Guilt

An accident almost tears the AdventureInc Team apart.

Disclaimer: I don't own them and I don't make any money of them.

Rating: PG mostly for some of the medical stuff.

It was a hot day; the sun shone merciless down on the white desert sand. It was very quiet, not even the air was stirring. Anyone out here on his own would get a very lonely feeling. Not so the man behind the wheel of the jeep driving along the desert road. Then again, Judson Cross was not alone. His team was with him. Together they made their way back to their dig site after spending yesterday and last night in town.

 The last two weeks had been long and filled with hard work. Even though they made a lot of progress, tensions were running high. The heat was getting to everyone, even Judson. After hearing Mac almost 'tearing the head off' one of the workers when he walked in her tent unannounced, catching her undressing (something that usually would just get a laugh out of her), he decided it was time to do something. The last straw was him finding Gabe almost smashing the computer after it broke down for the x-teens time. So he decided it was time to have a night on the town.

They had arrived yesterday around noon and rented a couple rooms at the only motel in town. Mac's first action was to disappear in the shower, not to reappear until 45 minutes later. They had lunch at the local diner and then spent the afternoon doing nothing. After having dinner at the same diner, they decided to check out the night life at the towns' only place of entertainment, the 'Triple T' bar.

The place was crowded; everybody seemed to have a great time. Music was coming from the juke box and several people were dancing. After a few beers and some small talk, Mac got up and dragged a protesting Gabe out on the dance floor. It took Judson just a minute to find out that the protesting had been just for show. It was obvious that Gabe was having just as much fun as Mac. This was when Judson decided, he had made the right decision.

And now they were making there way back to camp. Judson grinned, listening to his team teasing each other. Mac was seated on the passenger site and looked back at Gabe.

"Hey, I was surprised by your dancing last night!"

"And why would that be?" Gabe asked with a smile.

"Well, the way you usually stumble around trying to keep from falling down, I was afraid my feet would be black and blue today!" she responded with a grin.

"Hey, I can't let all my talents show in front of my 'female admirers', otherwise I couldn't save myself!" Gabe had a wide grin on his face.

"Female Admirer's? Aren't we full of ourselves today! I think you could use some cooling down!"

Laughing, Mac started to squirt water from her sports bottle into his face. Gabe leaned forward, took the hat off her head and waived it out the open window.

"Hey, give that back!" Mac demanded.

"Not until you admit that I am worthy off admiration!" Gabe's grin grew even brighter.

"Never in your life time!" was Mac's response, reaching for her hat. She had no time to get it because suddenly an explosion like sound tore through the air. Mac felt the jeep skid out of control. Looking over to Judson, she watched as he desperately tried to regain control. Without success though, the vehicle went off the right side of the road and rolled over several times until finally coming to a halt on its roof.

+++++

The voice calling her name seemed to come from far away, slowly getting closer. Mac attempted to open her eyes just to be hit by a wave of dizziness. Squeezing her eyes shut again, she tried to relax. She recognized the voice as Gabe's and she also could hear the concern in his voice.

"Come on Mac, open your eyes again, you can do it!"

Taking a deep breath, she finally took the risk and opened her eyes again. This time everything stayed in focus, she could see Gabe's face leaning over her.

"Here, take a drink", he helped her sit up and put the bottle to her mouth.

Mac took a big swallow, than looked at him again. "You look horrible!" she said, taking in the blood running down the right side of his face.

"It's nothing, just a scratch; you don't look so good yourself."

At this time Mac finally began to realize that she was hurting everywhere. She tried to move her left arm just to find she couldn't without extreme pain. Looking at it, she saw it was already bandaged, some blood showing through the wrap.

"I think it is broken", Gabe told her; "you also got a big cut on it that will need some stitching."

Just then it all came back to her, "What happened, where is Judson?" She tried to get up just to fall back into Gabe's arms.

"Slow down, I took care of Judson", he ensured her, "he is still out, has a big bump on the side of his head. As far as I can tell, he might have a few cracked ribs from the stirring wheel and I think his right leg might be broken. As for the car, tire blew!"

Mac now saw Judson lying not to far from her. She could also see that Gabe had taken one of the bags and put it under his head. He was still unconscious but started to stir slightly. Then suddenly he gasped and sat up just to sink back with an even louder gasp. Gabe was immediately at his side.

"Easy, don't try to move." Gabe gave him a sip from the water bottle.

"Wow, I feel like I got hit by a semi trailer!"

Gabe gave him a grin, "No, just been in a car that thought it was a dryer and you were the laundry." Noticing that Judson let his eyes wander around, he said; "Mac is over there, she will be fine!"

While Gabe was tending to his other team mate, Mac tried to find a halfway comfortable position. She finally leaned against one of the other bags that Gabe had taken out of the trunk. Watching him tend to their friend, she noticed blood on the collar and back of his t-shirt. Taking a closer look she realized it came from a wound on the back of his head but was obviously no longer bleeding. Concerned, she sat up a little more just to regret it immediately. The pain in her chest seemed to take her breath away and made her groan. Gabe turned around.

"You are okay? You need to lie still, I just finish with Judson, then I help you over here and make you more comfortable!"

"I will be fine, but what about your head?" she questioned him.

"I told you it is nothing, hey, my head is too hard to get any damage!" he gave her one of his most charming smiles, trying to take any worry away.

After giving Judson some more to drink, he went back to Mac and carried her over to their friend. He made her as comfortable as possible.

"The camp should be only about 2 or 3 miles from here. I leave you the water and walk there. I can radio for help from there and then come back for you."

Judson looked at him for a moment, he had noticed, that Gabe occasionally squeezed his eyes shut like he was in pain. "You're sure you are okay?"

"Yep, hey, I can handle a little headache! Also, the cell isn't working out here and somebody has to go for help. I don't see any other volunteers here, do you?" he said lightly.

Both Mac and Judson had to agree with him, so they reluctantly let him go. But not until after he had agreed to take the water bottle with him.

+++++

The walk to camp took Gabe longer than he had expected. Even though he had not admitted it to his friends, his head was killing him. He felt like someone used it for a drum. But what worried him even more, was, he couldn't recall anything after going to bed last night. He tried and tried but nothing came back. He remembered waking up in the car, lying on his side. He found, that obviously he had not been wearing a seat belt. Then he realized both his friends were hanging upside down in their seats, held by their belts. As careful as possible he had removed first Mac, than Judson from the Jeep. Keeping busy with tending to them, he had little time to worry about his own condition – until now. But even now he decided was not the right time.

He finally made it. Immediately he radioed for help, then got one of the workers to drive him back to the accident site. But not before taking some water and another first aid kit with him.

+++++

Mac and Judson were both relieved to see the vehicle coming and finally stopping close to them. Both Gabe and his helper got out and checked on them. Gabe was happy to find that both of them were conscious and seemed to be doing okay. He let them have some more water, then checked on there injuries.

"The chopper should be here shortly!" he reported.

With his adrenaline rush starting to let him down, he started to feel the exhaustion and his head started to pound even more. Yet, he decided, now was not the time to let his friends down. Obviously both of them were in quite a bit of pain and couldn't find a comfortable position. So he clenched his teeth and continued to tend to them until the chopper finally showed up.

+++++

Several hours later Gabe was still sitting in the waiting area of the emergency department. After cleaning his head wounds and putting several sutures in both of them, the nurse had sent him back here to wait for x-rays. The ER was a zoo, there had been an accident involving several cars and as the nurse explained with a sigh, 'a barbecue with some spoiled meat that caused everyone to get violently ill'.  Everybody did their best but it just didn't seem to be enough to control the chaos.

Gabe still hadn't heard anything about Mac or Judson, knowing only that both had been wheeled into rooms in the back of the department. Nobody seemed to be able to give him any information. His head was still throbbing even though the doctor had allowed the nurse to give him some Tylenol, nothing stronger until after x-rays and MRI.

Finally a tall dark skinned man walked toward him.

"Mr. Patterson?" he questioned, than continued when he saw Gabe's nod; "Miss Previn is doing fine, we are keeping her overnight to monitor for any complications. We sutured her arm and splinted it until the swelling goes down, then we will cast it!"

Gabe let out a long breath of relieve. "Great, what about Judson?"

"Mr. Cross is still in surgery, they need to stabilize his fracture with a plate and screw. If everything goes okay, we will put a cast on in about 3 days, then he can be released. He also has a few cracked ribs but none actually fractured and a mild concussion."

At this moment they were interrupted by a nurse "Mr. Patterson, I'm here to get you to x-ray!"

After getting the x-rays done and being told he would have to wait for his MRI for another two hours, Gabe insisted to see the doctor that had treated him before. He felt exhausted and didn't know how much longer he could put up with this.

When the physician finally stood in front of him, he just said: "I'm out of here, unless you can give me a good reason to stay. And please, don't even try to convince me otherwise!"

The doctor saw that couldn't win, so he just checked the x-rays over and than looked back at Gabe.

"Well, the pictures don't show anything but I really would like to do the MRI to make sure. But we can probably do this in the morning! In the meantime, I give you a prescription for Tylenol #3; just don't take more than one every 4 hours!"

Gabe thanked him, then walked out to check on his friends. The receptionist made a few phone calls, then told him, that Mac was sleeping. Judson was out of surgery and in recovery and would very likely sleep most of the night. Gabe checked his watch, it was 9 PM, then asked for a motel close by. The lady could see that he was exhausted and just pointed to the entrance.

"Just across the street is one, nothing special but clean."

Gabe thanked her with a tired smile, then walked over there. After checking in, he went straight to his room. He didn't even took the time to take his shoes off, just headed straight to the bed and let himself fall down on it. He was out like a light before he hit the pillow, not even his headache could keep him awake.

+++++

When he awoke the next morning his headache was gone. He got up and took a long hot shower, now feeling the achyness from being thrown around in the car. Surprisingly there was enough hot water to last till he was done, something that was unusual for a motel like this. After getting dressed again, he went down in the lobby were another surprise waited: continental breakfast. The coffee was weak but hot and the rolls were fresh. He grabbed several, now realizing how starved he was. When he was finished, he walked back over to the hospital.

He found out that both his friends were on the same floor, only a couple rooms apart. The nurse told him that Mac was visiting with Judson. When he walked into the room, Mac was sitting on a chair beside Judson's bed, who was grinning at a story she told. They both looked at him with a relieved smile.

"Good to see you, we were afraid, we would have to go over to the motel and get you!" Judson stated.

"How did you know?" Gabe was surprised.

"Connections!" was the simple answer from both of his friends, then Mac continued; "Did you get your MRI yet?"

"No, I think I will skip it, my headache is gone, I feel fine!"

"I don't think that is a good idea, you really need to get down there and get it done!" scolded Judson. "Hey, what is a little MRI, look at me, I had to go through a lot more."

"Just leave it alone, there is nothing wrong with me. I don't need all this fuss!"

Mac and Judson looked at him, not knowing what to think. This reaction was somewhat out of character for Gabe.

Finally Judson responded: "Okay, just promise me to see the doc if you don't feel good."

"I guess that would be okay. Now how are you guys doing?" Gabe asked, trying to change the subject.

Mac smiled and told him she would be discharged in the afternoon and Judson could go home in about 4 days. They had decided that Mac would rent a room in the Motel across the street also, so she could recuperate.

"Yeah", Judson explained, "I thought, then we could go back to the dig site together!"

"I don't think I'm going to hang around this long. I will head back to the camp this afternoon, got to check on the electronic equipment, somebody has to make sure everything is running alright. Really, I'm a big boy; I can take care of myself!" Gabe tried to sound as convincing as he could. He was tired of being 'babied'.

His team mates looked at each other; they still weren't sure what to think. Both knew they had a tendency to be overprotective. Maybe this was the right thing to do; after all, the doctor wouldn't have let Gabe walk out if he would have suspected something serious. And he needed a chance to prove himself. So they finally agreed, also only very reluctantly.

+++++

By the time Gabe was ready to leave town his headache had started to return. His first instinct was to ignore it but then he decided it would be better to at least fill the script for the pain medication. So he drove by a pharmacy before starting the 4 hour drive back to the dig site. The medication seemed to work wonders, within minutes the pain just disappeared.

When he arrived at his destination the headache was back. Only this time it was pounding again. Gabe felt nauseated and had trouble focusing. He took another pill and then went to his tent to lie down.

"Just a few minutes!" he thought to himself. But when he awoke, he realized the few minutes had turned into 5 hours.

"Darn, I wanted to check on the computer yet today!" he jumped up instantly regretting it as a wave of dizziness and nausea overtook him. After sitting down for a few minutes he slowly got up again, this time with better results. His stomach was still upset but he decided it was just hunger. So he made his way to the supply trailer and prepared a couple sandwiches. Grabbing them and a soda, he went over to his tent to test the computer and check on the other equipment.

He started to check all the programs and databases while he ate his meal. He had been right, everything was slow and some of the files seemed to be gone. Then the computer crashed.

"Stupid piece of garbage!" Gabe could hardly hold his frustration back. It took him only a minute to figure out that it had been running to hot, the fan couldn't cool it down enough. On top of everything his headache was back, he felt nauseous again and almost feverish. Remembering, that he had purchased a stronger cooling fan for the computer not to long ago but never got around to installing it, he went over to where he kept all the spare parts.

The few steps seemed to make his nausea worse and he barely was able to stumble out of the tent before his stomach relieved itself of all its contents. After taking a few deep breaths in the cool night air, he started to feel better and went back to clean himself off. Maybe he just had gotten into some bad food.

It didn't take Gabe very long to find the part he was looking for. He knew taking the old fan out of the computer and installing the new one would be easy. He unscrewed the computer case and took the old part out. His head pounded more than ever and he had difficulty concentrating. Any watcher would have wondered what he was doing, taking the mother board out disconnecting everything. After a while he just sat there like in a trance, looking at the parts in his hands but not really seeing them.

+++++

Two days after Gabe had left town, Mac was visiting Judson in the hospital. She knew he hated the food, so she sneaked him food from the outside for every meal. She started to feel a lot better and took only some Ibuprofen to take the edge of the pain. Judson was also doing better but still had trouble moving around. He couldn't put any weight on his fractured leg and his cracked ribs really made it difficult to use the crutches.

It seemed like every time they were together now the conversation went automatically to Gabe. Both of them couldn't deny that they were worried.

"I just have a strange feeling about Gabe; something just wasn't right about the way he behaved." Mac gave her thoughts a voice.

Trying not to let on too much of his own worries, Judson replied, "I'm sure he is okay, he was probably just a little overwhelmed. Thought he couldn't let us down."

"You might be right, still…" Mac was interrupted by a knock on the door.

They were surprised to see their visitor was Steven Whitefeather, a friend who had been working with them on many excavations. He had been at the camp for the last few weeks.

Both looked at each other, then said at the same time, "Is Gabe okay!"

It didn't take words to tell them that he wasn't. The worried look on there friends face told it all.

"Sorry to barge in on you like this, I just didn't know what else to do!"

"Its okay, sit down, tell us what's going on!" Judson said pointing to a chair on the other side of his bed.

After sitting down and taking a deep breath Steven Whitefeather started to tell what had happened. He had watched Gabe driving into the camp the other day and disappearing into his tent. He had checked on him after a while and found him sleeping. Knowing what he had been through he decided to let him sleep. He explained that everybody had gone to bed early that night, trying to get an early start in the morning. When Gabe didn't show up for breakfast he checked on him again. He found him in bed again but also saw the empty plate and soda can on the table and the taken apart computer. Again he had decided to let him rest, figuring he had eating during the night and gotten some work done.

It had been around 10 AM when Gabe finally got out of his tent. He seemed upset and started to accuse the others of taking his computer apart. Just as fast as he started it, he dropped his accusations and made himself some breakfast. Throughout the day his mood swings had gotten worse, going from joking to screaming at everybody in a flash. When one of the workers had noted that he was stumbling and tried to help him, Gabe almost hit the man in the jaw. And also he tried to hide it, everybody could see him squint and hold his head frequently. After Steven had watched him vomit his dinner, he decided to talk to him. With little success, he might as well have talked to a wall. He continued trying to convince Gabe to allow him to drive him back to the hospital. The only result he got was that Gabe almost knocked him out and than walked away.

Seeing, that aside from dragging him into the car and tying him up, there was nothing he could do to convince him, Steven decided to do the only thing possible. Get Mac and possibly Judson.

Mac was up and ready to go before their friend was finished with his report. She knew what she had to do and she was ready to do it. The doctor had told them it would be another 2 days before Judson would be able to leave the hospital. So she was going to get Gabe by herself.

"I will be back with Gabe by night fall. I should have never let him go back!" she was ready to storm out of the room but Steven Whitefeather held her back.

"I think it is better if I drive. You don't look like you are up to it quite yet!"

"Steven is right", Judson agreed, "We don't need another victim. Just bring him back here so they can find out what is wrong with him!" Even though he tried not to show it, it drove him half crazy not to know what was going on with his young friend.

+++++

It didn't take Mac and Steven more than 3 ½ hours to make their way back. When they got out of the car, Gabe just finished screaming at two workers. He then turned around and stormed by Mac.

"Gabe!" she called out.

For a moment he looked at her but didn't seem to recognize her. The almost empty look in his unnaturally glassy eyes scared her. Watching him disappear into his tent she followed. She found him sitting on his bed. He looked up at her and this time she could see the recognition in his eyes.

"Help me, please!" he begged, then he started to moan, holding his head.

 Mac sat down beside him and cradled his head with her left arm. Feeling the heat radiating from him, she said, "You are going to be okay, Steven and I take you back to the hospital."

Without protest Gabe let her lead him out of the tent. Halfway to the car he started to sway and would have fallen, if Steven wouldn't have jumped in to assist. Together they helped him into the back seat and buckled him in. Mac decided to sit in the back with him.

+++++

Several times throughout the drive Gabe started to vomit without warning. Initially he was distressed about it and made every effort to clean up without help. Mac could see that he was in bad shape and it worried her. Still, she tried to keep an encouraging smile on her face, reassuring him again and again that he was going to be fine.

By the time they were about ¼ hour from the hospital Mac noted that Gabe had gotten even quieter.

He was slumped into the seat, his eyes unfocused.

"Gabe, look at me!" Mac tried to get his attention, "tell me how you feel!"

The response that she got scared her even more. Trying to look at her Gabe lifted his head slightly, the words coming out of his mouth too slurred to understand. Suddenly his eyes rolled back in his head and he fell sideways, only the belt preventing him from hitting the window with his head.

"Steven!!!!" Mac's scream spoke for itself. They drove the rest of the way in record time, pulling straight into the ambulance entrance of hospital.

While Steven Whitefeather jumped out to get help, Mac unbuckled Gabe and let his upper body slide sideways onto her lab. Just as she saw several emergency workers nearing the car with a gurney, she felt Gabe's body go into uncontrollable convulsions.

At the same time the door flew open and a nurse assessing the situation gave orders, "Get him out of there, he is having a seizure!"

Taking Gabe out of the car, laying his still convulsing body onto the gurney and pushing it into the hospital seemed to be a matter of seconds. Mac had gotten out of the car at the same time. Seeing her friend disappear into the hospital seemed to take all the tension out of her.

"This is all my fault!" she quietly said, tears rolling down her face. Being used to a strong, always in control Mac, Steven Whitefeather felt helpless and without words.

After Mac had collected herself,  they went into the hospital to fill out the admission papers for Gabe. One of the nurses told them it could be hours before they would know what was going to happen with their friend. At this time they were still trying to get the seizures under control.

+++++

Having been on his feet since last night, Steven Whitefeather decided to get some rest at the Motel across the street.

"Call me as soon as you find out anything!"

Mac promised, then left message where she could be reached and headed up to Judson's room. Filled with worry and anxiety her thoughts were with him now. Over the last several months she had watched their friendship grow. What initially had been just admiration on Gabe's part had really fast turned into much more. In Judson he had found the attention and approval that his father and brother had denied him all his life. And while Judson had instantly liked the kid, it had taken him a while to realize that he was more than just a valuable asset to his crew. He had always thought he was content with his life. Gabe made him realize that just maybe there was something he might have missed. In his own way, instead of dwelling on it, Judson decided to embrace the friendship and give Gabe the place in his heart that he deserved. Not really a father/son than rather a big brother/kid brother relationship had started to develop.

Mac found the door to Judson's room half open. She could see him looking at the TV screen but could also tell he wasn't watching. Anxiety was showing on his face, his thoughts very obviously not in the room. He looked at her the moment she entered.

He seemed to read her mind, just asking: "How bad is he?"

Mac hesitated for just a second, than she replied, "I don't know yet but it doesn't look good!"

She told Judson what had happened since she had arrived back at the camp. Then she looked at him again. His expression had become unreadable. Any outsider would have thought he didn't care but Mac knew otherwise. Slowly she walked over to the window, knowing this was the only way not to let him know her own thoughts. Despair filled her, if she just would have insisted on Gabe staying here or at least gone with him.

Unknown to her, Judson was not just worried about Gabe, his thought were very much the same as hers. He should have put his foot down; after all, he was still the leader. What if Gabe wouldn't make it? He tried to push this thought away but with little success.

+++++

The next few hours passed with very little conversation. It seemed more like days. It was after midnight when the door opened. A man in surgical scrubs entered the room. He introduced himself as Dr. Winters, a neurosurgeon. He received anxious looks from both, Mac and Judson. At this moment the tension hanging in the room could have been cut with a knife. Dr. Winters felt very uncomfortable, it was never easy to talk to friends and loved ones.

"First of all, Mr. Patterson is alive and ICU." Hearing the breaths of relief from both, he continued, "When he arrived in the ER, it took us a while to stabilize him. We had to give him IV diazepam to control the seizures, than he went into respiratory failure and we had to intubate. We finally were able to get an MRI and found your friend suffered from a subarachnoid hematoma, that put pressure on his brain!"

"Okay, slow down a little, he suffered from what?" Judson interrupted.

"Sorry, I should have explained, any bleeding under the skin causes bruising. The subarachnoid space is filled with cerebral spinal fluid and surrounds the brain, it also holds some major blood vessels. During a head trauma there can be shearing and rupture of bloodvessels. Depending on the amount of bleeding this can cause a clot that puts pressure on the brain. And this in turn can cause the brain to swell and put pressures on areas that have not been directly involved in the bleed."

The doctor stopped and looked at Mac and Judson. Seeing that they understood, he continued. "We confirmed the diagnoses with a spinal tap – spinal fluid will be bloody if there is a bleed-, then we took your friend directly to surgery. We were able to remove the clot and repair the damage to the vessel causing the hemorrhage."

"So he will be okay?" Mac looked expectantly and half begging at the doctor.

"Sorry, at this time we can't tell and won't be able to until the swelling to his brain goes down and he wakes up. Right now he is still not able to breathe on his own and remains unconscious. He does show some response to painful stimuli, which gives us hope!"

 Dr Winters took a deep breath, already knowing the next question that would come his way now.

"How long will we have to wait?"

"We should know within 24 hours, after that his chances of waking up without experiencing some kind of permanent damage are slim!"

The answer stood in the room like a final judgment. 24 hours that would decide not only the life or death of Gabriel Patterson but also the fate of the whole Adventure Inc. team.

+++++

The night was spent n silence. Both team members were lost in their own thoughts. And none got any sleep. The doctor had allowed them to visit Gabe after breakfast. Mac had decided to spend the night in a recliner in Judson's room. When breakfast was finally served, she went to the unit lounge and got some coffee. There were rolls for family members but she decided to skip them, feeling like her throat was too tight to swallow more than liquid. Coming back into Judson's room, she could tell that he felt the same way. He had not touched his tray at all.

Finally a nurse entered the room with a wheel chair. She helped Judson get in it and quietly took him to the elevator. Mac followed. Getting off on the 6th floor, she rolled the wheel chair towards a room beside the nurses' station. Before entering, Judson and Mac exchanged glances that spoke more than words. Unsure of what they were going to find inside, they both took a deep breath.

Dr Winters was at Gabe's side. When he saw Mac and Judson he turned to them, "Come in, I just finished some tests. There has been no change but he seems to hold his own. Why don't I leave you alone with him for a while?"

Stepping out of the room and taking the nurse with him, he stopped for a moment, "I'll send the nurse back to get you in about half an hour."

Now that they were alone, Mac sat down and took a hold of Gabe's hand. For the first time since entering the room she took a good look at his quiet form lying in the bed. His skin was almost as white as the sheets, which was even more pronounced by his dark hair. He was connected to several IV lines and a monitor to keep track of his vital signs. A ventilator took care of his breathing.

Mac reached up and very gently stroked his hair. Judson watched her closely and could see tears in her eyes. It was difficult for him to keep his feelings hidden but he finally said "Gabe will be fine, you'll see!"

Mac gave him a slight smile. She could see in his eyes that he was trying to convince himself just as much as her.

+++++

It turned out to be a long day. Steven Whitefeather joined them in Judson's room not long after they had returned from their first visit to Gabe. He decided to stay with them at least until the next day. Having known Gabe only for a short time, he had taken an instant liking to the young man who seemed to be the perfect addition to a great team.

Watching both Mac and Judson quietly, he could see pain and anxiety in their expressions. But he could tell there was more than just that. Steven had learned to read people a long time ago. He could tell that both of them felt responsible for Gabe's condition. His hope was that Gabe would wake up soon. The doctor had assured them he was doing okay and they had every indication that he would wake up soon.

Later in the afternoon all three decided visit Gabe again. They weren't quiet prepared for the surprise that waited for them. They didn't recognize the doctor that was checking Gabe out but they sure knew the older well dressed man standing at the window – Senator Patterson. Obviously the hospital had notified Gabe's family.

Having heard them enter the room, the Senator turned so he faced Mac and Judson. His face was unreadable, his words cold "I will have my son transferred to Boston Medical Center. And I want you out of his life. If it wouldn't have been for you, he wouldn't be in this condition!"

Steven Whitefeather had never met the Senator. He was speechless and expected his friends to tell him what they thought of him. His surprise was complete, when Mac turned around and left the room. Looking at Judson he noted he was crumbling in the wheel chair. After a moment of silence he said without looking up, "Take me back to my room."

+++++

The silence in Judson's room was devastating and didn't seem to end. Mac starred out of the window and Judson hadn't even attempted to get out of the wheel chair since they had returned. Nobody spoke.

Steven Whitefeather had never seen the team like this; it felt like these weren't even the same people he knew for so long.

Finally he couldn't take it any longer, "I know this is tough but none of this was either of your faults!"

"Really?" Judson sounded sarcastic, "I hired him!"

"And I convinced him, and didn't see when he needed me most!"

"You are nuts, Gabe knew exactly what he wanted and he would be mad seeing you like this!" Steven could see that his words didn't go through to his friends. He could see they had to deal with this on their own. "I am going back to camp; call me if you need me!"

+++++

It wasn't until the next morning that they saw Dr. Winters again. Mac had spent a restless night at the motel but had returned to Judson's room after finding out that Gabe hadn't been transferred yet.

The doctor entered the room right after breakfast. He looked very serious.

"What I tell you now goes totally against hospital protocol; Mr. Patterson's father has strictly forbidden any of the staff to talk to you or even let you visit his son." He took a deep breath, than he continued, "First the good news, the neurosurgeon from Boston Medical concurred with me and told the Senator his son shouldn't be moved. He also told him that everything that could be done had already been done here!"

Mac and Judson looked at him, dreading the next statement. They could see he was very uneasy but finally he continued: "I'm sorry that I have to tell you, Mr. Patterson slipped into a coma during the night. This means his chances have dropped dramatically."

+++++

Two days later Judson was released from the hospital. His leg was casted but he still wasn't allowed to put any weight on it. The doctor told him he would need to come back for a recheck in about two weeks and than they would put on a walking cast. Eve Roberts, one of the nurses, offered him and Mac to stay at a small furnished apartment in the building she owned. They decided to take her up on the offer.

The place was small but on ground level and made it easy for Judson to access it. It had two bed rooms, a living room with a kitchenette and a bathroom. The furniture was inexpensive but clean and comfortable.

Judson went to one of the two recliners and sat down. His ribs were still sore and the drive from the hospital hadn't helped. Mac looked around and found a note on the counter. She picked it up and read, then she turned to her friend, "Listen to this", she said, "Fridge and cupboards are full, take whatever you want, Eve."

She paused for a moment, than she said, "Good to know that some people still care."

Judson didn't respond but gave her a look that spoke more than words.

Mac started to look through the supplies. When she finally found what she was looking for, she started to prepare dinner. Her wrist had been casted and it was kind of odd to do things with her left but she managed. After she was finished she set the table and served the food.

Judson took one look at the food, then said, "Now why in the world would you make 'chicken parmesan'?"

She glanced at the serving plate, suddenly realizing that she just had made one of Gabe's favorites. Quietly she sat down and started to eat, trying to ignore Judson's look. The food seemed to get stuck in her throat and she finally dropped the fork and went to one of the bedrooms.

+++++

The next two weeks went by in torture. Neither Mac nor Judson even attempted to get around Senator Patterson's orders. Only through Eve Roberts they heard that Gabe was still alive but that his condition hadn't changed. They spent the time in the same apartment, it seemed like Mac and Judson had hardly anything to say to each other. The incident with the 'chicken parmesan' had been just the beginning. Inadvertently one of them would say or do something that would remind the other of Gabe. This would make this person make a nasty remark and end any conversation.

+++++

Finally the day came when Judson got his walking cast. Mac drove him to his appointment and waited in the hall for him. When they returned to the apartment, they found a surprise visitor waiting for them. Steven Whitefeather was casually leaning against the door.

"I have to talk to both of you!" he said in a very serious tone of voice. After letting him into the apartment, Mac offered him something to drink.

"Just sit down and listen to me!" The way he had said it left no room for discussion. Both of them sat down, waiting for him to begin.

"I just came from the hospital. I visited Gabe for about an hour. And I found out, that neither of you had been there." He gave Judson a look that made him drop the sentence he had tried to start. Then he continued, "I thought Gabe is your friend. Usually that would be more than enough to defy any threats. What's going on with you guys? Don't you realize, what happened was not your fault but what will happen, could be!"

With this he sat down and let his words sink in.

+++++

Judson was the first one who made it to the hospital. He had sneaked out of the apartment while Mac was in her bedroom and Steven was taking a shower. With his right leg casted he was still not able to drive, so he had called for a cab.

He waited until nobody was around before he went into Gabe's room. Unfortunately Gabe was not alone; a nurse was just checking his IV lines. Recognizing Judson, she completed her work than winked at him and left the room.

Judson pulled up a chair and sat down. For a moment he just quietly looked at Gabe. He seemed even paler than two weeks ago but otherwise nothing had changed. It was still the ventilator that kept him breathing and there was no other movement than the steady rise and fall of his chest. He finally took his hand and took a deep breath.

"I have no idea if you can hear me but I have to say this. I'm sorry, I let you down. I realize now, that there was not a lot that I could have done to prevent this from happening!" He took a deep breath, almost expecting a reaction.

"I was so caught up in my guilt and self pity, that I let myself get lost in it. And what is worse, I let you get lost. If I'm guilty of anything, than it is that I didn't fight for you! But I'm ready now, what ever it takes."

Judson stopped, feeling a hand on his shoulder. He had been so caught up in his confession that he didn't hear Mac and Steven enter the room. Now Mac was standing right beside him. She had tears in her eyes and after giving him an approving look, the words she spoke weren't directed at Judson.

"I am ready to fight for you Gabriel Patterson! Like Judson said, what ever it takes!"

"For you, there is nothing to fight for, get out of my son's room before I call security!" the thundering voice of Senator Patterson came from the door.

Slowly he came closer, his voice now more in control he said, and "You might as well know before you leave, I have decided to have my son's ventilator turned off. The doctor's say, that there is not a lot of hope that he will ever wake up and if he does he will not be himself anymore!"

Steven Whitefeather was standing on the sidelines and watched his friends with interest. He smiled, when he saw the deep breath both at them took at the same time. Judson opened his mouth but Mac was faster.

"You will do no such thing, I won't let you!" her eyes were throwing flames at him.

"There is really nothing you can do, I am his father and I will make all the decisions!"

Mac had a smile on her face now, "We'll see about this, I can try to get a restraining order or something!"

"Do you really think that would change anything!" the Senator was sure he had the upper hand.

"Maybe not, but at least it would buy Gabe some more time! I am not ready to give up on him yet!"

"And neither am I", Judson got in on the argument now, "we are just starting. I know you always thought you could control Gabe. You never liked it when he started to make decisions that went against you."

Judson looked the Senator in the eyes, seeing that he had hit a nerve. "Would you really let your own son die just because it would be your decision?"

The Silence in the room was almost eerie, only the sounds of the ventilator and the beeping of the heart monitor could be heard. Just when Mac was ready say something, the Senator spoke up. His voice didn't sound at all like it belonged to the same man that always seemed to be in control of everyone and everything.

"Maybe you are right, maybe I was never able to understand my youngest son. I will rethink my decision. In the meantime, you can stay here!"

With this he turned and walked out of the room.

Mac smiled at Judson and Steven, than she turned to Gabe: "Now it is up to you buddy! "

+++++

The next few days brought a huge change to Gabe's hospital room. The team, including Steven Whitefeather started to take shifts spending time with Gabe. After talking to Dr. Winters and the unit nurses, they brought CD's of his favorite music in and let them play for hours. They also read newspaper and magazine articles for him. But most important, they talked to him, recounting some of the adventures they had together of the past several months.

The evening of the next day found Mac sitting alone beside Gabe's bed. She had just gotten done reading an article on computer updates and was now watching him quietly, lost in her own thoughts. It was just not possible that her friend would never wake up. The thought made her mad and before she knew what she was doing, she had jumped up.

The words she said where spoken in helpless anger: "Darn you Gabriel Patterson, I will not let you run out on us. You better wake up and get your little skinny butt out of this bed before I kick it!"

Startled by her own words, she came back into reality by the sound of several alarms. She had no time to think because at the same time several nurses came rushing in and pushed her out of the room. For a moment she was unable to clear her mind. When she finally did, she found herself leaning against the wall just outside of Gabe's room. Judson was just walking towards her with take out in his hands. Seeing the expression on her face, he increased his speed.

"What happened?" he questioned, his concern clearly showing in his voice.

"I think I just killed Gabe!" Mac's voice almost broke. Then she explained what had happened.

Judson took a deep breath, than he reached out and pulled her close.

"Look, whatever happened, you did not kill Gabe. You were just trying to help!"

He was interrupted when a nurse came out of the room. She turned to them, and then said, "I can't tell you a lot but Dr. Winters wanted you to know that your friend is alive. He will be out in a while."

+++++

It took about 30 minutes before the doctor finally appeared. Mac and Judson spent the time between anxiety and anticipation. And they found themselves sending silent prayers to heaven.

Dr Winters knew instantly what to expect when he say the look in their eyes. He gave them an encouraging smile.

Looking at Mac, he said, "I don't know what you did, but it sure must have gotten through to your friend. He started breathing against the vent, which is what set all the alarms off. We extubated him and he is breathing just fine on his own. He is still unconscious but no longer in a coma. I did some minor tests and he shows response to pain and even touch."

Judson could see the relief on Mac's face. He gave her a big grin, "Hey, sometimes even anger has its place."

"So how long will it be before he finally wakes up?" Mac questioned the doctor.

His face took on a more serious expression, "Tough to say but I want you to know, your friend is not out of the woods yet. I wish, I wouldn't have to tell you this but his chances to come out of this without longterm damage are slim to none. Personally I haven't seen a patient yet that didn't at least have some minor impairment!"

"Well, I'm sure this will be your first one. Gabe is going to prove you wrong and we will help him. After all, this is what friends are for!"

Determined Mac turned around and walked into Gabe's room with Judson right on her heels, leaving Dr. Winters musing. He started to see the bond between this trio. The strong leader that did not always have to be in control and the only female that was fiercely determined but yet vulnerable. And even though he did not know the youngest member of the team, he could see the place he held. The one that was still learning, needed protection, yet in his own way made them complete.

Mac and Judson went back to Gabe's room with new enthusiasm and hope. Both of them tried to ignore the voices in the back of their head reminding them that Gabe wasn't back yet. Too long had they been without hope. Now all their energy went into a positive attitude. They were a team and together they would pull through.

+++++

It had been two days now since Gabe started to breath on his own. Sometimes when Mac or Judson talked to him the expression on his face changed and it appeared like he could hear them. There was movement behind his closed lids and for a moment it looked like he fought to open them up but lost the fight every time. It was during one of these moments, when Mac grabbed his hand and squeezed it tightly.

"Come on, you can do it, just open those sparkly eyes of yours!" she encouraged him.

Somewhat disappointed when his features relax again, she gently stroked his hair, than pressed a kiss on his forehead. "Take your time, whenever you are ready, we will be here."

Judson looked at her with disbelief. He knew that patience was not one of Mac's better qualities. "You gotta be kidding me, how can you tell him to take his time, while you almost burst with anticipation?"

"Let's see, maybe because I realize that Gabe is just as stubborn as you are. He is not going to let us push him!" She grinned.

"Who are you calling stubborn here?" He gave her a playful shove, then continued. "I remember a certain young lady that just 3 month ago rather ran around with a sprained ankle than to admit she needed help!"

"Oh yeah, and what about last month when you had that bad cold and almost passed out because you just needed to do that final dive!"

Judson couldn't help it, he had to laugh, "Okay, you got me on that one, but you are really not any better!"

They both laughed now and went on teasing each other with stories about their stubbornness. It is Mac who first realized there is a pair of dark eyes watching them. She grabbed Judson's arm, then she stood up.

"Gabe", her voice was full of emotions, "about time you woke up sleeping beauty."

She could see the confusion in his eyes, but also the recognition. She felt tears burning in her own eyes. Turning away for a moment, not to let anybody see them, she took a deep breath.

Judson could see that Gabe's lips were forming Mac and his name but nothing more than a hoarse croak came out.

"Its okay, your voice hasn't been used in a while."

 Looking in his eyes he could see the question there. "You been out for some time, which reminds me, I better tell somebody that you are awake."

With that he left the room in search of Dr. Winters. Mac sat down on Gabe's bed and grabbed his hand again. Seeing that he was still confused she just said "You are going to be fine now, trust me!"

Gabe just nodded and squeezed her hand. He held her gaze with his eyes and slowly she could see him relax.

Finally Judson returned with an excited Dr. Winters in tow. He held a glass of water with a straw in his hand.

"Are you thirsty?" the doctor asked, than let him carefully suck on the straw. Satisfied that Gabe didn't seem to have any trouble with the straw and also didn't choke on the water, he went on. "Let's see, if you can answer any questions now! What is your name?'

For a split second there was total silence in the room, then Gabe's response came in a still hoarse whisper: "Gabriel Patterson!"

Judson threw Mac a triumphant look which she returned with a big grin on her face.

"I never doubted it for a second!"

Dr. Winter continued to ask several questions, than checked Gabe's reflexes. After a while he stood up.

"So far everything looks good, I am really surprised. I need to run some more tests but that can wait until tomorrow."

Looking into Gabe's eyes he continued, "I'm sure you want some explanations and I will allow your friends to stay for another half hour and fill you in. But than you all need to get some rest!"

Mac and Judson gladly took the opportunity to explain to their friend what had happened to him. Trying not to excite him, they left out some of the details. It was clear that Gabe had no memory of any of the incidents.

 After about 20 minutes Judson realized that Gabe started to drift off. A look into Mac's eyes told him she had noticed it. They both stood up and Mac ruffled his hair.

"You just rest, we will be back tomorrow!"

+++++

Just as they had expected, all the tests that Gabe was being subjected to came back negative. Dr. Winters almost couldn't believe his eyes when he read all the results. To him it looked like a miracle enfolded in front of his eyes. Though in the beginning still weak on his legs, Gabe didn't seem to have any problems with walking. He didn't seem to have lost any cognitive skills either. The only thing he was missing was his memory since the night before the accident. His friend had filled him in on most things but it still bugged him not to be able to remember.

"Hey, at least you remember our dance!" Mac tried to encourage him.

Realizing just how lucky he had been, he gave her one of his big grins, "How could I ever forget!"

++++

It was exactly one month later when the team was back at the 'Triple T' Bar. It had seemed fitting to Judson that they would celebrate Gabe's return where it all had started.

The place was just as crowded as the last time. Again it took a couple beers before Mac could drag Gabe out on the dance floor and again he pretended to protest. Mac could see the sparkle in his dark eyes. Having fun herself, she said, "Hey, maybe you weren't that wrong about those 'female admirers'."

Gabe gave her a confused look, "What are you talking about?"

"Oh, just something you said before the accident, forget it, lets dance" With that she let him whirl her around.

During the next dance Judson cut in. Gabe left the floor just to return a second later with a pretty brunette. Starting to dance with her, the team's eyes met. They had been through a lot together. Guilt had almost destroyed them but their friendship had proved stronger.

THE END