by Winnie


Chapter 15 

JD looked at Ezra and smiled as they stood outside the Texan’s door. They could hear Tanner arguing with the nurse and from the sound of the voices he wasn’t getting anywhere. The duo stepped through the door and eyed the combatants with a touch of humor.
“Problems, Vin?” Dunne asked, laughing inwardly as he spotted the object in the nurse’s hand. 
“Hell yeah. Look, I can do this on my own...”
“Mr. Tanner, you’re on bed rest and that means you stay in the bed. Now I can simply let you use the urinal or I can very easily insert a Foley...”
“Try it and you’ll be...”
“Ah, Vin, I don’t think it’s wise to antagonize Miss Carol right now. Perhaps the urinal is the lesser of two evils,” Standish said, fighting the urge to laugh at the red faced Texan’s plight.
“Vin, she’s looking a little upset right now,” Dunne advised.
“Not nearly as upset or antag....antag whatever as I am. Look, I can walk to the bathroom, not like it’s a marathon or nothin’!”
“Mr. Tanner, I’ll be right back,” Janet Carol said as she placed the urinal back in the bedside table and walked towards the door.
“Where the hell ya goin’?” Tanner asked, suddenly weary of the way she planted her hands on her hips as she turned back towards him.
“Well, my shift is nearly over and I’m going to let Randy know that he needs to insert a catheter...”
“Randy?” Dunne asked.
“Yes, he’s the afternoon shift nurse and...”
“He?” Standish asked and smiled as the Texan looked slightly uncomfortable.
“That’s right. He’s about six and a half feet tall and he used to be a football player, but I hear he’s as gentle as a pussy cat in spite of his cold hands,” Carol explained.
“Give me the damn thing,” Tanner said. He knew the nurse was teasing, but didn’t want to take the chance of her telling the truth.
“Vin, we’ll be right outside the door,” Standish said.
“Unless you think we need to stay and protect your virtue...”
“JD, get out!” Tanner spat as the nurse drew the curtain.
“I’m going,” Dunne said, laughing as he left the room.
Josiah looked up from the paper he was reading as the door opened and Wilmington entered the room. He looked at the bed and saw Jackson’s eyes flutter and finally open.
“How is he, Josiah?” the gentle rogue asked.
“I’m awake, Buck,” the medic in training answered as he shifted on the bed and found the button that would raise his head. His back still ached, but at least the pain meds had eased it somewhat. He looked at the two men and frowned as he tried to remember what it was he needed to tell them.
“How’s Chris?” Sanchez asked.
“Chris, shit!”
“Nathan, what’s wrong?” Sanchez asked worried about the look on his friend’s face. He watched Jackson struggled to sit up and finally drop his legs over the edge of the bed.
“I can’t believe I fell asleep.”
“Well, the meds’ll do that, Nate,” Wilmington said, smiling at the other man’s anger at his own weakness. They’d all been through it, but seeing Jackson in this position was something new to them all.
“I know, but I needed to call you guys, damn it!”
“What’s so important that it’s making you berate yourself, Brother?” Sanchez asked worriedly.
“I went up to see Chris after I left Vin’s room earlier.”
“Ah, so that’s why you’re upset, seeing Chris hooked up to those machines,” Sanchez said and was confused by the look on Jackson’s face.
“No, Josiah, hell I know those things are helping keep him alive.”
“Then what’s wrong, Nathan?” Wilmington asked.
“Chris had a visitor,” Jackson said, looking at both men as he said the name. “Hank Connelly...”
“Sonofabitch! What the hell was that bastard doing in Chris’ room?”
“Easy, Buck,” Sanchez said, although truth-be-told he was also angered by the news.
“How can you say that, Josiah. That bastard was in there and could’ve hurt Chris...”
“Buck, the nurse would not have let anything happen to Chris. She would have stopped Hank if he looked as if he was going to hurt her patient,” Jackson explained.
“But he was there! With Chris damn it!”
“I know, and that’s why I was supposed to call you guys, but I fell asleep! So stupid!” Jackson berated himself.
“Nathan, how many times have one of us been in the hospital?” Sanchez asked.
“More times than I care to remember, Josiah. Why?”
“Well, let me see if I can quote you verbatim... ‘You’re on strong pain medication for a reason and because you need them. That’s why you fall asleep soon afterwards. Your body is telling you...'”
“Alright, Josiah, you made your point,” Jackson said, smiling in spite of his sense of helplessness.
“So, what do we do about Hank Connelly?” Wilmington asked.
“Not much we can do unless he tries something,” Sanchez observed.
“We can have him taken off the list of people who can visit Chris,” Jackson suggested.
“What good is that?” Wilmington asked. “All he has to do is walk onto the floor give an alias and go to Chris’ room. There’s not a lot we can do unless we put a man on Chris’ door.”
“We’d have to clear that through the hospital,” the injured man said.
“I think the best thing right now is to ask them to have Hank’s name put on a list of those not allowed into Chris’ room,” Sanchez told them.
“I don’t think he’ll be stupid enough to come back,” Jackson said.
“Do you really want to take that chance, Nathan? I mean Hank Connelly is a mean bastard who cut Sarah out of his life and blames Chris for his own shortcomings as a father,” Wilmington asked.
“How can a man be so stupid? How could he not see the love Chris and Sarah had for each other? How could he ignore the precious gift their love wrought?” Jackson asked angered at the thought of Hank Connelly’s stupidity. There were no answers forthcoming and the trio lapsed into silence, each one thinking of the sedated man one floor above them.
Orrin walked beside Robert Miller and knew the news they were about to impart to The Firm’s agents would not set easy with them. He’d called them all into the meeting this morning as soon as the policeman called to let them know they had news about the fire. He looked at the four men seated around the conference table and knew they were not sleeping well.
“Gentlemen, I brought you here so you could hear what Bob has to say.”
“Tell me you found the body of that bitch!” Wilmington spat.
“”I wish I could, Buck, but from what we’ve found so far there’s a distinct possibility that she and Jack Averil escaped.”
“Sonofabitch!” the ladies man cursed.
“We have a witness who saw a man carrying a woman towards the back parking lot of the warehouse next door. He says the woman seemed to be hurt, but when he asked if they needed help the man just hurried away and got into a car parked on the edge of the lot. We found Robert Spikes and confirmed his identity, but there were no other bodies inside.”
“Damn it!” Dunne said.
“So Chris is still in danger,” Standish said.
“I’m not so sure,” Miller answered.
“If Ella Gaines is out there then Chris is in danger,” Sanchez advised.
“I know that, but I have confirmation that a man answering Jack Averil’s description hired a jet and left for parts unknown. They were supposed to be going to the Dominican Republic, but the plane never made it. The airport down there reported a mayday from the plane that the engine failed and they were going down. A fishing boat found small pieces of debris and one body. They haven’t identified the body yet.”
“I hope it’s Ella Gaines,” Dunne said, causing the others to stare at him. He knew it was because he didn’t often hate a person to this point, but Ella Gaines had quickly gained first place on the JD Dunne most wanted dead list.
“As I said, we don’t know yet and until we get confirmation there’s no way of even knowing whether it was them or their plane,” Miller told them.
“I hope we find out soon,” Travis said.
“We all do,” Sanchez agreed. “What about Guy Royal?”
“He has his lawyers working on getting him out on bail, but he’s got a hard ass judge who doesn’t take any crap from high priced firms. So far he’s being denied bail.”
“Good, at least something is going our way,” Standish muttered, reaching for his nearly empty coffee cup.
“What about Hank Connelly?” Travis asked.
“There’s not much we can do on that front. Whether you like it or not Hank is Chris’ father in law and we should be glad he isn’t trying to interfere with Chris’ treatment. The man is family and he could kick up quite a stink about all of this.”
“No way. He doesn’t even acknowledge that Chris and Sarah were married,” Standish said angrily.
“I know, but he can still cause problems. The best we can do is maybe get a restraining order to keep him out of Chris’ room,” Miller explained.
“I’ve already talked to Chris’ lawyer about that. There’s enough proof that Hank has no love for Chris and Paul thinks he can get the order by this afternoon. He’s going to tell the judge about the antagonism over the last few years and especially about Hank hitting Chris at the funeral,” Sanchez explained.
“Cold-hearted bastard,” Miller observed and knew the others understood how he felt. He’d witnessed the punch and the subsequent trip to the ER and knew Hank Connelly needed to be taught a lesson. “How are Chris, Nathan, and Vin?”
“Nathan’s doing better and could be released in a couple of days. Vin’s looking at another week to ten days in there,” Sanchez explained.
“And Chris?”
“He’s still listed as critical, but Dr. Midland says they are going to ease up on the sedatives tomorrow and try weaning him off the ventilator.”
“That’s great news,” Miller said, but didn’t miss the worry etched on the five faces seated around the table. “What else?”
“His fever’s still up and they can’t seem to get it under control. They are worried about seizures amongst other things right now,” Sanchez told him.
“Not to mention his emotional state and the possibility of brain damage,” Standish told them, his voice soft with worry.
“There won’t be any brain damage! He’s going to have problems, but he’ll know who he is and he’ll know us and he’ll damn well fight to come back or I’ll kick his ass like I did when we first met!” Wilmington said sharply.
“You kicked Chris’ ass?” Dunne asked incredulously.
“Well, wasn’t so much as kicked his ass as cold-cocked him one to the chin,” Wilmington said, smiling fondly at the remembrance.
“Do go on, Buck,” Standish said, intrigued by the look on Wilmington’s face.
“It was the night before he was leaving for Nam. He’d been drinking and this woman kept making passes at him and her boyfriend was a little ticked off. Seems she did this all the time and he had had enough. Chris was ready to fight and I could just picture the MPs coming in and arresting him and this going on his record, so I took matters into my own hands...ah fist.”
“You hit him?”
“Sure did, Kid. Right on the chin, knocked him out cold for three solid hours. He woke up thinking he was hung over and he still thinks that’s what happened to him.”
“Just how often have you done this, Buck?” Sanchez asked and saw the small smile forming on Wilmington’s face.
“A time or two,” the ladies man answered and stood up. “Well, if there’s nothing else I’m going to the hospital to check on Chris, Nathan, and Vin. Who’s coming?”
 “Guess we all are, Buck,” Sanchez answered, grabbing for his keys.
Vin knew there was someone in the room with him and knew instinctively the person was not a threat. He slowly opened his eyes and turned his head slightly as he spotted the familiar figure sitting by the window. The dark hair streaked with silver was pulled back in a bun and her eyes were closed as if in sleep. He smiled at the site of the woman he’d grown so fond of since waking in the hospital after the incident with Ethan Bickham. She’d been a volunteer and didn’t take no shit from him. He smiled as her eyes opened and he saw the warmth in the wondrous orbs.
“Hi, Nettie...”
“Don’t you hi me, Vin Tanner! What in God’s name did you think you were doing going down to that compound and nearly getting yourself killed in the process?”
“Had no choice, Nettie. I had ta confirm Mendoza’s presence.”
“I understand that part, but why would you put yourself in a position to get captured by a man who swore he’d have you killed?”
“Nettie, Jackie and me were without radio contact and the bas...the DEA agent was on Mendoza’s pay role. I couldn’t let Mendoza escape again, Nettie. Not after everything he’s done...”
“You could have been killed, Vin.”
“That was a chance I had ta take.”
“Yes, I guess it was, Vin. You’ve got a heart of gold and a deep rooted need to see justice done. My late husband was so much like you. He couldn’t stand by and watch the crime in this world without doing something about it. He loved being a Texas Ranger and part of him died the day he gave it up. I know how hard it was to leave home and move here and leave his lone wolf behavior behind and Vin, I know you feel the same way he did, but...”
“Nettie, I had ta do this, and it’s over. Mendoza is dead and won’t be able ta hurt any more kids with the shi...the stuff he put on the streets.”
“You still could’ve asked for help. I’m sure Chris would have had someone there to watch your back!”
“Yeah, he would have, Nettie, but this wasn’t a Firm job. This was DEA and they gave me a partner who had jest as much stake in seeing Mendoza brought down as I did. I’m sorry, Nettie, I know I had ya all worried, but there really was no choice.”
“Vin, I know you did what you had to do. What you thought was right and I may not like the idea of you going off alone, but I know it’s what makes you who you are and that’s someone I can be proud of.”
“Thanks, Nettie...”
“Oh, don’t think I’d let you off the hook that easy, Vin Tanner, but right now you look like five miles of dirt farming road. Now you go on and get some sleep.”
“I will,” Tanner said softly as the woman kissed his forehead. “Are you going up ta see Chris?”
“Yes, I am, but you're not...”
“I wasn’t...”
“Oh yes you were, Vin. You forget I know how you think and right now you’re thinking about going up to Chris’ room. Well, that’s not going to happen today and if you know me that’s not an empty threat. I’ve been a nurse and a volunteer and I know how to keep mule-headed, cantankerous patients in hand. Would you like to see how?”
“No, ah no I don’t think so, but Nettie...”
She placed a hand on his chest and felt his heart beating wildly as his concern for his friend grew. “Vin, I know you’re worried about Chris, we all are, but you have to know your own limitations right now. You’re hurt and still have a fever and I can see the pain in your eyes. You have to let yourself heal before you can visit Chris, because otherwise you’ll be overwhelmed with guilt at not being there when he really needs you.”
“Thanks, Nettie,” Tanner said, tears forming in his eyes as the woman gently hugged him. “I’m sorry.”
“For what?”
“For not being here when Sarah and Adam....when they were killed. How could God let that happen ta them...ta Chris. I can’t believe they’re gone.”
“I know, Vin, none of us do, but we have to be strong. We have to be there to help Chris through all of this. He hasn’t been well enough to deal with their deaths and when he does he’s going to need all the support and love we can give him.”
“He’ll have it. He’ll have anything he needs. We won’t let him fall...”
“I know, Vin, now close your eyes and rest. I’ll be back later.”
“Thanks, Nettie.”
“You’re welcome, Son,” she whispered as she watched him for several minutes more before finally leaving him alone.
Vin opened his eyes when the door closed and stared out the window. His body let him know it didn’t appreciate the movement and he moaned softly, cursing his own infirmity under his breath. He knew Nettie Wells and the others were right and that Chris would need him more when he woke up, but right now all he could think about was getting out of the bed and going to his friend. He shifted his body once more and pressed the button to raise his upper body to a sitting position. Breathing heavily, his chest aching, eyes tearing, he finally sat on the edge of the bed and waited for the dizziness and nausea to pass. He had no idea how long he sat there, hoping and praying he wouldn’t pass out and end up on the floor with the damn hospital gown open and showing his best side, but he finally had things under control. Sliding his body over the edge he stood on shaky legs and suddenly realized he might have underestimated just how much pain he could handle.
Eyes, teeth and fists clenched tightly as wave after wave of pain washed over him, threatening to drown him in the emotional pool of agony. He didn’t hear the door open, but he did hear the harsh expletive and the grunt of pain from his visitor.
“What the hell are you doing, Vin?” Jackson cursed, ignoring his own injury and racing to the man’s side as he teetered on his weak legs. He held him there, feeling the agony rip through his back as he clung to Tanner with one hand and pressed the button to call for help with the other.
“Can I help you?” a bored sounding voice asked.
“Need help in here now!” Jackson said, feeling his meager strength waning the longer he held the Texan up. He didn’t hear the nurse’s answer, but was grateful when the door burst open and someone relieved him of his semi-conscious burden. He felt a chair drawn up behind him and dropped heavily onto it as a nurse and orderly eased Tanner back into bed. His own back was screaming in protest at the abuse he’d put himself through, but right now his eyes were on the Texan.
“Vin, I’m going to give you something for pain right now,” the nurse said and hurried from the room as the orderly lifted the rails on the bed.
Jackson understood just how much the tracker needed it when he didn’t protest as the nurse returned with the prescribed medication. He watched the younger man closely as Tanner’s eyes opened and focused on him.
“S...sorry, Nate. A...are ya o...okay?”
“Aside from being a little sore I’m okay,” Jackson lied as the lids dropped over the emotive blue orbs.
“Mr. Jackson, Billy will help you back to your room and let your nurse know what happened.”
Jackson nodded and stood on shaky legs, and was grateful when the orderly came close and offered some much needed support. He took a final look at the Texan and the monitors and knew the younger man had overdone things. By the time he reached his room he was near collapse and laid back on the bed and closed his eyes.
“Your nurse will be in shortly,” the orderly explained and watched the dark head nod once.
Nettie walked slowly into the room and acknowledged the nurse standing beside the bed. She knew Larabee was still heavily sedated and grateful that for now at least he didn’t feel the emotional and physical pain of the last few weeks.
“Hello, Mrs. Wells.”
“Hello, Geraldine, how is he doing?”
“His temperature is down a little and his blood pressure seems to have stabilized. Dr. Midland and Dr. Bledsoe were in earlier and checked the burns and are pleased with the progress.”
“Are they still going to let him wake up tomorrow?”
“As long as things continue as they are we’ll ease up on the sedatives during the night and he should be waking up around mid morning. Dr. Midland and Dr. Silverman will check the results of the test run with the ventilator before making a decision about taking him off it or keeping it for another day or so.”
“He’s going to be in a lot of pain,” Nettie observed softly.
“We’ll do everything we can to keep him relatively pain free,” Geraldine Spencer explained.
“That will help with the physical wounds, but there’s nothing that will help the emotional ones right now.”
“Yes, there is. There are some meds that will help, but Chris will need the support of his family and friends.”
“Oh, he’ll have that and more. I believe Dr. Midland was also going to have Susan James speak with Chris once he’s awake.”
“Yes, she has. Dr. James will also be present at the request of Dr. Silverman. Chris has a lot of physical problems to overcome and his doctors want to have every contingency covered when he wakes up.”
“That’s good,” Nettie said and settled into the chair beside her nephew in law’s bed. She reached for his hand and let the tears fall as her grief overwhelmed her once more.
The corridors on the fifth floor were dark, only the night lights running along the floor were lit. The nightshift went about their duties, changing IVs, checking the monitors and making sure their patients were as comfortable as possible. Every so often the sound of soft soled shoes sounded as a nurse or doctor entered one of the units.
SICU four was in semi darkness as the nurse made notations on the patient’s chart. The dosage of sedatives was being steadily lowered in an effort to let the patient wake up. The staff would be ready for the moment when he opened his eyes and realized he was on a ventilator. His wrists were in soft restraints in order to keep him from grabbing the tube when he discovered it was there. Most patients reacted instinctively and tried to dislodge the item that caused their discomfort and that was the main reason behind the restraints. The nurse checked her patient once more before leaving to check the woman in the next unit.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ much hurt to move, but he had to...had to save them.
The patient in unit four moaned softly as awareness began to let him know he was better off to stay in the white void, to ignore the need to wake up and face the hell waiting for him. He shifted slightly, and was soon asleep once more.
Sarah, Adam...God it hurt...why? Why won’t you answer me? I’m hurt, Sarah...need help...pain...God it hurts...can’t breathe...can’t find...need to find...can’t move...Sarah! Sarah! SARAH!
Jenny moved close to the bed and watched as the eyes moved behind the closed lids. Chris Larabee had been on the verge of waking up for some time now, but each time she thought he was going to open his eyes the movement stopped and the man lay still.
What was it...why can’t I take it out...can’t breathe...can’t breathe...can’t breathe...can’t breathe...
Jenny hit the button as soon as she noted the distress her patient was in. The monitors began to sound as she watched the man struggle against the ventilator. Midland and Silverman entered the room and with one look at the equipment, set things in motion.
“He’s crashing!” Silverman said as the crash cart was pushed up to the bed. Blankets and equipment were shoved aside as the physicians worked to save their patient.
Midland held the paddles and waited until the nurse applied the gel before shouting “Clear!”
The others moved away as she set the paddles against the injured man’s chest and pressed the button. The body arched off the bed.
“Nothing!” Jenny called as Silverman readied a syringe and quickly injected the medication into the patient.
“Clear!” Midland shouted and again applied the paddles. The organized chaos in the room continued as the medical personnel continued to work to save Chris Larabee’s life.
Chris smiled as he saw the two people he loved above all others and made a move towards them, but was stopped by the look of sorrow on Sarah’s face. He frowned as he turned and looked at the bed where so much activity was going on. He tilted his head to the side and realized who the man on the bed was before turning back to his family.
“I’m dead...”
“No, Chris, it’s not your time,” Sarah answered, her voice filled with sadness as she looked into the handsome face she longed to touch.
“Listen to me, Sweetheart, you can’t be here. You need to go back, Chris...”
“No...I want to stay with you and Adam and the baby...”
“You will be, Chris, just not right now. Please, if you stay now we’ll never be together. It’s not your time. Go back and fight.”
“I love you, Daddy, but mommy is right. I’ll take care of her and my baby sister until you can be with us.”
“Adam, I...”
“Chris, please, go back before it’s too late,” Sarah pleaded as her hand placed a whisper soft touch against his heart. “I love you sweetheart, and I will wait for you. Go back.”
“Go back?”
“Yes, it will be a long hard fight, but God has plans for you and you must not disappoint the people who need you. I promise our time will come.”
“I love you,” he whispered, closing his eyes and feeling the pain returning as he moved towards the bed.
“Charging!” Jenny called and watched as the numbers climbed on the defibrillator. “Ready!”
“Clear!” Midland called, unaware of the activity outside the room and the people waiting anxiously for word on their friend. She applied the paddles and watched as the body arched once more. For what seemed an eternity there was no sound, but suddenly the monitors beeped and there seemed to be a collective sigh of relief amidst the turmoil of the last few minutes. The sense of relief didn’t last long as they continued to care for the patient. It took another half hour before things settled down and they were sure the scare was not going to be repeated.
Stacey Midland breathed a sigh of relief as she once more checked the monitors and saw the steady rhythm. Taking a look towards the door she knew she had to speak to the two men standing there. She watched as Jenny covered the injured man once more and stepped out of the room.
“Page me if anything changes,” she ordered, nodding to Silverman as she left the room.
“Doc, what happened?” Wilmington asked, his legs shaking with the effort it took to stay on his feet.
“Chris has been through so much and his injuries have left him weak. His heart stopped beating, but we managed to bring him back. I’m afraid we won’t be taking him off the ventilator today, not after what just occurred.”
“Will it happen again?” Dunne asked worriedly.
“It might, JD, but we’re ready if it does.”
“Can I sit with him, Doc?” Wilmington asked.
“Give the nurses a chance to finish in there and then you can go in. I have a few things to arrange and then I have to make rounds, but I’ll be on call should anything happen.”
“Thanks, Doc,” the gentle rogue said, smiling thinly as he leaned against the wall.
“Buck, I’m going to go down and let Nathan and Vin know what happened.”
“All right, Kid, and call Josiah too...ask him to let Ezra and the others know.”
“I will, Buck. Are you sure you’re okay?”
“No, JD, I’m not, but I will be once Chris wakes up.”
“I can stay...”
“No, I’m all right, Kid. Go tell the others and bring me back a strong coffee when you come back. Okay?”
“I will, Buck,” Dunne said, reluctantly walking away.
Buck watched as several medical personnel left the room before finally entering and sitting next to his friend’s bed. He reached over the railing and took Larabee’s right hand in his own.
“Hell, Chris, I can’t take this shit anymore,” he whispered as tears filled his eyes and he sobbed out his pain.
“Vin, I’ll agree to your going to see Chris, but under certain conditions,” Midland warned, arms folded across her chest.
“Anything, Doc,” Tanner said, shifting his legs over the edge of the bed.
“You might be sorry you said that, Vin,” Sanchez warned as he watched the physician smile.
“Ah, hell, guess I should’ve asked for the conditions first.”
“Well, the conditions are simple. You go there and back by wheelchair, stay for no longer than five minutes...”
“Ten, but when you get back here, you do everything the nurses tell you and follow my orders implicitly.”
“Damn,” Tanner cursed softly, but he knew he’d agree to anything if it meant seeing Larabee. “How is he doing?”
“There hasn’t been any change since this morning, but we’ll be keeping a close watch on him.”
“What caused it, Doc?” the Texan asked.
“Vin, you have to realize with everything Chris has been through, both physically and emotionally that it’s put a strain on his heart. I’m hopeful that what happened won’t be repeated, but we’re ready if it does.”
“What about letting him wake up?” Sanchez asked.
“We’ll try easing off on the sedatives again tomorrow morning. Dr. Silverman and Dr. James will both be present,” Midland explained.
“I’d like ta be there,” Tanner said hopefully, knowing how hard it was going to be on the blond.
“We’ll see, Vin,” Midland said and knew it would be easier on both men if Tanner was there, but she also had to think about the Texan’s health. She turned to the ex-preacher and smiled as she asked. “Josiah, do you think you’ll be able to keep Vin in a wheelchair or should I get an orderly?”
“I can handle him,” Sanchez said confidently.
“All right. Ten minutes after that I send out the cavalry,” the physician warned.
“It’ll take longer than that ta get up there,” the tracker observed.
“Hmm, okay a total of ten minutes in with Chris, then back here and bed rest for the remainder of the day,” Midland told him.
“Thanks, Doc,” Tanner said as Sanchez went to get a wheelchair. He sat where he was for several long minutes, his thoughts on the man he’d come to think of as a brother, both in mind and spirit. So much pain for one man to live with yet he’d never be alone.
“Vin, are you ready?”
“Yeah, Josiah,” Tanner said, wincing as he stood and turned to sit in the chair. He watched as the nurse came in and moved the IV to the pole attached to the chair and smiled as she placed a blanket over his legs. “Is Nathan coming?”
“He’s already up there with Buck and Ezra,” Sanchez answered.
“Oh, okay,” the tracker said as the older man maneuvered the chair out of the room.
Nathan and Buck turned away from the bed as they heard Josiah’s voice from the doorway. The SICU was not big enough for all of them, so Nathan and Buck stood up and walked out of the room.
“How are ya feeling, Nate?” Tanner asked.
“Sore, Vin, but I’m getting there,” Jackson answered as Buck took one last look into the room before heading towards the elevator.
“Is Buck okay?” Sanchez asked of the slump shouldered man leaning against the wall.
“He’s hurting something fierce, Josiah, and I don’t think he’ll be himself until he sees Chris awake and knows he’s going to be alright,” the medic in training answered.
“Coming, Nate?” Wilmington asked as the doors slid open.
“I’ll see you guys later,” Jackson said as he shuffled towards the elevator.
“All right, Vin, are you ready?”
“Yeah, Josiah,” Tanner answered as the ex-preacher pushed him into the room and up to the bed. He knew about the cardiac arrest, but was still unprepared for the scope of medical equipment and tubes surrounding Chris Larabee. He swallowed past the painful lump forming in his throat and forced himself to sit up straighter in the chair. He didn’t realize he was holding his breath until Sanchez came around to face him.
“Vin, are you okay?”
“Yeah, think so, Josiah, I jest didn’t think ‘bout how bad it was. Didn’t want ta think ‘bout it.”
“I understand, Vin, none of us are really thinking about any of it right now, except to pray that God will see fit to help us all through this and make us whole again. Do you want me to stay with you?”
“No, I’m okay,” Tanner said and reached for Larabee’s hand. The skin was no longer cold to the touch and he smiled as he reached for the gossamer strands that marked his connection to Chris Larabee. The touch he’d felt when their eyes first met across the street was still there, but he had to fight to hold onto it.
‘Stay with me, Cowboy, ain’t ‘bout ta letcha off that easy. I know yer hurtin’ right now, but you’re not alone. If ya need me I’m here, ya jest gotta reach out. Ya hear me, Chris, I ain’t lettin ya go,’ he silently vowed as he watched the slow rise and fall of Larabee’s chest as the ventilator breathed for him.
“Mr. Tanner, are you okay?”
Vin looked at the nurse and knew she was concerned about his health. He knew he’d probably gone paler than the sheets on the bed, but he nodded in answer. The site of his friend, so beaten and pale sent a jolt of fear through his body and he knew how Buck Wilmington felt. Buck had been through a lot with Chris, and right now he prayed they’d still have a lifetime to get to know one another. Sometimes he wondered if Buck resented him for the close friendship he now had with Chris, and Vin knew he would have to talk with Wilmington and put both their minds at ease.
“Vin, it’s time to go back to your room,” Sanchez advised.
“But we only jest got here,” Tanner protested and looked at the clock on the wall, surprised to see nearly fifteen minutes had passed since his arrival in the room. “Damn. Jest a few more minutes, Josiah.”
“Sorry, Vin, but you made a deal with Dr. Midland and we both know she’ll expect you to stick to it.”
“Yeah I know,” the Texan agreed as he looked back at Larabee. “Ya hang on, Cowboy, ain’t gonna letcha go and ya sure as hell ain’t alone. I, we all got yer back!”
Josiah nodded to the nurse as he turned the chair away from the bed and pushed it out of the room. He knew Tanner had a headache by the way the younger man rubbed at his temples. Knowing the Texan’s penchant for quiet, Sanchez didn’t speak until they were back in his room and had him settled back into bed.
“Thanks, Josiah.”
“You’re welcome, Vin, sleep well,” Sanchez said, drawing the curtain and turning out the light before leaving the room.
Vin let his mind drift and smiled as he felt the weak link he had with the blond. He clung to the sensation as he slipped towards sleep, knowing Larabee was still with them.
The voices were back, but he didn’t want to acknowledge them. His body hurt and he did not want to face the pain that would be there to greet him, but for Chris Larabee there would be no escaping the reality of waking up to a bleak world. Two voices penetrated the foggy existence he’d been shrouded in and he knew there was no denying their call as his eyelids began to flutter and opened to half-mast.
“Hey, Cowboy,” Tanner smiled in greeting.
“It’s about time you woke up, Pard,” Wilmington said as Midland, Silverman, and James watched their patient.
Chris panicked as he tried to breathe on his own and gagged on whatever was down his throat. His eyes shot open as he fought against the restraints, but two sets of hands touched him and tried to instill a sense of calm.
“Easy, Chris, you’re in the SICU at Saint Vincents and you’re on a ventilator. It’s there to help and I want you to stop fighting it and let it do its job,” Midland explained.
‘Take it’s choking me...can’t me...’
“Chris, buddy, you need to calm down. The docs are going to take the tube out a little later, but they won’t do it if you keep fighting it,” Wilmington tried and watched as Tanner reached for Larabee’s hand and spoke softly to him. He bit back the pang of jealousy as the younger man caught and held Larabee’s attention.
“Ya trust me, Cowboy?” the Texan asked and watched the head bob once. “Good, ‘cause right now ya need ta let the docs take a look atcha and make sure yer okay. Me and Buck’ll be back when they’re done, okay?”
Chris nodded once and closed his eyes as a sense of sorrow and grief washed over him. The pain was there, a constant reminder of the events leading up to this moment. He was in hell, and he knew it would be that way for the rest of his life.
“Chris, we’re just going to check the dressing on your wounds,” Silverman explained.
“We’re also going to run some tests and if things look good we may be able to remove the respirator tonight,” Midland explained as James watched the blond’s reactions.
Chris listened to them talking, but the call of sleep had him drifting once more. He sank towards his dreams, hoping and praying the nightmares would not find him there, yet knowing in his heart there was no escaping the reality of his empty heart.
“He’s asleep, Stacey,” Silverman observed as he checked the tube running into Larabee’s side.
Midland nodded as she checked the flow on the IV and made several notations on Larabee’s chart. She set the respirator to allow him to breathe on his own and made sure the nurse would page them if there were any problems. Once Silverman was finished checking the surgical incisions and the chest tube the trio of doctors left the room.
“Vin, five minutes. Then I want you back in your room, understood?”
“I’ll make sure he gets back there, Doc,” Wilmington assured her as he wheeled Tanner into the room once more.
“He looks so pale, Buck.”
“I know, Vin, believe me between the two of you there’s two thirds of the ghostly trio team,” Wilmington joked, the uncomfortable jealousy having dissipated while they waited for the physicians to finish with their friend.
“I think maybe you could be the third member,” Tanner observed of the Ladies’ man’s pale face. They lapsed into silence as they watched Larabee, knowing this was only the beginning of a long road back from hell.
The next time he opened his eyes the room was again in semi darkness. The panic set in again as he gagged around the tube in his throat and he tried to shift his body and find a more comfortable position, but the pain seemed to follow him everywhere.
“Chris, I’m going to give you something to help with the pain.” Selma Winslow explained as she placed a syringe into her patient’s IV.
Chris nodded, grateful when he felt the warmth spreading throughout his body with the addition of the medication. He kept his eyes closed and concentrated on keeping his tongue still in order to stop the gagging sensation. The pain began to diminish, but it also meant he was drifting back to sleep. His memories taking him back to a day he hoped never to relive.
Winslow watched her patient closely and knew when he fell asleep. She also knew he was not resting easy as his body often shifted on the bed and the nightmares became evident on his face. She wished there was something she could do to rid him of the dreams, but all she could do was talk to him in soothing tones and hope her words got through to him.
Chris reached for the phone and held it to his ear as he drove towards his home. “Larabee...”
“Sarah, what’s wrong?” the blond asked, hearing the tension in her voice.
“I don’t know...something...someone’s singing...”
“Camptown Races...OH MY GOD!” Sarah screamed as the sound of an explosion ripped through the air.
“Jesus Christ! Sarah, where are you?”
“Chris what’s wrong?” Wilmington asked as they drove nearer the street and a fireball shot up from the car parked across from the Larabee home.
“Chris...the car just exploded!”
“I know...where are you and Adam?” the blond asked as he turned into his yard.
“We’re in the house...the song is louder...threatening us with an explosion...where are you?” her voice trembled with fear as she pulled her shaking son towards her.
“I’m just coming into the yard honey...GET OUT NOW!” As the words left his mouth a scream followed right behind it as Chris saw his life, his world, his reason for living crumble before his eyes. 
He cried out, yet no sound escaped, as he gagged on the tube down his throat. He had no idea where he was or why he couldn’t breathe, but he knew what he had to do.
‘SARAH!’ he thought he screamed the words, but no sound escaped as panic set in and flames lit the area surrounding him. He fought to get his emotions under control as the nurse’s voice finally got through to him.
“Chris, you’re safe now. You’re in Saint Vincents Hospital and on a ventilator.” She repeated the words she always used when her patient’s woke up and watched as tears leaked from Larabee’s closed lids. She reached for the soft cloth in the basin of water and gently washed them from his face as he opened his eyes and looked up at her. She saw more sadness and pain in the green orbs than she’d ever seen before and hoped one day it would leave him. 
“You’re going to be okay, Chris. It may not be today or tomorrow or even next week, but you will be okay,” she soothed and watched the eyes close once more.
Chris knew she was trying to ease his pain, but the memories of the fire and the loss of his heart and soul, were too much to overcome. He let the tears flow, not for himself, but for the loss of the family that left an empty place in his heart, one that could never be filled again.
Paul Grogan looked at the package on his desk and wondered whether or not he should bring it to Chris Larabee now, or wait until he was out of the hospital. The package contained several items and all of them would impact his client’s life. He’d been Larabee’s lawyer before he’d married Sarah Connelly, and he knew it was no longer a lawyer/client relationship. Chris Larabee was a friend and as such the loss of his family affected him more than he cared to admit. He reached into the package and took out the papers once more. Sarah Larabee had come to him three weeks before her death with an offer on a property on Old Pear Tree Road. The ranch had been placed on the market three months prior, but had not been sold yet. Sarah had fallen in love with it and asked him to take her out there before she told Chris. He knew they would have no problem buying the place if Chris liked the ranch as much as his wife did. Now looking at the second set of papers he realized Larabee could easily buy the place and have money left over. Sarah’s life insurance was up to date and her will was also in the package. Everything was left to her husband and he knew it would be hard for Chris to hear it, but the man would be able to buy himself a new place or rebuild on the land he already owned. The final document was a letter addressed to Chris Larabee and to be delivered to him should anything happen to her. He placed the documents back in the package and knew it would be several days before he could bring them to Chris Larabee. Taking his briefcase from the floor he left his office for the day, but stopped as a loud voice was heard from his outer office.
“You tell Grogan I want to see him now!”
“Sir, Mr. Grogan is about to leave for the day...”
“I don’t give a damn what he’s doing. You tell him Hank Connelly is here and...”
“It’s alright, Sylvia, send him in,” Grogan said, holding the door for the man to enter.
“It’s about fucking time...”
“If you’re going to talk like that you can turn around and leave right now!” Grogan warned.
“What right have you got to put a restraining order out on me? I got a right to see my son in law!”
“No, Mr. Connelly, you don’t. Not after everything you’ve done to him.”
“I didn’t do nothing that bastard didn’t deserve. He took my little girl from me and made sure she didn’t want anything to do with me.”
“If I remember correctly it’s you who didn’t want anything to do with Sarah once she married Chris Larabee.”
“He wasn’t good enough for her!” Connelly cursed, standing and slamming his fist on the desk.
“I’m afraid you’ll have to leave!” Grogan declared as the man’s eyes darkened with anger.
Connelly reached across the desk as if to grab the lawyer, but stopped as his eyes lit on the package open on the desk. His anger flared as he read the words life insurance and the name Sarah Connelly-Larabee.
“What the hell is this shit?” he asked, reaching for the papers, only to have them snatched away before his fingers touched them.
“These are private papers, Mr. Connelly, and you have no right to touch them.”
“That sonofabitch took out insurance on my daughter!”
“It’s none of your business...”
“He probably had her killed so he could get the money. Lousy no good...”
“Mr. Connelly, leave my office now or I will have security escort you off the property,” Grogan warned.
“He won’t get away with this and neither will you!” Connelly spat, grabbing the empty coffee cup and throwing it against the wall before striding out the door.
Grogan sat back in his chair as his secretary looked in and he assured her he was okay. He moved to clean up the broken glass and knew he had not seen the last of Hank Connelly.
“Chris,” Stacey Midland called softly in case the blond was really sleeping. She watched as his eyelids fluttered and finally opened and smiled at him as he shifted slightly on the bed. “How would you like to get rid of the tube?”
Chris heard her question and knew he should be elated, but could not find the energy to show any enthusiasm. He simply nodded and closed his eyes once more, feeling like the world around him was a cruel place with nothing warm left in it.
“Hey, Cowboy, the doctors need ya ta help them with this one.”
‘Vin,’ the blond thought, but still didn’t open his eyes as he felt the tape being removed from around his mouth.
“Come on, Chris, it’ll be easier if ya help them,” Tanner explained and watched the green eyes open. He saw the emptiness in the green depths and knew his friend was keeping his feelings hidden. ‘It’s going to be okay, Cowboy, yer not alone,’ he thought.
‘Go away, Vin,’ the silent thought struck the Texan hard, but he didn’t let it show.
“All right, Chris, I want you to cough when I tell you too, okay?” Midland asked and again saw the blond head nod once.
Chris knew Tanner was there with him and realized the others were not far away either. Setting his mind to deal with the pain he knew was coming, he clenched his hands into fists and coughed on the physician’s order. He felt the tube extraction and cried out as he tried to curl into a ball, but was held fast by the restraints around his wrists. Tears formed in his eyes and slipped past the closed lids even as he felt a hand clasp his own. He could hear voices, but none of the words made sense as the agony twisted like a knife through his abdomen. He held fast to the hand, unaware of the pain he was causing his friend as he sought some relief from his torment.
“Doc!” Tanner cried as he watched the blond’s struggles.
“Hold on, Vin, I’m giving him something to help with the pain!” Midland answered as she slipped a syringe into the IV and injected the medication.
“Hear that, Cowboy? That’s gonna make ya feel better.
“God, V...Vin, hurts,” Larabee’s voice was barely above a raspy whisper, yet Tanner understood he was referring to something other than the physical pain.
Chris tried hard to focus on his friend’s voice as the strange warmth spread through him and a cloth was gently washed over his face. A sponge was washed over his dry lips and he was grateful for the small amount of moisture that slipped into his mouth. He finally forced heavy lids open as an oxygen mask was placed over his mouth and nose. He concentrated on breathing, on making an effort to get past the shock of the tube extraction and finally looked into the worried blue eyes he knew so well.
“L...look sh...shit, Tanner.”
“Yer not gonna win any beauty contests yerself right now,” Tanner said, locking his left arm with Larabee’s in an awkward imitation of their special forearm clasp.
“D...don’t ‘spect a...any of us w...will,” the blond said, as Midland moved in next to Tanner’s wheelchair.
“Chris, I want you to get some rest now. Your friends can come back to see you later this afternoon,” the physician ordered and put up her hand to stop Tanner’s protest. “I agreed you could be here when we did this, but I also warned you I’d find something real nasty if you argued with me once we were finished.”
“S...she y...your n...number,” Larabee said, closing his eyes as the strong pain meds kicked in.
“Josiah, would you take Vin back to his room?”
“Certainly Doctor,” Sanchez agreed, entering the room and grabbing the handles of the wheelchair.
“Now, Nathan, you can come in for a couple of minutes, then I want Ezra to escort you back to your room,” Midland continued as Jackson replaced Tanner beside Larabee’s bed. She looked at the nurse who would be taking care of this patient during the remainder of the day and acknowledge the small smile that formed on her face.
“How is he doing, Doc?” Jackson asked, wanting to hear it from the woman’s mouth instead of looking at the monitors.
“Nathan, physically and emotionally he’s been put through the proverbial ringer. Right now we’re dealing with the physical in the best way possible. He’s on a strong antibiotic cocktail because of the peritonitis and the lingering infection in the burns. The burns are looking much better, but it’s going to take a while for them to heal properly and Dr. Bledsoe is still debriding those...”
“Ouch,” Jackson mumbled.
“Yes, I’m sure you know how painful burns can be.”
“Yes, I do,” Jackson answered, rubbing at an old scar on his side, the result of a mishap with a burning log at the age of ten. The scar was not as prominent as it had been, but it was a reminder of what Chris was going through.
“Nathan, are you all right?”
“I’m fine, Doc, just thinking too much. Is Dr. James going to see him?”

“Yes, she’ll be coming down this afternoon. Now, I want you to let Ezra escort you back to your room,” Midland ordered and smiled as the man nodded and tried to keep his own emotions under control.
“Thanks, Doc,” Jackson said as he turned to leave.
“You’re welcome, Nathan,” Midland said, watching as JD talked to Buck. The sling was no longer on the rogue’s arm and she knew from her earlier examination that he was able to use it, but had warned him not to overdo things and to use the sling if his arm was sore.
“Doc, can we come in?” Dunne asked.
“Yes, JD, I’m finished for now. Donna, page me if there are any problems.”
“I will, Dr. Midland,” Donna Rawlings assured her and watched as the two handsome visitors entered the room. She moved away from the bed and allowed them some time alone with her patient as she checked the supplies in the overhead cabinets.
“I’m glad they took that thing out of him,” Dunne observed.
“You and me both, kid,” Wilmington said, glad his friend was without the breathing tube. He stood staring down at the too pale face, watching each rise and fall as the blond continued to breathe on his own, and understood this was only the first hurdle in a fight that would see them all put through hell. He settled down on the chair beside the bed and wondered would he ever see his best friend laughing and whole again.
Hank opened the case of beer and looked towards the fridge, debating whether or not he should bother putting the bottles inside. Realizing they wouldn’t last long enough to warrant using his energy he popped the top off one and took several long swallows before grabbing the case and carrying them into the living room. Sitting in the battered chair he smiled as he thought of the revenge he had in mind for Chris Larabee. The papers on Grogan’s desk gave him the idea and all he had to do was get in contact with the rumor monger from the local tabloid newspaper. He could just picture the headlines.
The smile grew on his face at the thought of throwing suspicion on his son-in-law. Larabee deserved to pay for what he’d put him through, and maybe if the suspicions were enough he’d be charged and the insurance money would belong to Hank Connelly by default. Downing the last of the beer he reached for another bottle as a deep belch escaped his throat.
Nathan knew it was getting late and he knew the nurse would soon be in to take his vitals and give him the IV antibiotics he was still receiving. Josiah, JD, and Ezra had already gone home and he knew Wilmington was still in Larabee’s room. Taking a deep breath he wondered how they would be able to get Chris past all of this and vowed to do everything possible to support his friend. He closed his eyes and remembered Adam’s excitement at winning the bike at the Fair and felt the tears in his eyes at the loss of such an innocent life.
“Nathan, can I come in?”
Jackson opened his eyes, reached for the box of tissues, and swiped at the evidence of tears. He sat on the edge of the bed and nodded. “Sure, Rain, come on in.”
“I won’t ask how you’re feeling, because I can tell by looking at you your heart is breaking.” She sat beside him, wrapped her arms round him and pulled him close. She felt his shoulders tremble and knew he was crying as she hugged him fiercely. This man, whom she’d known such a short time had a soulful heart and she knew when his friends hurt, he hurt. She held him through his tears and listened as he raged against the senseless loss of life and knew no matter what else happened she wanted this man in her life. She felt him pull away and heard his sharp intake of breath as he reached for the tissues once more. She watched as he tore the tissue in small strips before he lifted his head and stared into her eyes.
“I’m sorry, Rain, didn’t mean to fall apart on you.”
“Nathan, you didn’t fall apart. You cried and that’s a normal part of grief.”
“Got your shirt wet.”
“Yes, that you did, but this thing can be thrown in the washer. You needed to cry, Nathan, and I’m hoping it helps you.”
“I was never a man who thought crying was just for women, Rain. My daddy always told me a man needed to let his tears fall when the time was right or it’d just eat him up inside.”
“Your daddy was a wise man, Nathan,” Goines said, smiling as Jackson pulled her close.
“Mommy always said daddy was the strongest man she ever knew and that strength came from his ability to cry.”
“Now I know whom you got your brains and your good looks from,” Goines said as she kissed him and held him again.
“Thanks, Rain. Can you stay?”
“Oh, I think I can stick around a little longer,” Goines said, smiling as the nurse entered. She watched as the other woman completed the patient’s vital signs, hooked up the antibiotics, and then spoke to her before closing the door. She moved back to the bed and climbed onto it with the man she cared for.
“You won’t get in any trouble for this will you?”
“No, Nathan, you’re not my patient, and I’m only staying long enough for you to go to sleep.”
“Hmm, at least I’ll have my dreams to keep me warm once you leave.”
“Me too, Nathan, now go to sleep.”
“Hmm, hmm,” Jackson mumbled as he snuggled up to the exotic beauty.
Wilmington knew visiting hours would soon be over, but he wasn’t ready to leave his friend. Chris slept most of the day, awakening only when the nightmares became too much and he cry out in pain. Several times the nurses had to revert to the sedatives ordered by Midland and James in order to calm the injured man down. Running his fingers through his hair and rubbing at tired eyes, Buck felt the exhaustion of his own body.
“G...go home.”
The rogue smiled as he dropped his hand and looked into the green depths and nearly lost himself in the sorrow he saw there. The voice was still garbled behind the oxygen mask, but there was no mistaking who’d spoken.
“Trying to get rid of me, Pard?”
“M...must be boring w...watching sleep,” Larabee said, shifting on the bed as the nurse called his name.
“Chris, how are you feeling?”
“N...numb,” he answered and looked down at the restraints around his wrists. “Can take t...these off?”
“Certainly,” Lori Turner answered and slipped the restraints off his wrists.
“You’re welcome. Is there anything else I get you?”
“Of course,” she said and reached for the glass on the table. “Take it slow.”
“Okay,” the blond rasped as the mask was lifted and the straw was placed at him mouth. Chris took several swallows and nodded as she took it away.
“I have a few things to do, but if you need anything just let me know.”
“I will,” Larabee assured her as she replaced the mask once more.
“How are you really feeling, Chris?” Wilmington asked and sought the answer in the eyes once more.
“I’m okay, Buck. J...just feel tired all the time.”
“That’s the good stuff they’re feeding into you. Kind of makes you feel woolly...”
“Yes, it d...does. How’s the arm?”
“Stiff, but at least I can use it now.”
“Good...shit!” Larabee cursed as he felt himself drifting towards sleep once more.
“You go ahead and sleep, Chris.”
“O...okay, g...go home.”
“You keep telling me to go home and I’m gonna think you’re trying to get rid of me, Stud.”
“Never do that, B...Buck,” Larabee said, his heart thumping as he thought about the long time friendship with this man.
“Thanks, Chris, you go ahead and sleep. I’ll be back in the morning.”
“O...okay,” Chris heard the man stand and turn away from the bed. He opened his eyes and watched the slump shouldered figure walking towards the door. He knew how much Wilmington was affected by Sarah and Adam’s death, yet he could not find the strength to acknowledge it. There was too much pain in his own mind and he couldn’t show the others how he felt. Not now, maybe not ever. He continued to watch the man until he disappeared around the corner and struggled to keep his emotions in check. Shifting slightly on the bed he tried to suppress a cry of pain as the movement jarred the tube in his chest. His hands clenched into fists and he shook his head when the nurse asked if he needed anything for pain.
‘There’s nothing you can give me that could help me with the real pain,’ he thought and hated the weakness that caused tears to slip past his closed lids. He fought the anger and pain, but knew there would be no resolution to the torment he felt.
“God, Sarah, I miss you so much,” he whispered as he finally gave in to his need for relief and dropped into the dreams once more.
Vin laid awake long into the night wondering what could possess a woman to cause so much pain. His own pain paled in comparison to what Chris must be feeling and he sat up in the bed. The lights were off and only a small glow emanated from a nightlight on the floor next to the door. He ignored the throbbing pain in his leg as he leaned heavily on the IV pole and made his way to the window. Once there he sat down on the chair and stared into the darkness, hoping and praying his friend’s sanity would remain intact in spite of the powerful blow he’d been dealt.
Josiah turned in his bed and felt the object on the chain fall against his chest. His fingers came up and played with the ring and he realized it was time to give it back to its rightful owner. He shifted onto his back and stared up at the ceiling, debating whether or not he should get up and drive to the hospital right away or wait until visiting hours. He looked at the clock beside the bed and groaned at the red numbers that put the time at 3:15 am and knew he would not be going anywhere yet.
‘Don’t worry, Chris, no one’s going to take this from you again,’ Sanchez silently vowed before pulling the blankets over him and falling asleep once more.
Even in sleep Chris did not rest, his right hand reached for his left and found the empty space where his ring should have been. His heartbeat picked up and fear filled his face as he struggled to awareness and realized the ring was not present. Panic flared in his eyes, but he couldn’t move without awakening the pain once more and he tried to stifle a groan but it escaped his throat. He heard the nurse telling him to breathe slowly and tried to concentrate. Nothing eased the pain until he felt her adding something to his IV and he was drifting on a sea of calm once more.
‘Oh, God, Sarah, I’ve lost everything,’ he thought just before he fell into the waiting arms of blessed oblivion.
Buck tossed and turned on the bed and finally gave up as he slid his legs over the edge. Standing up he walked to the bathroom and washed his face, moaning as he caught a reflection of himself in the mirror. “Chris was right I do look like shit right now,” he said and grabbed for the small hand towel on the rack. Shaking his head he made his way to the kitchen and turned on the coffee maker before sitting in a chair at the table. He placed his arms on the table and laid his head on them as the aroma of strong coffee permeated the air around him. He didn’t realize he’d fallen asleep until he heard Dunne’s voice beside him.
“You’ll get a crick from sleeping like that.”
“Wasn’t sleeping,” Wilmington told him, rubbing at tired eyes.
“Could’ve fooled me with that base drum you were playing,” the younger man said, smiling as he looked at his friend and saw the slight grin form on the pale face.
“Hmm, heard you calling in the cows a time or two yourself, JD. Is the coffee ready?”
“Yeah.” Dunne reached for the pot and two cups, placing them on the table. Opening the fridge he grabbed the cream and sat down opposite his friend. He studied Wilmington’s face and knew his roommate was suffering more than any of them, because Buck’s loss bordered on the loss of a parent for his child. He’d known Chris and Sarah longer than any of them and had been there during the birth of Adam Larabee. The man had stood beside Chris and Sarah at Adam’s christening and through everything that happened to the family since then. Buck had lost more than just a friend, he’s lost a sister and a godson, and JD had no idea how to help him deal with his grief.
“JD, Kid, you’re staring.”
“You’re staring at me, Kid.”
“Oh, Sorry, Buck, I was just thinking.”
“About what?”
“Nothing, everything,” Dunne answered simply, biting back the emotions warring inside him.
“It might help to talk about it, JD.”
“I could say the same thing to you, Buck.”
“Yeah, you could, Kid, but that doesn’t mean it’ll work.”
“Come on, Buck, you and Chris knew each other longer than any of the rest of us. I know how much you’re hurting and I understand...”
“No, Kid, you don’t,” Wilmington said softly.
“Then tell me, Buck, and let me help you.”
“JD, have you ever hurt so bad you couldn’t cry?”
“No, not that I remember.”
“Well, right now there’s so much pain in my heart that I can’t cry anymore. It hurts to even think about. I mean I should be at the hospital helping Chris, but right now all I can feel is how much I’ve lost. Selfish huh?” he asked sipping at the coffee and fighting back the tears.
“No, actually it’s not, Buck. I know how close you were to Sarah and I saw how you were with Adam. You were like a second father to that little boy, Buck, and he loved you...”
“Loved...that’s the word, JD. Adam loved me and his dad and all of you guys, but he’s not around anymore. I can’t feel his little arms around me or hear that little belly laugh he had when I tickled him. I’ll never be able to hug him and sooth his fears and tell him there are no such things as monsters, JD, and that’s what’s really hard. I lied to him, we all did.”
“What are you talking about?” Dunne asked, confused and worried about his friend’s demeanor.
“I lied to him, JD! I told Adam there were no monsters in this world, but there is! Ella Gaines is a fucking monster and she murdered that precious little boy and his mother and God let her do it!”
“God didn’t let her do it, Buck...”
“He didn’t fucking stop it, did he?” Wilmington spat and slammed the coffee mug on the table.
“Buck, you know God can’t stop everything that happens or else this would be heaven. It’s not...not by a long shot, but we have to make the best of what we’re given.”
“JD, if you’re going to give me the old pep talk about if life give you lemons make lemonade then you might as well give it up right now. I’m angry with God for letting that bitch murder Chris’ wife and son and I’m not ready to forgive and forget. Mom always said I held a grudge when someone hurt the ones I love, well, I’m guessing this grudge is probably gonna be enough to last a lifetime.”
“Buck, we’re all gonna hate Ella Gaines, but you’re too big a man to let it make you bitter...”
“Wanna bet, Kid. Remember those lemons, well they can be pretty sour,” Wilmington said and reached for the pot of coffee.
“I can’t see that happening, Buck. All I’d have to do is point out why Sarah and Adam and even Chris loved you. Hell, why we all love you. You’ve been a mercenary, a SEAL, and you’ve done things that you haven’t even told us about. You’re still a man I’m proud to call brother and someone Sarah and Chris trusted enough to ask to be a godfather for their little boy. No, Buck, if you really were as bitter as you’re trying to make out, then you wouldn’t be the man Sarah trusted. Think about what you gave them, Buck, and what they meant to you,” Dunne said and stared into the emotive blue eyes. He saw the truth in them as tears formed and the shoulders shook with pain.
“I miss them so much, JD,” Wilmington cried as he slammed his fist on the table and felt the younger man’s hand on his shoulders.
“I know you do, Buck, and it’s okay to cry,” Dunne said and sat down beside him. He held the ladies’ man while he dealt with some of his grief and knew it was the start of the healing process. He had no idea how long the big man let the tears fall, but he was there through it all and didn’t balk at the idea of a grown man shedding tears over a loss that cut them all so deeply.
Chris knew they’d soon be coming around, but he wasn’t ready to face anyone right now. His mind continued to remember how he’d gotten his ring back, but somewhere along the way it was lost to him once more. His heart ached and he felt his spirit slowly dying as he was dealt another devastating blow to his soul.
There was no denying the voice that called his name and he opened his eyes and tried to find a smile for the doctors who entered his room. He didn’t feel up to their ministrations, but he knew they would not leave him alone until they checked him over thoroughly.
“Good morning, Chris, how are you feeling?” Midland asked, removing the mask so his answer would be heard.
“I’m okay, Doc, just a little sore,” Larabee lied.
“Sore, okay I would call that an understatement,” Bledsoe said. “Do you remember me, Chris?”
“Yes. Burn specialist.”
“That’s correct and I’m going to check them in a few minutes. I know it’s uncomfortable, but we’re going to give you something that will make you drowsy before I start. Okay?”
“Guess so,” Larabee answered disinterestedly.
“Do you remember Dr. Silverman?” Midland asked.
“No, not really.”
“That’s okay, you were kind of out of it the last time we saw each other. I’m going to listen to your lungs and your heart. You’ve also had surgery to your abdomen and we’re going to arrange several tests for later today and tomorrow.” Silverman said as he took the stethoscope from around his neck. He listened to his patient’s heart and was pleased to hear a normal rhythm. Next he listened to Larabee’s lungs, before checking the chest tube and finally the CVP line running into the blond’s neck.
“How’s it look?” Larabee asked, but didn’t really care if he got an answer. The depression that started the night before was quickly gaining ground and he knew the only way to keep it from the others was to hide behind a false facade and hope they didn’t see through it.
“Well, I’m pleased with the progress so far and we may be able to dispense with the chest tube in a couple of days. Right now I’m going to turn you over to Dr. Midland and Dr. Bledsoe. You take it easy and if you need anything at all just let your nurse know.”
“I will, thanks doc,” Larabee said and watched the man leave.
“Chris, I’m going to take a look at the incision in your side and take a look at your latest test results before I turn you over to Dr. Bledsoe,” Midland explained. She watched his face closely and knew he was fighting to keep his emotions in check as she pulled the blanket down further and removed the bandage covering the wound. She felt him wince and knew the damage from the bullet wound was making him uncomfortable. The antibiotics were still being given intravenously and she frowned as she touched the reddened area around the incision. “Chris?”
“Hmm,” Larabee mumbled as weariness began to overtake him once more.
“I need to open a section of the incision and see if we can drain the infection from it. Since Dr. Bledsoe is going to give you something to make you drowsy anyway, I’m going to wait until it takes effect. Okay?”
“Guess so,” the injured man whispered as a newcomer entered the room. He listened to the doctors speaking and understood this man would inject a strong sedative into his IV. He opened his eyes as the doctor called his name and closed them again as he felt the man take his wrist and inject the sedative into the juncture closest to his arm. It didn’t take long for him to feel the effects of the drug and he fought to open his eyes as Midland worked on his abdomen.
“Put him back on the oxygen, Samantha,” Midland ordered as she detected a slight wheeze from her patient. She checked the injured knee and made sure it was still immobilized. The specialist was hopeful that surgery wouldn’t be needed, but it would depend on how well Larabee carried out his orders.
The nurse adjusted the mask and placed it over Larabee’s mouth and nose. She saw the eyes open and smiled as they slowly slid shut once more.
Midland and Bledsoe worked together to clean the incision and debride the burns on Larabee’s chest. Once in a while the patient moaned, but the sedative seemed to keep him comfortable as they worked. Once they finished, the burns were once more covered in a special sheet and the blanket was lifted over his body once more. The physicians dispensed with the surgical gloves and scrubbed their hands and arms before leaving the patient in the care of his nurse.
Ezra stood in the doorway for several minutes while the nurse finished emptying the Foley receptacle and checking the flow of the IV. Taking a deep breath he walked into the room and stood beside Larabee’s bed. He hated looking at the damage done to the man, both physical and mental and wished there was something he could do to ease the blond’s torment. He knew the doctors had worked on the man’s injuries today, and also knew he’d been given strong sedatives to keep him as comfortable as possible during the procedures.
“How is he?” the gambler asked the nurse standing beside the bed.
“He’s been sleeping since Dr. Midland and Dr. Bledsoe left.”
“That’s good, he needs that.”
“Yes, he does.”
“I’m awake, Ezra,” Larabee said, wincing at the effort it took to move the tiniest bit.
“Hello, Chris, I won’t ask you how you feel.”
“, don’t,” the blond said, voice muffled from beneath the mask.
“That bad?” Standish asked and knew from the look in the green eyes it really was that bad. “Is there anything I can get you?”
“Water,” the blond answered and muttered simple thanks as the mask was lifted and a straw placed at his lips. He drank a couple of small sips and turned away when his stomach churned.
“Chris, what’s wrong?” Samantha Hendricks asked as she watched her patient’s face.
“Stomach hurts, feel sick,” Larabee told her, moaning as the nausea grew worse. He didn’t feel her lift the mask as he turned his head and the small amount of water made a return trip. He felt Ezra place his hand on his shoulder and heard the conman speaking in soothing tones.
“Chris, Dr. Midland ordered Zofran for nausea and I’m going to give it to you now.”
“O...okay,” the blond said and noticed the item that had been the receptacle for his illness. “Sorry, Ez, h...have the jacket cleaned and s...send me the bill.”
“Chris, please don’t trouble yourself over this jacket. My cleaning bill is already taken care of.”
“Thanks, Ezra, did see Nathan a...and Vin”
“Not yet, but I believe Josiah has gone to Nathan’s room. He is supposed to get his reprieve from this facility today.”
“Chris, I’m going to have to put you back on the oxygen.”
“O...okay.” Larabee nodded and soon felt himself drifting once more. “ d...damn tired.”
“You go ahead and sleep, Chris.”
“D...don’t s...seem to h...have a choice.”
Ezra watched the man until he was sure he was sleeping and looked at the nurse. “Are you sure he’s all right?”
“Yes, Mr. Standish. We’ve been expecting the nausea and that’s why the meds were already ordered. He’ll probably have that for a while with everything we’ve needed to do to him. He should sleep for some time now, so if you’d like to grab a coffee or some lunch...”
“Perhaps I will find a place that makes a decent cup of coffee.”
“Actually, the cafeteria has a wonderful gourmet blend. I recommend it to all my patient’s visitors.”
“Thank you, Miss Hendricks, perhaps I could bring you one.”
“No, thank you. I’m going on lunch in half an hour and am meeting several colleagues at the deli across the street.”
“Very well. I shall return shortly,” the conman explained and patted Larabee’s shoulder before leaving the room.
Nathan sat on the edge of the bed as Midland finished her examination of his wounds. The attending physician from the ER had already left and she was giving him the news he wanted to hear.
“Okay, Nathan, I don’t want you to even think about going into the office for at least another two weeks. I’ve made an appointment to see you in my office in one week to take out the stitches.”
“Thanks, Doc,” Jackson said as she handed him a slip of paper.
“This is for an antibiotic and Tylenol number three. The antibiotic you take three times a day and the Tylenol when you need it. Now, do I need to give this to Josiah, or will you follow orders without question.”
“Doc, since taking the courses I’ve had to take for the EMT training I know how important it is to follow through on doctor’s orders.”
“All right. I guess you can get dressed and go home,” Midland said before turning and walking to the door.
“Thanks, Doc.”
“You’re welcome, and Nathan.”
“Yes, doc.”
“Make sure you keep your visit with Vin and Chris at a minimum. Just because you’re getting out of here today doesn’t mean you’re miraculously cured.”
“Sure, Doc,” Jackson said, a chagrined smile on his face. When the door closed he drew the drapes across and reached for his clothes. He smiled as Sanchez voice reached him from the doorway.
“Can I come in?”
“Sure, Josiah, I’ll be ready in...” he paused as he waited for the pain in his back to ease. “Half an hour or so.”
“Hmm, do you need any help?”
“Nah, I don’t think so. Not right now anyway.”
“Well, I’ll be right here if you need anything.”
“Thanks, Josiah,” the medic in training answered as he eased out of the hospital issue pajamas.
“Vin, how are you feeling?” Standish asked, entering the room to find the Texan picking disinterestedly at his lunch.
“Hey, Ez, I’m doing better. Have ya been up ta visit with Chris?”
“I just came from there. He’s sleeping right now.”
“I feel so damn helpless Ezra!”
“Helpless, Vin? That’s a word I don’t associate with you. I believe frustrated is a more apt description.”
“Call it whatever ya want, Ez. I want ta be there ta help him, but I can barely get outta this damn bed without gettin’ dizzy and…”
“Vin, you’re hurt...”
“I know that! Fuck!” he cursed and held his ribs waiting for the burning pain in his chest to ease.
“Vin, I’m sure Chris understands why you’re not present in his room.”
“Yeah,” the Texan groaned, pushing the untouched tray away and leaning his head back on the bed. He lifted his left hand and ran his fingers through his stiff hair. “God, what I wouldn’t do for a shower.”
“I can just imagine,” Standish said, pulling the chair closer to the bed.
“Has there been anything new about Ella Gaines?”
“Robert Miller came to see us yesterday.”
“Why the hell didn’t someone say something?” the tracker asked angrily.
“Vin, in case it has slipped your mind you’re in a hospital and have sustained some pretty severe injuries yourself.”
“Shit. Look from now on let me know what’s goin’ on okay? What did Miller have to say?”
“They finished searching the warehouse...”
“Tell me they found that bitche’s body!”
“I’m afraid I can’t tell you that, Vin, I wish I could, but it seems that Gaines and Averil escaped the inferno.”
“Sonofabitch! Does Chris know?”
“No, I don’t think that’s something we wish to impart on our friend right now.”
“No, no we shouldn’t, but Ezra he’ll need to know.”
“I know, but there’s more to this. It seems a couple fitting the description of Ella Gaines and Jack Averil chartered a private plane and left the country. That plane is reported lost off the Dominican Republic, but only one body has been found and that hasn’t been identified yet.”
“Man or woman?”
“Man,” Standish answered simply, wishing he could have eased the other man’s troubled mind, but knowing he would find out the truth soon enough.
“What about the explosion itself? Any confirmation that it was Powderman’s work?”
“Yes, the same MO and he left his calling card by phoning Nathan. Unfortunately he’s also lived up to his reputation as a spook. He’s disappeared and there’s no way to follow the bastard!” Standish cursed.
“We’ll get our chance with him, Ezra. He’ll make a mistake and when he does we’ll be there to make the sonofabitch pay! He can’t stay a spook forever!”
“I hope so, Vin, I truly do.”
“Mark my words, Ezra, someday Powderman will pay for what he’s done. I’ll see to that...”
“We all will, Vin,” Standish said as the nurse came in to check on her patient.
Chris didn’t sleep long as the memories of the explosion that ripped his family from him continued to haunt his dreams. Unconsciously he reached for the ring that should have been present on his left hand, but could not find it. He sobbed in his dreams, not realizing the tears actually slipped past his lids and rolled down his cheeks. He never heard the soothing tones of his nurse or the soft tissue she used to wipe them from his face. Lost and alone, Chris Larabee felt as if hell had reached up and snatched everything that made him who he was. Now he laid awake, eyes closed, body a mass of agony as he fought to get past the horror that was now his reality.
“Looks like he’s sleeping, Josiah,” Jackson said as they stood in the doorway to SICU four.
Josiah reached for the chain around his neck and showed Nathan what was on it. “I think he needs this more than he needs sleep right now,” Sanchez explained and the two men walked into the room.
“How is he?” Jackson asked the nurse as Sanchez pulled a chair up to the bed.
“He’s a little down right now,” Pamela answered as she looked sympathetically at her patient.
Sanchez heard the nurse talking with Jackson, but his attention was on the injured man. The blond head was turned slightly away from them, the oxygen mask covered his mouth and nose, the eyes were closed, but the face was filled with tension and he knew Larabee was not sleeping as he’d first thought. Stepping up to the bed, Josiah spoke softly to the younger man.
“Chris, I’ve brought you something.”
“D...don’t w...want anything,” the blond’s tone said more than the words did.
Josiah understood Chris was depressed. He’d gone through many of the same feelings during the dark days after Carolyn and Amanda died and he knew the feelings would always be there. He also understood that with time and the help of family and friends it faded to a more bearable point.
“I wouldn’t be so sure of that, Son,” Sanchez said, removing the ring from the chain around his neck. “Open your eyes and take a look.”
Resigned to the fact that Sanchez would not leave him alone, Chris opened his eyes, blinking in an effort to focus his vision. He sucked in a deep breath, crying out as the movement jarred his ribs, but reaching for the item that shone in the overhead light.
“W...where?” he stammered as his fingers touched the circle of gold that bound his soul to Sarah Connelly. His eyes shone with tears as he struggled to keep his emotions in check, but the powerful symbol of love was too overwhelming and he could not stop the sobs that shook his body.
“When you were brought in. Dr. Midland gave it to me to hold on to,” Sanchez explained, watching as Larabee’s shaking hand placed the ring back where it belonged. The grief continued to manifest itself in tears and Josiah reached for the grief stricken man and held him in spite of the tubes and wires. He knew this would not be the last time this man shed tears over his loss, and prayed that he would always allow them to help him. The lean body shook with the force of his grief and the ex-preacher’s arms held him with a gentleness few people associated with the big man.
“G...God, Josiah, it h...hurts,” Larabee told him, unable to stop the tears of remembrance.
“I know it does, Son, and I’m not gonna lie and tell you it’ll go away, because it won’t, but it will get easier with time. You’ll never forget them, and their memory and love will always be a part of who you are. You’ll find yourself thinking about the happy times you had and those memories will be the ones that help you through the worst of the pain.”
“I...I c...can’t, can’t let t...them g...go.”
“Yes, you can or you’ll never be at peace again and neither will they. Think about the good times, Chris, and you’ll find it helps.”
“How the hell do you know, Preacher man?” Larabee spat as anger overtook the sadness. He pulled away from Sanchez, ignoring the pain the quick movement caused and crying out as he settled back on the bed.
“I just do, Chris,” the older man explained.
“How can you? Have you ever felt like someone had cut your heart out and took everything from you? Have you ever lost someone who was y...your w...whole”
“Yes, Chris, I have,” Sanchez answered the irate man and saw the look of disbelief in Larabee’s eyes.
“W...hat h...happened?” the blond asked, the anger leaving him as suddenly as it came.
“It was a long time ago, Chris, and when you’re up to it I’ll tell you about it, but right now I think you need to concentrate on getting well,” Sanchez said, fighting the emotions that welled up inside him.
“I’m sorry, J...Josiah, d...didn’t mean”
“Sh, Son, it’s okay. As I said it happened a long time ago and I can tell you that you never forget, but with each day that goes by you’ll find your friends are there to pick you up when you feel like you’re going to fall to pieces. You’re not alone in your grief and you never will be,” Sanchez assured him, watching as Larabee continued to play with the ring on his finger.
Chris bit his lip in an effort to stop the tears and spotted Nathan Jackson for the first time. He could see that the man was hurting and tried to smile as he spoke.
“Nathan, they finally gave you your walking papers?”
“That’s right, but I wanted to see you before I left.”
“You l...look like I feel,” the blond told him.
“Ah, hell, that bad?” Jackson asked with a smile.
“I believe Chris is right, Nathan, you do look like hell. I think it’s time to get you home” Sanchez agreed.
“I’m fine...” Jackson said and smiled inwardly as a soft laugh escaped the injured man’s throat.
“Nate, I believe you’re going to regret using those words,” the ex-preacher told him.
“Probably,” Jackson agreed. The two men said goodbye to Larabee and left him in the care of his nurse.
“Chris, how are you feeling?”
“I’m fine,” Larabee answered and knew she didn’t believe a word he said. “I’m okay.”
“Sure you are. Would you like something to drink?”
“No thanks. Stomach is still a little queasy.”
“I can give you the Zofran...”
“No, not right now,” Larabee told her, subconsciously rubbing the ring on his finger once more. He closed his eyes and dreamed about the day he’d placed a gold wedding band on Sarah Connelly’s finger and of the hopes and dreams that were dashed by the explosion that took his loved ones from him. He slipped towards sleep, dreaming of the life he should have had.
Vin knew it was time he gave in and accepted something to help ease the pain racing through his body, but that stubborn Texas pride made it hard for him to acknowledge his own needs. He looked towards the door as it opened and Nettie Wells entered the room.
“Hello, Vin.”
“Hi, Nettie,” the young man said, sitting up straighter in the bed as she reached out to hug him.
“How are you feeling and don’t give me the ‘I’m fine’ line young man!”
“Yes, ma’am,” Tanner said, smiling at the warmth in the woman’s voice as she mock chided him.
“Well, you still haven’t answered my question.”
“I’m doin’ okay, Nettie. Not great, but okay. How’s that?”
“Better, but you look like you’re not doing very well right now. Are you in pain?”
“How long since you had something to help you?”
“Not breakfast I think.”
“Vin Tanner, that’s over six hours ago! Of all the stubborn mule headed...”
“Easy, Nettie, I was jest about ta buzz for the nurse when ya came in.”
“Well, get on with it then,” the woman said as she watched the left hand press the button. When the nurse at the desk answered she explained that the patient needed something for pain and was told his nurse would be right in.
“Have you been up ta see Chris?” Tanner asked, wincing as he shifted on the bed.
“I stopped by but he was sleeping and I didn’t want to disturb him. He’s been through so much, Vin.”
“I know, Nettie, and so have ya. I know how much ya loved Sarah and Adam and how much their loss affects ya...”
“Affects us all, Vin, but none so much as that man lying in the SICU. He’s got so much grief to deal with and the physical injuries are going to hinder his recovery.”
“Wish there was somethin’ we could do ta make it easier on him.”
“Nothing will ever take away his pain, but knowing he’s not going to have to do it all alone will help.” She heard the door open behind her and smiled as a pretty red head entered the room.
“Hello, Mrs. Wells.”
“Hello, Sonia, it’s nice to see you again?”
“You too,” Sonia Barker said as she turned her attention to her patient. “Vin, I have your medication right here.”
“Thanks,” Tanner said as she injected the prescribed pain meds and disposed of the syringe.
“You’re welcome, but it would make life easier on you if you didn’t wait so long next time. Can I get you anything else?”
“No, think that’s all right now,” the tracker said as Nettie settled into the chair beside his bed. He watched as the elderly woman reached for the box of tissues and wiped her eyes. “Nettie...”
“I’m sorry, Vin, I j...just miss them much.” She sniffed and felt her resolve to hold back her grief weakening as she lifted her head and looked into the blue eyed Texan’s face.
“I know, Nettie,” Tanner said sitting further up in the bed and reaching for her despite the discomfort it caused. He held her with one arm as she buried her head against his chest and cried out her grief.
Nettie had no idea how long he held her like that, but she knew it was too long when a muffled groan left the injured man. Easing her body backwards she met his eyes once more and knew he’d shed a few tears himself while holding her. She lifted her hand and touched his cheek, knowing there was no way to ease his sorrow, but at least they could be there for each other.
“Vin, I’m sorry...”
“Don’t be, Nettie, we both needed that. I didn’t know Sarah and Adam very long, but it was long enough ta know they were special, jest like ya are,” he said as he wiped the tears from her cheeks.
“There’s nothing special about these old bones, Vin Tanner...”
“Yeah, there is, Nettie. There’s somethin’ inside ya that’s like lookin’ into a warm fire on the coldest day of the year. Ya don’t even know whatcha do fer people, but we do and I know I ain’t met anyone like my ma until I met ya. Ya’ve got more kindness and love in yer little finger than most people have in their whole body. Ain’t no one’s got a kinder heart.”
“Well, Vin, I wouldn’t say that because I’m lookin’ at a young man whose heart is as big as the fine state he comes from. Texas done themselves proud the day you were born.”
“Ah, hell, Nettie...”
“Watch that language,” Nettie said, smiling as she placed a kiss no the blushing cheek.
“Hell, shoot, sorry,” Tanner said, yawing widely.
“Get some rest, Vin.”
“I will. Are ya goin’ back up ta see Chris?”
“Yes, I am.”
“Tell him...tell him I’ll be up later today. Okay?”
“I’ll tell him, Vin. You just make sure you look after yourself and don’t wait so long to ask for something if you need it.”
“I won’t, Nettie, and thanks.”
“You’re welcome, Son,” she said, patting his left shoulder before leaving the room.
Vin turned partially onto his right side and closed his eyes, searching for the quicksilver thread that bound him to the man in SICU four. He smiled thinly as he felt the touch, one mind to another, one soul, yet different and separate halves of the same spirit.
‘Chris, I’m here, and always will be,’ he thought as he drifted off to sleep.
‘Chris, I’m here, and always will be!’ he knew that voice. The one that sometimes spoke inside his head and smiled inwardly in spite of the pain. Chris heard someone enter his room and opened his eyes, smiling weakly at the woman standing there.
“Hi, Nettie,” he said, voice clearer now that the nasal canulas had replaced the full face mask.
“Hello, Son, how are you feeling?”
“Better than I was, Nettie. I have it back,” Larabee told her.
“Have what back?” Nettie asked and smiled when he held up his left hand to show her the circle of gold was in its rightful place.
“That’s wonderful, Chris. I’m so glad for you.”
“Thanks, Nettie. Can you...are Adam’s things still at your place?”
“Yes, they are. Would you like them brought in?”
“W...would you m...mind?”
“Not at all, Son,” Nettie assured him. “Chris, I talked to Madonna Tobin this morning and she wanted me to apologize for her not coming to see you before now.”
“Tell her it’s okay. She needs to take care of herself and the new,” Larabee said, biting his lip as his thoughts whirled to the loss of his own unborn child.
“That’s another thing, Chris, she and Gary are proud parents of a boy and girl. She had twins and it came as quite a shock to both her and Gary.”
“I’m happy for them,” the blond assured her.
“I know you are, Son, and that’s why I know I can ask you this for them.”
“What?” Larabee asked, shifting uncomfortably on the bed.
“They want to call the babies Sarah Louise and Adam Christopher, but they won’t do it without your blessing.”
“I knew Madonna planned on calling the baby Sarah Louise if it was a girl, but I...I had no idea she would do this. God, what a wonderful tribute to Sarah and Adam.”
“Yes, Chris, it is, and to you as well. Gary and Madonna want to do this for you. It’s there way of showing how much Sarah and Adam meant to them.”
“It’s beautiful,” Larabee said swallowing the lump that formed in his throat. He ran his fingers through his hair and fought to keep the emotional turmoil in check. He was honored that the Tobin’s were gifting him with this token, yet he wondered how he would ever be able to face the children and use their names. He knew no matter what happened the two children would be a part of his life. Tears threatened to fall as he thought once more of the baby he would never hold.
“Chris, are you okay?”
“, Nettie, I’m not! I m...miss them and I c...can’t do anything get t...them back!” His hands clenched into fists as he fought to control his warring emotions.
“I know, Chris, I wish there was something I could do to make this better, but there’s not. All I can do is offer a shoulder to cry on and the love of an old lady who cares about you,” Nettie said, staring into the pain filled green eyes.
“Not o...old, beautiful,” Larabee stammered, smiling in spite of the despair he felt.
“I’ve been called many things, Chris, but beautiful isn’t one of them.”
“Then it’s about time someone did, Nettie, because you are and I can say I know where S...Sarah got her beauty from.”
“No, Chris, she got that from her mother. I know you never met Sheila, but she would’ve loved you and helped you and Sarah any way she could. I could never understand what she saw in Hank Connelly, but she did love him and they did make a beautiful daughter together.”
“Sarah is...was,” he corrected, his voice hitching as he did so. “Nothing like Hank...”
“No, she wasn’t and we can both thank God for that...”
“I’m not thanking God for anything...”
“No! Nettie, I‘m not going to sit here and be a hypocrite! I won’t thank a God who lets an innocent mother and child burn to death...oh wait they didn’t burn to death! They were blown up and I couldn’t even get to them!” He slammed his fists onto the mattress and twisted his body in an effort to sit up, groaning as the movement sent sharp knife like pains through his side and abdomen. He heard Nettie and the nurse talking, but for him the world was now a nightmare of red hot lancing pain.
“Chris, I paged Dr. Midland, just try to lie still, okay?” Pamela ordered as she watched the pain cloud the handsome features.
“O...okay...s...sorry, N...Nettie. God, it hurts!”
“I know it does, Chris,” the nurse said and wished she could give him something more for the pain, but he’d been given morphine less than an hour ago. She looked at the elderly woman sitting beside the bed and wished she could do something to ease her mind, but right now she needed to concentrate on her distressed patient. She checked the monitors and noted the increased heart rate and the slightly elevated blood pressure.
“God!” Chris moaned as he tried to curl into a ball, but the movement only caused more pain and discomfort.
“Pamela, what happened?” Midland asked, hurrying into the room. She immediately checked the monitors before checking her patient.
“He tried to get out of the bed,” Pamela explained as she helped straighten her patient out in the bed.
“,” Larabee moaned as the pain threatened to send him into hell once more.
“I’m going to, Chris, can you tell me where it hurts?”
“S...side...chest...” the blond answered breathlessly.
“Okay, let me take a look. Mrs. Wells, I’m afraid you’ll have to leave...”

“Will he be all right?” the older woman asked.
“I’m going to do everything in my power to see that he is,” Midland assured her as she drew back the blankets and Pamela closed the door and the drapes. She saw the discomfort in the blond’s face as they straightened his legs and began examining his wounds.
Nettie stood outside the door and felt the tears roll down her cheeks. How much pain could one man endure and come through with his sanity intact. She sank down onto the chair next to the door and prayed for her nephew in law, and didn’t hear the footsteps hurrying towards her until a hand touched her shoulder and she looked into the worried face of Buck Wilmington.
“Buck,” she said as he knelt in front of her and pulled her into a tight embrace.
“Nettie, what’s wrong?” the gentle rogue asked, worry evident on his face.
“God, he’s not...”
“No, no he’s not, Buck, but he’s in so much pain right now. Dr. Midland is in there with him.”
“What happened?”
“We were talking about Sarah and Adam and God and he was blaming God for everything that happened...”
“That’s normal, Nettie, he’s been thrown into hell.”
“I know, Buck, but he has to have faith in order to believe he’ll see Sarah and Adam again. Without it he’s not going to be able to live with the pain of their loss.”
“We’ll make sure he does, Nettie, all of us will help him face his...our loss and we’ll do everything possible to help him through it.”
“I hope so, Buck, because if we don’t we’ll lose him too!”
“Won’t let that happen!” Wilmington vowed, reaching for the box of tissues on the small table next to the chair. 
“We may not be able to stop it!” Nettie cried as she wiped at the tears.
“Nettie, you need to have faith that God will help us all deal with this and we’ll help Chris through all of it.” He held her for several long moments, his own heart aching as his gaze fell on the closed door to Larabee’s room. ‘God, Chris, don’t do this!’ he thought and settled down to wait for word on his long time friend.
Stacey Midland finished her examination and ordered blood tests to determine whether the lingering infections were getting any better. She looked into Larabee’s eyes and knew he was in pain, but that it would ease soon with the new injection of pain medication.
“Chris, Dr. James is coming down to see you tomorrow morning...”
“I don’t need to...”
“Humor me, Chris, just talk to her. She’s very good at what she does and is a very willing ear,” Midland explained as Larabee’s eyelids began to close.
“O...okay,” the blond reluctantly agreed. “T...tell Nettie I...I’m s...sorry. D...didn’t mean to w...worry her.”
“She knows that, Chris, now just close your eyes and rest,” Midland ordered, gently patting her patient’s shoulder.
“Don’t w...want s...sleep. D...dream t...too m...much.”
“Bad dreams?”
“Yeah...the worst. C...can’t wake up. N...need Sarah.”
“I know you do, Chris and I wish to God I could give her back to you, but it’s not possible.”
“I k...know...but h...hurts, Doc. H...hurts more’n a...anything I’ve e...ever felt b...before.” Larabee said as sleep finally overtook him.
“Thank God,” Midland said as she checked the monitors and made sure everything was within normal parameters. “Pamela, any problems page me.”
“I will, Doctor,” the nurse said as she opened the curtains and smiled at the two people waiting outside the door.
“How is he Doc?” Wilmington asked, instantly coming to his feet.
“He’s sleeping right now, Buck. I gave him a sedative and hopefully he’ll be able to rest easy.”
“What happened?”
“Basically he tried to move too fast and that set off the pain. I’ve ordered some blood work as a precaution, but hopefully there’s nothing serious going on. You can go in and sit with him, but please let him sleep.”
“We will, Doc, thanks,” the rogue said, offering a hand up to Nettie Wells. They entered the room and renewed their vigil over the sleeping man.
Vin hated showing his own weakness and the wheelchair right now was a major reminder that he was not as strong as he let on. He knew there was no choice but to get in if he wanted to visit Larabee and finally, with a resigned huff he sank onto the seat and waited for the nurse to fix the IV on the pole above his head. He felt JD take the handles and slowly begin pushing him out of the room. Vin knew from Buck’s earlier visit what happened with Chris, and he was anxious to see for himself that his friend was really all right.
“Vin, are you sure you’re up to this?” Dunne asked, watching his friend’s face paled even further as they waited for the elevator.
“I’m fine, JD, jest need ta see fer myself that he’s okay.”
The doors opened and Dunne maneuvered the chair inside. He pushed the button for the fifth floor and watched as Tanner rubbed at his eyes. JD knew his friend was hurting, but also understood how important it was for him to see Chris Larabee. The two men had instantly developed a bond of friendship that went beyond the norm and he knew it was unique to them. He knew that bond would be one of the things to bring Chris home to them.

PART 1 | PART 2 | PART 3 | PART 4 | PART 5 | PART 6 | PART 7 | PART 8 | PART 9 | PART 10 | PART 11 | PART 12 | PART 13 | PART 14 | PART 16 | PART 17 | PART 18


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