As promised, the nurse returned to turn off the water torture after the prescribed 15 minutes. Chris refused to be removed as they prepared Vin to be moved to his room. Chris followed them closely through the corridors to the new room and moved over to sit by the bed as Vin was settled onto it. Vin was a mess. The saline has saturated his hair, turning it into long strings of curls. His eyes were reddened and teary, the damp lashes standing out against the pale waxy face. The promised nausea had started, requiring the oxygen mask to be exchanged for a nasal cannula.
The medication to ease the coughing made Vin drowsy. He woke enough to realise he was about to be sick and desperately hoped that the blurry object to the side was a basin. He felt an arm go around the back of his shoulders and support him as he turned to the side.
"You'll be okay Vin."
Chris looked around for a towel or a face cloth. A nurse had entered the room and brought a damp cloth from the bathroom.
"Thanks for that," she said to Chris with a smile. "This will just be the beginning," she added removing the dish and wiping Vin's face gently.
Chris watched as Vin pulled away, appearing to be embarrassed by the whole procedure.
"I'll look after him," he offered. He knew Tanner was at his limit and he wanted to at least save him from the hands of more strangers.
"Well, it would be a help. We're a little short staffed today. Call me if you need anything and I'll keep checking in."
"No problem." Chris reassured her.
"Is a problem." Vin rasped out.
"No it's not. You just stay quiet." He reached out to move Vin onto his back again, but Vin resisted.
"Better here," he mumbled. He had stayed on his side, knees drawn up.
"Okay." Chris pulled the blanket back up to Vin's shoulder, unconsciously smoothing it down as if to tuck it in.
Chris became concerned as Vin continued to drift near sleep only to be drawn back to awareness when his stomach spasmed and the heaving returned. He called the nurse back and reached for the damp cloth to again wipe the sweaty pale face. He would have laughed if anyone had told him six months ago he would be holding back the hair of one of his men as he threw up. Instead, he found some solace in being able to ease Vin's pain in some way. It had been a long time since he'd cared about anyone else's pain.
The nurse arrived with Josiah and Nathan at her heels.
"He just keeps vomiting. Can't you stop this?" Chris asked, the worry clear in his voice.
"I'll check with the doctor and see if they can prescribe something," she replied as she turned and left.
Movement from Vin had Chris reaching for a bowl with a practiced hand.
"Is he doing this a lot?" Nathan asked.
"About every 20 minutes. Isn't much of anything left inside him. Can't they stop this?" Chris was concerned that Vin was now barely aware of what was going on around him.
"It's his body's natural reaction to poison." Nathan explained.
The Doctor arrived and moved over to check Vin. Nathan helped him roll Vin onto his back causing Vin to moan quietly in protest at the movement.
"We can start him on an anti-emetic to help with the nausea, but I'm afraid we'll still have to wait at least another hour. The muscle relaxants may also suppress his respiratory system, so I want his chest to clear more." The Doctor saw the distress on the faces of those in the room. "I'm sorry, it's the best we can do."
Movement from Vin had swift hands rolling him to his side. Vin had been reduced to painful dry heaves. He heard new voices around him and wished they'd all leave him alone in his misery. His chest still felt heavy, like he had to push and pull the air through his lungs. This just about topped off one of the worst weeks in his life. He drifted off again, deciding to ignore the voices around him.
"Do you want to take a break Chris," Josiah offered.
"No, I'll stay with him. You might as well head back to the office. I'm not going anywhere for a while."
"Okay. You'll probably have a relief shift coming over in a couple more hours."
Josiah and Nathan had returned to the office to complete their reports and update the team.
Chris turned at the sound to find Ezra entering the door carrying two cups of hot coffee. He accepted one of the cups gratefully and answered the unspoken question in Ezra's eyes as he looked toward the figure on the bed.
"He's doing okay. He's just exhausted now. The drugs and the vomiting have pretty much wiped him out."
"Why don't I sit with him and you can get breakfast." Chris checked his watch and realised it was early morning. Chris had called the rest of the team last night and told them to head home. After the first few hours Vin had settle into an exhausted sleep, so there was nothing they could do at the hospital. Some of the team would need to appear at work the next day. Chris was grateful for the chance to get cleaned up and eat, but he was surprised by Ezra's early arrival. He knew Vin and Ezra had begun to form a strange relationship. Their resident undercover specialist had joined the team after problems in the FBI. While Chris believed little that the FBI told him, he was still wary of Standish. It had relieved him to watch Tanner accept Standish without hesitation. Although he'd known Tanner only a short time, he trusted the younger man's street-smart instincts.
"I'll be back in a couple of hours. Thanks." Chris raised his coffee cup in salute, and headed out.
Vin woke, sensing the change around him. His eyelids were heavy but he forced them open only to start his eyes stinging in protest. Vin heard the rustle of paper and moved his eyes toward the sound. He was please that his vision had cleared and could now recognise Ezra sitting across from him.
Ezra noticed the small movement from the bed. The blue slits widened until Ezra could see the red-streaked eyes, the dark shadows under them standing out harshly on the pallid face.
"Hey Ez," the greeting came out muffled and scratched causing the other occupant of the room to wince in sympathy. Ezra brought a plastic cup and straw into Vin's sight and he drank, grateful for the cool liquid on his throat.
Vin was relieved that the nausea seemed to have passed. A tug on his right arm showed an IV had been inserted. He frowned, trying to recall when that had happened.
Ezra watched the progress of Vin's thoughts across his face until they stopped at the offending object just above his wrist.
"Fluids Mr. Tanner. You were dehydrating," Ezra explained.
"Oh. Guess that's okay. When can I go?"
"I don't have an exact date, but I believe you will be released tomorrow morning."
Ezra watched as Vin's eyes turned toward the narrow window in the corner where the morning sun was just squeezing down between the neighbouring building.
"Do you want to exchange desks?" Ezra suddenly asked.
"What?" Vin knew his thoughts were a little slow since waking, but Ezra clearly made no sense.
"I've noticed you spend an inordinate amount of time looking out the window and your desk currently faces the wall. I thought perhaps you would prefer my desk as it sits in front of the window."
"Ya sure? I'd appreciate it," Vin replied, surprised at the sudden offer.
"I'm quite sure Mr Tanner."
"Do have a first name Ez."
"And I have two syllables in mine Mr Tanner."
Vin just smiled, knowing neither of them would win this argument. He turned the office arrangement over in his head for a few moments.
"The fire door," Vin accused.
Ezra just returned a sly smile.
"If you've just plotted the lines of sight in our office, then I must assure you my offer to exchange desks is a purely magnanimous gesture. It is in no way influenced by the proximity of the fire stairs and the lack of direct vision to our esteemed leaders office door."
Vin was a frequent user of the stairwell access himself. Sharing a common work space with five others was often too noisy and enclosing for him. He would take his current paperwork and coffee and escape to the roof. His return was often ignored as the others assumed his coffee cup indicated he had just stepped from the break room door instead of the fire door. It had apparently not gone as unnoticed as he had thought.
"I'll still allow you discreet access of course," Ezra offered graciously.
"Mighty kind of ya Ez." Vin's voice had become hoarse again and his eyelids drooped. Ezra settled his New York Times open and prepared for Vin to drift away again.
+ + + + + + +
Buck strode into the hospital determined to confront Chris. As he approached Tanner's room he saw Chris heading toward the same place. Intercepting him outside the door, Buck thrust a sheet of paper at him.
"Weapons the same as we took from Flannery in the bust have appeared on the street."
"What, our three missing crates turned up?"
"No. The warehouse search won't be completed until the end of the day. These weapons were taken from the gang that Tanner was picked up with on Sunday."
"Buck..." Chris warned.
"I'm not the only one who's gonna see a connection. He even admitted he was down there before the bust."
"Are these the same type of weapons, or weapons that came from our shipment?"
"Can't tell unless those missing crates turn up intact." Chris head the doubt in Bucks voice of that event occurring.
Larabee had had enough. He grabbed Buck by the arm and propelled him through the door to the stairwell.
"What the hell has been going on with you. I'm the one who's always been the hard bastard. Why are you doing this?"
Buck hesitated to explain, unsure of his reasons himself.
"I'm only looking out for you," Buck started to explain.
"Buck, I know you think you're looking out for me, but you're hurting Vin in the process. We're still friends after all the crap we've been through, but if you keep on with this you're going to cross a line with me." Chris warned.
"Are we?" Buck asked, having been handed an opening for the question that had been plaguing him recently.
"Are we what?" Chris returned, confused.
"Shit Buck! Yes. You sound like a damned eight year old. Where did this come from?"
"Well things haven't really been the same as they used to be," Buck defended.
"We've changed and our friendship changed along the way, but it's still strong. Vin didn't replace you."
"You allow him closer than I've ever seen you let anyone."
Chris sighed, uncertain how to explain this without hurting his longest friend.
"I didn't allow him to get close Buck because there never as any distance. I can't really explain it. I feel like I've known him all my life, that maybe he could be family."
Chris laughed at Buck's expression.
"No, not that either of my parents strayed. Just more like a brother. What about JD? He's moved in with you now. Don't tell me you don't think you've just adopted a kid brother."
"That's not the same Chris. JD's young. He needs someone to watch out for him," Buck defended.
"Isn't it? You say you know Vin's history. I'd suggest you take a closer look at those files and then take a good look at Vin. JD's not the only one who could use a little watching out for."
Chris's phone interrupted them. Nathan was reporting that the missing crates had been located at the warehouse - intact. Chris passed the news on to Buck.
"This ends now," Chris demanded.
Buck considered Chris's steadfast defence of Vin and the way he'd hovered protectively here at the hospital. If this had been about JD he'd have decked Larabee by now. Chris was right when he called JD his kid brother. Buck had just never considered that Chris might have been seeing the same thing in Vin.
"Yeah. I'll talk to Vin and see if I can try to clear things up with him. We've had some words."
"How bad ?"
"Worse than what he probably just heard from you?"
"We'll, along the same lines."
"Leave him for now Buck. Let him rest. I'm taking him out to the ranch for a few days so maybe you should drop by then."
+ + + + + + +
Ezra was still in Vin's room, distracted from his paper by the sound of Buck and Chris arguing over some missing weapons and Vin's unfortunate round up on Sunday evening. He looked up and was greeted by the sight of the sharpshooter sitting up in bed, wide eyed as he realised what the voices outside his door were arguing about. Ezra stepped directly into his line of sight, forcing his eyes up to meet him.
"He might as well have removed your heart from your chest with a blunt knife. It would hurt less," Ezra stated.
Vin met Ezra's eyes and saw the shared hurt of the betrayal of friends.
"Take heart Vin, I think our Mr Wilmington is just feeling a little usurped from his place with Mr Larabee and taking it out on you. I don't believe he's truly being malicious," Ezra offered.
Vin recognised how serious Ezra was when he heard his first name used.
"You know what happens when people stir the waters Ezra. Whatever his reasons, you know better than most that the mud has to settle somewhere."
"I have expensive tastes and I won't explain where the funds come from. You live in the poorest part of town when you appear to have the means to go elsewhere," Ezra laughed sadly. "We make quite a matched pair."
"Hey," Vin's mouth twisted into a wry smile. "Maybe we should just tell 'em I spend all my money paying for your Jag and that fancy condo."
Ezra laughed at the suggestion but shook his head. "No, Mr Tanner. I believe that would just get us into a completely different sort of trouble."
Vin sighed quietly. Things always got screwed up every time he thought he'd found something good in this life.
"You really think this isn't going to explode in my face?" Vin asked Ezra. He had watched Ezra size up people in an instant. He knew Ezra could see this situation better from the outside, rather than in the middle where Vin sat.
"I'd stake money it." Ezra confirmed.
Ezra saw the challenge in Vin's eyes.
"Make it $20."
Both looked up as Chris entered the room. Ezra knew his presence was no longer required.
"Take care Mr Tanner. I trust this matter will be ended soon," Ezra directed to Chris as he departed.
Chris lets Ezra's comment pass, knowing that the rest of the team had been concerned with the situation.
Vin let out along sigh and closed his eyes. He was too tired to deal with this, but the uncertainty kept him from resting anyway.
"It's settled." Larabee stated quietly as he moved to sit by the bed.
Vin's eyes snapped open at this.
"Don't recall ever being part of any discussion." An arrow of fear shot through him. They hadn't wanted him around to talk about this, so maybe they didn't want him around at all.
Chris saw the fear and uncertainty clearly on Vin's face. He'd been kept spinning by Buck and now after being ill he had no defences left.
"Your tired Vin. Buck and I have settled this. We're all fine. Buck has been getting himself all worked up about us recently. His problem was always with me Vin. I'm going to take you home with me tomorrow and make sure you rest over the weekend. I asked Buck to come out to the ranch on Saturday so you to can talk," Chris explained.
"I don't have to go?" came the whispered question.
Chris leaned forward to catch the words and placed a hand on Vin's arm trying to reassure him with a touch.
"That was never an option Vin."
"He was here first," Vin murmured, his words beginning to slur as exhaustion crept in again.
"Never an option Vin, " Chris repeated, tightening his hold on his friends arm.
Vin finally lost the fight with sleep and his eyes closed, his head rolling gently to the side. Chris pulled the blanket over the sleeping form and tucked it warmly around his shoulders. The doctors had been happy that Vin had given no sign of complications. The remains of the gas and the effect on his lungs left him easily tired, but that too would pass in a few days. Larabee decided to keep Vin company until he woke, then he would organise some things for his release tomorrow.
Buck stepped across the porch and knocked on the front door. He'd come to settle things with Vin now that he had been released from hospital.
Chris opened the door and let Buck enter, nodding his head at the sofa near the fire place. Buck moved closer, noticing Chris stayed protectively near. Buck look over at the still form curled up on the sofa under a thick blue blanket. Buck look to Chris, uncertain if he should disturb the slumbering form.
"He just tired himself out with the horses this morning," Chris nodded.
"Make this right Buck," he said, leaving the room.
Buck sat down on the coffee table opposite the sofa and reached out a hand to shake Vin awake. At the contact, Vin's eyes popped open and he rose suddenly, startled from sleep. Buck waited for recognition to hit the sharpshooter, and was disappointed to see a guarded look settle over Vin. Buck decided it was time to just jump right in.
"I'm sorry Vin. I've been acting stupid this past week and a need to square things with you."
Wary blue eyes stayed on him as Vin twisted out from under the blanket and sat up.
"Like I said to Chris, I started this only trying to protect him. But I like to think I can be honest and this was mostly about jealousy."
Vin thought about some of the things that had been said over the last few days.
"Don't matter why Buck. It just seems that you don't think much of me. Only reason you could think I would drag Chris or JD down is if you think I'm already low m'self." Vin was to tired to keep any anger in his voice. This should have been the teams first big victory and instead he'd rather have sat the whole thing out.
Buck new he'd hurt the younger man with his rash accusations.
"Vin, I'm honestly apologising for everything I've said to you. I'll be saying it in front of the others on Monday. It was just plain childish of me to get riled up about you and Chris. I've known Chris a long time but he changed after Sarah and Adam died. I've been trying to recover that old friendship again since we joined up on this team, then here you come and step right in like you and Chris have been friends forever."
Vin sighed and dropped his head in his hands.
"Told ya both I won't come between ya."
"I understand that now. Chris and I have sorted ourselves out. You aren't between us, you never were. If I could take back everything I've said this week I would. "
"Why now Buck. I thought we were becoming friends. I never saw this coming."
Buck looked shamefaced at the question.
"The reason's even more stupid." Buck knew Vin hadn't been prepared for his sudden attack last Sunday and stupid or not a reason was needed.
"The football season started last Saturday. Chris and I used to watch the games together, kick back, have a few beers. I called here but you answered the phone, so I was disappointed and a bit angry so I just hung up. When Chris called me the next night to bail you out I guess I got the idea that I could maybe put a wedge in this friendship you'd got going."
"Weren't watching football Buck. I was up in the house getting cleaned up after some chores. Chris's got horses."
Buck almost smiled at the tone of Vin's voice at that final statement. As if Larabee held one of the eight wonders of the world out in the barn.
"Yeah, I know he's got horses. Guess I didn't think that some folks actually would enjoy mucking at stalls on a weekend. Told you my reason was stupid. It's all been stupid."
Buck looked to Vin, waiting for some response to all the mess.
"You owe me Buck," Vin demanded.
Buck shifted uncomfortably, waiting to hear what would be required.
"I know that Vin. What will make it right?"
"You got $20 on you ?"
"What," Buck asked confused.
"Well Ezra bet $20 that you'd fold 'cause this was just a big mistake. Guess he win's so you can pay up instead."
"That's it? You want 20 bucks?" Buck exclaimed.
"We'll actually you'll owe the guys for the food and beer you're going to tell them to pick up on the way out here. There's a game on tonight."
Buck just looked at the smiling face before him, amazed that Tanner was so forgiving. Laughing he reached out and shook hands with the sharpshooter. Keeping a hold of that hand he dragged the smaller man to his feet. Vin kept a hold of Buck's hand for a moment longer.
"Don't pull this crap again Buck," he said quietly, a hint of steel in his voice and his gaze.
Buck acknowledged it with a nod. He knew he was getting off easy with Tanner, probably to make things easier on Larabee. Buck knew Tanner would be giving him no second chances.
A call to JD had the team rounded up in no time. JD had already spread word of Buck's visit to the ranch so the rest of the team had been awaiting an outcome. The shopping was quickly divided up then the convoy of vehicles headed out loaded with food and drinks.
Chris opened the front door at the sound of vehicles arriving.
"I can't get any of you to an office meeting on time, but you can all get 60 miles for food and football."
"Beer and football will hardly encourage me to arrive anywhere. However, a small soiree with friends and a fine Irish Whiskey can tempt me," Ezra clarified handing over the bottle to Chris.
Chris held the door wide and ushered his guests inside. It was good to have friends over again. He watched from the doorway as JD and Vin started fighting over a bag of cheetos.
"You bust them you're cleaning it !" he called. He was too late. The plastic snapped and little orange balls flew into the air. Two guilty faces turned toward him. The culprits attempted to scoop everythink up with Buck supervising the collection, pointing out stray cheetos under the furniture.
"He been okay?" Nathan inquired quietly.
"Nearly had to tie him to the sofa Friday to keep him away from the horses, but he's looking good now."
Everyone settled down on the furniture or the floor to watch the game. The evening lingered on past the end of the game as Chris opened the whiskey and Ezra produced a deck of cards. The card players suddenly realised how quiet it had gotten and noticed they were missing JD and Vin. Chris walked to the sofa and leaned over the back to find Vin curled up asleep again and JD asleep in the armchair, legs slung over the armrest. He looked up and saw that the warmth spreading through his heart was also echoed in Buck's eyes. Chris grabbed the afghan from the back of the sofa and handed it to Buck who quietly covered JD. Vin had pushed his blanket to his feet, so Chris carefully spread it over him without waking him.
Both turned back to the card table to find Josiah, Nathan and Ezra held their glasses raised in quiet salute. Buck and Chris picked up their own glasses and joined them.
"Team mates and friends," Josiah rumbled as glasses clinked.
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