Nettie Wells slowed her pace as she saw the group of men she had been searching for. Orrin and Ellie Travis hosted a picnic every Mother's Day for the children in care that had no mothers of their own to share the day with. Nettie was one of the volunteer 'moms' for the day; Rain, Casey and Mary had also volunteered to take part, as had the majority of the female staff of Denver's ATF. Not willing to be left out, the male agents also volunteered, and, with all the law enforcement personnel present, the party had a reputation for being one of the safest and most fun occasions in the children's sparse social calendar.
Held in the grounds and gardens of Congressman Trent Walters, one of AD Travis' college roommates, the party - as always - was full of the boisterous laughter of the adults, the infectious joy of the children and the myriad aromas of barbecue grills warring with the scents from candy floss and popcorn.
Normally the most rambunctious group apart from the children was the fun loving Team Seven; this year, that special brand of 'grown-up-ness mixed with fun' - and that was a direct quote from one of the regular child attendees - was noticeably absent. She'd approached Orrin Travis to find out where the team was and what was wrong. Making sure that he was out of earshot of all the children nearest him, he had heaved a deep sigh and told her.
Having made her way to the quiet gazebo at the foot of the Congressman's back garden, Nettie had found her boys and her heart wept at the sight the presented. They sat with their backs leaning against the wall, legs extended out, with heads tilted back, faces up to the sky and eyes shut. Chris was in the centre, Vin and Ezra flanking him; Buck sat with an arm wrapped around Ezra, Vin did the same for JD, and Nathan and Josiah sat guard on either side of their brothers.
The sorrow on the faces tilted to the sky was almost palpable, the stillness with which they held their silent vigil almost surreal in its nature. This was a team that was noted for its inability - unless poised for action in a countdown to a raid - to sit still and be silent. They were notorious both in the office and in the field for their exuberance... in fact, that exuberance had become a touchstone for much of the local ATF staff. As long as Team Seven were 'bouncy' then things were all right.
Things were not all right.
They'd finished their last assignment the day before and things - thanks to the FBI jumping the gun - had gone so badly and tragically wrong. The guns and drugs were off the street, the dealers arrested. This should make everybody happy. The raid on the head gun-runner's house - that would have gone ahead without a shot fired - had been bungled. It had turned into a firestorm of bullets from either side and Team Seven had been unable to prevent it; just like they'd been unable to prevent one blonde-haired, blue-eyed little girl from running into the line of fire to rush to her papa's side when she'd seen him fall to the ground. Her nanny had tried to hold her and had failed, Vin had dove headlong into the middle of the gunfire in an effort to get her to safety... he'd been inches too late and one unfortunate bullet had been just too fast.
The poor thing had been hit in the chest, her blood flying freely to splatter against a shocked and shaken Vin Tanner's face. It had taken the back up team and several members of the DPD to keep Team Seven from tearing the FBI liaison team limb from limb.
The grief, sorrow and self-recrimination on their faces were testimony to their depth of feeling. An innocent being killed was bad enough, an innocent child rubbed at an already gaping wound on their souls.
"Boys," said Nettie softly.
Seven sets of eyes snapped open to meet her gaze, silently pleading for a miracle that would never come.
"It was not your fault, boys. You know that."
"No, JD," said Nettie with a sad smile of her own. "No, ifs, buts or maybes. If it had been at all possible to stop it from happening you would have found a way."
"Then why did she have to die?" demanded an anguished Vin Tanner.
"I don't know, honey. Really, I don't. I'd like to believe that the Lord felt that he needed another angel and took her spirit home to him."
Sad grins met that statement. Would that she were right.
"I've come to fetch you boys back to the party. Ezra's in demand for his magic tricks, JD and Vin are needed for a video game tournament, the girls are asking about Uncles Josiah and Nathan and their clown act... and one little boy - can't have been more than seven - wants to know if Mr. Chris and Mr. Buck are, and I quote 'gonna tell more cows-boys stories about gum-slingers and cwooks'."
Some half-hearted chuckles met that recitation. Nettie smiled and said, "You'll mourn, I'd expect no less from such a group of caring souls as yourself. For now, though, you need to come be with your friends and the children.
"One spark of joy has been called to heaven, there's a whole bushel of sparks still waiting to be fanned and inspired. Put your party faces on and come play where you're needed, where you're loved."
Speaking for his team, Chris Larabee said, "Yes, ma'am. We'll be there in ten."
Once Nettie had gone, Team Seven pulled each other to their feet. Hands lingered on arms, connecting them in a circle of peace and remembrance. Josiah sighed and said, "We'll remember Lynn always. We'll honour her memory by being there for the kids here, and all the others we encounter in our lives, and on the job."
Seven pairs of eyes blurred momentarily with the held-back tears that sealed that vow.