by Angie

+ + + + + + +

The forest service helicopter lifted off at first light. They headed for the coordinates the pilot had marked the day before. The man had reported seeing two or three people, ambulatory. They weren’t expecting to pick up any injured on the trip.

+ + + + + + +

As the first light of the new day penetrated the suburban, Julia pulled herself together and climbed out of the broken window to heat water and see what the possibilities were for breakfast. Seeing Chris laying on the tarp, she went to see if she could comfort him at all.

“Chris? They’re going to be all right. You have to believe that! They need your strength. You have to go back and talk to them,” she encouraged.

“Like your friend Adam?” Chris spat. At the horror stricken look on the young woman’s face, he immediately regretted his words.

“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean that! Julia, forgive me. I just feel so helpless and useless. My two best friends are lying in there and I can’t help them!” Chris shouted before turning to pummel the ground again. Julia took his hand and prevented him from hitting again.

“They need you,” she said softly.

Any other words she might have said were drowned out by the sound of the chopper coming over the rise. It headed straight for the gray tarp and touched down lightly. Chris ran for the chopper while Julia ran to tell the others the good news.

“Are we ever glad to see you! Do you have any backboards or Stokes baskets in this thing? We have two seriously injured men that we need to get down the mountain!” Chris shouted over the noise.

“No, not a medical chopper! I can take back any uninjured and we can come back with a medical chopper!” The pilot yelled.

Chris’s heart sank. He considered his men and made a judgment call. He would send Ezra, Josiah and the girl down the mountain on the chopper. He gestured that he would be right back and ran for the suburban.

“It isn’t a medical chopper, Nathan. He can take Josiah, Ezra and Julia and they’ll send another chopper up for the rest of us.”

“Send JD instead of Julia. He should have an X-ray of that jaw. Get Josiah and Ezra out of here. See if he has any food, something with sugar,” Nathan ordered.

It took several minutes to get Ezra to the chopper. Josiah was more alert and willing to follow Julia but JD refused to leave Buck and Vin. It took several minutes for Nathan to coax him away from Buck. Chris wrapped his arm around Julia as they watched the chopper lift off. The driver had given them his thermos of coffee and a couple of donuts, that was all he had with him. He assured them that a medical chopper would be up in a couple of hours.

While the three of them shared the coffee and donuts, Julia melted more water to give to the others when they wakened. Buck’s fever was down some, but so was his blood pressure. Vin awoke but he was in so much pain that Nathan gave him another dose of Morphine to put him out. When the water was melted, they coaxed a few sips into both of the injured men.

When the chopper hadn’t returned by noon, Julia used the last of the food supplies to make soup that they fed to Buck and Vin. Nathan checked Buck’s blood pressure again. He shook his head and began to study the makeshift transfusion equipment he had set up.

“Julia, do you think you could start an IV?”

“I thought you were out of fluids.”

“I want to give him some more blood. It might just buy him enough time to get off of this damned mountain!”

Before she could say anything more, the sound of the chopper returning cut her off. Chris bolted from the suburban and ran back out to the tarp. It had to be the most beautiful sight he had ever seen in his life! The blue and red Life Flight chopper touched down and four men jumped out, lugging equipment and backboards! Chris waived his arms and they quickly ran across the snow pack.

“Where are your injured people?” The flight doctor asked.

The doctors and medics quickly took charge of the situation. Vin was placed on a backboard and securely restrained after an IV and oxygen mask were attached. Chris stayed at his side as he was carried to the chopper. Moving Buck proved to be a much more difficult operation. They started a wide bore IV to raise his volume and added antibiotics for good measure. They had to figure out how to stabilize the bar for the move and for the flight. The medic returned with several pieces of hard foam to wedge under him around the bar. When he was securely restrained, they moved him to the chopper.

“We can only take one more person! There’s a vicious cross wind and we won’t be able to get back until morning!” The pilot explained.

Nathan nudged Julia and she shook her head.

“You need to have that arm looked at. You go, I’ll be all right,” she insisted. Chris wrapped an arm around the girl and nodded toward the medic.

“You go, Nathan. The others will need you for medical information anyway.”

The pilot handed Chris another thermos and a small cooler. They backed away and clung to each other as the chopper lifted off. When the blue and red chopper could no longer be seen, Chris tugged Julia back to the suburban. They built up the fire and checked the supplies they had been handed.

What they thought was coffee in the thermos turned out to be soup. The cooler held orange juice and bananas and sandwiches. The two starving people ate everything before crawling back into the suburban to rest. They rearranged the remaining sleeping bags, putting the bloody ones on the bottom and covered themselves with the rest. When their nests warmed, both slept for several hours.

+ + + + + + +

JD paced between the beds where Ezra and Josiah had been confined. His X-ray had not shown anything broken or cracked, just badly bruised. Ezra’s inflatable cast had been removed in favor of a sturdier, Velcro one. Josiah’s arm had been cleaned thoroughly and he was being kept on IV antibiotics as a precaution. There was no word on the others. The weather reports were warning of severe crosswinds in the higher elevations. Since he was the only one not admitted, he placed the call to inform Judge Travis of where they were and what had happened.

+ + + + + + +

It was warmer in the Life Flight chopper. Nathan began to shudder and a container of orange juice was pressed into his hand. He leaned back in the seat and slid into the inviting darkness.

The motion and noise woke him and Vin’s eyes popped open. Fear coursed thru him as he tried to move and found that he couldn’t. He tossed his head to try to dislodge the oxygen mask so he could call out. The flight doctor noticed the motion and leaned over the patient. He tried to talk to him but the pale blue eyes recoiled in terror. The doctor removed his headset and pressed the earphone against the patient’s ear. He then nudged the black man.

“Talk to him, he’s frightened!”

Nathan turned to see that Vin was tossing his head and struggling against the restraining straps. Taking a deep breath, he called into the microphone attached to the headset that was thrust into his hand.

“Vin! Just lie still! You’re all right! Just relax! Breathe!”

Nathan’s voice calmed the hysterical sharpshooter and Vin closed his eyes again. The flight doctor nodded when the blue eyes closed and the clenched fists relaxed. He moved to check on the other man. His blood pressure was coming up and he was stabilizing. It was hard to believe, considering the fact that he had a bar thru his body, but he was stabilizing.

The wind buffeted the helicopter and Nathan’s eyes widened in fear. The pilot flashed him a bright smile and he released the death grip he had on the sides of the seat. The helicopter landing-pad was a most welcome sight to the team medic. Two complete surgical teams rushed out as soon as the doors opened. The flight doctors gave vitals on the patients as they were rushed into the building. Nathan was guided into a wheelchair and rolled after them.

At the elevators, the trio of ATF agents was separated. Buck was taken directly into surgery while Vin and Nathan were taken to the emergency room to be examined and triaged. Nathan was wheeled into a room away from Vin and he quickly came to his feet.

“You have to let me go in with him. He’ll panic and he’s already put a rib thru his lung! Please? I can keep him calm and I know all of his medical background.”

The doctor looked into the next room where the patient was already thrashing against the hands that were trying to ascertain the extent of his injuries. He nodded and Nathan rushed into the other examining room. He placed his hands on either side of Vin’s face and got his attention.

“Relax! You’re safe! You’re in the hospital. Calm down and let them get a look at you!” Nathan said loudly into the frightened blue eyes. The trembling under his hands eased and Vin nodded. His eyes quickly searched the room before returning to Nathan’s face.


“They had to leave him up there with Julia. There wasn’t any more room in the chopper. They’ll go back up for them in the morning.”

Two incredibly large tears rolled down Vin’s cheeks and were brushed away by Nathan’s thumbs. The Texan went limp and Nathan nodded to the nurse that she could resume removing the restraining tape. Without the added struggle of keeping the patient still, they were able to assess his injuries quickly. The injured lung was only partially inflated and the doctors worked to insert a chest tube and get the lung back up to snuff. The IV fluids were doing their job to re-hydrate his body and they got him cleaned up and transferred to a room.

Nathan was dragged off to X-ray. His friends had done an excellent job of setting the bone and the doctor was surprised.

“I trained them myself!” The team medic bragged.

+ + + + + + +

A soft whimper woke Chris and he reached for her instinctively. Julia clung to the older man and wept. The stress of the past few days had finally caught up with her. When she had cried herself out, she crept out of the suburban to go to the bathroom.

+ + + + + + +

He couldn’t believe his luck! Blake jerked the sleeping bag up and grinned evilly into the face of the young man, Adam. He knelt down and began to unzip the snowsuit from the dead body. He had to cut the material from around the pinned leg, but it was better than nothing. He wrapped the sleeping bag around himself and sat down to rest.

+ + + + + + +

The nurse stepped into the room and checked on Ezra and Josiah. She smiled indulgently at the dark haired youth sleeping with his head resting on the side of one of the beds.

“When he wakens, tell him that your friend Vin has been put in the room next door. And before you get any ideas of going over there yourselves, remember that I can always ask the doctor to order a catheter for each of you.”

Ezra shuddered at the thought and looked over to see a similar reaction on Josiah’s face.

“You’d better wake him, Josiah. He’ll want to see for himself that Vin is okay.”

They were just settling Nathan into bed when JD entered the room, rubbing the sleep from his eyes. He looked over the variety of monitors and IV fluids before picking up Vin’s hand and folding it around his own.

“How’s he doing, JD?” Nathan asked softly. He was still groggy from the pain meds he had been given.

“Nathan! I didn’t even realize you were there! How are you?”

“You and Chris did a great job on my arm. They only had to work on it a little and put in a pin,” Nathan explained as he showed off the small incision. “How are Josiah and Ezra?”

“Ezra has a Velcro cast and they have Josiah on IV antibiotics for the infection in his arm. The nurse said they had to stay in bed or she would order a catheter for each of them. You should have seen their faces when they told me about it!” He imitated the shudder and Ezra’s upturned nose.

The two men shared a good laugh and Vin twitched slightly. JD moved to his side so that he would see a familiar face when he opened his eyes. Vin looked around the room slowly before he turned his attention to JD.

“Hey, kid! Where’s Chris?”

“Remember what I told you earlier, Vin? They couldn’t get any more people on the helicopter and they had to stay behind. They’ll go back up for them in the morning,” Nathan explained patiently.

“Oh, yeah, I forgot. How are Josiah and Ezra?”

“They’re right next door. As soon as Attila the nurse says it’s okay, they’ll be here to see you. Buck is still in surgery. The doctor will come down here when it’s over and let us know,” JD explained.

+ + + + + + +

After going to the bathroom, Julia decided to go see Adam one last time. She stepped around the trees and slid to a halt. Adam’s body lay clad only in his clothing. The snowsuit and sleeping bag were gone. She pressed her fist to her mouth to stifle the scream of fear as she turned to go back to the suburban.

Blake stepped out from beside the tree and leered at the young woman. She skidded back away from him and tried to run on the slippery surface. Her feet slipped and she fell on the snow. He was on her in an instant, pummeling her with his fist. She started fighting again and he pulled the knife from his belt and pressed it to her throat.

“I’m going to make you pay! You’re going to beg for me to kill you before this is all over! I’m going to make it so you never forget what you and your friends tried to do to me!”

Sitting straddle of her chest, he ripped her snowsuit open. With his knife, he slit the front of her sweatshirt and the tee shirt underneath. His hands were like blocks of ice as he groped her tender flesh. His hand on her throat cut off her scream of fear and pain. The knife was embedded in the snow where he had thrust it when he finished cutting her clothing. As Blake’s hand closed on the hilt, Chris kicked him in the chin.

Blake’s head snapped back and the momentum carried him off of Julia’s chest. Unfortunately for Chris, Blake managed to keep hold of the knife and rolled to his feet with it in his hand. He lashed out, keeping Chris from touching him. The two men circled for several minutes before Chris made his move. Lashing out with his foot, he knocked the knife free. He caught hold of Blake and wrapped his arm around the man’s neck. With a sickening crack, he broke Blake’s neck and let the body slump to the ground.

Falling to his knees beside Julia, Chris reached out to try to comfort her. She cried out in fear and tried to pull away. He kept hold of her and rolled her against his chest. Holding her tightly, he rocked her gently.

“It’s all over. He’s dead. He can’t hurt you. Calm down,” Chris kept up a steady litany of comforting phrases until she began to relax into his arms. Drawing her to her feet, he led her toward the suburban.

+ + + + + + +

The nurse came in with a wheelchair. She began to disconnect Ezra’s cardiac monitor and lowered the bedside rail. The green eyes looked at her with question marks in them.

“What, may I ask, are you doing? Where am I going?”

“The doctor wants all of you together in the other room for a little while. Do you want to go or not?”

Ezra allowed her to help him off of the bed and into the wheelchair. She then brought over a second wheelchair and transferred Josiah into it. After attaching the IV pump to the back of the chair, she motioned Ezra toward the door. When all five men were in the same room, the surgeon came in to talk to them.

“My name is Dr. Jasmine Leahy. I operated on your friend. He is in very serious but stable condition in the ICU right now. The rod nicked the lower lobe of his lung and punctured the abdominal wall. To say that he was fortunate would be an understatement. The rod missed the intestine, didn’t break a rib and slipped free without causing any further damage. I’d have to say that someone up there likes him very much. We’re going to keep him in the ICU until his blood pressure and vitals are stable. He’s also getting mega doses of antibiotics. Since only one of you is ambulatory right now, I will allow you to stay with him. Your doctor in Denver said that he would be easier to handle if he has a familiar face at his side. Now, you two will be returned to your room and I will escort this young man up to the ICU.”

Tossing an apologetic glance around the room, JD moved off after the surgeon. When the elevator doors closed, she took a really good look at the young man.

“How old are you, son?”

“Twenty three, Ma’am.”

“Have you ever been in an ICU?”

“As a patient or a visitor?”


“Twice as a patient and more times than I can remember as a visitor.”

“Okay, I just want to explain everything to you before I leave you alone in there, okay?”

They reached the ICU and stepped inside. On the bed Buck lay, surrounded by machines and swathed in bandages. Tubes and wires ran in every direction. The only thing that upset JD was the respirator.

“He can’t breathe on his own?”

“Does that bother you?”

“It will upset him. He doesn’t like respirators.”

“Okay, then it’s good that you will be here with him when he wakes up. He has three different kinds of fluids and medicines running into his arms. There is a cardiac monitor to keep track of his heartbeat and a monitor for his blood oxygen. He has a catheter.”

“He’ll really hate that!”

“Only until the first time he tries to move. He’ll be grateful that he doesn’t have to move around to perform that basic function.”

+ + + + + + +

As soon as they reached the suburban, Julia shrugged Chris’s hands off and huddled in the corner. He reached for her and she flinched under his hand. Leaving her alone in the vehicle, he went back to Adam’s body. Now that there was no danger of hurting the young man, Chris dug him free. Gently, he placed the body inside of the sleeping bag and dragged it up to the suburban. He then headed for the Dodge where some of their gear had been found. Rummaging thru the gear, he found one of JD’s bags and pulled out a clean sweatshirt. He returned to the vehicle.

“Julia, here’s another sweatshirt. I’ll give you a few minutes to change. I brought Adam’s body up to the suburban. I put him inside of the sleeping bag. We’ll take him out with us tomorrow.”

He heard her sniffle and saw her nod before he slipped away from the vehicle.

+ + + + + + +

The rhythm of the respirator was soothing and JD dropped off to sleep with his head resting on the edge of the bed. He had Buck’s hand securely wrapped in both of his. The sound of the machine changed and the hand twitched. JD jumped to his feet and waited for the blue eyes to open.

“Come on, Buck! Open your eyes. Come on, Buck,” JD coaxed.

The deep blue eyes opened and a frown crossed his forehead. His hand tightened painfully on JD’s. He reached for the tube with his other hand and JD caught it and eased it down.

“Just breathe normally. Don’t fight it. The surgeon said you were really lucky that the bar didn’t do more damage than it did. You’re going to be fine.”

The blue eyes searched the room.

“They’re all downstairs. The doctor wants to keep them overnight for observation. Ezra has a new cast and so does Nathan. Josiah is on IV antibiotics for his arm and Vin has a chest tube but they were able to repair the damage to his lung.”

The questioning look didn’t leave Buck’s face.

“They had to leave Chris and Julia overnight. There wasn’t enough room in the chopper and the wind picked up. They’ll be okay.”

The blue eyes closed and the hand relaxed.

+ + + + + + +

Chris built up the fire and waited for Julia to come out. After several minutes, she came out and knelt at his side. She leaned her head against his shoulder and sighed.

“Thanks. For everything.”

“You’re welcome. It’s the least I could do after the way I behaved this morning.”

“I know what it’s like to be scared. I can’t imagine what it must be like for you, doing what you do. How does your wife stand it?”

“H-how do you know about my wife?”

“You said her name when you were sleeping. Sarah. I just figured she was your wife. You kept pulling me close and whispering her name.”

“S-she’s dead. In an explosion a few years ago, with our son.”

“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to bring back painful memories,” she whispered.

“Remembering doesn’t hurt, forgetting does,” he intoned softly.

For the next few hours, Chris poured his heart out to Julia and she to him. He told her all about finding, marrying and losing Sarah and she told him about Adam. She had been in love with him for the past two years and it was an unrequited love. He only had eyes for his future. That was what had hurt her so badly, the things he said to her before he died.

She held him after Vin and JD had gone to help. He had looked into her eyes and they talked. She replayed his words in her mind.

“Julia, I’m not going to make it back and there’s something I have to tell you,” he whispered.

“Don’t talk like that! Of course you’ll make it back!” She’d protested.

“I’m sorry I never got the chance to tell you this before. I wanted to wait until we finished school. I love you, Julia. I was going to propose to you a little closer to graduation. I’m sorry I didn’t ask you sooner,” he said.

“We can still get married! You have to hold on just a little longer! They’re going to get you next! Just hang on! Please?” She pleaded with him as the light in his eyes began to fade.

“I … love … you, Julia,” he managed with his last breath. She pressed her lips to his as he expired in her arms.

“At least you got the chance to say goodbye,” Chris said.

“But I didn’t tell him that I loved him,” she sobbed.

“He knew. He had to know. Love’s funny that way. You can go for days without saying the words, it doesn’t make it any less true.”

+ + + + + + +

A soft moan from across the room disturbed his sleep and Nathan turned over. Vin was uncomfortable lying on his back and was trying to turn over. The team medic eased out of bed and crossed to the other bed. Using his good arm, he steered Vin away from the side where his ribs were broken and helped him to get comfortable again. He stood for several minutes until he was sure that the younger man was settled before returning to his own bed.

+ + + + + + +

As the first tender rays of sunlight touched the mountains, Chris and Julia lay curled together in the sleeping bags. After sharing the solace of their shared memories, they had clung to each other and drifted off to sleep. Julia wakened first and stretched tentatively, trying not to waken Chris. His arms tightened around her for several moments as the images of Sarah faded in his mind and he sighed.

“Are you okay?” Julia asked, feeling the shuddering breathing against her back.

“Yeah, I’ll be all right. It was so realistic, though, she was here with me.”

“He was here too, Adam. He told me I have to go on with my life.”

They crawled out of the warm nest and relieved themselves before returning to the suburban. Forgoing a fire, they huddled on the tarp wrapped in the sleeping bags to await rescue.

+ + + + + + +

His head ached! His back and shoulders felt as if the entire hockey team had pummeled him. A gentle hand stroked the back of his head and JD puzzled over who it was for a moment. When the memory surfaced, he raised his head to look into the blue eyes of his roommate.

“Buck! How do you feel? Do you want me to get the nurse?”

Buck’s eyebrows furrowed and he pointed at the respirator tube.

“I’m sorry, I forgot! I’m going to get the nurse and she’ll take it out. I’ll be right back!”

A firm hand grasped his arm, preventing him from leaving. JD turned back expectantly. Buck released his wrist and held his arm up as if awaiting an embrace. The young man blinked back tears as he carefully leaned down and hugged Buck. When the pressure of Buck’s arm eased, JD pulled away and went for the nurse.

Ezra and Josiah slipped out of their room while the breakfast trays were being delivered. The southerner rode in the wheelchair while Josiah pushed it. They peeked in on Nathan and Vin and found them both still sleeping. A quick stop at another nurse’s station garnered them Buck’s room number and they were on their way to the ICU.

A pair of nurses arrived to extubate Buck. Once the respirator tube was removed, they checked his incision, marked down his vital signs on his chart and left. On their way out, one of the nurses offered to order a tray for JD and a clear fluids tray for Buck if he felt up to it.

+ + + + + + +

The helicopter glided over the lip of the mountain and floated down near the tarp. The door was thrown open and two men jumped out to help them. While one man escorted Julia to the chopper, Chris enlisted the help of the other man to get Adam’s body on board.

+ + + + + + +

The elevator doors opened and Josiah peeked out. The coast was clear and he quickly maneuvered the wheelchair down the hall. They rounded the corner of the ICU ward just as the nurse was leaving Buck’s room after dropping off the breakfast trays. Josiah paused, waiting for the woman to return to the desk before he ventured out to the doorway to Buck’s room. The sound of JD’s laughter caused him to move faster.

“No, Buck! You heard the nurse, no solid foods for at least 24 hours! Stop making that sad face at me. I’m not giving you my food!”

Both men looked up as Ezra was wheeled into the room with Josiah behind him. The older man moved from behind the wheelchair to take hold of Buck’s hand. JD hurried to help Ezra up and over to the side of the bed. They clung to each other and talked softly. The question of the hour seemed to be ‘when is Chris going to get here?’

+ + + + + + +

The helicopter touched down and Chris didn’t even wait for them to open the door, he flung it open himself and jumped out. He dashed across the deck and grabbed the door. The nurse on the other side squeaked in surprise when he grabbed her and steered her toward the elevator.

“What floor are my friends on?” He demanded.

“One is in the ICU, the others are on four. Except for Tanner, they will all be discharged today. I can take you to the ICU first, hopefully they will be able to move him to a regular room some time today. The surgeon was very optimistic about his recovery.”

By the time she finished explaining, they were on the ICU ward and he was hot on her heels to get to Buck. They stopped at the nurse’s station to get the room number.

“I’m sorry, you can’t go in now, he has three people with him right now and we can’t get them to leave. You’ll have to wait until we can get the doctor up here to remove them.”

Chris hurried down the hall, heedless of the nurse calling for him.

“Buck! JD! Where are you?”

“Sir! You can’t walk down the hall screaming people’s names!”

“Chris! Up here!” JD called from the doorway.

“Where are Nathan and Vin?” Chris demanded as soon as he counted heads. He moved to the side of the bed and grasped Buck’s hand firmly.

“They’re keeping them in the room. Vin can’t be up yet and Nathan’s staying with him. Dr. Leahy should be here in a little while and maybe they will move Buck to Vin’s room. Where’s Julia?”

“Aw hell! I bolted from the chopper and left her. Buck, I’ll be back. I shouldn’t have left her. She must feel awful.”

“I’ll go, Chris. I’ve been here all night.” JD announced. He left the room and asked if any of the nurses knew where Julia was.

+ + + + + + +

The man pulled Julia from the helicopter after Adam’s body was unloaded. She appeared to be in shock. She stumbled under the wind from the chopper blades and caught herself on the edge of the gurney bearing Adam’s body. With a massive sob, she clung to the sleeping bag encased body and cried.

+ + + + + + +

The nurse escorted JD to the helipad exit. Looking thru the window, he saw Julia clinging to the corpse and bawling. He rushed to her side.

“Julia! Come here! Get in out of the cold. Come on, let me help you.”

He pried her hands up and she clung to the young ATF agent. JD walked her into the building and back to Buck’s room. By the time they got there, he was practically carrying her. Chris pulled away from Buck to take her from JD. He put her on the foot of Buck’s bed. Like a five year old, she wrapped her arms and legs around Chris and sobbed hysterically.

Dr. Leahy walked into the ICU after receiving several calls from the nurse’s station regarding the number of visitors in her patient’s room. She took one look around the room before moving to check on Julia.

“What happened?” The doctor asked as she reached for the young woman.

The gentle touch on her arm caused Julia to cling tighter. Chris waived the doctor off and picked Julia up and carried her out. Dr. Leahy steered him into an empty room and motioned for him to put her down on the bed. When he tried to pry her arms from around his neck, she shook her head and clung more tightly.

The doctor whispered something to the nurse. She walked back and rubbed her hand up and down the distraught young woman’s back. Julia’s cries became softer and replaced by deep shudders. Chris wrapped his hand around the back of her neck and squeezed. The nurse returned and Dr. Leahy slid the needle into Julia’s arm thru the sweatshirt. After a couple of minutes, Chris felt the girl go limp in his arms.

“You can lay her down now. She’ll sleep for a couple of hours. She’s in shock. You can go back to your friends, I’ll have a nurse sit with her.”

“Are you going to transfer Buck to a regular room?”

“My, but you do come right to the point, don’t you? Yes, now that he’s off the respirator and doing well, I will transfer him downstairs. Why?”

“Put him in the room with Vin. That way we can all stay together,” Chris explained as he tucked the blanket around Julia.

“Visiting hours on that floor are from 8AM to 11AM and 2PM to 7PM, you can’t all stay with them, the rest of your friends are being discharged,” she gently explained.

His hazel eyes bored into her as his voice dropped to a deadly hiss.

“Then get them ready to go and I’ll take them back to Denver.”

“You have to be kidding! Mr. Wilmington had major surgery yesterday and Mr. Tanner had a punctured lung, they aren’t in any condition to be going anywhere!”

“Then my men will stay,” he returned calmly. “Call our doctors in Denver, they’ll tell you, my friends will get better faster if we stay together. If you at least put them in the same room, I’ll try to convince a couple of them to get a room at the hotel. Someone will be here with them at all times, though.”

Smiling, she offered her hand. “You drive a hard bargain. Let’s go see how Mr. Wilmington is feeling.”

JD stayed with Julia until she woke up and then brought her down to the room that Buck and Vin now shared. They sat with her while she called her parents to let them know that she was all right. After a brief conversation with her parents, she called Maggie’s parents. It took her most of an hour to work up the courage to call Adam’s parents. Afterward, she clung to JD and sobbed.

+ + + + + + +

The media caught wind of the story of the ATF agents being caught in the avalanche and put in an appearance just after lunch. The hospital staff did a good job of keeping them at bay until Julia and Adam’s distraught parents arrived. Team 7 was watching the breaking news report that evening when the young woman suddenly gasped.

“What is it?” Chris asked.

“My parents and Adam’s. I didn’t think they would come here!”

Josiah, Chris, JD and Ezra escorted Julia to the lounge where the others had been sequestered. Julia was immediately enveloped by her parents who were sobbing and shaking as they clung to her and to each other. Josiah moved to offer his condolences to Adam’s parents and assured them that their son had spoken of them before he died.

An hour later, Julia’s parents were ready to take their daughter and return home. She insisted that they allow her to have one last visit with the other men. The hospital room was crowded with the addition of eight bodies but Julia’s parents weren’t willing to let her out of their sight. Her father thanked each one of them for taking care of ‘his little girl’ after they were introduced.

Julia made the rounds, hugging each one and placing a kiss on every cheek. She clung for a long time to Vin and a longer time to Buck. The ladies man thanked her for getting him thru everything. He whispered something in her ear that made her blush and giggle. The last person she turned to was Chris. The team leader was stiff and uncomfortable about hugging the girl in front of her parents but he was truly glad that she was going to be all right.

“I’ll always remember what you told me. Remembering doesn’t hurt, forgetting does,” she whispered into his ear. Chris nodded and swallowed the lump in his throat.

“Drop us a line and let me know how you’re doing, okay?” Chris handed her a card from his wallet. He brushed a single tear from her cheek and watched her as she took her father’s hand and left the room.

+ + + + + + +

After a long silence, JD sighed. “So, what do you say we try to find a pizza place that delivers?”

Buck groaned, “You have no heart kid! You know I can’t have any solid food until tomorrow! You want to bring pizza in here and torture me with it?”

Nathan sought out the doctor and got permission for Buck to have some pizza as long as he didn’t overdo. They ordered several pizzas and made a celebration out of it. Judge Travis had arrived and made a brief statement to the media after checking on his men. He also arranged for a rental car for them and a pair of rooms at the local hotel. He stayed only long enough to ascertain that his team would be all right, then he returned to Denver.

JD offered to drive Nathan and Ezra to the hotel so they could get some rest. He was exhausted himself; having gotten a small taste of the responsibility that went with leadership. While the others had been getting checked and X-rayed and treated, he had been the one to answer all of the doctor’s questions about the others.

Vin was discharged two days before Buck. He was still very sore and needed to do things very carefully, but he was thrilled to be out of the hospital. The rest of the team took turns staying at the hospital with Buck. The ladies man was in the ‘zone’ surrounded by the nurses who fawned over him at every opportunity.

+ + + + + + +

An unusual warm front swept thru and Chris insisted on returning to the area of the avalanche to try to locate the bag with their weapons in it. He was afraid that some innocent hikers might find the bag. He also wanted to see if it was possible to salvage either vehicle.

The trip to the camp took a couple of hours by snowmobile. Chris and Josiah went up with a pair of forest service workers. It took almost two hours to recover the backpack with the weapons in it. The site was marked with ‘no trespassing’ signs. The forest rangers would keep watch over the area until the snow melted enough to try to recover the vehicles.

+ + + + + + +

By the time Buck was discharged from the hospital, the team was ready to head for home. A second rental car was arranged for them to use on the drive home. They spent several days at the ranch, as was normal after one of them was injured. It would be several weeks before Buck, Vin, Ezra and Nathan would be able to return to work. Judge Travis gave the rest of the team the time off to care for their injured team members.

The insurance company totaled the Dodge after they recovered it and the frame was bent. The suburban was recovered along with most of the ski equipment. Chris picked out another truck, just like the one he lost.

Almost a year to the day from when Buck was discharged from the hospital, they got an invitation to Julia’s graduation. The letter she enclosed said that she was doing well. She had been asked to speak at the graduation about her ordeal and the impact it had made on her life. She really wanted all of them there.

Unfortunately, they were in the middle of a big case and not able to attend. They sent a card and flowers instead.

+ + + + + + +

Some eight months later, Chris came out of his office with a letter in his hands and a somber expression on his face.

“Guys, I got some bad news. Julia Somersby was killed last week,” he said softly.

“What happened?” Vin asked.

“She was trying to rescue some children from a slave trader and he killed her. Her parents wanted us to know that the funeral is tomorrow.”

+ + + + + + +

Julia was laid to rest in a beautiful private cemetery. Scores of young people crowded the church where the service was held. Mr. Somersby stood at the podium with tears rolling down his face as he spoke.

“It is not easy to lose a child but to lose a child like my Julia is almost more than I can bear. Julia died doing what she thought was right. She wanted to leave behind a tangible show of her love. Thanks to her actions, 13 children have new homes in the United States. A fund has been set up in her memory to help further the cause of rescuing children from the horrors of slavery and poverty in South America. The fund is called Julia’s 7 at her request.”

+ + + + + + +

Several weeks after the funeral, a young couple came into the Team 7 offices leading a little boy of about five. They asked and were directed to Chris’s office.

“Mr. Larabee? We just wanted to meet you and introduce you to our son. His name is Christopher Adam Schultz. Julia Somersby arranged for us to adopt him. When she found him, he was living in a dump, unable to speak. She discovered that he was deaf and arranged for him to be taught sign language. Since he didn’t know his given name, she named him. When she brought him to us, she explained that she named him for you and for your son because you had given her the courage to go ahead with her mission work after her friends were killed. We just wanted to thank you. If it were not for you, Julia might not have saved him and we would not have him to love.”

When Chris emerged from his office some half hour after the visitors left, he was in tears. He told them what the couple had told him.

“It’s like ripples in a pond,” Josiah said, “you never know how many others you can touch with a single action or a single word. You could not have known when you were alone together on that mountain nearly two years ago what actions you may have set in motion. That child is but a small part of the ripples you began.”