A/N: The Supernatural story I've been trying to write is going nowhere. Therefore, this is my desperate attempt to break that nasty case of writer's block. Unbeta'd, so all the mistakes are mine.
The shrill ringing tore him from a pleasant dream of sun-drenched fields and a child's delighted laughter. Chris fumbled for his cell with sleep-clumsy fingers and a groan.
"So help me God, Buck, if you've gotten yourself tossed in the can again, you can just--"
His irritation subsided at the soft drawl. "Vin?"
"Could use your help, Cowboy."
Chris squinted at the clock's glowing numbers--2:23 a.m.--and suppressed another groan. "Don't tell me--that bucket of bolts you call a Jeep has broken down again."
"'Fraid it's...a little more complicated."
With a frown, Chris sat up straight. He couldn't put his finger on it, but his friend sounded off."Vin? Something wrong?" When he didn't get an answer, he lapsed into his command tone. "Vin!"
"Yeah. Shit...don' haveta yell... Heard ya...first time."
Wide awake now, Chris detected the pain, but it was the lack of force behind Vin's grumbling that had him throwing off the covers and reaching for his pants. "What happened?" he repeated with less heat.
"Had a little...dust up. Took a knife...to the side."
No point asking how--in Vin's neighborhood it could've gone down any one of a hundred ways. Pulling on his boots, Chris clenched his teeth against a string of curse words. "How bad?"
"Hurt's like...sonuvabitch." Vin sounded like he was speaking through gritted teeth. "Losin'...some blood."
"You call 911?" Chris had his shirt on now, was reaching for keys and wallet. "Vin?"
"Don' wanna...get 'im in trouble."
Chris's alarm skyrocketed. Vin's drawl was deepening, the words breathless, and the help he'd been sure was right around the corner wasn't coming.
"Damn it, Vin, did they knock you on the head, too? You're a police officer who's been assaulted--you can't hide that!"
"Be fine." The retort was stubborn, mulish, and way too weak.
"Where are you?" Chris jogged to the truck without zipping his coat, ignoring the bite of frigid wind. "Vin? Where the hell are you?"
"Uh...alley. Not sure where. Kinda got...turned around." He paused, breathing hard. "'S not...a bad kid...Chris. Jus' needs...someone to care." Chris heard scuffling, followed by a muffled gasp. "You comin' soon?"
He sucked in a deep breath, working to keep his voice calm and soothing. "I'm on my way. But Vin, you've gotta try to tell me where you are. Look around--what do you see?"
"'S dark." Vin sighed. "Thought I could...talk 'im out of it...you know? Guess I's wrong."
This wasn't working. The truck hit the highway in a spray of gravel and Chris pressed the gas pedal to the floor. "Hang on for a minute, okay, pard? Don't hang up."
Thank God the roads were all but deserted at this hour. Chris gripped the wheel one-handed while he put Vin on hold and frantically punched buttons.
"Buck, it's Chris."
"Damn, Stud, isn't this way past your bedtime?"
"Shut up and listen. Vin's hurt and he can't tell me where he is. I need you to get J.D. to put a trace on his cell. Send an ambulance as soon as you have a location."
All the teasing drained from Buck's voice. "We're on it. I'll be in touch."
Chris disconnected, then clicked back to Vin. "Hey. You still with me?" He pressed the phone tighter to his hear, holding his breath, but heard only dead air. If his friend had hung up... "Vin! Answer me, pard."
More scuffling sounds and then harsh, uneven breathing. "'M here. You comin', Chris?"
Chris swallowed hard, but his voice still came out rough. "Doing my best. How you holding up?"
"Might wanna hurry. Don' feel...so good."
God, he was losing him. Vin was going to bleed out, alone, in some crappy back alley, while Chris sat in his damn truck. He blinked stinging eyes, forcing a lightness he didn't feel. "A knife in the side'll do that. You just hang in there, okay?"
"Cold." The word stuttered on a shiver. "And tired."
Panic rose up hot and thick in his throat. "I don't care how tired you are, you're not allowed to sleep. You stay on the line and keep talking, or I'll kick your ass when I get there. You hear me, Vin?"
Chris choked a laugh. "Damn straight. How else would I deal with you hardheads?"
A pause, and when Vin spoke Chris could feel the effort behind each wispy word. "Keep talking...Cowboy. Need to...hear your voice."
"You got it." Chris gripped the wheel with slick palms. "I ever tell you about the time Buck tried to date triplets? Damn fool thought he could keep 'em all on a string at the same time..."
He talked until he reached the exit that would take him to Purgatorio, till his friend's responses became nearly inaudible, then ceased altogether. Till J.D. called to say Vin's signal was coming from an alley off Rush Street and that paramedics were on their way. Till he cut the engine, shoved the phone into his pocket, and grabbed his gun from the glove compartment, leaving the truck unlocked and double-parked, hazard lights flashing.
Gun barrel resting against his cheek, Chris put his back to the brick wall and edged cautiously down the filthy, damp passageway between two crumbling buildings. Even in the murky light from a single bare bulb, he could see hypodermic needles mixed liberally with the garbage littering the asphalt. The area appeared deserted, silence broken only by the distant wail of sirens.
Relaxing a little of his vigilance, Chris moved deeper into the alley, breaking into a jog at the sight of a shadowy form sprawled across the pavement. Tucking the gun into his waistband, he dropped to his knees, wincing at the stickiness that soaked his jeans and spread in a growing pool, black in the dimness. Heart pounding, he brushed aside a tangle of brown hair to reveal a pale, waxen cheek.
"Vin. Oh, God, Cowboy. What have you gotten yourself into?"
Willing his hands to remain steady, he ran them over every inch of Vin's body, cataloguing injuries. A sizeable lump on the back of his head--no wonder he'd been less than coherent--but arms, legs, and ribs seemed intact. He knew he'd located the source of the bleeding, just above the curve of Vin's right hip, when Vin moaned and fresh warmth coated his fingers.
"That's not your side, it's your back, you stupid bastard," he muttered, but his hands were gentle as he shifted Vin so that his head lay on Chris's lap instead of the filthy pavement.
He shrugged out of his coat and stripped off his shirt, folding the soft flannel into a thick pad that he pressed firmly against the wound. Vin moaned again, eyelashes fluttering.
"Easy, Vin," he murmured. "It's me."
Gooseflesh stippled Chris's arms, the thin tee shirt no protection against the cold, but he gritted his teeth and endured, unwilling to let up on the pressure long enough to don his jacket. Vin's lips were blue, his flesh cold under Chris's fingertips as he searched for and found a weak, erratic pulse. Blood was already seeping through his makeshift bandage; the smell, thick and coppery, filled the air.
To his surprise, Vin cracked open an eye. "Chrissss."
"Hey." He tried to meet the vague, unfocused gaze. "'Bout time you joined this party, considering you dragged me out of bed for it."
Before Chris could stop him, Vin tried to lift his head. Even the slight movement sparked agony; he clutched Chris's leg in a white-knuckled grip, biting down hard on his lip.
"Don't move." Chris rested a hand on the back of Vin's neck in gentle restraint. "You're bleeding like a stuck pig."
"Guess 's...worse'n...I thought." A shudder wracked his frame and moisture sparkled on his lashes. "God...hurts."
"Shh. Just try to relax, help's coming. Gonna take care of you, Cowboy."
He was gratified when Vin seemed to settle, calmed by the sound of his voice. His friend's eyes slid shut and his death grip on Chris's leg slowly eased.
The sirens were close now, flickers of red and blue ricocheting down the alley.
The knot in Chris's stomach unclenched a little at the sight. "Almost here, Vin. Vin?"
Vin didn't respond. His jagged breathing stuttered and skipped, and Chris leaned in, his lips inches from Vin's ear. "Don't you dare quit on me," he said, but though he meant them to be fierce, the words came out soft and pleading. "Damn it, Vin, you've never backed down from anything in your life. You don't get to do it now. You hear me? Vin!"
Lights blinded him, followed by a deep voice. "Paramedics. Someone call an officer down?"
"Over here!" Chris shouted. "Hurry!"
Suddenly everything shattered into disjointed sounds and images: the brisk tattoo of footsteps and metallic rattle of a gurney; hands, easing Vin from his lap, nudging Chris aside; rapid-fire questions Chris did his best to answer.
Then Buck was there, an island of calm amidst the sea of turmoil. He wrapped Chris, who was now shivering hard, into his coat. "Junior's in good hands. Give 'em room to work."
Chris let his friend lead him several steps down the alley, where he sagged against the brick wall. The full impact of the last hour caught up with him and he swiped a shaky hand through his hair, his legs weak.
"What happened?" Buck asked. When Chris didn't reply, eyes fixed on the paramedics as they worked over Vin's motionless body, he deliberately moved to block his view. "Chris, any minute now that cop over there's gonna start demanding some answers. I'll handle him, but pard, you've got to fill me in."
With a mental shake, Chris forced himself to focus. He described the phone call, and the little he'd been able to glean from Vin's disjointed rambling.
"I'm sure it's got something to do with one of those damn juvenile delinquents," he snarled. "I keep trying to tell him he's wasting his time with them."
Buck scratched the back of his head. "Yeah, well, you know Vin. He's got a soft spot a mile wide for those kids. Guess he figures it's worth it."
Chris snorted. "Right. Stubborn fool goes out of his way to help them and how do they repay him? With a knife in the back."
Before Buck could reply the older of the two EMTs, a dark-haired bear of a man as tall as Josiah, waved them over.
"How is he?" Chris demanded.
The man grimaced. "As stable as he's gonna get. He's lost a lot of blood. We're taking him to Mercy."
Peering over his shoulder, Chris caught a brief glimpse of Vin, strapped down with an I.V. in each arm, before the second paramedic whisked the gurney toward the mouth of the alley.
"Make sure they know he's a federal agent," he said, turning the full force of his glare on the man before him. "I'll be right behind you."
The man jogged after his partner, but Buck grabbed Chris's elbow before he could follow. "Hold on a minute, Stud." He extended his hand, palm up. "Keys."
Chris shrugged off the grip, scowling. "The hell?"
"You got a lot on your mind right now," Buck answered. "No way I'm lettin' you behind a wheel."
"I'm fine, Buck. The hospital's no more than ten minutes from here. The trip from the ranch was a lot longer, and I made it with a helluva lot more distractions."
"And you're damn lucky you didn't wind up in a ditch." When Chris rolled his eyes, Buck pressed a hand to his chest. "Humor me. J.D.'s already out there waiting to drive you to the hospital. I'll bring your truck as soon as I've wrapped things up here."
The honest concern in his friend's face quelled Chris's protests. Not for the first time he considered how fortunate he was to have Buck Wilmington as his friend. "Thanks." He ducked his head, rubbing a hand over his jaw. "Don't know where I'd've been without you tonight. I owe--"
"Just shut up and go find J.D." Buck gave him a gentle shove. "I already called Nathan. He'll see you there."
Chris didn't need to be told twice. He was halfway down the alley when Buck called his name, pulling him up short.
He turned, shuffling his feet. "Yeah."
Despite the darkness he could feel the intensity of Buck's gaze. "He's gonna be all right."
It was Team 7's talismen, a mantra they spoke whenever one of them was hurt--kind of like making the sign of the cross or throwing salt over your shoulder. His throat too tight, Chris could only manage a short nod before breaking into a jog.
He wished like hell he believed it.
Concluded in part 2