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Chris hated the tube that ran down his throat and hoped the doctor would take it out, but the physician had been in earlier and told him he was still not strong enough. Several times hed woken long enough to see a nurse checking the tubes and leads attached to his body, but at least the pain was no longer overpowering and he realized it was probably the strong pain medications he was being given. He couldnt remember what had happened to put him in hospital, but he did understand that his injuries were severe enough that the doctors had kept him sedated for a while. His dreams were filled with horrifying images and he wasnt sure whether they were from his dreams or reality. He needed to see Vin, needed to know that the images troubling him were not real and that his son was okay.
Mr. Larabee, how do you feel about having some company? the nurse asked and smiled as her patient blinked once.
Hey, Pard, must say you look better than you did last night.
Buck, the blond thought and tried to speak in spite of the tube down his throat. The effect was immediate and he felt as if he was choking as Wilmingtons hand was placed on his shoulder. He heard his friends voice, but could not acknowledge the mans presence until he relaxed and let the machine breathe for him.
Easy, Chris, you need to let the machines do their job, the ladies man soothed as the blond finally met his gaze. Guess youre wondering about Vin?
Chris blinked once and looked up at his long time friend hopefully.
Hes outside with Josiah and I think hes just as anxious to see you as you are to see him. Ill get him, but you have to remember not to try to talk. Got it? Wilmington asked and again received one blink.
Chris closed his eyes and listened for the returning rogue. It wasnt long before Buck returned and he opened his eyes to look at the boy held in the big mans gentle arms.
Cowboy, Larabee thought as the small hand reached for his own hand.
Chris...Dad, the Texan corrected and saw the tears slip from the sea green eyes. He felt the hand he held grip his own and smiled at the man he now thought of as his father. I knows ya cant talk right now, but I wanted to tell you Is sorry.
Easy, Son, I dont think Chris blames you for what happened. Right Chris? Wilmington said as was rewarded with one blink.
Ya dont? Vin asked hopefully and watched as two distinctive blinks occurred.
Chris wanted so much to hold the small boy, but he couldnt fight the medication racing through his body and the tug of sleep quickly overpowered his depleted supply of energy.
Hes sleeping, Vin. Why dont we go get some dinner and head home? Josiah and Ezra are going to stay with Chris until visiting hours are over.
Can we come back tamarrow?
Sure, Kiddo, and hopefully that tube will be gone, the rogue explained as they walked out of the room.
+ + + + + + +
During the next twelve hours Chris Larabee went through blood tests and x-rays as news of his recovery continued to be the talk of the hospital. People who didnt know him stopped by to look at the man whod received the true miracle of life. They didnt need to talk or touch him, but felt a glimmer of hope by just seeing the injured man. By morning Chris was awake for longer periods of time, but still tired easily. He opened his eyes as Milton Armstrong entered the room.
Good Morning, Chris. I think I have some good news for you. Want to hear it? One blink. Would you like to get rid of that tube before your family gets here? Again he received one blink. All right, now when I tell you to I want you to try to cough or breathe out as hard as you can. Okay? One blink.
Chris winced as the tape was removed from around the tube and waited until the physician told him he should breathe out. When the mans voice told him to do so, Chris coughed and felt his stomach churn and bile rise in his throat along with the tube. He cried out as he shifted on the bed, awakening the wounds covering his body. He heard voices speaking to him, but had no strength to answer as the darkness reached up and pulled him under.
Armstrong looked at the monitors as the nurse got rid of the tube. He reached for a cloth and washed away the remaining evidence of the extubation and knew this was only the beginning. Chris Larabee had a long recovery ahead of him, yet Armstrong had no doubt the man would make a full comeback.
Jenny, Ive got rounds to finish and then Ill be in a meeting until three. If he has any problems have me paged.
Yes, Doctor, Jenny Williams agreed as she continued to care for her patient. A lab tech came soon after and took samples of Larabees blood, but the injured man did not respond to the soft touch. Jenny hummed softly as she worked and smiled as she looked up to see a man and a boy standing in the doorway. Merry Christmas.
Merry Christmas. How is he? Wilmington asked.
Uncle Buck, he dont got the chine breathin fer him no more! Vin said excitedly as he pulled the man into the room and over to the bed.
Dr. Armstrong was in early this morning and took it out. Hes doing very well, Williams explained.
Thats great...Hey pard, Wilmington said as Larabees eyelids fluttered and finally opened. The sea green eyes were glazed yet they cleared somewhat when they beheld the young boy standing beside the bed.
V...Vin, Chris rasped and tried to hide the pain from the boy. His throat was as arid as any desert when he tried to speak.
Try these, Chris, the nurse said and placed a spoonful of ice chips in front of her patients mouth.
Chris accepted the offering and was grateful when the nurse offered him more. Thanks.
Youre welcome, Jenny said and moved away to give the newcomers a chance to speak with their friend.
Ya okay, D...dad? Vin asked.
Am now, Sport. W...what about you? Did they hurt you? Larabee asked moaning as fleeting memories flashed before his eyes.
Is fine, Dad...
I l like the sound of that, Vin, but are you sure youre ready for it?
Is ready...yer moren jest Chris now. Is got a...a famly cause of ya.
Yes, Son, you do, Larabee agreed and wished he could move more easily, but truth was his chest was on fire and he looked at the nurse gratefully when she injected the medication into his IV.
Vin, why dont you go out and tell Josiah the good news about Chris getting rid of that tube.
...kay, Is gonna be right back.
Buck and Chris watched the boy leave the room and finally looked at each other.
How is he, Buck?
Hes doing better, Chris. Cant tell you how scared he was when Ezra and I found him. Kid was freezing and all he worried about was you.
He blamed himself for what happened, Buck. Keep t...telling h...him...
Mr. Larabee, Im afraid I need to put you back on the oxygen, Jenny explained when she saw the readout on the monitors.
I...Im o...okay, the blond tried, but he knew he wasnt fooling either of them.
Sure you are. Look just let her give you the oxygen. Vins okay, Chris, and hes a hero...
Sa...saved my life, Buck, Larabee said as his eyes closed and the nurse replaced the oxygen mask.
You dont know the half of it, Chris, Wilmington agreed as Vin came back into the room.
Josiah said hes glad Chris aint got that tube no more, the boy said disappointed to see his father sleeping once more.
Hes okay, Vin. Remember the doctors are giving him medication so he doesnt have so much pain. It also makes him sleep a lot, Wilmington explained.
He only jest woke up, Vin whispered.
He will be very tired a lot of the time, Vin, and sleep is a wonderful healer, Jenny explained.
Shes right, Vin, and right now Chris needs to sleep.
I know...and and Ill be real quiet. Can I stay here with him?
No, Son, the hospital wont let you stay longer than a few minutes, least not until hes in a regular room.
When will he get out of this one?
Jenny, any idea how long before the doctors let him out of ICU?
Im afraid not, Mr. Wilmington, the nurse answered. Now there are some things I need to do to make Chris more comfortable so if you dont mind letting the others know they can come back in an hour. Okay?
Ill let them know, Jenny. Thanks for taking care of him.
Youre more than welcome, Williams assured him, smiling as the big man took the boys hand and the two walked out of the room together.
+ + + + + + +
Two days later Milton Armstrong came to see his patient during his early morning rounds. Chris Larabee was weak and still in a lot of pain, but the physician was certain he would benefit from being moved out of ICU. He knew it would also make it easier for Larabees extended family to visit him without the restrictions ICU patients had.
Chris, I think I may have some good news for you, Armstrong said, smiling as Larabees eyes focused on him.
I can g...go home? Larabee asked tiredly.
I said good news, Chris, not a miraculous cure, Armstrong explained. Now, would you like to hear the good news?
Guess so, the blond answered.
Well, I think its time we moved you out of here and set you up in a regular room. What do you think? Want to get out from under constant surveillance?
God yes, the blond said smiling easily as Armstrong checked the monitors.
Very good. Ill leave word at the desk that as soon as a room is ready theyll get you out of here.
Any chance of g...getting rid of some of these d...damn tubes?
Well, I think we can get rid of the central line and possibly the Foley...
Yes, Larabee said, excitement readily apparent in his eyes.
You know I have never had a Foley and after witnessing my patients reaction to its removal I believe Ill stay away from that one, Armstrong said as the nurse began removing the tape from the central line. Now the tube in your chest needs to stay put for a couple of more days...
Damn, Larabee spat.
Yes, well, we need to make sure that lung is healed properly. Any questions?
How long before I can get out of here?
Chris, I know you hate being laid up, but Im afraid right now theres no choice. Would you like me to go over the injuries you received?
Guess so...need to know.
All right. Lets start with the head injury. You were struck several times...
Feels like it...
I bet it does. You probably dont even realize youre suffering the effects of a concussion.
I do, Doc, believe me...heads gonna explode pretty soon.
The pain medication isnt helping? Armstrong asked worriedly.
It helps, the blond answered too quickly.
Good, let the nurses know if it gets too bad. Now, next well talk about your chest. Youve got a bullet hole right here and its done some internal damage that weve corrected. Youre on antibiotics to ward off any infections from that. Your right shoulder was dislocated and you have a hairline fracture of your right wrist. Youve got several broken ribs and a punctured lung and thats the reason for the chest tube. Moving lower we discover badly bruised kidneys and your left knee will probably require several subsequent surgeries to heal the damage done to it. Theres also the broken ankle that Dr. Marshal put pins in to keep it aligned properly. Now does that sound like a man who should be discharged from the hospital any time soon?
Guess not, Larabee answered sheepishly.
Good, glad were in agreement. Now if youll excuse me Ill go write up the new orders. Take it easy and listen to the staff. They know what theyre doing.
I will...thanks, doc, Larabee said and let his eyes slide closed. He felt the nurse checking his IVs and leads and began to drift towards sleep once more.
+ + + + + + +
Buck, Vin, Ezra, and JD walked quickly towards the ICU and Buck was the first to see the empty bed. Quickly placing himself between the room and the boys he looked at Standish and spoke quickly, hiding the fear that gripped his heart.
Take the boys into the waiting room!
Certainly, Standish said, noting the look that washed over the mustached mans face.
Buck heard Vin call to him, but hurried to the desk and spoke to the woman seated there. Chris Larabee?
Chris Larabee! Where the hell is he?
Yes, damn it. He was in that room and its empty! What happened to him?
Oh, Im sorry...
No, God no!
No, I dont mean that. Mr. Larabee is doing fine. He was moved to a private room half an hour ago, the nurse explained as she reached for the trembling mans hand.
Yes, just a minute and Ill get you his new room number. She punched Larabees name into the computer and smiled at the handsome rogue. Room 231.
Thank you, Wilmington whispered turning away from the desk and heading towards the waiting room. Forcing a smile on his face he waited for the trembling to stop before pushing the door open. Okay, Boys, ready to go visit Chris?
Yeah, JD said excitedly.
Is he okay? Vin asked.
Hes fine, kiddo. Hes doing so well the doctors have moved him out of ICU.
Thats wonderful news, Standish said as the two boys showed their excitement by hugging each other. Do you know his new room number?
Sure do, lets go, boys, Wilmington ordered.
+ + + + + + +
Chris shifted slightly, awakening a lot more pain as the nurse looked at him sympathetically. He tried to smile but it came out as a tight grimace and he gripped the blanket in his left hand as the woman injected something into his IV.
Chris, Ive just given you your pain meds and your call button is right here by your left hand. You buzz if you need anything at all.
I will...thanks, Larabee said as he looked at the picture stuck to the corkboard on the wall beside his bed. It was the first time hed really seen it and he smiled at the thought of the boys visiting Santa. A sigh of regret escaped his throat as he realized it was another event hed missed this year.
Dr. Armstrong has put in an order for patient controlled analgesic and we should be able to set it up for you this afternoon, she explained as she tucked the blanket around her newest patient. She pulled the drape across the window and silently left the room.
Chris heard her leave and relaxed against the pillows as the medication flowed through his veins. He knew it wouldnt take long for the medication to take the edge off and he tried to shift in order to call Wilmington and tell him of the room change before his friends showed up and thought the worst. Before he managed to get anywhere near the phone the door opened and he couldnt help smiling as Vin and JD hurried into the room.
Hi, Dad, Vin said with a grin.
Hi, Uncle Chris. Hear Vin...he called ya dad.
Sure did, JD, and Im proud that he does.
Ya are? the dark haired boy asked as Ezra pulled a chair closer and let JD kneel on it.
Of course. Im proud to have him as a son.
Would ya be proud if I called ya dad?
Nothing would make me happier, Wilmington said as he sat Vin on the left side of Larabees bed. He smiled at the innocence shining in JDs eyes and knew theyd just become an official family.
What day is it? Chris asked, unsure how much time had passed since waking up in the hospital.
December 29th, Standish answered and saw the sorrow in the sea green eyes.
Sorry, Boys, Larabee said looking at the two children.
What for? Wilmington asked.
Guess we missed Christmas, the blond said and watched as the four visitors smiled conspiratorially. Okay, whats going on?
Ya aint missed it, Dad, Vin said.
What do you mean? Larabee asked frowning at the ladies mans look of innocence.
We aint opened our gifts yet, Uncle Chris. Me and Vin wants ya to be there so wes leavin the tree up til ya comes home and everyones gonna come over and Aunt Netties makin apple crumble and peach cobbler.
Josiahs gonna cook the turkey and Uncle Nathans gonna cook sweet potatoes and stuffing.
That sounds wonderful, Larabee said, drinking in the excitement on the young faces.
Uncle Buck said me and Vin can make cookies. What kind should we make, Dad? Vin asked.
Well, Little Man, you know Im partial to chunky chocolate chip with walnuts, Larabee answered, yawning in spite of being caught up in the excitement.
Boys, why dont we go down to the cafeteria and get some ice cream, Wilmington asked when Larabee tried to hide his fatigue.
Can I get mint chips?
Sure, JD, Wilmington answered. Come on, Vin.
Is gonna stay with dad, Vin said and Larabee nodded that it would be okay to let the boy stay.
Ezra, why dont you go with Buck and JD? Chris suggested and saw understanding dawn on both mens faces as they left the room and closed the door. Hey, Kiddo, are you really okay?
Is so scared, Dad. I saw em comin back and I hidded in the snow and then Uncle Buck and Uncle Ezra found me. I thought ya was dead...
I was scared too, Vin, and that was a very brave thing you did by going out there and bringing back help. You saved both our lives that night, Son, Larabee explained and shifted to the right side of the bed. He arranged the IV lines until he could pull the smaller body down on the bed beside him.
You never do, Little Man, Larabee said as Vin turned towards him and snuggled down in the bed.
Want some blanket, Dad?
Can you pull it up over us? Larabee asked, hiding the pain Vins movement was causing. The boy lifted the blankets and gently tucked them around his father and himself. Snuggled tightly in his fathers somewhat awkward embrace Vin fell into a deep sleep, Chris following shortly after.
+ + + + + + +
Buck pushed open the door and looked into the room. He quickly held up his hand for the others to stop as the scene in the room warmed his heart. Chris lay slightly on his left side with Vin snuggled against his chest. Both seemed to be sleeping soundly and Buck eased the door closed.
Whats wrong, Dad, JD asked, mint chip ice cream slathered all over his face.
Take a look, but be very quiet, Wilmington said and eased the door open. Ezra and JD both looked into the room and smiled as the gentle rogue closed the door.
Chris will be sore when he wakes up, Standish observed with a smile on his face.
I know, but this kind of sore Im sure he wont mind, the ladies man said as they walked towards the small waiting room.
How come Vins sleepin? JD asked.
Hes tired, Lil Bit, and I think we should leave him with Chris while we watch some TV in here. Okay?
Can we watch Sponge Bob?
Sponge Bob? Standish asked.
Sure. Aintcha seen it? JD asked.
I dont think Ive ever had the pleasure, Standish answered.
Who lives in a pineapple under the sea? Wilmington sang and laughed as JD answered.
Sponge Bob Squarepants!
I believe Ill stick with my informative programming, the gambler announced as they entered the small room to find it empty. He went into the bathroom and wet several paper towels that he quickly used to clean JDs face before sitting next to him.
Buck flicked on the TV and searched through the channels until he came across Frosty the Snowman. Want to watch this one, Kiddo?
Yes, please...wish Vin was here cause he loves this one.
You boys have it on video, Son, so he can watch it at home when he wants to, Buck explained as they settled down to watch the program.
+ + + + + + +
Chris tensed as he tried to move and felt a small body snuggled against him. His chest was on fire and the wounds pounded out a screaming agony that threatened to shove him back into the nightmare hed resided in since falling asleep. His left arm was under the boys head and Chris knew if he moved Vin would wake up, yet to stay as he was would only continue to exacerbate his wounds. He silently groaned as the child moved and looked towards the door as it opened and Nathan entered the room. He fought to rid his face of any sign of the pain he was in, but the medic saw right through him as he stopped beside the bed.
Chris, this wasnt smart, Jackson whispered.
Tell me about it, Larabee answered, painfully aware of the truth in the medics softly spoken warning.
Just hang on and Ill see if I can move him, Jackson offered.
I know, Chris, but you cant stay like that any longer. Now just hang on and Ill move him.
Chris knew the medic was right, but he hated the idea of waking the child. Nodding he watched as Jackson tried to ease the boy off the bed only to have the Texan open his eyes and sit bolt upright. Chris gritted his teeth as agony spread through his upper body when Vins elbow connected with the chest wound. He kept the pain from showing as his son turned towards him and smiled in spite of his own discomfort.
Dad...Uncle Nathan. Where is everyone?
Theyll be here in a few minutes, Vin. Why dont you come on down and well see about getting Chris ready for visitors, Jackson suggested and saw the gratitude on Larabees face. The blond was trying his best to keep the pain from showing, but that mask was quickly slipping and Nathan knew he needed to get the boy off the bed before it was too late.
Vin nodded and with Jacksons help climbed off the bed and stood on the floor. He turned to look at the man he now considered his father and frowned as he noted the sweat soaked forehead. Dad, he said uncertainly.
Its okay, Vin, I just need to be still for a few minutes, Larabee assured his son. He knew Jackson could read him easily and hoped he was keeping the worst of it from the child. The door opened and a nurse entered and looked from one man to the other before asking Jackson if he could take Vin outside while she checked her patient. The Texan reluctantly allowed the medic to take him from the room and as soon as they were gone Chris let out a soft moan.
Mr. Larabee, Im going to give you your pain medication and then well hook up the infusion pump. Ill tell your friends to come back in an hour.
O...okay, Larabee agreed and listened to her retreating footsteps. The pain was slowly subsiding to a more bearable level and he relaxed against the pillows. He heard the nurse returning and soon felt the familiar sensation of the medication entering his blood stream. He heard another nurse enter the room and forced his eyelids to open slightly. He could see them changing his IV and running the lines through another monitor and knew they were giving him control of his pain relief. It didnt take them long and he smiled as they explained how it worked and then left him alone once more. His eyes opened again as he heard the door open and he smiled in spite of the exhaustion washing over him.
Better, Jackson asked.
Much, thanks, wheres Vin?
Nettie Wells just took him and JD down to the gift shop. Vin wants to get you something special, Wilmington explained as Sanchez and Standish joined them.
Vins special...they both are, Larabee said and shifted slightly in order to raise the head of the bed.
Indeed they are, the conman agreed.
Yes, they are, but you need to remember having a child lying next to you when youre hurt is not the smartest thing to do, Jackson softly berated his friend.
I know, Nathan, believe me Im paying for it now, but, he smiled at the four men. Id do it again in a heart beat.
Wouldnt we all? Sanchez stated.
All right, boys, things are still not clear to me and I need to know what happened.
Tell us what you remember, Chris? Wilmington suggested and watched as their friend rubbed at tired eyes.
I remember picking Vin up at school and stopping at McDonalds to pick up dinner. There was a car stuck on the road not far from the access road and I stopped to see if I could help. Told Vin to stay in the car and I think I remember him telling me not to go. Guess I shouldve listened to his instincts.
Guess so, Jackson agreed. Anything else?
Think so. I remember being hurt and Vin was afraid and they had me tied up. This one miserable bastard kept taunting Vin. T...telling him Id be hurt if he didnt tell him where something was. Vin was terrified of these guys yet he t...tried to protect me. Tell me you got the bastards!
We did, or should I say Ezra did, Wilmington answered.
Where are they?
Rudy Marshall is dead, Standish explained. Gregory Linden is in jail awaiting trial for attempted murder and kidnapping.
Do we know who was behind it? Larabee asked tiredly as he reached for the glass of water Jackson produced.
Craig Harrington, Sanchez answered.
Harrington? As in the senate guy?
One and the same, Jackson answered.
It seems Harringtons past was about to rear its ugly head and he wanted to put a stop to it before his constituents discovered his past, Standish continued.
What does all that have to do with Vin? Larabee asked, his memories still not clear.
It seems Harringtons associate kept a journal on his illegal dealings...
Journal? Larabee frowned as something flashed through his mind and a name teased at the fringes of his consciousness.
Ray Tanner, Wilmington supplied.
Ah, hell, Vins father?
Shit. Vins mother hid the damn journal from Ray and they thought he knew where it was, Larabee said.
He did...just didnt remember until after we found you guys. He told us what he remembered about his mother hiding the journal and we found it in one of the vents in their old building. Harrington is in jail and bail was denied because hes a risk to run and has the money to do so. His assets have been frozen until the outcome of the trial, Wilmington explained.
Damn, Larabee winced as more flashes of memory assaulted his senses.
Take it easy, Chris, Jackson advised as he watched the blond closely. He watched as Larabee tried to mask the pain as the door opened and Nettie escorted the two boys into the room.
Uncle Chris, me and Vin gotcha somethin! JD said excitedly.
You did? Larabee asked as the child came to stand beside Wilmington.
They picked this out themselves, Chris, the elderly woman told them.
Thats wonderful, Boys, thanks, the blond said as a package was placed on the small table. He lifted his left hand and carefully began removing the wrapping. A smile formed on his face as the gift was revealed, and he turned it towards the others. A small porcelain ranch style house set in the center of a field of green grass. There was also a barn and a corral with a horse and pony inside it. A brass plate was set in the side and read Home Sweet Home. Chris understood what the gift meant to the boys and knew Buck would also get the meaning.
Its our home, Dad. Me and ya and JD and Uncle Buck. Thats where we live, Vin said. Thats Pony and Peso in the corral.
Its beautiful, boys, Larabee said as JD reached for a button and turned it. The soft strains of Home on the Range sounded in the room and smiles donned each face as they softly sang along with it.
Where ya gonna put it, Chris? JD asked.
I think thisll go right over the fireplace so we can see it every time we have a fire, Larabee said and was pleased with the gift from the children. He hugged them both and silently thanked Nettie Wells for everything shed done for them. The woman was a Godsend in more ways than one and he reached out as she placed a kiss on his forehead.
Im glad youre going to be okay, Chris, she whispered and fought back her own tears.
Thanks, Nettie, for everything, Larabee said as he felt the draw of sleep once more.
Youre welcome, and on that note I believe its time we left and let you get some rest, the woman said, smiling as she saw the gratitude in the sea green eyes. It took a little while to convince the boys that Chris would be okay while they went to dinner and also got some sleep. Soon there was only Larabee and Wilmington left in the room.
Chris, you need anything just have them call.
I will, Buck. Take care of them.
You know I will, Pard, the gentle rogue said and nodded towards the infusion pump. Go ahead and get some relief.
Larabee nodded and pressed the button under his left hand and watched as the ladies man left the room. It wasnt long before he gave in to his bodys need to rest and he fell into a drug-induced sleep.
+ + + + + + +
Chris looked up as the door opened and Milton Armstrong and Sharon Miller entered the room. Nearly three weeks had passed since Chris had been life-flighted to the trauma center and the miracle of his life was still the talk of the hospital staff and patients alike.
Good morning, Chris.
Morning, Doc, any chance I can get out of here today?
Well, I guess thats what were about to find out. Ive checked your recent test results and everything looks much better than anyone would have guessed at this point in your recovery. Now that doesnt mean youre free to go back to work or anything like that, but it does mean that things are looking good. Now if youll just relax well take a look at you and see about getting you out of here.
Sounds good, Doc, Larabee said as the head of he bed was lowered. He closed his eyes and tried to ignore the pain their examination caused, but once in a while a barely audible moan escaped his lips.
Almost done, Chris, Armstrong explained as he watched the nurse finish cleaning the chest wound.
O...okay, the blond winced and tried to relax, but was unable to do so completely. The infusion pumps and IV lines were gone, but he soon felt the nurse delivering a shot of Demerol and he was grateful for the small respite he knew it would provide.
Chris, things look good...
So I can go home?
I think so, Armstrong laughed as the sea green eyes looked up at him. Ive arranged for physio on the ankle and shoulder and I believe Buck Wilmington has already made arrangements for a wheelchair.
Chris, the wheelchair is for your own good if you want out of bed. Theres no way youll be able to use crutches with that chest wound and those ribs. Its either the chair or complete bed rest. Your choice.
The chair, Larabee told him.
Thats what I thought youd say. Okay, Ill write up your discharge papers and leave a prescription and follow up appointments with the desk. You make sure you take it easy.
I will, Doc, thanks.
Youre welcome, Armstrong said as he left the room with the nurse.
Chris smiled at the thought of going home. The memories of what happened to him were not completely clear, but he was slowly putting things together. Vin had proven he was a brave boy and had saved both their lives when he escaped the basement. Chris also knew the story of Vins trip to the Notre Dame Church and the prayers hed said there. He knew a miracle had been granted, and briefly wondered why hed been granted another chance, but he quickly realized to question this gift would not bring him any answers. Vins prayers had brought him back towards the light of life, yet Chris understood his family was also waiting for him in another bright light, but he wasnt ready to leave his new family yet...not for a long time.
+ + + + + + +
Chris smiled as he shifted on the bed and realized it was his own. It had been three long weeks and he was finally out of the hospital. It still hurt to move too fast or too much, but he no longer felt the agonizing pain hed suffered in the hospital. Hed been discharged the day before and found himself under the watchful eye of a very diligent Texan. Several times the boy had been in to tuck the blankets around him. Juice and water were always in fresh supply. He knew they were expecting company and had insisted on celebrating Christmas as soon as they arrived. Despite Bucks protests Chris convinced him that the boys had waited long enough.
Im awake, Vin.
Hi, Dad, are ya feelin okay?
Im much better now that youre here. What time is it?
Its three oclock. Ya slept lots, but Nettie says ya needs it.
Well, Im awake now. Think you could tell Buck to come in here and help me out of this bed?
Sure...be right back.
Chris smiled as he heard the childs excited laughter as he told Buck that dad needed his help. The idea that the Texan was calling him dad sent a warmth throughout his soul, one he hadnt felt since hed lost his own wife and son. Somehow it seemed to have been written in the stars that he and Vin Tanner should meet and fill a void that tore at their souls. Sighing contentedly he looked up to see Wilmington and Jackson enter the room.
Chris, are you sure youre up to this? Jackson asked.
Never more sure of anything, Nathan. The boys have waited long enough...weve waited long enough, Larabee assured him.
You heard the man, Nathan, lets get him dressed.
All right. Chris wheres your clothes? the medic asked.
Underwear and socks in the top drawer, shirts in the bottom. Jeans...
No way in hell youre getting on them tight jeans, Stud, Wilmington teased and reached for a pair of track pants that had snaps up the sides.
Hes right, Chris. Theres no way youll get them jeans up over the cast, Jackson admonished.
Damn...all right, Larabee agreed and soon found himself seated on the edge of the bed. He stayed put as dizziness assaulted him and threatened to send him back to the bed. He heard Buck ask if he was okay and nodded before letting them help him into his clothes. By the time they finished he wondered if it had been a wise choice and thanked Jackson as the man handed him two white pills and a glass of water. He took them without protest and was gently helped into the wheelchair. The wound in his chest and the broken ribs made it impossible for him to use crutches and hed reluctantly agreed with Armstrongs insistence that he take it easy and use the wheelchair. The controls were easily accessible to his left hand and he moved the lever forward and led the others out into the living room.
Chris sighed contentedly as Vin and JD moved in on either side of him and escorted him into the living room. The tree was still in place, the lights twinkling and bathing the surrounding area in soft shades of green, yellow, red, and orange. The floor was covered in a myriad of gaily-wrapped packages of different sizes and shapes. The large dining room table had been moved into the living room while the sofa, chair, and coffee table had been pushed up against the back wall. There were three chairs on either side of the table and a single one at the opposite end. The main seat at the head of the table was empty in order for his chair to be placed there.
The ceiling decorations reflected the tree lights and lent an air of festivity to the surroundings. The center of the table was taken up by a poinsettia with vibrant red petals and bright green leaves. The red cloth covering the pine table was set with decorative placemats of silver and down the center was a shimmering gold runner. Two red candles burned brightly and Chris was overwhelmed with the family whod waited their own Christmas celebrations for him.
Chris, are you okay? Nettie asked as she stood in front of the healing man.
Im fine, Nettie, I just...I dont know how to thank a...all of you, Larabee said and saw the tears shining in her eyes.
I do, Wilmington said. You can get that chair moving and get over to the table. Dont know about anyone else, but Ive been waiting to dig into that turkey since Nettie and Josiah started basting it. Not to mention the sweet potatoes and
Sheesh, Buck, does your stomach ever quit? Sanchez asked giving the man a friendly pat on the back.
Chris sat at the head of the table, Vin to his right, JD to his left. Josiah sat next to Vin, while Nathan sat next to JD. Buck took his seat at the end of the table, with Nettie to his right and Ezra to his left.
Josiah, would you say grace? Buck asked as they bowed their heads and folded their hands.
Lord, we thank you for this bountiful feast that you have set before us. This is a special time for all of us with the return of our brother and we thank you for making us whole once more. Amen.
Amen, sounded around the table and Buck stood up and pulled over the cart that held the butter basted turkey and stuffing.
Buck lifted the carving knife and sliced into the succulent white meat, smiling as his own stomach grumbled in anticipation. He placed the slice on a plate and handed it to Nettie Wells who added sweet potatoes, stuffing, carrots and gravy before handing it down the line to Chris.
Looks great, Larabee said as the others reached for their plates and helped themselves to the feast set before them. He smiled as he realized he truly was home and the healing had begun. He looked from one to the other before meeting the familiar blue orbs of the Texan. There was no need for words as the two smiled and began to eat.
+ + + + + + +
The dishes had been cleared and put away, the table and chairs had been put back into the dining room, while the sofa and chair now faced the huge Christmas tree that dominated the area next to the fireplace. Soft strains of Christmas music added to the celebration as Chris once more took the seat of honor next to the gifts. He would be handing out the presents and Vin and JD would be helping him. He looked at his friends, a twinkle in his eyes and a lightness in his heart.
Merry Christmas, Chris, Nettie said and hugged him lightly.
Merry Christmas, Dad, Vin carefully hugged him and watched JD do the same. When the good wishes were finished Vin handed Chris the first gift.
Nettie, this one is for you from Vin and JD, Larabee said and smiled as he remembered Vin and JD searching for something special for the woman who cared for them.
For me? Thank you, Boys, she said.
Yer welcome. Open it! JD ordered excitedly.
Nettie opened the package and smiled as she looked at the white bear holding a bright red rose in one hand and a pillow in the other. Engraved on the pillow were the words...Our Nettie-bear.
Do you like it, Aunt Nettie? Vin asked.
I love it, Vin. You and JD could not have given me anything finer. Ill make a special place for him on my bed, she said and hugged the two boys.
This ones for Josiah from me, Buck and the boys, Larabee said and waited for JD to make the delivery.
Sanchez opened the heavy package and smiled as he removed the object tucked inside a box of black satin. A heavy sigh escaped as he looked at the antique gold cross attached to a heavy chain.
Its to replace the one you lost, Wilmington told him and watched as the older man placed the chain around his neck.
Thank you...it is a wonderful gift and one I shall always treasure, Sanchez said.
Youre welcome, Uncle Josiah, JD said and raced back to get another gift.
Nathans gift was next and he couldnt hide his own pleasure at the gift of a stethoscope and digital thermometer.
Are ya gonna test it out on Chris taday?
I might just do that, Son, Jackson said as he received a hug from the boys.
Hey, Cowboy, whos side are you on here? Larabee teased, ruffling Tanners hair as he did so. This ones for Ezra from all of us.
Thank you, Standish said as the Texan delivered the gift of a fair sized box wrapped in metallic green. He slowly undid the first wrapper to reveal a box underneath. He opened the lid expectantly and then shook his head as he pulled out another wrapped box as the others laughed softly.
Ya gotta read the writin! Vin ordered.
Roses are red, violets are blue, dont drop this, whatever you do.
I writed that!
You are very poetic, Vin, Standish said as he removed the second wrapper and opened the next box only to find he had been duped again.
Gotta read it, Vin said, laughing again as he and JD stood shoulder to shoulder in front of the conman.
Roses are red, violets are green, under this wrapper, something you never seen. Again and again Ezra unwrapped the gift until the large box was no bigger than a small tissue box. He looked at the tag and read the newest poetry.
Roses are red, Violets are black, be careful now, I got yer back. Standish opened the box and could not believe what his eyes told him was there. You shouldnt have.
Actually, Ezra, its only part of your gift, Larabee explained. That wine is one of the rarest...
I know. Believe me I do. Im speechless.
Theres a first, Nathan teased. Tell him the rest of it, Chris.
Josiah did a lot of research into that particular wine and we found out the owners are having a showing of their oldest and finest vintages. We all chipped in and youll be there as a guest of honor.
Ezra studied the bottle of wine and knew the people before him were the only ones he wanted to share this gift with. He lifted teary eyes and looked at each of them and spoke through he lump in his throat.
I may be a connoisseur of fine wines and whiskeys, but I truly believe my greatest skill was in the choice of each of you as friend. Thank you all and when Chris is allowed to drink we shall share a toast from this very bottle.
Im holding you to that! Sanchez said and heard the others laugh once more.
This is for JD, Chris said and watched as Vin handed the dark haired youth a gift from him and Chris.
Thanks, Vin, Uncle Chris, JD said and tore at the wrapper to find the Quirby Racing Game hed wanted for the Nintendo Cube Game System.
Vin, this is for you from Buck and JD, Larabee said and handed the Texan a gift bag covered in red and white candy canes.
Vin sat down and tugged at the tape holding the bag closed. He looked inside and smiled as he pulled the treasure from inside. A brown cowboy hat with a miniature Texas Ranger badge pinned to the front was quickly plopped on top of his head as a smile covered his face.
Thanks, Uncle Buck, JD, the boy said as the big man held him close.
Youre more than welcome, Sport, Wilmington said and knew theyd gotten the perfect gift for Vin Tanner.
Buck, this ones from JD, Larabee said and handed the package to the dark haired boy to deliver to the gentle rogue.
Did you buy me this Lil Bit?
Sure did...used all my piggy bank money, the boy said excitedly as he watched his father open the gift.
This is perfect, JD.
Thanks, Dad, I knowed you broke yours.
Yes, I did, Wilmington hugged the boy as he looked at the picture on the cup. It was taken during the summer vacation and had Chris and Buck holding the boys in their arms at Lake Tahoe. Guess Ill have to test it out tonight. Chris, Vins got one there for you from him.
Vin, can you help me with this? Larabee asked.
Sure, the boys said and slowly began unwrapping the gift.
Chris waited until the boy opened the box and smiled as he pulled out the gift from his son. It was the same picture that adorned Bucks cup, but instead of a mug it had been placed inside a frame. The frame itself was in a western theme and had horses along the four sides and the word COWBOYS written across the bottom.
Vin, this is going over the fireplace so everyone can see it, Larabee said as he hugged the boy close. The gifts continued to be distributed until the pile under the tree had disappeared. Nettie quickly served hot apple cider with cinnamon sticks and cherry crisp. The two boys were playing a game of Trouble with Ezra and Josiah, while Buck and Nettie cleared the dishes and got rid of the wrapping paper.
Nathan watched Larabee carefully and was about to suggest he get some rest when a frown covered the blonds face. Not wanting to alarm anyone he walked over to the recovering man and asked. Whats wrong?
Nathan, can you reach that box back there? Larabee asked as he pointed to something hanging at the back of the tree.
Sure, and, Chris, I think you need to get some rest.
I will, Nathan, the blond said as Jackson reached for the unwrapped gift and handed it to him.
Chris looked at the name on the package, but didnt recognize the writing. The name was easily read and he called to his son. Vin, looks like you forgot one.
Theres another gift here for you, Larabee explained as the child came towards him. Chris saw the others look at him and he shrugged his shoulders as they came to watch.
It dont say who its from, Vin said and turned the package over and over.
Must be from Santa, Nettie said and smiled as the boy turned innocent eyes in her direction.
Do you really think so? Vin asked excitedly as he began tearing off the wrapper. His face lit up and his eyes danced with glee as he looked at the gift in his hand. The Harmonica his mother had given him, the same one hed given to the baby Jesus stared up at him from the battered box that had always been its home.
Vin, what is it? JD asked.
M...my harmonica. Uncle Buck, did ya?
No, Son, it wasnt me. The last time I saw it was at the church, Wilmington explained.
The church? Chris asked his face filled with confusion.
Vin went to the church on Christmas Eve and I found him there talking to God. He wanted God to make you better and left the harmonica as a gift. Thats the last time I saw it, the ladies man explained.
Vin, did you really give it away for me? Larabee asked, moved by the actions of a young man.
I didnt want God ta take ya, the Texan said, tears misting his eyes as the blond reached for him. I needs ya, D...Dad.
I need you too, Vin Tanner, and thank you for the gift of my life, Larabee said fighting to get the words past the lump in his throat. Would you play something for us?
Aint much I can play, Vin explained as he took out the harmonica.
Play anything, Son, Larabee told him and saw the brown head bob once.
Vin took a deep breath and slowly began to play. The tune was unmistakable as the others began to sing along with him.
Silent Night, Holy Night, all is calm, all is bright. Round yon Virgin mother and child, Holy infant so tender and mild.
Chris looked into the soft blue eyes as the child played the Christmas song. The notes were not perfect, but to Chris Larabee they were the sweetest sound hed ever heard. This was their first Christmas together and for Chris and those around him a tradition had just started and on each year Vin Tanner would play Silent Night for those he loved. He looked at those around him and realized they were all granted several Christmas Miracles and their dreams had come true.
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