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Even now that he had vomited his guts out, the blond couldnt get the taste of his best friends blood out of his mouth. It continued to nauseate him. Time after time, he swallowed back the bile that still threatened to send him into painful spasms and Vin over the edge of the abyss on which he was precariously situated.
Through hooded eyes Chris watched the body on the other table, trying desperately to discern the slightest of movements, the slow rise and fall of his friends chest, or a flutter of the long lashes that covered blue eyes. Anything that would tell him that Vin Tanner was still alive.
In his mind, he could sense that the tracker was still in this world, but he no longer trusted his thoughts. They had betrayed him into believing that he had not hurt his friend. Yet in reality, the blonds eyes confirmed the truth his heart felt. His own pain had released spike after spike into the fevered body impaling Vin to the table of torture across from him.
In addition to the three spikes that protruded from his friends right thigh, right shoulder and left abdomen; two others now visibly pierced Vins upper left arm and his left calf. Chris knew too well that yet another had pierced Vins left lung, but he wondered how many countless others were embedded in his friend, unseen to the worried green eyes.
Despite his pleas to the heavens, the Firms team leader was still conscious barely so but fully aware of the mild current that still coursed through him. It served as a constant and painful reminder that every time he moved, his closest friend suffered the consequences.
The green eyes that had been clear close to thirty-six hours before were now red and swollen. Hooded in pain and flooded with bitter tears, he kept them locked on the face of his chosen brother. Desperately trying to will the blue eyes to open.
Dehydrated, severely nauseated and in extreme pain, Chris rasped his mantra across cracked and bleeding lips. Please Vin. Op open your eyes Cowboy. D dont leave me. You youve got to fight to hold on. Please, Vin. I I need you.
+ + + + + + +
If we need it, the Medivac chopper can be here in twenty minutes. JD reported, turning away from the communication console within the Firms highly equipped and technologically advanced van.
Excellent, JD. Sanchez said. He kept his eyes on the road, but spoke quietly to the man seated to his right as he slowed the van and turned into an area surrounded by a twelve-foot chain link fence. Are you sure this is the warehouse, Buck?
The ladies man didnt turn. He kept his gaze forward, staring into the night. Im positive, Josiah. He pointed toward the right. Look! Theres Chris Lexus.
Josiah nodded as three other men came forward to kneel behind the two men. All right, then. He pulled the van to a halt and turned off the ignition. Im not sure I like this. Its quiet too quiet.
Theyre already gone. Bucks jaw tensed. Its his style.
JD looked at his mentor. Taskers?
Taskers, confirmed the Firms playboy. Hurt em and leave em.
The venom that dripped off the reply sent chills down the back of every man in the van.
Sanchez turned to look at the four other faces. Setting his jaw, he checked the clip of his weapon and took a deep breath. Gentlemen, lets go get our brothers.
+ + + + + + +
Kneeling behind pallets of crates, Josiah spoke quietly to the four men around him. Nathan, you stay close to Ezra. I do not want you injured in any crossfire should we get into a gunfight. Based on Bucks brief description of our friend Tasker, I fear your services may be required for our fallen brethren.
Nathan nodded, putting his hand on the older mans shoulder. All right, Josiah. But since we dont know what were facing when we get in there, when we do find Chris and Vin, theyre not to be moved until I can check them. Understand?
Understood, Josiah agreed and then turned to Ezra. I trust youll make sure he follows orders.
I shall endeavor to comply with your commands, Mr. Sanchez, the gambler replied and grinned. Loading a bullet into the chamber of his weapon the conman grabbed the back of Nathans collar and pulled him behind another pallet. This way Mr. Jackson. There is a lovely pallet over here that has your name inscribed on it.
Josiah forced a guarded smile onto his face and put his hand on Wilmingtons shoulder. Are you all right, Buck?
Ill be fine, Josiah. Jaw muscles tensed beneath a stern face. Lets just get them the Hell out of there.
That is precisely what we are going to do, the ex-preacher replied.
The older man turned to the younger man kneeling slightly behind Buck. Yes, JD?
Wha what if theyre . The younger man swallowed hard, unable to finish.
Josiah saw Buck visibly tense at the words. He put his hand on JDs shoulder and squeezed firmly. Theyre alive, JD. I will not consider any other alternative. He nodded toward the warehouse. Now, keep your mind on the objective and into position with you, he admonished quietly.
JD trotted off toward the front of the warehouse, covered by the four other squad members. Josiah turned, checked his clip once more and put his hand on Bucks shoulder. The dark head was lowered and Josiah felt the tremors course across the shoulders. Have faith, Brother. Theyre strong and theyre with each other. They will survive. When Buck nodded, Josiah squeezed the playboys shoulder. He nodded toward JD when he saw the teams computer wizard give the all clear. After you. Our comrades are waiting.
+ + + + + + +
Moments later, four men knelt just outside the door to the warehouse, waiting impatiently in their respective locations for the fifth to give the order to move forward.
Damn it, Josiah. Hurry the fuck up! Wilmington whispered into his headpiece.
Patience is the better part of virtue, Brother. Josiah answered.
A snicker from JD could be heard across all headsets. Buck was never virtuous.
Gentlemen, though I do relish a good laugh now and again, I must say that now is not the proper time nor place to participate in such frivolity. Mr. Larabee and Mr. Tanner await our arrival. Of that, I am certain, the gambler deadpanned.
Ezra is right. We can laugh it up when we get Chris and Vin out of here and to safety. Nathan said quickly.
Buck, you and JD take Chris. Nathan, Ezra and I will take Vin. Josiah directed quietly and then issued his order. All right, gentlemen. Lets go. His hand on the door, he slowly opened it and stepped inside the warehouse.
Five dark figures silently entered the darkened structure and crept forward slowly. When the door closed behind them, they were plunged into complete darkness. They hovered close to each other, instinctively protecting each others back. Armed and ready for any surprise that Tasker may have left.
A faint light emanated from the center of the warehouse and five men inhaled suddenly as one.
Holy shit! JD exclaimed into his mike.
Holy would not be an accurate term to describe that, Mr. Dunne. Ezra retorted and swallowed hard.
Josiah closed his eyes and nodded. He opened them and took a deep breath. Pull yourselves together. JD, get that chopper in the air and on its way to us, now!
JD nodded and radioed for help.
The Firms four remaining members quickly ran toward the tables that held their friends. Putrid smells of urine, vomit and blood assaulted their noses and each of them forced back the bile that erupted from the pits of their stomachs.
+ + + + + + +
His stomach was rebelling once more and Chris gasped, trying to quell the dry heaves. Struggling to remain still, but he knew it was too late. Tanner hadnt moved in over two hours. Chris mantra had gone unheeded. The sharpshooters eyes had remained closed and the slight rise and fall of Tanners chest was now imperceptible to the blond. The precious connection that Chris had shared with the man across from him was no longer present. He could no longer sense the life of his best friend.
He prayed for death to take him to relieve him of the pain in his heart. To send him to Hell where he belonged, he thought. He didnt deserve a place in heaven next to his friends side. He had hurt Vin deliberately just like Tasker had said.
The blond wept. He had killed his brother.
His mind was playing tricks on him again, he mused. He could see figures running toward him from the darkness. They looked familiar. Voices. He recognized three of the voices. No. They were figments of his imagination. Distorted images of what he wanted to see.
They were closer now. Two figures stood beside him. They both had dark hair. One was older close to his own age, he figured. The other the other was younger so young. His face looked wet. Must be raining outside, Chris thought wearily. His eyes struggled to focus on the older man. His face had been dry when he first saw him, but now it too was damp. Were those tears, he wondered?
+ + + + + + +
Tears rolled down Bucks face. He didnt bother to wipe them off. Swallowing hard, he looked down at his long time friend. Oh my God, Chris. His eyes quickly scanned the blonds trembling body taking in the details and assimilating the information being relayed to his brain. He frowned at the placement of the needles and the wires that were connected to them. Following the wires from their origination point, his gaze shifted down across the floor toward the other table. Realization set in. Instinctively he grabbed JDs hand as it started to touch Chris. Dont touch him!
What?! JD asked incredulously.
Dont touch him! He turned toward the other table. Nathan! Dont touch Vin!
Jesus Christ, Buck! Are you mad?! Nathan replied angrily.
Buck ignored him and turned back to Chris. He leaned in close but didnt touch the blond. Chris? Chris can you hear me? Its Buck. Chris, were here. Were going to get you and Vin out of here, you understand? He swallowed hard once more at the blonds stupor. Chris! Chris look at me! Its me Buck! The sound of his voice finally reached the blond and Buck forced himself to hide the frown that threatened when Chris turned his face toward him. Chris, listen to me. Dont try and talk. Use your eyes, Chris. One blink for yes, two for no. You understand?
Good. Chris, is the current still on? Buck asked, a worried tone evident in his voice.
Dear God . Buck said. He glanced toward Ezra. Find the cutoff switch! Itll be near that table! Maybe beneath it!
Agonizing seconds ticked off the clock.
Ive got it! Ezra shouted and flipped the hidden switch beneath the table.
Buck looked down at Chris. His heart was in his throat as he waited for the result. The blonds body twitched once more and then stilled against the table. The green eyes that stared up at him cut the Firms playboy to the core. Buck put his hand on Chris forehead. Its over now, Pard. Were going to get you out of here.
Chris shook his head. No get get Vin, first, the blond rasped. H hurt him. K killed him. D didnt m mean to Buck.
Five pairs of eyes quickly locked in succession.
Buck looked back down and shook his head, stroking the sweat soaked hair back from the blonds beleaguered face. He cast a sidelong glance to Nathan.
Nathan nodded and stepped back to the table holding Vin. He balled his hand into a tight fist to stop the trembling as he reached forward to check for signs of life. Gently raising the eyelids, he shone a penlight into Vins eyes, the band across the trackers neck preventing him from checking the
carotid artery. Lowering his head, he sighed deeply. Pupils are extremely sluggish, but hes still alive.
Buck swallowed hard and closed his eyes in relief. Opening the misting orbs, he gazed back down at the Firms leader. Chris, listen to me very carefully. Vin is still alive. You hear me? Hes still with us.
A alive? the blond rasped. N not dead?
No, Chris, hes still alive, Wilmington said and nodded. He looked across to JD. Help me disconnect these wires and get these damn needles out of him!
JD nodded and began to gently pull the leads free from Chris skin. His hands started to shake violently when Chris began to moan, but Buck wrapped his hand over JDs wrist.
Take it easy, Kid. Its all right. Chrisll be fine. The older man squeezed the younger mans wrist gently. You gonna be okay?
JD nodded reluctantly and continued to remove the needles in tandem with Buck. Steadily but swiftly they worked, until all the leads were removed and Chris was free of the minute barbs.
Buck, give me a run down of his injuries, Nathan requested and continued to check Vins vitals.
Sorry, Pard but I gotta check you out, OK? Nathan has his hands full right now.
It its o okay Buck. Let let him help Vin first.
Buck sighed heavily and ran his hands gingerly over Chris upper body, then to his arms and legs. Sorry, Chris, he apologized when the blond winced and moaned. Trying to keep his hands steady, the scoundrel examined Chris injuries carefully, knowing full well that the more Nathan knew about the severity of the wounds, the better he would be able to treat them. Ah looks like four broken ribs, his abdomen is bruised pretty badly, tender and swollen. Hes got a really deep gash on his right thigh and his right forearm is busted. His wrists and ankles are in pretty bad shape too. Hes scraped em to the bone in a couple of places.
Damn it! All right. Get him off the table and lay him down on the floor and Ill be right there. Nathan directed quickly, releasing the straps across Vins forehead and neck. Ive got to get Vin stabilized first.
Buck watched the teams healer gently check the spike protruding from the trackers left side and then move to the one still imbedded in Vins shoulder, before examining the ones piercing the right thigh, left calf and arm.
Damn it to Hell! Nathan cursed once more. I dont believe this!
Take it easy, Chris. Nathans just tendin to him now. Buck glanced worriedly over at the medic. Whats wrong, Nathan? What is it? Buck asked, squeezing the blonds shoulder gently when he felt Chris tense.
These damn spikes are whats wrong! the medic cried in frustration. All proper medical procedures dictate we stabilize the foreign object and transport him, but hes impaled to the fucking table!
What are we going to do, Nathan? Josiah queried, stepping to his friends side. This table is too heavy for us move and we could wind up doing him more harm if we try.
Dont you think I dont know that, Josiah? Nathan snapped. Hell, without knowing what kind of damage there could be internally, if we remove these spikes he could bleed to death before we get him to the hospital! But we cant move him on this thing!
Then we have a conundrum, Mr. Jackson, Ezra sighed.
Josiah nodded and placed a hand on Nathans shoulder. What do you suggest, my friend? Well follow your lead.
Nathan met Sanchezs concerned gaze, then Ezras. He looked over to Buck, JD and the trembling blond on the other table before finally drawing his eyes back to Vins pale face. Youre the spiritual one, Josiah. Start praying.
Buck watched the dark brown eyes well with unshed tears as the decision was made. He swallowed hard, silently echoing the prayer Josiah was reciting, then heard a whispered apology and plea for forgiveness leave Nathans lips as the medic grasped the spike in Vins shoulder. The ladies man fought to quell the nausea that arose in his gut when a piercing scream cut through the darkened warehouse as the offensive object was swiftly pulled from Tanners flesh.
Vin! Chris cried. Buck help him!
Easy, Chris! Buck said, holding the blond man back against the table. Hes all right. Nathan just pulled that spike out of his shoulder. Hes got to take it slow until he knows what hes up against! Wilmington tried to ignore the litany of curses that were streaming from the medics mouth and the worried voices of Josiah and Ezra as they tended the sharpshooter. He motioned to JD. OK lets get Chris off this damn thing, he directed and went to wrap his arm around the blonds shoulders. Nathan can look him over as soon as he takes care of Vin.
No Chris tensed and shoved Bucks hand away. Help Vin. Get Vin first. S spikes, the blond pleaded weakly. Trig triggered spikes. L left lung p pierced.
What? Nathan asked, fear creeping into his voice. The medic shot a worried gaze to Buck and then looked to the two shocked men standing near him. Get those other straps off him, now! he yelled.
Josiah and Ezra immediately went into action. Five men tried to ignore the agonizing moans as the metal bindings were released from the fevered flesh.
Buck watched the medics eyes quickly scan Vins body. The ladies man felt his heart break in two. They could all see the damage from the four remaining spikes that protruded from the sharpshooters body, but he knew Nathan was searching for other signs. Injuries they couldnt see.
Get Vin please save him, Chris pleaded between pain filled gasps.
Wilmington felt Chris tremble beneath his hand and turned his attention back to the blond. Easy Chris! Theyre gonna get him! Just lie still for a minute!
When the remaining straps were released, Nathan leaned over Vin and spoke quietly to the tortured man. Vin Vin if you can hear me, try not to move, OK? Im just going to reach my hand under your back for a minute to check on something.
No response came.
Nathan drew a long breath and slowly eased his hand under the sharpshooters left side dark brown eyes widened in shock when he did so. Shit! He looked over to Buck and JD. Buck stay with Chris! I need JD over here for a minute! Theres a spike embedded in his left lung all right! And who the hell knows how many more are impaling him! Were going to have to lift him straight up and off the table and its going to take four of us to do it! I cant let his body shift and risk any more damage to vital organs!
Buck paled and nodded to JD. Ill take care of Chris.
The young man raced to the other side of Vin. What do you want me to do, Nathan?
Lift him from the right side, JD. Ezra you take his left. Josiah, you lift his legs. Ill handle support of his head and shoulders.
The men quickly took their positions and awaited Nathans order to lift. Three pairs of hands were trembling as they each reached out to take hold of their friend.
Nathan looked down into Vins face as blue eyes stared up at him. The medic swallowed hard and put his hand on the trackers cheek. Hey there how you doing?
H h hurts came the strangled reply.
Five hearts sank. They knew the two men they were rescuing too well. For there to be any answer to that loaded question other than Im fine, meant that the sharpshooter was in agony.
The EMT nodded and leaned down close. I know but I cant give you any morphine just yet, Vin. Youre breathing is too unstable with that pneumonia.
P pl please , the tracker pleaded mournfully. H hu hurts too much
Nathan shook his head and Buck watched the medic fight to control the tears and remain strong.
Jacksons voice wavered when he continued. As soon as we can get you off this table and I can get you on some oxygen, Ill give you a small dose, OK? But you have to bear with me just a little longer. This is gonna hurt like Hell, but try not to move, Vin. Just let us do all the work. Nathan positioned his hands on both sides of Vins head, just under his shoulders, and nodded to the other three men. I know its going to be tough but you need to ignore his pain and stay focused. Theres no room for error! Lift straight up. On three. One.
Vin Chris rasped.
Vin Chris repeated and started to move.
Four men lifted their precious cargo in unison. A strangled scream was ripped from the trackers damaged throat.
Vin! Chris yelled.
Nathan shifted and Vins head rolled slightly to the left.
Buck wrapped his arm around the blonds trembling shoulders and eased Chris away from the table.
Suddenly, the last spike was released, barely slicing through muscle along the lower side of Vins neck where it met his shoulder as it travelled upward with blinding speed. He shuddered once and then fell limp in their arms.
Shit! Nathan yelled in shock. He was barely able to keep hold of the sharpshooters head as he pulled his right hand away in a reflex action.
+ + + + + + +
The effects of the sudden action sent shockwaves through the team. Nerves already on edge were thrown into an abyss of despair as they lowered the sharpshooters still form to the floor.
Vin! Oh my God! Vin! Chris screamed and broke Bucks hold. The blond lunged toward the bloody body of his friend.
Nathan put himself between the crazed blond and the injured sharpshooter. Grabbing Chris shoulders Nathan tried to push him away and glared up at Buck. Get him away from here! he ordered and reached for his kit, frantically pulling forth bandages when Chris was pulled back. Ezra and Josiah quickly took position next to the medic and tried to help him stem the flow of blood.
Buck wrapped his arms around Chris and pulled the struggling blond away from the bloody scene. No! Let Nathan help him! Please, Chris!
Chris thrashed wildly, raising his arms in front of him; he reached toward his friend. Buck, Ive killed him! Ive killed him!
No you didnt! Now calm down, Chris! Buck yelled and fought to keep his hold on the man he held against chest. JD! Get over here!
JD staggered backward away from the sharpshooters body, staring at his hands and forearms in disbelief. T theres so so much blood .
JD! Buck yelled. He watched his young friend double over and heave the contents of his stomach. Josiah! Help JD!
Nathan nodded and shoved a syringe into Josiahs hand. Give him this! Itll help with the nausea! He turned his attention back to the sharpshooter. Grabbing Ezras hand he placed it over the wound in Vins neck. Hold that tight and dont move!
Ezra nodded and closed his eyes.
Josiah went to JDs side and quickly shoved the hypo into the younger mans arm. There, son. That should help. Breathe through your nose, JD. Itll pass in a minute.
Hitching breaths as the heaves subsided, JD shook his head. Mucus and bile dripped from his mouth and nose. So much blood, Josiah.
I know, son, but you must have faith that Vin will survive. He rubbed his hand between the shoulders of the youngest team member and sighed deeply when JD raised his head. Feel better, now? the ex-preacher asked, handing the young man a cloth.
Yeah. Dunne slowly nodded and wiped his face and mouth. Thanks. Is Vin going to be all right?
Josiah took a deep breath and glanced toward the two men hovering over the bloody sharpshooter. Nathan is doing everything he can. Right now Buck needs your help, JD. We need to get Chris calmed down until Nathan can check him over.
OK. JD stood erect, his legs visibly shaking and walked over to help Buck hold Chris down.
Vin! Chris struggled violently. Let me go! Please! I need to get to Vin! Blood seeped from the corners of his mouth. He clutched his stomach and doubled over in Wilmingtons lap, convulsing as the ladies man held him.
Oh fuck! Hold on Chris! Hold on! Buck yelled and wrapped his arms around the blond, trying to help him endure the spasms and dry heaves.
Nathan quickly took Vins vitals once more. Shit! No! he cried and pulled the stethoscope from his ears. He grabbed a syringe and shoved it into the sharpshooters chest. Dear God! Where the Hell is that chopper?!
Chris twisted in Wilmingtons arms. Tears running down his cheeks he reached once more for his chosen brother. No Vin please hold hold on.
Buck and JD held fast to the Firms leader. Take it easy, Chris, Buck said softly, stroking the blond hair back from reddened and tear-filled eyes.
Chris was breathless and now too weak to struggle. The blond finally stilled in the rogues arms. His voice was barely above a whisper. Its all my fault all my fault.
No, Chris. Buck shook his head, tears welling in his eyes as he watched his three comrades fight to keep Tanner alive. Its not your fault. Youve got to believe that!
M my fault. I I hurt him Buck. Chris gasped. I I hurt him. He winced and grabbed his forearm, collapsing against Bucks chest.
A frantic voice interrupted Buck. Damn it, Vin! No! Dont do this to me! the medic yelled. God! Ive lost his pulse! Im losing him!
+ + + + + + +
A sharp intake of air passed over the blonds lips and he felt a dull squeezing sensation consume him. He released his arm, to clutch at his chest.
The blond felt himself being lowered to the floor. A trembling hand was on his forehead; pushing the hair away from his face. Worried eyes looked down at him. Im sorry Buck. Take care of JD. You need each other like Vin and I did. Take care of the team. I will miss you, my friend I will miss all of you.
His eyes clouded with shadows and blurred images. Suddenly he felt like he was floating, drifting away from the pain that had been his constant companion for the past forty hours. He was drifting toward a darkened void and he knew it was Hell. So it is true then . If it were heaven, he thought, thered be a light. Vin Ive killed him. Ive killed my brother . Cowboy . Through a haze he heard the horrible words, lost him and he surrendered to the blackness that beckoned.
+ + + + + + +
Fuck! Buck yelled and lowered Chriss body to the floor. Nathan! I think hes having a heart attack!
Shit! Nathan cried and looked at Josiah. Josiah, start CPR on Vin! Ill see about Chris. Ezra, keep pressure on those neck and shoulder wounds.
Ezra nodded and looked toward the gaping hole in Vins abdomen. And what of that one, Mr. Jackson?
The medics eyes locked on those of the gambler. Pray, Ezra. Pray like youve never done so before. He squeezed Standishs shoulder, grabbed his kit and ran to Chris side.
Ezra and Josiah exchanged quick glances. You heard the man, Josiah said determined. He folded his hands over Vins breastbone, locked his elbows and pressed down, whispering the Lords Prayer between breaths into the sharpshooters mouth.
Jesus, Chris. Nathan whispered when he reached Chriss side and checked the blonds vitals. Buck, breathe for me! he ordered and started compressions. His voice sounded harsh as he repeated his mantra. Come on, Chris! Please dont do this! Its not your fault! Youve got to believe that and snap out of this! Please hold on! Vin needs you! We all need you! Now damn it, you both have got to hold on!
+ + + + + + +
Seconds became an eternity as the voices of the teams medic and father figure pierced the darkness surrounding them. Repeating their mantras and their prayers. Desperately trying to breathe life into their fallen brothers and restart their fragile hearts.
JD sat on his haunches, out of the way but close enough to Bucks side. His hand was on the shoulder of the ladies man. His eyes shifted between the teams lead and the sharpshooter and the computer wizard wiped the tears away from his eyes with the back of his other hand.
A noise from the direction of the entrance drew his eyes upward. He squeezed Bucks shoulder and jumped up. The paramedics are here!
Nathan! Ive got a pulse! Josiah exclaimed excitedly.
Thank God! Nathan breathed, looking up as one of the teams reached them and watched the other head to Tanner. He stood, quickly stepping aside to allow the first set of paramedics to tend to Chris. The teams medic watched the EMTs begin taking vitals on their patients and prepare the mobile defibrillators.
Nathan turned to another paramedic and introduced himself quickly. Nathan Jackson. Licensed EMT. Nodding toward Chris he gave his debriefing. Victim one is in full cardiac arrest. Appears to be suffering from severe dehydration, nausea and vomiting, multiple contusions and abrasions. Cursory examination reveals abdomen is tender and distended, possible internal bleeding, four broken ribs, however, no lung puncture prevalent. Victim has a broken right forearm and severe gash to his right thigh. Possible nerve damage as well. Electrical shocks were applied to victim for prolonged periods.
Charging! the EMT announced and yelled, Clear! as he depressed the paddles against the blonds chest.
Nathan watched the faces of JD and Buck visibly fall when the monitor failed to respond. He didnt have to turn to know that two others behind him were just as devastated as they hovered close to Vin. The medic heard the second order for all clear and started to watch the monitor closely, when the voice of the lead EMT pulled his gaze away.
Mr. Jackson, stay with me. Your debrief, please.
Nathan heard the second discharge into Chris chest and prayed the subsequent sound he heard on the monitor was not a false reading. He turned his gaze to the sharpshooter, closing his eyes when he heard the paramedic working on Vin order a stronger dosage of epinephrine. Opening them he took a deep breath and continued, his voice wavering slightly. Victim two is also suffering from severe dehydration. In addition, severe blood loss from multiple through and through puncture wounds, including right shoulder, right thigh, upper left arm and left calf. Puncture wound in left abdomen may have damaged his spleen. Breath sounds indicate acute pneumonia and probable collapsed lung from puncture in rear upper left quadrant. Additional internal injuries from puncture wounds unknown.
Ive got a pulse! the EMT next to Chris announced. Pulse is 60 and thready, but BP is 90 over 60. I think weve got him back.
Nathans shoulders sagged in relief. He glanced back at Buck and JD and nodded slowly. The medic smiled wistfully when he watched both men grasp each others shoulder to steady one another.
Thank you, Mr. Jackson, the EMT said and squeezed the medics arm. Well take it from here and take good care of them. We can take two of you in with us.
T thanks. The Firms medic barely managed a word of gratitude as he choked back his emotions. He turned to face the other four men that now stood near him, watching as intently as he was at the efforts of the two EMT teams to save the lives of their friends. He knew in his heart that all four of them wanted to ride in with Chris and Vin, but that was a physical impossibility. Josiahs voice pierced the low din of the activity around them and the medic was thankful that the older man made the decision he could not.
You need to stay with Chris and Vin, Nathan. Buck, you go with him. The rest of us will take care of things here and meet you at the hospital as soon as possible.
Nathan nodded. All right. When the older man squeezed his arm, he forced a smile to his lips. Theyre going to be all right, I know they are. He needed the ex-preacher to confirm it as fact.
Josiah swallowed and nodded succinctly. Theyre going to be fine, Nathan.
Another voice interrupted the revered silence of the five worried team members. All right, lets move people! These gentlemens lives are hanging in the balance!
Josiah clasped Buck and Nathans shoulders. Go! And take our prayers with you!
The two men exchanged quick glances with their comrades and quickly trotted off behind the gurneys holding their brethren.
As the helicopter lifted off, Nathan looked down at the three men left standing on the ground. He raised his hand to the window and nodded once, then closed his eyes to the image of their tears.
+ + + + + + +
Tears welled behind tightly closed lids. He didnt want to open his eyes. He didnt want to face the harsh reality that he had been reluctantly pulled back into. The horrible words lost him kept resounding in his head, reminding him of his failure to protect his closest friend his brother.
Why couldnt they have just let him go, Chris thought angrily. I deserved to die. I killed him. I killed Vin.
His pain had returned in full force. His chest felt as if a ton of bricks had been dropped on it and now he was positive that an elephant had taken up residence there. Annoying tremors and twitches were causing his muscles to spasm uncontrollably. Frustrated, he tried to control them but with no luck. The tensing only heightened his pain.
The blond felt the dull throbbing in his right thigh and shifted slightly, only to regret doing so. Ribs protested the movement and when he went to clutch his side, a broken right arm reminded him that he was still alive. The blond heard a sharp gasp, muffled under something and wondered where it came from. A strong hand was on his and he felt it squeeze gently around his.
Cowboy he thought briefly, a moment of happiness dispelling the pain consuming him.
Easy Chris. Try not to move around too much, the voice said.
You just rest, Pard. Well be at the hospital in less than five minutes.
Buck? The blond mused once more, confused as to why Vin wasnt by his side. Wheres Vin? Why isnt Vin here? He thought, fear grabbing at his heart. Vin! Where are you?! I need you!
He couldnt breathe now. The pain was returning. The happiness was gone.
Vin! Oh my God! Vin! Realization struck. I killed him!
Chris eyes shot open and he screamed.
Fuckin Hell! Buck cried and grabbed the blonds shoulders. Stay still, Chris!
Vin! the dazed blond cried and thrashed beneath the safety straps holding him to the gurney. Vin! I killed him!
Keep him still, Mr. Wilmington! An EMT ordered.
Im trying, Goddamn it! Buck retorted in a harsh voice. Chris, calm down!
Let me go, Buck! Chris ordered and twisted in the playboys grip. I killed him, Buck. I let Tasker win! I let him win and Vin died because of it!
Oh fuck, Chris! Tasker didnt win! Vin is still alive, you hear me?! Hes still alive!
Green eyes stared up at the ladies man in confusion. No Buck hes hes dead.
Buck shook his head sharply. No Chris. Hes right over there. He nodded toward the other side of the helicopter. Nathans with him.
Chris turned his head and tried to focus on the figures on the other side of the cabin. His eyes sought out the sharpshooter behind the trained medics hovering over the injured victim. Vin
Buck pushed the hair back from Chris face. Hes alive, Chris. But I aint gonna lie to you, Pard. Hes in pretty bad shape. Tasker really worked him over.
Bitter tears welled in the blonds eyes. A painful lump formed in the back of his throat. His eyes still locked on the prone form of his friend, he rasped the words of guilt. No Buck I did. I worked him over. I did that to him. Swallowing hard, he closed his eyes, as the tears broke free. Im the one that hurt Vin. Its all my fault its all my fault, he repeated, pounding his right fist against the gurney, ignorant of the sharp lancing pains that were traveling up his arm and across his shoulders.
Chris, stop! Buck yelled and reached for the blonds right arm.
Chris yanked it free of Bucks grasp. Leave me alone! Just leave me the fuck alone! The blond felt a warm rush in his veins and he looked up at EMT angrily.
If you cant calm down on your own, Mr. Larabee, Ill see to it that you do.
B bas bastard Chris choked out.
Call me what you will, Mr. Larabee. But for the next few minutes, youre still under my care and Ill not have you succumbing to another cardiac arrest on my watch. Is that understood?
The Firms leader gazed up at the EMT and then to Buck, before shifting his eyes toward Vins still form. Vin please forgive me Cowboy, he whispered. The green eyes closed to the sight of Nathan burying his face in trembling hands and shaking his head.
+ + + + + + +
The head of the St. Vincents Trauma One team stood in the main corridor. Impatiently tapping her foot, Stacey Midlands eyes were glued to the elevator doors that lead to the roof. If they didnt open soon, she promised herself, she would go to the roof and pull that damn helicopter out of the sky with her bare hands.
Theyll be here soon enough, Stacey, Tom Parker said reassuringly and placed a comforting hand on her shoulder. Theyre both strong and theyre going to be all right.
Stacey turned to face her long time colleague and friend. I hope youre right, Tom. Sighing deeply she continued. Vins vitals are dangerously low and the paramedics said that there was possible damage to his spleen and a punctured lung. Who knows what else! Not to mention the severe blood loss.
I know, but Vin is a fighter.
Stacey looked up at her colleague. How much more fighting does he have to do, Tom? And what about Chris? He was in full cardiac arrest when they got to him! Had he already given up the fight? She lowered her gaze and turned away, wiping a tear from her eye. She had to stay strong, she thought. Chris and Vins lives depended on her trauma teams abilities and her aptitude for keeping a clear head and thinking straight. Not letting her emotions dictate her decisions. Stacey felt Toms hand on her shoulder once more and turned back to face him.
You dont believe that for one minute and I know it! Chris Larabee is one of the strongest men Ive ever known. With everything that man has been through, with as much pain as hes had to deal with over the past few years, theres no way in Hell he would still be alive today if he wasnt a fighter! You know it as well as I do!
Yes, Stacey smiled wistfully and nodded, Yes I do. She took a deep breath and straightened her shoulders. David and Brandon standing by?
Theyre already scrubbed and ready, as well as Martin. Tom replied.
Stacey nodded. Excellent. Martins a good man.
Martin Chadwick is one of the best internal surgeons in the business. If anyone can save Vin, it will be him. He squeezed her shoulder and smiled. Now, Id better go scrub up myself. Ill buy you a cup of strong black coffee after we get the boys taken care of. Sounds like we might be in for a long night. Another smile and he turned to walk down the hall.
Stacey watched him disappear into the elevator and sighed heavily. Long night indeed.
Stacey pulled her thoughts back when she heard Pamela voice. Yes, Pamela.
Theyre on their way down.
Thank God! Stacey said and turned toward the elevator as the doors opened and a gurney carrying Chris was rapidly pushed toward her. Casting a knowing and heartfelt glance toward Buck, she yelled, ER 1! Pushing the doors forward with force, she issued her directions as Chris was repositioned onto the table. Another glance toward the closing doors and she forced a smile onto her lips to help dissuade the fear in the playboys eyes.
The team worked like a well-oiled machine, firing on all cylinders as they quickly took Chris vitals, inserted the necessary central bore lines, drew blood, took x-rays, mobile CT scans and prepared the blond for emergency surgery.
Stacey Midland didnt like the data being relayed to her. His pulse had dropped to 42, BP was now 70 over 40 and the constant tremors coursing through his body worried her. She was glad David Frost was on hand as Orthopedic Surgeon on duty tonight. The experienced trauma doctor feared the worst nerve damage and prayed the distinguished surgeon would be able to help Chris and stave off any permanent damage.
Continuing to check the blonds injuries, she glanced up at Pamela. Wheres Vin? I thought you said they were both on their way down.
The paramedic that had tended to Chris spoke quickly. Tanner crashed when we got them off the helo. They were still trying to stabilize him upstairs.
Shit! Stacey cursed and looked at one of the other nurses. Check on him! Damn it to Hell I need to know about Vin Tanners condition! When she sensed a moment of hesitation, she yelled harshly. Now! Goddamn it! She turned her full attention back to the man lying before her and found herself gazing into a pair of worried green eyes.
V Vin? Chris rasped beneath the oxygen mask.
The head of the trauma team stared into her friends eyes and gently stroked the damp hair back from his forehead. She knew in her heart that Chris Larabee would see right through her if she tried to lie. Theyre trying to stabilize him, Chris.
Y you help Vin.
Stacey forced a faint smile onto her lips and nodded. As soon as he gets down here, Ill do everything I can for him, OK?
P prom promise y you s save Vin.
Out of the corner of her eye, she could see Pamela cast a concerned look and knew immediately that Tanner was on his way down but that his condition was critical. She could feel the blonds hand wrap around her wrist and looked down at the trembling appendage. Chris weak and pain-filled voice cut her to the core as it drifted upward once more.
P promise me Doc.
Midlands heart broke in two. Based on the earlier information she had received from the paramedics and the look on Pamelas face, she knew she couldnt make a promise she may not be able to keep. She started to respond when one of the CT techs yelled out.
Helical scan is positive! It looks like the bleeding is concentrated in his lower left abdomen, he announced.
BP is dropping! 70 over 30 now! Another nurse asserted.
All right, lets get him upstairs and into Dr. Parkers capable hands! Stacey ordered quickly. She started to step away from the table so they could move Chris, but his hand tightened.
Forcing back tears, Stacey gently wrapped her other hand around Chris and pulled it away from her wrist. I cant!
Free from his grasp, she patted his shoulder and stepped back. Get him upstairs, she ordered, her voice wavering as she did so. Now.
As the doors closed behind her patient and the departing team, Stacey looked down at her hands and clenched them to stop the trembling. Chris frantic pleas for her promise were left ringing in her ears and she closed her eyes to the tears.
+ + + + + + +
Managing to quell the flood of tears she feared would come if her emotions were left unguarded, Dr. Midland turned when she heard Sandys strained voice announce that Vin had just been brought down and placed in ER 2.
She pushed the connecting doors between the two rooms open and stopped dead in her tracks. Oh my God, she gasped out loud when her eyes fell on the bloody sharpshooter.
Pamela and the team were frantically trying to stabilize Vins vitals and insert a chest tube to inflate the collapsed left lung. Once again, despite being visibly shaken and upset at the extent of injuries to a man they all called friend, her team was reacting expediently and professionally firing on all cylinders like they had done only moments before in the other room.
The Foley was already in, an NG tube had been introduced and the low hiss of the suction pump could be heard beneath the ordered chaos humming through the room. Central bore lines were now in place and warm Ringers Lactate was being rapidly infused into the sharpshooters battered body. The various technicians were running mobile CT and helical scans, while Sandy, the trauma teams assistant head nurse, was now taking Vins vitals personally.
Status! Stacey yelled and stepped toward the table.
Helical scans on his left lung, upper and lower abdomen are positive for blood, as well as the Foley. Pulse 125 and very weak. BP 60 over 30 and dropping. Temp is 104.2. ABG indicates O2 saturation levels are at seventy-two, content is at ten percent, carbon dioxide levels are sixty and rising. Sandy responded, the concern evident in the trained nurses voice.
Shit! Hes in acute respiratory failure! Get him ventilated now! Stacey ordered. A quick glance to her right and she saw Nathan standing at the foot of the table, visibly shaken. Nathan, wait outside with Buck.
The Firms medic didnt remove his eyes from his comrade. What about Vin?
Well do everything we can for him! You know that! Now go! Stay with Buck! He needs you!
Serious. We just sent him up for emergency surgery. Hes got abdominal hemorrhaging and four broken ribs, but I didnt discern any lung damage. Parker and Frost are working on him. Silverman is there also to check him out since he had that cardiac arrest.
Thats good, Nathan nodded, Theyre the best.
That they are, Stacey agreed. Martin Chadwick is waiting in the wings to work on Vin as soon as we can get him stabilized enough for surgery. Now please, Nathan. Wait outside and let us try and save Vins life.
Youll let us know as soon as you know something? the tired medic pressed.
You know I will. Go. Sit with Buck. He looked pretty upset earlier.
Nathan turned and walked to the door. Placing his hand on it, he paused but didnt turn. His voice was low and strained. Save him, Doc. Chris is blaming himself for all of this. He says that it was him that caused Vins injuries. He keeps saying that he hurt Vin and that cardiac arrest he had earlier, happened when he thought he killed him.
Oh dear God Stacey whispered. Will that man ever stop blaming himself for every blasted thing that happens to Vin?!
Nathan looked at her and she could see the tears welling in his dark brown eyes.
If Vin dies, well definitely lose Chris this time. Nathan choked out and pushed the doors open with such force that the glass rattled when they slammed against the outer wall. Damn you to Hell, Tasker!
Shaken by the medics departing words, Stacey Midland steeled her resolve and turned her attentions back to her other close friend.
Pamelas voice cut through the harried voices. Damn it! Im not in! The neck wounds are causing his throat to swell. His airway is closing up! Nodding to another nurse, she spoke quickly. Shift him toward me so I can tilt his head back more. Ive got to get this airway in!
Stacey and another nurse grabbed Vins shoulders and shifted him enough to allow Pamela to lower the sharpshooters head.
Agonizing seconds were ticking off the clock.
Thats it! Im in! Pamela confirmed. She quickly secured the plastic tubing and hooked up the respirator.
Stacey closed her eyes in relief and then opened them quickly as the machines took on a life of their own. Levels?
Pamela studied the readings. Saturation is only at seventy-eight, content is up to twelve and CO2 is fifty-five.
Damn it! Her shoulders sagging, Stacey pushed a stray lock of the dark brown hair away from the pale face. Hes still not stable enough for surgery yet. Continue to monitor the readings closely. She stroked Vins forehead tenderly. Come on, Vin. Fight. Please. Chris wont make it without you
A worried voice interrupted her soft mantra.
Are you sure? Sandy asked worriedly. Oh no . Yes! As many as they can send! An hour and a half?! Yes, yes. All right! Just do it! Sandy hung up the phone and turned to face Dr. Midland.
Midland looked into the worried eyes. What is it, Sandy? Whats wrong?
That was the blood bank upstairs. The accident yesterday drained their supplies of O pos and O neg. and they have only two units left of B positive. Deaconess has a few units left but they cant get it over here for another hour and a half! They have to find and wake the damn lab tech!
Stacey Midland felt her heart stop. She knew she had just suffered a cardiac arrest. Her eyes shot down to the sharpshooter and then back to Sandy. Dear God no .
Dr. Midland what are we going to do? Sandy asked. Chris is already in surgery but Vin he he needs
Stacey gripped the sides of the table. Dear God, can this night get any worse? Please, please dont let me have to make that decision! With every breath she took, it felt like her lungs were made of cast iron, weighing her chest down and clamping around her heart like a steel trap.
She felt all eyes in the room turn on her and she closed her own, refusing to meet the troubled and accusatory looks. When she opened them, Stacey gazed down once more at the ashen face and the equally as pale body lying so still, so lifeless, on the examination table. Vins skin was covered in a fine sheen of perspiration and appeared to be translucent, a visual testament to the shock wrapping its deadly cloak around his battered body, despite the fever ravaging and cooking him from within.
Drawing a trembling hand across Vins forehead once more, she placed it against his right cheek and stroked her thumb across his high cheekbone. She inhaled deeply and leaned over, placing a tender kiss on his other cheek. Stacey closed her eyes again when she felt the threatening tears starting to breach her defenses. Slowly pulling back, the trauma teams doctor opened her eyes and sent a silent prayer to the heavens, God give me strength. She kept them locked on the unconscious man fighting for his life and finally answered her assistant head nurse, Send the two units upstairs to surgery, Sandy.
But Dr. Midland Sandy started to protest.
Stacey shook her head. Send them upstairs, Sandy, she said once again and tried desperately to keep her voice from faltering. Chris needs them.
And what about Vin? the young nurse asked.
The bitter, angry tone creeping into the young nurses voice only served to unnerve Stacey Midland even more. Pray that Deaconess gets that blood over here ASAP.
Order two units of plasma, she said quietly, ignoring an emotional confrontation with her nurse. Maybe we can keep him stable enough with that until the other units of blood arrive.
And if we cant? Pamela inquired, stepping closer to Staceys side. She lowered her voice. We cant send him up to surgery without those units, Sta Dr. Midland.
Her last frayed nerve had finally been severed with those words and Stacey Midland turned on her head nurse. Dont you think I dont know that?! Stacey retorted harshly. Seeing the shocked and hurt look wash over Pamelas face, Dr. Midland sighed and lowered her head in shame. Im sorry, Pamela. That was uncalled for.
Its all right, Pamela replied and put her hand on Dr. Midlands arm, squeezing it slightly. Were all a bit on edge right now, but Vins a survivor. He wont give up without a fight.
Stacey nodded, thankful when she saw Pamela motion for the others to step aside or move back, affording her a moment of privacy with the sharpshooter. As she gazed down at him, her eyes took in the multitude of injuries and the pale skin that only a few days before, had still held a dark tan from the summer months. She tried to remind herself of the words that Pamela had just spoken but as she listened to the monitors, her eyes studying the readings, the hopeful words grew hollow and distant.
Even with the respirator, Vin was struggling for every breath. The chest tube to help inflate his left lung had done little to alleviate the danger of the collapse. They had barely managed to stave off the shock, but his temp was dangerously high from the fever raging through his body, aggravated by the pneumonia consuming the weakened lungs. If they couldnt get Vins temperature under control and soon, seizures and no doubt coma would follow. Yet, as she continued to inventory the sharpshooters injuries, Stacey knew that without surgery, Tanner would die within hours. Only without the necessary units of blood, surgery was out of the question.
Forgive me, she whispered to the unconscious sharpshooter and wiped her eyes to stop the tears that threatened.
Stroking the dark brown hair away from the fevered face, Dr. Stacey Midland felt the weight of the world on her shoulders. She just made the hardest decision she had ever had to make, not only in her medical career but also in her entire life. In one brief moment, she had made the choice to save the life of one friend at the cost of another.
Lowering her head, she finally allowed the tears to fall, her thoughts drifting painfully to the man in surgery upstairs. She hitched a breath and swallowed hard. How in the world would she ever again be able to face Chris Larabee, she wondered? Hed never forgive her for what she had done. Vin Tanner was more than a close friend to Chris. He was like a younger brother to the leader of the Firm. No, she corrected herself. The connection they shared made them closer than brothers, she mused. There was an unseen force that bound them together like nobodys business. They were each a half of the others soul.
Gazing down at the handsome sharpshooter, Stacey Midland took a deep breath and prepared herself for the inevitable if Deaconess didnt deliver in time.
Nathans words haunted her and sent a chill down her spine. If Vin dies, well definitely lose Chris this time.