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Christmas in Lame Deer

Part 3

New Beginnings

An Emergency Story
by Tammy B

Links to Part 1. 2. 3.

 

 

 

They entered the lodge at smiled at the decorations in place for Christmas day but made their way to a smaller room. They noticed their clothing for the next day was already on a table outside the door. Several large tubs for bathing stood outside and the buckets to fill them with.

 John drew a deep breath and looked to Roy. “It’s really happening huh?” 

“Sure is.” Roy looked at his watch. “Ten more hours and you’ll be a married man,” he teased. 

Blue Eagle stepped to the door and waved them inside. A fire was burning in the center of the room. “Come gentlemen have a seat with your women.” 

They all found a place to sit. John and Danella joined hands near the center of the circle. Joe was standing with Blue Eagle holding several items in his hand, waiting for the younger man to begin. 

“To some of you this may be nothing but a ritual performed by a superstitious people but to us this is a sacred ceremony and one we believe in. Try to have an open mind,” he warned them all but his eyes looked specifically toward Chet for a moment.

The Irishman flushed and Erin giggled. 

Blue Eagle reached over and took a large shell and pestle from Joe. “The smudging bowl,” he explained. He placed a small amount of something in the bowl and ground it with the pestle. He lifted a thin piece of tinder from the fire and touched it to the herb. It began to smoke…A strong spicy scent soon filled the room. They all grinned and breathed deeply, enjoying the aroma.  Blue Eagle turned in all four directions before facing west.

“Sage…We associate this with the west…It is to purify the spirit and mind that we offer this. It is burned to take away negative lingering thoughts and spirits surrounding the home…Your person and this place,” he said glancing around.

They all thought of Ben, of Matt and Jimmy Wheeler and Gray Elk. Blue Eagle took the feather from Joe and fanned it first toward John and Danella and then to the rest of the group. “Breathe it in and let go of any negative thoughts that you harbor within you,” he directed.

 John squeezed Dani’s hand as his eyes closed. He breathed in deeply as did Sena, Joseph and Janessa. The others followed suit a little hesitantly at first but the smell was soothing and nice…They breathed in deeply.

Blue Eagle threw more sage onto the fire and allowed it to smolder.  He reached out for the next herb and as before, crushed it with the pestle before touching the fire to it. A strong pungent scent of pine filled the air.

Blue Eagle once again turned in a circle, lifting the bowl in each direction. “Cedar represents the south…It is used to cleanse the home…To cleanse your purpose and your hearts. The smell is refreshing and clean as is its purpose.” Again he fanned it first toward the young couple and then toward the others. They all breathed deep.

They were beginning to like this ceremony a lot…It was soothing to the senses and the spirit…Even Chet managed to keep his mouth shut. He lifted what looked like a braid of something and placed it in the bowl and let it burn. The smell of vanilla filled the air.

“Sweet grass…The hair of mother earth,” he explained. “The three sections of the braid represent the mind, spirit and body. It is associated with the north,” he said turning to lift the bowl in all four directions. It will bring a positive influence to your thoughts, your feelings and your purpose and to your people and family. Watch John and Danella and do as they do.” 

He waved the smoke toward the couple with the feather. They both reached out to fan the smoke toward their chest and then upward toward their faces, lightly waving it to pass by and around them before sending it toward their chest once more. The others threw a shrug and a glance at each other and followed suit.

“You are fanning the smoke to your heart and mind…To your whole body and back to your heart once more.” They grinned. He tipped the bowl over the fire and it sputtered as the braid caught and burned. 

Blue Eagle turned to Joe once more and dropped the last herb in to the bowl. He touched it and the dried leaves caught. The smell of tobacco filled the air. “Tobacco is associated with the east and is pleasing to the creator. This will help to fulfill the purpose of our ceremony and will help to lift your prayers to the creator.”  He turned to Johnny. “Dances with Fire,” he said softly in invitation for John to speak.

John took a deep breath and blew it out slowly before he began to speak quietly. "Oh, Great Spirit, whose voice I hear in the wind, whose breath gives life to all the world. Hear me… I need your strength and wisdom. Let me walk in beauty, and make my eyes ever behold the red and purple sunset. Make my hands respect the things you have made and my ears sharp to hear your voice. Make me wise so that I may understand the things you have taught my people. Help me to remain calm and strong in the face of all that comes towards me. Let me learn the lessons you have hidden in every leaf and rock. Help me seek pure thoughts and act with the intention of helping others. Help me find compassion without empathy overwhelming me. I seek strength, not to be greater than my brother, but to fight my greatest enemy…Myself. Make me always ready to come to you with clean hands and straight eyes. So when life fades, as the fading sunset, my spirit may come to you without shame.”

His friends sat stunned at the quietly voiced prayer. “Thank you Dances with Fire,” Blue Eagle said looking rather proud of the younger man. “Ladies…If you will retire we will let the men get ready.”

The ladies gave their husbands and loved ones a kiss goodnight. Joanne moved to John’s side.

“That was beautiful,” she said softly with tears in her eyes. “Thank you for letting us all be a part of it,” she added, speaking for the group. John nodded and smiled. Emily, Melissa and Dixie all kissed his cheek as they left but Danella stopped to wrap her slender arms about his neck.

“I love you John…I will see you in the morning.”He nodded as his mouth caught hers in a gentle kiss. “I love you Danella…Sleep well.” The women left.

 John turned to the others. “I hope none of you are shy…I suggest that you remove your jackets, shirts and jewelry…it’s about to get real warm in here.” 

“Why?” Chet asked. John rolled his eyes… “It’s a sweat lodge Kelly…To sweat out any impurities…To cleanse away all of that bad stuff so I don’t bring it into my marriage…Geez Chet…Why do you think they call it a sweat lodge,” John said in exasperation. 

The others snickered at the byplay but took Johnny at his word as they began to strip off Jackets, shirts and ties and jewelry. They quickly found John was right…Three Rivers and Wind Walker came inside carrying superheated stones with tongs. They set them in the fire pit.

 Blue Eagle glanced around at them. “Three Rivers, John’s cousin by marriage… is the fire keeper. There will be four rounds that will last about thirty to forty minutes and then the door will be opened to allow cool air to enter for a short time. If you cannot endure the heat, please feel free to leave but please do it quietly and go out behind the others so you do not disturb their meditations and prayers. Please go to the door that way,” He directed pointing in a clockwise direction. They all nodded. 

Three rivers poured a ladle full of water over the stones and steam erupted…The temperature began to climb…Soon all of them were coated with a light beading of sweat.  John closed his eyes and drew his legs up in Indian fashion with his back to the wall. Those who could followed suit.

Blue Eagle began a soft drumming and then a chant. “Grandfather, Mysterious One, We search for you along this great Red Road you have set us on. Sky Father, We thank you for this world. We thank you for our own existence. We ask only for your blessing and for your instruction. Grandfather, Sacred One, Put our feet on the holy path that leads to you, and give us the strength and the will to lead ourselves and our children past the darkness we have entered. Teach us to heal ourselves, to heal each other and to heal the world. Let us begin this very day, this very hour, the Great Healing to come…Let us walk the Red Road in Peace.”

 In the beginning in the darkness there was only the sound of Blue Eagle’s voice but as the temperature began to climb so did their senses. Sight, smell and sound seemed to increase. The lingering scents of the smudging ceremony…The soft breathing of the person next to them…The sight of their friends around them drinking in the tradition of the ceremony…Even the  normally anxious Kelly Brackett wasn’t fussing at them about dehydration and their need for cooler air and water...At least not yet.

 

Blue Eagle once again began to explain. “The first period is for recognition of the spirit world which resides in the black West where the sun goes down. If you wish…The Creator may be asked for a "spirit guide." They all glanced at each other in the darkness but no one spoke, uncertain of this part of the ritual.

Blue Eagle smiled and continued. The second period will be for recognition of courage, endurance, strength, cleanliness, and honesty. You will call upon the power of the white North if you choose and the third is for recognition of knowledge and individual prayer. Pray toward the direction of the daybreak star and the rising sun that we may gain wisdom, that we may follow the Red Road of the East in all our endeavors. And finally the fourth period will be for the yellow South. It stands for growth and healing.  From our spirit guides from the west, from the courage, honesty and endurance of the north, from the knowledge and wisdom obtained from the east, we continue the circle to the south from which comes growth. It is from growth and maturing that healing comes,” he finished.They all nodded.

After about forty minutes…The door opened and cold air wafted into the lodge. They all smiled gratefully for the break. Johnny stepped out into the snow, drawing a frown from Brackett for the possible chill the young man was giving himself and his mouth dropped open in shock as John reached down to grab a handful of snow and rub it over his arms. “It’s a quick cool down Doc…,” he explained.

The others tossed a glance at each other and quickly trotted out to join him. They shuddered a bit at the cold but quickly rubbed their arms and chest.

 Several of them picked up a quick handful to pop in their mouth and let the melting coolness trickle down parched throats. All too soon Blue Eagle was calling them back for the second round.  By the fourth, they were all feeling like melted snowmen….Drained and tired but somehow feeling refreshed as well. They stepped back into the lodge and the warm bathtubs full of water that were waiting for them.  John glanced at his friends. “So what did you think?” He asked a little worriedly.

 “That was far out,” Chet said enthusiastically. 

“Thanks for letting us do this with you,” Mike said. “I really enjoyed that.” 

 “That was strangely refreshing,” Kel said in wonder.

“Do they let the girls do that too?” Marco asked.

“Not often but sometimes,” Johnny said. “It can cause problems if it’s not done right.”


Kel nodded his agreement with that statement. It would be all too easy to become dehydrated or overheated if it wasn’t carefully monitored. “That’s too bad…I know Emily would have loved that.” Roy, Kel and Mike all nodded knowing they’re ladies would’ve enjoyed it as well. “I may have to get one of these,” Hank said patting the door. They all laughed and began to strip off their sweat soaked pants and undergarments to slide into the bathtubs full of warm, clear water, letting the past evening wash away.  

   

They were all clean and began getting dressed. John cast a worried glance at Chet as he picked up the trousers Jo had made for him. “You know I’m never gonna hear the end of this don’t ya?” He asked quietly as he began to pull them on.

Roy chuckled as he looked over at the curly haired Irishman who was buttoning his shirt and held a traditional tie in his hands. “Relax Junior…He’s the one outnumbered here today. Almost all of us will be dressed just like you.”

 “Besides,” the deep voice of his Captain said from behind him. “I can always remind him that the latrine could become a permanent duty if he has any smart remarks,” Hank promised darkly. 

John grinned at his Captain. “Thanks.” 

“Not a problem John…This is your day…I’m not going to let Chet Kelly spoil it for you.”

 They didn’t need to worry. Kelly glanced in their direction as he finished tugging the uncomfortable tie into place. The traditional Indian outfits that most of his friends were wearing certainly looked much more comfortable than what he had on. The smart aleck comments he might have made died on his lips. He had to admit John looked great and he wasn’t about to spoil his wedding by being his usual wise ass self.

 Blue Eagle stepped inside the lodge and they all stopped in stunned amazement. The man grinned at the reaction to the full costume including the headdress. “I am a Chief,” he reminded them with a chuckle. 

“Have you seen Danella Blue Eagle?” John asked anxiously. “Is she ready?”

 “I have Dances with Fire and I know you will be very pleased. She’s stunning.”

John smiled and let out a sigh of relief. He looked to Roy and grinned. It was finally here…He’d be a married man in just a couple of hours. It had been a long time coming and something John Gage had never seen for himself.  Roy saw the raw emotion in his young friends face and reached out to curl his hand around John’s neck, pulling him against him in fatherly embrace. “I love you John…I’m so proud to be standing at your side today…As your best friend, your brother and for today as your ‘father.’” Roy vaguely heard the hitched breath but he felt the dark head nod against him.

“Thanks Roy…It means a lot to me to have you stand with me.” The others glanced away to give them the private moment but they surreptitiously wiped the moisture from their own eyes knowing this might be the first of many shed tears today. 

 

They were finally ready and Johnny stepped out the back door of the lodge. Three Rivers waited with a horse. John grinned at his friends. “Well…Here goes nothin,” he mumbled as he swung his long leg over the animal. The others fell in behind him as he picked up the reins and nodded at Three Rivers. “Best wishes Dances with Fire,” he said softly. They began to move. The soft sound of a drum began as John rounded the front of the lodge.

 


Danella rose from the bathtub, her skin still holding the rosy hue from the hot water.  Her mother waited with a warm towel to wrap around her daughter. Joanne and the others wasted no time, knowing they had only a couple of hours before the ceremony began.

They toweled her hair dry brushing the long raven hair until it dried and hung free like black silk.  There was only a need for a light touch of color to her eyes since Danella shone with a natural radiance that needed no help.

The white buckskin dress was lifted over her head and carefully set in place.  Her mother placed the old beaded necklace that had belonged to her grandmother around her neck. A single Eagle feather was placed in her hair to hang over her shoulder. A first marriage…One feather… They gathered together everything the girl would need for the wedding…Her gifts to John…The robe she would wear to her marriage bed…Everything was carefully in place so that nothing would go wrong as the day progressed.  

“You are so beautiful,” Jo whispered.  

Dixie covered her mouth with her hands to keep from bawling at the sight of the girl. “Johnny’s going to fall in love all over again,” she said softly. 

 

Danella smiled. “Thank you all so much.” She turned to Joanne. “Thank you for taking such good care of him for all these last years…For making him able to love me.”  

Joanne wrapped her arms around the girl. “Thank you for not taking him from us but just becoming one of our family instead,” she replied. 

“I could never break his heart by taking you and Roy from him Jo…He’d never forgive me…Now it’s your turn…All of you need to get ready… "

There was a knock on the door. Emily opened it and gasped at the sight of the Indian elder looking like he was getting ready to go on the war path. Well…Without the paint of course. She almost giggled at the thought. She let him in. “Hello Blue Eagle.” 

“I was just checking to see if White Mist is ready…If so I will go and get Dances with Fire.” He glanced at the girl in white buckskin and sucked in his breath…She was stunning. “John is a lucky man,” he said. 

“I am a lucky woman,” she countered with a soft smile. They all glanced around with happy smiles. “She’s ready…Give us another few minutes and the rest of us will be,” they assured him.

He nodded and left. Sena looked at her daughter a few minutes later. “Are you ready Danella?”

 “I have been ready for almost a year,” she answered softly.

 

They stepped from the door of the trading post. The women clustered closely about the girl so that she wasn’t easily seen. The drum began a slow, rhythmic beat and Danella knew that it signified John’s arrival and not her own.

 She breathed a sigh of relief that brought a giggle to Joanne’s lips. “Did you think he’d run?” She whispered to Dani. 

The girl grinned. “The thought did cross my mind,” she replied as she craned her neck to try and get a look at Johnny. She saw him as the horse crossed the square…He looked incredibly handsome. She could barely see him as he dismounted and allowed Three Rivers to lead the horse away. 

John glanced toward Roy. ‘Can you see her?” He asked worriedly. 

“No junior but she’s in that group somewhere I’m sure,” he assured him. “She isn’t gonna come this far to let you escape now.”

John grinned at his friends teasing. The group of women approached and as they drew near, they parted forming a half circle around the girl so that John and Roy alone could see her. John gasped in stunned awe. She was beautiful.  

The soft white doeskin offset the tawny hue of her skin as it sat just off her shoulders. The trailing lines of beaded fringe swinging gently from the sleeves…The white boots that peeped from beneath the hem of matching beaded white fringe… Her hair hung like satin with only a single white feather as an adornment.


“God junior,” Roy whispered to his friend. “She’s gorgeous.” Johnny nodded in speechless agreement. Four Feathers stepped forward to take her hand and lead her forward as Blue Eagle joined the group. Jo and Sena followed to stand with them.

 

 Blue Eagle smiled at the group of mixed people…Red and white gathered at this wedding in amazement. His throat tightened at the changes John Gage had brought. There had been a few rare occasions in the past when a white from town had been invited to a ceremony like this one but never had it been this widely diverse. The barriers were gone. He cleared his throat and began. 

 

“Would all of you form the sacred circle?” He asked indicating that they should circle around John and Danella and the wedding party.

Blue Eagle picked up a torch and walked to the two small piles of wood on either side of a larger bon fire. He spoke as he lit the fires. “We form a sacred circle which has no beginning and no end. So it is also with the family and friends gathered with us today…An ever present circle without end.” 

“The fires are symbolic…They are made of seven types of wood…One to the north and one to the south. These represent the bride and the groom who have until now lived separate lives.

Blue Eagle poured a pouch full of tobacco, sage, sweet grass and corn over the two small fires that were slowly building before moving to the large stack of wood in the center to empty the pouch over it but he didn’t light it.

“The center fire represents the creator and is a witness to the holy union of these two people.” 

Joanne and Sena walked into the circle. They each carried a blue blanket which Jo wrapped around John and Sena wrapped around Danella. Blue Eagle spoke again.

“The blankets represent the past lives of White Mist and Dances with Fire. They represent the loneliness, weakness, failure, sorrow…spiritual depression…Those things that we each experience in our lives. 

He moved back to stand before John and Danella as Joanne and Sena retreated to the edge of the circle. He bowed his head and the other’s followed suit.

“God in heaven above…Please protect the ones we love. We honor all you created as we pledge our hearts and lives together. We honor mother Earth and ask for this marriage to be abundant and grow stronger through the seasons. We honor fire and ask that this union be warm and glowing with love in their hearts. We honor wind and ask that they sail through life safe and calm as in their father’s arms.”  

John cast a sideways glance at his partner and saw a single tear trickle down his cheek as Blue Eagle continued… “We honor water and ask that it clean and soothe this marriage…That it may never thirst for love. All the forces of the universe you created…We pray for peace and harmony and true happiness as they forever grow young together. Amen…” 

Roy wiped his face and smiled at his young friend reassuringly. John smiled and turned to face Danella. John swallowed and blew out a nervous breath. “Let us take the first step to provide for our household…A nourishing and pure diet, avoiding those foods injurious to healthy living.”

Chet could hardly contain the snicker that threatened knowing John’s propensity for eating about anything that didn’t eat him first. John shot him a glare but continued on as he turned and took a pouch from Mike Stoker and handed it to Danella.

He dumped it into her hand…Arrow heads and wheat grain, a symbol of John’s promise to provide for her.

She turned and took a basket from Dixie. And handed it to John… It contained several lengths of cloth and dried herbs to represent her willingness to cook and sew to feed and clothe her family.

They set it at their feet.  “Let us take the second step to develop physical, mental and spiritual powers.

Let us take the third step to increase our wealth by righteous means and proper use. Again John turned and Marco handed him beads, to represent wealth and wisdom. He turned and offered them to Danella.

She accepted them and placed them in the basket. She in turn handed him several polished stones that she took from Emily, representing a strong foundation for their marriage. 

“Let us take the fourth step to acquire knowledge, happiness and harmony by mutual love and trust.” Chet handed him the Eagle Feathers he’d been holding to represent wisdom. John smiled at him and turned to Danella.

She took them and added them to the basket at her feet. “Let us take the fifth step so that we will be blessed with strong and virtuous children,” he said as his eyes dropped to rest on her rounded belly for a moment. She grinned and turned to Janessa and took the basket of corn that represented fertility. There were a few quiet titters…They’d already proved they had that down pat.  

 Let us take the sixth step for SELF RESTRAINT,” he stressed a bit louder than necessary. “And longevity… And finally let us take the seventh step and be true companions and remain lifelong partners by this wedlock.”

He turned and took a length of raw hide with a wooden ring attached to it from Kelly Brackett. He set it over Danella’s head as she took the identical one from Erin and looped it over John’s neck.

A circle of life…From them to their children and their grandchildren…A symbol to be passed down. John blew out a nervous breath once more. “Will you take the seven steps with me?” He asked softly. 

“I will,” she replied as she gazed into his dark eyes. 

John took a step to the left, away from Danella. “Ná’méhόt…Our love has become firm by your walking one with me. Together we will share the responsibilities of the home, food and children. May the creator bless us with noble children to share. May they live long.”

 Danella stepped to meet him. “This is my commitment to you my husband. Together we share the responsibility of the home, food and children. I promise that I will carry out my share of the welfare for the children and the family.” John again stepped to the left.

“Ná’méhόt…Now you have walked with me the second step. May the creator bless you…I will love you alone as my wife. I will fill your heart with strength and courage. This is my commitment and my pledge to you. May God protect the lodge and children.”

 By now, tears were rolling down the cheeks of the ladies present and Roy was having a tough time holding them back himself. He glanced at the crew behind him and noticed that their heads were down. The cowards…He almost smiled at the idea that they thought they were hiding the moisture gathering in their own eyes. 

Danella moved a step to join him. “My husband…At all times, I shall fill your heart with courage and strength. In your happiness I will rejoice. May God bless you and our honorable home.” 

Again John moved to the left. “Ná’méhόt…Now that you have walked three steps with me, our wealth and prosperity will grow. May God bless us… May we educate our children and may they live long.” She joined him once more.

“My husband…I love you with single minded devotion as my husband. I will treat all other men as my brothers. My devotion to you is pure and you are my joy. This is my commitment and pledge to you.” 

John stepped away to make it to the halfway point of the circle. “Ná’méhόt…It is a great blessing that you have now walked four steps with me. May the creator bless you. You have brought favor and sacredness into my life.”

Danella smiled and rejoined him. “Oh my husband…In all acts of righteousness, in material prosperity, in every form of enjoyment and those divine acts such as fire sacrifice, worship and charity…I promise you that I will participate and I will always be with you.”

 John stepped away again. “Ná’méhόt…You have walked five steps with me. May the creator make us prosperous…May God bless us.” 

She smiled. “Oh my husband…I will share in your joys and sorrows. Your love will make me very happy.” John blew out a breath… He was almost there.

“Ná’méhόt…By walking the six steps with me, you have filled my heart with happiness. May I fill your heart with great joy and peace, time and time again. May the creator bless you.” 

“My husband,” Danella countered once again. “The creator blesses you.” John nodded in total agreement as she continued. “May I fill your heart with great joy and peace. I promise that I will always be with you.” John stepped once more to end up back where he’d started before Blue Eagle.

“Ná’méhόt…My beloved White Mist…As you have walked the seven steps with me, our love and our friendship have become inseparable and firm. We have experienced a spiritual union in God. Now you have become completely mine. I offer myself to you. May our marriage last forever.” 

She took his hand and gazed up into his dark eyes. “My husband…By the law of the creator and the spirits of our honorable ancestors…I have become your wife. Whatever promises I gave you I have spoken with a pure heart. All the spirits are witnesses to this fact. I shall never deceive you nor will I let you down. I shall love you forever.” 

John turned and took the last gift from Joe Early. A jug of water…He poured a small amount into Danella’s hand. “May my love flow as the water…From me to you…Pure and ever flowing from my heart.” 

Roy took the jug from him and handed it to John’s aunt who placed it in the fire to heat.

Danella turned and took a  small pillow from Melissa. She handed it to Johnny. “May I ever be your soft place to rest at the end of each day my love.” 

Blue Eagle signaled Chris and Jennifer. They stepped forward with huge grins. Each held a silver and turquoise wedding band.

“Circles have no beginning and no end and so in the long and sacred tradition of marriage, rings have come to symbolize eternal love and endless union of body, of mind and of spirit.  They have been given by lovers to each other as tokens of faith, trust and hope as well as a tangible sign of a promise given and kept through the days of their lives together.  We are here to witness the making of that promise and giving of all the intangibles of their heart and spirit…Love, trust, faith and hope…Not just in each other but also in their relationship. They are making a declaration before all of you that from this day forth they are united before the world in a promise that spans the years of their lives.” “Powerful is that promise…And as we witness their promise to each other, we are reminded of the promises we’ve made in other times and other places to the people we have chosen to love and cherish.”

John’s dark eyes lifted to look into Roy’s for a long moment before shifting over to Joanne who was weeping openly. Tears rolled from his own eyes as they moved back to Danella. She smiled in understanding even as her own spilled over.  

“It is also a beautiful opportunity to refresh our love for our beloveds, renew our commitment to our own mates.” There was a lot of hand squeezing and soft smiles being exchanged around the circle, drawing several giggles but a lot more tears. “And remind ourselves of the continuity of life.” Blue Eagle glanced around the group with a smile. “And now I invite each of you to share the blessing of these rings for John and Danella.” 

“Heavenly Father and Mother Earth. We call for your blessing for these rings. Both as symbols of love and union between John and Danella and as tokens of their hopes and dreams fulfilled in their commitment to each other this day and every day of the rest of their lives together. We ask that these rings hold and carry these dreams, remind them of the endless circle of their union to each other and be a beautiful reflection of their sacred vows to each other now and always. We seek the blessing of love not only for John and Danella but also for all those who are married now or have in the past made vows of love to someone they loved deeply. All this we ask as is our divine right as children of God, Through the Christ in all of us…Amen.” 

John took the ring from Chris with a wink and slid it on Danella’s finger. She smiled up at him before she turned to Jennifer and picked up the matching band and slid it on John’s. “Love freely given has no beginning and no end…No one giver and no one receiver for each is a giver and receiver. May these rings always remind you of the vows you have made?” They both nodded at Blue Eagle. “We will, they said in unison.      

   

The tribal Chief waved Roy and Joanne, Joseph and Sena forward. They slipped the blue blankets from John and Danella’s shoulders.

Roy and Joseph held them as Joanne and Sena took a corner from each blanket and knotted them together. They folded them carefully and Sena held them over her arm. They would stay in Sena’s possession until the union was consummated.

Joseph and Roy stepped forward with a large white blanket which they draped over the couple.  Blue Eagle smiled at the young people before him. “John…You may kiss your wife.” 

John shot him a broad grin and pulled Danella into his embrace. Her arms looped about his neck as his head lowered and his lips caught hers. The kiss was soft and gentle for a long moment until her mouth parted beneath his in invitation…He took it …A taste and a promise for the night ahead before he backed away with a grin, leaving the girl breathless and dreamy eyed.

“We have taken the seven steps and you have become mine forever. Yes we have become partners, I have become yours. Hereafter I cannot live without you… do not live without me? Let us share the joys. We are word and meaning united. You are thought and I am sound,” he said quietly. 

Danella took it from there. “May the night be honey sweet for us…May the morning be honey sweet for us…May the earth and heavens, plants and the sun be honey for us and as the earth and heavens and mountains…the whole universe is stable so may our union be permanently settled,” she said softly as John kissed her once again. 

They turned and both of them approached the two fires. They were handed paddles and they each gently reached out to prod their individual fires together until they merged with the larger pile. The fire flared up and the smell of sage and sweet grass filled the air.

   

Hank Stanley stepped forward and cleared his throat drawing everyone attention back to the ceremony. He stood before John and Danella with a vase holding two roses. He handed one to each. “It is with special privilege that I present to you your first gift as a married couple. A red rose. A magnificent creation of God and a symbol of love…And my gift to you is a gift of love.” John’s eyes filled with tears and his mouth trembled. 

“Will you please exchange your roses?” They did and looked back to Hank curiously. “In this exchange you have given to each other your first gift as husband and wife which of course is the gift of love.” They both nodded and smiled at each other. “It is my hope that wherever you make your home, that you will find a mutually agreed and special place to put a vase of red roses.”

 They nodded but they looked a little confused.

“The symbol of the rose is three fold. First it symbolizes life and beauty that can only be created by God. Second it symbolizes Love…Flowering in all its glory while giving itself to all but demanding from none. Third it symbolizes forgiveness for the rose will leave its fragrance even on the foot that walks upon it. The purpose of the vase set in its special place is twofold.” 

“Okay?” John questioned softly as he looked into Hanks face. 

“First it symbolizes the depth of commitment to your love. You are the vase that holds the deep love that will carry you through the years.” John nodded as Cap continued. “Second…There will be times in life when things happen which may wound or hurt. Times when words of love cannot be easily expressed though your heart may long to speak them. In those times place a rose in the vase and let it speak for you. Let the rose say what you are unable to express at that time such as… ‘I forgive you’ or ‘forgive me’ and it will always say ‘I love you’ and ‘I want joy, harmony and happiness in our relationship.” 

Tears were rolling freely once again. Dixie leaned over to Kel…I want one of those in our home,” she whispered. 

“WE’LL NEED one of those in our home,” he whispered back with a grin. He glanced about and saw several other women looking at their husbands and receiving confirming nods. There was about to be a run on vases and roses in LA when they returned home.

Cap bowed his head and for the first time John heard his Captain pray. “Infinite Loving God… Each one of us that is gathered here, send our blessings and love to John and Danella, knowing that their pathway of happiness is guided and directed by you…Through the light of love, causing their lives to unfold in peace, harmony, prosperity, health, laughter, joy, happiness and LOVE.”

Mike, Chet and Marco’s eyes widened in surprise as Cap stepped forward and pulled John into his arms in a fatherly embrace.  

He saw the shocked faces of his crew that their strong and tough captain could have uttered such a soft hearted blessing and that he now held John pressed against him as if he were his own son. “What?” Cap asked them. “You think having this young man on my crew hasn’t taught me how to pray in the last seven years…Think again.”

They all laughed and John wiped at his face as he stepped back and grinned at Hank. “Thanks Cap,” he said softly.

 

 John’s Aunts brought a vase with two spouts. The carefully took the jug of water that had been placed to warm in the fire earlier and poured it into the vase.

Mase opened a pouch and pulled a small bag of dried leaves into the steaming water. They sloshed it around a bit and handed it to Johnny.

He waggled an eyebrow at Danella and carefully sipped from one spout before handing it to her. She also drank from it. She turned the vase and drank from the opposite spout and handed it back to John who followed suit.  

Blue Eagle took the vase… “It is said that if the couple can both drink from the vase at the same time and not spill a single drop that they will have a good understanding and…A cooperative spirit will always be a part of their marriage. He handed it to John who looked to Danella with a grin.

 “Ready?” He asked. She nodded as they carefully raised the vase to their lips, tilting it in unison…They both drank, feeling the eyes of everyone upon them. They finally set the vase down without a drop being spilled. The audience applauded.  

Roy stepped forward and looped his arm around John’s shoulders and then around Danella’s. He kissed Dani’s cheek before looking to his best friend…His kid brother and pulled John closer to him. He closed his eyes for a moment before he began to speak the final prayer.

 “Now you will feel no rain for each of you is the shelter for the other. Now you feel no cold for each of you will be the warmth for the other. Now you are two persons but there is only one life before you,” he said reciting the words he’d been practicing for several days now.

“Go now to your dwelling place to enter into the days of your life together and may your days be good and long upon the earth. Treat yourselves and each other with love and respect and remind yourselves often of what brought you together.” John smiled at his friend as he continued on. “Give the highest priority to the tenderness, gentleness and kindness that your connection deserves. When frustration, difficulty and fear assail your relationship as they threaten all relationships at one time or another…Remember to focus on what is right between you…Not only on the part that seems wrong. In this way you can ride out the storms when clouds hide the face of the sun in your lives...Remembering that even if you lose sight of it for a moment that the sun is still there and if each of you takes responsibility for the quality of your life together it will be marked by abundance and delight.” 

Roy threw his partner a teary smile and kissed his forehead before turning to kiss Danella. He started to turn away and Blue Eagle stepped forward to end the ceremony but Johnny’s raised hand stopped him. He smiled at Dani and left her side to walk over to Roy and Joanne.

“Roy…Jo…I um…I know you’re not my parents but um…You’ve filled that role so many times over the last few years and I…I uh…Need to say this. You took me in as a member of your family when I was lost and alone and I,” John choked to a halt as he tried to get his cracking voice under control.

 “Oh sweetheart…” “Johnny…You don’t have to say….”


“Yes I do…I need to tell you.” He took a deep breath and continued. “I was lost and alone and when I desperately NEEDED someone to care about me…You were both there to love me and I’ve watched you live an example as a couple and as parents. You’ve shown me what family is supposed to be. You’ve taught me that even with its ups and downs…Through pain and laughter…Sorrow and joy, what it means to  love and to be loved and I just…I just wanted to thank you for that and to tell you that I love you both so much. I hope that Danella and I can be half of what you’ve been to me and that we’ll be an example to others as well.” 

Jo sniffled and hugged John to her. Roy pulled them both into his arms. “I love you baby,” Jo whispered as she kissed his cheek.  Roy stepped back and pools of blue met teary brown.

“Go back to your wife Johnny,” he said softly. John began to turn away. “I love you junior,” Roy said quietly.

 John smiled and rejoined his new wife. Blue Eagle grinned at the tear streaked faces all around him. “My friends…I would like to introduce Mr. and Mrs. John Gage,” he finished using the usual white custom of introducing the newly wedded couple. 

They were engulfed by hearty back slapping…Hugs and kisses being freely offered and accepted…The music started and so did the dancing and the feasting. Three men stood together and watched the proceedings from a distance. A slow, evil smile curled the eldest ones mouth…Let the young man enjoy it…He didn’t have much longer to live. 

                              

 Johnny left the dance circle slightly breathless a while later. He pulled a laughing Danella along with him. He wrapped his arms about his wife as they turned to watch Janessa and Erin try to teach Marco and Chet the steps.

John knew he’d have a lot of hours of enjoyment back at the station teasing them about how funny they’d looked. 

“You looked pretty good out there Junior,” Roy told him as he came up beside the couple.  The younger man grinned.

“Little Fox taught me that dance when I was eleven,” he explained with a grin but it faded a bit as he remembered. “It was two weeks before my mother died.” 

“I’m sorry junior,” Roy said quietly.

 John smiled, pushing the sad memories away. “I’m surprised I remembered all the steps.” 

“Must be a good partner,” Roy teased as he hugged Danella to him. 

She grinned up at her husband’s best friend. “And now it’s your turn my brother,” she said stepping back and tugging at Roy’s hand. 

“Oh…Uh…I can’t dance like that.”

 “Sure ya can,” Johnny corrected as he reached out to grab Jo’s hand as she stood chatting with Sena and pulling the startled woman toward the circle. 

“We’ll teach you,” he called back. “Besides…You don’t want Chet and Marco to be able to say they can do something you can’t.” 

“That thought never crossed my mind,” Roy grumbled but he let the girl pull him into the circle. He followed her lead…albeit a bit clumsily as they joined the other dancers and he had to admit…The cadence of the drum and the haunting pipe flute music were compelling.    

He glanced around the circle a few minutes later and he was happy to see that all of their friends were dancing. Even Joe Early was letting John’s Aunt Mase lead him through the steps.

Dixie and Kel were having a great time and even Hank and Emily were giving it a try.  A shudder suddenly ran through him and Roy had that same sense of foreboding he’d had back in June…Two days before John had fallen from the tower and had been blinded by the nerve damage from a skull fracture.

He shook it off…Sure that it was just because of the run in’s John had recently had with Gray Elk, the Wheelers and his Cousin. He wouldn’t let it spoil the day.  He smiled reassuringly at the worried look his partner threw him from across the circle and looked down at Danella as she took his hand to show him a new step.  Someday he’d learn to pay attention to that feeling. 

 

Several hours later the sun was beginning its decent. Danella’s ladies gathered about her once more as she was handed a small bouquet of fresh flowers.  She looked at her friends from the reservation as well as Erin and the other ladies from town. “This is a tradition from a traditional white man’s wedding. So I’m going to throw this and whoever catches it will be the next to marry…Is that correct?” She asked Erin.

The red head nodded. The girls all smiled and shrugged but gathered behind her.

 “Hey Dix…Aren’t you gonna join em?” Johnny asked. 

She shook her head. “Not necessary,” she replied cryptically. “But thanks.” 

John frowned a bit but turned back to watch as Danella turned around and heaved the flowers over her shoulder. Janessa managed to catch it and clutch it to her chest. A broad grin broke over her face and she threw a shy glance toward Marco.

“Phew…,” Chet blew out a grateful breath as Erin returned to his side in time to hear it.

 She socked him in the shoulder. “Thanks a lot Kelly,” she growled indignantly, drawing a laugh from the group as she turned and stalked away. 

Chet trailed along behind her. “Er…rin wait… Baby…I’m sorry. I didn’t mean it that way,” he pleaded desperately.  The red head threw a wink at the others as she passed. He might be forgiven…Eventually but not without a lot of groveling. 

Sena took Danella’s hand. “The sun is going down Danella…Are you ready?”

Dani smiled a delicious grin at Johnny. “I am more than ready mother,” she agreed as she let her mother lead her back toward the house.

 John smiled, knowing that the next time he held her it would be alone in their dwelling. He glanced toward Roy and caught his eye. He came over to join him.

“Is there anything else you need me to do?” He asked his young friend.  

“You’ve done more than I ever had a right to ask but no…Not tonight. I just need to wait for her mom to see her to the vehke and then I can join her for the night but you can keep those clowns away,” he teased nodding toward the others.

 Roy scruffed his friends hair. “Don’t worry junior…They’re still having a great time and I doubt they’ll even notice that you’ve disappeared.”

They both saw Danella and her mother come back out of the lodge several minutes later.  Danella was wrapped snugly in a heavy fur blanket. Her eyes caught John’s and she smiled promisingly before following Sena toward the tepee that stood a good distance away from the festivities. They disappeared inside and a few moments later smoke began to rise from the top hatch.

 Sena turned to Danella and took the heavy fur from her. She help Danella take the wedding dress off and wrapped her in a soft white robe. She brushed her daughter’s hair and kissed her cheek. “Good night Danella…I will send John to you,” she told her as she turned and left.   

Roy and Johnny watched the older woman leave. She looked to John and smiled. She gave him a quick nod and turned to rejoin her husband. “Go to your wife and enjoy yourself…I’ll see you tomorrow,” Roy said softly. 

John nodded with a grin. He cast a glance toward the party still going on. All of them were having a great time and he figured Roy was probably right. It would be a quite a while before their absence was noted. John smiled in anticipation and headed for the dwelling. 

 

Johnny lifted the door flap and stepped inside. His new bride stood with her back turned, wrapped in a soft, white fur blanket. “Danella,” he called softly.

She turned to face him and the fire cast a soft glow on her face. A slow smile curled her lips as she stepped around the fire pit to meet him. His hands rose to cup her face.

“You are so beautiful,” he murmured softly as he bent down to kiss her…His lips brushing hers lightly several times before catching her mouth with his own and letting it deepen.  Her mouth parted beneath his as tongues met and tangled and her hands slid into the sable hair, savoring the feel of it between her fingers.

She pulled back and smiled up into his dark eyes. Her hands moved down and tugged his shirt upward and John grinned as he raised his arms to let her pull it over his head.  She tossed it aside with a seductive smile while her fingers caressed his biceps before sliding over his shoulders and down his chest. John’s skin shivered beneath her fingers as they trailed over his stomach. His eyes closed briefly as he fought for control. He drew a deep breath before he opened his eyes to gaze into her beautiful face.

His eyes grew hooded and dark with passion as she remembered them in her dreams… Johnny started to remove his trousers but she shook her head. “Let me,” she whispered as she tugged at the ties at the waistband. He stood quietly and let his wife pull the garment down his slender hips before he stepped out of them and kicked off the soft boots.  

He grinned down into her amber eyes as his slender fingers plucked at the ribbons holding the robe closed. Sucking in his breath as it parted to reveal the fact that she wore nothing beneath it. His hands returned to push the robe from her shoulders, dropping it to pool at her feet.  His dark eyes roamed over her and he once again wondered what he’d done to deserve this beautiful woman standing before him.

His mouth left a warm, moist trail down her neck to her shoulder before moving lower to lightly caress the fading scar between her breasts.  She gasped as every nerve ending began to tingle while his warm breath caressed her flesh…Johnny felt the same way as her hands played over his chest…His Shoulders and back.

His arms circled around her and pulled her against him.  Danella felt herself lifted off her feet as he carried her to the bed covered in fur blankets and set her gently on it. She smiled up at him in invitation…He didn’t need a second one as he joined her on the bed and took her in arms…His hips settling comfortably between her thighs. “Still too cold outside…?” She teased   with a giggle.  

 “Getting warmer by the moment Ná’méhόt,” he replied softly before his mouth caught hers. 

 

Sometime later, Roy stood with Joanne as they sipped some hot tea that Little Fox had brewed. The temperature was dropping as the sun disappeared below the horizon. A few flakes of snow had begun to fall and several of the guests turned their eyes upward in concern.  “Oops…Looks like the party might be breaking up,” Roy said as the snow began to swirl.

 Chris, Jen and Mike Jr. danced about joyfully as it fell around them. Roy began to notice that several of the guests appeared to be looking for the newly wedded couple…Probably in preparation to leave since it was getting dark and cold.  

“Roy…,” Kel asked as he and Dixie approached. “Have you seen John and Danella? It’s getting a little too cold to stay outside and I’d like to offer them my congratulations and take Dix back to Blue Eagle’s.” 

Roy glanced around as the others also came toward him…Knowing that if anyone knew where John Gage was…It would be Roy. The blonde paramedic smiled. “Sorry everyone but uh…Johnny and Danella have um…RETIRED for the night,” he said with a slight head jerk toward the tepee. 

There was a lot of laughter and several of the young men let out the ululating sound of an Indian war cry…While John’s friends from both Lame Deer and LA cut loose with loud wolf whistles…Roy shook his head and rolled his eyes before he began to laugh.

John’s mouth caught Danella’s cry of release just moments after his own. They both lay panting for a moment before John rose on his elbows to look down into her perspiring face…He gently brushed the sweat dampened hair from his wife’s forehead. “I love you Mrs. Gage,” he breathed softly. 

She smiled up at him, her hands caressing his bare skin “And I you my husband.”  

John’s grin joined hers. “Soon,” he promised, reading her look correctly. 

A loud noise drew their attention to the celebration that was taking place outside without them. A loud wail of war cry’s and  whistles cut through the quiet moment. “Oops…I think they’ve noticed our absence,” he laughed. 

 “They must know where we’ve gone,” she said with a faint blush. “And what we’re doing.” John’s hand caressed her slight belly.

“They’ve already figured out what we’ve been doing,” he said with a laugh. Her giggle joined his a moment later.

   

John and Danella made love several times throughout the night but all too soon for the two newlyweds, the sun began to climb in the eastern sky.  Johnny felt a gentle kiss against his throat and his eyes fluttered open. He turned his head to look into smiling amber eyes.

“Merry Christmas Mé’oo’o,” she greeted softly.  “Merry Christmas,” he returned as his hand came up to cup the back of her head, pulling her down to meet his kiss. 

John knew he’d get used to this very quick and that he’d never grow tired of the feel of her hands on his skin…That he would always love this woman. John sighed in disappointment as his body reacted instantly to the girls touch.

He glanced at his watch and knew from experience that the two DeSoto children would be up by now and would be hounding their parents to hurry up with breakfast so they could open their presents.  He looked regretfully into Danella’s eyes. “I guess we need to get up ná’méhόt.” 

She grinned wickedly as her eyes raked down his body. “You already are mé’oo’o,” she teased. 

John laughed but he quickly turned the tables on her as he pulled her against him and rolled the girl beneath him. “I guess Chris and Jen can wait a few more minutes,” he whispered huskily as her arms pulled him down to her.

   

They entered the trading post forty minutes later. The others were already up and dressed and seated at the table…Expecting the newlyweds to be late for breakfast, they’d started without them under protest from Chris and Jen.  

Sena rose to go and get their plates that were warming in the oven. She threw her daughter a raised eyebrow and Danella grinned in acknowledgement.

She set the plates before them and disappeared.  A few moments later she returned with the blue blankets from their wedding. She looked at Johnny with a grin reminiscent of her daughters earlier this morning. Danella came by it honestly.  

“Do I need to hold on to these or have you decided to keep her my son?” She teased as John’s face flamed crimson.  The others grinned as Chris and Jen looked around in confusion.

“He’d better,” Danella warned with a giggle. 

John reached up and took the blankets. “Um…I’ll just go ahead and uh…Take those. Um…Thank you mother,” he mumbled as the others laughed.

 

They finished eating quickly as Chris and Jen urged them to hurry, anxious to get to the lodge and get Christmas started.  “You think Santa Claus will know where to find us?” Jen asked worriedly. 

Chris rolled his eyes at Jen’s childish belief in Santa Claus, conveniently remembering that he himself had only found out that his Mom and Dad were Santa Claus last year but he’d been told to keep that to himself for a while. 

Johnny shot a dark look at his friends. “I’m sure with all the racket you all were makin last night that he had no trouble at all…He just needed to follow the whistles.” 

Roy chuckled…Danella giggled and thankfully Chris and Jen didn’t understand the underlying reason why the adults had been acting so silly last night. “Sorry Junior but I had no control over that,” Roy explained with a grin and after a moment, John finally grinned back. 

They cleaned up and headed over to the lodge where the others were beginning to gather. Most of the families they were staying with came along as well to celebrate with them. 

“I thought you didn’t believe in Christmas Mr. Four Feathers?” Chris questioned curiously as he walked beside the older man. 

“Not the way you celebrate it Christopher…With trees and gifts but we do believe in the Great Spirit and many of the people know and worship his son,” he explained simply. "We simply have our own customs as well.

“Oh,” Chris said as he shrugged in an ‘okay’ gesture and let it ride. 

They exchanged ‘Merry Christmas’ greetings all around with the others already gathered there and then headed for the coffee pot.

 

 “I didn’t think we’d see you this early,” Marco teased Johnny as the younger man poured his coffee.  

“If it wasn’t Christmas, you wouldn’t be seeing me at all,” Johnny quipped with a raised eyebrow and a lopsided Cheshire cat grin. Marco chuckled. 

“Have a nice night Gage or did she kick you outta bed after five minutes?” Chet taunted with a grin at his own humor. 

Danella came up beside her husband in time to hear the barb. She giggled as she wrapped her arms around Johnny. “Five minutes?” She questioned, looking shocked. “Is that all it’s supposed to take?” She asked Johnny innocently, drawing a grin from the handsome dark haired man. “Dances with Fire goes much longer than that,” she reassured the Irishman. 

John hugged his wife to him appreciatively as Chet’s face turned scarlet at the chuckles that erupted around the room.  

“Maybe I should warn Erin about that problem Chet?” Marco teased with a snort of laughter. 

“Et tu Marco…?” Chet grouched as he slunk away. 

“Thanks baby,” Johnny said kissing his wife’s nose. 

She grinned up at him… “No…Thank you for the most wonderful night of my life,” she whispered. Mike and Marco laughed as John’s face flushed in embarrassment.

Roy waggled his eyebrow suggestively as he slapped his friend off the shoulder. “That’s my boy,” he teased as he jerked his head at the others. “But guy’s…It is Christmas so could we give Johnny a break huh?” He suggested.

 

They nodded and gave their youngest crew mates hair a friendly tousle.

                                                  

Soon the entire team was gathered and pleasantly saturated with coffee. They allowed the children to open their gifts and take them off to play. The crew, along with Doctor’s Brackett, Early, Carlton and Handly had purchased several sleds which they distributed to the reservation children to share. Their eyes lit with pleasure at the gifts. There was no doubt what the children would be doing later this afternoon.  

    

Joanne grinned with pleasure at the ring Roy had given her, while Danella wept at the set of Silver and Turquoise jewelry pieces that had belonged to John’s mother. She was well aware that Johnny cherished them and was touched that he had passed them over to her.

 

 

 Janessa gasped in surprise at the Locket Marco presented her with and kissed him warmly in thanks for the gift while her parents sighed in resignation that they may well watch their daughter follow in her best friend’s footsteps and leave them to marry a fireman from California.

   

Danella and her father handed John a set of papers… “This is from me and my parents and Blue Eagle Johnny,” she said with a grin.

He opened the box and gasped in surprise.  “Oh wow…This is too much,” he whispered as he stared at the bill of sale for several of the ranches horses.  

“Cloud Dancing is a mare. She is in foal to Rains Fire and will drop sometime in spring. Storm Sky is the roan gelding you rode the first day and Rain Maker is Rain’s Fire’s first colt…He’s two and will be ready for you to train soon,” Blue Eagle explained.

 “But…I can’t take…I mean…They’re worth a lot of money to the people,” he stammered desperately wanting the gift but not wanting to take the money these animals would mean for the people here. 

“John,” Joseph said softly. “You were helping with the animals on this ranch from the time you were six until you left us at fourteen. That’s eight years of work that you put in for all of us and yet you received nothing back…This is a fair exchange as well as a gift from your people. We owe you that much.” 

“But…,” he began, still a little uncertain.

“Johnny…Just shut up and take it,” Roy said quietly as the others laughed.

 John grinned back. “Okay…Thank you…All of you.” 

                              

                                       

“John…,” Roy began. “The guys and I have a gift for you as well. Your house hasn’t exactly been decorated for a wife and baby so…We all decided to pitch in and come over to do that for you. Ya know…Get the nursery and your bedroom fixed up and painted and the barn will need some work to keep the horses in.” 

“Thanks guys…I can sure use the help. I wasn’t expecting to be expecting this soon,” he teased.

They all laughed and gave him an affectionate pat on the back. Dr. Brackett came and sat next to Johnny with a box in his hand.

“Johnny…I know you pretty well now I think and well…I’d be willing to bet that you intend for Danella to finish school even though you’re married now?” 

John‘s head snapped around in shock that Brackett had brought that up now…Man…He was about to ruin John’s Christmas and most likely the rest of his honeymoon as well.

Danella’s eyes widened at the revelation and she looked at Johnny questioningly but the look on his face was enough to warn her that was exactly what he intended. “NO…,” she gasped stunned. “I’m going home with you…” 

“Doc…?” John groaned miserably. “Danella…Baby…You promised me you’d finish…I want you to have that…” 

Tears welled in her amber eyes… “I want to be with you…Our baby…” 

“Whoa…Whoa both of you,” Kel said holding up his hand. “There doesn’t need to be a fight here…” 

“But…,” John started to argue. “Johnny…Here,” he said handing him the small box. John opened it as Kel continued. “The Headmaster at Pierce College in Los Angeles owes me a favor and I uh…Gave him a call when you and Dani decided to get married now.” 

John read the papers and a smile broke over his face as he handed them to Danella to look at. The brown eyes lifted to meet Kel’s. He bit his lip for a moment, touched by Brackett’s thoughtfulness. “Uh…Thanks Doc,” he said softly.

The normally surly doctor reached to briefly embrace the younger man before Dani suddenly stood up to hug the man tightly.  “Oh thank you,” she said excitedly as she kissed his cheek.

 “What is it Junior?” Roy asked as they came over to see what they were so excited about.  

“Doc got a transfer for Dani…She can still finish school but she can do it in LA, even this close to finishing her classes and then while she’s doing her clinicals.”

 “They’re squeezing her in and she’ll be at Rampart the following semester…Give her some time to settle into being a wife and mother before she has to be a student again,” Kel explained. 

“That was really great of you doc…I figured John would insist she finish school…I was hoping he wouldn’t end up divorced before the honeymoon was over.” 

“Thanks,” John mumbled while Chet snorted with laughter. 

“He may anyway knowing Gage,” he snickered. 

“Shut up Chet,” he growled but he smiled as Danella sat down to cuddle against him.  

She reached up to kiss his cheek… “That won’t ever happen my love…You’re stuck with me.” John slid his arms around her and pulled her close and managed to resist the childish urge to stick his tongue out at Chet Kelly as the Irishman scowled at him. 

John’s Aunt Mase came to stand before him…She held a flat box in her hands and she smiled down at her nephew. “I came across this a few years ago after your grandfather died. I kept it but I think you should have it,” she said as she handed him the box.

 Johnny opened it carefully…Inside was a photograph of a beautiful and very young Kate…John’s mother. He bit his lip as his eyes filled with tears. “Thank you Aunt Mase,” he said softly as he kissed the woman’s cheek. 

She caressed his cheek briefly as Joanne had done two days earlier and walked away. “Let me see Junior,” Roy said softly as the others gathered around. Most of them had seen the photo of John’s parents that he had on his wall but this one brought a gasp of awe...She was beautiful and easily rivaled Danella in looks.

“She’s stunning Johnny,” Roy said.

 “Wow…,” Chet muttered. “My mom sure didn’t look like that,” he said softly. 

“Whose did?” Marco mumbled.  John grinned at the comments and nodded toward his friends.

“Thanks guys.” 

 While the others were gathered around Johnny, Kel moved back to Dixie’s side. “I have a special gift for you as well,” he said as he leaned down to gently kiss her.  

She smiled up at him. “And what is that?” She asked softly. 

He reached into his pocket to pull out the small box he’d picked up at the jewelry store.  John’s eyes caught the exchange and he reached over to elbow his best friend in the ribs. “Roy look!” he whispered with a small nod as Kel opened a small box for Dixie to look at.  

“Well I’ll be,” Roy mumbled as the others turned to see what they were watching.  

Joanne and Danella exchanged grins as Dixie’s hands flew up to cover her mouth in shock. “Oh Kel,” she breathed out after a moment. “It’s beautiful.” She reached out to pull the diamond from the box but Kel took it from her fingers. 

“May I?” He asked. She nodded and held her left hand out for him to slide the ring onto her finger. She looked at it from this new vantage point for a long moment before she threw her arms around him and kissed him.

The sound of applause broke the kiss several seconds later. They pulled apart to look and see that the entire group was watching them with smiles on their faces.  

“Well it’s about time,” Joe Early teased as he moved to his best friend’s side and hugged him before turning to Dixie to do the same.  The others gathered around to congratulate the couple and to admire Dixie’s ring.  

“Well…I’d say this has been about one of the most memorable Christmas’ ever,” Roy said with a smile. 

None of them noticed the man watching from the open doorway. He turned away with a nasty chuckle. “More than you can ever imagine Roy DeSoto…,” he muttered with a laugh.

   

Christmas dinner was served after they’d all returned from the snow covered hillsides where they’d all gone to watch the children try out the sleds and even a few of the adults gave it a ride. They sat back and patted their full and aching stomachs with huge grins. “That was the best turkey I’ve ever eaten,” Chet commented with a contented grin.

 “No offense Joanne…Emmy…You’ve both served us some great meals over the years but I have to agree with Chet on the turkey,” Hank teased. 

Roy and Johnny both stayed conspicuously silent…They both enjoyed eating at Jo’s table too much to risk her wrath. 

She smiled ruefully at the left handed compliment...So did Hank’s wife. “Well since I have to agree, I guess I can’t get too angry,” she replied. 

“That’s because the turkeys weren’t frozen,” Bue Eagle explained with a chuckle. “They were fresh from Three Rivers,” he added nodding toward the man who grinned proudly back.

 “Cool,” Chris piped in while Jenny looked horrified. They all smothered a grin at her woebegone expression. “Well where do you think they come from in the stores dummy,” Chris taunted his little sister. 

“Chris,” Roy warned but the comment had at least taken Jen’s mind from the turkey massacre as she glared at him indignantly. They all moved on to dessert before the party began to break up.

Hugs, kisses and many Merry Christmas wishes were exchanged as the group finally began to head for their homes. John and Danella walked back to their private vehke.  

 It was a quiet night and their feet made crunching sounds in the snow as they walked. They threw a final wave at their friends as they disappeared into the night. John pulled his jacket tighter around him as the snow began to fall. He looked to Danella with a grin. “I’m not used to this anymore so I hope you plan to keep me warm tonight,” he teased his bride.

“I shouldn’t after you planned to leave me behind,” she said with a pout.

John bit his lip. “Dani…I know your parents wouldn’t do to you and our child what my family did to me when my father died but I don’t want you to ever have to be dependent on someone else to take care of you if something should ever happen to me. Can you understand that?”

 “Nothing’s going to happen to you,” she assured him. 

John rolled his eyes. “What hasn’t happened to me Dani…? I’m a fireman…I’ve had a lot of close calls…Too many times when I came close to dying as well as a few minor injuries but I COULD be killed anytime…I want you to be able to take care of yourself and our children if that day should ever come…That’s all.” 

She nodded as she rose on tip toe to kiss him gently. “Then I will keep you warm every night until that time comes.” He smiled against her lips. She pulled back. “When we’re both old and gray MANY, MANY, MANY years from now,” she finished. 

John smiled as they continued on. He tugged the flap to the tent closed behind them a few minutes later and started the fire burning. He turned around to find Danella already shrugging her blouse off and grinned at her uninhibited striptease as she wiggled out of her slacks. She obviously planned to keep her word to keep him warm. John’s clothes quickly followed.

 


John rolled to his side a long while later…He pulled Danella’s slightly breathless body against him. She smiled up at him… “I love the way you make me feel,” she whispered softly. 

“That feeling is mutual,’ he teased with a drowsy smile as he let his hands roam the warm, bare skin tucked against him. She tugged the heavy fur up to their chin as they both slipped into sleep.

It was very late when Ben, Jimmy Two Moons and Gray Elk slipped quietly into the village. They’d waited patiently for the whites to finish their party and had watched as John and Danella made their way back to the vehke. The lights around the village began to wink out as the others turned in for the night.  “Are we just going to go in and get them?” Jimmy asked in excitement.

 

“I don’t want Danella hurt,” Ben said quickly, intending to win his way back into the tribe and the girl’s life once his cousin was dead and unable to comprehend that he could never replace John in her heart or the fact that she’d cut his throat herself before turning to the man who’d tried to hurt John the first time he’d come home and had threatened their unborn child.

 “I will draw him out and we’ll take him quietly,” he soothed, not particularly caring whether or not Dani was hurt but still needing his nephew’s cooperation. He disappeared around the back of the tepee and a few minutes later they heard a soft tapping as if something was being thrown. 

John jerked awake a moment later, unsure of what disturbed his sleep. Man it was cold…He glanced over at the fire and realized it had died down. He buried his cold nose in his wife’s hair drawing a soft moan from the girl as he cuddled her against him.

He lifted his head to look into her face but she was still sleeping soundly and he considered waking her up to warm himself a different way but she looked so comfortable he didn’t have the heart. 

He shivered as he tossed the blanket back and tugged his boxers on. He pulled a tee shirt over his head to ward off the worst of the cold. He moved to the fire and stirred it. He really needed more wood and he shuddered at the idea of stepping out into the cold, snowy night but he didn’t want Danella catching a chill either.  

John shoved his feet into his shoes and shrugged a light robe on. Danella stirred, her hand reaching out to where John should be. Her amber eyes cracked open and she smiled at the sight of him.

“Where are you going?” She asked him curiously.

 “The fire died…I need to get some more wood. I’ll be right back.”  

“I will wait for you my love.” 

“Hold that thought,” he teased as he stepped out into the cold night air. He’d just bent over to pick up some wood when he felt a presence behind him. He began to turn but an arm snaked around his neck pulling him backwards against a hard chest.

John’s hands rose to frantically tug at the arm that was cutting off his oxygen while he opened his mouth to call a warning to Danella with what little air he had left but the other hand clamped over his mouth muffling the shout.  His feet kicked out and he shoved himself backward trying to knock his attacker off balance but it was like hitting steel.

Another set of hands joined the first man’s. Grabbing his wrists and knocking his feet out from under him as they bore him down to the ground.

John felt the bite of a rope being tied around his wrists and he tried once again to cry out in panic but the hand over his mouth was pressing down painfully, keeping the yell to a mere groan of sound. John’s eyes widened in horror as Danella suddenly stepped from the entrance to the dwelling.

 

Danella was snugly wrapped within the fur blanket but her eyes were on the door. What was taking Johnny so long? The wood was stacked right outside the entrance so he should have been back by now. He must be freezing in what he was wearing.  She thought she heard scuffling…There was a muffled sound that she couldn’t recognize.

Maybe he’d slipped and fallen…She flipped the covers back and grabbed her robe. She’d go and check…If everything was alright they’d just come back in and warm each other up. Her lips curled up in a delighted grin at that prospect. She flipped the tent flap back and stepped outside. 

Clouds covered the stars and it was pitch black…The snow was swirling and she could barely see but it had also been dark inside the vehke in the light of the dying fire and her eyes adjusted quickly. They widened in terror as she saw her husband fighting for his life.

 Danella gave no thought to her own safety as she started forward with the determination of a lioness…intending to claw their eyes out.

Hands wrapped around her suddenly and yanked her backward, one hand closing over her breast...She felt the hot breath near her ear and smelled the stench of alcohol as the man mauled her body…His hand sliding downward under the blanket.

John’s body arched beneath the two men as his eyes watched his wife grabbed from behind by another man. His hands roaming over his pregnant wife’s bosom before slipping lower…He fought frantically to free himself. One of them lost his grip and Johnny struck out with his bound hands to clip the other with his fists before the second one joined the fray once more. He tried again to bellow in outrage at the assault on a helpless woman but the hand pressed down firmly over his mouth wouldn’t allow more than a moan of sound.  

He watched as Danella bit down on her attackers hand…He yelped in anger and spun the girl around…His fist clipping her jaw in rage. Danella fell and didn’t move. 

‘NOOOO,’ screamed through John’s mind as he renewed his now anguished and enraged struggle almost managing to free himself before pain exploded in his head and blackness closed around him. 

The two men stood up in relief, unable to believe the fight the slighter man had put up.

They looked to Ben as he stood over Danella. His lustful eyes sweeping over the unconscious young woman and wishing he had time to take advantage of her helpless state. He scooped her up in his arms. 

“What are you doing?” Gray Elk hissed. 

“Putting her inside uncle…I want her when we’re done with him…I don’t want her freezing to death. He carried her inside and laid her on the furs…Her robe falling open to reveal her unclothed state. His mouth tightened in anger, knowing what they’d obviously been doing and hating the fact that his half breed cousin had had her first.  

He flipped the covers over her and left the tent. “Soon Danella,” he muttered softly.  The three men lifted the unconscious younger man and slipped silently away from the village. 

 

John moaned softly as he struggled back to consciousness. The first thing he noticed was that he was cold. His body shivered in the thin robe and undergarments that he was wearing as he lay in the snow.

The second thing was pain. His head was pounding horribly and his mouth hurt from the hand that had been clapped brutally over it. He tried to move his hands and realized that they were tied and memory suddenly returned.

Danella…She’d been hit…Where was she? Was she okay? He tried to turn his head but the pain exploded in his brain at his first movement dragging a groan from his lips as he clenched his eyes shut.  He forced them open to look up into the face of Gray Elk who stood smirking down at him.

“I’m glad you have rejoined us John…I was looking forward to seeing the terror and the pain in your eyes when I kill you…Just as I’m sure George felt as he died that night.” 

John’s mouth tightened but he refused to give the man a show of fear, knowing that it was exactly what he did want. All he wanted to know was whether or not Danella was okay. “My wife…?” He croaked out painfully.

 “She’s alive for the moment John Gage but I’m sure when Ben’s through with her,” he shrugged.

John’s eyes flared with fear but not for himself. “Please…Don’t let him hurt her,” he whispered.

 “If he’s anything like his father John…She’ll wish she were dead,” he whispered near John’s ear.

He almost had to admire the younger man’s courage…The only thing he was afraid of was for his wife’s welfare rather than his own. 

A scream of an enraged horse pierced the windswept night air and John tried to turn his head to see what was happening. “W…What are you d…doing?” He mumbled through bruised and frozen lips.

 “Your executioner has arrived,” he taunted as Jimmy and Ben dragged the large, red horse toward them…The ropes around the animal’s neck infuriating him as they cut into his skin. “You see John…,” he explained as he pulled the younger man’s arms over his head and tied a rope to the bindings around John’s wrists.  “Your friends Matt and Jimmy Wheeler decided the method of your death the other day.” 

Johnny shivered but still managed a frown. “I d…don’t un…unner…stand,” he slurred.

 “That you would have been stripped naked and dragged through the town for touching them…,”

the man grinned evilly as he pulled a knife from his waist band. John’s eyes widened at the sight of it. The dark eyes flicking back toward Gray Elk. He tossed the end of the rope toward the other two as they continued to fight the plunging, wildly kicking horse.  

Ben managed to bend down enough to grab it and quickly tie it to the rope he held while Gray Elk turned back toward Johnny. The knife flashed and John cried out in pain as the blade left a crimson trail from his stomach to his neck as the man slit his tee shirt open…Not deep, just painful.

He clenched his teeth as Gray Elk’s gloating face reappeared over him. “I intend to strip you naked and let the horse drag you into the wilderness John…Who will they look to when they find your body?” He questioned. 

John shuddered again as his eyes fell on the knife. At least he’d be dead and he wouldn’t feel the humiliation or the pain but the older man seemed to sense his thoughts and grinned. “I’m not going to kill you John. The elements and the wild animals will do that if Rain’s Fire doesn’t trample you to death first,” he chuckled. “The scent of your blood will bring them running and that will send the horse fleeing again…” He dragged the knife through the elastic of John’s waist band, leaving another crimson trail behind. John grimaced in pain. 

 

Danella moaned in pain as consciousness returned. Where was she? What had happened to her? She lifted a shaking hand to her sore chin. Someone had hit her….Johnny? Where was Johnny?

She climbed to her feet and staggered to the entrance of the tepee and looked out but no sign of their attacker’s remained.  They’d taken Johnny and the snow was falling heavier now. They’d never be able to track them if she didn’t get help and soon.

She grabbed her dress and slipped it over her head before shoving her feet into her boots. She grabbed a fur and threw it around her, disregarding the pounding and dizziness in her own head as she staggered toward the trading post.  

Halfway there, she felt a pain lance through her belly and she doubled over. “No…,” she whispered in anguish, terrified that she was losing John’s baby. She gasped and took the final few steps to the help she needed. She pushed the door open and half fell inside. 

 

Rain’s Fire felt the pervading tension in the air and smelled the scent of fear…He reared on his hind legs…His forelegs lashing out viciously. His nostrils flared and he became aware of a new scent…One he knew. His friend was nearby…But so were these other men…Men who were hurting him. He pulled against the ropes.  

One of the men lashed out with the end of the rope…striking his shoulder and Rain’s Fire reared again…He heard a scream and his eyes widened…The whites of his eyes showing clearly in his terror. The smell of blood in the air further frightened the now crazed animal.

He reared…His hooves striking out at his tormentor and catching one of them in the head. He fell backward unmoving in the snow.  Freed from one aggressor the horse pulled back violently tearing the rope from the hands of his enemy…He felt the rope go slack and wheeled about, racing quickly away. He felt the weight of something dragging behind him…Heard that awful sound again and ran faster, trying to get away from whatever it was that was strangling him. 

 

John moaned as pain rippled across his belly…Gray Elk smirked at him. “Do you know who taught this torture to us John? The white man…I have to thank Matt and Jim Wheeler for reminding me of it,” he sneered as he dug the tip of the knife into John’s stomach with the intent to gut him like a fish…Giving the wild animals a strong scent of blood to follow but John’s cry of pain caused Rain’s Fire to rear in terror.

His hoof catching Jimmy Two Moons in the head, he fell unmoving into the snow. Ben couldn’t hang onto the plunging animal and fell backward.  

John felt horrible agony lance through his arms and shoulders as the horse suddenly turned and bolted to freedom. He felt as if they were being ripped from their sockets as he was dragged over the frozen ground. His body twisting and bumping through the scrub brush and over the snow and ice as Rain’s Fire ran on into the night.

   

 Roy woke with a start…A pervasive feeling of fear flooded through him. He rose on his elbow and looked down into his wife’s sleeping face. She seemed fine, so what had wakened him?  

He climbed from the bed and padded to the door, deciding to go and check on the kids just to be on the safe side. He pulled the door open and gasped in horror at the sight of Danella tumbling through the door.  

She clutched at her stomach and her terror stricken eyes rose to meet Roy’s. “Johnny…,” she murmured softly before she fell unconscious. 

“JOSEPH…JOANNE,” Roy bellowed as he scooped the girl into his arms and ran to the couch. He heard the door open upstairs and the room was flooded with light as Joanne came from their room, shrugging into her robe.  

“Oh my God Roy…What happened?” She cried as she ran to join her husband. Joseph and Sena appeared beside them a moment later.

“What happened?” Joseph growled as Dani’s eyes fluttered.

“John,” she whispered.  

“Joanne…Run to Blue Eagle’s…Get Dr. Brackett.” She nodded and slid her jacket on before she bolted for the door. 

“John,” Joseph said angrily. “Did he do this to you?”


Roy ’s blue eyes shot to Joseph in shock. “Of course he didn’t. Johnny would never hurt Danella.” 

“No…Took him…Ohhh,” she wailed, as pain cramped through her body once more. 

“Oh God…Who Dani…Who took him…?”  

She shook her head. “D…Don’t kn…ow,” she whispered as she lost consciousness again.  

“Stay with her…I’m gonna go check on Johnny.” Roy bolted for the door as Brackett came running from Blue Eagle’s…The elder, Joe Early, Joanne and Dixie weren’t far behind. “It’s Danella Doc. She’s experiencing cramping and she has a bruise on her chin…She said someone took John.”

 

Joanne’s hand flew to her mouth in shock as her eyes turned to the tepee only a short distance away. “Go check it out Roy…we’ll take care of Danella. Blue Eagle…Can you rouse your people…If something has happened to Johnny, we’ll need to organize a search party.”

 “Of course Kelly,” he said simply but there was a look of rage on the man’s face. Kel almost pitied the ones who’d come into Blue Eagle’s village to cause this problem for two of his people. 

“Go with them Jo,” Roy said as started to follow him. 

“But Johnny…” Roy’s worried blue eyes met hers.

“I don’t know what I’ll find Jo…Go with them,” he said softly. She understood…Roy wouldn’t want her to see Johnny if he’d been killed and was somewhere close by. She nodded and turned back to the trading post. That’s not how she wanted to remember him. 

The sound of voices began to fill the night air as the people were awakened by Blue Eagle’s pounding on their door. They began to gather quickly…One of their own was in danger and they needed to find him. 

Roy approached the vehke and the signs of a struggle were obvious. The snow was trampled and there was blood on the ground. Roy pushed the flap back and went inside. Danella’s white Robe lay on the fur covered ground but there was no sign of Johnny anywhere. He stepped outside.

“JOHN…NY,” he called out, hoping the younger man might be just injured and nearby waiting for help. There was no answer but the howling of the wind. He saw the footprints leading away from the tepee…One set was Danella’s but there were more and heading in the opposite direction. Roy looked up into the swirling flakes worriedly…They needed to move fast before the snow covered the tracks completely. 

Blue Eagle was suddenly beside him along with Sean Carlton and Steven Handly who were spending the night at the lodge since it had been too late to return to Lame Deer. “What did you find?” The tribal Chief asked. 

Roy shook his head. “Johnny’s gone…The tracks head that way.” 

“Then we need to move quickly,” he said, voicing Roy’s own thoughts. Handly turned toward the trading post.

“I’ll go help with Danella. You help them,” he told his partner. 

Sean nodded. “I’ll get my pick up. We’ll need some flashlights and blankets in case we do find him…”

They all nodded as Roy turned to go back and get dressed. He had to find Johnny. Jo grabbed her jacket. “Where do you think you’re going?” Roy asked in surprise. 

“With you…” He opened his mouth to argue but the fierceness in her eyes stopped him.

“Johnny’s out there hurt…Maybe dying. Do you really think I’m going to sit here and wait instead of helping to find him?” 

Roy knew he’d never win this argument. She loved Johnny too much. He nodded. “Let’s go.”

    

 Gray Elk kicked at the snow in rage as he watched the horse gallop away…Dragging the body of the young paramedic behind him…He hadn’t been ready yet.  

Ben climbed to his feet and stared down at the body of Jimmy Two Moons. He glanced up as his Uncle came toward him. “What do we do now?” He muttered softly. “They know he’s a friend of yours.” 

Gray Elk shrugged. “It will be made known who the third attacker was the night of the dance…He was with the Wheeler’s that night and they will assume he was with them again when they find his body,” he said smugly as he dropped Matt Wheelers fire fighter’s ID card near Jimmy’s body. Ironically it was Jimmy who had stolen it for him. 

The very obvious hoof mark would link him to John’s murder once the young man’s body was found with Rain’s Fire. Blue Eagle would lose the precious stallion as well…Served him right for siding with the young half breed over his brother’s death.  

They heard voices coming from the town and knew they’d have to run for it. He’d hoped to have time to cover the horse’s hoof prints but then there really wasn’t much need to worry. The snow was falling and would soon obliterate the tracks anyway and frost bite and hypothermia would kill the man before they ever found him in this weather if the animals or Rain’s Fire didn’t do it first. He and Ben ran quickly for the concealing cover of the woods as the voices grew louder.

 

 

Rains Fire ran on dragging Johnny behind him. John felt as if his body were on fire as the dead and dried brush tore at his skin. He prayed for unconsciousness to claim him as his arms were yanked from their sockets.

He finally got his wish and blackness closed around him.

 

The winded horse finally began to slow…Whatever it was hanging from his neck, he couldn’t seem to shake it. He stopped, breathing hard…Ice vapor frosted the snorting breaths as the animal turned toward his unwanted guest. Whatever it was wasn’t moving to attack him and the horse tossed its head and sniffed the air…Prepared to bolt if he needed to.

 

The smell was familiar and welcome but mixed with another scent…Blood. The horse moved forward cautiously. His nose reached toward the still figure…He nuzzled the sable hair but his friend didn’t move. He snorted close to John’s ear and the fingers twitched weakly. Rain’s Fire stood quietly and waited for his friend to wake up.

 

 Joe Early placed the stethoscope against Danella’s belly and listened intently…He smiled as he heard the faintest of sounds. He moved it a bit higher and frowned for a moment. His head cocked to the side as he moved it again. A broad smile suddenly played across his lips…He hadn’t been mistaken but he wanted Kel to listen as well.

  

Danella’s eyes blinked slowly open and a small moan escaped her lips. Her mouth hurt and there was a dull ache low in her belly. The baby…Her hand flew to her stomach as fear gripped her. Oh God…She’d lost their baby… Her frightened eyes focused on the two men in the room with her. They were talking quietly across the room with her mother.

Her soft moan alerted them that she was awake and they came toward her.

 “Danella,” Joe Early questioned softly. “We want you to try to relax and just rest alright?” 

“Our baby…Did I lose John’s baby?” She whispered in anguish. Joe glanced at Handly and Sena as understanding dawned and he smiled down at Danella.

“Our baby's are…Uh…Is still with us Danella,” Joe assured her. “And if he has half the will to survive that his father does? He’ll stay that way.” 

Danella smiled in relief as he reassured her that she hadn’t lost Johnny’s child but it faded as she remembered the rest. “Johnny…Where’s Johnny?”She questioned as she struggled to sit up.  Her mother moved quickly to sit next her and hug her against her while Joe and Steve exchanged a couple of worried looks of their own.

“Danella…You heard the doctors. You must stay calm and rest.” 

“Where is he mother?” She demanded around her bruised and swollen lip, afraid they were keeping something terrible from her. Her breath hitched in despair as Sena soothed her daughter. Steve sat on the edge of the bed.

“We don’t know yet…They’re searching for him now. They found their tracks and they’re hoping they didn’t get too far.” 

“Oh God,” she whispered. 

“Danella…Can you tell us who?” Joe questioned. She shook her head uncertainly.

“It was too dark. I could see them struggling and then someone grabbed me from behind. He grabbed my…Breast and then…,” she stopped looking appalled that someone beside Johnny had touched her so intimately. “I bit his hand and then I think he hit me,” she said touching the bruise on her face. “I woke up in the vehke…Someone put me inside. I was trying to come here for help but then I started to cramp,” she said as her hand settled over her belly. “I was so afraid of losing our baby,” she wept. “Dr. Early…Dr. Steve…Did he…touch me?” She questioned hesitantly, unable to say the word. 

Joe and Steven exchanged a glance. “Um Danella…,” Joe began, trying to ask the question tactfully. “Did you and John make love tonight?” Joe finally asked outright. 

She nodded. “Yes.”

Joe sighed. “Well…There’s no tearing or bruising but of course there was some evidence of sexual intercourse but…If you and John…”

 “You don’t know,” she whispered in horror. God what if he’d touched her? Would John ever want her again?


“It’s alright Danella…It’s alright,” her mother soothed her.

“Oh God…I need to know,” she whispered in despair.

   

The crew was quickly roused by Roy while Blue Eagle sent runners to gather his people. Soon there was a large group both on foot and in vehicles.

The snow was still swirling and growing heavier all the time and the group knew they had to hurry or they’d lose the trail. Roy, Jo, Kel, Dixie and the crew climbed in Sean Carlton’s pick up truck Wind Walker, the reservation’s best tracker led the way and soon the search party picked up the rapidly diminishing trail leading toward the ranch.

They all climbed out as Wind Walker stopped at the sight of Jimmy Two Moons body lying motionless in the snow. 

Brackett felt for a pulse and glanced up at the group and shook his head. “He’s dead,” he said quietly as Roy knelt to help him. His hand hit something in the dark and he picked it, shining his flashlight at it while Blue Eagle walked toward the pasture where Rain’s Fire usually stood.  

The chief returned to stand over the body. “Rain’s Fire is missing,” he stated angrily. 

Wind Walker was already working on the churned up snow and quickly pointed at the fading trail. The horse went that way…He was dragging something heavy behind him…Two other’s ran that way,” he added pointing to the trees.” 

Roy’s face paled while the rest of the crew had mixed looks of anger and fear as Roy held out the small laminated card. “This is Matt Wheeler’s ID card,” he said softly.

Blue Eagle looked up at him, noting the frightened look and Roy continued. “He told Johnny the night of the dance that not too long ago, he’d have been dragged through the town for hitting him,” he explained with a slight tremble to his voice.

 “Three River’s…Go into town. Tell the Sheriff there has been a death and that Dances with Fire has been abducted. Get him out here. Tell him the Wheeler’s threatened him Saturday night and give him this.”

Three Rivers nodded and took off at a run to get his car and go into Lame Deer. “The rest of us need to spread out but stay within calling distance in case we find him.” They all nodded and headed out with Wind Walker moving ahead of them and pointing out the way. A glance at the sky and the heavy, falling snow urging them to hurry.

   

John’s eyes opened slowly…The first thing that he noticed was that he was freezing…The thin and now tattered robe over his underwear doing little to ward off the cold. His teeth were chattering and his body shook from the chill.  

The second thing he noticed was pain…It flooded over him. His shoulders screamed, his head throbbed and his body seemed to burn like fire. He could barely feel his hands at all.  He tried to lift his head but it hurt too much and he laid it back down for a moment. He felt a warm, soft nose press against his cheek, nudging him gently.

John lifted his head once more, turning it to come face to face with Rain’s Fire as the horse stood over him. His fingers barely moved to brush at the silken nose. He tried to roll over but the pain in his shoulders made it difficult and he suspected at least one of them was dislocated.

After several minutes of teeth clenching pain, the half frozen, shivering paramedic managed to flip himself onto his back. “R…R…Roy,” the soft groan chattered past his lips as his belly and shoulder screamed in agony. 

Rain’s fire danced skittishly and the horse backed away, giving John’s arms a jerk. The young paramedic bit his lip to keep from crying out and spooking the animal. He didn’t think his battered body could take much more pounding.  

He opened his eyes after a moment to look up into the swirling snow. Clouds covered the stars and he couldn’t even begin to guess where he was. The temperature had dropped into the teens and his breath frosted in the cold air…  His dark, pain filled eyes turned toward the horse.

He wasn’t sure if he could mount the animal even if he could get to his feet…? If the horse panicked, he’d never be able to hang on. Could his already abused body take a fall like that?

His fingers found the wound in his abdomen and he winced as he felt the warm, stickiness. His fingers continued on to move over his chest probing the slices and cuts caused from being dragged across the frozen ground…There were a number of them but they didn’t feel too deep. The only good thing was…That the cold had stopped the bleeding. 

Violent shudders wracked his body. He was so cold and he knew hypothermia would likely kill him before anything else did if help didn’t arrive soon.  

His mind drifted to Danella…Was she okay? God…What had Ben done to her after he’d been knocked out? Tears of frustration and pain welled at the thought that she’d been hurt or worse…Raped…Killed and what about the baby? He needed to get back to her…Be sure she was okay. 

John felt a warm breath against his face and knew that Rain’s Fire had returned…The ropes around his neck sliding down around his ears as he lowered his head to Johnny.  

Despite the violent shivers that wracked his body and the pain that tore through his shoulders, he moved his arms enough to grasp one of the ropes.  His teeth clenched as Rain’s Fire raised his head, seeming to understand what John wanted. The slender man pulled himself to his feet. The horse nudged him gently almost knocking him over again.   

Johnny gripped the mane and tried to jump up but fell short, falling against the animal breathlessly. Rain’s Fire snorted and turned his head but remained still as Johnny rested against his warm body. After a moment, the shivering young man pulled himself upright once more.  He knew he didn’t have the strength to make the jump to the tall animal’s back.

The dark eyes swept around the shadowed area, barely able to make out a pile of rocks in the darkness. He used the animal to brace himself as he staggered on numb feet and every step sent waves of pain through his body but they finally made it.  

John could no longer feel his hands or feet but he managed to step up on the boulder, pushing himself upright. Tears of agony trickled down his face and froze to his cheeks…The pain and the freezing wind snatching the breath from his body as he pulled himself over the animal’s back where he lay panting for a long while before he could throw his leg over the horse. He slumped over Rain’s Fire’s warm back, burying his frozen finger’s in the animal’s mane as the horse began to walk.

 

Sheriff Martin Pratt stood over the body of Jimmy Two Moon’s. The headlights from his squad car cast eerie shadows through the falling snow.  The Coroner squatted next to him. “Blunt force trauma…Crushed skull,” he announced to the sheriff as he checked the body over. His fingers traced the curved gash left from Rain’s Fire’s hoof. “My guess is that the horse got him and not his partner’s.” 

Platt nodded his head. “The animal’s known to be vicious.” “There’s a good chance that if our abduction victim was dragged off by the horse, than Gage is probably dead as well…If being dragged over this terrain in nineteen degree weather didn’t kill him first that is.” 

Three Rivers shook his head. “Dances with Fire is strong and he and the horse have become friends. Rain’s Fire will not hurt him,” he said positively. 

Pratt looked at the man. “You do know that Rain’s Fire will have to be destroyed after this?” 

Three Rivers looked alarmed. “He was afraid…I doubt it was intentional.” 

Pratt shook his head. “Tell that to the other men he’s put in the hospital…Your own people that he’s injured and almost killed. I’m sorry but this time…,” he shrugged helplessly. “If you don’t mind, I’d like to talk to Mrs. Gage…See if she can tell me anything more about the abduction of her husband or the assault on her.” 

Three Rivers nodded his head sadly. Blue Eagle would be devastated at the loss of his prize stallion. He led them back toward the trading post as the Coroner waved his men over.

Pratt glanced down at the ID card he held in his hand. Matthew Wheeler…He shook his head disgustedly as he picked up his radio. “What had the damn, fool, hotheaded pair gone and done this time? He called in to his office to go and pick up the Wheeler Brothers. 

 

Jimmy and Matt Wheeler slunk up the walkway to their house. They were laughing as Jimmy wiped the blood from the knife he was carrying. “Man its cold,” he complained to his older brother. 

“You’d think all those trees on the Rez would break the wind some,” Matt added, rubbing his cold hands together. 

“Been out to the reservation have ya boys?” A voice questioned from the darkness.  

Both Wheeler’s jumped, startled by the unexpected guest as the deputy stepped out of the shadows. “Uh…Yeah…Been down there um…Ice fishing,” Matt explained lamely. 

The deputy glanced down at the bloody knife and cloth that Jimmy still held. “With a knife…?” He questioned skeptically. “Why don’t you put that down son,” the man ordered calmly. 

Jimmy quickly dropped it. “We uh…We were c…cleaning the fish,” the red head stammered looking at his brother worriedly. 

The deputy pursed his lips with a skeptical look. “We had a bit of a problem out on the Reservation tonight. You boys didn't happen to see anything did ya?” 

The two brothers exchanged a nervous glance. “Uh…No…What kinda trouble Lou?” Matt asked hesitantly. 

“John and Danella Gage were attacked tonight by three men…Two of them headed back toward Lame Deer…” The two Wheeler brother’s eyes grew wary.

“If that damn half breed named us then he’s lyin,” Jimmy sneered boldly.

 “Gage hasn’t named anyone…Yet. He’s missing and could be dead for all we know.” The deputy scratched his nose. “He was dragged off by a horse…” 

“Oh man,” Matt groaned suddenly realizing where this was going. 

“Hear tell you boys had a fight with him on Saturday night…That right?” 

“It was a minor altercation Lou. We didn’t try to kill him.” 

“You threatened to strip him naked and drag him through town…That’s not exactly minor.” 

“We just said it wasn’t too long ago when it coulda been what happened…We didn’t do it,” Matt mumbled. 

“There were three of ya against one…” 

Jimmy saw the way to shift the blame somewhere else and jumped at it. “That’s right…Jimmy Two Moons…He was with us that night.” 

"That so Matt…?” Lou asked.

“Yeah…That’s right.”

 “Jimmy Two Moons was also at the ranch tonight,” he said pulling out his handcuffs.

 “Then ask him…He’ll tell ya it wasn’t us,” he protested as the deputy snapped the cuffs in place.

 “Well…I’d do that Matt,” he said turning to Jimmy to cuff him as well. “Problem is… Jimmy Two Moons is dead and you’re looking pretty good for the attack tonight.”

 The Wheeler brother’s exchanged a glance…They were in a lot of trouble. “The blood is Rabbit blood Lou…I swear… We were poaching rabbits that’s all…They’re in the truck.”

“You better hope that’s all boys…Gage is real popular in town…This isn’t gonna go real well for ya,” he said as he led them away.

   

Roy and the others drove on through the darkness and the blowing snow. The tracks were fading and the blonde paramedic was getting desperate. Johnny had been out here for almost an hour…If he’d still been alive when the horse had dragged him away that is. God where was he? Was he still alive? Roy felt that he was as he had so many times before. Somehow he’d know if Johnny was dead. They had to find him. 

Wind Walker suddenly raised his hand and all of them stopped. They climbed out of their vehicles and went to see what he’d found. The man pointed at a churned up spot in the snow. “They stopped here…There’s blood. John is injured but he’s still alive,” he said walking slowly toward a pile of boulders.

 “How do you know?” Hank asked worriedly as he peered into the darkness. “No more drag marks, footprints and Rain’s Fire is now carrying weight,” he said pointing at the deeper tracks.  

“Which way are they headed?” Roy asked. “Back toward the reservation…” 

Blue Eagle stood there in silent amazement. The horse had had his chance to run to freedom but he was carrying the injured man back home. 

“Let’s get moving,” Kel said urgently. “Johnny’s going to be hypothermic and there’s a good chance of frostbite if we don’t find him soon.” They nodded and set out once more.  

Rain’s Fire continued his slow walk back toward the Reservation. Johnny was barely conscious and was slumped over the horse’s neck. He was now shaking so hard he could barely hold on with his numb legs. His fingers were completely without feeling.  John tried to sit up…To remain alert but the grayness was closing in as his body began to slowly shut down. God, where was Danella? Where was Roy? Were they even aware that something had happened to them? He didn’t know how much longer he could hold on. 

A rabbit raced across the trail in front of the horse and he danced skittishly. Johnny lost his precarious balance and fell, hitting the ground hard and knocking the air from his lungs. He lay there for a long moment. He needed to get up but he hurt and he couldn’t focus…Confusion was setting in and somewhere in the back of his mind he knew it was a problem but he couldn’t remember why.  He tried to sit up but his frozen body would no longer cooperate and he fell face forward into the snow as blackness tried to claim him.

   

The headlights of Sean’s pickup cut through the darkness and the falling snow. Wind Walker’s sharp eyes caught sight of something up ahead and he signaled them all to stop. He approached the others. “Rain’s Fire is just ahead…If John is still with him then we need to be careful…If he bolts, he could drag him to death.” 

Blue Eagle nodded and they all climbed out, approaching the animal carefully. Roy could see John’s body lying in the snow and wanted desperately to run to him and make sure he was okay but Blue Eagle seemed to sense the direction of his thoughts and laid a restraining hand on his arm. “Don’t spook him Roy,” he warned softly. 

The younger man nodded but his heart was thumping wildly with fear for his friend.  They approached the animal and Rain’s Fire raised his head at their presence. He snorted and danced warily away. The rope tightened and they were all both relieved and heartbroken at the cry of pain that was torn from John’s lips as the line jerked his shoulders and wrists.  

He was hurt and in pain but at least he was still alive. They moved slowly and carefully to avoid frightening the animal but the horse continued to stomp angrily at their approach…He charged toward them almost on top of the fallen paramedic before he backed away again.

Blue Eagle signaled them all to stop. “He’s not going to let us near him. We have to get him away from John before he runs again,” he said softly. He pulled his knife. “I’ll try and get close enough to cut the rope,” he whispered as he moved forward alone. John lifted his head for a moment before letting it fall back. Blue Eagle couldn’t believe he was still conscious. The horse’s ears laced back angrily as Blue Eagle drew near and he backed away again, dragging another scream of pain from Johnny.

“Stop…He’s not going to let you near him,” Kel called out… “Johnny can’t take being dragged again.” 

Blue Eagle backed away. “Wind Walker…Get me your rifle.” The man nodded and retreated to a different vehicle.

 “What are you gonna do?” Roy asked in concern, knowing Johnny would never allow the man to shoot the horse if he could stop it. “

It’s the only way Roy,” Blue Eagle said sadly but determinedly. 

“Wait…Let me try.” 

“Roy…The horse is dangerous,” he argued.

 “He let me near enough to help Johnny before maybe he will again.” 

Blue Eagle hesitated. He wanted to save the animal but John came first. “Alright but if he tries to run,” he cocked the rifle.  

Roy nodded and took the knife. He started slowly toward the pair. “Johnny…,” Roy called softly. “Johnny its Roy…Can you hear me junior?”

“R…R…Roy,” he whispered. 

John hurt…His shoulders throbbed and his hands were numb and swollen. His chest and back burned like fire while his body shuddered violently with chills. He felt the hard jerk as the horse reacted fearfully to something John couldn’t see.

He cried out as his dislocated shoulder exploded with pain.  He heard voices or at least he thought he did. It could be his imagination…Hypothermia could cause hallucinations. The thought flitted through his confused brain and dissipated again. How did he know that? He couldn’t remember.  

Voices and lights returned and he tried to lift his head. The horse backed up and John screamed in agony as blackness once again tried to claim him and then he heard a voice. One he knew well and had been praying to hear.

“Johnny…,” Roy called softly. “Johnny its Roy…Can you hear me junior?”

 “R…R…Roy.” The word chattered from his blue, frozen lips. 

“I’m here Junior…Just stay still okay…I’m coming to you.” 

“K…K…Kay,” he managed to get out. Roy edged carefully toward his young friend.

Rain’s Fire tossed his head but remained motionless as he caught the scent of the new threat. His nostrils flared and he stepped toward John…His nose nudging the young man. John moaned in pain and managed to lift his fingers to brush the soft, warm nose reassuringly.

Roy wasn’t sure if the animal was trying to push him toward him for help or wake him up to flee for safety but either way he showed no sign of wanting to hurt the fallen man beside him. Roy moved closer and Rain’s Fire tensed…His eyes wary and cautious as the man approached. He knew this scent too. He felt no fear for himself or his helpless friend from this one.

The others sucked in their breath as Roy slowly knelt next to Johnny. He carefully used the knife to cut the rope.

The others moved in quickly. Several men waved their arms to shoo the horse back away from the fallen fire fighter.

Blue Eagle waited to see his prized stallion flee into the night but he only backed away…His large, dark, frightened eyes turning to where John lay as the others came to kneel next to them. 

Roy carefully rolled his young friend onto his back and slit the ropes that bound his hands. John moaned in pain. “H…Help m…me R…Roy,” he stuttered out through blue tinted lips. 

Roy gently brushed the snow from John’s reddened cheeks…“I’m here junior…I’m gonna help you…We’ll get you to the hospital and warmed up real soon,” he promised as he snatched a blanket from Chet and wrapped it snugly around John.

 Kel was already running his hands over John’s body, searching for broken bones. He didn’t find anything obvious except the dislocated shoulder and blood stains from a multitude of gashes and cuts…John didn’t appear to be bleeding now so Kel took the chance and decided to move him now and check him out further in the truck.  

He gritted his teeth, knowing the pain he was about to cause the younger man as his fingers probed the joint. John groaned in pain as Kel carefully brought his arm back around to try and immobilize it until they could reset it. “Let’s get him in the pickup and out of the snow…I’ll check him over better on the way to the hospital.” 

“We’ll take him to the clinic in Lame Deer,” Sean said. “It’s closer and we have everything we need to treat hypothermia and frostbite.”

Kel nodded his agreement. Joseph brushed Roy aside. “Get in the truck Roy…I’ll hand him up to you,” he said lifting Johnny carefully into his powerful arms.   

The blonde paramedic nodded and ran to the truck where Jo waited. He climbed into the bed and turned to take John from his father in law. Setting the younger man down on the pile of blankets the crew was laying out.

Jo gasped at the sight of their young friend. “Oh baby,” she whispered in horror at the sight of his half frozen body and reddened, swollen hands. She reached to take them in her own. 

Kel climbed up beside them along with Dixie. “Don’t touch his hands Joanne,” he ordered gently. 

“But…,” she began to protest.  

Kel held up his hand to stop her. “I know you want to help but rubbing or squeezing them could damage the tissue and until we get him somewhere warm I don’t want to risk refreezing them. Roy body to body is the quickest way to warm him.” 

Roy nodded remembering what he’d been taught a long time ago but had had little actual experience with. The two men pulled Johnny up close to Roy’s chest, jarring his shoulder and body as little as possible. Kel was well aware that jostling someone with hypothermia up could easily bring on ventricular fibrillation.

Roy unzipped his own jacket and pulled his friend against him before tugging the blanket around them both.  He could feel the shaking of his young partners shuddering body as the warmth settled around him. He held the dark head against his shoulder. 

John forced his exhausted, pain filled eyes open to look up into the worried blue of his best friend. “D…D…Da…ni?” He asked, trying to sit up.

“She’s okay…” 

“Ba…ba…by?” He stuttered out with a hitched breath. 

Roy closed his eyes briefly and hoped it wasn’t a lie he was telling his friend. “The baby’s okay too junior…” That seemed to settle John’s mind a little.

“I’m Sss…so C…col R…Roy,” he slurred through chattering teeth as he huddled against the warmth of Roy’s body. The older man could feel how frighteningly cold John’s body was against his own. 

“Shhh…Shhh...Shhh,” Roy soothed. “I know you are Junior…I’m here now…I’ll take care of you. We’re gonna get you warm real soon I promise,” he said softly, pressing John’s head back against him and resting his chin against the ice encrusted sable hair as the truck began to move.

Blue Eagle watched it roll away and turned to Wind Walker. “Take Rain’s Fire back to the stable and find out how Danella and the baby are doing. I will call from the clinic…Dances with Fire will want to know when he’s better. I want to be able to give him the truth.” 

Wind Walker nodded and went to help several of the others as they tied the horse to the back of another pickup truck and drove slowly back toward the reservation. Blue Eagle joined the rest of the crew in the last vehicle and they headed toward Lame Deer.

 

 Kel moved up close to the two younger men…His practiced fingers feeling for John’s pulse. It was weak and erratic. He pulled the blanket away enough to rest the bell of the stethoscope against John’s chest. His heart beat was arrhythmic…Kel readied a syringe with Lidocaine but he had a little trouble finding the vein on the trembling limb of the younger man, especially in the back of a bumpy pickup truck.  

Roy took it from him and quickly got it started. Kel gave him a small look of irritation. “I’ve had years of practice…You wouldn’t think I’d of had that much trouble,’ he grouched irritably to Dixie as she grinned at him.  

“Roy has to start IV’s in the back of ambulances doing thirty miles an hour through the potholes of downtown Los Angeles…He’s got a lot more practice than you do under these conditions,” she teased back as she reached under the blanket to wrap a blood pressure cuff around John’s arm.

 Joanne would have laughed at the gentle teasing if the situation hadn’t been so frightening to her but Johnny was like a little brother to her and Roy and she was terrified for him. She tried a small smile that came out more like a grimace.

“BP’s 90 over 60,” Dixie told the dark haired doctor a moment later. Kel nodded as he tucked another blanket over Johnny. He smiled at the frightened face of John’s ‘surrogate mom.’ “Why don’t you slide over there close to Roy Jo? You can hold John’s hands…Just don’t rub them okay?” 

She nodded gratefully as she moved closer to the two most important men in her life. She snuggled next to Roy and reached over to gently brush the damp, frost stiffened hair from

John’s face. His dark eyes fluttered briefly and he tried to raise his head but it quickly dropped back to rest against Roy. He was so tired…He just wanted to sleep but he hurt everywhere. He barely felt Jo’s warm hands close around his own numb and swollen fingers. 

The truck finally rolled into Lame Deer. They pulled up in front of Sean and Steven’s clinic and they quickly climbed out. John was carefully lifted over the side into Joseph’s waiting arms. He carried him inside while Roy and Jo followed close behind. The others stopped in the small waiting room…knowing they had a long night ahead of them.

 

   

Four Feathers laid a shivering John on the examination table. The dark lashes lifted briefly before sliding closed once more. 

Roy’s blue eyes swept angrily over the prone form of his partner and best friend. The deep lacerations and bruises around his wrists showed were the ropes had cut mercilessly into the flesh. The bruises around his mouth as he set the oxygen mask in place were proof of the excessive amount of force used to keep him silent…Everything had been coldly and heartlessly done to inflict the maximum amount of pain to the most harmless and selfless person Roy had ever met. 

“Cut those clothes off of him Roy,” Kel directed, bringing his attention back to the matter at hand.

 The blonde paramedic grabbed a pair of scissors as Joseph retreated to the corner of the room to stay out of the way. “Doc…I’ve got a pretty deep puncture wound here,” Roy announced as he pulled the tee shirt clear. 

Kel probed the wound…The blood flow had stopped from the hypothermia or John might well have bled to death from a wound this deep. “I’ll need an X ray to be sure but it doesn’t appear that he hit any vital organs,” he said in amazement. “Dix…I need a temperature on him,” he ordered as he and Sean rolled John on his side, grateful that he was to out of it to know what Dixie was doing.  

“Joanne…I need you to grab three towels…Soak them in warm water…Not hot…Warm, he clarified as Sean was grabbing the equipment they would need.  

“Temps 86°,” Dixie informed them as they rolled the shaking younger man onto his back. “You need me to run a bath?” She asked. 

Kel shook his head. “Not yet…I want to be sure he won’t arrest on us…I don’t want to have to dry him off if he does.” 

Sean held up the catheter and a NG tube. “I’m gonna infuse the bladder and stomach with warm fluids…Dixie, would you start an IV with warm Ringers. The warmers over there,” he said nodding.  

Jo returned with the wet towels. “Lay one over his chest and one around the back of his neck and the last one over his groin,” he directed without missing a beat, knowing Joanne DeSoto had taken care of John Gage for too many years to be embarrassed over John’s state of undress right now.

He was right…She never even blushed.  

Dixie returned with the IV solution and handed it to Roy while she took the catheter from Sean. She quickly got that inserted as Kel slid the tube down through John’s throat and into his stomach. Sean began to flush the warm liquids into the young man’s body as Kel hooked John to the cardiac monitor.

He smiled as the heart rate bounced back a sinus rhythm.   John moaned at the rush of warmth and the shuddering grew worse as warm and cold vied for dominance for a few long moments.

The monitor bounced warningly for a moment before returning to normal and the shaking finally began to diminish as John warmed from the inside out.  Jo came over with three more towels and quickly replaced the cooler ones. She dropped a light kiss on John’s forehead as Dixie spread a warmed blanket over the young man. She handed a warm, dry towel to Jo. “Put it over that wet hair,” she directed the younger woman.  

After a long while, Sean removed the stomach tube…John still shivered but not nearly as bad as he had been. They once again rolled John on his side as Dixie checked his temperature.

Roy and Jo both stayed close to John’s head…Roy’s hand gently rested on the dark head…Letting his young friend know he was there.  John moaned softly as consciousness began to return. There were hands touching him and a flurry of activity all around him. He felt warm and cold at the same time and he shivered with the chill of it… Something wet and warm fell over his chest. He felt his head being gently lifted and the same soothing heat wrapped about his neck and a moment later across his lower body.

 He felt himself being rolled and would have blushed in painful embarrassment at the next intrusion if he hadn’t been so tired. He felt the tube in his throat being removed and he heard the voices around him and his anxiety began to grow until a hand came to rest against his hair.

The fingers stroking absently…He’d know that touch anywhere…Roy was with him…He could rest.  He sank back into sleep.  

“91°,” Dixie told them. Not great but better than it had been. John was still hypothermic but upgraded from moderate to minor. 

Sean rolled the portable X ray machine over to table. “I want to get a shot of his shoulder, ribs and his stomach before you close these wounds.”

 

They all nodded as they stepped into another room while Sean manned the machine. Kel glanced at Dixie and the DeSoto’s. “The advantage of being a small town doctor,” he said with a small grin. “You have to know how to do EVERYTHING yourself,’ he finished.

They waited patiently for Dr. Carlton to finish before they all reentered the room. “Be right back,” Sean told them as he pushed the machine away. Joseph stepped out for a moment to tell Blue Eagle and John’s friends what was happening. He returned quickly, having no intention of leaving John’s side until they were sure he’d be okay.

 Dixie picked up a towel and began to carefully clean the scrapes and cuts on John’s torso and legs. Joanne came around to help her.

Kel began to examine John’s hands carefully as Roy moved to join him. “How bad…?” He asked worriedly. 

Kel blew out a breath. “Bad enough…Frostbite is pretty painful Roy. I’m going to have to thaw those fingers and Johnny’s gonna feel it no matter how much I drug him,” he warned him. 

“Can you knock him out?” Kel shook his head. “I’d rather not sedate him until his body temperature is back to normal. He’s already had too much strain on his heart and his body but I don’t have a choice if I’m going to save his hands…The rest of his body has some patchy spots and his toes were at least covered by his shoes so it’s not too bad. We can be grateful that he managed to get himself on that horse or he’d likely be dead now,” Kel informed them. 

Sean returned with the X rays… “Two cracked ribs,” he said slapping the first film into the reader as he continued. “Posterior dislocation of the left shoulder…We should be able to do a closed reduction and in case you’re interested this incredibly lucky young man has managed to be stabbed in the stomach and have the blade miss every major organ, sliding right under the liver and over the intestines,” he pointed out almost smugly. 

“Only you could manage that junior,” Roy said softly, close to John’s ear. 

Brackett smiled at the softly spoken words as he gave Johnny an injection of MS, hoping to dull the worst of the pain that he was about to inflict on the young man. 

Kel lifted John’s left arm drawing a moan of pain from the young man. Sean gripped Johnny by the shoulders as Roy held his head. Kel slowly and painstakingly extended John’s arm. The dark haired paramedic shifted uncomfortably but settled again as Roy spoke to him softly.  Kel carefully extended the arm and applied a slight amount of rotation while gently pulling the arm. A soft moan of pain slipped from John’s lips but Brackett knew what he was doing. A moment later there was a soft popping sound as the bone slipped into place. They all breathed a sigh of relief but it was short lived as Dixie came to the table carrying a basin of water. She grimaced at Brackett and Sean. 

Sean moved over to the table and Kel raised his eyes to Joseph and Joanne. “You may want to step out for this,” he advised softly. 

Jo’s eyes closed briefly, knowing it would tear her heart out but she wasn’t leaving her ‘boy.’ “I’ll stay thanks,” she said quietly as she brushed the dark hair back from Johnny’s forehead before bending down to place a kiss on it. 

Joseph also stood his ground. “He’s now my son as well. I’ll stay.” 

Kel took the basin of warm water and lifted John’s right hand. “Hold onto him fella’s…This is going to burn like fire,” he said softly as he laid John’s hand in the basin.  The reaction was instant. John’s body arched off the table and a scream of pain was ripped from his lips. His eyes flew open as a choking gurgle slipped free…Tears of agony rolled down his cheeks and even the soft sound of Roy’s voice and the soothing touch of his hands couldn’t calm him or stop the fiery pain that tore through his hand. 

“Dix two more milligrams of MS,” Kel barked out as he held John’s hand in the water. 

“Hold on junior…I’m here…Shhh,” Roy whispered through his own tears. Jo stood next to him, not even trying to stop hers…Her hands clasped together to keep from ripping John’s free from Brackett’s grip. Her blue eyes locked with Josephs as he watched his new son suffer through this…He’d make whoever did this sorry.

   

Out in the waiting room, Hank stopped pacing abruptly at the scream that reverberated through the building. They all exchanged horrified glances at the kind of pain that would have brought that sound from their youngest crewman’s lips.

Chet looked sick and Marco began to pray and even Blue Eagle wiped the gathering moisture from his eyes. 

“God Cap,” Mike whispered as he dragged his hand over his face.

 “What are they doing to him?” Chet whispered.

“Treating the frostbite most likely,” Blue Eagle replied softly. “It burns like fire,” he added. He’d seen it many times in his life and prayed that Johnny would be one of the lucky ones that didn’t get gangrene. The door opened a moment later and the sheriff stepped inside. Three Rivers followed close behind. 

 

John sucked in a hitched breath…Gasping air into his still half frozen body as sobs of pain hic cupped from his lips. He heard the soft, whispering voice of his best friend and felt the soothing touch of his fingers but it couldn’t stop the waves of fire rolling over his hand. John’s eyes finally rolled upward as unconsciousness blessedly relieved him. 

They all breathed a sigh of relief themselves. “Let’s get the other hand before he wakes up,” Brackett said through clenched teeth.

God he hated having to do this to the poor kid after everything he’d already been through but he had no choice if he wanted to save John’s fingers.  

Dixie brought another pan as Sean finally peeled the bandage away from John’s stomach and set to work stitching it closed. He held up briefly as Kel set John’s left hand in the basin. John shifted briefly before the pain and the MS won the fight and he sank back into oblivion.

 “Dix…Why don’t you run that bath now,” Kel suggested. “We’ll try and get that body temperature back up while he’s still unconscious. I doubt his heart will be an issue at this point.” 

She nodded and went to run the water. A while later she returned. “It’s ready,” she said tugging the blankets away and peeling the cardiac leads free from his chest.

 “Roy…Hold his head. Joanne, keep that IV out of the water,” he instructed. Sean, Kel and Joseph lifted his unconscious body and set him gently into the tub of warm water.  

The young man stiffened a bit and a soft moan slipped from his lips but thankfully the warm towels and their other ministrations had already brought his temperature up enough not to be as agonizing as his hands had been. Roy smoothed the dark hair back and murmured soothingly in his young friend’s ear. John slid back into unconsciousness and let the water work its magic. They were all very relieved when the shivering finally stopped and John rested quietly. The worst was over…Soon, they’d be able to bandage his hands and let the poor kid sleep for a while.

   

Blue Eagle looked at the Sheriff as he entered the building. “What is it Sheriff Pratt?” He questioned the man before his eyes slid to Three Rivers. 

“I heard you found Gage,”

Blue Eagle nodded. “This is his Captain and crew from Los Angeles,” he said waving his hand at the group.  

The man nodded at them. “Sorry to meet you gentlemen under these circumstances and I’m real sorry about what happened to your man. How is he?” 

“He’s been stabbed and dragged God knows how many miles through the snow. He’s got frostbite and he’s hypothermic and we still don’t know for sure how much damage the knife wound caused or if he’s broken anything or if he’ll keep his fingers,” Hank snarled angrily, remembering the scream and desperately wanting to hurt the people who’d done this to John despite the fact that violence never solved anything. 

Pratt nodded his head sadly. “Well I Just wanted ya to know that we picked up the Wheeler brothers. They’re denying everything of course but one of my deputies heard them talking about being on the reservation tonight and they had a bloody knife when we caught them but we don’t have the results back on that yet. They claim its animal blood but…,” he shrugged helplessly. “It’s Christmas and the labs not open again until tomorrow. They also admitted that the third man who assaulted Gage the other night was Jimmy Two Moons.”

 “That’s pretty incriminating,” Mike Stoker said to Hank. 

The older man nodded. “Let’s just hope John’s able to tell us what happened,” he said knowing John’s past history of memory loss in traumatic incidents. He hoped the therapy Roy had been using on Johnny for the last eighteen months had helped in that area as well.

“I’ll keep you all informed and I’ll be back to talk to Mr. Gage when he’s better,” he said quietly as he left the group. 

Three Rivers stepped over to Blue Eagle. “Danella and the baby are both well,” he said quietly. Blue Eagle nodded in relief as the crew exchanged relieved glances. “But the sheriff says he has to destroy Rain’s Fire,” he warned his leader. 

“What?” Hank and his crew barked but Blue Eagle nodded his head.  “I was warned the last time he injured one of my people that if he ever killed someone that he would have to be put down,”

 “That horse very possibly saved John’s life,” Hank argued in the animal’s defense. 

“Johnny’ll be devastated,” Chet murmured sadly. 

Blue Eagle gave them a smile. “Go to the stables Three Rivers…Move Rain’s Fire to the hunting lodge and keep him in the barn there. I’ll tell you what to do with him later if the sheriff insists on following through.” Three Rivers nodded and left. 

 Ben had been drinking most of the day leading up to the abduction. He didn’t slow down any afterward either. The sight of Jimmy Two Moons lifeless body had bothered him a great deal. He and his Uncle Benny had run through the woods as the rescuers set out to find John Gage but both men were pretty confident that they’d be too late.

The horse was vicious…The temperature well into the low teens and there were a lot of hungry animals out there that would tear the helpless younger man to pieces if he’d survived the dragging.

His Uncle had left him as he didn’t want them to be seen together tonight. Ben knocked back another whiskey as his thoughts traveled to their other victim tonight. The sight of the girl’s naked body beneath the robe excited him and he could hardly wait for the opportunity to take her for himself. John would roll in his grave…He smiled at that thought.

 Two men came into the bar and they were talking excitedly as they sat down near Ben. “The sheriff arrested Matt and Jimmy Wheeler for the attack.” 

“Good,” the other said. “Gage is a good man…He and Danella didn’t deserve that.” 

Ben's mouth tightened in annoyance that everyone was so gung ho for his half breed cousin.

“They’re out searching for him right now.”

 “Man…I hope they find him and that he’s okay and he and Danella can put this behind them.” 

Ben smacked the glass down on the counter and stood up. The two men cast him a curious glance but returned to what they were doing as he stumbled from the room. Ben headed for the reservation. It was late but he’d bet the beautiful girl was awake and waiting for her lover boy to come home. Well maybe he’d just have to show her what she was missing. He chuckled to himself…Too drunk to realize the girl would spit in his face before she’d let him touch her. 

The door burst open a few minutes after Ben left… “They found Gage…,” the newcomer announced immediately.  

“Is he uh…?” The man at the bar asked hesitantly.

 “He’s alive.” 

They all burst into excited cheers. “I’m buying the next round,” The second man announced. They slapped each other off the back as the drinks were served.

“Yes sir…Old Matt and Jimmy are gonna be sorry to hear he’s gonna live to testify against them,” the one who’d carried the news said gleefully. 

“DAMN IT,” they heard from behind them. They all turned but the speaker had already disappeared through the door he’d just entered through.  Gray Elk slammed his fist down angrily on the rail outside the door and looked toward the doctor’s office up the street. There were two trucks parked in front and the lights shown through the windows. He’d just bet that that’s where John Gage was being treated but how to get to him? How had the man survived? 

 

Dr. Early and Dr. Handly were both dozing on the couch in the living room while Sena sat curled in her chair. They were waiting patiently for word from the search party.  

The phone rang and they all started awake. “I’ll get it,” Sena murmured as she walked to the phone. “Hello?” Joe and Steve listened to the one sided conversation worriedly as they watched Sena’s face. She smiled joyfully. “He is? Is he okay?” Her face fell a bit as the person on the other end told her of John’s condition. “How bad…?” A long pause… “But they think he will be okay?” She grinned and sighed in relief. “I will tell the others. Danella will be relieved to hear it.”

She hung up. “Well?” Joe asked worriedly when she turned toward them.

“They found Dances with Fire. He had hypothermia and a little frostbite but they have treated that and they think he will be okay. He was stabbed,” she bit out angrily. “But they think he will recover quickly from that as well…The rest were a lot of bruises and cuts and a dislocated shoulder. He’s sleeping now. If you will excuse me I need to go and tell Danella.” 

They nodded in relief. “I think we can probably head for our beds,” Joe said tiredly now that he was sure John would be okay. Steve nodded his agreement.

“Why don’t you go back to the lodge and I’ll sleep here on the couch in case Danella has any more problems,” Joe suggested.  

“Thanks…It’s been a long day,” Steve said as he headed for his bed at the lodge.

Joe curled up on the small sofa and pulled the blanket over him. 

Sena shook Danella awake. “Wake up Mé’oo’o.” The amber eyes opened slowly and Danella gazed up at her mother’s smiling face.

“Have they found him?” She questioned hopefully as she struggled to sit up.

 Her mother sat beside her and pressed her back on the bed. “You must rest,” she admonished but smiled in answer to her daughter’s question. “They have found him…He will be okay,” she reassured her before she told her the more frightening details. “He was very cold and he has a mild case of frostbite which they have already treated,” she promised her daughter. “The rest of his injuries were fairly minor though he did suffer a knife wound.”  Danella gasped and her eyes widened in alarm.

“That’s not minor mother.” 

“It missed the organs,” she replied with a grin. “Dances with Fire is an incredibly lucky man.” Danella grinned. “You go to sleep now,” she said as she pulled the blankets around her daughters chin. “John is doing the same thing in town and we’ll try and bring him home tomorrow.” Danella relaxed back and prayed that all would be well. She bit her lip wondering again if her attacker had actually raped her while she lay unconscious. Would John love her anyway? Sleep finally claimed her a while later. 

 

They lifted John from the tub and laid him on a warm blanket. Dixie and Joanne toweled him dry before slipping a gown on him and snapping it in place while Kel and Sean bandaged his hands and immobilized his left arm. 

He moaned softly as he tried to regain consciousness. Roy moved to his side as Dix shook down a regular thermometer with a grin and a wink. “I think he’ll prefer this one now that he’s not shivering,” she teased as she tucked it under John’s tongue. 

Roy grinned as his long fingers stroked absently through John’s tangled, sable hair. The dark eyes fluttered open at Roy’s touch. He grimaced in pain as his nerve endings reawakened along with him.

“Hey junior,” Roy greeted him with a reassuring smile. “You have no idea how happy we all are to see those eyes,” he teased as Jo came over to join him. 

“Hurs Roy,” he slurred weakly as Dix plucked the thermometer from his mouth.  

“I know…But Doc already gave you something for it and it’ll kick in soon,”  

“96.8°,” Dixie announced happily to the others.

Kel and Sean exchanged a grin before heading out to talk to the others. “Almost there junior…Another couple of degree’s and you’ll be back to normal…Well as normal as you ever are anyway,” he prodded his young friend with a grin. 

John tried a tired smile. “Dani okay?” he whispered worriedly. 

“She and the baby are just fine.” 

“Good…I was s…scared…I couldn’t…believe…He touched her and…and hit her and I…I couldn’t s…st…stop it,” he stuttered out, disgusted with his inability to protect his wife. 

“Cut it out John…It was three of them against one. That’s a little much to expect of yourself ya know?” He reasoned as his fingers stroked the dark hair back. 

The dark eyes turned to Joanne as she smiled down at him. “Hi sweetheart…I was so worried about you,” she said as she leaned down to kiss his swollen lips gently. She lightly brushed her thumb over the bruised area. “I hope those Wheeler brothers never get out of jail,” she mumbled angrily. 

John looked at her in confusion. “Wheeler bro…thers?” He asked tiredly. 

“Yes baby…The sheriff arrested them for what they did to you and Dani,”Jo explained as Blue Eagle stepped into the room. 

John’s dark eyes flicked toward Roy and his head shook in the negative. “Not the…Whee…ler’s,” he stuttered weakly. 

“What?” Roy gasped. “Who then Johnny…?” 

“Gray Elk and…and Ben and…Two…Moons,” he finally stammered out. 

“Oh my God! They arrested the wrong men,” Roy muttered. 

“And the real one’s are still out there,” Blue Eagle muttered through clenched teeth. His mouth set in an angry line. “I will go to the sheriff and send Joseph back to the reservation to warn them all to watch out for them.” He left the room.

The others glanced up but never got a chance to say anything as Blue Eagle ran out the door. Roy and Joanne nodded. The door opened again and Hank came in.

“How are you John?” He asked softly as he came to his youngest crew member’s side and rested his hand alongside John’s face.

 “O…Kay Cap,” he replied quietly. “Sor…ry. Spoil Christ…mas.” 

Cap smiled down at him. “You didn’t spoil anything son…You’re alive and that makes this the best Christmas gift ever.”

John smiled tiredly. “I’m gonna let the guys come in for a minute and say goodnight before we head back to the reservation with Joseph.” Johnny nodded once more.  

Hank looked at Roy. “What was wrong with Blue Eagle?” He asked in concern. 

“We got the wrong guys Cap…It wasn’t the Wheelers.”

 “WHAT?” Hank snapped in disbelief. 

Roy shook his head. “It was Gray Elk and John’s cousin Ben. Blue Eagle just went to tell the Sheriff.” 

“Will you be safe enough if we leave?” Hank asked.

 “Sure Cap…Brackett and Sean and Blue Eagle are all staying too and they don’t know where Johnny is.” 

Hank nodded. “Alright Roy…I’ll send the others in.”

“I’m staying too,” Jo said as Hank left, but Roy shook his head.

“There’s no point in staying here and being uncomfortable. Johnny’s just gonna sleep honey so you might as well go back and be there to explain to the kids when they wake up tomorrow, They’ll be scared if they hear this from anyone besides you.”

 She bit her lip and her blue eyes turned to Johnny. “I guess but I hate leaving him,” she said as her fingers brushed the bruised chin, drawing a tiny smile from John.

 “Be…O…Kay,” he whispered.

 “Alright baby…But I’ll see you tomorrow.” 

John nodded. “I’ll be here,” he replied as the door opened and Mike, Marco and Chet came in.

 “Hey John,” Mike greeted as they gathered around. “You’re looking much better than you did earlier.” 

John smiled. “Feel…bet…ter too,” he said tiredly. “Thanks f…for look…ing for me,’ he mumbled around his sore mouth. 

Chet looked at Roy. “Cap told us about Gray Elk…Maybe we should stay?” 

“I think we’ll be okay,” Roy assured them. “And we’ll be bringing Johnny home in the morning.” 

“Alright amigo…If you’re sure,” Marco said.

Roy nodded. They all left giving Johnny a reassuring pat on the head or a scruff of the dark hair, drawing a grin from their exhausted young friend.

  

Ben made his way toward the trading post. The lights were on in Danella’s room upstairs though the rest of the house remained dark. He tried the back door and it opened easily under his hand. These people were so trusting, he giggled drunkenly.

Probably hoping in vain that their new son in law would come home…Well maybe he had after all…He intended to have Danella now that John was dead so they might as well welcome him now, he reasoned to himself through the fogginess of his intoxicated mind. 

He stumbled through the house in the darkness but a soft snore brought him up short. He looked at the couch and saw a gray haired man sleeping there. No one he recognized so he assumed he was one of the white men that were visiting and continued on. He crept up the stairs and made his way to Danella’s door. He pushed it open and peeked in.

The girl lay sleeping…A seductive smile played about her lips even in her sleep and a groan slipped from her lips.  “Dreaming of me White Mist?” he whispered with a delusional snicker as he crept toward the bed.                     

  

Danella lay sleeping, her mind sliding easily into dreams of Johnny. She could almost feel the strength of his arms, the gentle touch if his long fingers against her skin. She smiled dreamily as she remembered the feel of his body moving rhythmically against hers as they made love…His warm breath on her throat as he rained kisses down her neck. She moaned softly.

But then a new sensation intruded…Fear. The dreams of John fled as she once again smelled the hot, fetid breath on her face. Her eyes flew open with a start and she stared up in horror at Walking Wolf’s son Ben. “YOU,” she gasped in disgust as her stomach turned in nauseated flips. “It was you tonight,’ she gasped in sudden realization.

“Danella,” he whispered drunkenly. She turned her face away. “I came for you Danella. I will make you forget John Gage,” he boasted as he tried to kiss her but her hand rose to deliver a stinging slap to his face.

 “Get out…Get out now or I’ll scream this house down around your ears,” she threatened.

He touched his face angrily and his hands flew to circle the girl’s throat. “I will have you Danella…I will finish what I started tonight and you will beg me to take you,” he railed angrily. 

Danella was gasping for air and struggling desperately to push the hands around her throat away. He would kill her before he even realized what he was doing. Her body bucked beneath him weakly and a rushing sound filled her ears. She collapsed beneath the cruel hands and her last thought was of John… She didn’t feel Ben’s body lifted from her or hear the crashing sound of it slamming into her bedroom wall before dropping limply to the floor.  

 

Joseph was tired. He waved to John’s crew members as they made their way back to their homes for what was left of the night. He watched Dixie enter Blue Eagles home before turning to Joanne and offering his arm for her to lean on as they walked toward the lodge.

 Joseph saw the light on in his daughter’s bedroom and frowned. What was she doing awake at this hour? He pushed the door open and let Joanne precede him into the room. She smiled up at him and rose on tip toe to kiss his cheek. “Good night Joseph and thank you for helping us find Johnny.” 

“He is my son Joanne. I would do anything to protect my child,” he teased.

She grinned and headed for her room as Joseph headed up the stairs. He decided to check on Danella and see why she was up at this hour. He pushed the door open and gasped in shock at the sight of a man choking the life from his daughter. 

Joseph bolted forward without a second thought…His powerful arms grasping the man by the back of his shirt and ripping him forcefully away from Danella. His fist slammed into his face…His stomach and back to his face once more before he picked the man up by his throat and slammed him full force against the wall with a sickening thud. Ben slithered to the floor unmoving while Joseph raced to his daughter’s side.  

Terror climbed into his throat at the bluish tinge around her mouth. He heard the footsteps of the others as Joe, Sena and Joanne ran into the room…The small voices of Christopher and Jenny.

“What happened mommy?” Jen asked as her blue eyes took in the unconscious man and her Aunt Dani so still and gray.

 “Go back to your room kids. I’ll be in shortly,” Joanne said as she herded the children out. Their faces full of fear. She ran to join them as Joe Early quickly pushed Joseph out of his way. He felt for a pulse and shook his head before tipping her head back and starting mouth to mouth. 

“Oh Joseph,” Sena whimpered as she watched the gray haired doctor’s fight to save her daughter. 

“C’mon Danella,” Joanne whispered urgently. It was a long moment before they heard a sputtering cough and a choked gasp from the girl. Her eyes flew open and her hands rose to try and fight off her attacker but Joe caught them with his own.

“Shhh Danella, It’s okay now,” he soothed gently. Her eyes flew from face to face before she sat up to throw her arms about her rescuer. Sobs were ripped from her lips as she hung onto Dr. Early. He patted her back gently and waved her parents over to take care of their daughter. 

Joanne breathed a sigh of relief. She looked to Joe. “Well Johnny said he wanted a memorable Christmas but I don’t think this is what he had in mind,” she said drawing a grin from the older doctor. 

“I think you’re right,” he agreed as the tension was broken.

 “I’m going to go talk to the kids, they’re probably scared,” she said, reassured that Danella was okay now.

 Joe moved back to check Danella over as Joseph moved to stare down at the unconscious body of Ben Wolf’s Tooth. “I’ll call the sheriff.” He left the room.

 “It was him Mother,” Danella rasped out. “It was Ben tonight, not the Wheelers. He said he was going to finish what he started,” she wept.

 “Shhh my sweetheart,” her mother soothed. “You’re alright and that means he didn’t touch you earlier as you feared…Take some comfort in that.”

Danella nodded, looking a little more relieved with that information. Joseph returned a moment later. “Sheriff Pratt is on his way,” he announced. “He already knew it was Ben and Gray Elk tonight. We had already called him when John told us who his attackers were when he woke. He’s already let the Wheeler’s go.” 

“Is John alright?” Danella asked worriedly. 

“He will be daughter, don’t worry about him. Let’s take care of you right now.” 

“Have they picked up Gray Elk?” Joe asked.

 “Not yet…They cannot locate him.” They all exchanged a worried glance.

  

John lay sleeping quietly. Between the MS he’d been given earlier and the gentle stroke of Roy’s fingers over his forehead the younger man hadn’t stood a chance. Warm, Dry and thankfully pretty much pain free, he’d quickly drifted into sleep. 

Roy smiled down at him and threw Kel a conspiratorial wink, drawing a laugh from the older man who’d watched Roy DeSoto use that particular trick on John for seven years now.

Blue Eagle shook his head as well at the friendship between the two men who were so different from one another and yet were the same…He didn’t understand the bond that transcended the differences but he admired it. 

“How about some coffee…?” Sean suggested, rubbing his back tiredly.

 “Oh…I’m all in for that,” Roy agreed as Blue Eagle nodded his head in agreement. Roy pulled the blanket closer around Johnny’s chin and they walked down the hall to Sean’s office.  The door opened quietly and the black eyes of Gray Elk peered around the room…John was alone. He slid inside and closed the door. John lay sleeping. A blanket pulled up snugly around his chin. He glanced around to find a weapon to kill the young man with but nothing was immediately apparent.  His eyes fell on the pillow and he shrugged. The younger man was weak and helpless and while it wasn’t the agonizing death he’d originally planned…It would have to do. He picked it up and placed it over John’s face, pressing down viciously.

  

Johnny was sleeping, his mind pleasantly dreaming of his beautiful, young wife waiting for him at home. His dream was suddenly interrupted as a smothering force covered his face.  John’s one good hand rose as he tried to push at the object that was pressing down on his nose and mouth away.

Pain ripped through him as his still swollen hand tried to grip the wrist holding the object and push it away. His shoulder screamed a warning as John arched his body off the bed, letting his legs slide over the side and hoping the rest of him would follow. It did and the object eased up on the force as John slid to the floor in a crumpled heap. He gasped air into his starving lungs and tried desperately to push himself to his feet. “R…R…Ro,” He couldn’t get enough oxygen to call to his friend for help but then he didn’t really need to…

  

Roy sat sipping his coffee. After everything they’d been through today it felt heavenly to just relax and let the warmth flow through him but then suddenly that feeling he’d had twice before flooded through him and he sat up. 

“What is it Roy?” Sean asked in concern. Roy had ignored that feeling twice before and both times John had almost been killed…He didn’t plan on ignoring it again.

“Johnny,” he whispered as he bolted to his feet and ran for the door. 

The other three glanced at each other and then quickly followed, trusting the bond between the two younger men. Roy shoved the door open and ran inside to see Gray Elk kneeling over Johnny…A pillow pressed against the younger man’s face as John bucked and struggled to get away. “You son of a bitch,” he growled as he grabbed the older man’s shirt and hauled him away from his partner.  

Blue Eagle took it from there. “See to John,” he barked as he hauled Gray Elk to his feet. His fist landed a solid blow to the other man’s cheek that sent him reeling but Blue Eagle was close behind. He stood him upright only to double him over again as he hit him in the stomach. “You dare to call yourself one of our people,” he snarled in a rage. “You attack a helpless, injured man in his sleep…You are not a man…you are a cowardly jackal,” he sneered again as his fist crashed into Gray Elk’s face once more. 

Roy, Kel and Sean quickly moved to John’s side. Roy yanked the pillow away and looked into the gasping, pale face of his best friend. “Are you okay?” He questioned as he pulled the younger man into his arms. He felt the dark head nod against him but he was unable to answer as he gasped for air.  

“Let’s get him on the table,” Sean suggested as Roy lifted John in his arms and set him down on the bed. 

Kel was there with an oxygen mask as they laid the young man back. “Check his shoulder,” Kel said as he fitted the mask over John’s face. He unwrapped the hand that was heavily bandaged and breathed a sigh of relief that there didn’t appear to be any worse damage.  John was visibly shaking from shock and fear but he wasn’t injured any worse than he had been before. “How’s his shoulder?” He asked Sean.  

“Still in place…You did a great wrapping job,” he kidded the dark haired doctor.

Kel grinned as he watched Roy work his magic with his partner. “It’s okay junior. Blue Eagle’s got him and he’s not going to hurt you or Dani anymore okay?” He soothed as his hand rested against John’s sable hair.

The dark eyes opened to lock with his for a moment before shifting to Blue Eagle as he hauled Gray Elk off the floor. John shuddered a bit as the black eyes bore into him in hatred. “That damn horse should have killed you,” he sneered in disbelief that the young man was unscathed by an animal that had darn near killed anything that got within five feet of him…Just as he had Jimmy Two Moons. 

Blue Eagle chuckled as he faced the other man. “You forgot somethin Benny Gray Elk,” he taunted.

“What is that?” He growled back, wiping the blood from his chin. “The horse may rain fire but John dances with it,” he reminded him smugly. Sean, Kel and Roy laughed as John’s dark eyes drifted closed.

 

 Kel and Roy loaded Johnny into Steven Handly’s jeep the next day. He was wrapped warmly against the cold air as Roy carried his protesting partner to the vehicle. 

“I can walk Roy,” he said in exasperation as the older man set him on the seat.

“Johnny…Why do we always have to have this discussion…? You know I’m gonna win and you can’t walk…You still have a bit of frostbite on your legs and feet and they’d be painful for you to walk on em.”

 “But I…” 

“Just shut up or say thank you okay?” John blushed as Kel, Sean and Steve chuckled.

“Thank you,” he mumbled sheepishly. They waved at Sean and headed out to the reservation.

Both of the Wheeler’s stepped out into the street when they spotted the jeep and Steve pulled the vehicle to a stop. “Look boy’s John’s not up to any of your foolishness right now okay?”  

They both had the good graces to blush in embarrassment. “Uh…We weren’t gonna give him any trouble Dr. Handly,” Jimmy mumbled. 

“No…We um…Actually just wanted to apologize and say thanks for dropping the charges with the sheriff.” John looked at them blankly.

“It wasn’t you that attacked me and Danella,” he pointed out.

 “This time…Marty was gonna throw the book at us for the fight Saturday night,” Matt said as he studied his booted feet. “He said you told him to forget it.” 

John nodded. “I did…It wasn’t a big deal and I’ve been hit harder than that by girls,” he teased with a small grin. 

Both Wheelers smiled at him and held out their hand. “Don’t even think about it,” Roy warned his friend. At their bemused looks he added. “Frostbite…” They nodded as Johnny rolled his eyes in the back seat. “Don’t roll those eyes at me either Junior,” Roy shot back. Both Jimmy and Matt’s jaws dropped in shock…How had he known?

 “Okay dad,” Johnny quipped from behind him, drawing a scowl from the blonde paramedic. Kel laughed as Steven put the vehicle in first and drove away.

   

They arrived at the reservation an hour later. They’d taken their time so they wouldn’t jostle the younger man too much. John was dozing in the back seat when they pulled up in front of the trading post. Joanne and Joseph came out to greet them while Sena hung back by the door, waiting patiently.  

“Um Johnny…Before we go in there’s something I need to tell you,” Roy said quietly.

“What’s that Roy?” John asked as his heart sank into his stomach at the tone of Roy’s voice. “The baby…Did she lose…,” he asked fearfully. 

“WHOA…WHOA,” Roy said adamantly trying to calm his friend. “She did NOT lose the baby and Danella is fine.” John breathed out a sigh of relief but it was short lived as Roy continued. “Johnny…Ben attacked her last night…”


“WHAT…?” He bellowed as he tried to climb from the vehicle.  

Roy spun in his seat and grabbed him. “Sit…Just sit there,” he commanded holding John down. 

“But…,” he began to protest as he continued to struggle. Pain flared in his shoulder and his belly.

 “Stop it John…He did hurt her but Joseph got home in time and caught him. He pulled him off of her and Danella’s fine…She’s fine,” he stressed.

 John’s eyes held a look of terror as he locked his gaze with Roy’s searching for the truth…He saw it reflected there.

“She’s okay?” He said, looking hopeful as tears of relief welled and trickled down his cheeks. Roy’s heart melted, knowing John was that comfortable showing that depth of emotion in front of him. 

Roy nodded as his hand slid around to cup the back of Johnny’s head and pull him against him. “She’s okay…I promise you.” He felt the dark head nod against him. “Okay…Let’s go inside.” 

“Kay,” he mumbled, Roy reached inside to lift John once more, this time without protest and carry him up the stairs and into the bedroom he and Joanne had been using.

“We thought it would be easier on both of you for a couple of days if you didn’t have to climb the stairs,” he explained at John’s questioning look. Dani came into the room and John’s eyes widened in horror at the bruise on her chin and around her throat.

“Oh my God,” he whispered as she came to sit next to him on the bed, his bandaged hand rising to touch the bruises…His dark eyes looking forlorn.

“I’m alright,” she rasped a bit hoarsely. “We don’t ever have to worry about them again and I’m okay and so is our child,” she reassured him as she took his hand and placed it on her belly. John smiled in relief as he gathered her against him with his one good arm. 

“Um…As to that,” Joe began. He held up his hand at the look of fear that crossed the young couple’s faces. “Nothing to be alarmed about but I wanted Kel to listen to something for a minute alright?” 

Everyone exchanged nervous looks but Kel shrugged and took the stethoscope from Joe and placed it against Dani’s stomach. No one spoke and they grew a bit twitchy as Kel moved the bell and listened again and again as Joe had done the night before. The same grin spread across his features.  

“John…Would you like to hear your baby’s heartbeat? He asked. John’s face lit up and he nodded quickly, letting Brackett place the ear pieces in his ears and set the bell in place.  Joanne squeezed Roy’s hand tightly as John’s face broke into an amazed smile as if it was something he’d never heard before…Well in a way it wasn’t. This one was his.

Kel moved the bell and a different sound was heard…A slightly faster rhythm and John frowned. “What happened?” He asked drawing a concerned look from the others gathered around. Danella rubbed her stomach and looked at Johnny worriedly. 

“Is something wrong?” She asked. Kel and Joe both shook their heads and grinned.

“What does two different heart rhythms tell you Johnny?” Kel asked, sounding like he did in training.  

John’s eyes suddenly widened in shock… “Twins…?” He gulped. 

The room exploded with laughter and a bit of back slapping. “That’s my boy,” Roy said proudly as he hugged Joanne. 

Joseph and Sena grinned and kissed Danella joyfully while Roy and Joanne embraced Johnny a bit more carefully due to his injuries. “Wait’ll the guys hear about this?” Johnny said beaming. He leaned over to kiss Danella softly. “My daughters,” he said teasingly. 

“Your sons,” she argued with a laugh. 

“One of each,” Dixie said diplomatically, drawing a laugh from all of them. 

 

The crew returned to work a couple of days later and John sat and kibitzed from the sidelines as they completed the training with the teams from Montana.  He’d sustained a lot of friendly ribbing and a truckload of suggested baby names from Ronny to Chet.

John smiled and shook his head. “Really…We haven’t really thought of it…See it's a tradition in our family to name the first son after our fathers and then down to brothers and friends.” 

“What if it’s girls?” Mike asked. 

John shrugged… “Danella assured me that she’s having boys,” he said with a laugh. 

“So Roderick Joseph or Joseph Roderick…?” Roy asked curiously. 

John smiled…“We haven’t decided. Maybe both but if they’re girls, then we’ll name her for my mom and maybe Dani’s.” He shrugged. 

“It’ll be a proud name, whichever ones you choose,” Roy said scruffing the dark hair affectionately.  

John smiled at him… “Yeah…Yeah it will.”

 

The week flew by and the time came for the group to return to LA. John came out bright and early. His arm finally freed from its restraint, though his hands were still lightly bandaged…With all of their injuries their lovemaking abilities had been a bit curtailed and he had little reason to lollygag about in bed longing for what he couldn’t have.  

He’d have to return here for the trial but he didn’t want to think about that right now. He was starting a whole new life when he returned to LA and he was excited by it. A wife and two babies on the way…He grinned happily as he started down the path toward the stable to say goodbye to Rain’s Fire.  

The horses that they’d given him for Christmas had left two days ago by truck and should be there on his ranch when they arrived. The weather was warm enough not to worry that the barn wasn’t ready to accommodate them yet. The corral was and the guys had promised to come and help him with that as soon as they got back. 

He let out a whistle as he approached the pasture but there was no sign of the red horse. “Come here boy,” he yelled. There was nothing. 

“He’s gone John,” a voice said from behind him. “John whirled to face Blue Eagle as the man came up to join him. 

“Gone? Gone where?” He asked in alarm. 

“The sheriff wanted to shoot him after he killed Two Moons.” 

John shook his head. “No…No…He…He saved my life…That’s not fair. Blue Eagle, tell me he’s not dead.” 

The older man smiled. “He is not dead John…I told the sheriff that he disappeared the night you were hurt and that is so.” 

“He’s out there somewhere? But they’ll track him down…They’ll find him,” Johnny said in alarm.

 “Don’t worry Dances with Fire, They will never find him.” 

John kicked at the ice with his foot looking sorrowful. “I’m so sorry Blue Eagle. I know he meant a lot to you.” 

“I have several of his colts John…His bloodline will go on here…I promise.” John turned away sadly and walked back toward the trading post. A slow smile spread across Blue Eagle’s craggy features.

 

 They were packed and ready to head for the airport. Danella kissed her parents goodbye, hugging them tightly. “We will come to LA when the babies are due,” Sena promised her, kissing her daughter one final time and wiping the tears from her child’s eyes. “You will have a wonderful life with John…He loves you more than his own life and that is a rare gift and it’s to be treasured." 

Danella nodded. “I know and I do but I will still miss you and father,” she said as Joseph gathered both of them into his arms. “And we will miss you but we know you are with good and caring people who will look after you,” Joseph said.

 She nodded as Johnny came over and took her hand. “Mother…Father. I’ll take good care of her,” he promised them both.

They nodded and Joseph embraced him warmly. “Take care of yourself as well my son.” John nodded as Sena wrapped him in her arms. “We love you John…You remember that.” John’s eyes burned for a moment but he managed to blink the tears away and smile.

“Come on baby,” he said as he led Dani toward the van where Joanne, Roy and the children waited. 

Janessa stood with Marco, eyes downcast. Tears trickled down her cheeks as he held her hands in his. “Nessa…I…I know this a lousy time to say this but I don’t want to leave and have you wondering about where we stand ya know?” He said softly. 

She looked up at him…Her chocolate brown eyes glistening as she waited for him to tell her he was through with her…That she’d only been a passing interest, after all he’d made no promises and hadn’t done anything untoward. She had no right to expect anything.

“It’s alright Marco…I understand,” she said softly. 

He gazed down into her eyes that looked so sad. “Chica…,” he said as he brushed the tears away. “I don’t think you do. I know we’re gonna be a huge distance apart but…Well it worked for Johnny and Dani.” She looked up at him hopefully. “I love you Nessa…I want you to be my wife one day…I…,” His words were cut off as she threw her arms around him joyfully and kissed him.

“Oh Marco…Do you mean it?” He nodded and hugged her against him.

“Does that mean you’d agree?” He teased.

She nodded her head and kissed him hard. “Then we’ll find a way to work it out just like they did,’ he said softly. “I’ll get you to LA in a month or two to visit…I mean you want to be sure you’ll like it right?”  

“I’ll love it as long as you are there.” 

Chet heaved a sigh as he stood watching the pair. “Another one bites the dust,” he muttered in a mixture of disgust and envy. 

“That attitude will never get me to move to LA,” a soft voice said from beside him. Chet looked down into green eyes that stared up at him sadly.

“Erin…I didn’t know you were coming out here today.” 

“Well I couldn’t let you leave without saying goodbye now could I Chet Kelly?” 

He shook his curly head. “I’ll miss you Erin,” he said, planting a light kiss on her lips.  

“I’ll miss you too…I’m not sure why,” she teased. 

Chet grinned. “Maybe you could come out to LA with Janessa…You know…Like a chaperone.” 

“Is that a suggestion or a bona fide offer?” She asked. 

“That’s an offer,” he replied as she stood on tiptoe to kiss his lips. Chet wrapped her in his arms. Man she felt good…Maybe this getting married thing wasn’t such a bad idea after all. 

The vans were finally loaded and the group set off waving their final goodbyes as they rounded a curve and lost sight of the people they were leaving behind. 

“Well…except for your getting hurt you two…That was the best Christmas I think I’ve ever had.”

“I have to agree,” Kel added smiling into Dixie’s eyes.

 “Me too,” Marco said looking a touch sad. 

“What’s wrong Marco?” Johnny asked. “You don’t look like it was a great Christmas.” 

“I fell in love amigo and I had to leave her behind. I guess I know how you felt now.”

“Does she feel the same way?” Danella asked. 

Marco nodded. “We want to get married.” 

“Marc…Man that’s great,” John said excitedly. 

He nodded… “She’s coming to LA in a couple of months.”

 Roy chuckled and looked at Kel. “Seems I’ve had this conversation before,” he teased. 

Kel laughed. “Ah yes…I remember it well.” They all laughed as they drove on. 


 They landed in LA four hours later. The weather was cool and brisk for a January afternoon and Roy loaded Danella and Johnny’s things into Joanne’s station wagon for the return trip to John’s ranch.

They drove along and Johnny pointed out some of the sights along the way.  They drove out of the city and Danella took it all in, looking excited that they were now in an area that reminded her a bit more of home than the hustle and bustle of downtown LA. 

She gasped in surprise as Roy turned into the driveway of a sprawling ranch. She looked at her husband in surprise. “This is ours?” She questioned warily. 

Johnny grinned and nodded. “Yup…I bought it a couple of years ago…” 

“Right out from under me,” Roy said giving John a scowl.

John giggled. “The one up the streets available Roy…,” he hinted. 

Jo grinned as Roy shot her a questioning look. “Well if you don’t like the neighborhood…Bring one with you,” she teased.  

Roy grinned. “Maybe I’ll look into that Junior,” he said. Chris and Jen exchanged joyful looks at the idea of being that close to Uncle Johnny and Aunt Dani. They climbed out and wandered up the walkway. John unlocked the door and they all went inside.

“It still needs some work,” he explained to his new bride as she glanced around. “I wasn’t expecting you to be living in it so soon. I thought I had a few more months to fix it up.” 

“It’s beautiful ná’méhόt,” she said softly as she turned into his arms…He bent down to kiss her softly, hoping that his arm was up to supporting his weight. He had every intention of christening their marriage bed properly tonight. She grinned up at him knowingly.  

Roy and Joanne continued out to the back porch with the children. “Uncle Johnny…Come quick,” Jen called excitedly. John groaned in frustration as he broke the kiss and stepped away.

“Duty calls,” he teased as he led her through the house and out the back door. “What is it princess?” He asked squatting down to her level.

 “Look,” she said pointing out toward the pasture.  John suddenly remembered the horses Blue Eagle had sent. They must have arrived. He stood up and looked out. Yes there they were…All four of them. Wait…Four? There were only supposed to be three. John stepped to the rail and looked out. His jaw dropped in amazement and he let out a piercing whistle. All four heads lifted to look toward the sound but one broke away and trotted toward them.

 Roy and Joanne shared a look of shocked surprise as well and then smiles broke out all around as Rain’s Fire snorted and tossed his. John leaped down the stairs and ran to the fence. The horse put his head down to sniff at him cautiously for a moment before letting John throw his arms around his neck. “God you’re beautiful,” he whispered as he stroked the proudly arched neck. The horse nuzzled him gently. 

Danella leaned toward Roy. “He has the same effect on me,’ she teased.

Roy burst out laughing as she unknowingly echoed her father’s words a couple of weeks ago. 

John returned to the porch with tears in his eyes. “This is a brand new start…A new life…A new beginning...It’s gonna be great.” 

Roy hugged him to him. “We’ll let you two get settled John but don’t forget dinner tonight.” 

“We’ll be there,” he promised as he walked them to the door. They watched from their porch as the DeSoto’s drove away. 

John slid his arms around his wife’s growing belly. “We’ve got a couple of hours Mrs. Gage,” he whispered. His breath warm against her ear. 

“Did you have something in mind?” She teased.  John grinned and tugged her toward the house.

“I forgot to show you the house’s best feature.”

“What’s that?” She asked coyly. John waggled his eyebrow.

“The master bedroom,” he replied.  

“Lead on my love.”

     

Epilogue 

Two weeks later Johnny and Danella lay sleeping in their bed. John had waited anxiously for his clearance to full duty and was looking forward to returning to station 51 that morning.

Danella was pressed against his back enjoying his warmth on such a cool January morning.  John felt a sharp jab and his eyes fluttered open. “Quit Danella,” he grouched tiredly. “I gotta work today…Quit poking me.” 

Danella’s giggle broke the quiet. “That wasn’t me my love, that was one of your sons,” she teased. 

John sat up quickly and looked down at her. “For real…?” He questioned with a grin. She nodded and placed his hand on her belly to feel the first stirrings of their unborn children. John’s eyes flooded with tears. “I love you Mrs. Gage,” he said softly as he pressed her back against the pillows.

 

Janessa and Erin flew to LA two months later. Erin found a job and an apartment while Janessa and Marco began to plan a future together. Their wedding would take place in June. The crew was ecstatic.


Erin soon had Chet wound tightly around her finger and they guessed that it wouldn’t be to long before Chet Kelly succumbed to her charms and joined the ranks of the fallen bachelors at station 51.

 Danella finished her classes in April about the same time as Cloud Dancing dropped her foal. John helped her bring it into the world and stood watching as the small filly took her first steps.

 Danella’s belly cleared the way as she came up beside him. “Oh Johnny, she’s beautiful,” she breathed.

 “Fire Cloud,” John said as he watched the foal nurse.

“That’s a good name,” she said leaning against him. He slid his arm around her and rested his hand on her stomach, feeling his own children rolling about and grinning down into his wife’s amber eyes.  

“Soon my love…Just a few more weeks…” He nodded and they headed inside. 

 

Two weeks later Johnny and Roy were mopping the apparatus bay when the phone rang.

“John…,” Cap yelled. “Telephone…Hurry I think it’s Danella.” 

John’s eyes widened at the worried sound of Hank’s voice. He dropped the mop and ran for the phone. His crewmates gathered around, looking just as worried. “Danella..?” He questioned.

 “Ná’méhόt,” she gasped. “I think you need to come home…Now…” 

“But…It’s too early,” he breathed out fearfully. “Are you sure?”


“YES…”  She screamed into the phone.

“Okay baby…I’m on my way…Just hold on Dani.” He turned to his Captain and his friends…There was fear in his eyes. “I gotta go Cap…It’s too soon,” he whispered.

“Come on John,” Roy said gripping his frightened partner’s arm and steering him toward the squad. “I’ll get you over there and we’ll call for the ambulance to meet us okay?” 

John nodded and let Roy push him inside the cab. They pulled out with sirens blaring as Cap called in the still alarm from the engine as it rolled out behind them. They arrived a few minutes later to find Danella doubled over in pain and panting for breath.

The ambulance arrived only seconds behind them. “Danella,” John gasped as he sat down beside her and pulled into his arms. “Okay baby,” he said softly. “We’re gonna get you on that stretcher and into the hospital,” he assured her as Roy set up the Biophone.

 “Rampart base this is county 51 how do you read me?” 

“Go ahead 51,” Dr. Brackett’s voice came back. 

“Rampart base I have a woman in premature labor…Patient is prima gravida and expecting twins.” 

There was a long silence on the other end. “Is this Danella we’re discussing?” Brackett asked warily. 

“That’s affirmative Rampart,” Roy replied, glancing at his usually unflappable partner. “Gage…Get a grip and get me a BP and pulse,” he barked. 

John jumped but his frightened eyes finally seemed to focus. “Yeah…Yeah,” he muttered as he grabbed the BP cuff. He smiled reassuringly at Dani as he took her blood pressure and pulse. “BP is 130/80, pulse is 80, respirations…rapid. She is in labor,” he assured Roy as he helped his wife onto the stretcher.” 

Roy repeated the signs to Rampart. “10-4 51…Bring her on in…We have a couple of little Gage’s on the way,” Kel said sounding pleased.

 “But it’s too early,” John whispered.

 “Come on Junior…You know twins don’t always carry to term.” John nodded but his face was pale with fear. "We’re gonna ride in with her Cap…Can Chet bring in the squad?”

 “You got it Roy…We’ll be right behind you.” 

Roy nodded as the doors closed and the ambulance pulled away.  Danella moaned in pain as another contraction gripped her. “How close are they honey?” Roy asked gently.  

“About every ten minutes now,” she gasped.  

John smoothed the raven hair from her sweat soaked brow. “We’re almost there…Hold on Dani…We’re almost there baby.” 

The ambulance backed in and they quickly unloaded the stretcher and whisked the girl into emergency. Johnny followed with Roy in tow but Dixie stopped both of them at the door with a grin. “You two wait out here.” 

“But Dix,” John began to protest but the blonde wagged her finger under his nose.

 

“Don’t argue with me Johnny…You’re too close to the patient and Kel will be out to let you know as soon as he’s done.” She closed the door in his face.

John looked about to faint and Roy grabbed his arm and pulled him to the chairs in the waiting room. “Sit,” he commanded.

 John sank obediently into a chair. Dark, frightened eyes lifted to Roy’s. “It’s too soon…Something’s wrong Roy…It’s too soon.”

“She’ll be fine junior…She strong and she’s got Brackett and Dixie and Joe Early,” he added as the gray haired doctor trotted down the hall to disappear into the room with the others. He pulled John against him for a moment in a reassuring hug.

 The sound of running footsteps jerked both of their heads up. “Jo…,” Roy said in surprise as his wife joined them. 

“Dispatch called the house. They said Hank told them to call me and tell me to get down here…How is she?” 

“She’s in labor Jo…It’s too soon,” John said forlornly. 

“Now you listen to me John…It’s a little early but not that early okay…You know that better than anyone.” He nodded and she reached over to pull him into her arms. She kissed the top of his head and rubbed his back. “She’ll be fine and so will those babies.” 

He sat back and gave her a wan smile. “Okay Jo,” he agreed softly but his dark eyes turned toward the treatment room door.

Dixie finally stepped out and scanned the corridor. She spotted Johnny and he stood up anxiously. She waved him over. “Come on in Mr. Gage.”  

John ran to the door and slipped inside. Danella’s knee’s were bent and a cry of pain slipped from her lips as she pressed down with all her might. “Push Dani…Here it comes.” 

John’s eyes widened as he moved to his wife’s side. “I’m here baby…I’m here,” he said reassuringly. 

“Yes…And so is your son,” she gasped through gritted teeth. John took the wet cloth from Dixie and gently blotted his wife’s perspiring face. She smiled briefly but another wave of pain gripped her and she pressed down once again.

“Got him,” Kel called as he lifted the first infant and quickly cleared its airway…The wail of John’s first born filled the room. “It’s a boy,” he announced.

John’s eyes closed briefly…Danella had been right. Tears rolled down his cheeks. In the hallway six faces broke into grins. Roy hugged Joanne tightly and tears welled in both sets of blue eyes.  

Inside the room a nurse quickly set the tiny boy in an incubator and began to clean him up as the others turned back to Danella…She gasped and squeezed John’s hand tightly as the pressure began to build once more. “It’s coming,” she whispered tiredly. 

Kel nodded. “Come on honey…You can do this,” he said encouragingly. Danella cried out as she pressed down once more. John held her tightly, helping her sit up to relieve some of the cramping.

She panted for breath before the next wave swept through her. “I love you,” Johnny said against her forehead. “I’m so sorry you have to bear this.” 

“I’m not,” she gasped. She clenched her teeth and pushed once more… Kel smiled as he lifted the second infant in the air and once again cleared the airway. The soft cry of John’s daughter filled the room.

“It’s a girl,” he said gently as John brushed at the tears that rolled down his handsome face.  He held Danella to him tenderly. “I love you…Thank you baby,’ he whispered. 

“Okay daddy,” Kel teased. “Why don’t you step into the hall while we get this all cleaned up cuz I think there's an aunt and a pile of Uncle’s out there waiting to see these little ones.” John nodded and stepped out in the hall. A smile cracked his face, despite the tears.

“Well?” Roy asked eagerly. 

“A boy and a girl,” John gasped out as he was engulfed by hugs from his crewmates and a kiss from Joanne. “He said you can see them for a minute once they’re cleaned up.”

 “How much did they weigh?” Mike asked. 

John shook his head, “I don’t know yet…They’re still working on them.” The others nodded.

The door opened a moment later and Dixie stepped into the hall with a blue blanket wrapped bundle. She handed him into John’s well practiced hold. “There you go…5 pounds two ounces and sixteen inches,” she said softly, her blue eyes shining with tears. She never thought she’d see the day when she’d hold John Gage’s child in her arms. 

“Thanks Dix,” he said as he turned to Roy and Jo first. “Guys…I want you to meet your nephew,” he said, gazing down into the face of his son.

“So which way did you go junior?” Roy asked. Roderick or Joseph…?” 

John smiled. “Neither…It’s Roy Joseph Gage.” 

Roy’s mouth dropped open in shock. “But you said it was tradition to name him after your…” Roy stopped as John smiled at him. 

“It is,” he said softly as he handed Roy the infant. 

Dix came out again and handed him a pink wrapped bundle. “4 pounds 15 ounces and fifteen inches,” she told him.

John took a deep breath as he took his daughter from her.  He kissed the tiny forehead tenderly before he turned to Joanne as he handed her the baby. “Kathleen Joanne Gage,” meet your Auntie Jo,’ he said as he played with his daughters tiny fingers. 

“Oh Johnny,” she whispered as she gazed down at the infant. “Oh she’s beautiful.” 

The others gathered around looking at the babies in awe.

“God Gage…You and Danella do some pretty good work,” Hank said with a hitch to his voice.

 “Their beautiful John,” Mike said patting his young friend on the back.  

Marco and Chet wiped their eyes. “Think that’ll ever be us…?” Marco asked his friend. Chet grinned but he didn’t answer.  

The nurses came out a moment later. “Time for these two to go to the nursery,” they said as they took the babies. “You can go in and see your wife now Johnny,” one of the nurses said.  This young couple had been through so much and they’d all been rooting for them and here they were…Married two babies and their whole lives ahead of them. Who could ask for more? 

John slipped into the room and took Danella’s hand. She smiled up at him happily. “Are you happy my love?” she asked tiredly.

 “More than words can say,” he assured her. 

“Did Roy and Joanne like the surprise?" 

“We loved it,” they said from the doorway. 

John turned. “Come on in,” he invited.  They came to Danella’s side.

“Congratulations Danella,” Roy said, pressing a kiss on the girl’s forehead.  “And thank you,” Joanne said following suit. “That meant the world to us.” 

“You mean the world to us…Both of us. We’re a family and we always will be.” Roy pulled John into his arms and held him for a long moment. The younger man stepped back and looked into the blue eyes of the man that had been there for him for the last seven years and would continue to be for the rest of his life no matter what came…John knew it in his heart. 

He pulled the couple into his arms and hugged them warmly. “Thank you…Thank you both…For everything…” He whispered. 

“We love you and we always will,” Roy assured him softly. 

“Then I have it all don’t I?” He said with a smile as he turned back to his wife.

 

The End

 

Now you all know that this is not the end but that’s down the road. I need to get with Marco and Janessa...Kel and Dixie. I hope you enjoyed this one but there will be more to come for Johnny and Danella, just not right away. Thanks for your support…Ah well back to some young Johnny stories.  Tammy

* Images of Danella are the very beautiful Native American Model Brenda Shad

Published to Site 03/30/11                                            Links to Part 1. 2. 3.

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The Characters of Emergency do not belong to me. They are the property of Universal Studios and Mark VII Limited. No copyright infringement is intended or monetary gain made. I merely like to toy with them and return them to their proper owner in good working order.

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