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Chris knew he was playing with fire, but the blessed relief and emptiness he craved only came when the drug was administered and he felt it flow through his veins, easing the tremors, and making him forget for a little while. Thats all he needed all he wanted to forget. Forget about the pain and the emptiness and the loss. Hed killed the friendship that hed coveted. Killed the connection that soldered him to the other half of his soul!
The nurse, he frowned trying to think of her name even as he tried to forget everything that had happened, was checking the monitors above his head. She hummed softly, but the sound was irritating and he wished she would just shut up and leave him alone until it was time for his next performance. His mind wandered over the events of the last week and Taskers face flashed before his eyes. He could hear Taskers voice droning on and on, burning a trail of sadness through the fiery depths of his soul. Darkening his mind with the bitter defeat that had cost him so much. Branding him with an acid that scarred him to the core of his being.
Chris felt sleep beckoning to him, but fought it with every ounce of his rapidly dwindling strength. There was only so many ways to stay awake and too many things conspired against him to send him back into the hell hed lived a short time ago.Chris tried to pull his head free, but felt Taskers nails dig into his skin. He suddenly felt sick when he felt Taskers fingers on his lips and then tasted the blood. Words of hatred formed in the back of his throat but he couldnt speak. He swallowed hard to force back the rising tide, but it was no use and he vomited the meager contents of his stomach just as Tasker released him and stepped back. Convulsing against the restraints, he heaved over and over again at the taste that lingered on his lips. His whole body screamed in pain and his head pounded in rhythm to the throbbing in his right thigh and left side. His ears heard Taskers voice disappear into the darkness, further sickening him with the knowledge that he had tasted his best friends blood.
Did Vins blood taste good, Larabee? Ill bet it was sweet, wasnt it? I know that was just an appetizer, but Ill make sure youre able to feast on it tomorrow. Come along, Gentlemen. Im hungry for ox blood soup.
No no, God help me, no! Cant cant drink it Vin! Vin! The words were whispered, but the body on the bed struggled with the nightmare images and cried out when pain slammed home and hot acidic bile rose in his throat. Over and over images flashed and froze as he tried to swallow the bitter pill that hed drank his best friends blood.
Johanna turned when she heard the strangled cries from the bed and quickly moved to help her patient turn. Years of being an ICU nurse gave her the strength she needed to deal with any and all emergencies. She knew the signs of a patient in trouble and reached for the call button that would bring the necessary personnel. Next she tried to calm the trembling form as his body shook with the violent tremors brought on by the electrical shocks that had been inflicted upon him. She looked up as Tom Parker entered the room and quickly watched as he measured the required dosage of Soma with Codeine that would help control the patients quaking limbs.
How long has he been like this? Parker asked.
A little over a minute, Johanna answered and reached for a cloth as the tremors began to subside.
Any idea what brought it on?
I heard him say something about not being able to drink, the nurse explained.
Damn it! Parker said and ran his hand through his hair as Larabees eyes began to open and a single tear followed a path down his cheek. He watched the nurse wash the evidence away, but he knew it was not the first tear shed and would not be the last. Chris, take it easy now, the medication should help.
C cant Larabee moaned and turned toward the door in time to see a familiar figure enter the room. He closed his eyes as the words came back to him. The decision shed made in the heat of the moment had nearly cost Vin Tanner his life. That was something he could not forgive her for because it was a horrid reminder that not only had he drank the blood of his best friend, but hed also been given the blood needed to save Vins life. G get out!
Easy, Chris, lie back! Parker ordered, placing his hand on the blonds shoulder.
NO! Damn you! Get out!
Who? the physician asked.
All of you get out!
We need to take care of you, Chris, Midland said.
I dont fucking need you to! Get out of my life, Dr. Midland! I dont ever want you to touch me again! You made the wrong fucking decision and Ill never forgive you for it! You had no right! He needed it! You could have killed him!
What are you talking about, Chris? Parker asked, but he saw the truth of Larabees words written on Midlands face. The horror of a decision made in the heat of the moment was weighing heavily on Midlands heart and he knew this strong woman was close to crumbling under Larabees vicious verbal attack.
The blood in the ER! When we came in! Vin needed it didnt he, Doc? Larabees eyes flashed green daggers that cut through Stacey Midland as if they were real.
I did what I had to do, Chris. You were already in surgery, Midland explained softly.
You made the wrong decision, Doc! Larabee said and turned away. Ill n never forgive you or me.
Hes sleeping, Stacey, Parker told her and turned her away from the bed. Come on I think we could both use a coffee.
Thanks, Tom, Midland said, fighting the guilt that Larabee had placed on her shoulders.
Johanna watched the two physicians leave the room and turned her attention back to her patient. The violent tremors were painful to watch and she knew it was going to take a long time for this man to heal, both physically and mentally. She began to hum the soft nameless tune and cleaned up the area around the patients bed unaware that Chris Larabee was still awake.
God, Vin, Im so sorry! I should have been able to stop that bastard, he thought and began to work on setting his body for another wave of pain and the medication that would eventually ease it.
+ + + + + + +
Vin heard footsteps and opened his eyes to see Josiah Sanchez standing next to his bed. He couldnt speak, but he knew Sanchez could read the anger in his eyes. The mans large hand was placed over his forehead and Vin heard the words that were meant to sooth the pain.
Get the fuck away from me, Josiah! Dont want none of yer preachin! he thought.
God grant you the strength and courage you need to see this through, Vin, Sanchez said and moved to sit in the chair.
Aint God givin me strength, Josiah. Just get the fuck out of my life!
I know things seem at their darkest right now, Son
Aint yer fuckin son either! the Texans eyes blazed with anger and the blue orbs were darker than ever before as Vin turned away from the man hed once enjoyed listening to. The rich baritone voice had delivered more sermons and spread warmth through more people than most priests could ever hope to. His way with words and the delivery in which they were given made people come back not just for the warm words, but also for the man who delivered them. There was none of that warmth in Vin Tanner today, just a cold empty feeling that burned with an icy intensity that chilled him to the core.
Josiah watched Vin turn away and sighed heavily. This was going to be harder than any of them had ever imagined. The Texan kept turning away from anyone who offered a hand. He refused to acknowledge that he needed help, and any mention of Chris Larabee was met with the iciest of glares. He had no doubt that once the tube was removed from his throat and Vin could speak; he was going to tell them to leave. The events of the last two weeks were playing havoc with their emotions. Orrin Travis had called them into a meeting early that afternoon and put him in charge of the team. There were still cases to finish and they wouldnt go away just because two of their family were down. One case was pressing at the moment and he was sending Ezra Standish undercover with JD as his back up.
Sighing heavily he rubbed at tired eyes and pulled the dog-eared bible from his pocket. It was a gift from his father and would always be a source of wisdom, courage and strength for him. Turning to his favorite passage he silently read the words and prayed for the strength to get them through.
+ + + + + + +
Chris looked at the clock on the wall and knew the time was close and shifted his body on the bed. The tubes and wires made it hard, but he needed to show them how badly he was hurting. With each movement he awakened the dormant pain and sent tremors through his body while it felt like a knife stabbed through his skull. Tears formed in his eyes, but it wasnt enough. He struck his arm against the railing and bit his lip in an effort to keep from crying out.
He needed to put on the performance of a lifetime!
He needed the pain to go away!
He needed the memories to fade!
He needed to forget!
Easy, Chris, I have your medication right here. I wish there was something more I could do, Sandra Murphy explained. Shed come on duty less than an hour before and spent the time updating files before checking on each patient. The pain this man was suffering was obvious in the tightly clenched jaw, the white knuckled fist of his left hand and the moisture that trailed down both cheeks. She injected the medication and placed a comforting hand on his chest.
You have nothing to be sorry for, Chris. I just wish youd press the button by your hand when things get really bad.
D dont want t to bother y you.
Youre not bothering us, Chris. Were here to help you and theres really no need of you being in such pain when we have the means to make you comfortable. Okay?
O okay, the blond said worrying at his bottom lip and then closed his eyes to wait for the numbing sensation he craved. Youre damn good, Larabee! Deserve an Academy award for that one!
How is he?
Chris recognized the voice immediately, but kept his eyes closed. He felt his mind drifting and without realizing it his tooth cut into his lip and he tasted blood in his mouth. Vins blood! The thought hit him at the same time the substance hit the back of his throat and his gag reflexes kicked in. Hampered by the IV lines and other paraphernalia, Chris struggled to sit forward, but succeeded only in putting pressure on his healing body. The cry that tore from his throat at the same time as hot bile rose at the back of it was not a performance this time, but the real thing and he knew what pain really was.
Sweet Jesus, Chris! Wilmington cried when his friends body reacted to whatever was happening to him. Buck knew there wasnt anything he could do except talk to him and he reached out to take Larabees trembling hand in his own. The spasms were intense and the fingers wrapped tightly around his own in a death like grip that made him wonder where the blond got his strength.
Youll have to leave!
Im not going anywhere! Wilmington spat and tried to keep his own fears at bay as he found his voice once more. Come on, Chris, dont do this to me! Okay? I cant do this any more! I cant stand by while you tear yourself up over something you had no control over! That bastard is the one we need to be blaming! You hear me, Chris Larabee! Enough is enough and its about fucking time that you and Vin quit being so fucking stubborn and put the blame where it belongs!
Sandra knew her patient was in trouble as again and again his body was shaken with tremors and bitter fluid escaped around his tightly clenched teeth. She pressed the call button and was relieved when several minutes later one of Larabees doctors entered the room.
What happened, Sandra? Parker asked.
He was in a lot of pain so I gave him the Soma with codeine and it seemed to help. Sandra explained and moved to help the physician with the convulsing patient.
Buck, youll have to leave! the physician ordered as the monitors began emitting a sound they all recognized.
Im not going anywhere, Doc, not until I know hes going to be okay! Wilmington spat and fought to keep his warring emotions in check. Chris, come on, Pard, its okay! Youre okay! Vins okay!
Chris could hear there voices, but could not make sense of them. His mind kept repeating one thing, a silent mantra that would not quiet in spite of the medications hed received. Vins blood Vins blood Vins blood
Vins blood, the words escaped tightly clenched teeth and Chris rocked with the spasming pain in his stomach.
What? Chris, what did you say? Wilmington asked, afraid he already knew the answer, but the body suddenly went rigid and with a cry born of pain and horror, Chris Larabee dropped back on the bed and lost the fight to stay conscious.
Sandra, I want him on oxygen! Parker ordered.
Doc, is he?
Hes unconscious, Buck, but his numbers are good and hopefully this wont be repeated! Now, please wait outside and let me make sure everything is okay.
All right, Doc, but Ill be right outside the door! Wilmington vowed. He left the room and leaned heavily against the glass before looking into Tanners room. He knew Chris and Vin were two halves of a whole and it would be hard for either man to survive knowing he was the cause of the other mans pain. He remembered how hard it was to bring Chris back from the edge when he pushed Vin away after the ill fated encounter with Whelan, and prayed it would not take so long to make the two men whole once more.
Buck closed his eyes and rubbed his hand along his throbbing arm. The pain was nothing compared to what Chris and Vin were going through, but it was a reminder that they were not the only two caught in the aftermath of Taskers actions.
Buck, whats wrong? Chris!
Easy, JD, Chris is okay, he just had another attack of some kind. The damn tremors are bad enough, but with his injuries it makes them ten times worse!
Jesus, for a minute there I thought you know?
Yes, I do, Kid, but Im not about to let that stubborn sonofabitch quit just because he looks like he went ten rounds of shock treatment! Somehow or another were going to make damn sure our team is whole again. Where is Ezra? Thought you were supposed to be his backup tonight.
The meet was cancelled. Ezra went home to shower and change his clothes.
Damn, who cancelled the meet?
The other side. Something about not being able to deliver the goods until tomorrow night. JD turned as the physician exited the room. Doc, hows Chris?
Hes resting right now, but that doesnt mean another attack wont happen. Were dealing with electrical shocks and that could have long-term damage. The neurologist on Chris case will be watching him closely, but right now theres not much more we can do for him.
What about Vin? Dunne asked.
Stacey was in a meeting with his doctors this afternoon and I spoke with her just before I got this call. Theyll be taking Vin off the ventilator tomorrow morning as long as his numbers remain within normal parameters.
At least thats a bit of good news, Wilmington said tiredly.
Buck, have you managed to get any decent sleep? Parker asked.
Slept some, the ladies man said, shrugging his shoulder and wincing as stiff muscles protested even that small movement.
Thought I told you to go home and get some rest before you came back here? the physician gently chastised the weary man.
I cant sleep with Chris and Vin needing me, Wilmington told him.
Theyll need you more once they begin physiotherapy, Buck. Vin and Chris arent going anywhere for some time and they are getting the care they need! You, on the other hand are about to fall over and make a mess of this place. Go home and sleep. JD, get him out of here and I dont want to see him back until hes slept a minimum of eight hours, showered, shaved, and changed his clothes! Do I make myself clear, Buck!
Yes, Wilmington said, shoulders sagging with defeat.
Good, I swear, Buck, youre as stubborn as Larabee and Tanner put together!
Ill make sure he gets some sleep, Doc! Dunne assured the older man.
And whos going to make you do the same, JD? Parker asked.
Give it up, Kid, he knows us too well.
Yes, I do. Now, Im heading out myself, but Im going to alert the nursing station and if you two show up Ill leave orders to call security and have you banned from the floor. Understood?
Understood, Dunne repeated. I just wanted to see Chris before
Five minutes! Parker ordered and saw the dark head bob once. Buck, sit down before you fall down!
Im going to see Vin first. Wilmington snapped then looked at the younger man. JD, Ill meet you downstairs in five minutes.
All right, Buck, Dunne said and watched as the older man moved toward the room where Vin Tanner was sleeping, if you could call it sleeping with the extra paraphernalia hooked up to his body. He moved into the room and over to the bed, swallowing past the lump in his throat when he was reminded how close theyd come to losing the heart and soul of the team.
+ + + + + + +
Buck entered Tanners room in time to see the ex-preacher place his hand on the Texans forehead and quote one of the bible passages he was so fond of using. How is he, Josiah?
No change, Buck, but they may be getting rid of the ventilator sometime tomorrow morning if his numbers stay where they are.
Thats great. Hate seeing him like this!
We all do, Buck, but we can offer our strength and support to help him through this.
If hell let us. Hes still blaming Chris for this shit and if we cant make him see it was all Taskers doing Im afraid its over. The team wont be able to work together if Chris and Vin arent talking! Wilmington sank onto the chair and ran his fingers through his hair.
Buck, I thought you were going home?
I am, Josiah, just wanted to check on Vin. JDs supposed to meet me downstairs.
JD? I thought he was working on a case with Ezra? Sanchez frowned at the ladies man.
He was, but the meet got rescheduled, so JD came here. I think he said Ezra went home to get some shut eye.
And thats where youre going. Theres JD!
Im too damn tired to argue with you, Josiah. Wilmington said and stood up. Take care of him.
I will, Buck, now get out of here. Sanchez watched the younger man leave and nodded to the cop standing on the other side of the door. The officer was one hed known for many years and he trusted him to keep the two men safe, but he would not relinquish their safety to anyone except a member of the team.
+ + + + + + +
Robert Tasker smiled and accepted the drink from Clifford Learson and placed the paper hed been reading on the small table between the lounge chairs. The story they were interested was no longer on the cover of the Billings Gazette, but there was still a full-scale write up on page six.
What are they saying? Learson asked curiously.
Larabee and Tanner are under police protection at Saint Vincents. Theres nothing much about their condition just says the doctors are guardedly optimistic, Tasker explained.
What are you going to do if they survive?
Nothing! They dont know where we are and they have no way of finding us unless we do something stupid.
Wont they come after us?
Are you kidding? Itll take Larabee and Tanner months to get back on their feet and we both know Chris and I understand each other. He knows from the last time he tried to find me its useless. My connections will keep giving out false leads; meanwhile we sit back and enjoy the aftermath of our actions.
You enjoy doing this dont you?
Hell yes, whats not to enjoy. I get to jerk Chris around and watch Buck act like hes a machine while he tries to protect Chris. Buck knows Im not going to do anything not for a while anyway. Its so much more fun to let them think Ive given up and then strike when they least expect me too.
What is it about Larabee and Wilmington that makes you like this? Learson asked.
Their white knight attitude is so out of date and yet thats what they are! Tasker spat. Chris just wouldnt let it go back then and he cost me my own team.
I thought you were part of his team, Learson said.
I was, but I could have had my own. I was good. Damn fucking good, but Chris didnt like the way I did things. It pissed him off because I got the job done!
No, what pissed him off was how you got it done, Robert.
Thats because Chris and his type dont believe in taking the gauntlet! They like to do things within the law
Youre kidding, right? Since when would you call what Larabee has done over the years within the law? Hes got some black strikes against his name and I know a lot of people who would like to take him down!
Yes, I guess youre right. Larabee does have his hard side and hell need that when Im ready to go another round with him, but
We have another job to do, Learson finished and pulled out the file hed just received. He smiled when Taskers eyes grew wide with excitement. Their target was a well-known dignitary and one theyd both had run ins with before.
Oh, this is going to be a pleasure, Tasker smiled and reached for his drink, Chris Larabee temporarily forgotten as a new plan formulated.
+ + + + + + +
Martin Chadwick looked at his patient with concern as he tried to explain what he was about to do. Vin Tanner looked at him with a vacant stare that spoke volumes and left him feeling shaken. He looked across the bed to Stacey Midland before placing his hand on the tube and looking into the blue eyes once more.
Vin, I want you to cough or breathe out and well have this thing out in no time, Chadwick explained. He saw the eyes blink once and knew the younger man understood what was expected of him. Now, Vin!
Vin closed his eyes and tried to cough as he felt the sickening feeling of the tube being extracted. The pain in his chest was instantaneous and he cried out in spite of his resolve to remain quiet. He heard Stacey Midland speaking to him, but wasnt sure he would have answered even if he could. The room around him faded in and out as he tried to make sense of the agony twisting through his gut. He felt someone touching his arm, but it wasnt until later that he realized theyd given him medication to ease the pain that coursed through his nerves, building to an inferno of agony in his skull. It ended in a white explosion that sent him over the edge and into the pain free world of unconsciousness.
Stacey looked at the monitors and was relieved to see that the numbers were returning to normal. She knew Vin had one hell of a fight ahead of him, and the guilt she felt inside her made her want to scream. So much pain, so many injuries, and yet the bastard who did this to the two men was out there somewhere. The cop at the door was a constant reminder that Chris and Vin were both still targets of a sadistic man hell bent on pitting them against each other.
Stacey, are you all right? Chadwick asked.
Not really, Martin, but right now Im not the one we have to worry about.
I wouldnt say that, Stacey. Come on, I need a coffee. My treat!
All right, Midland said with a small smile. She checked the monitors and the dialysis machine before following Chadwick out of the room. Once in the doctors lounge, Stacey sat wearily on the sofa and rubbed at tired eyes. She leaned her head back and listened to the other physician moving around the room.
Here, Stacey, Chadwick said and sat in the chair opposite her.
Youre welcome, Chadwick studied the woman for several long seconds before speaking again. Youve known Chris and Vin a long time.
You could say that, Midland said.
Are you sure youre not too close in this case? Chadwick asked.
Martin, I care what happens to all my patients!
I know you do, Stacey, its just the decisions you were forced to make would be hard on anyone and they werent normal decisions.
I did what I had to do!
Exactly, so wipe the guilt off your face and do your job! Chadwick said, his smile taking away some of the harshness the words implied.
Shit! Midland said and rested her head back once more. Sometimes I wonder why I ever became a doctor in the first place!
I dont know, but Im glad you did, because youre damn good at it and I dont want to see you throw it away because you feel guilty about a decision made in the heat of the moment in an ER overrun with emergencies.
Thank you, Martin, I needed to hear that!
Youre welcome, Chadwick said and stood up to leave. I guess Ill see you later.
Ill be here at least for another hour, Midland explained. She watched the older physician leave and then let the tension drain from her body. She knew the man was right, but the guilt still nagged at her and probably always would. Finishing the last of her coffee, Stacey stood up and went back to work.
+ + + + + + +
Chris tried to control the pain, but there was no way to do that with the physician probing the wounds. His hand clenched into a fist and grabbed at the sheet underneath him. Since waking his body had been one mass of agony and he knew his injuries were only partially to blame. The nightmares were increasing in strength and frequency and he wished there was something to make them go away. Hed been given the muscle relaxants and pain meds, but there were times when even those didnt give him the relief he wanted, relief that only came with deep, dreamless sleep. At times he heard voices talking to him, but he wouldnt answer his friends, choosing to turn away from the ones he needed more that anything.
Easy, Chris, just lie still, were almost done, Parker explained as he examined the patient. Larabee wouldnt respond to anyone since the painful tremors the day before. Even now with the obvious pain showing on the blonds face and the rigidity of his body, Chris did not speak or ask for anything. He refused to even look at Stacey Midland and Tom knew how hard this was on his colleague. The nurse worked along side him as they changed the IV line that had gone bad.
Chris, Im giving you your pain medication now, Jolene Harding explained and shook her head at the lack of response to her words.
All done, Chris, Parker assured him and lifted the chart. He studied the latest test results and made several new notes explaining what was to be done to ensure his patients recovery continued along these lines. Jolene, if there are any changes have me paged.
Yes, Dr. Parker, the woman said and eased the blanket back over the trembling man before motioning Ezra Standish into the room.
How is he? Standish asked.
Hurting, Harding answered sympathetically, touching her hand against the pale cheek before picking up a cloth and wiping away the moisture that seeped from the tightly clenched eyes.
I believe Mr. Larabee and Mr. Tanner have found out hell is still prevalent on earth, Standish said and knew his words were never truer. The physical injuries were evident and he knew they would heal, but it was the emotional wounds that were festering and threatened to ruin a friendship that had been built on trust. The two men were well known for a connection that transcended the norm, but somehow Robert Tasker had managed to sever that connection as surely as if hed cut it with a knife. He sat down and watched over his friend, silently praying that this was not the end of his family.
+ + + + + + +
Vin felt awareness returning and with it came the loss of everything he held close. No longer could he feel the slightest quicksilver touch of the man he once held closer than a brother. No longer could he seek out the other half of his soul, for that part of him was dead. It died on a table when Larabees own lack of control stabbed him again and again. Now he felt the loneliness and latched onto it in an effort to keep everyone at a distance. He heard a familiar voice and forced his eyes open.
Hello, Vin, how are you feeling? Midland asked.
N not feelin m much of nothin, Tanner answered and shifted slightly on the bed, which set off fireworks and explosions throughout his body. He felt the womans hand on his shoulder and tried to jerk away from her touch. He didnt want her, didnt need anyone, and wished they would all leave him alone.
Vin, just breathe slowly and itll ease up, Midland ordered and thought she heard the young man try to speak. Im sorry, I didnt hear you.
S said Im o kay, the Texan lied.
Sure you are. I just wanted to see how you were doing. Josiah and JD are waiting
G go, Tanner whispered, his eyes opening and shifting toward the door.
I said t tell them, he stopped and breathed in the oxygen supplied by the face mask before finishing. Go. D dont want t to s see them.
They are your friends, Vin, and they are worried about you.
D dont n need them. D dont n need anyone!
Yes, you do, she thought, but kept it to herself. She knew it would take time to heal, both physically and mentally and was glad that Susan James would be involved in Chris and Vins case. She would be there to speak with both men about their experiences and Midland prayed she would be able to get through to them.
Im right here, Vin, Midland answered.
Please tell them to g go away!
You need someone to help you, Vin, Midland explained.
H hire someone, Tanner told her.
No! the Texan said when he heard the familiar voice behind Midland. Get out!
Just g get the f fuck out out of m my
Vin, calm down, Midland ordered.
T tell them t to go! Tanner ordered and tried to turn away.
Josiah, you and JD need to leave! Midland told them.
JD, come on, Sanchez ordered. One look at the blue eyes told him the Texan was deadly serious about their leaving and until Vin was ready to see them, they would have to abide by his wishes.
Josiah, why wont Vin see us? Dunne asked.
JD, Vins been put through hell and right now hes blaming it on Chris.
Why? It wasnt Chris it was that miserable bastard!
Yes, it was, but until Vin is ready to accept our help and forgive Chris for his part in this we have to give him his space.
Jesus, what a fucking mess!
Yes, it is, but somehow well find a way to clean it up. Sanchez stood in front of the window watching as Midland and the nurse tried to make the patient comfortable. He knew the younger man had a long hard road ahead, made even harder now that he refused the help of his friends and blamed Chris Larabee for the hell he was living in.
+ + + + + + +
Chris winced when he tried to sit further up in the bed. Hed been moved out of ICU after spending nearly a week there and was relieved to have a small amount of freedom. There was still a lot of equipment in use, but at least he could see the area around him. He also knew that Tanner was still in ICU, but would be moved to a step down unit the following day. The others told him Vin was doing okay, but he didnt believe them. He knew the Texan blamed him for what happened and knew the young man was right. He was the cause of the sharpshooters pain. He had driven the spikes into his restrained body because he could not control his own reactions to the electrical current running along his nerve endings.
Chris, can I come in?
Larabee blinked back the tears and turned to see a familiar figure standing in the doorway. This woman had talked him through some of the roughest times in his life. Shed seen him at his worst and didnt turn away. She offered him the chance to talk things through without making a judgement, but he did not need her now. He knew he was at fault this time and no amount of talking could change that.
Come on in, Doc, but I dont think you can help me this time no matter what everyone else says, Larabee told her.
Talking always helps, Chris. You just have to be willing to trust me again.
I trust you, Doc, but this time its different.
Different? In what way? Susan James asked and pulled a chair closer to the bed.
This time I am at fault, Doc. Larabee swallowed the painful lump that threatened to choke him and tried to speak once more. I did that to him no amount of talking is going to change that!
Chris, blaming yourself for what happened to Vin isnt going to help. From what your friends told me and what Ive read in both your files, Robert Tasker
Tasker may have set up the test, but Im the one who failed it. I could have stopped those spikes from from, Chris turned away as hatred flared in his eyes. How could he make any of them understand how he felt? How could they know what it was like to nearly kill the other half of his soul? He was the one who weakened each time a jolt raced through his body and because of that, spike after spike was driven into an innocent man.
Chris, blaming yourself for something beyond your control is not going to help
Thats funny, Doc, oh, God, thats so funny, Larabee laughed, a hysterical sound in the quiet room.
Control, Doc, thats something I did have. All I had to do to stop Vin from being hurt was control my own pain, but I couldnt and Vins lying up there fighting for his life and I cant do a fucking thing about it!
Chris, that kind of control goes beyond the norm for any man. Pain is something our mind has no choice but to acknowledge.
You forget I had special training, Doc. I should have been able to ignore the pain and stop what happened to Vin! He trusted me and look what I fucking did to him! Larabees body suddenly began to twitch as if a jolt of electricity raced through his body. Nerve endings snapped with liquid fire and he bucked upwards, his body shaking as he tried once more to control the involuntary reactions to firing synapses. He didnt hear Susan James call for help, but he did feel someone at his IV and soon felt the familiar sensation of medication entering his blood stream. His breathing grew labored as again and again his body reacted to the images now flashing across his mind. Nausea rolled through his stomach and again he tasted blood in his mouth. He spit it out in an effort to rid himself of the unwanted memories that once more threatened to throw him back into a dark abyss.
Tom Parker knew his patient was in trouble and counted the seconds until the medication began to have the desired affect on the injured man. He knew from experience on another case that the muscle spasms and jerking motions were caused by the electric shocks Larabee had been exposed too, and also understood that it could keep happening for a long time.
I dont like his blood pressure readings and his heart rate is too high. Keep an eye on them and let me know if it doesnt level off soon! Parker said and made several notations on Larabees chart.
Yes, doctor, Harding said and reached for the facemask. She knew without asking that the physician would want Larabee back on full oxygen because his levels were way below the norm. As a SICU nurse she knew what was expected of her and excelled at her job.
Ill check back on him before I leave for the day, Parker said before leaving the room.
Harding cared for her patient and made sure the monitoring equipment was recording everything. She motioned for Larabees friend to come back into the room and easily read the worry and fear on the mans face.
Hes sleeping right now, Mr. Standish.
What did Dr. Parker have to say?
He doesnt like the elevated blood pressure or his heart rate.
Mr. Larabee does not know how to do things the easy way, Standish said tiredly. The gambler had never had a real family until he met these men and now he was in danger of losing what he treasured more than anything else in his life. All through his childhood hed tried to fit in, but when he did find his niche in life Maude would come along and pull him away from those he cared about. He knew hed grown cynical through his teen years, but it was a way for him to defend himself from caring about anyone or anything, until the day Chris Larabee had waltzed into his life and showed him he could fit in.
I wont let that bastard destroy my family, Chris, he whispered and rubbed at tired eyes.
+ + + + + + +
Vin distanced himself from everything and everyone who tried to offer comfort in one form or another. He didnt want to let anyone in, to let them see how hurt he was, how his world had once more been torn apart, leaving him with images that he sought to destroy. He felt betrayed and angry. He felt sorrow and remorse, and he felt bitter and filled with rage.
Vin tried to turn onto his side, but was reminded once more of the reason he was in this bed in the hospital and stuck in the SICU. His body ached with a dull throb and he knew without the medication being fed into his body hed be in serious pain, but somehow he would welcome that pain now. It would remind him why hed chosen to be alone and keep a safe distance between himself and the people who tried to worm their way into his life. Hed allowed Chris Larabee to lull him into a false sense of security, but he wouldnt be fooled again. Larabee had been the instigator in all of this and it was because of his trust in the blond that he was lying here hooked up to more machines than hed ever seen before. The beeps, clicks, whines, and shushing noises reminded him of a cartoon hed seen years ago, but it was all too real to him now.
Mr. Tanner, I need to change the bandages on your neck, the nurse said.
Go away, the Texan whispered.
Im afraid I cant do that. This is my job
And this is my fucking body and I dont need you or anyone else touching me! Leave me the hell alone!
Vin glared at the woman as he tried to calm his breathing. Why couldnt these people leave him alone? Couldnt they see he didnt need anyone couldnt need anyone ever again? His chest heaved and he fought to stay conscious as agony twisted like a knife through his ribs. The tubes and leads made it impossible for him to move very much in the bed and he silently cursed his own weakness. He cried out as his body felt ready to explode with agony and felt someone touching his arm. He opened his eyes and looked up at the nurse who seemed to be injecting something in his IV.
That should help, Mr. Tanner. Its also going to make you sleepy so why dont you just close your eyes and Ill finish up with the bandages?
Vin could easily read the sympathy in her eyes, but turned away without saying a word. He didnt want their help or their sympathy. He wanted to be left alone, free of pain, and not have to worry about anyone or anything. His mind began to drift as he felt the nurse touching the bandages on his neck. His eyes closed and he gave in to his bodys need for rest, but Taskers words followed him into the depths of darkness, making him cower away from those who cared about him and closing him off from the life hed once embraced.
+ + + + + + +
You see, Im not going to harm him but you will. You cant seem to protect the ones you love, can you? All you do is hurt them, dont you, Larabee? Did Vins blood taste good, Larabee? Yesterday we talked about lies, remember? You said I was lying, Mr. Tanner. But I ask you. Whos lying now? Im certainly not. Not like Larabee over there Awww yes. I know it hurts, doesnt it? Chris has lied to you, Vin. All these years, he promised you that 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?
Lied Chris lied watch back never never. Lied, he lied, b bastard lied.
Sheila Morris wished there was some way to calm her patient, but since shed come on shift the young man seemed to have been inundated with dreams, or to be more precise nightmares. Shed been a nurse in the SICU for nearly two years now, but this was only her third night at Saint Vincents. Never had she seen someone so beaten. Shed heard stories, but hadnt really believed there could be this much cruelty in the world, and yet shed seen it before, during her time in Viet Nam. She placed her hand against her patients forehead and tried to break through the nightmares that trapped him.
Chris bastard lies always lies
Mr. Tanner, youre safe now. No one is going to hurt you. Ill see that whoever this Chris is he wont get anywhere near you, the nurse soothed. She took a warm washcloth and wiped it gently over the trembling form as she spoke.
Chris Chris lied bastard
Sheila smiled as a pair of blue eyes finally opened and looked at her. She could see the confusion on the face and spoke softly. Youre okay, Mr. Tanner. Youre in the hospital, but youre doing so much better.
Better? C can go home? Tanner whispered, his voice still raspy and dry. The wounds around his throat were still painful and he opened his mouth when she offered him some water.
Now, I didnt say you were miraculously healed, young man, Sheila gently chided.
Hate hos hospitals.
Im sure you do, but they are needed and I believe youre in the best place for you right now. How do you feel? Are you in any pain?
Feel tired. No not really, Tanner lied.
I dont believe you for a minute, the nurse told him.
What t time is it?
Day or n night?
Night, Im afraid you and I are probably the only two people awake right now, Sheila explained and changed the empty bag of IV solution over his head.
Hate sl sleep. Dreams, Tanner told her.
The worst kind. Man I thought was a brother did this the Texan said, gritting his teeth as pain washed over him once more.
I take it this friends name was Chris?
Yeah it was. W wont be f fooled again, Tanner assured the woman.
Ill see that he doesnt get in here. Now why dont you close your eyes and sleep. No one can get to you here, Sheila explained and watched the blue eyes slowly close. No one will hurt you on my watch, she vowed, unaware that just down the hall Chris Larabee was locked in his own version of hell.
+ + + + + + +
Did Vins blood taste good, Larabee? Ill bet it was sweet, wasnt it? I know that was just an appetizer, but Ill make sure youre able to feast on it tomorrow.
The words followed him from his nightmares and he tried to breathe past the familiar pain that was always there, always constant. Chris opened his eyes to the all too familiar feel of tremors coursing through his body. It started in his hands, working its way along the nerves until exploding in an all out convulsion that shook him against the bed.
No! NO! Cant cant control have t to control. STOP! TASKER! Bastard! He jerked against the restraints and tried to come off the bed, but his body twisted until white-hot fire engulfed it and burned deep into his soul. There were people in the room with him, but he could not find the strength to acknowledge them as he fought to get past the pain and treachery he felt. Hed nearly killed the other half of his soul and now he was paying for it, and with every firing synapse, he felt and heard Vin Tanners soul shattering cries of pain.
God help me! he cried and felt a hand placed on his chest. The tremors continued, increasing and decreasing with each beat of his heart, driving home the reality of his betrayal. He tasted blood and his stomach churned when he looked into a pair of blue eyes that were filled with insurmountable pain. For a second he thought they belonged to a certain Texan, but his eyes finally focused and he saw the hurt was real.
Hold on, Chris. The nurse is giving you a muscle relaxant, the ladies man explained and gripped his friends hand in his own. Larabees right arm was in a cast and he knew it would be a long time before the blond regained full use of it, but he would. Somehow, Buck knew no matter how bad things got their friendship and unique brotherhood of seven would survive. He would see that it did no matter what it took.
Buck Jesus, Buck, dont l let dont let them do it! Larabee cried, as his body grew rigid and arched upwards with the force of the spasms.
Do what, Pard? Tell me and I swear to God Ill find a way to make it happen!
Vin Vins blood. D dont let t them g give it to m me. N needs it God I k killed him I I
Chris, listen to me! the worried rogue ordered and wished he could get through to the blond, but it seemed as though Chris had locked himself away from those around him. He breathed a sigh of relief as the muscle relaxant seemed to take hold and Larabee dropped back to the bed as if an electrical current had been shut down. Thats exactly whats happened, he thought angrily. He heard a raspy cough and reached for the cup on the table and offered it to his long time friend.
P please, Buck, d dont m make me d drink it
Its just water, Chris, Wilmington explained, confused by Larabees reaction to the cup.
Not water blood Vins blood! Vins blood cant d drink cant cant. Oh, God, Buck, dont make me d drink it!
Wilmington threw the cup across the room and reached for the trembling man. He understood why Larabee reacted to the cup of water and wondered if theyd ever get him past it. Again he thought about what he would do to Tasker if he ever found him. The man had nearly destroyed Chris Larabee when hed subjected Richard Powell to similar pain reactive treatment as hed given Vin Tanner, but there was one major difference. Buck felt his stomach churn at the thought of what Tasker had done this time by using spikes. Ignoring the tubes and leads, Buck pulled the blond close, with his left arm and felt the tremors against his chest. Chris was stronger than anyone hed ever known, and yet his heart had been broken and now his resolve had been shattered.
Ill tear you apart, Tasker, so help me God Ill see you in hell for this! Wilmington vowed silently as he felt the blond go slack in his arms. He knew by the beeping of the monitors that Larabee was sleeping, but he was unwilling to release his grip, afraid his long time friend would not be able to live with the horror of what had been done to him, to Vin, to them all.
+ + + + + + +
Stacey Midland folded her arms and stared out over the city as another day drew to a close. So many people were leaving their normal nine to five jobs and would soon be at home with the family they loved. She knew she should have left hours ago, but shed called her brother and told him she would be late. James had grown so much since the accident that had left Chris Larabee with a broken leg and she loved him dearly. He was planning on entering med school and for that she was also thankful, yet there was a part of her that wished he would change his mind and find something that would allow him regular hours and far less stress than what her profession entailed. She heard a soft knock on the door and turned to see Tom Parker enter.
Hi, Tom, are the others with you?
They should be here shortly. Have you eaten yet?
I had a sandwich
That was hours ago, Stacey. Look, I know youre trying hard to distance your self from whats happening with Chris and Vin and I know damn well its harder on you than youre letting on.
Tom, I dont treat them any different than I do my other patients.
We both know thats not true, Stace, because if it was you wouldnt be having such a hard time with the decision you made. I know it doesnt make it any better, but you did make the right choice. Chris was already in surgery and without that blood he would have died.
Tom, Midland said, speaking around the lump in her throat. Youve treated Chris and Vin before. Hell, I think every doctor and nurse in this hospital has probably had a hand in treating them. What if I made the wrong decision, Tom? What if I cost Vin Tanner his life?
Youre the one whos there to pick up the pieces. Youre the one who makes the final decision in treatment and so many things were against you the day they came in. I dont think there was a right or wrong decision in this case. You made the decision in the heat of the moment and for all its worth I believe it was the right one.
Thanks, Tom, Midland said, looking toward the door as it opened and Susan James, Martin Chadwick, and Brandon Silverman joined them. She knew the trio had been in to see their patients and this meeting was to discuss the next stages of treatment.
Stacey, are you okay?
Im fine, Susan, Midland said and couldnt help but laugh at the use of those words. Words shed heard so often from the members of The Firm that they held little meaning any more.
Seems those two are rubbing off on you, Stacey, Susan James said with a grin as they moved to the conference room opposite Midlands office. She knew about the decision in the ER and the ramifications that resulted from it and would speak with Midland when the meeting adjourned. Susan moved to the coffee pot and poured five cups before returning to the table and placing the tray at the center. James watched the others opening their files and placed her notes in front of her before sitting down.
Susan, did you get a chance to speak with Chris and Vin? Parker asked.
I stopped by to see Vin several times, but hes not being very talkative and sleeps most of the time, James explained and opened her notebook. Ive seen Chris just once so far and Im sure you know how much guilt hes shouldering over this.
Between the two of them they have the market cornered on that one, Midland agreed.
Yes, well, Chris seems to think he should have been able to stop what happened to Vin, the psychiatrist told them.
I dont see how he comes to that conclusion. From what Ive seen and heard about Taskers layout there was no way in hell Chris could have stopped this from happening, Chadwick assured them.
Martin, how long have you been at Saint Vincents? Silverman asked.
A little less than six months, Chadwick answered bewildered.
Ah, that explains it, Parker said with a grin.
You havent been around long enough to know these guys, Parker answered. They are seven members of an elite team called The Firm. Its owned and operated by a man named Orrin Travis. He hired Chris Larabee and then gave him carte blanche to pick out a team of professionals who could do things that no one else has been able to. Larabee handpicked his team and theres not a better agency than this one and they look after their own. If ones hurt the others are close by to make damn sure nothing goes wrong.
Close bunch? Chadwick asked.
You wont find a closer bunch and in the case of Vin Tanner and Chris Larabee youre talking as close as brothers could ever be. Dont get me wrong, Martin, the seven men together are unstoppable, but theres something about Larabee and Tanner that defies description, Midland answered.
Sounds like the type of friends everyone needs, Chadwick observed.
Exactly, James told him. Chris told me because of his training he should have been able to control his own reaction to the pain and stop Vin from being hurt. From what we know Chris was enduring electrical shocks that surpassed the safe levels and could have caused permanent damage.
Actually, Susan, it may have done just that, Parker explained and opened his file to his latest notes. The electrical shocks are having an adverse affect on Chris. Weve had to put him on Soma with codeine in order to help him deal with the tremors.
We also have to deal with the muscle and nerve damage to his leg. Physiotherapy is going to be painful and its going to take a lot of work on his part, Silverman told them.
How long before hes released? James asked.
Well, we moved him out of ICU two days ago and Physiotherapy starts tomorrow. Id say were looking at another four or five days possibly as long as a week, Midland explained.
Does Chris know? the psychiatrist asked.
Not yet. Im going to speak with him tomorrow morning, Midland answered.
All right, James said. We also have to deal with Chris nightmares. Stacey, I believe you mentioned that Tasker forced Chris to drink Vins blood.
Yes, but thats not the only reason for the nightmares. As you all know when they were brought in we were dealing with a backlog of injuries from several emergencies and it seriously depleted our blood supply. Chris was already in surgery when we were notified and I had to make a snap decision. I believe part of Chris nightmares stem from that as well as what Tasker forced him to do.
Stacey, you made a decision and for what its worth I think it was the right one.
Listen to Dr. James, Stacey, she knows what shes talking about, Parker said.
What about Vin? How is he doing? James asked.
Hes not saying much and the medications are keeping the pain under control. He also starts physiotherapy tomorrow and well be working on getting him mobile. Thats going to take a long time and I believe Orrin Travis has arranged for a wheelchair for his personal use, Chadwick answered.
The wheelchair was delivered this afternoon, Midland told them.
How did he react to that? James asked.
He didnt react at all. Vins withdrawn from everyone around him. He refuses to see anyone including the members of his team.
Thats normal in this situation, Stacey. Id be surprised if he wasnt withdrawn. Hes dealing with a lot of pain and on top of that hes been convinced that Chris did this to him. Does he know what Tasker did to Chris? James asked.
I dont think so, Chadwick shook his head and moved to refill his coffee cup. Vin isnt talking about anything and hes ignoring anyone who tries to engage him in any sort of conversation. Im finding it hard to get him to tell me whether hes in pain or not.
Vins always been close-lipped when it comes to pain, Martin, hell never admit to needing help, Parker told his colleague.
Its going to take a miracle to get them through this, Silverman said.
This team is a miracle, Brandon, and Im not giving up on them, Midland stated. If theres nothing more Im going to head for home and hopefully have dinner with my brother.
How is James doing, Stacey? the psychiatrist asked.
Hes doing very well. You know hes been working with Chris and helping him with the chores around the ranch.
Yes, I remember.
Stacey, Ill see you at rounds tomorrow, Parker said.
Thanks for your input, Midland said tiredly.
Stacey, get some rest, Silverman ordered and nodded to James before leaving the room.
Im going to check with my service before I leave. Stacey, Susan, if theres anything else you can think of dont hesitate to call, Chadwick said.
Thank you, Martin, Midland said and soon found herself alone with Susan James.
Stacey, how are you doing?
Im tired, Susan.
I can see that. You do realize the others are right and the decision you made was the only one that made sense?
Tell that to Chris and Vin, Susan, Midland snapped and sat back at the table.
I will when they are strong enough to listen, James told her friend. Theyd been working together since another madman had tortured Chris Larabee in a twisted form of revenge against Vin Tanner. Through the years theyd developed a rapport that made them friends and confidants.
Do you think theyll be okay? I dont mean physically, Susan, God knows theyve got a lot of healing to do.
Theyve been through hell several times over and made it back, Stacey. Theres something about their friendship that just cant be broken at least not permanently. Have faith in them and in yourself because youve helped them through before and sooner or later theyll need you.
Theyll need you too, Susan, Midland said.
Ill be here, James assured her. Now why dont you get out of here and check on that brother of yours?
I will, Susan, thank you for understanding.
Anytime, Stacey. Good night, James said with a grin before leaving the weary physician alone.
Stacey Midland rubbed her eyes and rinsed her empty coffee cup before leaving the conference room. She grabbed her jacket and gloves and walked toward the stairs. Chris and Vin had both been moved to new rooms on the third floor, but unlike the other times they were not together. She hurried down the stairs and pushed through the door before walking along the corridor toward room 310. She didnt enter the room, but stood watching the nurse as she cared for Vin Tanner.