tortured. I'm sure if you..." She looked up as the door swung open. "Miss..." She shrugged, at the fleeing visitor.
Chris sipped on his coffee and ate a bran muffin. Slim pickings this late in the coffee shop. He saw the elevator open and a familiar beauty stumble out the door. "Shit..." He jumped up, ran across the room and intercepted her. "Why didn't you call me?" He growled, gathering her close. She couldn't reply, he felt her shaking and heard the gasping between the flow of tears. He found a pleather couch and eased them down on it. He rocked her for several minutes, until she straightened up. He handed her his handkerchief. He kept a tight grip on her hand. "That's why I wanted one of us to pick you up. I didn't want you walking in on that without warning. I'm sorry, Sierra."
"...not your fault..." she stammered, still catching her breath. "My God, Chris...what did they do to him?"
He looked at the beautiful blue eyes and swallowed hard. "They tried to force information from him. Ezra rescued him, and got wounded in the process . He's in ICU, and very lucky. Look Sierra, I won't lie to you. Vin's the strongest man I know, but this is gonna be hard on him."
"I can't stay..." She blurted, standing up.
"What?" Chris said shocked, pulling her hand back, "What do you mean? You just got here."
"I can't...see him like that....it hurts too much."
"I know how bad it hurts." He said coldly. "But I also know he's gonna need all the support he can get. That includes you."
"I thought I could do this." She said quietly, "I thought I was prepared. I feel like my hearts split wide open. I never had pain like this. I just can't Chris...I'm sorry." She tried to pull away and he took both shoulders.
"You're tired and had a good shock. You don't have a place to stay yet, do you?"
"Okay, there's a hotel down the road. I'll take you there. You get a good night's sleep and think about this. I know you're scared, Sierra. I'm scared too."
She looked at the handsome blond man who for all intents and purposes, was Vin's brother and rested a hand on his face. Deep within those startling green eyes was the compassion he felt for his fallen friend. He's hurting too, she thought. "Okay, Chris."
+ + + + + + +
Nathan pulled himself out of the chair and tossed the magazine he was reading aside. He leaned over the pale form where the whisper emerged. For several minutes, there was no further movement, the EMT was about to reclaim his seat, when the pale lips moved. Nathan bent over and concentrated. A moan was followed by two pale jade eyes staring at him.
"Damn, Ezra," He chuckled, "That shot must have affected your vision. Do I look like a white boy from Texas?" He laughed, easing Ezra's head up and offering a spoonful of ice chips.
"Heavenly..." Ezra moaned, sinking into the pillows. "...get the recipe..."
"'bout time you woke up. Been near a whole day since they brought you down here."
"Sorry to...incon..vience...you...Mr...Jackson." Ezra grumbled, "How bad?"
"Tore up some muscle and chipped the collarbone. You're gonna need some P.T., but the doctor said you'd be fine." Nathan recalled, giving Ezra more ice. "You want to be raised a little?"
"My mother already attempted that," Ezra groaned and nodded. "Are we on a carousel?" He covered his eyes and tried to stop the spinning room.
"Just you, Brother." Josiah said, entering the room. "You're down a few pints."
"So is my Porsche." Ezra commented, smacking Nathan's hand, "I assure you, Mr. Jackson, I still have a pulse."
"He's okay." Nathan drolled, "Back to his condescending self. You ain't due for an hour yet, Josiah."
"Shift ended early." The ex-marine stated, "Nothing new." He answered Nathan's silent question.
As the memories of the last few days slammed into his memory, Ezra realized the haunting images he'd suffered were not dreams. The events that led up to his injury, suddenly seemed all too real.
"Where is Mr. Tanner?" He blurted out, almost in anger.
"He's upstairs. We found him right after we picked you up. He hasn't woken up yet, he's running a high fever and he's fighting a mess of infections and a little pneumonia." Nathan's calm voice seemed to have an adverse effect on the other man. He exchanged a worried glance with Josiah when Ezra's pale face washed with anguish and sorrow. He noticed the Southerner's hands trembling.
"Ezra, Vin's gonna be fine. He's just plain wore out and his resistance was low."
"It not your fault, Ezra." Josiah said, clamping onto the wavering hand, despite Ezra's look of disdain.
"I'm not seeking absolution," the patient spat with hostility, jerking his hand free. "You weren't there. Don't patronize me."
"No, I wasn't" Josiah said, "But you were and you saved his life. I don't see that as any reason for punishment."
"I didn't mean that," Ezra said quietly, resting his eyes, "It was...it did..." he groped, finally shaking his head, "...it was a pain unlike anything I've ever encountered." He gasped.
"I don't doubt that," Nathan agreed, remembering the horrid vision on the tape. "But he's here now, back in the fold and safe. You done good, Ezra."
"Vin was re-instated." Josiah told him.
"As well he should be," the conman replied, "How was it he came to be in the clutches of that beast?"
"They took his badge Sunday after the inquiry and he spent the rest of the week, digging up info on his own." Nathan recollected.
"Did a helluva job, too." Josiah complimented, "Until Carlino caught him in The Black Widow's room."
"The Black Widow?" Ezra asked, munching on more ice.
"Gia Baracini, a.k.a. most recently, Cambria Santanna. She wanted on two murder charges in Italy and one in New Orleans. She buried three husbands."
"She mates and then she kills..." Ezra whispered, shaking his head, "How could I have been so blind?"
"Hell, Ezra." Nathan shook his head. "She's a pro, been practicing her trade since she was fifteen. You're damn lucky."
"We got her on tape, she had a gun aimed at your head." Josiah said quietly, watching Ezra flinch.
"It would appear I have a sizable debt to overcome with Mr.Tanner." Ezra grimaced, rubbing the throbbing in his shoulder.
"I'd say you're more than even." Nathan offered, fixing a gaze on Ezra's troubled face. "Okay?"
"I don't know, Nathan." Ezra admitted. "There is only so much a man can forget. I said some things to Vin that I'm very ashamed of. My behavior towards him was totally reprehensible."
"To a lesser man, maybe." Josiah said, with a smile, "But this is Vin Tanner."
A nurse appeared to take Ezra's vital signs and order him a tray of clear fluids. Nathan departed seeking a comfortable bed. Josiah slid into the chair and watched Ezra slip into a troubled sleep.
+ + + + + + +
They came at him again as they always did, menacing and cold. The walls closed in and the chains that bound him choked off his last breath. He thrashed and struggled against the restrictive irons, his eyes wide with fear.
Chris jumped from the chair he'd been dozing in and watched Vin's head toss restlessly. The fever was producing violent dreams and it had been a long thirty-six hours since he'd been admitted. Chris grabbed the cloth and dropped it in the bedside container of water. He heard the strangulated sounds coming from his sick friend and pried Vin's hand away from his throat. He turned the fevered patient sideways and pulled a tissue from the box at Vin's side.
"Spit it out, Vin." He hollered, close to Vin's ear. Vin's head shook and he resisted, the painful wheezing bit at Chris. "SPIT!" He shouted, pounding lightly on Vin's back. "Come on Cowboy..." He pressed, "Spit..." Finally the cough emerged, along with a mouthful of yellow phlegm. Chris disposed of the mess and wiped Vin's face, neck and chest. Vin took several gasping breaths and finally settled down. Chris lifted his head and held up the cup of water. He placed the straw against Vin's lips. "Got some water for you, Vin." A blue slit appeared and the lips parted. Chris frowned at the lack of effort. "That the best you can do?" He questioned, nudging the slack lips. Vin made a face and took a good sip. "That's a boy..." He brushed the damp tendrils of hair off the flushed face and retreated to his seat. He rubbed his eyes, burning from lack of sleep. He looked up at the door opened and Buck entered, with J.D in tow.
Buck winced visibly at Chris's haggard appearance. The shadows that he bore, dark circles, bloodshot eyes and lack of a shave made him look like a fugitive. Buck was about to remind him of what a bed and razor looked like, when Chris beat him to it.
"Shut up, Buck." He mumbled, glaring weakly and resting his head against the wall.
"You must be tired," Buck grinned, "Your glare's fading out. Listen, Chris, it was your idea to do shifts, and you're the only one that ain't following the order. You ain't slept in two days. You're a dead man walking. Nate's downstairs, you two head back and get some sleep."
"Ezra?" Chris spoke, "I keep callin' but that nurse won't talk to me."
"Well it would help if you didn't growl so damn much." Buck chuckled, "He woke up finally and Josiah's with him. Nate said he's feeling pretty low. Sierra finally leave?"
"Yeah, she stayed all day. She's shook up good. She's leaving for Mazalatan tomorrow."
"That's rough." Buck sympathized, "Maybe she justs needs a few days to sort things out. You remember how hard it was for Sara."
"Yeah," Chris nodded, "That time I got shot in the back, before we were married...I thought I lost her for good. She flew out of the ICU and didn't come back for a week. I know how much pain Sierra's in. But she's strong and she loves him." He rubbed his aching temples. "I'll talk to Ezra." Chris uttered and yawned. He pulled his hand back when he felt Buck pulling him up. "I'm not crippled, Buck."
"I'm not asking." Buck said seriously "Now go. The boy wakes up and sees that face of yours and you'll scare him but good." Buck placed a hand on Chris's shoulder and his dark blue eyes delivered a heartfelt message to the bloodshot green ones.
Chris nodded and intercepted Buck's message. Buck cared about the injured man too. Hell, Buck cared about everybody. How many times had he'd been there, always when Chris needed him. He sighed and looked back at the bed. He made his way over and took Vin's hand. He studied the damp face and squeezed the limp hand. Vin's head turned and a soft sigh escaped his lips.
"See, even Vin wants you to leave." J.D. whispered
Chris nodded and turned to leave, patting Buck's back in the process. Nate looked at the shabby faced team leader approaching him and shook his head. "Where's the photographer from GQ when you need him?"
Chris's lips turned up slightly and he cast the dark-skinned man a weak threat. "The rumpled look is in."
"That ain't rumpled." Nate laughed, "I've seen healthier corpses. Ezra's been upgraded. They're gonna move him out of ICU." He noted and saw Chris's hand on Ezra's door. "Make it quick, you both need some sleep."
Chris nodded and entered. Ezra was threatening to shove the lemon jello somewhere on Josiah not intended for food. Josiah's laugh cascaded around the room.
"Welcome back to the land of the living." Chris said, approaching the bed and holding out his hand.
"It would appear you were left behind, Mr. Larabee," The southerner noted of his friend's haggard appearance. He frowned at the hand offered and made no attempt to take it. "Your exhaustive state at Mr. Tanner's side has left you without your senses."
"Cut it out, Ezra," Chris said sharply, "I haven't slept in days and I ain't in the mood." He gripped the rail, stared hard and saw shame in the pale green eyes. "Look, I know you and Vin have some fences to mend, but you're both alive, and that's a start."
"Some start..." Ezra scoffed, "I not only allowed that walking vermin and his she-devil to saunter freely across the border to God knows where, but I compromised my job, my team and a multimillion dollar bust."
"That's not what's got your feathers ruffled," Chris growled softly, rubbing his weary eyes. He tossed a look to the other two men, who filed out of the room. Chris sank into the chair, his legs unable to hold him up. He expelled a deep breath and closed his eyes, rubbing his temples.
Ezra studied the blond man and saw what price Chris paid for his worry. A part of him envied every shadow and dark circle of tension and fatigue that Chris Larabee wore. What must it feel like to care about someone that deeply.
"Your appearance is causing irritation to my eyes," Ezra managed, sinking back onto the pillow. "I'd suggest you find a soft bed."
"...or a soft body." Chris peeled an eye open and saw the Gambler grin. "Talk to me, Ezra."
"There aren't words to accommodate..." Ezra paused, remembering Vin's pained testimony at his expense. "they used me to make him talk." He choked, gripping the sheet. "I cannot fathom how he withstood their brutalistic measures. He never cracked...until I. Don't you see," He turned and Chris winced at the pain in his eyes, "I was like that whip and razor and that cattle prod..."
Chris used what little strength he had left to pull himself up and let all his rage and frustration out. "You listen me to selfish bastard," He seethed, "He's gonna have a tough enough road back through an emotional minefield, he don't need you like some goddamn albatross around his neck. I won't let you hurt him. So stop wallowing in this pity party and get your act together. I didn't haul your sorry ass out of that fuckin' desert to have you disrespect me."
"Disre...what the hell are you talking about?" Ezra's eyes shot upwards.
"You didn't think twice about crossing that desert back to the Villa and getting Vin out of that fuckin' toilet he was locked in. You didn't care about Carlino's guards following you or the Federales. You didn't think about yourself at all." Chris eased in a contrite voice. "So will you get your head out of your ass and let me thank you." Chris held out his hand.
Ezra took the offering and felt the tension ease out of Chris's body. "I don't know how you do it and remain sane." He said quietly, "I never felt pain like that...He was so cold and still, I assumed he was gone. I wanted to kill..." he opened and closed his good hand and bit back a sob. "I thought that was unbearable, until I turned and saw him look at me and turn away in shame. As long as I live, Mr. Larabee, I won't be able to erase that haunting vision from my mind."
For a few minutes there was silence. Chris rubbed his face and massaged the back of his neck as he watched the Southerner try to control his emotions. He felt a guilty pleasure that Ezra had been the one to find Vin. It was something that preyed on his mind since Vin disappeared. The uncomprehendable...finding Vin's body. Now the ultimate conman was struggling with his hardest role. Chris leaned over and gently squeezed Ezra's good shoulder.
"Looks like you outconned yourself, Standish," he said softly, Ezra looked up startled, then gave a soft chuckle. "Would you give it up? All of it..." He thought of Josiah's words.
Ezra frowned and thought for a moment. All the years he'd flown solo, he'd convinced himself that his professionalism and that wall he'd built up around his heart had been the prudent choice. The bricks had started falling away when he'd joined the team, sharing laughter, life and bullets with a group of men he was proud to call friends. But those bricks had shattered the moment Vin had looked up at him in that crumbling dungeon. He looked over at Chris Larabee, a man whose mettle was second to none. "No, Mr. Larabee, I would not."
"Good." Chris smiled, "I think I'll hang my collar up, Josiah's better suited." He patted Ezra's knee and shuffled to the door, his legs to weary to lift. "Get some sleep, you look like shit Ezra."
"Obviously you are lacking a mirror."
Chris paused in the door as Nathan stood, jingling his car keys and Josiah slid inside the room. He watched Ezra lift his hand and tip his imaginary hat. Chris nodded and headed out into the dark night with Nathan.
The chains seemed to meld right into his skin. The choker collar constricted his throat and he clutched at it, struggling to breathe. He saw a blurry figure coming close and pulled back.
J.D. heard the gagging sound and headed for the bed. Buck was sleeping on two chairs and J.D. had been watching the sun come up at the window. He made his way to Vin's side and repeated the procedure they'd been sharing all night. He turned Vin's body to the side and urged him to cough. Vin's mouth opened but no sound came out, not even the gag. J.D. saw Vin's eyes open and dart side to side in panic.
"Come on Vin, spit it out." J.D. said loudly, holding Vin with one hand and a tissue with the other.
Vin didn't seem to notice him. He continued to pull at his throat and the IV line started to tug. J.D. leaned lower and used his voice more forcefully. "Vin, it's J.D., I'm trying to help." He gripped the back of Vin's neck but Vin didn't react, and the choking sounds were starting to scare J.D. He flipped his foot back and kicked Buck's legs off the chair, bringing the large man to his feet. "Hey, I'm talking to you." J.D. said loudly gripping Vin's head. That got a reaction, but not the one J.D. wanted. Vin curled up and covered his head, cowering in the bed. J.D. stood frozen, horrified at the response.
"Back off, J.D. you scared him," Buck said, tapping the youth's shoulder. "He's delirious, Kid, he don't know where the hell's he at."
"He can't breathe, Buck, he's choking." J.D. insisted loudly.
"Okay, take it easy," Buck eased, placing himself at the bedrail. "Vin, it's Buck, let me help you." Buck said in a soothing tone. "J.D., get a hold of that IV before he pulls it out."
J.D. moved to the other side as the patient pulled one hand away and blinked up at the body nearest to him. Buck heard the same gagging noise and saw the fear in Vin's eyes. For a moment he thought Vin recognized him, but then the body retreated, wheezing and thrashing.
"Vin, calm down and let me help you." Buck pleaded, gripping Vin's shoulders.
"VIN!" a new voice called, bursting into the room. "What did you do to him?" The green eyes drilled Buck, "Get out of the way."
Buck backed off and allowed Chris to slid in.
"Where'd he come from?" J.D. mouthed to Buck over Chris's shoulder in astonishment. Buck just shrugged and watched the drama unfold.
"Vin, cut it out. I ain't gonna hurt ya." Chris hollered, grabbing Vin's face in both hands. He heard the choking sounds and looked hard into the lost blue eyes. "It's Chris, Vin, understand?" Vin blinked and reached a shaking hand up, touching Chris's face. The eyes blinked painfully and Chris swallowed hard, nodding. "That's it," He said gently, feeling the tension leave the younger man, he turned him sideways. "Cough...spit it out," He ordered. He heard the weak coughs but nothing emerged, but the frantic wheezing. Vin's eyes drooped and his lips were tinged blue.
"He's sounds like a cat with a furball" J.D. said. steadying the line and getting a nasty look from his boss. "Well he does..."
"Vin, open up and let me help." The blond leader asked, gripping Vin's head. "I won't hurt you."
Buck and J.D. watched in amazement as Chris's words cut through Vin's delirium and his mouth opened. "You bite me and I'll have to club you." Chris warned, sticking two of his fingers down Vin's throat. Vin buckled and J.D. dropped the line and held onto his shoulders.
"It's okay Vin, we're gonna help you." The youth eased and watched Chris's face screw up and with a final grunt, his slippery hand emerged tossing a yellowish glob into the array of tissues on the bed. Vin collapsed against him, coughing and then taking gulps of air. He clung to Chris and the older man felt him trembling. "Close call, Cowboy..." He hushed, squeezing the back of Vin's neck. "You're okay, now." He eased Vin back and wiped his sweat-soaked face.
"Chris..." Buck nudged, handing a cup of water.
Vin took a good long drink and his eyes slid shut. Chris went to turn and the hand snaked out and latched on to his wrist. A crooked smile formed on the leader's lips. "I ain't going nowhere, Vin. Go on and sleep." The hand retracted and Chris put it under the sheet. "You know, I think he's cooler."
"How did you know...how...what was that?" J.D. stammered, wrinkling his nose at the offensive object now residing in the trash.
"My grandmother died of pneumonia, when I was in college. My mother and aunt took turns at her bedside. I watched them do that several times. It's some kind of mucus plug." Chris expelled a deep breath and shook his head, eyeing Vin resting. "Never thought I'd ever have to do that."
"Nice move, Pard." Buck clapped his back as the nurse entered.
The three watched as she took Vin's vitals. She turned to the anxious faces and smiled. "He's temp's down, just over 100. I'll clean him up now, if you'll step outside."
"Thank you," Chris said, glancing at the nametag, "Becky. I'm grateful. Seems you been here since he was admitted."
"Seems you have too," She smiled, "He's a lucky guy to have such a family."
Ten minutes later they were still in the hall when Josiah and Nathan joined them.
"You get kicked out too?" Nathan asked.
"Yeah," J.D. said. "Vin was choking and Chris saved his life. His fever broke and the nurse is cleaning him up."
"You do weather and sports too?" Josiah joked.
"What's this about you saving Vin?" Nate elbowed Chris, who was leaning against the door.
"Before you call the Associated Press, consider the source," He muttered, flicking his head towards J.D.
"The Kid knows what he's talking about." Buck said "Vin was choking and couldn't breath, Chris pulled a wad of crud from the back of his throat."
"a plug?" Nate nodded. "You trying to take my place as EMT on the team?"
"No way!" Chris shook his head , "Ezra?"
"Getting a bath and not a damn bit happy about it." Josiah laughed. "Nurse Ratchet doesn't understand Brother Standish's southern humor."
The nurse emerged and held the door open. "You can go in now. I'll order him a clear fluids tray."
The five filed inside and noticed the difference. Vin looked like he was resting comfortably. He wasn't sweating and the crisp, clean sheets and gown helped enormously. Chris took his place at Vin's side, straddling a chair. Josiah and J.D. were at the foot of the bed and Buck and Nate on the other side.
"Any update on Carlino?" J.D. asked Nate.
"None. But Ted still thinks they're working a deal. He's waiting to hear from his man in Bogota, so the net's still drawn."
"He's still here." Chris said eyeing the others, "and he's mine."
They spent the next few minutes engaging in conversation about the possible locations of the drug dealer and his warehouse. No one noticed the patient was awake. Buck glanced down and his handsome face broke into a huge smile. He bent down took the hand that was resting on the rail
"Hey there, Junior," He eased, "Sure is good to see that sorry face of yours awake."
The others took notice and flanked closer, all talking at once, except Chris. He held back, watching Vin closely. He didn't see relief, happiness or even confusion. He saw what Ezra described, pure degradation. His heart sank and his chest lanced with pain. He watched Vin painfully glance at them, barely making eye contact. Then he pulled his hand from Buck and curled up on his side, almost hiding.
"Vin?" Buck whispered painfully, feeling exactly what Chris did. "It's okay." He reached out to touch the younger man who shuddered and curled up tighter.
"Go away...please." Vin begged painfully in a weak rasp.
The others stood frozen, until Chris stood and nodded, dispelling the group. Buck paused before he left and bent down, although Vin wouldn't meet his eye. "I'll be here for you, Vin. You take your time."
Chris noted the tenderness in Buck's voice, the same gentle, loving tone he used with Adam. Vin seemed to sense it, as he didn't pull back when Buck touched his shoulder lightly before leaving. Chris waited quite a while before moving to the other side of the bed, where Vin was facing.
"Talk to me." He said, gripping the rail. He flinched when Vin buried his face and shook his head. "Vin, let me help you." But still the head shook negatively.
"Please, Chris, don't..." Vin whispered, not brave enough to look at his best friend. "I want to be alone..."
Vin was glad the cool, fresh pillowcase was pressed against his face, harboring the bitter tears that fell freely. His chest heaved painfully and he felt the heat rise on his face. How could they stand in here after what he'd done? He didn't want their sympathy. He didn't want to see the conscience-stricken eyes staring at him again. Damn their deft attempts at comfort.
Chris could deal with the horrible physical injuries Vin sustained. He'd stand by and shoulder the younger man's weight as he plowed through the emotional and psychological storm of recovery. But this was something he didn't know how to fix. He suddenly realized what motivated Ezra's misery. He swallowed hard and wished Vin would just cry and let it go. The strangulated, choking sobs were breaking his heart.
"Vin..." He said softly, not moving to touch the already tense frame. He backed up as the head shot up and the blue-eyes stared at him ferally.
Vin didn't know where the molten anger came from, nor did he understand the need to release it. He turned on his best friend, a man he loved like a brother. He saw a pain so deep in the green eyes it burned a hole in him. But still the beast was in control and he growled viciously.
Chris backed up, shocked at the low, guttural utterance, heavy with malignancy. He was so shocked at the site before him, he was unable to move. Vin looked like a savage. His eyes were hot, his body like a coiled spring and his hair wild. He eyed the fists clenched and the heaving chest.
"GET OUT!" Vin screamed, hauling up his fists.
Chris saw the IV pole tottering and threatening to fall over, which would pull out Vin's line. He moved in to steady the wildman before any damage was done.
"Stop that!" He commanded, shoving Vin's shoulders down, "The IV is gonna...."
"DON'T FUCKIN' TOUCH ME!" Vin screamed, backhanding Chris in the mouth with his clenched fist. "GET OUT! GET OUT! GET THE FUCK OUT!...."
Vin wasn't strong enough to do any damage, but a tooth was shoved through his lip and blood dripped down's Larabee's chin. He swiped at it and backed away, putting his hands up defensively, eyeing the wavering IV line. "Alright Vin, I'm going. Take it easy."
The others heard the screaming and the door flew open in time for Vin's final tirade. Josiah recognized the look on Vin's face and headed for the stunned team leader. He pulled Chris out of the room and a nurse and doctor appeared.
"It might be best if you left for awhile. He's extremely agitated right now." The doctor advised.
Chris left the doorway and kept walking, not acknowledging the staff or his friends. He heard Buck calling and never looked back. He took the stairs two at a time and paused and the door, chest heaving with painful bursts of air. He unleashed his pent up frustration, in one loud, primal scream and pounded his fists against the wall.
"Buck, maybe you better go with him," J.D. said, watching Buck eye the door Chris disappeared behind.
"Not now, Kid." Buck spoke from experience. "I'd end up in the ER with a bunch of busted bones." He turned back to see Vin's door open and a white-faced young woman stagger out. She'd slipped in without being noticed.
"Aw, hell." He brushed past J.D. "Sierra..." He gathered her in his arms and felt her legs buckle. "Come on, Darlin' get them legs working. He's been through hell and back and he ain't himself right now."
"Let me go...I thought maybe...he looked right at me...he doesn't want me to..." She gulped recalling the wild eyes..."He was a stranger, Buck."
"Sierra, he's been real sick with a high fever. He don't what he's doing or saying."
"I need to find a bathroom." She choked.
Buck supported her and waited outside the ladie's room. He sent a nurse in to check on her. The nurse and the pale girl appeared several minutes later.
"Thanks," Buck nodded, to the departing nurse. "Come on, Darlin' I'll take you back to the hotel. He'll calm down. After what he's been through, he's entitled to an outburst like that."
"I got a flight to catch. I was coming to say goodbye." She said. "I'll get a cab and..."
"The hell you will." Buck growled, "I ain't scolded you proper yet for sneakin' from the airport." He walked with her to the elevator. "What kind of goodbye did you mean? An 'I'll be back soon' goodbye or 'I'm not coming back' goodbye"
"I don't know, Buck." She answered honestly. "I love him, so much so it hurts when I'm not near him. But I can't live with him being in pain like that. Worrying every time he leaves if I'll ever see him again. I just don't know Buck."
"Fair enough," Buck took both shoulders and stared hard into her eyes, "Promise me you'll think about it. Don't rush into a decision. He needs you, Darlin'"
+ + + + + + +
Ezra looked up as the door entered and Chris Larabee stumbled in. Ezra's eyes furrowed at his bosss state of mind. He appeared to be drowning, that was the image that best fit his frazzled frame. His chest heaved, seemingly unable to gulp enough air. Ezra wondered about the blood smearing his chin and hand. But it was his eyes that gave him away. Ezra observed a man whose middle name was ice. The means of regulating the switches and devices that governed his normally controlled demeanor had been smashed to bits. Ezra, for once, was at a loss for words. His eyes followed Chris's taut body as it paced the small room, like a caged panther. Finally he rested, sweat sticking to his face. He dropped into the chair at Ezra's side and rested his head on his arms, crossed on top of the bedrail.
"I'm sorry...I was wrong." He said simply, then looked up and two sets of green eyes locked. "I understand. I didn't have the right to judge your actions."
With that the head rested again. Ezra thought for several minutes and added up the clues at hand. One image came to mind. He rested his hand on the olive green, sweat-soaked shirt.
"Mr. Tanner has roused from his unconscious state?" Ezra assumed and saw the wet blond head nod once. Ezra winced, not sure of what happened, but hazarding a good guess. "He's driving everyone away. I suspected as much. I'm sorry Chris." He offered quietly, squeezing the downcast shoulders.
Chris remained like that for some time and Ezra didn't engage him in any more conversation. It was not the time. He felt the painkillers kicking in and dozed lightly, wondering if Chris fell asleep. But then the body moved and Ezra's eyes opened halfway. He wished he'd left them closed. The red-rimmed eyes of the leader of the seven housed twin mirrors of utter desolation. Chris paused at the door and looked back. "I lost him and I don't have a fuckin' clue, Ezra." His hushed voice declared as his slid out the door.
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