Author-Winnie

Rating---PG13----language and violence

Disclaimers------No money made….no copyright intended, but oh do I wish I owned a certain blond.

Universe-------The Firm

Comments-------This is a second birthday fic for the December ladies who are not into the LB universe. Christmas for Cowboys is by S. Weisberg (Thanks, Antoinette) The Song Tears In Heaven is by Eric Clapton and to me it epitomizes how Chris must have felt after he lost Sarah and Adam. Thanks go to Marti and Antoinette for the beta job and the encouragement so freely given. Thanks as always to Julie, for just being who you are.

 

Christmas Eve was a time when most families got together to celebrate the birth of the baby Jesus and to share the love of their family and friends, but for one man the upcoming festive season held little or no joy at all. This marked the first Christmas without his wife and son. A year ripe with pain and yearning, hope and destroyed love. For this man the bottle on the table in front of him was a means of escape. A way to get past the horror and loneliness he felt building inside him, yet he could not quite reach for it. His hand trembled as his fingers edged across the table, seeking to end the torment that gnawed at his gut and threatened to take away everything life was supposed to be.

“God, Sarah, I miss you so much!” Chris Larabee slammed his fist down on the table and looked at the bottle of pills as Inez Recillos placed a fresh glass of whiskey in front of him.

“Senor, why don’t you let me call you a cab?”

“I’m alright, Inez,” Larabee assured her as he hid the bottle of pills from view.

“At least let me call Senor Wilmington...”

“I said I’m all right. Can’t a man have a quiet drink on his own?”

“Si, Senor, but it is Christmas Eve and most people spend it with...”

“Family...don’t you think I know that? God I’d do anything to be with Sarah and Adam and our baby right now, anything at all. Can you tell me how to get them back, Inez? Can you give me the one thing I crave more than life itself?”

“No, Senor, I wish I could, but there is no way I can give you that. I can tell you that someday in the future you will be with them again and when you are you’ll know the love and warmth that you felt when they were with you.”

“I wish I could believe that, but right now I’m so damn cold, Inez that even the fires of hell couldn’t warm me up.” Larabee lifted the glass and downed the fiery liquid before palming the bottle of pills and placing them in his pocket once more. He’d done this countless time since the death of his family, yet he knew it was a ritual that would never be completed. He knew in his heart he could never take his own life, but the bottle of pills was always there for him to test that certainty.

“Please, Senor, let me call Senor Wilmington!”

“No thanks, Inez. I’m fine and can manage on my own.”

“Surely you don’t plan on driving in your...”

“No, Miss Inez Recillos, I will not be getting behind the wheel of my truck. I am simply going to take a walk and when I’m too tired to go on I’m going to call a taxi and head for home. Surely you’re closing this place early?”

“Si, you are my last customer, Senor, but it is cold and snowing. Perhaps it would be best if...”

“Sh, Inez, I don’t need you to look after me,” Larabee said, standing and pulling on his Navy blue bomber jacket.

“I know you don’t, but I worry about you.”

“There’s no need to worry. I’ve only had three drinks, stiff ones mind you, but I’m perfectly capable of taking a short walk and calling a taxi to take me home. Thank you, Inez, for giving me a chance to celebrate Christmas in my own way,” the blond said pulling on his black leather gloves and heading for the door. He stood framed in the doorway and looked out at the softly falling snow, then back at the young Mexican woman. “Why don’t you lock up and I’ll walk you to your car?”

“Only if you let me drive you home.”

“Inez, listen, I’m grateful to you for all you’ve done, but I really am okay. I just need some time alone to think about things and I tend to do my best thinking when I walk. S...Sarah always said solitude was my best conscience because it made me think before I act. Get the lights and lock up.”

“All right, Senor, but you will call a taxi when you’re finished thinking, right?”

“Yes, I will,” Larabee assured her and watched as she made sure the small bar was locked up tight. The parking lot was empty except for his black Ford truck and Inez’s blue Corvette. Both vehicles would need to be cleaned off before they were drivable, but Larabee knew his truck would remain in the lot until the following morning.

“It’s so hard to believe Christmas is here already,” the woman explained as she looked out at the lightly falling snow.

“Yes...yes, it is,” Larabee said wistfully as the snow gently covered the ground in a pristine blanket of white. “Sarah loved this time of the year, especially the snow on Christmas Eve and Christmas day. She said it was a special snow and therefore if you made an angel someone you loved and lost would become an angel. I laughed when she said that...said I thought it was more like every time a bell rings an angel gets his wings.”

Inez smiled at the remembered line from It’s A Wonderful Life as she walked beside the handsome blond. She could hear the longing in his voice and wished she could do something to ease the torment he tried so hard to hide.

“I love watching that show. As a matter of fact I usually pop that movie into the VCR when I get home on Christmas Eve. My favorite part is when George realizes how much his own life is really worth and the impact he has on those surrounding him. Every man, woman, and child is put on this earth for a reason and until that reason becomes clear we just have to struggle along. Some people tend to be downers while others make the most of a horrible situation.”

“How do you see me, Inez?” Larabee asked seriously as they stopped beside her car and she placed the key in the door.

“I see you as the latter, Senor...”

“Please, Inez, call me Chris.”

“Chris,” the woman laughed as she unlocked the door and Larabee reached in and grabbed the snow scraper. “I see you as a man who is struggling, but is trying to get past his worst nightmare. I know you probably don’t believe this right now, but at some point in time you will be able to think of Sarah and Adam and not feel as if a knife is sticking into your heart. When that time comes you’ll know you’re not alone and that they are still with you and always will be!”

“I don’t know, Inez, right now I just feel empty...cold.” The blond used the edge of the ice scraper to rid the windshield of the snow and the ice underneath.

“That too, is normal, Se...Chris. It will fade with time.”

“Maybe, look why don’t you start the car and get inside. It’s not getting any warmer out here,” Larabee told her and smiled as she did as he told her. Ten minutes later the car was clean and drivable as the snow continued to fall and Chris placed the scraper in the young woman’s hands.

“Are you sure you won’t reconsider?” Inez asked as she noted the pink cheeks and snow covered blond hair.

“No, thanks, Inez, but I really am okay. You just go home, make some hot chocolate and popcorn, and pop in that movie. Merry Christmas Inez!”

“Merry Christmas, Chris,” Recillos said before rolling up the window and backing out of the parking spot.

“Drive carefully,” Larabee said. He watched as the Corvette drove out of the parking lot and left him standing alone outside the bar. He listened until the sound of the car engine dwindled and faded altogether before hiking his collar up around his neck and walking along the same route the car had taken moments before.

“Snow angels,” he thought smiling in spite of the sorrow he felt. Making snow angels was something Adam loved to do and he remembered the family of angels they’d made on Christmas Eve the year before. Chris stopped in his tracks and looked around as a sudden impulse beat at his mind. He dropped to the ground and in spite of the fact that he was alone he felt foolish about making the angel in the snow. Forcing the feeling to the back of his mind he spread his arms out beside him and began to move his arms and legs until he felt certain his job was done. Standing carefully so as not to ruin his creation, Chris Larabee, 36-year-old widower, looked down at the angel and smiled as he felt the warmth spreading inside him. He laughed, an almost hysterical sound in the solitude of snow falling around him and once more dropped to the ground. In quick succession Chris soon had another snow angel made and felt as if he’d done something wonderful to remember Sarah and Adam. Kneeling beside the angel he thought was Sarah he quickly drew the outline of a baby next to her and smiled as he sighed and looked at his family.

“I miss you guys so much,” he said as tears fell from his eyes. They hit the snow without a sound, freezing almost instantly near the shape of the smallest angel. “ I may never have held you, but I love you a lifetime anyway.”

With those words Chris let go of his grief. Sitting beside the trio of angelic snow sculptures he shed the tears that he’d bottle up inside since facing the devastation that was his life. Great wracking sobs left him with only the lightly falling snow to remind him how alone he truly was. He had no idea how long he sat in the snow, but the chill was seeping through his body and he knew he’d have to get moving to warm up. Standing and brushing the snow off his clothes he began walking away from Tiny’s Tavern. With no real destination in mind he started north as the snow made it’s silent journey from the heavy clouds to the ground.

The world around him was quickly becoming a winter wonderland with the only sound being made by his booted feet crunching the soft flakes underfoot. He knew he should probably call a cab, but the chill in the air sparked something inside him and he smiled as the soft sound of church bells ringing met his ears. He stood still as they echoed through the otherwise silent night and breathed deeply of the frosty air. For the first time since he’d lost his heart and soul, Chris Larabee smiled. Soft strains of Silent Night could be hear, the hauntingly beautiful tune barely audible, yet it seemed to fill the air with the warmth of the season.

Chris stood where he was for several minutes and knew he could ward off the chill much longer. Feeling light hearted and content for the first time in what felt like an eternity. The Christmas lights in the distance cast a glow that spread beneath the blanket of snow covering them adding to the feeling of peace that slowly enshrouded his heart. His breath visible in the night air, he continued along the road and suddenly realized how close he was to Holy Cross Cemetery on Mullowney Lane. He knew it was getting late as the bells called out for the final parishioners to enter the church for Midnight Mass. The snow continued to fall as he resolved to make his way towards the cemetery, before calling a taxi and heading for home.

‘Home,’he thought, smiling as a picture came to mind. The ranch, a gift from Sarah, was home now. He was content to live there knowing it had been her final wish. Pony was safely ensconced in a warm stable with plenty of hay and oats and anything else he needed. The property bordering his ranch had been sold the same day he’d signed the final papers and again he smiled as he thought of discovering his new neighbor was none other than Vin Tanner. He’d been looking at the property for several days when he decided it was well suited to him and Peso. Several times a week he would saddle Pony, ride out to meet Vin and Peso at the property line and ride north of the land and into the old quarry.

The soft ringing of his cell phone interrupted his thoughts and he reached inside his coat for the slim object. Pressing the button to receive the call he placed the phone to his ear.

“Your quarter, Buck,” the blond said good-naturedly.

“Hey, Stud, where are ya?”

“Walking,” the blond answered.

“Walking, in this weather? Why don’t you hail a cab and come on over to my place? JD and I don’t have any plans to go anywhere. Vin said he might pop in and Josiah, Nathan and Ezra are already on the way.”

“Thanks, Buck, but no thanks. I’m going to walk a little longer and then I’m calling a cab and heading for home. I’ll see you boys at Nettie’s place tomorrow afternoon.”

“Hell, Chris, just tell me where you are and I’ll come pick you up.”

“How many drinks have you had, Bucklin?” Larabee asked, using Tanner’s nickname for the gentle rogue.

“Ah Hell, Chris, I forgot, but that won’t stop me. I’ll take a taxi...”

“Buck, look I’m fine. I’m just going to enjoy the quiet and then go home. With everyone being at Nettie’s place tomorrow, I probably won’t have time to hear myself think. Just enjoy yourselves and I’ll see you tomorrow. By the way which redhead are you with tonight?”

“Shit, Chris, you know me...I’m with both of ‘em. Tania and Tonya and they can’t get enough of me.”

“Then I’d better let you go back to your guests. Thanks, Buck, for everything.”

“Hell, Chris, you don’t need to thank me.”

“Yes, I do. You’re always there when I need a shoulder to lean on and I don’t always let you know how grateful I am.”

“Shoot, Chris, you sure you’re alright? Ya sound downright melancholy.”

Larabee couldn’t help but laugh as he listened to his friend. “Told you I’m fine, Buck. Tell the boys I’ll see them all tomorrow.

“All right, Stud, if you’re sure. I mean I can still...”

“Bye, Buck!”

“Bye, Chris. Wow Tania, I didn’t know you could do that.”

“Larabee heard the sound of the line going dead and shut off his cell phone as he continued along Mullowney Lane. He knew he wasn’t far from the cemetery and lengthened his stride in an effort to cover the ground as quickly as possible. He looked around him as a sound, barely audible came from his right. He stopped walking and listened for the sound to be repeated and frowned as the distinct sound of crying came from a clump of brush on his right.

“Who’s there?” Larabee called. He tried to see past the bushes, but the darker shadows cast by the trees made it impossible to see anything beyond the glow cast by the streetlight. “Hello!”

“H...help...me! Oh God h...help me!”

The plea could not be denied and without thinking through the consequences Chris moved into the brush and hurried towards the cry for help. The safety of the street and Christmas lights were left behind in his haste to help the needy voice in the darkness. He scrambled through the brush and entered a dark area of a park that bordered on Holy Cross Cemetery.

“Where are you?”

“H...here. I’m here! Please, it hurts!”

“Just keep talking!” Larabee exclaimed as he pushed aside several branches bowed with the mounting snow. He shivered as puffs of white flakes made it past his collar and melted against his skin.

“I’m here!”

Chris heard her plea and knew he was close as he exited the brush and glanced around the small clearing. He spotted a prone figure lying beside a bench and hurried towards her.

“Are you hurt?”

“I think I broke my ankle,” the young woman answered.

“What are you doing out here alone?” Larabee asked as he moved to check her leg.

“Looking for a sucker like you!”

With those words Chris’ head came up and he heard the sound of approaching footsteps. Standing and turning he staggered under the force of a blow delivered by a pair of gloved hands. His mind registered a second blow just before it caught his back and he went down to his knees. He blinked rapidly in an effort to clear his vision and tried to regain his feet, but was driven to the snow covered ground once more as something connected with his head and blood flowed from a cut above his right eye.

“Hey, Jewels, ya did good. This one looks like he’s maybe got somethin’ worth takin’!”

Chris looked at the trio of youths standing over him and tried to speak. “W...what...” He didn’t get to finish as the young woman knelt in front of him and began unzipping his jacket.

“This’ll look much better on me!”

“Ya tolt me it was mine this time, Jewels!”

“Ain’t gonna fit ya Clive, ‘sides I needs it more’n you do. Right, Roarke?”

“Whatever ya say, Jewels, just git on wit’ it. I wanna get outta this town ‘fore the cops get wind of us a’gin!”

“D…don’t...”

“Shut up, Mister. Ya got lots of money. We’re just helpin’ ourselves ta a little of it. Oh, wow!” Jewels smiled as she spotted the wedding band on his finger. “Ain’t that the purtiest thing ya ever did see!” she stated and began tugging on the band. Frustrated she tried twisting the gold band, but the ring remained where it was.

Chris felt her pulling on the ring, but there was no way short of killing him that he’d allow them to take his last reminder of the love he shared with his wife. He tried to pull away, but a boot caught him a glancing blow to the ribs and he groaned as the air was driven from his lungs. He heard the woman curse as she reluctantly gave up on the ring and returned her attention to his jacket. Knowing the coat could be replaced Chris put up only a token resistance as his arms dropped from his sleeves.

“Get his wallet, Jewels!”

“Sure thing, Roarke!” Jewels said after pulling the warm jacket on. “Hey, he’s wearing a real nice after shave. What are ya wearing, Mister?”

“He ain’t gonna answer ya. Come on get his money and let’s get the fuck outta here!” Clive said as Roarke turned their victim on his side, giving her access to the back pocket of his jeans.

“How much?” Roarke asked as she opened the wallet.

“Fuckin’ creep’s got less’n fifty bucks!” Jewels said as she pulled two twenties, a five, and two ones from the black leather wallet.

“Shit! Thought for sure we’d found a good mark when ya saw him comin’, Jewels,” Roarke explained as he glared down at the semi conscious blond.

“Me too. Fuckin’ scumbag’s hardly worth the trouble!” Clive said as a smile formed on his face. “Hey, Roarke, did ya bring yer pigsticker?”

“Sure did. Whatcha got in mind?”

“We could probably sell that ring for a couple of hundred.”

“But we can’t get it off his hand!” Jewels pouted.

“That’s why I need Roarke’s pigsticker. We’ll cut it off!”

“Cut it off?” Jewels said, a hint of a smile forming on her face as her partner’s meaning finally made it past the fog of the drugs they’d indulged in earlier in the day. “Ya mean we cut his finger off!”

“Fuckin’ A!” Roarke agreed.

“So who does it?” the young woman asked.

“Ya want the honor?” Clive asked.

“Sure. Gimme the pigsticker, Roarke!”

Chris heard them talking through a thick layer of sludge that seemed to have engulfed his mind. Several words got through before he realized what they were about to do. His eyes shot open as he felt one of his assailants grab his left arm and he fought with whatever strength remained. He bucked against the two males as the blade cut into his finger, gasping as he threw one of the men off and pulled his hand away.

“Jesus, Roarke, hang on ta him!”

“Wait, Jewels! Listen!” Clive ordered, as the sound of a dog barking grew louder.

“Shit! We’d best get out of here!” Roarke called as he stood up and looked towards the street.

“I don’t have it yet!”

“It’s too late, Jewels, come on before they catch us!”

“Lousy no good sonofabitch!” she screamed, drawing back her foot and kicking their victim in the upper left thigh.

Chris moaned, but lay still as he heard the sound of footsteps in the snow. His body ached and he struggled to stay conscious, he knew he needed help. He dragged himself towards the bench and lifted his left arm, frowning as he felt a warm liquid on his cold skin. He looked at his hand, but his befuddled mind didn’t register the fact that it was blood, his blood. Forcing his pain-ridden body to obey his commands, Chris pulled himself into a semi sitting position next to the bench as the snow continued to fall around him. He shivered and wrapped his arms around his chest as the world around him took on a decidedly haphazard turn. His eyes closed and he knew he should force them open again, but his energy was almost gone.

“Get up!” he snarled, but his body and mind seemed to be at loggerheads with each other. While his mind was willing to move, the rest of him was content to sit exactly where he was. Without realizing what he was doing, Chris Larabee lay back in the snow and gave in to the siren call of darkness and warmth he didn’t really feel.

“I got it!” Dunne called as several loud knocks sounded on the door. The music had been tuned down, but the party was still in full swing. JD had gone to the neighbors around them and asked them to let him and Buck know if things were too loud. So far there were no complaints and he smiled as he opened the door to reveal the rest of the team.

“Hey, guys, come on in!”

“Hey, Son, Merry Christmas!” Sanchez greeted, placing a bottle of brandy in the Bostonian’s hand.

“Thanks, Josiah, we’re almost out.”

“Where’s Buck?” Standish asked.

“He’s out on the balcony showing Tania and Tonya the view!” Dunne answered as he closed the door behind the men.

“Kind of cold for that,” Jackson stated hanging his jacket on the coat tree.

“Nah, not with Buck out there. Shoot, he’s probably got the snow melted for miles around!”

“Not likely, it’s really starting to come down again. TV says we’re due for another three to four inches. Where’re Chris and Vin?”

“Vin’s gone to give a lady a boost. Chris isn’t coming. Buck called him earlier and he said he was just out walking and then going home. He said he’d see us at Nettie’s tomorrow.”

“How did he sound?” Sanchez asked knowing how hard this Christmas would be on their team leader.

“Buck said he sounded okay. Hey, Vin, did you get the car going?”

“Was there ever a doubt?” Tanner asked, not really expecting an answer as he removed his scarf and leather jacket.

“Guess not! Drink or beer?”

“Beer!” Tanner answered.

“What about you guys? Can I get you something?” Dunne asked the other three.

“Scotch on the rocks,” Standish answered, producing a bottle of the finest Scotch whiskey made.

“Red wine,” Jackson answered.

“Coffee for me, Son. I’m the designated driver tonight,” Sanchez answered as Wilmington and his two ladies rejoined them.

“Hey, Boys, glad you could make it. Tania and Tonya were hoping to meet you guys.”

“Hello, Ladies,” Sanchez greeted the two women.

“Hello, Big Fella,” Tania said in a husky sexual voice that left little doubt of what she wanted. She moved towards Sanchez and wrapped her arms around his neck as she rubbed seductively against him.

“Tania’s got it big time for big men,” Tonya said as the music kicked up a notch and she swayed against Wilmington’s hips.

“Well, Tania, Tonya, I’d like you to meet, Josiah Sanchez, Nathan Jackson, and Ezra Standish.”

“Hello, Boys, pleased to make your acquaintance,” Tonya said.

“Charmed, I’m sure,” the gambler said accepting the drink handed to him by Dunne.

“Oh, a sweet talker,” Tonya said, removing her hands from Buck’s body and moving towards the younger man. “I do love a man who knows how to speak with the ladies. May I have this dance, Monsieur?”

“Certainly,” Standish said, placing the glass on the table and gliding into the middle of the room with the pretty woman.

“Look at that, will ya?” Tanner said as he opened his beer.

“What?” Dunne asked.

“I think Vin’s referring to the fact that Buck’s lost both his lady loves,” Jackson said with a grin.

“Haven’t lost anything, Nathan, I’m just sitting back and saving my energy for later when you boys go home to your cold beds! I’ll have a pair of luscious book ends to keep me warm!”

“Maybe not, Bucklin. Tania and Tonya seem ta be enjoyin’ themselves,” the tracker said with a grin.

“Maybe, but Josiah and Ezra don’t have my animal...”

“Maggotism!” Vin, Nathan, and JD said as one and received a very hearty ha ha from the resident rogue.

Green eyes opened to darkness and the feeling of something making feather light touches against his skin. Chris could not understand what it was or why his mind was telling him he had to move and adjusted his position in the snow. The warmth that seemed to spread throughout his body kept him from feeling the dampness and cold of the clothing that covered his skin. All he knew was that he was finally feeling warm and that if he moved the cold tendrils of ice would immediately take the heat away. He let his eyes close again as his body slid the rest of the way to the ground, but a sound cut into the silence and solitude surrounding him.

“Chris!”

The voice was filled with love and worry and he recognized it immediately. Forcing his lids upwards he smiled thinly at the beautiful figure dressed in white and bathed in celestial light. The hair hung over her shoulders and he lifted his left hand to touch the soft strands.

“Sarah, my Sarah. Is it really y...you?”

“Yes, Sweet love, it’s me and I want you to do something for me, Chris...”

“Tired, Sarah, so tired.”

“I know you are and I need you to try and stay alert for me. You’re cold...”

“No…not cold. Warm...”

“No, Chris, you’re not warm. You’re freezing and you’re hurt.”

“T...they hurt me. Sarah!” His eyes grew wide and he tried to sit as his gaze darted left to right. “They might c...come back. You need to g...get out of h...here!”

“No, Honey, they won’t come back, but you need help.”

“Are you staying?”

“Only for a few minutes, Chris. I need you to get your cell phone and call Buck.”

“C...can’t. Too tired...”

“Yes, you can! Chris, wake up now!”

“T...trying,” Larabee’s voice was hoarse from the cold and she knew she had to make him listen.

“Chris, where is your cell phone?”

“I...in my pocket.”

“Good, that’s really good. Can you take it out for me?”

“Hmm,” the blond mumbled and fumbled to get his nearly frozen fingers to obey his command.

“That’s it, Sweetheart. Now call Buck...”

“C...can’t...”

“Don’t you say that, Chris Larabee. You push that button right now or so help me I’ll...I’ll...”

“Still got that fiery Irish temper, Love,” Larabee whispered in the cold night air.

“And you still know how to push my buttons. Make the call, Chris, before the others go home!”

“O...okay.” The man smiled as he tried to read the buttons in the near white light from the figure that bathed his heart with hope.

The phone rang beside his head and Buck wanted nothing more than to ignore it, but he knew he could not do that. Placing his drink on the table he laughed as JD told a joke that was actually half funny before lifting the receiver and placing it to his ear.

“Merry Christmas whoever you are.” He frowned as the only sound to reach him seemed to be heavy breathing and Wilmington shook his head in disbelief. He placed his hand over the speaker and looked towards the other occupants of the room. “You boys won’t believe this, but I got one of those phone calls!”

“What phone calls, Buck?” Tonya asked taking the receiver and placing it next to her own ear. She laughed at the sound that came from the other end of the line. “Listen, Buddy, you need to get in a lot more practice. Right now you sound like a sick frog!”

“Hang up, Tonya,” Wilmington said.

“...Buck...”

“Wait a minute,” Tonya said, suddenly serious.

“What’s wrong?” Jackson asked.

“Whoever it is just said your name, Buck!”

“Probably an old girlfriend,” Dunne observed, setting off a round of laughter.

“No, it’s a man. I think you better listen, Buck, because he doesn’t sound very well.”

Wilmington took the phone back and placed it to his ear as Sanchez turned down the stereo. He listened once more, but again all he heard was the distinct sound of breathing.

“Who is this?”

“Buck, ask him where he is?” Tanner ordered and saw Wilmington frown before asking the question.

“Where are you?”

“B...Buck, need h...help...help!”

“Who is th...Chris?” His eyes lit up as he recognized the voice and the underlying pain in the raspy words.

“H...hurt...”

“Where are you? Chris stay with me! Where are you?”

“D...don’t k...know...s...so t...tired...”

“I know you’re tired, Chris, but don’t hang up. The boys and me are on the way. JD, use the laptop and tie into the office computer and trace the tracking device on Chris’ phone! Chris, just stay put and we’ll find you.” The only answer was the ominous breathing at the other end of the line.

“I’ll go clean off the van,” Sanchez said and hurried out the door with Standish following close behind him.

“Tania, would you girls mind locking up for us?” Wilmington asked as JD took the computer and they headed for the door.

“Sure, Buck, you just go find your friend. We’ll pray that everything is okay.”

“Thanks, girls,” Wilmington said and hurried out of the apartment to find Dunne using the laptop while waiting for the elevator. “Anything, Kid?”

“I’m working on it, Buck. It takes time to get the tracker working!” Dunne snapped as Jackson and Tanner joined them. It was in the youngest member of the team’s hands whether they found Larabee in time or not, but each man knew Dunne would do everything he could to get them there.

“S...Sarah, stay...please,” Larabee begged as the celestial light began to fade and the cool night air surrounded him once more.

“I’m always with you, Chris. All you have to do is think about us and we’re there. Buck will be here soon and you’ll be fine, sweet love,” she whispered.

Chris watched with moisture-laden eyes as the figure faded and left him in his dark prison. He knew he should stay put, but there was somewhere he had to be. Unaware of the phone dropping from his numbed fingers, Chris stood and staggered out of the clearing and onto the sidewalk. He looked up and down Mullowney Lane before stumbling north towards his original destination. His breathing was harsh in the open air, but his mind was set on one thing. He needed to get to the cemetery and tell them how much he loved them.

“Anything, JD?” Tanner asked from beside the younger man.

“Not yet...wait. Got it. Josiah, go north on Mullowney Lane!”

“Mullowney Lane? What’s he doing there? Last time I talked to him he was at Tiny’s Tavern,” Wilmington told them.

“Guess when he said he was going to take a walk he meant he was pulling a Mick Dundee,” Jackson suggested lightly.

“Yeah, guess he was doing a walkabout,” Tanner agreed. “How’s the signal, JD?”

“Still pretty strong, Vin. Keep on this course, Josiah! I’ll tell you when we’re close,” Dunne ordered.

If Chris turned around he would see the chaotic course his stumbling steps had taken. The zigzagging line was a clear indication of just how badly he was feeling. His mind was set on that final destination and he forced one foot in front of the other. He fell to his knees with his hands sinking into the snow, yet his mind did not register the cold or the pain in his ribs and thigh. No sound was heard but his breathing and the crunch of the fresh snow underfoot. His determination grew as the gates to Holy Cross Cemetery came into view and he knew he was going to make it.

“Not much further, Josiah. Slow down he’s gotta be around here somewhere!” Dunne exclaimed as he realized they were on top of the signal.

Josiah did as he was told and finally drew the van to a halt in front of a clump of brush. He didn’t need Dunne to tell him this was the place, because the footprints under the streetlight were clearly visible as he exited the van.

“Josiah, where are you going?”

“I think he’s in here somewhere!” Sanchez answered as he ducked through the brush. “Bring a flashlight!”

“On it!” Wilmington said, reaching behind him for the heavy-duty emergency flashlight. The five remaining men exited the van and followed Sanchez’s footsteps.

“Josiah, where are you?” Jackson asked.

“Over here!” the baritone voice boomed as Wilmington splayed the light towards him.

“Did you find him?” Jackson asked.

“No, but there’s signs of a struggle...”

“Hey, here’s Chris’ cell phone!” Dunne said, picking the instrument up from the small mound of snow.

“So where’s Chris?” Jackson asked as they looked around the area.

“Buck!” Tanner called. “Buck!”

“Shit! Vin, we’ve got blood here. Not much, but it’s in a couple of spots!” the rogue said as he studied the area.

Vin studied the ground and finally found Chris’ footprints leading out of the clearing and onto the street. As his feet hit the sidewalk he raced for the van.

“Come on! I know where he’s gone!”

“Where?” Dunne asked as they made it to the van and climbed inside.

“Holy Cross Cemetery is just up the street from here!” Tanner answered, buckling his seatbelt.

“Ah, hell, bet that was where he was heading in the first place,” Wilmington explained as Sanchez started the vehicle forward.

The gates were closed and Chris looked around for another way to gain entrance to the grounds. The fence next to the gate was not as high as in other places and he staggered drunkenly towards it. Using his last vestiges of strength he lifted his arms and hoisted his body upwards until he was laying half on half off the ledge. The world began to swim once more as he lifted his left leg over the edge and gravity took over. His body toppled inside the hallowed ground and he lay still for several long moments until the nausea calmed and he was able to move again without throwing up. Levering his body up until he could grab the fence, Chris finally made it to his feet once more. The silence was absolute now as he made the familiar trek through the deepening snow towards the tree where his heart and soul were buried. The going was harder as knee deep mounds of snow resisted his need to reach his destination. He lost track of time, but not of his goal as he spotted the headstones covered in snow. His strength fading, his body a mass of pain, fingers numbed by cold, Chris made it to their final resting place. Dropping to his knees he sighed as tears formed and grew cold as they slid from his eyes.

“I love you, Sarah Larabee, I wish...I wish I could hold you and protect you, but I know that’s not possible anymore. Wait for me, love, because I’ll never stop loving you...” his voice trailed off as he dropped into the snow blissfully unaware of the cold seeping into every pore of his body.

The van pulled to a stop in front of the gates and six men hurriedly exited the van and rushed towards the entrance. The gates were locked up tight, but there was no mistaking the zigzagging line that led to the fence next to them.

“He’s in there!” Tanner explained as he hefted his own body over the fence.

“Hang on, Vin, I’m coming with you! The rest of you wait here and we’ll bring him out!” Wilmington ordered.

“We’ll be ready for you, Buck!” Sanchez assure him.

“Chris, it’s Vin, we’re coming, Cowboy!”

Chris could hear voices calling to him, but he didn’t want to leave the warm cocoon he was snuggled inside. Unfortunately the two voices were not to be denied and he knew they were not about to leave him alone.

“H...here...” he called weakly, not sure if it was really his voice that answered.

“Buck, he’s here!” Tanner called as he knelt beside the shivering figure.

“Hey, Pard, got yourself in a bit of a mess!” Wilmington said as he watched Tanner removing his jacket. Buck lifted Larabee forward and watched as the young Texan wrapped his jacket around the blond as he held the lean body against his own and  looked back the way they’d come.

“B...Buck,” the word was raspy, but unmistakable and the ladies man looked into the sea green eyes.

“Yeah, I’m here, Pard, so is Vin. We’re gonna get you out of here and warmed up real fast, okay?”

“Not c...cold...”

“Well yer shakin’ like a leaf in a hurricane right now, Larabee, so ya must be feelin’ a bit of a chill!” Tanner drawled hoping his light-hearted humor would ease the tension.

“J...just tired’s all,” Larabee answered as his eyes closed.

“Vin, we need to get him out of here. Think we can carry him between us?” Wilmington said as he looked at the headstones and felt as if he’d been given a miracle. ‘We’ll take care of him, Sarah, don’t you worry about him!’

“Think so, Larabee ain’t what ya’d call a heavyweight,” the tracker said as they eased the blond onto his feet and lifted him in a standard chair hold. The trek back to the gates was slow going as they dodged around headstones and drifts of snow. Several times they lost their footing, dumping all three men onto the ground. Chris remained oblivious to the plight of his friends as they again lifted him between them and aimed for the gates. It took longer than normal to make the short journey, but the duo breathed a sigh of relief as Sanchez’s big form loomed in front of them. The big man had scaled the fence as soon as he spotted them.

“You two go ahead. I’ll pass him over!” Sanchez said as the two men relinquished their burden to the ex-preacher.

“Buck, how is he?” Jackson asked as the rogue climbed the fence and dropped down in front of him.

“He’s cold, Nathan. Whoever did this to him took his coat.”

“Damn. I called the hospital and told them we might have a hypothermia victim on our hands. They’ll be ready for him.” Jackson noted the relief on Buck’s face as Vin sat on top of the fence and reached for the injured man. Standish joined the Texan and between them they lifted the blond and handed him down to Dunne and Wilmington. “Let’s get him into the van! JD, grab the emergency blanket from the kit!”

“On it!” Dunne assured him as he raced for the back of the van. He could hear Jackson giving orders as Sanchez rejoined the team. He grabbed the emergency kit and the blanket and headed for the front of the van just as they settled Larabee into the seat and leaned him against Tanner.

“You got him, Vin?” Jackson asked.

“I got him!”

“Good. Was he conscious at all?”

“For a minute or so,” Wilmington answered as he took the passenger seat and Sanchez climbed in behind the wheel.

“Okay, Boys, buckle up!” Sanchez ordered.

“Here you go, Nathan!” Dunne said handing over the blanket as Standish took a seat in the back. He quickly joined the gambler as Jackson climbed in and shut the door. “Go, Josiah!”

“How is he, Nate?” Wilmington asked worriedly as the van pulled away from the cemetery.

“I can’t tell much right now, Buck. I do know he’s probably suffering from one hell of a concussion if that gash is any indication,” Jackson said as he wrapped the blanket around the shaking form. Knowing the indications of hypothermia, Nathan understood how important it was to remove Larabee’s wet clothing and prevent him from further loss of body heat.

“Damn it, wait ‘til I get my hands on whoever did this!” Wilmington cursed. They would be at the hospital before long, but a night that had started out with such promise had quickly turned deadly with a fight to save Chris Larabee’s life.

Stacey Midland was ready as the familiar van pulled into the ER drive. She knew these men and had treated each of them at some point in time. The man being brought in was quickly becoming a regular in the ER and she hoped things were not as bad as Sanchez made them out to be. She watched as two orderlies and a nurse pulled the stretcher up beside the van just as the back doors opened and Buck Wilmington exited the vehicle.

“Doc, thank God!” the ladies man said as he reached into the van and helped remove Larabee’s unconscious body from the back seat.

“Get that blanket over him and get him into Resuscitation One. You boys know where the waiting room is!” Midland knew she was leaving the men without answers, but at that moment her patient took precedence as she hurried after the stretcher. Once inside the main doors she was met by another doctor who had treated Chris Larabee before.

“How bad, Stacey?”

“Not sure yet, Brandon. All I know is he’s been beaten and was found at the graveyard on Mullowney Lane.” The two physicians hurried into the room to find treatment had already begun as one nurse was measuring Larabee’s temperature with an infrared tympanic temperature probe. “What is it, Susan?”

“Temperature is 88.4, Dr. Midland,” the nurse answered as a second one hooked up an IV and ran it through a warmer.

“Pulse and respirations are shallow, Doctor,” Jordan Bennett explained as she finished taking the patient’s vitals.

“Alright, we need to get him warmed up before we do anything else. Jordan, I want arterial blood gases and let’s get some warm blankets over him! See if you can find a Bair Hugger! Susan, make sure the oxygen’s warmed.”

“Right away, Dr. Midland,” the nurse agreed as she set up the oxygen mask to give the warmed oxygen to the patient.

“Stacey, we’re going to need a full head series and an abdominal scan once we’ve got him warmed up!”

“I know, Brandon,” Midland agreed as the two worked side by side to save the life of the man lying in the bed.

The waiting room was crowded as the winter storm continued to wreak havoc on the driving conditions. Several people paced back and forth, from window to door, seeking any word on the condition of loved ones. Having given up their seats to other worried visitors, six men stood shoulder to shoulder near the back of the waiting room.

Buck looked up expectantly, but was again disappointed as an unfamiliar doctor entered the room and moved to speak with an older couple sitting near the front. He knew by the anguished cry from the woman that the news was not good and a shiver of dread raced down his spine. He felt a hand on his arm and turned to see the youngest member of the team watching him closely.

“He’s going to be okay, Buck,” Dunne said softly.

“I know, Kid, it’s just taking so damn long.”

“It’s been less than an hour, Buck,” Jackson advised as he looked towards the door and saw Orrin Travis moving towards them. He knew Josiah had called the older man and was glad to see him.

“What happened?” Travis asked worriedly.

“We’re not sure, Orrin. Buck called Chris to invite him over, but Chris said he was going for a walk and would see us all tomorrow…today,” Jackson explained as he noted the time was 12:14 on Christmas Day.

“Josiah, you said something about him being attacked? Did you get the police involved?”

“Yes, Orrin. I called the precinct and they were sending several officers from the detective squad over to investigate. I told them they could contact us here if they needed anything from us,” Sanchez answered.

“Very well. Has there been any news on Chris’ condition?” Travis asked, automatically turning his attention back to Jackson.

“Nothing since we got here. He was pretty hypothermic when we brought him in and it also looks like he was beaten pretty badly. I would definitely say he was showing signs of a concussion, but I can’t say for sure one way or the other.”

“Damn, looks like it’s pretty busy for Christmas Eve…Day,” Travis told them.

“Yeah, the police dispatch has been pretty busy with several car accidents on the main roads…”

“Hey, Doc, how is Chris?” Wilmington interrupted as the tired physician hurried towards them.

“Hold on, Buck, give her a chance,” Travis warned as the woman leaned against the wall.

“Doc, would you like something to drink?” Jackson asked.

“No, thanks, Nathan,” Midland said with a small smile. “Look, I’ve only got a couple of minutes and I wanted to update you on Chris’ condition. You know he was suffering from hypothermia when he was brought in and that there’s also signs that he was beaten before whoever did this left him alone out there.”

“Yeah, we know that doc, but he’s going to be all right isn’t he?”

“JD, it’s rare for anyone to die from hypothermia nowadays,” Jackson explained to the worried young Bostonian.

“Nathan’s right about that, but right now we also have the other injuries to worry about. We’ve been able to raise his core temperature from 88.4 to 91.3, but there’s still a long way to go. We’ve got him on 100% warmed oxygen and the IV fluids are also being run through a warmer. It’s a slow process, but we’re making headway.”

“What about his other injuries?” Wilmington asked.

“Well, the head wound is serious as I’m sure you know, but we haven’t really been able to do anything about the physical injuries until we treated the hypothermia. Portable x-ray is in with him now and I’ve ordered a CT scan as soon as we’re able to move him.”

“He is going to be all right though, isn’t he doc?”

“JD, we’re doing all we can for him,” Midland explained as she looked at the worried faces of the men surrounding her. “You guys did everything you could have to get him here. Taking the wet clothes off and wrapping him in the blankets probably saved his life and gave us the chance to help him. Brandon Silverman is the vascular surgeon on call and he’ll be keeping an eye on Chris as well. This could be a long night boys and I know there’s not much point in me telling you to go home, but please, try and stay out of the nursing staff’s way and I’ll try to update you as soon as possible.”

“All right, doc,” Sanchez agreed as the woman hurried out of the room. Once more the men settled in to wait for word on Chris Larabee’s condition.

Buck wandered back and forth along the main hallway in the emergency department. Several times he’d been approached by nurses and asked if they could help him and his answer was always curt and sharp. The others were still in the waiting room and he knew it was going to be a long night. Resigned to that fact, Buck walked by the room that housed his long time friend and nearly collided with the woman who was exiting the room.

“Sorry, Doc,” Wilmington apologized as he tried to look into the room before the door closed. “How is he?”

“He’s doing a little better, Buck. We’ve got the results back on the x-rays and blood work. He has several broken ribs, bruised kidneys, the cut over his eye took eight stitches and there’s another one at the back that took three stitches to close. There’s also major bruising on his right thigh that’s going to make walking uncomfortable for some time.”

“Damn it! Wait until I get my hands on whoever did this!”

“Easy, Buck, getting angry and going off half cocked isn’t going to make Chris feel any better.”

“It’d make me feel a whole lot better! Jesus, Doc, its Christmas and all he wanted to do was visit his wife and son’s grave. He didn’t ask to be mugged out there!”

“I know he didn’t. No one asks for that at any time of year, Buck, and there’s something else you all need to know.”

“What?” Wilmington asked, instantly on alert.

“The people who did this to him tried to get his wedding band…”

“What? How do you know?” the man’s voice was edged with anger as his eyes blazed like cold steel.

“It looks like they were trying to cut his finger…”

“Ah, hell, Doc, tell me they didn’t…”

“They didn’t, Buck, but they did cut his finger and again it took several stitches to close the wound.”

“He is going to be all right isn’t he?”

“Physically he should be fine, but it’s going to take time. I took this off his finger and figured you’d be the one to look after it for him.” Midland handed him the gold wedding band and was glad she’d taken the time to clean it before giving it to the gentle rogue standing before him.

“Can we see him?” Buck asked, toying with the band of gold that symbolized the love between Chris Larabee and Sarah Connelly Larabee.

“Not yet. He’s still unconscious and until he wakes up there’s nothing you boys can do. I’ve admitted him and as soon as a room becomes available he’ll be moved to his floor. I’ll have the nurses let you know when that happens. Now I have a few other patients to check on before I take a break. You boys should get something to eat and maybe get some sleep while you’re at it.”

“Little chance of that happening, Doc.”

“I thought as much, but at least make sure you get something to eat and stay…”

“Out of the nursing staff’s way!” Wilmington finished as the woman walked away. Buck shook his head and leaned heavily against the wall as he looked at the ring and slid it onto his finger. This was something he could and would do for his friend. Sighing heavily he walked towards the waiting room, ready to tell the others about Larabee’s condition.

Stacey Midland looked at the pale man lying in the bed. The monitors were giving out the rhythmic beeps and clicks that told her Chris Larabee was still with them. In the eight hours since he’d been brought in they’d managed to raise his core temperature to a point where it was no longer considered dangerous or life threatening, but now it was time to deal with the other injuries sustained during the attack. She looked up as the nurse replaced the bag of IV fluid and made sure it was still being run through the warmer.

“Jordan, make sure I’m notified when the latest test results are in.”

“I will, Dr. Midland.”

“Any word on when they’ll have a bed ready for him?”

“Hopefully in the next hour or so. There were several admissions to the floors because of the accidents.”

“I know…I admitted a few of those myself,” Midland said, frowning as she watched Larabee’s face. She knew the man had tried to open his eyes several times during his treatment, but had never gotten further than flickering the golden lashes.

“I think he’s coming round, Doctor.”

“Chris, can you hear me?”

“Hmm…Snow Angel…” Larabee moaned as his eyes opened to half-mast and he saw nothing but a white blur standing over him.

“Well now, I don’t think I’ve ever been called that, Chris, but maybe it’ll take if you tell all my patients that.”

“D…doc?” the injured man slurred as his vision cleared somewhat and the woman’s familiar face looked down at him.

“That’s right. Glad to see you still know me. How do you feel?”

“L…like h…hell!”

“I guess so,” Midland said as she continued to study her patient’s face. “Now how about answering a couple of questions for me?”

“Try.”

“That’s all I ask. Okay, name?”

“Chris Larabee.”

“Very good. Can you tell me where you are?”

“Saint Vincents?”

“That’s two. Do you know why you’re here?”

“Prob’ly ‘cause I f…feel like I w…went ten r…rounds w…with Hulk Hogan.”

“I expect you would, and I might add you look like you lost every round?”

“Thanks, glad I look as bad as I f…feel,” Larabee said and opened his mouth to speak, but was stopped by the woman’s hand on his shoulder.

“Now before you ask you won’t be going home today. As a matter of fact your room should be ready anytime.”

“Wasn’t going t…to ask…”

“Now, Chris,” the physician laughed as she looked into his eyes once more. “I don’t believe that for a second. That’s always the first question out of your mouth. Now, there are some very worried people in the waiting room and they’d like to see you, but I won’t let them come in unless you feel up to the visit. Do you feel like seeing them?”

“Yeah…how long have I been here?”

“You came in around midnight last night so you’ve been here around eight hours.”

“Christmas Day?”

“Yes it is.”

“Tell them… tell them to go home…”

“Do you really think they’ll do that?”

“Probably not, but it’s Christmas and they d…don’t…don’t,” Chris gasped as he twisted on the bed and pain flared from the reawakened wounds inflicted on his body. 

“Easy, Chris, just lie still and it’ll get better,” Midland soothed.

“E…easy for y…you to s…say,” Larabee ground out.

Midland smiled at the man’s words and watched as some of the lines left his face. She checked the readouts and made a couple of notations on his chart while she waited for his breathing to ease.

“Shit!” he finally cursed as tears came to his eyes.

“I can imagine,” Midland said, when their eyes met once more. “Feel better?”

“Not really.”

“I can tell the others to come back later,” the physician suggested as the nurse noted the readings on the monitors.

“No, no. I’m okay, Doc, just have to remember not to move around so much,” Larabee said, frowning as he looked at his bandaged left hand. His eyes lit on the tip of one finger and he gasped.

“Chris, what’s wrong?” Midland asked as she saw the panic flaring in Larabee’s eyes.

“My ring…they tried…tried to c…cut it off. I…I…”

“I know, Chris, but they didn’t get it. Your ring is safe…”

“Where?”

“Buck has it. He’ll give it back when you’re ready for it.”

“Buck has it?”

“That’s right and your finger will be fine as long as you take it easy.”

“O…okay…sorry.”

“Nothing for you to be sorry…”

“Oh, sorry, Dr. Midland. I didn’t know you were here.”

“That’s okay, Maggie. Is something wrong?” Midland asked of the woman standing in the doorway.

“No. I just wanted to let Jordan know the floor called and they have his room ready.”

“All right. Chris, I’ll let the others know they can visit you once you’re settled in your room. Okay?”

“Okay…thanks, Doc.”

“You’re welcome.” Midland said before walking out of the room. Once in the hallway she quickly made her way to the waiting room where Larabee’s friends were stretched out on the waiting room chairs. She smiled at the two men who were still awake and hushed them with a simple nod of her head. She waited for the two men to follow her and once more glanced at the sleeping figures before turning her attention to Travis and Tanner.

“Doc, how is he? Can we see him yet?”

“Not yet, Vin. He just woke up and they have his room ready. As soon as he’s settled one of the nurses will come let you know. Okay?”

“Guess so,” Tanner said, his voice tinged with disappointment.

“Perhaps it would be okay for Vin to accompany Chris to his room. Might make it easier on the nursing staff,” Travis explained.

“All right, Vin,” the physician acquiesced and stood back to watch the tracker hurry across the ER.

“Thank you, Doctor. Now how is Chris doing?”

“Better than I expected at this point, Mr. Travis. He won’t be going anywhere for a few days, but I expect him to make a full recovery.”

“How much damage did they do to his finger? I mean…will he…you know?”

“They didn’t do as much damage as you might think. Chris was lucky none of the nerves were damaged. It took several stitches, but again it should heal without any permanent affects.”

“Thank God for that.”

“Have the police found out anything about his attackers?”

“Not yet and they want to question him as soon as possible.”

“I figured as much, but I don’t think Chris is up to a question and answer period right now. He’s probably going to have a major headache when the mild pain meds wear off.”

“Will you be able to give him anything for pain?” Travis asked knowing Larabee was suffering from a concussion on top of everything else.

“I’ve ordered something mild…just enough to cut through the worst of it, but with the head wounds there’s only so much we can do.”

“You’re doing everything you can. Doctor. We all know that and we’re grateful.”

“Thank you, Mr. Travis. Tell his men they can visit him for a few minutes once he’s settled, but then I want him resting and them too for that matter.”

“I’ll tell them doctor. I spoke with Nettie Wells and she’ll be coming in later this afternoon. Is there anything she should bring in for him?”

“Not that I can think of right now, but if anything comes to mind I’ll call.”

“Thank you, Doctor. Has anyone told you how tired you look?”

“No, guess they value their lives around here, but thanks for mentioning it. I’m on my way home now, but wanted to check on Chris before I left. Make them all go home once they see for themselves that he’s really all right.”

“I will, Doctor and Merry Christmas.”

“I’m so tired I think I’ll just say bah humbug,” Midland said, smiling as she turned and walked away as Travis’ laughter reached her ears.