Vin picked at the meal on the tray in front of him. The tiny fare held little interest for the man, his eyes continuously traveling to the blonde patient in the next bed. The lines of strain were evident on the sleeping face.
"Eat, Vin," Jackson ordered.
"Im not hungry," Tanner said as he placed his spoon back in the bowl.
"Brother Vin, do you think Brother Chris would be happy knowing you werent eating because of him?"
"No, Josiah, but hed understand," Tanner said. "I just wish hed wake up."
"I know you do, Vin, we all do. It hasnt been that long and Dr. Weaver said he was exhausted and that sleep is the best thing for him," Wilmington said as he picked up the spoon and passed it to the younger man.
"Looks like Chris is waking up," JD said from the other bed.
"Hey, Stud," Buck said as he turned and watched the blonde open his eyes. "How you feeling?"
"Been better, Buck. Hows Vin?" Larabee asked through the mask covering his mouth and nose.
"Im fine, Chris," Vin said.
"Then eat," Larabee ordered.
"Yes, Sir," Tanner said as he picked up the spoon and ate the entire contents of the bowl.
"Help me out of here, will you? I have to go to the bathroom."
"Hold it, Buck!" Jackson said as he hurried to the patients side. "Youre not getting out of that bed yet."
"But, Nathan," Chris tried.
"No! Youve only been out of ICU a couple of hours. Ill get you a urinal," Jackson said as he moved towards the washroom. Finding none, he walked to the door. "Ill be right back. Buck, Josiah, make sure he doesnt leave that bed!"
"You heard him, Chris," Buck said.
"Whos side are you on?" Chris asked.
"Right now, Im on Nathans side, he knows whats best for you, Stud," Wilmington laughed.
"See if I help you the next time youre in the hospital," Chris told him.
"Betty will be right in. Shes gone to find one," Nathan said as he returned.
"Found one," the nurse said as she followed the Nathan inside. "Let me pull the curtains and give you some privacy," Betty said with a smile.
"I can do it myself," Chris told her as she began to pull back the blankets.
"Youll need help, Mr. Larabee. You wont be able to hold yourself up. Dont worry Ive done this before," she said.
"Not with me you havent," Chris told her as she finished closing the curtains and helped him sit up a little. He caught snickers coming from the men behind the curtain. He couldve sworn he heard Ezra Standish taking bets and wondered if he was the favourite.
Betty smiled at the man in the bed before speaking.
"There are two ways to do this, Mr. Larabee. You can accept my help and use this or we can call Dr. Weaver and have the Foley put back in place."
Laughter erupted from the others as they listened to the short nurse give Chris Larabee two options he definitely wouldnt like.
"Shut up," Chris said as his pale cheeks flamed a startling red.
"Which one, Mr. Larabee?"
"That," he said angrily and once again heard the stifled snickers from next door. "Not a word," he said in a voice usually reserved for hardened criminals and people he referred to as blundering idiots.
"We wouldnt say anything, Stud, would we, boys," Buck tried to sound serious but couldnt pull it off.
"Not a word," Vin said, purposefully using his friend's exact words.
"Tanner!" Chris said.
"All finished?" Betty asked causing more laughter from the others in the room.
"Yes, Damnit, just leave me alone," Chris said embarrassed by his friends being present and seeing his weakness.
"Ill be right back with your dinner," Betty said as she walked to the washroom to empty the contents of the urinal.
"Not hungry," Chris told her.
"Mr. Larabee, Dr. Weaver can replace any of those tubes at anytime including the feeding one to your stomach. If I have to write in your chart that you arent eating, he will do just that. Now do we have an understanding?"
Chris turned his face away as the nurse left the room. He heard the curtain being drawn but kept his eyes diverted, not wanting his friends to see his discomfort.
"You alright, Chris," Jackson asked as he placed a comforting hand on the blondes shoulder.
"No, Nathan, Im not. Im sick of this. Sick of not being able to do things for myself. Sick of having everyone think they know whats best for me," Chris said as he placed his arm over his eyes.
"Right now, Chris, everyone else does know whats best for you and you need to let us take care of you for awhile."
"I know youre right, Nathan, but..."
"But you hate feeling like you have no control," Wilmington finished.
"You know me too well, Buck," Chris sighed. He moved on the bed trying to find a comfortable spot and gasped as the pain became almost unbearable.
"Need something for the pain, Chris?" Jackson asked.
"N...no," the blonde gasped.
Chris heard Vins softly spoken word and knew he wasnt hiding anything from him. "Truth is I could use something but..."
"Dont try to be so macho, Chris. Ill check with Betty and see if youre due for a shot," Jackson said.
"Alright, Nathan," the blonde said in a resigned voice.
Vin watched his friend, wanting to move closer to him and offer some comfort. He knew how much pain it took before Chris Larabee admitted he needed something to ease it. His own pain seemed to pale in comparison and he wished he could do something to help his friend.
"Hell be fine, Mr. Tanner," Standish said softly.
"Thanks, Ez," Vin said as he looked at the empty tray unable to think of anything but his friend's pain.
"Heres your dinner, Mr. Larabee. Ive also got a shot here for you. Dr. Weaver wants us to continue to give you the Gravol to settle your stomach," she said as she closed the curtain again. "There, now that should help with the pain and the nausea. Try and eat something and Ill be back to see you before I leave," she said as she drew back the curtain to reveal her other patient. "Ive got your shot here as well, Mr. Tanner," she said.
"I dont need anything," Vin lied.
"Orders are orders, Mr. Tanner. It seems a Dr. Midland has been talking with Dr. Weaver. She informed him that you two are the most stubborn patients shes ever had. She told Dr. Weaver not to bother asking if you needed anything because youd always say you didnt. Now pick a hip or I will," she said with a grin.
The other men left Tanner to the nurse and moved to the other side of the curtain to join Nathan.
"What you got to eat, Stud?" Wilmington asked with a grin as he lifted the lids of the bowl. "Oh, yum looks like some coloured water, green Jell-O and maybe some kinda broth. A real feast for you!"
"Im not hungry," Chris said as he looked at his friends.
"I heard that, Mr. Larabee," Betty said as she finished giving Vin his shot. "Do I need to call Dr. Weaver?"
"Ill make sure he eats," Jackson said as he stepped up to the blondes bed.
"Nathan," Chris said, glaring at the medic.
"You going to feed yourself or do I do it for you?" Jackson said as he held up a spoon of the broth to the patient.
"Damnit, Nathan, Im not a kid," Larabee said.
"Then stop acting like one, Brother Chris, at least try some," Sanchez said.
"It cant be any worse than what I got, Chris," Tanner said, smiling from his bed.
"Looks like hes got the same as you had, Vin," Dunne laughed.
"Well," Nathan said still holding the spoon.
"Gimme the damn thing," the blond said as he took the spoon from Nathans hand. He pulled down the oxygen mask and sipped the broth from the spoon. Ignoring the growing discomfort in his stomach, he continued till the bowl was empty.
"Jell-O," Jackson said.
Chris dipped the spoon in the rubber like substance and grimaced as he put it in his mouth. "What is it with hospitals and Jell-O? No matter what the colour, its always the same taste and texture," he said, as he put the spoon down and coughed harshly.
Nathan watched him for a minute and replaced the mask over his face. "Breathe deeply Chris," he said.
"T...thanks, Nate," Chris said as he brought the coughing under control.
"You want some of this tea?" Sanchez asked.
"No, thanks," the blonde said.
"Get some rest, both of you," Jackson said as he looked at the two injured men.
"Thats all Ive been doing," Chris told him as he tried to stifle a yawn
"Well it looks like youre still tired," Wilmington told his friend. "Its after six so maybe well leave now and let you both turn in early."
"Seems to me you guys are the ones who need to get some rest," Vin said. "You all look ready to drop."
"You may be right, Brother Vin. I know I could use a good nights sleep. What do you say, boys, we going to let these two off early tonight?" Sanchez asked.
"I think Chris is already asleep," Dunne said.
"Get out of here," Tanner told them.
"See you both in the morning, Vin," Wilmington said.
"Good night," Tanner said as the five men left the room. "You really asleep, Cowboy?"
"No," Chris said. "Just resting my eyes."
"How are you doing?"
"Been better, Vin. You?" he asked as he turned his head towards his friend.
"Well my sights pretty well back, headaches are almost gone."
"Hurting but tolerable. Dr. Mercer wants to make sure Im over the concussion before she lets me out of here."
"Another day or two if everything keeps going the way it is. She said theyd be taking the IV out in the morning. Have to stay off my foot for six weeks. Theyre going to give me crutches tomorrow."
"Thats great news, Vin," the blond said tiredly.
"How long are they giving you?"
"They havent said. Think theyll let me go home with you?"
Tanner laughed, "Not a chance, Cowboy," he said.
"I thought youd say that."
"Get some sleep, Pard," Vin said as he noticed the haggard look on his friend's face.
"Not much point. Dr. Lawrence will be here shortly with her torture devices."
Tanner was quiet for a few minutes, his voice soft when he finally spoke. "Im sorry you have to go through that, Cowboy."
"Not your fault, Vin."
"I know but I still wish you didnt have to go through it."
"Thanks, Cowboy," Chris said as he settled back into the warmth of the blankets.
"Ill be here if you need anything," Tanner said.
"You and Buck always are," the blond said sleepily.
Vin watched the man in the next bed as his breathing slowed and became even. His worry for his friend far outweighed everything hed gone through. He knew Chris Larabee was a strong man; he had to be to survive what had happened to his family. Some things a man wasnt meant to deal with and one of them was losing a wife and son in a senseless act of revenge. Im here, Cowboy, he thought as he watched the older man sleep.
+ + + + + + +
"Good morning, Mr. Tanner, I need to take some blood."
Vin opened sleep swelled eyes and looked at then tiny lab technician. "Huh," he said.
"Need some of that precious red stuff from you," the silver haired lady repeated.
"Again?" he asked as she wrapped the rubber tubing around his arm.
"Just one today, Mr. Tanner," she laughed. She quickly finished the job and placed a tiny band-aid over the small wound.
Vin watched her leave the room and turned to see two sleepy green eyes watching him. "Morning, Cowboy," he said.
"Morning, Vin," Chris answered sleepily.
"Good morning, Mr. Larabee, I need some of your blood," the same tiny silver haired lady said as she re-entered the room. She took his right hand in hers and opened the A line that was still attached to his wrist. Slowly she filled the syringe, rinsed it and recapped it. "All finished," she said as she hurried on her way.
"Good morning, Mr. Tanner," Dr. Mercer said as she entered the room followed by Dr. Beattie. She pulled the curtains separating one patient from the other.
"Good morning. Am I getting out of here today?" Vin asked hopefully.
"That depends on how well you do with the crutches this afternoon. Dr. Beattie wants to look at your eyes as well. If he agrees, you could be going home in time for dinner," Mercer told him.
"Great," Tanner said enthusiastically.
+ + + + + + +
Chris lay back against the pillow. He listened to the conversation taking place between Vin and his doctors. He felt a pang of guilt as the thought of Vin getting out made him feel lonely.
He listened as the doctors gave Vin orders on what he should or shouldnt do if he was released that afternoon. He closed his eyes and held his side as he started coughing again. He tried to relax and get it under control but he continued to cough.
"Are you ok?" Mercer asked as she opened the curtain and looked at the patient in the next bed.
"F...fine," Chris said through a series of violent coughs.
"Chris," Vin called worriedly as the coughing continued.
Mercer moved to the side of the bed and helped the injured man sit up. She knew some background on the patient and knew he was battling pneumonia on top of the other injuries.
"T...thanks," the blond said as the coughing subsided and he was able to catch his breath.
"Youre welcome. Im going to see if Dr. Weaver is here yet," Mercer said.
"N...no, Im fine now. H...happens all the t...time," he said.
"Id still like Dr. Weaver to take a look at you," Mercer said as she pushed the button on his pillow.
"Can I help you?" a voice asked immediately.
"This is Dr. Mercer. Is Dr. Weaver around?"
"Yes, Dr. Hes just arrived."
"Can you ask him to come to Mr. Larabees room?"
"Right away, Dr. Mercer."
"You just relax. Dr. Weaver will be right in," Mercer said as she went back to her patient.
Chris closed his eyes and waited for the throbbing pain in his side to subside. He felt so helpless when the coughing started and wondered if it would ever end. He heard the door open and footsteps make their way to his bed.
The blond opened his eyes and looked into the concerned eyes of his Dr. Weaver. "Doc," he said.
"Dr. Mercer says youre coughing pretty hard."
"No worse than the other times," Chris told him.
"Im going to listen to your chest and I want you to breathe as deeply as you can," Weaver said as he picked up the stethoscope.
Chris listened to the doctors talking to Vin. He heard snatches of the conversation and was relieved to hear Dr. Beattie tell the younger man that his eyes were almost normal again.
"Breathe in, Chris," Weaver said and Chris did as he was told. Weaver listened for a few minutes and then removed the stethoscope from his ears. "Theres still some wheezing there but I dont think its as bad as it was. Did Dr. Lawrence tell you how many more treatments she wants you to have?" he asked.
"This mornings supposed to be the last one," the blond answered.
"Did she say that for sure or did she say it might be?" Weaver asked.
"She said it might be," Chris admitted.
"Thats what I thought. She should be here any minute and well discuss the matter then," Weaver said. "It looks like your nurse is here with your meds so Ill leave you to her. Ill be back with Dr. Lawrence."
"Good morning, Mr. Larabee, Im Lucy and Ill be with you today. How are you feeling?"
"Never better," the blond answered a little sharper than he meant to. "Sorry," he told her.
"Apology accepted," she said as she gave him his meds. "Ill be back with your breakfast in a few minutes."
Chris closed his eyes and listened to the soft Texan drawl from behind the closed curtain. He could hear him answering his doctors questions and was pleased when the Mercer said the IV would come out that morning and he would be discharged that afternoon.
"Thanks, Doc," Tanner said as the curtain was drawn back and the doctors left.
"Glad youre getting out of here, Pard," Chris said softly.
"Thanks, Cowboy," Tanner said, loving the idea of escaping the hospital, hating the idea of leaving his friend alone.
"Dont feel guilty bout leaving me here. I wont be staying much longer."
The conversation ended as the door opened and Dr. Lawrence and Dr. Weaver entered the room and drew the curtain closed once again.
Tanner listened as they talked to the patient in the other bed. Listened to the sounds of the pneumonia treatments. Listened to his friend go through another coughing spell and listened as Dr. Lawrence told him he wasnt quite finished with the treatments.
He didnt notice the nurse delivering his breakfast tray, his mind concentrating on his friends misery.
"Well see you later today," Weaver said as he followed Lawrence out the door.
"Hey, Cowboy, you feeling any better?"
"Im fine, Vin, just tired," the blond answered softly.
"Looks like Lucys bringing your breakfast," Tanner said as the perky nurse entered the room once more. "Want the curtain opened?" he asked hopefully.
"Yeah," Larabee answered and the nurse pulled it across.
"Now you two finish eating and Ill be back shortly," she said as she bounced out the door.
"Shes too happy for this time of morning," Larabee said as he lifted the covers off the tray.
"So what have you got, Cowboy?" Tanner asked.
"The usual. Jell-o and tea. Yum, What did you get?" he asked as he placed the covers back on the tray and closed his eyes.
"Looks like toast, oatmeal, apple juice, and coffee."
"Not on your life," Tanner laughed. He watched his friend, hoping that hed eat what was on the tray, knowing he probably wouldnt. "Chris," he said.
"Yeah," the blond answered in a weary voice.
"Youre gonna have to eat if you want outta here."
"I know. Just tired right now."
"Why dont you try to eat something and then go to sleep?"
"Sleep now, eat later. Night, Pard," the blond said as he drifted off to sleep again.
"Alright, Cowboy," Tanner said as he forced his worries to the back of his mind and ate his own breakfast.
+ + + + + + +
"Sh," Tanner said as the door opened and five men entered the room. "Chriss sleeping."
"Well be real quiet," Dunne said.
"How are you feeling, Vin?" Jackson asked.
"I see ya got rid of the IV," Wilmington said with a smile.
"Yep, gettin outta here this afternoon too," Tanner said.
"Well thats wonderful news, Mr. Tanner," Standish said. "Any word on your roommate?"
"Nothing yet. Lawrence says hes gotta go through a few more of those damned treatments."
"Thought he was supposed to finish with them this morning," Jackson said.
"So did he but they want him to finish out the day."
"Looks like sleeping beauty is waking up. Hey, Stud, howre you feeling?" Wilmington asked.
"Fine, Buck, just want to get out of here," the blond told him.
"I bet you do," Wilmington said as he lifted the lid off the lunch tray on the table. "Oh this looks appetizing."
Jackson looked at the tray and then at the patient. "Chris, you want out of here youre going to have to eat," he said.
"Dont you mean drink it, Nathan?" Chris asked.
"Well if youd give it a try theyd probably put you on more solid foods," the medic told him.
"Not hungry right now," Larabee said.
"Open up, Chris," Wilmington said as he placed a broth filled spoon in front of his friend's mouth.
"Ill eat later, Buck!"
"Thats what he said about breakfast but he didnt touch that either," Tanner said and felt the Larabee glare turn his way.
"Shut up, Tanner," Larabee ordered.
"Chris!" Jackson said.
"Damn, Nathan, I said Id eat later!"
"Youll eat now," Wilmington said as he continued to hold the spoon.
"Now, Chris," Jackson said.
"Ill do it myself," the blond said as he took the spoon from the other man.
"Thats better, Brother Chris," Sanchez said as he watched the younger man finish the meagre contents of the bowl.
"Very good, now the juice," Wilmington said.
"Yes, Mom," the patient said as he sipped the cool liquid. "Did you tell them the good news, Vin?" he asked feeling a little better now that hed eaten.
"I did. The therapist is supposed to come in and help me with those damn crutches. You know I really hate those things," Tanner said.
"I bet you do especially with all the experience youve had with em," Dunne laughed, and the others joined in.
+ + + + + + +
"All set, Vin?" Sanchez asked, as a nurse wheeled a chair into the room.
"Think so, Josiah, but I aint gettin in that thing. They said I could use my crutches."
"You can but hospital policy is you get one final free ride out of here," Jackson said, as he watched the man in the other bad.
"Damn," Tanner said as he slid his body off the bed and into the chair.
"Take it easy, Pard," Chris said as he watched his friend get ready to leave.
"Ill be back after dinner, Cowboy," Tanner said.
"Dont. Get some rest and come back tomorrow," Larabee said.
"Not a chance, Pard. Aint leaving you here alone all night."
"Vin, Im fine. You and the guys take a night off and go celebrate your discharge. Ill probably just sleep anyway."
"Well make sure he rests, Stud, but Ill be back to make sure you eat," Wilmington said with a grin.
"Ill eat, Buck, you just take care of Vin."
"Sure you will, Chris. Ill just be here to make it more enjoyable."
"Come on, Vin, Lets get you to the hotel," Jackson said.
"One minute, Nate," Tanner said as he turned to the man in the next bed. "Ill be back, Cowboy."
"I know you will, Vin."
"All right, Vin, time to go," Wilmington said. He nodded to Sanchez as they wheeled Tanner from the room.
"Arent you going?" the blond asked the older man standing at the window.
"I figure brother Vin has enough keepers. Figured you could use a little company."
"Im fine, Josiah."
"Why dont I believe you, Brother Chris? I know youre happy to see Brother Vin leave this place."
"Course I am," The blond said indignantly.
"Let me finish, Chris. You wouldnt be human if you didnt admit that you wished it was you leaving today." Josiah had read Chriss feelings while the others had been helping Vin. Hed seen the look of longing on the other mans face when they were getting Tanner ready.
Chris Larabee stared at the ex-preacher. The man had an uncanny way of seeing through people. "I hate feeling like this, Josiah. I should be happy for Vin but I cant get past the fact that I wish it were me. I wish I was getting out of this place."
"I think weve each had the same thoughts when weve been laid up, Chris. Youre not the first and you certainly wont be the last. Get some rest, Ill stay right here."
"Thanks, Josiah," Chris said and closed his eyes. He felt better knowing the older man knew what he was feeling and didnt hold it against him.
+ + + + + + +
"Good morning, Chris," Weaver said as he walked up to Larabees bed three days later.
"Morning," the blond said. "Do I get out of here today?"
"Well see what Dr. Lawrence has to say but Im pretty sure shes going to be in full agreement with me."
"Great," the blond said. The IVs had been removed the day before except the one feeding him the antibiotics. With the help of his friends, hed been moving around more and was becoming anxious for his own release.
"You do realize that youll still have to take it easy. You wont be going back to work anytime soon."
"I just might surprise you, Doc," the blond said with a grin.
"Thats what she said youd say," Weaver laughed.
"Dr. Midland. Weve been talking about you and Mr. Tanner. Seems you both visit her a lot."
"What else did she say?"
"She said that shes arranging your follow up visits as soon as youre both back in Billings."
"Oh, great," Chris said.
"Ill be back this afternoon and well see if we cant get you out of here."
"Thanks, Doc," Chris said, smiling for the first time in weeks.
+ + + + + + +
"Hey, Cowboy, glad to see you with some real clothes on again," Tanner said as he walked up to the window where Chris looked longingly out at the tarmac covered parking lot.
"Hi, Vin," the blond said, turning from the window.
"Whats wrong, Chris?" Vin asked as he saw the far away look in his friends eyes.
"Youre not a good liar, Chris. Whats wrong?"
The blond looked at his friend, his eyes misting with unshed tears. "I was just thinking."
"Thats not a good thing to do in here, Pard," Tanner said as he sat clumsily in a chair. "Care to tell me what you were thinking about?"
Chris sat on the edge of the bed and looked at the man he considered a brother. Vin was always there for him. Always listened when he needed to talk. The crash had taken its toll on both of them but Chris had spent time alone in the room and a great deal of that time had been spent thinking.
"Give me a minute, Vin," the blond said as tried to regain control of his emotions.
Vin Tanner watched his friend. He could see the lines of fatigue and pain etched on his friend's face and knew the pain had little to do with his injuries. He waited for the man to speak, knowing he was trying to compose himself.
"Remember when we first met?"
"Course I do, Cowboy," Tanner answered.
"I wasnt very good company back then."
"I had a death wish, Vin. I wanted to join Sarah and Adam."
"Do you still have that death wish?" Tanner asked worriedly.
"I dont think so. I mean I was sure we were going to die out there. I kept thinking Id be joining them but I didnt want you to die. You kept me alive, Vin, knowing you needed me," the blond said as he walked to the window again.
Tanner remained quiet, waiting for his friend to continue. He knew the other man needed to get a few things out in the open.
"You kept me alive after Sarah and Adam too. I remember thinking I was ready to die that day but you wouldnt let me. I could almost feel you reaching out to me. Then when you showed up and pulled me out, I wanted to kill you for stopping me. God, Vin, I wanted to die that day so I could join them. Then you showed up and spoiled it. I hated you that day. Hated you more than anyone Ive ever known."
Tanner listened to the mans confession choking down his own emotions as he heard the heart wrenching truth about the day hed found Chris in a burning building waiting for the flames to consume him.
"Buck could tell you what I went through the day they died. I thought life wasnt worth living. I thought Id never care about another person again. Then you come along," the blond laughed at the less than fond memory. "Thought you were one of the bad guys coming back to make sure the job was done."
"I remember," Tanner said as he rubbed his jaw.
"You surprised me that day. You looked into my eyes and I swear you saw into my soul. Somehow you knew what I wanted but you wouldnt let me have it. You pulled me from a death wish that day, Vin."
"Youd have done the same for me, Cowboy," Tanner said as he wiped the moisture from his own eyes.
"Not that day I wouldnt. I would have let us both die in that fire. Dont you see, Vin, Id lost everything. I know Buck was still there but he couldnt get through to me. I pushed him away because he reminded me too much of what Id lost. Bucks like a brother to me, Vin, but youre closer than that. I dont know why you were there that day but Im grateful you were."
"Chris, I dont know what to say. You know I dont have any family. Lost my Ma when I was just a little tyke. Done some things that Im not proud of. Made lots of mistakes and some of them I regret. I swore Id never let anyone get close to me again but meeting you that day changed everything for me. Im here for you, Pard, and I always will be," Tanner said as the door opened and the others walked in.
"So you ready to get out of here, Stud?" Wilmington asked.
"Sure am, Buck," Chris said, wiping any evidence of his confession from his face.
"Well your chariot awaits," Wilmington laughed as an orderly came in with a chair.
"Thanks, Buck," the blond laughed and turned his eyes to the man on crutches. Thanks, Vin, he thought, his eyes once more dancing with childlike excitement.
Anytime, Cowboy, feeling the resonance between them flow smoothly once again Tanner smiled. Yeah, Cowboy...aint lost no more. He thought.
Comments to: firstname.lastname@example.org