Five days, Chris thought. Has it really been five days? Chris ran his fingers through his hair. He knew he looked a wreck. He hadn't left Vin's side in all that time. He looked at the younger man and sighed. Vin was asleep again after another session draining the chest tubes. The intervals between sessions had gotten longer. The first few days the nurses came every few hours to drain them. Chris was helpless to ease Vin's pain, but he was there for the emotional support. The nurses were thankful for the help. Vin was heavier then he looked. A few sessions they had to literally lift the younger man into place the pain was so bad.
Chris wet a cloth and wiped Vin's face and neck. Vin stirred but didn't wake up. He was careful around the central line in Vin's neck. The area around it was black and blue. The other member of the team had tried to get Chris to leave but he wouldn't. He had left once and Vin woke up looking for him. Josiah couldn't get him to calm down and the nurses were forced to sedate him. After that Chris stayed. As Chris ran the cool cloth along Vin's arm he thought back to the bust. All he could remember was Vin tackling him. Finding out he had been shot, and that horrible ambulance ride... He sat down carefully next to Vin. Chris looked down at the too-pale face and placed his hand on his cheek.
"Why Vin? My sorry hide wasn't worth all this," Chris sighed and closed his eyes.
"It was to me," Vin said in a tired voice.
"All of this was worth it?"
"I didn't want to loose you, Chris. I knew we had a connection the first time I saw you. It was like finding my other half. A part I didn't know I was missing until then."
Chris smiled at him and brushed the hair out of his eyes. He didn't know how to answer him. All those emotions of caring had been dead since Sarah and Adam were killed. Now Vin had started him feeling again and he didn't know what to do. Vin seemed to sense his dilemma and took his hand and smiled. Chris looked into his tired eyes and saw compassion and acceptance.
"Go back to sleep," Chris smiled.
Vin closed his eyes and drifted back to sleep. Chris got comfortable in the chair and fell asleep. He was awakened when he heard voices. He opened his eyes to see Buck sitting on the bed by Vin's feet. Buck was afraid to get close to all the wires and tubes. Vin understood and was always glad to see the boisterous older agent. Buck was telling another of his wild stories and Vin just smiled and shook his head. Vin knew he was awake and glanced at him rolling his eyes. Buck noticed and squeezed his leg.
"What, you don't believe me?"
"You're so full of it, Buck," Vin laughed then regretted it as the tubes shifted and he gasped.
"Easy Vin," said Chris squeezing his hand. It had been good to hear him laugh, but not if it hurt.
"Sorry Vin," said Buck
"Ouch!" Vin grimaced then smiled. "Not your fault."
Buck looked at his old friend. He knew Chris hadn't left Vin's side in almost a week. Chris's hair was in a desperate need of washing. His clothes were a little better since they had brought him some new ones. He looked haggard and had dark circles under his eyes. Buck glanced at Vin and he didn't look much better. The newest member to the team still looked pale, but not the deathly look of a few days ago. He saw that the areas around the different needles were all bruised, the dark purple bruises garish on his pale skin. Buck wasn't sure how much more the two of them could take. Buck joined the conversation when he heard Chris telling Vin about some of their adventures in the old days. Suddenly Vin tensed when Dr. Elliot and one of the nurses walked in. Chris just glared.
"Relax," smiled Dr. Elliot. "I just got back some tests we ran after your last session. Your blood gases are all back to normal. We came to take the chest tubes out."
"It's gonna hurt, ain't it?" Vin asked in a quiet voice.
"It's nothing compared to what you've been through," she explained. "Just a little uncomfortable."
"I'll wait outside," Buck said getting up.
"You don't have to Mr. Wilmington," she said. "Why don't you take a hold of his other hand. Vin I'm going to have Kathy give you a shot of Demerol to make this more pleasant."
Buck moved carefully to Vin's side. He took Vin's left hand and Chris had his right. Dr. Elliot and the nurse pulled on surgical gloves and prepared the things they needed. Kathy came over to Vin and injected him in the hip.Vin was starting to breathe a little faster and he had a death grip a both their hands. The doctor walked over to Chris's side first. She carefully pulled off the tape holding the tube in place. Kathy handed her gauze and she placed it over the tube.
"OK, Mr. Tanner, when I tell you, I want you to take a breath then hold it," she explained. "Are you ready?"
He nodded and she told him 'now'. He took a breath and held it. The doctor started to pull the tubes out. Vin flattened himself on the pillow and squeezed both of their hands tighter. Even with the extra painkillers it still hurt like hell. Once the tube was out, she sealed the wound and told him to breathe. He let out a shuddering breath and gulped in another one. While he was getting his breathing back under control she cleaned the wound and bandaged it. When he was back in control she went around to Buck's side and did the same thing.
"That's it," she smiled.
She saw that he was still in some pain and hit the button to deliver an extra dose of the painkiller from the epidural.. She nodded in satisfaction when he took a deep breath and relaxed. Chris looked at her and smiled. She smiled back and left the room. It didn't take long before Vin fell asleep. Buck disengaged his hand and walked over to Chris. As he walked over he reached in his pants pocket and pulled out his keys.
"Here, Chris," He said handing him the keys. "Go over to the loft and get some sleep. Take a shower and relax."
"I can't, I have...." he didn't finish as Buck cut him off.
"No, what you have to do is let the rest of us watch Vin for awhile. Now that the tubes are out there's no need for you to be here all the time. The kid wouldn't want you getting sick."
"You're right," Chris reluctantly agreed and took the keys.
"I don't want to see you here for at least eight hours. If I do we're going to tangle. Now go on, me and the kid will be fine."
Chris went out the door. Once outside he turned to look back in the window. Buck took his seat and picked up Vin's hand. He got comfortable and grabbed the remote to turn on the TV. Chris knew Vin was safe with Buck and left the hospital.
+ + + + + + +
The next couple of days they each took turns watching Vin. Since the doctor had removed the chest tubes Vin's health had improved. Chris had been staying at Buck's and trying to catch up on his sleep. The others commented he looked 100% better, including Vin. Chris was coming back from one of his stays at Buck's. He walked into the CCU and saw Buck flirting with the nurses.
"If he's bothering you I can have him arrested," Chris commented as he came closer.
"That's alright, Mr. Larabee we can handle him," Regina laughed.
"Dr. Elliot and Kathy are in there now checking him over," Buck answered. "That's why I'm out here with the Regina."
Chris walked in the room to find the doctor checking the incision on Vin's shoulder. When Vin saw him he smiled. Chris walked over and stood on his left side.
"You're looking better," Chris commented.
"He's doing just fine," Dr. Elliot said. "I'm going to release him from CCU. I just came to unhook him from all the equipment."
Chris could see that she had removed the epidural and the central line already. He hid a smile when Kathy went to remove the catheter and Vin blushed. During the week Chris had learned this streetwise tough-as-nails young man was incredibly shy. He had also learned that Vin hated to be fussed over. When Vin looked at him and saw he was smiling he blushed even more. Chris just shook his head. She finished what she was doing then turned to Chris.
"I'm going to make arraingements for a room," she said as she walked out the door.
"How are you feeling?" Chris asked.
"Right," Chris said. He had learned that 'fine' meant just the opposite.
"Hey Kid!" Buck exclaimed when he entered. "Wow you look almost human without all those tubes and things sticking out of you."
"Thanks. You really know how to make a guy feel better."
They stayed with Vin until the doctor returned. Chris was releived to see that Vin was feeling well enough to trade barbs with Buck.
"All right, the new room is all set up," she said as she walked in. "Let's get you settled in."
She unhooked the IV and placed it at Vin's side. She unhooked him from the heart monitor but left the pads in place. When everything was in order she pulled up the safety bars on the side of the bed and they wheeled him out. The nurses at the station said good-bye and wished him luck. His new room was down on the third floor. They wheeled the gurney next to the bed. Chris and Buck helped transfer him into it. Vin clenched his jaw and groaned when they lifted him. Once settled, she hooked him back up to the heart monitor and hung the IV from the stand. She replaced the nasal cannula and started the oxygen. The doctor went over to the table and came back with a pill.
"What is it?" Vin asked panting.
"A pain killer," she answered.
Chris was surprised when he took it without an argument. Buck said he had to get back to the office and that he'd see him later. The doctor left after she made sure he was comfortable. Chris took a seat next to the bed.
"Vin, I need to ask you something," Chris said.
"Why didn't you tell me you were dyslexic?"
"I don't know what you men," Vin lied.
Chris handed him the two notes he had written and he crumpled them in his fist.
"Why didn't you tell me?" Chris asked and Vin shrugged his left shoulder. "It wouldn't have made a difference in hiring you. It's nothing to be ashamed of."
"Easy for you to say," Vin sighed.
"When did you find out?"
"In high school." he answered. " If I concentrate there's no problem."
"I never would have known except for those two notes."
"Thanks to the drugs now everyone knows," Vin said angrily.
"No, just me and it doesn't matter. We'll work around it."
"Why don't you get some sleep. I better make an appearance at the office or I'll be out of a job. I'll be back later."
Chris could tell the move had tired Vin. He only waited a short time and he was asleep. Chris pulled the blankets carefully over the pads for the chest monitor then left to go to the office.
+ + + + + + +
Three weeks later Chris pulled his Ram into the hospital parking lot. They were releasing Vin today and it had been decided he would stay with Chris until he recovered. Vin would have been released earlier but he developed a low-grade fever and the doctor had kept him longer. As Vin regained his strength he had become surly and argumentative with everyone. They had all been patient with him but even Josiah had been at wits end. Chris walked to Vin's room to find him trying to get dressed on his own. Chris had gone to his apartment the day before and packed a bag for him. He watched as Vin stubbornly tried to get his shirt on. This wasn't easy because the doctor had completely immobilized his right arm and shoulder.
"Need some help?"
"I reckon," Vin said with a sigh.
Chris walked in front of Vin and pulled the shirt over his bandaged shoulder. He buttoned it and stepped back. He noticed that Vin hadn't been able to get the zipper up on his jeans. Chris quickly grabbed it and pulled it up before Vin could protest. He also did the button and stepped back. Chris could see the flush on Vin's face but ignored it. He could see that the jeans hung loosely on the lean sharpshooter. He had lost about ten pounds while recovering in the hospital. Vin sat on the bed and went to pull on his cowboy boots. Leaning all the way over hurt too much and he sat back up wincing. Chris grabbed the boots and put them on. Once they were on Vin stood up and headed for the door.
"Hold on there," Chris said grabbing his good arm. "You just can't walk out."
"Watch me," he said and pulled out of Chris's grasp.
Chris didn't want to fight him so he let him go but stayed close. Vin pulled open the door and walked out. He went towards the nurse's station.
"Mr. Tanner, what do you think you're doing?" one of the nurses said rushing over to him.
"I'm leaving," he stated trying to move around her. "I signed myself out. My ride's here, so I'm going."
"The doctor said she wanted to see you before you left," she explained, keeping a hold on him. "Mr. Larabee, talk to him!"
"Don't try it, Chris, I'm not....." Vin said but didn't finish as he swayed on his feet. Chris grabbed him before he could go down.
"You are so pig headed!" Chris stated.
The nurse ran to get a wheel chair and they lowered him into it. Vin leaned his head on his good arm and waited for the room to stop spinning.
"Let's get him back to his room," suggested the nurse.
"NO!" Vin cried. "I'm all right. I just want to get out of here."
"Trying to leave so quickly, Mr. Tanner," said Dr. Elliot as she walked over.
"Yes, God damn it!"
"What happened?" she asked Chris.
"He walked out here on his own and had a dizzy spell."
"That's because he moved too fast. He's going to have to take it easy for few days. His body isn't used to this much activity."
"I'm FINE!" Vin yelled, but they ignored him.
"Don't worry, I'll watch him," Chris assured her.
"Well, since he's this far already, I guess you might as well go," she said. "Here's his pain meds and antibiotics."
The nurse wheeled Vin to the entrance. She waited by the curb while Chris drove the SUV over. They got Vin into the vehicle. Chris buckled him in but put the shoulder strap behind his back. He climbed in the driver's side then pulled into traffic. Vin was quiet for the ride out and Chris thought he had fallen asleep. When he pulled into the driveway Chris noticed Vin sit up.
"This all yours?" he asked indicating the corals on either side of the drive and the surrounding acres.
"Yup. Do you ride?"
"I grew up in Texas." he answered as if that explained everything. "How many you have?"
Chris watched as Vin saw the stallion. He hadn't seen him smile like that in a while. Chris pulled up to the house and parked. He went around to the passenger side and helped Vin out. They went into the house and Chris got him settled on the couch. Chris explained his room was the first one on the left. Vin nodded leaned back on the couch and closed his eyes. Chris decided he would fall asleep and headed for his computer to get some work done. Vin waited a few minutes after he left the room then got up and went out the back door. A few hours later Chris was interrupted by someone ringing the bell. He went to answer the door and noticed Vin wasn't on the couch. He opened the door to find Buck standing there with beer and chips.
"Where are the others?"
"They're coming. Josiah needed to pick up some stuff. Where's the kid?"
"Sleeping," Chris said. "Why don't you put that stuff in the kitchen. I'm going to check him."
Buck nodded and headed for the kitchen. Chris walked down the hall to the spare bedroom. He opened the door and found it empty.
"Shit!" Chris exclaimed. "BUCK!"
"What's wrong?" Buck asked
"What? It's impossible. Your truck's still here."
"Damn! The horses!" Chris yelled and ran out the back door.
Buck had never seen Chris this worried. He ran after him. Chris stopped by the corral and looked around. He saw some of the horses over by the food through. He looked closer and saw a boot sticking out from behind it. He cursed and jumped over the fence. Buck had seen it also and was right behind him. They scared the horses and they went racing off. They got to the younger man and saw he was sleeping against the trough. Chris knelt next to him and shook his left shoulder. Vin woke with a start and looked in to Chris's eyes. He knew he was in trouble. He glanced at Buck for support.
"Don't give me those baby blues," Buck laughed. "You have to answer to him."
"What the hell do you think you're doing?" Chris asked angrily.
"I just came down to see them. It was a longer walk than I thought. Just thought I sit and take a rest before walking back. Hadn't planned on falling asleep"
"Do I have to tie you up to keep you in place?"
"I reckon." Vin said with a smile.
"Quit your smiling, Buck, and help me get him up."
Chris grabbed Vin's good arm and Buck grabbed his belt and they pulled him to his feet. Vin winced as the move jarred his shoulder and Chris said it served him right. Vin rolled his eyes and Buck burst out laughing.
"The two of you are going to butt heads for the next two weeks, I can see it now," Buck laughed.
They got Vin back to the house and on the couch. Chris went into the kitchen for a beer. Vin tried to get his boots off but was having trouble when Buck grabbed them and pulled them off. Chris came back in and handed a beer to Buck. Vin asked where his was. Chris said no way not with the medications. Vin sulked. An hour later Josiah and Nathan arrived with KFC. They all arraigned themselves in front of the TV and turned on the football game. They ate and joked about the awful defense. Chris was glad to see that Vin had eaten fairly well tonight. The game was just starting the third quarter when Chris felt Vin lean his head on his shoulder. Chris looked and saw he was asleep. He knew the position couldn't be very comfortable for him so he grabbed his shoulders and lowered him to sleep with his head on his thigh. He glanced at Buck when he picked Vin's feet off the floor and put them on the couch next to him. Vin squirmed around and got comfortable.
"Josiah, throw me that blanket behind you," Buck said indicating the Indian blanket.
"Wouldn't it be better to get him to bed?" he asked as he threw the blanket.
"Nah, he looks downright comfortable," Buck disagreed as he cover the injured sharpshooter.
They went back to watching the game. Buck glanced over at Chris and watched him brush the hair off Vin's face then pull the blanket up higher. Buck thought he would never see that look on Chris's face again. Vin had brought back the old Chris that Buck used to know. He gave Vin's foot a squeeze and thought, You done good kid.