Flipping through the channels, she stops on an old movie. She smiles slightly, and settles on the couch, her boiling hot, nasty tasting, freeze dried coffee held carefully between her hands. She sips it cautiously as she feels a yawn coming, watching WhileYou Were Sleeping. She laughs at the cute moments, and carefully keeps track of the time. Every one hour or so, as the commercials ran, she gets up with a groan, and throws off the blankets, to enter the adjacent room. She carefully shakes the sleeping figure, and asks him three simple questions.

"What's your name?"

"How old are you?"

"Who am I?"

When answered to her satisfaction, she kisses his forehead lightly, and trudges back to the other room to continue her nighttime vigil. As she feels her head bob in drowsiness, her coffee becomes more and more concentrated.

Laughing, she turned and sped past him with a smile, sticking her tongue out before settling into her nice long turn. Gliding on last seasons ski designs, she still felt comfortable, her whole weight balanced on the razor thin sharp edge of the ski. Racing past the clueless New Zealanders locals and the random college students that populated the ski area over summer, she grinned, passing them a little closer than was necessary. She paused, and turned hard, stopping near the bright orange fence that meant the same thing on both hemispheres; a ski race course.

Smiling as he caught up to her, she looked out onto the course, set for GS, Giant Slalom. The turns were a little tight, and as she looked down the hill, had to smother a giggle. With a scrawny-ass little hill like this, it was no wonder they needed to squish the gates together a little. As soon as she watched the first racer ski down, however, the giggles just burst out. She coughed, but began full out laughing as he joined in. She quickly cleared her throat and asked, with only the faintest hint of a giggle, "I wonder what league this is?"

One of the course workers overheard, and said, "Oh, this is the Queenstown Cup. The best 13-18 year olds are racing from the Remarks, Coronet and Hood."

"Oh, wow," she said, properly reverent. Pausing just a moment longer, she gestured, and they finished the run. As they sat on the chair lift, they both glanced at each other and burst out laughing.

"This is their best?" she said between the chuckles.

"And they've been skiing for at least a month or so…"

"It's so pathetic," they said in unison, then began laughing again.

"I mean, did you see how HIGH they were?"

"And the knoll, god, can we say out of balance?"

"And what is with that gate-ski distance?"

"Haha, and it's like… TIMMY could beat 'em and he's a freestyler."

"Well, with this kind of hill…"

"We do have massive hard skiing… makes you a better skier…"

The laughing, the mocking continued until they got off the lift. Were they being snobs? Oh, most definitely. But come on… They came from Squaw. They were better than 90 of the skiers at Squaw and at least 99 of the skiers here… They had a right to laugh. So laugh they did.

Especially when one of the faux-ski patrollers tried to slow them down when they were making their perfect GS turns. Sure, it was their first day back on skis since the end of the Squaw season 3 months ago, but the skis were sharp, and felt perfect, and that Coronet Peak hill was too damned short to do anything else but speed down with proper GS length turns. It was rather amusing that the ski patroller not only could not catch up to them, but said they should ski in control… They were in more control than the NZ ski racers.

They blazed past, and she made sure he was ahead of her. After all, she was a better skier, and would be able to help him if he fell down. And she hadn't had a fall in over 3 years, whereas he was still at the 1-year mark.

She leaned forward to absorb the hill as it fell away, curving to the right, and noted, 'Hm, snow's getting a little soft. Should probably pull the speed back a lil… Nah, next run.' Even as she made this decision though, she pulled back a little, and didn't drive her ski at the 100 she had been just a moment before. And in that split second, as she continued to watch him and her own path, she saw his ski twitch. At the same instant both of them had the same thought.

'Oh SHIT.'

She slammed on her brakes, which basically meant loading her ski for all it was worth, pushing her body into stopping, stopping, stopping, before she passed him. She knew she should focus on herself, but she never had to before, and she trusted her skis completely, and they glowed and validated her trust in them by working perfectly. She focused instead on him, and though it only lasted a few seconds, maybe less, she saw everything in perfect slow motion.

His ski twitched. The right inside edge twitched ever so slightly as he turned to the right. It caught, and he lurched forward, his ski stopping, his body not. And when you're going at 40 mi/hr, you have a lot of momentum. His momentum propelled him forward, and she watched in silent agony as the tip of his ski bent under the weight. The bindings were designed to release under that kind of torque, but 'cause of their speeds, their bindings were set so very, very tight… Her heart caught in her throat in that long moment as she prayed for the binding to release, prayed to all the Gods of Snow, Skiing, whatever the hell would help, prayed that he wouldn't tear his MCL, his ACL, blow his knee in a blinding flash of pain that would, at the very least, leave him immobile for a month or so. The ski bent more, more, more, she could almost see the tip ready to snap off… And his binding released. She let out a breath she hadn't known she had held, and almost relaxed. Then she saw him lurch forward, and her cry was caught in her throat.

She wasn't yet stopped, not even close when she saw his body curve and rotate in the air, and then land on his head. Her eyes suddenly began blurring as she saw him bounce up into the air, to fall again, on his head… The momentum lifted him up once more, this time only a few feet off the ground, and he landed on his shoulder. She didn't see him move. She bit back a sob, and gritted her teeth, before looking down at him… In his tumbles he had covered over 50 yards, and the hill wasn't even that steep… Which might have made it all the worse, as now all that solid impact was to his head, and not glancing.

They had a method, if one of them fell, that the person would wave their hand within 5-10 seconds, and if they didn't, the other would go for the ski patrollers immediately for a snow mobile. She watched him carefully. He didn't wave. He didn't wave, he didn't move, his damned leg didn't even twitch.

Her eyes watered and she automatically tried to brush them away, forgetting her goggles and her gloves were in the way. She shook her head, and took a deep steadying breath before she called down to him. "Are you okay?" She couldn't keep her voice from breaking as she stifled a sob.

And then, as she unconsciously leaned forward in anticipation, he waved. And she sagged against her poles, and let her head hang. She didn't even care as her tears pooled in her goggles, and just took them off with her helmet, and shook her long hair as she took many deep breaths, allowing the cool and biting air to relax her, as only it could. With that she put her helmet back on, and slid down to pick up his fallen skis and poles. She slung them over her shoulder, and slid down to him, unbalanced because of the new weight, but countering it properly. She handed his skis and poles to him in silence, watching his face for his reaction.

"Can we just stand here for a while?" he said after a minute or two.

"Maybe just there? If you can make it?" she said, gesturing off the slope, near the racecourse's fencing. He nodded slightly, and winced, then tried to hide the wince, but she saw it.

He walked carefully over to the fence, and she carefully skied her way there with his skis and poles. He leaned on the fence, and they pretended to watch the race. He had a thousand-yard stare, and was focusing on something only he could see. She was still worried about him, of course, but only snuck glances out of the corner of her eye. The man she knew wouldn't want to worry her, and he might even do something like rush getting down before his was ready if he thought it would make her feel better. It could have been 5 minutes that they spent watching the race; it could just as easily have been 10 years.

Finally, he looked her straight in the eyes, and said, "I don't know how to get down from here."

She looked at him for a moment, and said hesitantly, "Go straight down this path. About… 100 meters or so from now, it splits, and one side forks right, but keep going straight. We went right the first run, and it was moguls… Easy enough, but the other side is easier and that might be better now. Anyway, after the split, go for maybe… 400 meters more, then join another slope. The slope goes downhill to the right. At the base of that hill is the resort."

He was about to go, and she said, "Snowplow. And I'll be behind you. Watch out, the snow is soft and sticky."

He nodded, and went slowly down. She followed him the entire way, going at a speed 1/50th their previous speed. The agonizing slowness burned her quads as she kept them tense in the snowplow, as opposed to the on/off of the GS turn. Eventually, they got down to the main unit of the resort.

They picked up their skis, and put them by, and they both sat down at a table, and she got some water for them both. He took off his helmet and sat down without his usual energy. As she searched this unfamiliar building, she bitterly wished she was at Squaw… She could have gotten water in 5 seconds flat, as she knew all the shortcuts. And all their friends would be there to help… Johnny, Brad, Betty, Timmy, even Jake if it was an emergency. But she just sighed and asked for the water.

She walked back to him, rushing in her tight ski boots the way only someone who lived in them could, without the awkward tourist shuffle, as she gave him his water. Her eyes were still worried, her heart still pounding, but less than at first. Until he absently placed his hand on his helmet, and frowned slightly. Turning the helmet to see the back, the beautiful blue surface was marred by a gigantic fracture. Lightly pressing his fingers into it, he could see there was no more resistance, and the whole back folded in as if it were paper. He looked at her, and she looked back, and she immediately found out where the New Zealander equivalent of a ski patroller shack was. Finding it, she watched as he walked down the stairs, and into the room. When she saw that the doctor was checking him, she slipped out, and carried their skis down. Her skis were heavy enough, but now that the adrenaline was out of her system, she realized how heavy his skis really were, and she almost dropped them twice.

The doctor had finished by the time she was done, and gave her some brief instructions on what to do. This night would be the hardest, the doctor said.

"Someone will need to wake him up every hour tonight to make sure there isn't any internal bleeding, or anything. Just ask him some simple questions that he should know automatically, and then let him go back to sleep again. After that, if you feel queasy or anything, just check with a doctor, and don't do any active sports like rugby for the next three weeks. And no alcohol tonight."

He looked at her for a moment, and she nodded almost imperceptibly as she accepted responsibility for looking after him that night.

It was only 11 in the morning, and they took the long bus ride back to Queenstown, the tourist city that was the closest a tourist could get to the hills and get a hotel room. The whole ride down was in silence, when the ride up had been in almost constant chatter.

That very day, they rescheduled and got a flight home to the US for the next day… If they needed any MRIs done, it would be best to do them in a 1st world country, and not a 3rd world one… On the walk back from the Air New Zealand office, they stopped by the grocery store, and picked up the smallest container of coffee they could find, and a bunch of chocolates. They rested at home for a little while, and she finally asked him how he felt.

His answer caused her already tight stomach to tighten even more, and it was only her years of practice that prevented her from bawling right there.

He had blacked out. He had woken up on the cold snow, and saw a strange and unfamiliar place, and heard a strange and unfamiliar girl ask if he was okay. He had just waved instinctively, he said, and he had not known who she was, and yet, as he waved, he knew he should know her. And he knew she would take care of him. And he knew he should be taking care of her. He knew he was on snow, he knew he was on a mountain; he knew it was not Squaw Valley. This he knew instantly. Over the next few minutes, parts of his memory came back in random bursts. From his wife's name, to the ski area's name, then finally her name.

And he told her that he really did not know the hill. He thanked her for the accurate map that she had given him, and she thought a silent prayer to whoever had seemed to listen to her before thanking the Being that she had remembered to tell him everything. And that she had been right.

In a sudden burst of vulnerability, she hugged him tightly, and she blinked her eyes rapidly to avoid crying in front of him. He hugged her back, and told her that everything would be all right. As usual, she didn't believe him, but with all her heart, she wanted to.

That evening, they walked around the 1 or 2 blocks within which all of Queenstown was contained, doing some shopping for some gifts she wanted for her best friend back home. They stopped by an Irish Pub/Restaurant that served that awesome lamb stew they remembered from their last visit.

"Great, the one time to have a really good Guinness, and I can't drink," he said lightly, trying to make her relax. She may not have said anything, but he knew she was worried. The smile she cracked looked as forced as it was, and he didn't joke about the fall the rest of the night. After a nice walk by the river that ran through Queenstown, they looked at the ducks as they swam to and fro to get to their nice sleeping spots. They both kept relatively silent, watching as the small town, not even town, village stirred with all the après-ski crowds of tourists, shopping for souvenirs, chattering, having a grand old time.

And they walked slowly to the flat they rented, and went inside. She made her coffee as she stifled the first yawns of the evening, and waved off his idea to 'just sleep the night, nothing will happen.' They both changed into their nightclothes, and she kept her pullout bed inside the sofa, determined to make it as uncomfortable as possible so as to avoid sleep. She quickly gulped down one huge cup of coffee, and mixed another cup to hold and sip throughout the night.

Flipping through the channels, she stops on an old movie. She smiles slightly, and settles on the couch, her boiling hot, nasty tasting, freeze dried coffee held carefully between her hands. She sips it cautiously as she feels a yawn coming, watching While You Were Sleeping. She laughs at the cute moments, and carefully keeps track of the time. Every one hour or so, as the commercials ran, she gets up with a groan, and throws off the blankets, to enter the adjacent room. She carefully shakes the sleeping figure, and asks him three simple questions.

"What's your name?"

"How old are you?"

"Who am I?"

When answered to her satisfaction, she kisses his forehead lightly, and trudges back to the other room to continue her nighttime vigil. As she feels her head bob in drowsiness, her coffee becomes more and more concentrated.

She absently watched some New Zealander music video show, watched the green glow of the oven clock go from 1 to 2 to 3 to 4 to 5.

And then the sun was up. And he had made it. And she was exhausted. And their flight was in 2 hours.

After reaffirming his newly awakened status, she collapsed in a heap of blankets onto the sofa, and slept for 1 and a half of those hours. He gently shook her awake, and she jumped into the shower, scalding herself awake. She quickly got ready, too tired to notice the dark, dark circles under her eyes. She lugged her laptop, and everything, which was already perfectly packed. She had had time to kill the previous longest-night-in-the-history-of-the-world, and had decided to make herself useful. Or maybe the coffee had just made her jittery. Regardless, she had little to pack, but did so. And then the taxi came, and took them to the airport, where she carried more than her share of bags, for all her exhaustion, despite his protests. Even dead tired, she could walk faster than him; she was a runner after all, and just rushed past his attempts to grab her heavier bags. She slept for the 14 trip back from Auckland airport to LAX, but it was a restless sleep, and she tossed and turned in her normally adequate airplane seat.

But, it was not until they reached home, and her mom picked them up, hugging them both tightly, that she relaxed. They were home. They had good doctors. She was no longer responsible for taking care of him.

She stumbled into her room, having left all her bags in the car, and collapsed onto her bed, and slept for another 6 hours.

It was only then, at 3 pm that she cried in front of him. She cried, and hugged him, and it was then that he finally realized how worried she had been. He hugged her tightly, but didn't reassure her that he would always be okay.

He simply told her that when he died, whether it be tomorrow or ten years from now, she wasn't to worry. And if she did, he'd come back to kick the crap out of her. Stealing her common phrase, he said the only thing he felt he could say. And the only thing they both knew would reassure her that he was himself.