ATF Alternate Universe
This is a work of fan fiction based on the TV, The Magnificent Seven. It is not meant to infringe on the copyrights of CBS, MGM, The Trilogy Entertainment Group, or The Mirisch Corp.
Casey glanced over at the man sleeping on the seat beside her in the small Chevy Cavalier. He looked so calm but she knew that peaceful expression on his face wouldnt remain once they got to her Aunt Nettie's ranch and she told him the truth, why she wanted him to spend the weekend with her away from Denver.
She loved to watch him sleep. With the dash panel lights illuminating the fading green and yellow bruises on his face, he looked so young even though he was a few years older than she. Her heart hurt every time he was injured but she couldn't deny his love for his work with the elite ATF team.
The deserted mountain road stretched before the college co-ed driver but in a few miles the dark tunnel of trees would open onto the Interstate. After an hour of meeting no one on the lonely gravel road shortcut to her aunts home, an approaching vehicle suddenly blinded her tired eyes and she looked away from the road. After it passed she tried to refocus into the darkness.
The deer jumped directly toward her small gray car, startling her and she hit the brakes hard. The car skidded on the loose gravel and Casey attempted to steer out of the slide. The car refused to respond and she saw the tree rapidly approaching. Loosing control she screamed.
Caseys yell woke JD a second before the passenger side of the care crashed into the towering pine. Ricocheting off the tree trunk, the car spun around 180 degrees before pausing momentarily on the shoulder. Casey exhaled the breath she didnt realize she was holding when the vehicle started shifting. She looked over at her companion and saw fresh blood on the side of his face.
Before either had a chance to move, the car slid off the road embankment and began a disastrous journey down the mountainside. Striking another tree the car flipped over on its top, plowing branches and other undergrowth into the engine compartment. One large limb torpedoed through the windshield and into the passenger compartment. Casey watched in horror as the wood impaled JD. Suddenly they were flying again and landed upright with a jarring impact on the valley floor.
What seemed like a slow motion movie took only seconds but the echoes of the crash resounded off the canyon walls. Nature silently watched as the dust and debris settled once again, the ominous silence of nighttime returned. Neither occupant stirred.
Morning dawned gray and ominous and it took a long while for the weak November rays to penetrate the narrow mountain valley. Casey slowly opened her eyes and tried to move but the effort sent a sharp pain through her middle. The bent steering wheel pushed tightly into her abdomen, pinning her into a semi-reclining position. Her arm, cut by the flying windshield, bled freely and her head hurt from hitting the door, the roof and JD.
She glanced at her friend, the horror of her own injuries forgotten. His seat back was also broken but the cars roof seemed only inches from his face. The large limb lay between them and she could see blood on his shirtfront.
Tears ran down her face as she whispered, "JD, can you hear me?" She tried to reach for him but her right arm refused to move. Her left arm worked but moving it sent tremors through her body. Panic added to the girls nightmare and soon the screams filled the small canyon. Gulping for air and trying to gain control she ignored the burning pain in her middle and reached again for the deathly still hand beside her own.
Ignoring the sticky blood on his arm she grabbed his wrist, searching for the faint pulse that would tell her he was still alive. She jumped when his voice weakly called out, "Casey, are you alright?"
"Im sorry, JD," she sobbed.
"Shhh." He tried to turn his head towards her but the white pain shooting through his skull stopped him. "Werent your fault."
"Yes it was. I tried to miss hitting that deer and lost control."
"Are you hurt, Casey?" his voice barely more than a whisper.
"I guess. The steering wheels digging into my mid... OH my! NO!"
"Casey whats wrong?" The young man could feel the panic rising in her voice. He wanted to comfort her, to hold her and to tell her everything would be all right but at the moment he couldnt even move anything more than his left hand. The dash and the engine compartment wall sat in his lap. His right arm, still sore from the bust that went bad last week, felt broken and was pinned between the seat and the doorpost.
Hed been in some tight spots before but never trapped in a car smashed as flat as Caseys Cavalier. His cast, his right ankle broken from last week's explosion, protected his leg from amputation but the metal bars cuffed the fiberglass. He hurt, but Caseys sudden terrifying outburst frightened him to his core.
Trying again to break through her terror, he asked, wishing he could see her face, "Tell me whats wrong, Casey."
She sobbed uncontrollably but between the catches in her breath he heard, "Ive killed it. I wished it harm and now its dead!"
"Casey, whats dead?" Her sobbing and his throbbing head and arm sent pulses of pure agony through his body. Blackness surrounded his consciousness but had he heard right? Did Casey say she harmed a baby deer?
+ + + + + + +
Spent from crying, the young girl entered the black void free of feeling the pain wrapping her middle. Nothing mattered now; not the conversation she dreaded having with JD; not that her only possession of value lay smashed at the bottom of a nameless ravine; and not the fact that her dreams and hopes lay trapped and dying beside her.
The November sun reached its zenith warming the narrow valley but the two injured occupants of the wrecked car sat captive, oblivious to the natural world around them. Water gently gurgled in its creek bed, a few feet away from the car. An abundant harvest of nuts, banked for the winter by squirrels, filled a hollow in a nearby tree. Mountain trout swam and frolicked in the streams pool but natures bounty might as well be miles away rather than just steps for the couple imprisoned by injuries and twisted metal.
Clouds crowded the early dawn sky preventing the suns rays from reaching the valley but the ominous rumbling of thunder woke the young ATF agent. Feeling stronger he tried to take stock of their situation before pain and hunger sent him back into oblivion. He put his last conscious thought from yesterday out of his mind. Somehow he needed to figure out a way to escape the wreck without tools or help.
He tried turning his head again and the searing pain of the previous day was gone. The large tree limb remained separating the couple but as he tried to push it out of the way a new pain ripped through his gut. One sharp branch, as thick as a pencil, penetrated his flannel shirt and cut his t-shirt and skin. Like an arrow piercing his belly, he realized for the first time the newest infliction. Buck would love this one. A branch still attached to the tree limb impaled the young agent. Using his left hand JD could feel where the stick entered and exited his abdomen. It didnt feel like it penetrated his peritoneal wall but the hardness of infection made that diagnosis difficult.
JD grabbed the stick with his left hand and tried to break it from the tree limb. The green wood dug into his belly but refused to break. Shards of glass from the windshield littering the front seat gave him an idea. Slowly he began cutting the smaller branch from the main limb. A few slips brought new injuries to his fingers but he kept cutting until the glass was coated with his blood and he couldnt hold it any longer. He grabbed the wood again and heard the stick crack away from the larger one. Freeing himself from the tree was one thing; removing the stick from his belly would be another. Grabbing the stick by the exit wound he took three deep breaths and yanked the wood free. He could only pray no bark or dirt remained inside to cause him trouble later.
The exertion cost him energy and along with the blood loss from other cuts his mouth felt dry. He needed to figure out a way to get water. The dark clouds overhead and the rumbling thunder seemed to answer his worry. Grabbing the paper cup from McDonalds still laying on the floor beside him, he shook the glass pieces out onto the car's floor. He reached out of the front of the car and stuck the cup in between the branches of the tree lying across what used to be the hood.
Knowing he would soon pass out he looked toward the girl trapped beside him. Could he free her somehow to get help? His hand roamed around the glass searching for anything of use to them. He touched a small rectangular box and thought cell phone but Caseys phone was smashed beyond recognition. Where was his?
Frustration and doubt crept into his mind but he refused to give up. Most of the times before when he found himself in trouble, evil came with a face. He knew the perpetrators but not this time. How does one fight mindless metal and the outdoor elements? With no tools, no food or water, compound injuries on top of old ones the odds of him surviving were slim, but he wasnt about to give up on Casey. He cared more about the girl than hed admitted. Sure she was fun to be with and they enjoyed many of the same activities but his feelings went deeper. Was it love? Did he love Casey enough to make a commitment knowing full well what that would mean to her safety?
Her panic screams from the day before replayed in his mind as he felt his eyelids close. Maybe a little rest would help and he would go back to work freeing them from hell.
+ + + + + + +
Casey felt the raindrops on her face before she opened her weary eyelids. Would this nightmare get any worse? The cold rain brought her to consciousness of the hundreds of aches and pains assaulting her injured body. The lightening bolts lit up the eerie night sky revealing the churning thunderhead overhead and the wind wiped trees.
JD woke to the stinging raindrops and saw Casey's scared face. He reached out for the paper cup and was pleased to see at least two inches of water. Holding the cup carefully he tried to give Casey a drink without startling her. "Here Case. You need to drink this."
She took the cup from him and drank greedily, emptying it in a few swallows.
"Thanks JD." Her voice was barely audible over the storm.
He took the cup and tried to anchor it securely in the tree branches. For now it was their only source of water. The rain beating his body and on the wreck made him realize how thirsty he was. Water, raindrop by raindrop, couldn't quench a man's thirst.
"What time do you think it is, JD?"
"I don't know but I figure it's sometime Sunday."
"Do you suppose they've missed us yet?"
"That depends. Did you tell anyone where we were goin'?"
"I figured to be back before Becky. Won't Buck be missing you?"
"He and the rest are on assignment. They won't get back till later in the week. Tuesday at the earliest."
"Why didn't you have to go with them?"
"I'm on medical leave; at least till this foot 's mended."
"Are we going to die, JD?"
"Don't start talking that way, Casey. Soon as this storm is over you're going to help me get you loose."
"What about you?" The girl tried to hold back hysteria from her voice.
"It's going to take more than you and me combined to cut me out of this tin can. I think I can get you free, then you'll have to go get help."
"JD, I can't leave you here."
"Then we'll die here, cause I can't get me loose without something to cut this metal. The sooner we can get you free, the more energy you'll have to climb up to the road. Do you know where we are?"
"We were about five miles from the Interstate but I took a mountain road shortcut."
"Will your aunt be worried? She might send for.."
"No," Casey interrupted. "She didn't know I was comin'. I don't even know if she would be there this weekend."
"Casey, what's going on?"
A bolt of lightning struck a tree close-by, startling both entrapped victims. "I'm scared, JD. I don't want to die."
The young man reached out his left hand and gently caressed Casey's bruised face. "Don't give up. We've got too much living to quit now." He reached out and grabbed the disintegrating paper cup. The few swallows of water tasted wonderful. "We gotta figure a way to get you out. When it quits raining, then we'll get you free." Casey heard the weariness in JD's voice. Still healing from old injuries, he didn't possess the stamina to stay alert very long.
The thunderstorm gradually blew itself out but two exhausted and wet people sat trapped in a small gray, well-hidden, smashed car. No one would be missing them for another couple of days. Would they have the tenacity to survive the insurmountable odds staring them in the face?
Casey woke first; the Monday morning sun reflected off the broken shards, catching her in the face. She sat quietly and calmly observed the outside world. The stillness of the forest setting sent peace to her soul. She resolved to tell JD the truth today. The painful cramps stopped last night but she felt like she sat in a cold, wet puddle. She wasn't ready to be a mother but the loss filled her being with longing. Her parents died when she was twelve but her father's aunt welcomed the orphaned child with open arms. Aunt Nettie was Casey's only family.
She looked over at JD sleeping, wrinkles of pain marring his injured face. What was there about watching him sleep? His dark hair fell into his face. The young woman thought of the few nights they spent together. He was so kind, so gentle, but after a few times he refused to be intimate with her again. He wouldn't imitate his roommate and friend, Buck. The couples relationship was too important to the young ATF agent to act irresponsibly but unknown to him the improbable happened. Though they used protection the percent of failure struck 100 that last time. Casey knew JD longed for a family as much as she did and he would mourn their loss, too. Maybe someday fate would smile favorably on them but for that to happen she was going to have to get out of this trap and get some help for her best friend.
She looked into his fevered eyes and knew the young man was in serious trouble. He tried but he couldn't hide the pain from his face. He lifted his uninjured hand toward her face and she grabbed it with her left hand, pulling it toward her mouth. She kissed his fingers and palm; a tiny smile graced his face.
"We need to get you out of here, today."
Putting on her bravest face she queried, "What do you want me to try?"
"Help me get this branch turned. Well use it as a lever to pry the steering column off your lap."
She looked at the branch and at her friend. "That means your legs will take the brunt of the force."
"Just a little bit. We gotta get you out. I doubt we can survive another rainstorm. Between the fever in my leg and gut and the chills from bein wet, just try. Please just try."
The young woman looked at JDs pained face and understood. With no food and little water they must expend energy wisely. Between the two of them they turned the large branch around and forced it under the column. Casey guided the end out of her window as JD positioned the other end across his lap and out the other missing window opening.
"I doubt Ill get much leverage so as soon as you can try to slide out from under it. Ready?"
She smiled her warmest smile and said a quick prayer, Lord, give me the energy to move and the strength to tell him the truth. "Im ready, JD."
He pushed the limb with his left hand as hard as he could, straining the aching muscles in his back and abdomen. Casey felt faint relief from the pressure on her middle. "Youre doin it JD. Its moving."
Knowing he didnt have much energy left, he didnt waste it replying but gave one last concerted effort and the wheel moved enough that Casey wiggled free. "You did it. Im free!" She looked at her friend when he didnt respond and wasnt surprised to see once again he fell into the depth of oblivion, the branch still clenched in his fingers. After removing his hand from the wood, she pushed the branch out of the drivers side window. Wiggling forward she shimmied through the small space onto the wrinkled hood of the wreck.
The sky, no longer blue and clear, threatened precipitation from the dark gray clouds. The air held an icy chill and Casey forced herself to move. Standing for the first time, blood rushed to her numb legs and the world began to spin. She shut her eyes tight and concentrated on the noise of the creek until the dizziness passed. Using the bumper to steady herself she pulled off her jeans and answered natures call, not surprised at the stained bloody underwear. The bubbling water called to her and ignoring her injured ankle she stumbled toward the sound. Clear, fresh water tumbled over mossy rocks but she didnt care. Falling to her knees she used her hands as a cup to drink. Finally she lay down and stuck her face into the chilly water and drank deeply.
Knowing too much would make her sick and unable to climb for help she sat up and looked for anything that would hold water for JD. Something in the car must be waterproof, so she climbed up the slippery rocks back to the wreck. Seeing JD still asleep, she tried to get the keys out of the ignition but they refused to move. How could she get into the trunk? Frustration gripped her but before she gave into the panic she remembered the access through the backseat. The thought of crawling back inside the car caused her to hyperventilate but one look at her friend gave her the courage to return. She crawled over the front again and looked in the backseat. JDs leather coat and hat lay on the floor. She grabbed them and set them over his chest while she wiggled into the backseat. Her right arm and back ached and she could feel wetness running down her leg but she fought off the panic and eventually pulled down the seat back. The trunk, smashed as flat as the front offered no answers but a small, plastic freezer bag stuck out of one corner. It held the remains of an art class project. If only it would still hold water, she could use it to carry some to JD.
Her denim travel bag wouldnt budge but she could open the main zipper. She pulled out a clean flannel shirt and pair of blue jeans. Two Snickers candy bars fell out of the bag with the jeans. FOOD! A car blanket, still in its cracked plastic bag peaked out of another corner. Her arms loaded with the simple treasures she squirmed backwards in the cramped space.
Getting out of the vehicle again, she dropped the clothing on the ground and shook the broken pieces out of the bag. Soon she returned to the car with a bag of water for JD. She slipped out of her bloody jeans and exchanged them with the clean pair. Casey slipped the flannel shirt over her torn blouse and put on JDs jacket. The dusty blanket received a few cleansing snaps in the wind before she tucked it around the injured man.
Her ministrations caused him to awaken. "Here JD. Drink this." She placed the bag to his dry, cracked lips and he drank greedily of the stream water. "Whoa. Thats enough."
"Thanks. That tastes wonderful."
"How would you like a feast? Here, I found a couple of Snickers. You eat one now and save the other one for later." He wolfed down the candy bar and drank the bag empty. Casey lied when he offered to share the treat with her.
She returned from filling the bag with water and said, "JD, before I go, there is something weve got to talk about."
"It gets dark early. You should have left when you got free."
"No way was I leaving without knowing you were going to be fine while I was gone."
"Huh." The pain radiating through his body fogged his comprehension.
"JD. The reason I wanted to take you to Aunt Nettie's this weekend was 'cause I needed to tell you something. But now it all changed but I still need to tell you."
"Casey, I can tell you want to say something important, but you gotta get up to the road yet. I aint feeling too perky and cant guarantee I wont fall asleep in the middle of the most important thing you say."
"I know, JD." She reached through the window and caressed his cracked lips tenderly. "JD, you and me were going to have a baby, but I killed it when we crashed."
He stared at her in shock, never expecting what she just said. "You and me, but we never..."
"Hush now. That last time remember, something broke and well I guess it was enough. I was going to tell you when we got to the ranch. I knew you wouldnt be none to happy about it," she said shamefully.
"Casey, look at me. Are you sure, that you lost the baby I mean?"
Her head nodded as tears ran down her cheeks as she pulled her long, down-filled coat over his chest. "Id better get going, sweetheart. I love you. I'll be back before you have a chance to miss me."
Still stunned he watched her limp away and start climbing the hillside. "A baby?"
+ + + + + + +
Casey struggle up the steep hillside, stopping often to rest. She longed for another drink of water. "Get up girl. Nobody gonna find you lally-gaggling around here." The clouds overhead thickened and a cold wind blew through the valley. With an all-out effort, she pulled herself onto the road shoulder, gasping for air. Exhausted she crawled along the road. Was she headed in the right direction? Which way was the closest help? What if she couldn't find JD again? Casey pulled off her shoe and sock. She put the shoe back on and proceeded to fill the sock with gravel. Crawling back to the tree she tucked the article of clothing into a V of a branch.
The dark sky blocked all moonlight. Everything looked the same. Which way? Casey forced herself to crawl through the gravel. Why wasn't someone driving down this road? She felt herself falling and the world went black.
Tuesday morning, JD woke with a start. When he exhaled a small cloud formed around his face as he took small shallow breaths. The pain in his abdomen hit sharply. He couldnt see the injury but suspected the site was infected. He turned his mind to Casey and said another prayer for her safety. Did she possess the stamina to walk to the nearest town? Had she even made it back up to the road?
No blackness offered relief from his pain and loneliness. The day dragged slowly by while his mind reeled with Caseys last words. They both craved the acceptance of a family but were they ready to create their own? Was he ready to be a father, responsible for another human being? Casey needed to finish her education before taking on the added responsibility of a child. He wouldnt desert her or the child except now the infant was dead. Such a final word. They committed the tragic error and an innocent life paid the price.
JD could only imagine Caseys guilt for causing the accident both because of his injuries and loosing the life within her. Why hadnt she told him sooner? Why did they have to go up to her aunts ranch before she could tell him? The whys offered no answers.
By late in the afternoon the first snowflakes tickled his face. His gut ached, he was cold and he needed water. Closing his eyes his thoughts turned toward his departed mother, the joy and focus of his young life. Had she waited too long to tell about the unexpected life growing in her womb, expecting to find the perfect moment that passed by without his father ever knowing about her situation? Or did he know and not care about the responsibility that goes with adult acts? JD longed to ask his mother about the man responsible for half of his genes but refused to hurt her by bringing up the delicate subject. None of that mattered now. He would soon die, trapped in a squashed gray automobile somewhere in the mountains of Colorado. No feeling remained in his legs. If not for the intense pain from the holes in his belly he doubted he would even know life still coursed through his body. Death looked welcome. He regretted not saying farewell to Buck Wilmington and the rest of the ATF agents. If Casey survived she would go to her grave knowing the guilt of loosing him and the baby. Do unborn babies go to heaven? Would he get to see his mother again? Maybe even now she tended to their child with her loving and caring ways. Peace settled over the young man as unconsciousness finally descended, relieving him of pain and sorrow.
Good-by Casey. I love you. Good-bye Buck. Thank you for your friendship. Good-bye Chris and the rest of the team. You believed in me and gave me a chance to believe in myself.
+ + + + + + +
"Hey, Chris. Is JD at the office?" Buck returned to the two men's apartment, set his case of beer on the cupboard and looked for his roommate. Silence met his call when he returned home following the teams latest mission. The two roommates usually left each other a note when they took off unexpectedly.
"Nope." Chris answered into the speakerphone. "According to the log he hasn't been here since Friday. He sure has a lot of voice mail piled up though. All seem to be from the same number."
"OK. Thought I'd check and see if that's where he was. Ain't no sign of him around here."
"Officially he's still on medical leave, at least till his next appointment. Maybe he decided to take a vacation."
"The Kid? At least he ain't running around town on his bike cause its still in the garage. Thanks for the info, Chris. Talk to you tomorrow."
Buck looked at the answering machine for the first time and noticed the flashing light. He hit the play button and went into the kitchen to put away his groceries.
Beep! "Monday Seven AM. JD, are you there? This is Becky. Casey never came home last night. Have you seen her? Give me a call."
Beep! "Monday One PM. Becky again. Are you two together? Casey still hasn't showed up. It's not like her to miss class. Sorry about all the calls to your office."
Beep! "Monday Eleven PM. JD where are you!?"
Buck left the kitchen and stared at the machine. Casey missing? JD wasnt here yesterday? He smiled to himself, "Guess he finally opened his eyes. Way to go Kid!"
"Larabee, Denver ATF." Chris answered the phone. No one else arrived in the office yet for the routine morning debriefing following a major bust.
"Sir, this is Detective Watson of the Colorado Springs PD. A Jane Doe was brought to County General Hospital with no ID on her person. In the jacket pocket the hospital staff discovered an ATF ID badge number MGNFCNT7-7. Can you give us an identification?"
Chris stared at the receiver. Had he heard correctly? "Can you repeat that number?"
"Yes sir. MGNFCNT7-7."
"Damn, " Chris swore. "Did you say it was found on a woman?"
"That's affirmative. Five feet four, brown hair. Shes unconscious and in ICU."
"That number belongs to a member of my team, a male member. Can you give me any details?"
"No, not really. Seems like a soda delivery truck found her beside the road up in the mountains. He brought her to the hospital. Looks like she was hurt in an accident or fight. Wish you could give me a name."
"Detective Watson, several members of my team will leave immediately for the hospital to question her. Thank you for the call."
"Sorry to be the bearer of bad news, sir. Bye."
Chris continued to stare at the receiver. Who was wearing JD's jacket?
"Hello, Wilmington, here."
"Hey Buck. How soon until your comin' in?"
"Chris, am I late? Thought the meeting was at eight."
"Bring JD with you."
"He never came home. You know that's what's is strange. It ain't like JD to take off and not leave a note or something."
"Buck, get down here as soon as possible. Something's come up and I need the whole team together now."
+ + + + + + +
"Agent Larabee, you made good time considering all this snow."
The two men shook hands and the Colorado Springs officer lead the men to the ICU. Chris speculated who would be lying in the hospital bed but he refused to enlighten Buck Wilmington with his hunch.
The three men met the charge nurse and she pointed out the Jane Does room. Buck gasped as he saw the patient. "Its little Casey." He quickly turned his panic look toward his friend. "If shes here then where is JD?"
"Did that truck driver say where he found this young woman?" Chris held his emotions back.
"I know him. Ill call and see if hes around. You know the girl?" asked the detective.
All the men nodded their heads. "Buck, were they together yesterday?" Josiah asked.
"I dont know. Becky, thats Caseys roommate called several times on Monday looking for her. I figured they went somewhere for the weekend and lost track of time."
"Officer Quinn, if Casey was in an accident up there, would the wreck be visible?"
"That depends on how far up the mountain she was." He nodded his head toward Caseys room, "Do you know her family?"
"Ill give her aunt a call." Vin replied.
+ + + + + + +
"Doctor, Im Nathan Jackson. Miss Wells boyfriend," he nodded toward the ICU window, "is a member of our ATF team. Can you tell me how shes doing?"
"No, I cant tell you anything about her medical condition, that is, as you being her friend. But as a police issue, I can say I believe she will survive. Shes still suffering from extreme dehydration and hypothermia. She hasnt regained consciousness yet."
"We need to talk to her as soon as possible. Her boyfriend is missing and we believe he and Miss Wells were together for the weekend."
"I understand. Ill let you know but I hope you understand how I can only discuss her condition with an immediate family member."
"Her aunt, Nettie Wells will be coming shortly. Thank you, Doctor."
+ + + + + + +
"Sorry I cant be of more help gentlemen. It was dark when I found her, lying there in a heap. More like she collapsed rather than bein dumped along side the road." The soda route driver pushed back his cap.
"Can you show us exactly on the map where you found her?" Josiah and Nathan remained calm. Though they cared about their entire team, and held a fondness for the absent young member, their experience helped them hold personal emotions in check. Finding JD would take a certain amount of time and luck and both men feared the young man was soon to run out of both.
"Yeah, sure, though finding anything up there with this snow falling will be impossible. That roads got some wicked turns and steep valleys. The road runs on top of the ridge, real pretty in the spring and fall and damn dangerous in the winter. I wont be taking that shortcut again until next summer."
He pointed to the open gray lines marking a gravel road. "Found her about four miles from where the road divides. This way comes into the city and the other connects with the Interstate. Between this side and the road to the Interstate, that road is highly traveled, but heading back towards Denver thats where it can get real lonely."
"Thanks for your help." Josiah reached out to shake the mans hand.
"Yes and thank you for bringing the girl to the hospital," Nathan added.
"Your welcome. I hope you find your missing man. Good luck."
+ + + + + + +
"Mr. Tanner, the girls awake. She wants to talk to you." The nurse led the way for the four agents into the hospital room.
"How ya doin darlin?" Buck asked, control evident in his voice.
"Casey," Vin sat next to the hospital bed. "Was JD with you, up there on the mountain?"
Her eyes could barely see her friend but she could feel his warmth spreading throughout her cold body as he held her uninjured hand. Barely more than a whisper she replied, "Yes, hes trapped in the car."
"Sweetheart, I hate to push you, knowing you just woke up, but we need to know. Do you remember where the car is so we can go help him?" Buck gently rubbed her exposed arm, worry creasing his face.
"The car, its crushed and hes trapped inside. I got out to get help." She tired quickly but finally she managed to say, "My sock, I put it in a tree, where I climbed up." No longer able to talk she closed her swollen eyelids and sighed. All she could visualize was JDs body surrounded by metal and covered with blood. She could hear the men filing out of her room but Vin heard her faint call. "Tell him Im sorry."
+ + + + + + +
"We know roughly where the soda guy found her, so well start by searching the road back towards Denver. She couldnt have walked too far."
"Finding a sock in a tree in the middle of a snowstorm is going to be impossible."
"At least she thought to mark the spot. Ill let the locals know what were looking for so they can send up the Jaws and stuff."
"Chris, hes likely in as bad if not worse shape than Casey. Were going to need to tend to some medical problems before we can even think about getting him free."
"Line it up, Nathan. We will find him."
"Its time to say some prayers, brothers. For both JD and Casey. Be careful." Josiah offered to remain at the hospital with the young woman and be a rendezvous for the rest of the team.
"Well keep you informed, Josiah."
+ + + + + + +
The beautiful Indian summer of the previous weekend exited the mountains and winter entered with a vengeance. Snow, up to eight inches, covered the roadways. The busy roads became slushy and slippery but the untraveled gravel road impeded all but 4x4 traffic.
The AFT agents along with several Colorado Highway Patrol officers searched the lonely gravel road, searching for signs of plant damage or a lonely sock, full of gravel. The snow quit by the middle of the afternoon and the sun shone brightly off crystals coating the landscape.
Each man took a half-mile stretch of road remaining in radio contact. An ambulance and a team with metal extrication tools stood by ready to help. Not knowing which side of the ridge the car careened, they were forced to search both slopes. The snow turned to slippery mush as the solar rays warmed the afternoon air.
Buck, his heart breaking, could only think about the kid. Bad enough he was injured last week in an explosion when searching an abandoned building but to be imprisoned in a car wreck at the bottom of a ravine must be robbing him of sanity. Or was the young agent too injured to be aware of his situation? Could he still survive after five days or would they all feel the loss of an important member of their elite team?
"I found it! I found the sock!" Ezra yelled to all within hearing distance. Three men ran toward the agent rejoicing to see the bloody and dirty, gravel-filled footwear. "Just like Miss Wells described, gentlemen."
Soon the roar of trucks filled the crisp mountain air and the men plotted their descent into the shrouded valley. Buck and Chris stepped into the first set of harnesses while the other men anchored the ropes to the big trucks. Nathan and a paramedic would follow the team leader and the boys best friend. The soft snow, wet leaves and hidden sticks and rocks made the trip down treacherous. More than once the two men slipped but getting to the bottom superseded any fear for their own injury.
Little sunlight filtered through the thick canopy of pine branches and the men hurried to find the compressed vehicle. Evidence of a vehicle crashing through the underbrush gave them encouragement they were at the right location. The valley was silent except for the gentle gurgling of the small stream. Buck searched left while Chris started to the right. The cold air penetrated Bucks light jacket but he didnt feel it. Snow covered all surfaces and the valley refused to give up its secrets. An eerie chill ran up his spine when Chris called out, "I found him!"
+ + + + + + +
The old woman quietly stuck her head into the hospital room but stopped when she saw the large man dozing in a chair. She looked down at the small card in her hand, Room 243, and checked the number above the door, 243. With purpose, Nettie Wells marched into the room ready to confront anyone threatening her niece.
Josiah sat staring at the door until it opened again and a gray haired woman stepped into the room. He looked over at the sleeping young woman before motioning at the door. "Let's talk outside, Ms. Wells," he whispered.
"Who are you and what are you doing in my niece's room?" The words left her mouth before the door closed behind the couple.
"Ma'am, I am Josiah Sanchez, a member of the ATF team out of Denver. I work with young JD."
Nettie paused before commenting. "The boy's mixed up in this too?"
"They were in a car accident, the boy's still missing."
"How did she get here?" the older woman asked before allowing the man to explain.
"We aren't sure of all the details. Casey's only woken up a couple of times and is still in a lot of pain. I know the doctor wanted to talk to you before you spoke to Casey."
"She wants to explain the girl's situation. That's her coming down the hall. I'll go back and sit with her until you're finished."
+ + + + + + +
Several minutes later the oldest member of the elite team heard a small voice call his name. He looked into the sad and tired, brown eyes and gently smiled before he spoke. "You're aunt is here. She'll be right in to see you."
Nettie strode purposefully into the room, walking directly to the bed. As she looked at her niece's bruised and battered face she reached out her arms and pulled the girl into warm and caring embrace. "Casey, child, no matter what I love you but we've got some serious talking to do."
"I know," came a muffled reply.
Josiah took the opportunity to leave the two women alone with their discussion. The lack of news from the rest of the team weighed on his heart. That little lady may have lost more than her unborn child.
Controlling the urge to scream, the mature woman sat on the bed beside the girl and held her uninjured hand. "I just talked with your doctor."
"She tell you everything?"
"Yep. Can't say I was too happy about what she said, though."
"I'm sorry. I meant to tell you. We were on our way to your place when I crashed the car."
The wrinkled hand reached out to push wayward strands of hair away from the injured face. "How did you plan to do that? You knew I'd be gone last weekend."
"I needed to tell JD first and I thought it'd be better somewhere else than in Denver."
"He doesn't know?"
"I told him just before I left the wreck to go get help. Now he's probably dead too." Casey sobbed, her heart filled with misery.
"Shush, child." Nettie took a tissue and gently wiped the tears off the girl's face.
Josiah stuck his head into the room, a smile stretching across his face. "They found the sock, Casey, just like you said. Buck and Chris are heading down to find him now."
A small smile flitted across her face before she started shivering. "He was counting on me to get help. Aunt Nettie, that was two days ago. Two days! I killed him just like I killed the baby."
"Hush now. Don't go talking that way. I'm sure when they find him, they'll tell him how you helped."
"You're disappointed in me, aren't you?"
"Yes, Casey. I am. I'm also quite upset with that young man and I'm not feeling so charitable to him at the moment. Girl, what got into you? We've talked about this. We also talked about how to prevent it happening."
"I know and we did, it's just... Well it broke and I didn't think that just that once would mean... Oh Aunt Nettie, it hurts so bad."
"You rest now, Casey. We aren't done talking about this and I've got a piece to tell JD when I see him, too."
"Don't be mad at him. He wouldn't do it with me any more. It was me that pushed the matter."
"It still takes two. Him being older, he should have known better. That doesnt let him off. If you two really care about each other, enough to do things the right way, at the right time, I'll give you my blessings. In fact I'll give you anything Casey. But right now you need to rest. Don't you worry none. I'll be here when you wake up."
+ + + + + + +
Nathan and a paramedic descended in the harnesses and joined Buck heading towards the car. Chris peered into the wreck trying to locate the injured man but all he saw was a pile of clothing. Buck raced up to the open window and knelt beside the car. He reached under the blanket and coat hoping to find his roommate. Touching something slimy and sticky the mustached man pulled his hand back and looked at it. Pus and blood covered his glove.
Stunned he sat back hard onto the ground, oblivious to the men around him. He stared at the disgusting matter.
Nathan stepped around his friend while the paramedic wiggled into the car to assess the boys vitals. "We need to get a line into him and warm him up. Crack some of those bags and Ill get the IV ready." Both men worked rapidly in the deteriorating sunlight. "His pulse and respirations are weak but hes still with us."
Chris led his shocked friend away from the vehicle. "Pull yourself together, Buck. You cant fall apart on him now. Lets help them get the Jaws down here. Sooner we cut him free the sooner hell get to the hospital."
"Kids been hurt so many times. Couldnt even protect him with this one."
"Least he wore a seat belt." Vin joined the men, his arms full of the cars strewn cargo. Caseys purse hung off one shoulder, JDs cell phone peeked out of his coat pocket, and an aluminum crutch dangled from the sharpshooters hand. "Dont know what else is hidden under the snow."
By the time the paramedics started the IV, the rescue workers began cutting the twisted metal to peel off the cars roof. JDs second crutch jammed into the roof, preventing it from collapsing completely and crushing the young man's head. Exposed to the cold evening air the men quickly covered the victim with more blankets, still monitoring his vital signs. Auxiliary lights helped the rescue workers continue working in the darkness. The sound of gas-powered engines ripping metal polluted the peaceful valley but the only objective hinged on the evacuation of one Agent JD Dunne of the Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, Denver office, badge number MGNFCNT7-7.
Josiah peeked into the young girls room and was blessed with a somber face, eyes void of spark and staring into an invisible, lonely future. "Good morning, Miss Wells."
Silence greeted his call.
He let himself into the room, knowing the torture the college coed inflicted within her mind. "Casey, they found him. Hes alive. They air-lifted him to Denver." He gently reached out and touched her exposed arm.
She refused to acknowledge his presence, only seeing the dark, void nether land, a place where no one else existed except her depressed soul, the mans deep voice only another accusing rumble in her head.
"Look at me, Casey." He softly held her chin and turned her head toward his face. Looking deeply into her eyes he saw the snap deep in her soul, searching for a lifeline. "Casey, JD is alive. You need to focus on that. Life Casey. Dont give up. JD needs you to be strong for him. Give him your strength. Pray for him. Guide him. God forgives you and him for whatever sins. Dont give into the devil, girl. Fight it."
Recognition dawned in her weary brown eyes and she finally gasped, surprised to see the large man still holding her chin firmly in his hand. "Josiah, have you heard anything?"
He smiled and released her chin. "They took him to Denver. Hes alive, Casey."
"How bad is he?"
Pulling up the chair, he took her uninjured hand. "I wish I could tell you hes alright, but youve got to remember hes a fighter and hes proven the doctors and us wrong time and time again."
Tears rolled down her cheeks. "Its all my fault. If he dies, I killed him just like I killed our baby."
"Hush now, little lady. Dont laying that much guilt on your little shoulders. Accidents happen and you careening off that mountain, that was just an accident. A miracle took place up there. God wants the two of your around a lot longer. Hes got plans for you so dont go running out on him or on JD."
"I dont think I can do it, Josiah. Ifn JD dies, then theres nothing worth living for."
"Youre wrong on both accounts, Casey. You possess the strength to accomplish anything. Just ask for the help to accomplish your goals. JD needs you pulling for him. Hes got a rough road ahead but if he knows youre willing to help, hell do it."
"Will he ever forgive me for everything?" She looked away from the gentle giants face, unwilling to forgive herself.
"He already has, Casey."
Both turned toward the voice of Nettie Wells. She entered the room a tired yet determined woman. "I just got off the phone with Vin. Said to tell you how you did the right thing by wrapping him up in all your clothes and coat. When they cut the roof off the car, to get to JD, they found a message written on a paper stuck on the ceiling, to you, Casey."
Casey we may not get to dance again,
We may not get to ride and race,
We may not get to take quiet walks
But well always have each other.
"Nurse, I need to speak to the family of Mr. Dunne." The young doctor looked around the small crowded waiting room. Five tall imposing men sat in the small room, assuming uncomfortable positions in the small matching chairs.
"Those men, you need to talk to them." The nurse pointed toward the agents.
"All of them? Which one is his family?" The doctor would rather talk down to a timid spouse or mother than be confronted with intelligence matching his own.
"All of them. Gentlemen, this is Dr. Latton. He is a nephrologist."
The five men stood up and approached the man in the white coat. "You takin' care of JD?" Buck asked first.
"His creatinine is elevated. He got here in time to prevent septic shock from that wound in his belly but being so severely dehydrated caused hypovolemic shock. His blood pressure dropped so low it couldnt be measured. That young man is in acute renal failure." The doctor assumed that none understood him.
"What treatment have you begun?" Nathan asked with authority while the rest of the five men stood by waiting for the black man to explain the doctors lingo to them.
"Were monitoring his fluid input to match his output."
"Excuse me doctor, but doesnt he need lots of fluid to replace what he lost?" Buck asked confused.
"Yes sir but his kidneys have shut down temporarily and until they start functioning normally again too much fluid will result in that young man drowning from within. The fluid will build up causing a stress to his heart and lungs and then they shut down also."
"A catch-22," Chris interjected.
"Thats right. He needs the fluids to rehydrate his cells but his kidneys shut down. I recommend he begin dialysis to remove the built-up toxins so we can get him stabilized."
"Is this kidney stuff permanent?" Buck asked fearing the worst.
"Hes in a bad way. Not so much from the injuries. Hes in remarkable condition considering the severity of the accident but the fact he was unable to drink any fluids for so long caused the major situation. I dont like to give chances but patients with this severe form of shock usually dont make it. But hes still in there fighting with every breath and Id like to give him every opportunity to win this battle. Has his family been notified? I need a next of kins signature to continue."
"Were the only family that boy has, Doctor. Ive already signed the papers. Give him that chance."
"Great." He looked around at the five, strong, determined men concerned for one young mans life. "If one, and Im am sorry but it can only be one of you, would like to talk to him before we get set up for dialysis Ill take you to the room."
"Hes awake?" Buck demanded.
"No, hes still unconscious but I believe hell hear you just the same, hear the words he needs to hear to keep fighting."
"Buck, go with him. Tell JD every reason he needs to win this assignment." Chris pushed the man to follow the doctor.
Vin put his hand on Bucks shoulder and said quietly, "Tell him Casey needs him. She needs his strength too."
Buck sat beside the hospital bed of one bruised and battered friend. A friend whose skin seemed tinged with yellow, skin pasty, cracked and dry. The rhythmic rise and fall of his chest gave witness to life existing but the rest of the body remained motionless. The right leg, immobilized in a new cast, hung suspended from a traction bar. The right arm, sporting its own cast, lay off to the side, supported by pillows. A large bandage swathed the abdomen; one lone drainage tube snuck out from under the gauze. Small bandages, applied with tape, decorated other locations. Gauze surrounded the left arm, wrist to elbow, protecting the precious site of a new fistula. A Hickman catheter fed valuable nutrients and fluids into the abused body. Another catheter snaked out from under the covers draining the body.
All the boy ever wanted from his friends was a chance to prove himself worthwhile of their friendship and respect. Now the boy faced a life of medical procedures, of knowing a life he helped create, lost before he was even aware of its existence, of a young woman needing forgiveness from him.
The rest of the team returned to the office to finish paperwork on the last mission though they called Buck on a regular basis for updates. Josiah returned to the city to help wrap up the important details that would cost them the case if put on hold any longer.
The nurses came into the room on schedule to check tubes and to change bags but the boy in the bed remain oblivious to the ministrations. Buck smiled at them, a tired smile that didnt quite reach his eyes, but no flirting remarks came from his mouth. JD remained his focus throughout the day and into the evening when the other men returned to sit beside him and wait.
Ezra entered first and offered his friend a foam box and cup, filled with an aroma offering sandwich and hot coffee, respectively. "Thanks. Why dont he wake up? The doc said he werent hurt all that bad."
The conman pulled up the second chair and held the coffee cup while Buck ate the meal. "Though there may not be visible evidence of our young companions injuries, those to his soul are the most worrisome. He certainly was aware of the predicament ensconcing him. That alone would be torturous to any mans sanity. I dont believe I would survive five and a half days trapped in a squashed tin container. Better to rest now and give his wounded body a chance to heal from within before being faced with greeting the latest calamities he has yet to endure."
"I guess youre right, Ezra. I feel so guilty for assuming he and Casey were living it up while he was on leave rather than knowing they were in serious trouble."
"Hopefully he will someday be given a second chance to take that amorous journey with his beloved."
"Josiah say if shell be released soon?"
"Unfortunately they are observing her actions around the clock. With the hormone changes affecting the female persuasion following a trauma such as hers they fear she may attempt something rash. He didnt know when the powers that be would determine her place to be here at JDs side, helping to heal and to be healed."
"Come on JD. Show them doctors you can lick this thing. Wake up."
"Where are you taking him? He need some other test?"
The nurse and orderly gently lifted JD onto the gurney and covered him with two preheated blankets. "He needs to go to dialysis again, Mr. Wilmington."
"How often does he need it? They just did that."
"Every other day for now but most dialysis patients need three visits a week, each up to four or five hours."
Buck sighed. The long-term prognosis for his younger friend weighed heavily on the man's heart. Three times a week tied to a machine? He watched as the duo pushed the comatose man from the room.
"Buck, why the long face? Where's JD?" Josiah walked into the hospital room carrying a bouquet of balloons.
"They took him for another treatment." Buck looked into his older friend and associate's face. "What if he don't wake up? What if he don't want to wake up, Josiah? He can't slow down long enough to tie his shoes. How he gonna handle this?"
"Friend, you know the boy as well as any of us. He's handled more in his young life than most. With all our support, he'll find the strength to accept this. But the future's not cast yet. He may yet surprise the medical experts and not need these treatments permanently."
"I hope you're right, I sure hope you're right."
"By the way, Vin's on his way down to bring Casey and her aunt up here to see JD."
"I hate sitting in hospitals," Buck sighed.
+ + + + + + +
Casey sat beside the hospital bed, her weary head resting on the mattress while her left hand rested gently on JD's chest, the steady rise and fall reassuring in her slumber. The hospital, settled into its nighttime routine with dimmed lights and quiet corridors, continued its ongoing operation. Emergencies raced into the ER, babies decided on nighttime arrivals and most patients slept. Nurses and doctors monitored the critical while other staff completed tasks to prepare for the new day.
Gently a hand brushed her brow pulling her bangs out of her eyes. She awoke from her light sleep and smiled, "JD."
His eyes, half-opened, looked at her. In a whispered voice he said, "Casey, I thought, I thought I was gonna die before I had a chance to say I'm sorry, and how much I care about you." His eyes drifted shut as his body became truly aware of the pain assaulting him.
Casey noticed his skin glistened with moisture. She tenderly rubbed her fingers across his bare shoulder. "Shhh, JD. Go back to sleep. Ill still be here in the morning."
Though his eyes remained closed, his hoarse voice asked, "Are you alright?"
"Ill be fine now that youve come to. Do you want me to call the nurse?"
"No, Im cold."
"Ill go get you another blanket."
"Are you cold, Case," his speech slurring from the pain.
"Ill be alright."
He opened his eyes wider and said, "I want you to warm me up."
"I cant do that, JD. Were in a hospital."
"Dont matter. Beds bettern a chair. What can we do, anyway?"
She crawled into the bed on his uninjured side and snuggled up close to his chest. "Am I hurting you?"
"Nope. Im feelin better already."
Buck quickly stepped back from the door and turned to Vin. "Better go head Mrs. Wells off. She aint gonna like.."
"What aint I gonna like Mr. Wilmington? Get out of my way. Fool girl spending the whole night sleeping in a chair." She pushed past the two agents and entered JDs room. The couple slept soundly in each others arms, oblivious to nurses, doctors or old, biddy aunts.
"Well, I never. So bold. Told her but did she listen to an old bid.."
"Maam, lets go out to the waiting room. They both need their rest." Vin took the older womans arm and led her from the room.
"When they wake up, their ears are going to burn. I cant believe that gall of that little girl." Nettie Wells didnt stop sputtering after sitting down in a chair.
Soon the entire ATF team sat in the small room, waiting for a certain young couple to wake, waiting for a doctors report.
Several men and women in white lab coats paraded down the hall and entered JDs room. "Shouldnt one of us be in there, hear what they have to say?" Nathan queried.
Before anyone responded a nurse approached the small group. "Im Juanita Lopez. Ive been your friends nurse through the night." She smiled at the assembled men, knowing they witnessed JDs sleeping arrangements. "Before you start judging them," she looked directly at the old woman. "You need to know something happened in there last night. The doctors will be out to explain the medical reason but I believe it was something more. When I walked in there around midnight and saw them both sleeping in the bed, I was ready to call for assistance. Weve had other couples attempt, ah, more amorous activities, unfortunately causing more harm than good. Believe me maam; they didnt do anything more that what you just saw. I needed to talk to you because, well, because." Before she could explain the group of doctors exited JDs room shaking their heads. Dr. Latton walked to the group and smiled, a smile spreading from ear to ear.
"Gentleman, good morning. Maam, I assume you are a relative of Miss Wells?"
"Shes my niece."
"Whats up with JD? Why all the smiles?"
"Your young niece is a miracle worker. JDs kidneys are functioning normally this morning. He started sweating during the night and started producing more than the bag could hold. Well need to monitor him for a few days before we remove the fistula, just to be sure the kidneys dont stop again but at least from a nephrology stand point I would expect him to make a complete recovery."
"You mean he wont need dialysis," Buck asked.
The doctor shook his head. "I wouldnt have believed it if I hadnt seen myself. Ive never had a patient make such a complete turnaround overnight. I realize it is Sunday but I do believe a miracle took place."
"Amen to that." Josiah spoke while the rest nodded in agreement.
"Do they know?" Vin pointed at the room.
"Yes. We told them. Now convincing them to refrain from celebrating, Ill leave that to you." The doctor walked away still shaking his head and muttering about miracles.
Not wasting any more time the group of six men and one woman filed into the small room. Casey sat demurely in her wheelchair reading a magazine while JD slept. "Good morning." Her voiced failed attempting to hide her embarrassment.
"Girl, you and I need to have another talk, but Ill save it for a more private moment." Nettie whispered, hugging her niece. "We need to celebrate your young mans over night recovery."
JD woke up and wearily looked around the room, a room full of his friends, no, his family. The pain lessened and his spirit grew. The only hurdle remaining was escaping a hospital bed on crutches and with a broken arm. Maybe he could double up with Casey and make their get-a-way in her wheelchair.
Casey. He looked over at her; Mrs. Wells hand rested comfortably on her nieces shoulder while she visited with Vin. Sleeping together seemed so right, warming both his body and soul. Why did he feel so guilty?
He didnt hear Buck approach the bed and almost jumped when the older man touched him. JD turned his head to look into his friends face, the rooms noise a roar in his head. Bucks lips moved. What did he say?
"I need you, JD. I dont want think about loosing you."
JD smiled and fell into a deep, healing sleep; visions of Casey holding a baby dominated his dreams. They lost something precious but the future held a promise of finding something equally special, love.