By A Thread

by Kim Maddox

Chapter 12
Mary Travis was holding Chris´ hand and praying. The fever refused to go down, he was in complete renal failure, and his heart and lungs were weaker. But still he was hanging on. It amazed Mary, the amount of fight left in this man. He had even squeezed her hand a couple of times when he heard her voice. “God, please don´t take him from us. I love him so much. Billy loves him and his friends need him. Please spare him. Take care of Ezra too Lord. I know you understand him even if most people don´t. He is a truly good man,” Mary wept as she looked into the face of the man she loved more than any man before, even her husband. If God would spare him, they would make it work. She was never going to be without him again.

Chris heard Mary´s whispered tearful prayer. He wanted to tell her he heard her, but even if he had the strength to speak, the tube in his throat wouldn´t allow it. The ventilator that was pushing oxygen into his weakened lungs was the only sound other than Mary´s quiet sobs. He tried to open his eyes, but it was just too difficult. There was pain everywhere. His head, back, legs, and belly ached. Mary stayed by his side day and night begging him to wake up, to open his eyes, anything to let her know he was still there. He tried, he really tried.

Chris heard Dr. Stein and Dr. Flynn enter his cubicle. He had become accustomed to the sound of their voices. They were as familiar to him as Mary´s and Nathan´s. They were speaking to Mary. She cried harder. He couldn´t understand what they were saying.

“Are you sure Dr. Stein?” asked Mary.

“We are positive Mrs. Travis. They are supposed to be here with Montoya tomorrow. It´s the best news we could possibly get.”

“Thank God,” said Mary, “I knew they would find him. Is Chris going to be o.k?

“Mrs. Travis, we are hopeful, but you know the odds. In a normal strain of Hanta Virus, say Sin Nombre, the survival rate is 50%. This is not a normal strain. This is not air born as Hanta is, but transmitted by human contact. This strain is more like Ebola in its characteristics. His heart and lungs are bearing the brunt of the damage. His kidneys are still shut down and his blood pressure is still low. The hemorrhaging is getting worse. We have given him three units of blood. He is just fading and the more time that passes… well, we need a serum now, if one can be created. There is no cure for Hanta, not even an established treatment. Right now we just need to get that suspect here, get some blood and get started. Oh, and prayer wouldn´t hurt.”

Mary was relieved yet still apprehensive. ‘What if they didn´t get the suspect here on time? What if a serum couldn´t be found?´ The questions weighed heavily on her mind. Chris had to be all right. She wouldn´t have it any other way.

Chris wanted to be able to breathe. He wanted to open his eyes and look into Mary´s beautiful face. He wanted to talk to her, to tell her everything would be o.k. Chris wanted to live. Finally after all these years Chris Larabee didn´t crave death. He started trying to will himself to live. ‘Dammit, get out of this bed and walk out of here.´ He cursed to himself. He wouldn´t let this beat him. He had been shot, stabbed, poisoned, and banged up in any number of ways. This virus wasn´t gonna get him. ‘Stay with me Mary, I´m doing my damndest to get back to you.´

Vin and Notch were waiting for Ramirez to show up at Notch´s restaurant. The meeting was to be a low key affair. No attention brought to either party. Vin paced nervously. He couldn´t blow it now. They were too close. Chris and Ezra were depending on this meeting.

Four well dressed gentlemen entered the restaurant and sat down at a corner booth. They all ordered shrimp scampi. This was the pre approved signal set up by Vin and Roberto at their earlier meeting.

Notch greeted the men at their table and talked jovially with them for a couple of minutes. He invited them to have dessert on the house and shook hands with the one closest to him. The men finished their meal, nodded their heads at the men and left. Notch quickly unfolded the small slip of paper the man had slipped into his palm as the hand shake was exchanged. There was a brief note of directions on the paper. “Listen boys, here´s what it says, ‘Pier 42, bay 16, one hour.”

“Well, let´s get ready to go,” Buck jumped to his feet, “the sooner we get this guy, the sooner we can be on our way to Chris and Ezra.”

A flurry of motion revolved around the five men. Notch and Vin were going to meet with Roberto and receive Montoya. Josiah and Buck would be waiting in case Montoya had friends, and JD would move in with the Miami ATF to take control of Montoya until 4:00 pm when their plane departed the Miami airport bound for Denver. Until that time there were preparations to make, a holding cell for Montoya to be exact. An impenetrable fortress. AD Travis arranged a cell at the Miami Police Department with three highly trusted agents to guard him. He wouldn´t get away again.

Chapter 13

Ezra was having the oddest dreams. Sometimes the dreams were so amusing he could have laughed out loud if not for the ventilator that was keeping him alive. There were other times however, that the dreams were absolutely terrifying. Dreams of demons and death, dreams of disaster and destruction. He just wanted to wake up.

Ezra awoke with a jerk. He was dreaming that Chris had succumbed to the illness that was ravaging his body. The dream revealed that he was not far behind. His body was getting weaker as his heart and lungs began to show signs of wear and tear.

Nathan reached for Ezra´s hand and held it firmly as he looked into the fearful green eyes of his friend. The fever that was still raging through his body was making him confused and anxious. The medic wanted to ease his fears. “Take it easy Ezra, I´m right here. Just rest now.”

Ezra tried to speak and discovered that he couldn´t. There was a tube down his throat. He started trying to fight the ventilator. Nathan, rising from the chair he was occupying, put his hand on his friend´s forehead soothing the troubled man. “Easy Ez. It´s a ventilator; it´s helping you breathe. Don´t fight it. Just relax and let the ventilator do the work.”

Ezra relaxed a bit and some of the panic seemed to leave him. He looked at Nathan pleadingly. That look was Nathan´s undoing. Tears started to form in his eyes as he thought of the confusion and pain his friend was feeling. He knew Ezra was asking a question, he just didn´t know what the question was.

Ezra sank back onto the pillow. The tears in Nathan´s eyes told the whole story. Chris was dead. ‘Dead´, he thought dully. ‘I failed; I didn´t get Montoya on time. Chris died, and my own death is imminent.´ The despondent man didn´t care anymore. Death was preferable to living like this. The pain, both physical and emotional was more that he could bear.

Nathan saw the dejected look on Ezra´s face and couldn´t figure what was going through the man´s mind. Tears escaped Ezra´s tightly closed eyelids. He began to become agitated. His chest was heaving as he fought the ventilator. The monitors registering his pulse, blood pressure, and temperature were showing erratic readings.

Nathan attempted to calm Ezra, but his anxious thrashing had escalated. His feeble movements triggered an alarm on the monitor. Dr. Flynn rushed into the cubicle and pushed medication into the IV. The rapid heartbeat slowed and Ezra´s breathing was a little easier. Susan didn´t even have to tell Nathan that his friend had reached the next stage of the illness. The weakened rapid heartbeat told the story.

Chris meanwhile, was faring no better than Ezra. In fact his condition was deteriorating more by the minute. The respiratory team had to suction his lungs every two hours to keep him from drowning. Time was running out.

Chapter 14

Vin and Notch arrived at the pier and set a perimeter. The wait for Roberto Ramirez was not a long one, which was a good thing. The sharpshooter was wrapped so tight he was practically like a spring.

Roberto´s men walked slowly onto the pier. They stepped aside revealing Roberto to Vin and Notch. They stepped forward and greeted each other with a handshake.

“Ah, Notch, how are you my friend?” Roberto asked warmly.

“Aces and eights, Roberto, aces and eights.”

“And you Mr. Tanner?”

“I´ll be right as rain as soon as we get Montoya back to Denver,” Vin replied.

“That´s what I like, straight to the point, the purpose for our little tete-a-tete. Ricardo, escort Mr. Montoya in please.”

The shackled man was dragged into view. Vin was astonished by what he saw. Montoya had been beaten practically to death. His face was a bloody pulp and he was barely standing. Vin grinned a tight smile. “What the hell happened to him?”

“He fell down,” Roberto replied blandly.

“How many times?” asked Notch mischieviously. Vin laughed, it felt good. It was good to be able to laugh, even if it was about a man being beaten.

The meeting drew to a close as Vin once again expressed his gratitude to Roberto for his help. “You owe me no thanks,” replied Roberto, “you have thanked me enough by embracing a very dear friend and giving him somewhere to belong. This friend is very important to me and it gladdens my heart to know he has found some sense of peace, of family. It is I who should be thanking you.”

Vin threw Roberto a two-fingered salute and Notch returned Roberto´s handshake and they were alone. Roberto and his men left as quickly as they arrived. JD, Josiah, and Buck moved in and took charge of Montoya, Buck grinning broadly as he took in Montoya´s appearance. He gave a low whistle and snickered as the ATF agents from Miami cuffed Montoya and led him away, muttering about police brutality. Notch and Buck had already taken care of the extradition issues and all they had to do now was get to the airport.

Vin called Susan and told her they would be on their way at 4:00 that afternoon. Susan told him time was of the essence now. Chris was barely hanging on and Ezra was starting to fade. Vin assured her that nothing would stop them from getting Montoya there, but Vin didn´t relax his guard. He knew he wouldn´t relax till they were on the plane bound for Denver.

Chapter 15

Mary Travis sat beside her former lover´s bed holding his hand and watching for any movement. Susan told her that Chris was now comatose. He was struggling to breathe even with the ventilator. His heartbeat was so weak and faint it could barely be detected and his temperature was spiking at 106 degrees.

Mary was starting to lose hope. Dr. Stein was afraid the end was near. He was only giving Chris a few more hours. There were times that Mary swore he wasn´t breathing. She watched the rise and fall of his chest, waiting for the next breath, praying for the next breath. ‘Breathe Chris, breathe.´ Mary sat straight up, holding her breath. He wasn´t breathing. His chest wasn´t rising. ‘No God, no!´ She grabbed the front of the hospital gown that was covering his chest. “Chris!” she shouted. “Chris, don´t do this, breathe!”

The door of the cubicle burst open and Mary was shoved out of the way. “He´s crashing,” screamed Susan Flynn, “I need epi, come on, move it! Hang in there Larabee, they´re on their way. You´re a stubborn son of a bitch, let´s see some of that mule-headed bastard I know you can be. Get that crash cart in here!”

Susan was frantically performing CPR. A nurse appeared with the crash cart. Susan jabbed a needle with a syringe filled with epi, directly into Chris´ heart, then placed the paddles of the crash cart on his chest. “Three hundred watts seconds,” they waited for the machine to reach its charge, “Clear!” Chris´ body arched as the currant ran through his body. “No conversion, three hundred watts seconds, clear!” Susan screamed again. This time the doctor´s voice held relief, “He converted, we´ve got him back.”

The team of doctors, nurses, and technicians injected medications, adjusted oxygen flow, and started new IV´s. Mary followed Susan out into the hall.

“What happened Dr. Flynn?” Mary asked shakily.

“His heart is giving out Mrs. Travis, he can´t survive another episode like this. He´s just too weak. I think you had better prepare yourself for the worse, and anyone that might like to say goodbye to Chris needs to make their way here.”

Susan left Mary standing hunched over sobbing. Chris had fought so hard. He wouldn´t give up. He would wait for Vin and Buck to get back, wouldn´t he? That´s all Mary had left to hope for now. She couldn´t keep him here. She had tried and he had almost left her. ‘Vin, Buck, please hurry!´

Nathan came out of Ezra´s room and saw Mary crying. “Oh my God, Chris?”

Mary turned to face Nathan. “He´s still with us but Dr. Flynn says he doesn´t have much time left. His heart stopped. They had to shock his heart twice. Nathan, I am trying to keep him here but I think it´s a losing fight.”

Nathan enveloped the sobbing woman is his strong arms and held her as she wept. “I guess I had better call AD Travis and let him know the latest. He wants up to the minute reports on Chris and Ez.”

“How is Ezra, Nathan?” Mary asked seeming almost ashamed that she had neglected to inquire about Ezra´s condition.

“He´s going downhill pretty fast. We need a serum like yesterday. I just hope it´s not too late for both of them,” Nathan answered sadly.

Chapter 16

Buck bade Notch a bittersweet goodbye before boarding the plane. It was hard to say farewell to his friend. Notch had put his restaurant, his job on the police force, in effect his whole life on hold to help them find Montoya. It touched all of them that they had a friend who would be so willing to help in their time of need.

The men also felt indebted to Roberto Ramirez for all his help and the eventual capture of Montoya. As they boarded, Vin turned around and caught a glimpse of Roberto standing next to a small plane on the tarmac. Vin smiled and shot a quick salute to the man as he got on board.

The small commuter plane was almost empty, save the four agents and their prisoner. The men took turns being handcuffed to Montoya. The cuffs were probably not necessary but who wanted to take the chance.

The plane set down at Dallas-Ft. Worth airport. There was a one hour delay between their flights. Buck remained cuffed to Montoya the whole time they were in the terminal. Vin phoned the hospital and joined the others with a terrified expression on his usually calm face. “Nathan said Chris coded a little while ago. They got him back but they had to restart his heart. The doc says we don´t have much time left.” His voice faded off and he turned to look out the large window at the planes landing and taking off. He just wanted to get on the plane, get to the hospital and see Chris and Ezra. He sighed in relief when the voice over the loud speaker called for the boarding of their flight.

The Fokker 100 jet took off without incident and the four men settled in for the one hour flight from Dallas to Denver. JD read his Hot Rod magazine and Buck read a True Detective story. Josiah and Vin sat quietly and contemplated the fates that had brought them to this point. Vin, who was now cuffed to Montoya, drifted off into a restless sleep. His dreams were filled with images of Chris suffering and dying, of Ezra, alone in his pain, of the rest of their lives without the strong leader and the enigmatic undercover agent.

Josiah roused Vin from his slumber when the plane was making its final approach to Denver. He fastened the seatbelt around Montoya´s waist and then his own. ‘Come on, let´s get on the ground.´ Vin thought to himself.

The plane touched down and the four men barely waited for the wheels to stop turning before they hustled Montoya to the exit. Waiting at the baggage carousel was a nightmare. Finally they met AD Travis at the entrance and after a brief greeting they were on their way to the hospital, Montoya in the custody of several armed guards.

Chapter 17

The four agents burst through the doors to the isolation unit. They looked through the windows and saw Mary sitting with Chris and Nathan with Ezra. They all felt their hearts drop into the pits of their stomachs when they saw the conditions of the two men.

Ezra was in stage three of the virus about to enter stage four. He had to be resuscitated during the morning hours and his temperature had hit 105 degrees. Nathan was sponging his hot skin with cool water attempting to bring the man a little comfort because even ice was doing nothing to bring down the fever that was ravaging the undercover agents body.

Nathan looked up to see the other men standing at the window. He gave a tired wave and the men were shocked to see how run down Nathan looked. His bloodshot eyes and disheveled appearance revealed just how exhausted the medic really was.

If Ezra´s appearance was frightening, Chris´ was down right terrifying. His skin was absolutely blue. His temp still hovered at 106 degrees and he had to be resuscitated again just before the men returned to Denver.

Mary Travis was totally exhausted. The men were extremely concerned about her. She was barely able to stand, having not left Chris´ side for more than five minutes. She was standing by his bed holding his hand in one of hers and attempting to massage the pain from her temples with the other.

Buck paced the hallway outside the cubicles. He wanted to let Mary and Nathan take a break and let him and one of the others sit with their sick partners. Josiah went to find one of the doctors to get permission to do so.

Josiah came back with Susan Flynn in tow. The doctor was trying to be optimistic. The CDC had sent a team of virologists to work on the serum that would hopefully cure Chris and Ezra. Chris was just so close to death that every second counted. Optimism was hard to find in this whole situation.

Susan consented to let Buck and Vin go in and sit with their friend´s for a while. Mary and Nathan came out of the cubicles and embraced the four agents. Susan quickly sent them to a couple of empty rooms with orders for a meal, a shower, and some sleep.

Vin and Buck suited up in the sterile gear that would protect Chris and Ezra from germs. Vins hands were shaking. Not from fear of catching the illness, but from fear of seeing Chris up close. The window had always provided a barrier between him and the destruction of the man that the sharpshooter had always thought indestructible. Now the window was gone.

Vin hesitantly stepped into Chris´ cubicle. The only sounds were the steady whoosh of the ventilator and the faint being of a heart monitor. He swallowed hard and fought the urge to run from the room and let someone else do the task he so feared, but Chris needed him, so he cautiously approached the bed that held the gravely ill man that had become not only his boss, but his friend, no his brother, as well. At that moment the alarm on the heart monitor emitted a shrill ring. A full team of doctors, nurses, and technicians flooded the small room. Vin was pushed against a wall and held there by an onslaught of medical equipment. His eyes became wide with panic and he started trying to work his way to the door. Susan stopped him, “Vin, I know this is hard, but you need to talk to Chris. This may be the last chance you have. Talk to him; let him hear your voice. I believe he can hear you, I really do. We´re trying everything we can to keep him here. Just a little longer is all we need for the serum. Vin please give it a try. All the drugs and the electric shock and everything else we have tried is failing.”

Susan´s look of defeat moved Vin out of his fears for himself and into action. He stepped to Chris´ bedside and into the midst of the medical personnel and equipment. A nurse moved aside a bit to make room for him. The alarm on the monitor was silent now. The immediate crisis was past. Vin didn´t know what to say to the comatose man. Didn´t even know if Chris could hear him. “Hey Cowboy, don´t know if you´re hearing me, but if you are please hold on for a little longer. We´ve got Montoya back here. They´re working on a treatment for this. They´ve took just about all the blood Montoya had in his body. He looks like he´s about to spring a leak. It´s only gonna be a little longer. Hang on Pard, hang on.” Taking Chris´ cold limp hand in his own, Vin squeezed it lightly. He was totally amazed when the man returned the gesture. O.K. it was a weak squeeze, but it was there. Chris was still fighting, ‘Thank you God,´ Vin prayed silently.

Buck entered Ezra´s cubicle after he received a sign from Vin that Chris was still alive. He had held his breath for what seemed like an hour until he was sure Chris hadn´t left them. Now his thoughts centered on Ezra. The once healthy looking man had taken on a sickly gray pallor. His hair was soaked with sweat and there were small trails of blood streaming down his face from both eyes. He couldn´t believe how sick both his friends were. How a little virus could turn so severe. He prayed that Montoya´s blood could get the answers the CDC so desperately needed for the serum.

Buck took a washcloth and gently wiped the blood away. Ezra still responded to touch. It was apparently painful. He winced and tried to move away. Buck spoke softly to him, trying to ease his fears. “Hey Ezra. You just lay right still and let ole Buck take care of everything. We got Montoya. Ya´ll are gonna be ok now Ezra,” Buck continued this until Ezra fell into a restless but deeper sleep.

The two well agents sat by their sick counterparts for hours, reading to them, talking to them, and just sitting quietly at times willing them to take another breath.

Josiah and JD put on the sterile suits and came in for a little while as well. They had been to the office and checked on things. Team Four had done a great job taking care of their cases. There was very little paperwork to be done so they had time to be at the hospital.

Josiah prayed silently for the well being of the two sick men. JD chattered away about the trip to Miami and the capture of Montoya. He described Notch Prescott in such a way that had Vin practically on the floor.

Chris was hearing this. He wished he could let the men know that he was hearing them but there seemed to be no way out of the deep, dark, hot pit of hell he was in.

Ezra heard the prayer that Josiah sent up for his recovery. He also heard the prayer for his soul, as well as Chris´. Josiah was very serious about death and believed that any man deserved a prayer on his deathbed. That´s what it felt like to Ezra. A deathbed. He wondered if Chris felt the same way. He was so hot and in so much pain, yet he was alive and he was going to try his damndest to stay that way.

Vin and JD were now in the room with him. He felt Vin´s presence. Vin spoke to him. He couldn´t comprehend every word, but he understood dying…Chris…serum…. He wanted to know about Chris. He hadn´t heard anything about his friend since the first day and he misunderstood Nathan´s reaction to a question. He later got the answer.

The five agents along with Mary Travis took turns sitting with the two sick men throughout the night. At 4:30 am Susan Flynn ran down the hall and through the double doors leading to isolation. All the men except for Josiah were in the lounge that had been provided for them. Josiah was in with Ezra and Mary was once again at Chris´ side. The men sat up groggily wiping sleep from their eyes. The couches didn´t offer much comfort but they just couldn´t go home to sleep. They just couldn´t leave period.

When the men saw Susan´s excitement and the smile on her face, they knew something good had happened. “Susan, what ya got?” asked Nathan anxiously.

“We´ve got a serum,” she replied out of breath from her sprint across the hospital.

“Damn, I knew it,” yelled Buck enthusiastically picking JD up off the ground in a bear hug.

“Listen now,” Susan continued, “It´s not guaranteed to work, I just want you to be prepared. It´s a possibility that it won´t work.”

“Yeah, but there´s a chance that it will, at least they have a chance now,” said Vin quietly.

“That´s right, now I´m very optimistic, especially about Ezra. His condition is not as advanced as Chris´ and he hasn´t lost as much blood. That is definitely in his favor. Chris is going to have it a little harder, but I have hopes for his recovery as well,” Susan stated.

“Well, what are you waiting for? Give them the medicine,” said JD enthusiastically.

“It´s not that easy JD,” replied Susan, “we have to have permission from next of kin. Chris and Ezra have a problem there. We will probably have to get a court order to be able to give them the drug. Ezra´s mother couldn´t be reached and Chris has no family.”

“Yes he does,” returned Buck.

“Who? I´ll get on it,” Susan said anxiously.

“Vin, you have Chris´ power of attorney, and I think Nathan has Ezra´s. Don´t power of attorney work as well as next of kin?”

“In this case I don´t know. This is a matter of life and death. The board may not want to take the chance. I´ll get the hospital lawyers to take a crack at this. Meanwhile, keep your fingers crossed.” Susan took off running to the lawyer´s office.

The men filled Mary and Josiah in on what was going on. Mary was furious that red tape was keeping Chris and Ezra from getting the medication they needed to survive. She picked up the phone in the lounge and called AD Travis. She told him to start calling in favors. If it came down to a court order she wanted to be sure they got it.

An hour later Dr. Stein came in and administered the first of three bags of IV solution needed to counteract the affects of the virus. The first contained Ribavirin a drug the virologists had been working with for a few years. The second and third contained live human antibodies.

The court order had been issued without the hospital even asking for it. Vin signed a release for Chris as his power of attorney. Nathan signed the same form for Ezra. Chris had Ezra´s first power of attorney as team leader. Nathan was a backup. The men had planned for this circumstance and all had a backup signature.

The doctors warned them that this might take some time and it could be hours or even a couple of days before they saw signs of improvement. The Ribavirin seemed to ease their symptoms. The fevers started to abate and they seemed to rest easier. Neither man was comatose for the moment so that was an improvement as well.

The second bag of IV fluid delivered a massive dose of antibodies. The two men seemed to slip back just a bit, but rallied during the early evening hours. The third bag of fluids was such a shock to Chris´ system that he had to be put on an ECMO machine for a short time.

The next morning found four very weary agents sitting in the lounge. Mary was glued to Chris´ side and Nathan was in with Ezra watching for signs of recovery. Nathan got what he was waiting for. He sat drifting in and out of sleep, his arm on the bed. Ezra´s hand slid over to touch Nathan´s hand.

The feel of something touching his arm woke Nathan immediately. His eyes opened and met the green gaze of the southerner that had been away for so long. “Ezra, can you hear me? If you understand what I´m saying blink your eyes twice.”

Nathan was ecstatic when Ezra blinked twice and then squeezed Nathan´s hand in his own. “I´ll be right back, I´ve got to tell the others.” Nathan left the cubicle tearing off his scrubs as he went. He passed the nurse on duty and grabbed her by the shoulders and practically kissed her. “He´s awake.”

The nurse smiled and told Nathan, “See I knew it would be all right, I´ll call Dr. Flynn.”

“No, I want to if that´s all right.”

“That´s more than all right Nathan.” Allison, the nurse, dialed Susan´s pager number and the call was returned immediately. Allison put Nathan on and even though he wanted to play it cool, he just blurted out, “Ezra´s awake, he knows me, he can respond to yes and no questions, and he squeezed my hand.”

Susan couldn´t contain the cry of joy that came from her soul, “Yes, oh God, I knew it. I´m coming right down.”

Nathan hung up the phone and went charging into the lounge, tripping over JD who had taken up residence on the floor. “Ezra´s awake!” he called out. The exhausted agents didn´t move. “I said, Ezra´s awake!” This time it got through and the four men jumped to their feet and hurried to the window of the unit.

The sight that met their eyes was both joyous and heart breaking. Ezra had turned his head to look out the window, waiting to see his friends. Even though his face was partially covered by the ventilator they could see that he was grinning. He put his hand up and threw them a small wave. That act totally exhausted him, but they were thrilled to see it.

The other sight however, did nothing to boost their morale. Chris still lay fighting for life. The ECMO had taken some of the strain off his heart and lungs but he was just not responding as well as Ezra.

Mary had witnessed Nathan´s excited exit and had heard about Ezra´s recovery. She was glad. She also wished that it had been Chris. She didn´t wish any harm on Ezra, but she just had to have more time with Chris.

Susan sensed the men´s somber mood and tried to cheer them. “It´s early yet. We knew Ezra would respond sooner. His illness didn´t progress the way Chris´ did. Don´t give up. Chris is still fighting, as long as there is fight, there is life.”

The men knew she was trying to give them hope, but it seemed like Chris was ready to give up. After he seemed to rally upon the administration of the Ribavirin, he had no more breakthroughs, he even seemed to regress.

Ezra meanwhile, was recovering nicely. Dr. Stein told them that once recovery began it progressed miraculously. After a few days it would be hard to tell Ezra had even been sick. There would be a few lingering side effects, weakness, shortness of breath, headaches, that sort of thing. He would also have to limit his exercise and not exert himself for several weeks. They would all have to see that Ezra took care of himself.

As the day wore on the men paced the floors of the lounge and the hall outside the isolation unit. They visited Ezra, talking, reading, encouraging him to be patient, his recovery would be complete. By nightfall Ezra was breathing better and sitting up in bed. They were going to start weaning him off the ventilator the next morning.

The men also visited Chris. They sat and held his hand, talking soothingly to him, begging him to open his eyes. Just as the men began to believe Chris was going to slip away, the miraculous happened. Chris opened his eyes, bloodshot, confused, anxious, but beautiful green eyes opened and darted around, finally focusing on the blond woman sitting at the right side of his bed.

Mary was almost afraid to believe Chris was awake. She didn´t want another heart wrenching moment like before when they thought he was coming out of it, only to slip further away.

Looking closer, Mary couldn´t deny it any longer; Chris was awake. Her eyes filled with tears and she put her hand to Chris´ face trying to ease his troubled mind. “Oh God, you´re finally awake.” She went to the door, flung it open and in a most unladylike manner yelled, “He´s awake!” The men all jumped to their feet and a huge sigh of relief flooded the waiting area.

Dr. Stein and Dr. Flynn had been paged and both ran into the room. They immediately went to Chris and began checking vitals. When they were satisfied that he was stable, they went to speak with his family. “It looks like he is finally out of the woods. We think they will both make a full recovery. As I said before there will be lingering effects and exercise will be limited for several months, but it looks like Ezra should be up and around it two or three days and Chris in maybe a week or so. We are going to remove Ezra´s ventilator for another couple of hours and by tomorrow afternoon he should off it altogether. We´ll start trying to get Chris to breathing on his own in a couple more days. His lungs have taken a real beating and he needs the rest to let them heal. We are going to put them in a regular room probably tomorrow, so you´ll be able to visit better. Until then, why don´t you all go home, get some real rest? They are being well taken care of. The crisis is past. Go home and sleep,” Dr. Stein begged the five men and one woman that had not left the hospital for days.

Vin looked at the others and simply said, “I´m staying.”

The others nodded their heads and settled in the waiting room. Mary and Vin went to see Chris. He was calmer now and seemed to be better than he was an hour before. “It´s good to see you awake Cowboy,” said Vin smiling in relief. Vin could see that Chris was grinning too and trying to talk. The ventilator was getting in the way and making Chris agitated. Mary gently reminded him that it was helping him breathe and not to fight it.

Chris tried to calm down and let the ventilator do its job. He wondered how Ezra was. No one had told him anything about Ezra yet, and he had no way of asking. He also wondered how long he had been there. It seemed like forever. He looked at Mary and felt such overwhelming relief. She was there…still. He couldn´t believe it. He also made up his mind to do whatever he could to have her back in his life. He reached for her hand and she clasped it in hers and there was an electricity between them they both thought no longer existed. They both knew that they would never let each other go again.

Chapter 18

Over the next three days the two men´s recovery was dramatic. Ezra came off the ventilator and started talking and wouldn´t stop. He also got his appetite back and the other guys brought him any kind of food he could possibly want. He also regained his dislike of hospitals. He wanted out.

When Chris was moved into the room with him, Ezra made it his duty to talk to him, even though Chris couldn´t talk back. Ezra thought of every smart-ass remark he could and threw them at the annoyed man laughing because he couldn´t reply. Chris went along with it for a while and then became tired of the game. Ezra made a remark and Chris shot him a patented Larabee glare. Ezra grinned and said, “Bravo, quite impressive Mr. Larabee, welcome back.”

Two days later Chris was finally removed from the ventilator for good. The first thing he did was pull Mary into his arms and said, “I love you.” The second thing was tell Ezra “Shut up.” He then got around to telling his team “Thanks.”

Ezra was released from the hospital after two more days. Chris was released three days later. All the men and Mary hovered over the recovering agents for days, until Chris threatened to run away. They left them alone for a little while anyway. “Quite juvenile, Mr. Larabee,” said Ezra sarcastically and humorously at the same time.

Chris shrugged his shoulders and grinned, “Worked, didn´t it.” Ezra grinned again and tipped an imaginary hat in Chris´ direction, Chris promptly returned the salute.

Their strength slowly returned and they were finally able to go back to work. The other five agents had to cover their duties for a while but they didn´t mind. It helped sharpen Vin´s leadership skills and Buck´s finesse as an undercover operative. It also gave Chris and Ezra lots to laugh about as they watched the surveillance tapes.

Montoya stood trial for smuggling. He was sentenced to two consecutive life terms. Notch made an appearance at the trial and was thrilled to finally meet Chris. They all talked over everything that happened in Miami and Notch brought greetings from Roberto Ramirez and little Ezra. Chris said, “I´m not even going to ask,” and grinned.

“That´s probably a good idea Chris,” replied Josiah attempting to look serious.

The group broke up about 2 am. The two recovering men still tired easily and Chris had developed a nagging headache. Nathan decided they needed to rest.

Chris and Vin sat on the porch at Chris´ ranch talking. Everything was calm and quiet. Vin spoke up and said, “It was pretty scary Cowboy.”

“What´s that?” asked Chris.

“You nearly died Chris. We were totally panicked and didn´t want to leave you here. Yet we had to go find Montoya. I don´t know how we ever made that decision. I just know that if something had happened to you while we were down there, I´d a never got over it.”

“Yeah well nothing happened. We all dodged the bullet this time. Didn´t we Cowboy?”

“Yeah I guess we did,” replied Vin grinning.

The two men sat for a while longer. Not speaking, yet communicating through that special Vin /Chris thing the two men shared. Ezra joined them and sat down beside Chris. He looked his boss and friend in the eye and words were not necessary.

“Glad to be alive Ez,” Chris´ eyes spoke.

“Me too Mr. Larabee, me too,” Ezra´s eyes replied.


Note: The illness mentioned in this fiction is based on a true disease. I am not a doctor so I don´t know all there is to know about the illness, just what I learned from research on the Internet. The disease came to the US in 1959. It was first discovered in the Four Corners area of the southwest (Honest, I´m not kidding) and it killed 50% of its victims. There remains no cure and it is actually transmitted by rats. The South American strain of the illness has been known to be transferred by human contact, hence Chris and Ezra´s trip to Bogotá.

This virus goes by the name of Sin Hombre now. The drug mentioned Ribavirin is an actual drug they use to treat the symptoms of the illness.

I stretched the actual chain of events in the illness for the sake of continuity, please forgive me. I hope you have enjoyed the story.

Feedback: I love it. Constructive criticism welcome.