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Stacey stepped aside of the moving freight train named Buck Wilmington and closed the door behind them as they entered the darkened room. Buck, she acknowledged quietly, frowning when he didnt appear to even notice her. Buck, she asked again and placed her hand on his sleeve as he took a firm seat next to the bed, are you all right?
Jesus, Doc! Wilmington jumped when she touched his arm. You just scared the shit out of me!
A faint smile curled the corner of her mouth. Well you almost knocked it out of me by running me over, so I guess that makes us about even.
He lowered his head and smiled sheepishly. Sorry, Doc. Got so much on my mind, I didnt even see you.
I know. Stacey said quietly and squeezed his arm gently. She pulled another chair over next to the bed. The concerned woman studied the man sitting next to her carefully, not only as a doctor but also as a close friend. It was all too evident that the resident ladies man had been pushing himself too hard during the past week, and now he was showing signs of exhaustion. When was the last time you got some sleep, Buck? she asked quietly.
Dont know. Dont care. Dont want to sleep until theyre both out of the woods. Gotta make sure Vin is gonna be okay. Promised Chris I would watch Vins back and berate this damn stubborn, scrawny-assed, Texas sharpshooter relentlessly until Chris can do it himself.
Have you eaten anything?
Buck shook his head and kept his eyes on Vins pale and drawn face. Aint hungry.
Stacey drew her lips into a fine line and closed her eyes briefly. When she opened them, she watched Buck take Vins hand and grip it gently from beneath, obviously trying not to disturb the IVs. She looked on in silence as his eyes traveled over the trackers now gaunt and frail body. A body that had once been tanned, athletic and toned, full of energy and an exuberant love of life that radiated happiness, fun and mischief to all those around him despite the hardships Vin had suffered while growing up.
Vin Tanner had an enthusiasm that had pulled Chris Larabee out of the depths of Hell that he had fallen into after Sarah and Adam were murdered, when nothing or no one else, including Buck, had been able to do. A form of energy was now shared between Vin and Chris and had been since the day they met over three years before that few could fathom. It was without a doubt, a friendship, a brotherhood, a connection a soul.
Unfortunately, it was a liveliness that was on the verge of dying and thus taking with it any hope of Chris Larabees survival. For when Vin Tanner died, Chris Larabee would die right along with him, because though the blonds body and mind might continue to live, his soul that which made him the man he was would cease to exist. He would once more become the empty shell he had been after the deaths of his wife and son, leaving her and the others to try and pick up the pieces.
Stacey wondered, however, if the team would be able to put on a brave front and go on this time. Tears collected in her eyes when she thought about that fact. Knowing the team as well as she did, she had no doubt that with Vin Tanners death, the repercussions that would eventually claim the body and mind of Chris Larabee, would then gradually silently take the soul of each of the remaining members of the team.
Midland sighed heavily, realizing that she would be powerless to stop it unless she took the evasive steps now. Studying the dark head next to her, she spoke quietly, You need to eat something and get some rest, Buck, before you collapse.
No, Doc. I need to let Vin know hes not alone. Have to do it for Chris since he cant.
A history with the men of the Firm had taught her one thing she had no hope of winning the battle once the trenches along the frontline had been dug. It was pointless to continue. Buck Wilmington had dug in his heels and wasnt going to relinquish his position as point a position that normally belonged to the sharpshooter that now lay at deaths door.
Taking a deep breath, she stood and walked over to the other side of the bed to study the data from the life support systems keeping Vin alive. Over the past few days it had become a habit each time she had visited the sharpshooter. A way that allowed her as Vins personal physician, to monitor his status and try to keep him alive even though that responsibility had been handed off the Martin Chadwick and Robert Foreman the moment Vin had gone comatose seven days earlier. It was a way that helped keep her mind off the thoughts and the three years worth of memories that were now haunting her. A way that painfully reminded her, that one of the reasons Vin Tanner was in the state he was in now was due to the decision she had made in the bowels of a hell called ER2.
Chris is gonna be so pissed at him for pulling this shit. I cant wait to see the fireworks when the two of them go head to head. Hell once Chris is able to get up and around, I suspect hes gonna be down here chewin on Vins ass, spittin nails and havin kittens. Probably be able to hear him roar all the way downstairs in ER, with Tanner being his normal obstinate, insolent, insubordinate self, roaring just as loud as Larabee. Fuck, those two lions are always fightin to have the last word.
The scoundrel was rambling now and she knew he was trying to hold on to some remnant of hope. Her eyes studied the readings from the machines, her heart sinking as she did so. Her ears barely heard the litany of words that continued to nervously spill forth from Bucks mouth and she wrapped her hand over the top rail of the bed for support. Dear God no no
Its tearing him apart, Doc that he cant be here by Vins side. Thats why Chris isnt getting any better. He wont get better until he knows Vins okay.
She was trying to comprehend the data, trying to find something in the graphs and lines and numbers that meant Vin was going to pull through. That meant he wasnt fading dying giving up. There was nothing. The conclusions were the same no matter how many different ways she ran the equations in her head. Vins dying, Buck. Hes not going to get any better. Its too late.
Chris is blaming himself. He shouldnt. Its not his fault. Its Taskers. Tasker did this to him. He used Vin to get to Chris. Trouble is it worked. Tasker knew exactly how to destroy Chris. Vins a pawn in a deadly game that started years ago when Chris and I were still SEALS.
Oh Buck Im so sorry. she thought wearily. Please stop torturing yourself.
Taskers to blame for all of this, you know? No thats not right. Wilmington dropped his head. Its not Taskers fault. Its our fault for leaving to attend that damn conference when Vin was so sick. We werent there to watch his back. He needed us and we werent there for him. Now look. Hes in so much pain.
No hes not, Buck. Not any more. Theyre making him as comfortable as they can. He wont be in any pain when the time comes.
The ladies man lifted his head and looked over at her. Chris didnt want to go, you know? I made him. Told him Vin would be all right. That Vin was a grown man that could take care of himself. Hell, it was just a cold.
She dropped her eyes. Buck stop
Hell! A cold that turned into bronchitis and then pneumonia! I shouldve known better. Damn sonofabitch sharpshooter is always too stubborn for his own good! I knew he wouldnt take his meds! Fucking Hell! We all knew! We knew and yet we no strike that me! I forced the one man who could make Vin see reason even if it was red about taking care of himself to attend that fucking conference when he didnt want to go! Just like I did when Sarah and Adam had been killed! Chris shouldve been there! They needed him and I pulled him to Mexico to buy and sell a few horses! Vin needed him and I pulled Chris away for a few days of fun and change of scenery! This is all my fucking fault!
Buck please dont do this to yourself!
Hell! Chris and Vin theyre not like me and Chris, or Chris and the others. Hell, JD and I arent even like them! Theyre well theyre just connected, you know?
She found herself nodding. It was all she could do. Buck was self-destructing in front of her eyes and she felt powerless to stop it.
Hell all of us are brothers in some ways, I guess. Only Chris and Vin theyre theyre more than that. They really are brothers, Doc. Hell, Josiahs always saying that they share the same soul. We always laugh about it. Joke about it. But its true! They know what the other is feeling and thinking, without ever having to voice it out loud. Its weird. Creepy. Its kept them alive over the past three years. Only now now its killing em both.
Buck dont, she whispered across the darkness.
Hes dying isnt he, Doc?
Five words that were barely audible filtered through the few feet between them and Stacey swallowed the boulder at the back of her throat. Yes.
Doc Chadwick says its time to disconnect the life support.
Tears that had collected in the corners of her eyes now streamed down her cheeks. Yes, came the strangled response.
Doc says his vitals are almost gone now.
Stacey nodded. She watched Buck gently brush a stray lock of hair away from Vins face and felt her heart shatter when she saw the lips of the Firms scoundrel quiver in tandem with the trembling of his hand.
He in any pain? he asked tremulously.
No, she choked out.
Will he be in any? I mean will he feel it when when ? The words became strangled, lost as his voice faded.
She shook her head as the tears continued to fall. Theyll make sure he wont.
Itll destroy Chris. He wont be able to do it.
They signed the powers of attorneys for a reason, Buck.
A whispered declaration in the darkness spilled forth from the trembling lips. I wont let him do it.
Its not your choice, Buck.
It is now.
Tormented eyes raised and met hers. Her heart leapt into her throat. Dear God no.
Maybe youd better leave, Doc.
Stacey came to her senses and reached across the bed between them, wrapping her hand around Bucks wrist firmly. No, Buck! You cant do it! Not unless Chris signs the order!
Buck pulled his hand away abruptly and stood. He wont have to if Vin dies on his own!
Itll be akin to murder, Buck!
Wilmington raised his hand and pointed toward his friends listless form. Itll be a mercy killing! Itll let Vin die with dignity! He then pointed it toward the direction of Chris room. And itll save Chris from the guilt and heartache thats going to destroy him if he signs that order!
It wont save him from the guilt and heartache hes going to feel when his oldest friend is arrested for murder! Stacey remonstrated.
Buck turned and glared at her. I wont let Chris go through the pain of blaming himself for the loss of someone he loves ever again! He started toward her.
Stacey stood her ground and positioned herself firmly between the raging scoundrel and the controls for the life support. Bracing her arms against his chest she locked eyes with Buck. No! Buck! You cant do it! I wont let you!
Buck grabbed her arm with his left hand and squeezed it firmly, pulling her toward him as he tried to step around her. Get out of my way, Doc. Please I dont want to hurt you.
No, Buck. Im not moving, she said and stood her ground, glaring at him with all the fervor in her soul.
Doc, I have to do this. For Vin but most importantly for Chris.
Something in his eyes chilled her to the bone. Wisdom and reason had evaporated into thin air as drugged emotions dictated his every move now. He was thinking with his heart and not his mind, listening to his innermost fears and feelings a dangerous reaction at best.
No, she growled through clenched teeth. Her eyes narrowed and she pulled her arm free of his grasp. When he reached for her arm again and tried to move around her, she slapped him as hard as she could. Goddamn it! Get a hold of yourself, Buck! She grabbed his shoulders and pushed him back harshly. Would you just listen to yourself?! Youre talking like a fucking lunatic!
Buck raised his hand to a reddened cheek and blinked rapidly.
Stacey kept her hands on his shoulders, giving him support as he faltered, staggering back from her. Tilting her head slightly, the trauma doctor looked into his glazed eyes and sighed heavily. They were filled with so much pain and torment that it tore apart the very core of her soul. Wrapping her arms around his shoulders, Midland pulled him toward her and held fast to his shuddering form. Lacing fingers through his dark hair, she drew his head to her shoulder. Oh Buck I know youre in pain. I know you dont want them to suffer, but you cant do this. Itll destroy you as well as Chris.
I have to protect him, Doc. Hitching breaths, Buck shook his head. Chris will die right along with Vin when he signs that form. Itll kill him. I cant lose him again. I cant lose him
Tears fell from her eyes to dampen the rogues dark hair. Easy, Buck. Youre not going to lose Chris, but he and Vin signed those documents for a reason. It wont be easy for Chris, but when he signed that power of attorney for Vin, he was making a solemn pledge to make sure he would always watch Vins back when Vin was unable to do so. That he wouldnt let Vin suffer needlessly. That he wouldnt let Vin be kept alive against his will. Vin has fought a good fight but hes got nothing left to fight with.
She tightened her hold when she felt the shudders grow in intensity. Listen to your heart, Buck. You know Im right. Vin wants to finally be free of the pain and agony of the past few days. Hell probably of his whole life for that matter, but Chris has to make the call.
With the machines keeping Vin alive now, it has to be done legally, Stacey continued and pulled away from him to gaze into the dark eyes. Buck Vin placed his trust in Chris to make sure that his final wishes would be carried out. If you prevent Chris from doing that by trying to protect him from further pain, youll be betraying not only Vin, but Chris as well. If Chris is feeling like he failed Vin now, how do you think hes going to feel if he didnt carry out his closest friends last wish?
Itll tear him apart, Doc. Buck closed his eyes and shook his head once more. You know the history behind what happened after Sarah and Adam died. If Vin when he dies Chris will The ladies man shuddered. The horrid thought was left hanging heavy in the dark silence of the room as Buck sobbed in Staceys arms.
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Chris arms tensed as he strained beneath the restraints and he moaned against the tube that still intruded down his throat. He tossed his head from side to side as the pain became excruciating. Physical pain encroached his every sense every nerve in his body ignited into a blazing hot inferno of fire. Only the emotional pain he felt was a thousand times worse. He didnt think anything could be worse than the pain he had experienced when Sarah and Adam had died, but this was. The sense of dread that he had felt for days had grown in intensity now. His heart ached with a blackened void of emptiness as the overwhelming loss encompassed his soul.
Vin please dont leave me I need you, Cowboy.
Sensing that the others were now in the room, he struggled to stay within the darkness that had imprisoned him since Dr. Parker left moments earlier. It had become the haven from the torment in his soul. The torment that had started when he happened to glance at the window and see his friends standing around the doctor, his eyes catching a glimpse of the papers that had been held in Josiahs strong hands, being grabbed and flung to the floor by his oldest friend.
No please no I cant I just cant. He had thought when his beleaguered mind realized what the papers probably were. The papers would sever the lifeline to the other half of his soul. He couldnt do it. He had thought he could when the time came, but now now wasnt the time. Now all he wanted to do was die.
The blond could hear the strained and emotional voices talking to him, pleading with him to open his eyes. Chris refused to listen to them.
Go away! Please! Let me go in peace!
He felt a warm hand wrap over his left fist, pulling him out of the quagmire of darkness. It was a familiar sensation; healing in nature only it couldnt heal his soul. Only one man could do that and it was too late now.
Ive killed him, Nathan. I killed Vin. I killed my brother.
The story of Cain and Abel came to mind. His judgment was at hand. He pulled his fist free and released his body to the thick substance that sucked him down into the depths of Hell. He was drowning now. Drowning in his own blood. The blood he shared with his closest friend the blood of his brother. Vins blood.
Vin God please, dont make me drink his blood any more!
Convulsions came over him and he gagged against the tube. Lancing pains shot through his chest and abdomen as his throat resisted the nauseating sensations and constricted around the foreign object pumping air into his lungs.
Oh God! Whats wrong with him? a young voice cried desperately in the background.
His gag reflex has been triggered! Hes choking! Hes probably having another nightmare about Vin. The healing hand tightened around his fist. Chris! Chris do you hear me?! Its Nathan, Chris. I need you to take it easy and calm down, you understand? Come on, Chris. Calm down. Its just a nightmare. We need you to wake up.
He strained against the restraints once more and felt the bile leave his stomach, forcing its way into the back of his throat.
Not a nightmare, Nathan. Real all too real blood theres blood everywhere, Nathan, and I cant get it to stop! Please make it stop! He cant lose any more! Hes so sick! Help him, Nathan! Forget about me! I dont deserve to live! Help Vin! Save him! Oh God! Save him!
Chris! Calm down! Wake up!
Oh God, Nathan! Its Vins blood! I can taste it!
A hand was on his shoulder and another on his forehead. A firmer grip pressed him down against the bed and he fought the contact.
Brother, listen to Nathan. Its just a nightmare.
Let go of me, Josiah!
You need to open your eyes again, Chris. You must draw on your faith and gather strength from it. We need you back with us right now. Were not going to let you go through this alone.
Total emptiness washed over him suddenly and his instincts went into hyper drive. Vin no . Chris thoughts were brought back to the present. Forcing the bile back, he struggled fiercely beneath the hands that held him firm to the confines of the bed and against the restraints encircling his chest, left wrist, upper arms and his legs. His back arched off the bed and he tossed his head from side to side, thrashing futilely as the hands tightened their grip on his shuddering form.
No! Leave me alone! Vins leaving and I have to go with him! Told him Id always be there to watch his back!
He pounded his right fist into the mattress in frustration and was rewarded with a sharp stabbing pain as he once more felt the plates grate against bone. He thought he heard a muffled scream and realized it was his own cry of pain, as another hand gently encircled his wrist and held it firmly.
Come on, Chris. Please open your eyes and come back to us. We need you Buck he needs you! Hes having a real hard time coping with all of this right now!
No, JD you dont understand I cant I just cant! Buck is strong! Hell be all right! He will understand! In time, youll understand too with Bucks help. Take care of him for me, JD. Hes been a good friend over the years. Talk to him hell know why I have to go with Vin.
Mr. Larabee, please! I implore you to heed our words! We need you. We also need you to return to a level of consciousness. It is imperative that you rejoin our brotherhood before it is too late.
Brotherhood yes, Ezra youve all been like brothers to me and I will never forget you. But Vin Vin is my brother. I have to watch his back have to make up for hurting him set things right I have to go I want to go.
Oh dear God! No! Hes going into shock! Please, Chris! Dont do this! Come back to us! Open your eyes!
Im sorry, Nathan. Dont blame yourself. Vin Vin! Wait! Please! Let me go with you!
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No! I dont want you to come! You cant!
The pain wasnt as intense now. The edge of the darkened abyss was closer than it had been and he stepped toward it. It was calling to him. Calling him as it had done for days a lifetime it seemed. He had ignored it. Only now he was listening.
Vin has fought a good fight but hes got nothing left to fight with.
Thats right. Im tired. I want to go.
Listen to your heart, Buck. You know Im right. Vin wants to finally be free of the pain and agony of the past few days .
I do wanna let go. I want the pain to stop. Please let it stop once and for all. I cant take it anymore! I wanna leave! Please!
The soothing blackness beckoned him with a final release. Release from the pain and agony he had been feeling for days weeks years. Hell, his entire life had been filled with pain, he mused. Physical and emotional pain from his mothers death at such a young age, to the endless orphanages and foster homes he had been placed in, suffering physical and emotional abuse until he finally ran away to live on the streets. Ran away to be alone. Ran away from the pain of heartache that emotional attachments and the need to belong brought each time his trust was betrayed. His heart and soul shattered each time he was left out in the cold, rejected, unwanted and unloved.
Only one day in June three years ago, his eyes had locked on those of a black clad stranger and all of that changed. Suddenly, all the years of loneliness and longing faded away into the past where he had buried the pain deep within his soul. It had been a need to survive, to shield himself from further agony and heartache. Except the intense green eyes of the stranger could see into his soul and he knew in that fleeting instant, that the stranger shared his anguish and felt the horrible ache that had dictated his life. In that frozen moment of time, he became connected to something someone by a force he couldnt understand or begin to comprehend.
It was a force that was unexplained by wisdom or logic. It was a force from a higher level of consciousness, unseen unwavering unstoppable. It was the force of two half spirits that became one soul.
The man who had become his closest friend, his brother and the other half of his soul.
The man that had now betrayed him killed him in a deadly game played with an enemy from Chris past.
The pain was back in full force now, and he cursed the fates that the drugs racing through his system couldnt dissuade the intensity of it. Only it wasnt physical this time. It was the pain of heartache, of loneliness, of total emptiness. It was the agonizing and bitter betrayal of the trust he had given so freely to a man he called his brother. The anguish felt from a severed bond of love that is shared silently and privately between two brothers related not by blood but by that higher force, unseen to the naked eye.
Im tired of yer lies, Larabee. Im tired of ya sayin that youll be there ta watch my back and protect my ass when all ya do is hurt me every time! Fuck! I loved ya like a brother but yer just like all the others! I trusted ya and ya betrayed me! Im tired o fightin ya evry step o the way! Im tired o fightin ya fer my right ta live my life my way! Its my independence! Mine! Ive fought ya fer too long and now I cant fight the pain any more. Not fer me and especially not fer you.
Buck Vin placed his trust in Chris to make sure that his final wishes would be carried out. If you prevent Chris from doing that by trying to protect him from further pain, youll be betraying not only Vin, but Chris as well. If Chris is feeling like he failed Vin now, how do you think hes going to feel if he didnt carry out his closest friends last wish?
Please Buck stop the pain and let me go.
Itll tear him apart, Doc You know the history behind what happened after Sarah and Adam died. If Vin when he dies Chris will
What?! Why ya fuckin liar! Yer only here ta save Chris the agony of signin those papers! Or is it that he cant? He wont? Whats the matter Wilmington? Larabee too much o a coward ta fulfill my last wish so he has ta send his lap dog here ta carry out his dirty work fer him?! Everything always comes down ta Chris wishes, doesnt it?! Always what Chris wants! Never what I want! Well not this time! This time I have the final say and I wanna die!
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Then you wont die alone, Vin, Chris answered.
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Chris! No! Jesus Christ, Josiah! Hes crashing again! Nathan yelled frantically.
JD bolted to the door and yanked it open. Dr. Parker! Dr. Chadwick! Come quick! Chris is in trouble!
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See ya in fuckin Hell, Larabee! Vin replied and stepped over the edge of the abyss to fall into the beckoning darkness.
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The darkness of the room was suddenly pierced by alarms going off on the life support.
Staceys eyes darted to the machines as Buck pulled away from her and stared in disbelief at the still form of his comrade and friend.
Oh dear God! Hes crashing! Stacey yelled and turned toward the bed. Suddenly she was at war with herself. Her mind told her that it was finally time for him to go, but her heart pleaded with her to pull him back from the abyss he was falling into. Her hearts instincts took over. She quickly entwined her fingers and positioned them over Vins chest. Buck! Press the emergency call button! Im going to start compressions!
His hand wrapped around the entwined fingers and stopped her. No.
She stared at him in shock, her eyes not believing the shake of his lowered head. Buck
Let him go, Doc. Buck choked out as tears streamed down his face. Let him finally die in peace.
The alarms assaulted her senses, dulling her ears to the anguished words that left his mouth. She gazed into the tormented eyes when he raised his face to meet hers and allowed her own tears to fall as she pulled her hands away from the sharpshooters chest. Enfolding her hands over Bucks, she squeezed gently and pulled it to her chest. Buck please let me try.
He shook his head once more and broke eye contact with her to gaze down at the face of his friend.
When he pulled his hand free and placed it against the pale cheek of the sharpshooter, his thumb lightly grazing over Vins jaw, her heart shattered when she watched him lean over and whisper into Vins ear.
Its been a good ride, Pard, and Im glad I was there to ride it with you. Dont you worry none bout Chris. Ill be there to watch his back. He brushed the stray strands of hair back from the gaunt face and let his hand linger there. Bucks lips trembled when he whispered his farewell. G-goodbye, Vin. I Ill miss miss you d-dearly, my friend, he grated out, his voice strangling on the emotions overwhelming him.
Oh God no Vin she breathed and closed her eyes to the finality of it all. She tried to seek comfort in the knowledge that Vin Tanner had never run from a fight and now he had fought his last battle and won. He had met death head on and beaten it on his own terms and not those dictated by cold, meaningless words on some legal document.
When she opened her eyes, Dr. Stacey Midland felt the empty darkness closing in as her chest tightened and her throat constricted. Quickly glancing at the clock on the wall, she took a mental note of the time. She raised one trembling hand to her mouth and the other to the primary cut-off switch on the wall behind the bed. Reluctantly, she depressed the button. The alarms ceased and a deathly quiet engulfed the darkened room.
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Parker and Chadwick rushed into ICU Room 412 as JD bolted like a skittish colt out of it.
Ive got to get Buck! he cried through tears and raced past the observation window toward Tanners room.
What the Hell is going on?! Parker yelled and stepped forward to quickly assess Chris condition. A sharp glance to the monitors and to Nathan told him all he needed to know. Turning to the head night nurse on duty he barked his orders. Goddamn it, hes in cardiogenic shock! 2 mg epinephrine! Rapid IV bolus of 20 ml Ringers Lactate and get me 2 mg Dobutamine, IV push now!
The nurse quickly administered the drugs while Parker watched the monitors closely, acutely aware that the three remaining members and owner of the Firm hastily retreated from the bed to allow him, Martin Chadwick and the emergency staff to attend to Chris.
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With the same terrified force, JD bolted into the darkened room shouting, Buck, its Chris! only to stop dead in his tracks at the sight before him.
Time suddenly froze, suspending that split second in a horrible shimmer of clarity for the young man. Dr. Midlands hand was covering her mouth, while the other was lowering from a panel on the wall and JDs eyes were drawn to it, knowing instinctively that it was the primary cut-off switch. Buck was leaning over Vin, his good hand pressed against the sharpshooters brow and the dark-haired youth could see the tears streaming down the face of his best friend.
JD would remember the next few seconds as a nightmare suspended for an eternity throughout his entire lifetime.
Oh my God! What have you done? The words escaped his mouth before he could justify the terror he felt, instantly knowing that Vin was dead and that the two people standing before him had turned off the life support. Chris was right! You wanted him dead!
Buck dragged his eyes away from Tanners face and looked at his young friend, shock evident on his face as the youths words registered. JD what the Hell? Its not what you think! he yelled and rose to an upright position, raising both arms to catch the terrified youth as JD bore down on him.
Clenching his fists, JD lunged at the dark-haired man he considered a mentor, his best friend and the only big brother hed ever known. You killed him! You killed him! he cried, pounding his fists on the older mans chest, struggling in Wilmingtons strong grip. Twisting and thrashing, he cursed Buck. You Goddamn sonofabitch! You killed Vin!
Buck shook JD fiercely, sharply yelling his frightened words to his friend. JD, what the fuck are you talking about? I didnt kill Vin! It just happened! He finally let go on his own!
Tears streamed down JDs cheeks, his cries of murder relentless. Liar! You killed him and now youve killed Chris!
The scoundrels face paled. What?
Dr. Midland grabbed JDs arm. What are you talking about JD? Whats happened to Chris?
JD came to his senses and remembered why he had set out to find Buck. Its Chris! Hes in trouble again! Just happened! Doc Parker and Doc Chadwick are workin on him now! He winced as Buck gripped his shoulders harder and dug trembling fingers into his flesh. The computer wizard was suddenly struck by the odd thought that Wilmington must have been oblivious to the pain in his right hand, since Buck was using both hands and all ten digits to gouge him.
Bucks eyes blinked rapidly and he looked quickly from JD, to Vin, to Stacey Midland.
The dark-haired youth wondered if in that split second of revelation, reality gripped his friends heart in a vice when he heard Bucks anguished cry. His shoulders were released and JD watched Bucks eyes dart once more between their lifeless friend, Doc Midland and the life support systems.
Oh my God! Chris! Doc! he cried and grabbed Staceys arm. Help Vin! You gotta bring him back! You gotta do something before its too late! Chris knows! He knows and hell die right along with Vin if you dont save him!
Dr. Midlands eyes shot to the clock on the wall and yanked her arm free of Bucks. She pressed the emergency call button, grabbed the crash cart and without turning, yelled her commands. Buck, step back and get out of the way! JD, run and get Dr. Chadwick! Tell him Vin has crashed, a minute and a half and counting, and that Im trying to resuscitate!
JD stood frozen in place, his legs suddenly unable to move. A minute and a half? Only ninety seconds? Its been longer than that, hasnt it? Dr. Midlands voice crashed through the barriers of his frozen prison.
JD! Now, Goddamn it! Buck! Hand me that syringe behind you!
The youth shared a fleeting glance with his friend, quickly determining that apologies would have to wait and darted toward the door, nearly crashing into the team of nurses and specialists racing into the room to assist Dr. Midland.
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Dr. Chadwick! Its Vin! Doc Midland says hes crashing! Ninety seconds and counting! Shes trying to resus resus oh fuck bring him around! JD yelled breathlessly, once more bolting into Larabees room like a bat of hell.
Martin Chadwick locked eyes with his colleague and released a litany of curses in one breath. His last curse was punctuated with a declaration and a vow of retribution as he stepped away from Chris bedside and headed toward the door. Fucking Hell, Tom! Were not losing both Larabee and Tanner to some fucking unseen force or connection that cant be explained! When we get them back from wherever theyve run off to, I swear to God Im going to personally kill them both!
Without averting his eyes from Chris or the task at hand, Parker groused over his shoulder. Take a number, my friend! Youll have to deal with my leftovers!
Oddly comforted by the doctors threats, JD smiled inwardly. The optimism of youth prevailed and he felt confident that between those two learned men and Doc Midland, Chris and Vin didnt stand a snowballs chance in Hell of dying.
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Theyre dying dear God theyre both dying, Buck breathed, his voice barely above a whisper.
Not if I have anything to say about it, Wilmington. Martin Chadwick retorted as he strode into the room. Status!
Buck backed away from the obviously annoyed and worried surgeon to stand in the darkened shadows of Tanners room. Fretting with his cast, ignoring the lancing pains traveling up his arm and across his shoulders, he watched helplessly as Chadwick, Midland and the remaining members of the emergency team desperately tried to resuscitate his friend and comrade. He was torn between staying and running to the side of his best friend. Yet in his heart he knew if Vin didnt pull through, he would lose Chris forever.
His decision made, Bucks eyes locked on the pale face across the room and he whispered his soft mantra. Come on, Vin please. Please fight and come back to us. We need you. Chris needs you.
Seconds ticked off the clock. The destiny of two men he called friends suspended in a fraction of time that was nothing short of an eternity.
Orders barked and obeyed.
Deafening, all consuming devastating.
An eternity passed.
One sound pierced the silence.
Then there was a collective rush of inhaled air.
Eyes narrowed and focused on one machine.
Another beep echoed the first.
An urgent order issued and once again acknowledged by the trained professionals.
A quiet but firm demand from the surgeon to his patient, as he leaned over the bed to take the insensate hand in his.
Tear filled eyes now focused on that image, causing Buck to tremble as his innermost emotions consumed him, his ears hearing the sounds now piercing the darkened silence of the room. His eyes mirrored the anguished hopes of his heart and he glanced toward the woman doctor he had come to call a friend. His silent plea answered when she nodded ever so slightly and reached out her hand, beckoning him to join her at Vins bedside.
Come closer, Buck. Talk to him. He needs to hear your voice. Stacey coached quietly.
The ladies man took hesitant steps, his legs trembling and threatening to buckle beneath him as he walked towards her.
Stacey took his hand and placed it over Vins, wrapping her hand over both of them. Glancing quickly at Martin Chadwick, she leaned over the bed when Chadwick gave a terse nod and whispered into the sharpshooters ear. Vin. Vin its Stacey and Buck. Were here for you, Vin. Youre safe now, but we need you to come back to us. You hear? Youre safe, Vin. No one is going to hurt you any more. Stacey squeezed the hands beneath hers and stepped back to allow Buck to move into her place. Talk to him, Buck. Weve got him back, but hes on the edge. Hold on to him and pull him back from it, Buck. Let him know youre here watching his back and you wont let anything happen to him.
Bucks lips quivered with uncertainty. Thats normally Chris job, he replied flatly.
A waning smile curled the edges of Staceys lips. I know but youre a more than adequate substitute. Plus youre still his friend. She pressed him forward. Come on talk to him. Hell hear you.
Wilmington stepped forward, taking her place as she retreated and shifted to his other side. Squeezing Vins hand beneath his own, he leaned over the prone sharpshooter and spoke softly. Come on, Pard. Need ya to open yer eyes now and come back to us. The doctors and nurses here are gettin mighty impatient wit ya. Come to think of it, so am I. Not to mention, tired, he groused, a worried but playful tone in his voice.
Hell Ive been runnin my tail off tween yer two rooms so much this past week, I aint had any time at all to scope out the nurses. Now ya know thats just not fair of either of ya to keep my animal magnetism from these beautiful ladies. Not right at all.
Buck studied the translucent and drawn features of Tanners face those that werent covered in tape or obscured by plastic tubing. Swallowing hard, he tried to force a level of stability into his wavering and weakening voice. Come on, Vin. Please, Pard. Open your eyes and come back to us. Youre safe now. Tasker aint gonna harm you any more! I swear it! Please! Listen to me! Dear God, Vin we need you please come back. Please for Chris. Do it for Chris, Vin. He needs you. Hes fightin for his life two doors down from here and he needs to know youre gonna be all right. That youre gonna make it. You hear me, Vin? Chris needs you!
+ + + + + + +
C Chris he thought wearily, painfully as the comforting blackness began to fade into the distance. He could hear voices but only two were familiar. They sounded tired, concerned and fearful. Was that Doc Midland talking a minute ago, he wondered?
S sounds like her n Buck? B Bucks here? W wheres Chris? Why why isnt Chris here?
Slowly the darkness was giving way to splinters of light. Bucks voice was getting stronger, coaxing him away from the edge of the abyss that he wanted to fall back into. Pulling him back with words of assurance, promising safety and the agonizing need he harbored deep within his soul. The need to be wanted to be needed, by people that cared about him loved him.
A thought weighed heavy in the back of his mind, but he couldnt make sense of it. Instead, he tried to make sense of the words his friend was speaking.
The soothing balm of the darkness surrounding him was now almost gone and he finally understood the last frantic words Buck spoke. His closest friend his chosen brother the other half of his soul needed him.
C Chris n ne needs m me?
+ + + + + + +
Come on, Chris. Thats it open your eyes and come on back to us. Tom commanded softly. Theres some friends of yours here that are getting awfully impatient with all this attention my team and I are giving you lately. Its a good thing were slow at the moment cause youre running our tails off, but its time for it to stop. Besides, I dont think Orrin would appreciate having to pay the bill for reconstructing ICU after your friends tear it apart if you cut out on them. He squeezed the blonds shoulder and nodded to the men standing at the back of the room. Gentlemen, I think he needs some gentle persuasion.
Four men quickly stepped forward to the end of the bed. The fifth stood back and allowed his team the latitude they so desperately needed. Nodding his silent thanks to Parker, he turned and exited the room, deciding that it would be best if he let down his now thoroughly exhausted guard in private. After all, it wouldnt look very good for the owner of The Firm to break down in front of his men.
Reaching an empty room at the end of the hall, Orrin Travis closed the door quietly behind him. He walked to the furthest darkened corner of the room, pressed his back against the wall and sank to the floor in a heap. Relief washed over him. His whole body trembled and shuddered as his innermost fears and desperate emotions were released in a flood of tears.
His soul felt lost when Chris had succumbed to shock and another heart attack, but his heart had shattered when JD burst into the room shouting that Tanner had crashed as well. For he knew that Chris was keeping a sacred promise to his chosen brother following his closest friend so that he could watch Tanners back even in death.
Now, as tears streamed down his face and he sobbed alone in the quiet darkness, his heart healed and his soul felt renewed. Despite the urgent and tense filled moments he had just witnessed, he was certain that Chris would be all right. He was certain of it. Certain, because that meant, without a shadow of a doubt, Vin was now back where he belonged back among the living back among the people that cared about him and loved him without reservation. Travis smiled. Yes all would be fine now.
Raising his eyes to the heavens he whispered his thanks. Thank you Lord. Thank you for bringing my boys back to me.
+ + + + + + +
Come on, Pard, time to come back home where you belong. Your friends are waitin for ya. Your family is waitin for ya. And you know how impatient we are. We dont like to be kept waitin for your scrawny ass.
There was Bucks voice again.
Home friends family. His family . They were waiting for him. He had a place to belong people that cared about him people that loved him a brother . Chris .
He struggled to open his eyes under the weight of fatigue. His body slowly became aware of the pain and he moaned.
Easy, Vin. Dont try and talk. Youre on life support. The endotracheal tube is still down your throat.
Thats Doc Midlands voice, he thought.
Find Dr. Foreman and get him in here, STAT!
Whos that? I dont know that voice.
Right away, Dr. Chadwick.
Pamela? Am I still in the ER?
He moaned again and tried to swallow back the agony. He couldnt. The pain was everywhere now. His mind was on overload as it processed and tried to reject the signals his body was sending it. Signals that registered sharp lancing pains, agonizing throbs, burning needles from nerves that were on fire as they all triggered and ignited at once.
Oh God! Make it stop! Please!
Vin? Vin can you hear me? Hold on and well take care of you.
Vin recognized Doc Midlands voice again. He felt a firm squeeze on his shoulder and once more struggled to open his eyes, fighting back the agony consuming him. He realized he was crying as the sensation of wet streams trailed down his temples.
Hold on, Pard. Theyre gonna give you somethin for the pain.
Please Buck make it stop! It hurts! Oh God it hurts!
Four milligrams morphine.
The other doctors voice, he thought. Eyes finally opened in narrowed slits and he sought out the faces of the hands that were clasped over his.
Hey there, Pard. Welcome back.
Fuckin Hell, Buck. Why didnt ya just let me die? Why did ya bring me back? I wasnt in any pain there!
He tensed beneath their grasps.
Try to relax, Vin. The morphine will help.
Oh God, Doc! So much pain now! Please! Make it stop! It hurts so bad!
The niggling thought fought its way through the haze of pain. Words, dark and dreaded came to the forefront of his mind.
Chris has lied to you, Vin. All these years, he promised you hed never hurt you, didnt he? He told you that hed watch your back and protect you didnt he? Yet, here you are a pawn in the game that Chris and I have played on several occasions over the years. If he had kept his promise to watch your back you wouldnt be here now enduring all this now would you? Hes lied to you, Vin. You believe that now, dont you? Chris has always wanted to hurt you. You know that now, dont you Vin? You see, Vin. Chris is torturing you with this game hes playing. Hes hurting you and he wont stop. He likes doing that to you, Vin. He takes great pleasure in seeing you in pain. Do you want Chris to stop? Do you want him to stop hurting you?
His tears increased and he moaned again, clenching his fists against the sharp lancing pains that the morphine injection had yet to suppress.
Please stop it.
Easy there, Vin. Listen to Doc Midland. She knows whats best.
More words as memories were reawakened.
there were only two units left of yours and Chris blood type. I I sent them upstairs for Chris surgery. Vin Im sorry. I had to make a decision based on facts not emotions. Chris was hemorrhaging badly and already in surgery. We couldnt send you upstairs until you stabilized!
Were right here with ya and Chris is just down the hall. Hes havin a fight of his own right now, but I know hes gonna be okay now that youre awake.
He struggled to focus his eyes on Buck and Stacey.
Take it easy, Vin. That morphine Dr. Chadwick just gave you is going to take away all that pain in just a minute.
Pain yeah it hurts everywhere God! It hurts so much now!
Boy! I cant wait to tell Chris that youre gonna be all right! Hot damn!
Pain hurt Chris.
Suddenly, the pain increased ten fold and he arched against the bed as his awareness sharpened at those three simple words.
Chris! Chris hurt me! He did this to me! And you! Both of you helped him!
Vins eyes shot open and he glared at the two people hovering over him to his left. He clenched his left fist and pulled it from beneath their hands, ignoring the pain in his upper arm when he did so.
Get the fuck away from me! I hate ya! I hate Chris! I hate him fer what hes done to me!
The sharpshooter could tell by the shocked looks on their faces that his silent message was heard loud and clear.
It was confirmed when Stacey Midland drew her hand back to her mouth and gasped. Oh dear God, no. Hes still blaming Chris!
The hateful message was then vindicated when Buck stepped back from the bed, a sharp intake of air passing over his lips before he breathed, No please no not that. Clutching his right arm, Bucks chest heaved in sharp breaths and he staggered backward before turning to race out of the room, yelling, Fuckin Hell! as the door closed behind him.
+ + + + + + +
When the door to Room 412 closed behind Buck Wilmington, the four men that had been standing guard around their leader, quietly talking to him, turned to face Buck. Concern filled their faces when they took note of the pallor of the scoundrels face.
Buck? Nathan asked worriedly. What is it?
Mr. Wilmington, I suggest you sit down before you fall down. Your complexion makes Draculas appear to be a sunburn.
JD moved away from the bed and stepped toward his friend. Buck? You all right?
Brother? Josiah said, narrowing his eyes and joining JD next to the ladies man. Is it Vin? Has he ?
Buck shook his head as if he were dazed. No he choked out through a whispered reply, hes alive. Hes out of the coma.
Four suddenly exhaled as one and their shoulders sagged with relief. Quiet murmurs and prayers of thanks echoed throughout the room.
Buck ignored them. His eyes gazed past all of them toward the blond lying on the bed. Oh dear God how the Hell am I going to tell him?
Silence surrounded him then and he was vaguely aware of his four friends studying him carefully as he slowly stepped forward to the bed. He felt JD and Josiah inch up behind him, knowing that they were ready to catch him if he staggered or fell under the weight of the burden he was carrying. His hand and arm were throbbing mercilessly now, his breaths coming in short bursts. But the excruciating pain was minor in comparison to the ache he felt deep within his heaving chest. Buck felt like his heart was slowly being ripped into shreds as he remembered the glare in Vins eyes and the silent message that had been conveyed through a veil of anguish.
Swallowing hard, he reached out to touch Chris right shoulder with a trembling left hand. His eyes locked with those penetrating green eyes that were now black and staring back at him. In that one instant, Bucks heart was finally torn apart. Oh fuck he knows.
Bucks mouth went dry as unspent tears flooded down his cheeks and he lowered his head, closing his eyes to avoid the pain he saw in Chris the pain that radiated deep from within his friends soul. Words of consolation, of assurances and flippant retorts suddenly failed the ladies man and he could only grate out five words confirming what his best friend already knew. God Im so sorry, Chris.
+ + + + + + +
Chris slammed his eyes shut, a flood of tears breaching his tightly woven lids to stream down his temples. A cry from deep within his soul filtered through the plastic tube intruding down his throat, filling the room with an agonizing and haunting sound as his body arched against the restraints that still held him firmly in place. Muscles that had finally been arduously relaxed with gentle coaxing and increased dosages of drugs in the last few minutes, now constricted sharply and Chris convulsed in pain. His nerve synapses igniting once more in a fiery inferno of agony.
Oh God, Vin! Please no! Dont do this! Im sorry! Please forgive me!
The blond ignored the pleas from his friends and fought against the hands that held him. He was aware of only one thing. His closest friend hated him with a vehemence that shredded his soul.
+ + + + + + +
He was drifting on a sea of darkness. His soul now vanished forever within the black void of despair, loneliness and the heart wrenching agony of loss. The passing of something he valued more than life itself the loss of his closest friend, his brother and the other half of his soul.
He felt incomplete. Empty. Hollow.
He wondered how many years it had been since the feelings had come over him. The hopeless desperation, the paralyzing fears the absolute desolation.
Years? Hell it had been a fucking eternity, he mused silently as he stared aimlessly at a spot on the wall to the left of his hospital bed. It allowed him to turn away from the observation window, and the door through which there had been a constant stream of nurses, doctors and his friends sans one. The one friend he wanted to see more than a man dying of thirst wanted to see an oasis in the desert. The one friend he knew could end his pain, mend his shattered heart and heal his soul with three simple words, I forgive you. The only friend that addressed him by a nickname that sent his spirit soaring each time it met his ears. Cowboy. It was a term of endearment, of friendship, of brotherhood of a silent bond and unseen force that tied him to this world and connected him to the other half of his soul.
The words would now be forever lost to him and Chris closed his reddened eyes to the steady stream of tears that had been falling for over two days. Two days. God, has it only been two days? Two days since Buck looked into my eyes and I died? he wondered. Thinking derisively how dead men could feel pain as agonizing as that which he now felt, let alone cry tears of regret.
With silent abandonment and complacency, he had watched his friends when they gathered round him to offer support, encouragement and words of optimism. He had watched, but he hadnt seen them. He had listened, but he didnt hear them.
That is, unless he overheard their hushed whispers when they thought he was sleeping, about Vin and his condition. He had heard Dr. Chadwick say that there was hope now that Vin would survive. He had listened intently when Dr. Foreman had declared that there appeared to be no physical complications from the injuries, fever and coma, but that a true test of Vins mental capacities and emotional state could not be determined until he was off the life support. Only Foreman was concerned more about what Vin was saying with his body language than he was with the sharpshooters inability to speak because of the endotracheal tube.
Chris had felt a stabbing pain in his heart then a pain borne from desperate desolation and regret. He knew all too well, of the silent message that was being voiced by his closest friend a message, which Foreman, but also Chadwick, Silverman, Frost and Moreland had confirmed. For even though Vin was still on life support he had been conscious and communicative if only by his eyes alone. The sharpshooter had adamantly refused to see any of his friends or Stacey Midland, turning a harsh, icy glare to anyone that dared suggest it and tensing his body to the point that sedatives had to be administered to calm him.
So here he was, staring at a spot on the wall and silently praying that the night nurse would hurry up and check on him. Any other time, he wouldve resented the frequent attention, fighting the staff and trying to get out of the hospital as soon as he could. Only for the past two days, he had come to look forward to the visits, for with them, came relief the relief from the grief that was consuming him.
Dragging his eyes away from the spot on the wall, Chris cast a quick glance to clock. It was time for the changing of the guard. Showtime he thought acerbically.
He deliberately tensed every muscle in his body, willing them to strain until they trembled. Once again, the nurse earlier had foolishly not restrained his right wrist after he had pleaded with her to release him from the bond for just a few moments. They had briefly talked but it had been long enough for him to distract her from securing the restraint before she continued her rounds. The ruse had worked and so now he slowly began to tap it against the bed rail with increasing force. Tensing his muscles further, a hidden glint of macabre satisfaction sparked in his eyes and he fought to contain the sinister curl forming on his lips. The pain was returning in full force. He had succeeded.
He heard the door to the room open and once more stepped into the role he had managed to perfect over the past two days. It was a role that allowed him to twist reality into a distorted hell of his own making. A role, he figured laughingly, that would probably earn him an Academy Award if he were an actor.
Turning his face to the young nurse, he allowed the pain to filter into his green eyes.
"Evening, Chris. Im Johanna and Im going to be taking care of you tonight. Damn. Why didnt you call me sooner? These tremors look bad and I know youve got to be in pain!"
He forced back the sinister grin and instead shook his head with a deliberate and slow, pain-filled motion. "No Im okay," he forced out, smiling inwardly that it sounded so gut wrenching.
"Now Chris Ive heard all about you from the other nurses on staff. I may be new to the hospital but I feel like Im an old pro where youre concerned." She replied quickly, checking his vitals.
You just keep thinking that, sweetheart, and you and I will get along just fine.
She looked down at him. "Lets not pretend with each other, shall we?"
Chris fought the gleam once more and nodded. No lets not pretend.
"Tell me the truth."
Oh if I must I must.
"How bad is it?"
What? You cant tell ? Guess Ill just have to convince you. He swallowed hard to further his deception. "N not bad."
Oh what a tangled web Chris bit his lower lip to hide his warped sense of humor and inhaled slowly, grimacing as he did so to heighten the effect. "Bad r real b bad to tonight."
She patted his arm. "Thought so."
Didnt have any doubt you wouldnt. He allowed the smile to creep through the darkness when she turned her back to him to pick up a syringe, and then quickly suppressed it when she turned back to face her blond patient.
"Well, Dr. Parker and Dr. Frost are in agreement. They said I could up your dosage of soma with codeine if you needed it."
Increased dose? Damn Im good, he concluded, a measure of morbid satisfaction warming him as he watched her administer the drug into the IV.
"There. All done." Johanna asserted and gently rubbed his arm. "Now you just hold on. It will take it a minute or two to work itself into your system and then you should get some relief."
"T thanks, Jo han na."
The young nurse squeezed his shoulder and turned toward the door. "Dont mention it. You just try and get some rest. The soma will ease the spasms and the codeine should help with your pain."
Yes yes it will more than you know.
"Night, Chris. Ill be back to check on you later."
Chris watched the door close behind her departing form and turned his gaze back to the wall. Finding the spot once again, he eased further into the confines of the bed and focused on it. He felt the drug race into his system and the grim smile that he had suppressed made its way onto his lips. Chris thought about her words of relief and on easing the pain. He couldnt help but snicker. "If she only knew the true meaning behind those words."
As the increased dosage of soma eased the tremors of his constricting muscles, Chris felt the warmth of the codeine and tasted the sweetness of the drug he had so desired. The drug, that since they had removed the morphine pump, allowed him to escape into the comforting darkness free from the pain of a shattered soul.
+ + + + + + +
Vin kept his eyes closed, ignoring the activity of the people around him. He felt them touching his body, changing IV lines or adding medications, but he didnt acknowledge anyone or anything. He felt empty, alone, angry and resentful toward those who offered a helping hand. The tube down his throat made it impossible to voice his opinions, but his eyes said it all when someone decided they knew what he needed. The pain was no longer a concern since the medications kept his body and mind numbed, but all the feelings of loss, emptiness, loneliness and anger could be summed up in one word.
Vin opened his eyes and glared at the woman standing next to the bed. She was there to take care of him, but he wanted to be alone. He didnt want anyone trying to console him! He didnt need anyone telling him that everything was going to be all right! He didnt need anyone! Hed been alone before and survived and he could do it again! He heard the sound of the infusion pumps and all the anger and pain dissipated as his eyes closed and he walked once more in the land of nightmares.