Disclaimer: Not mine, never were, never will be.
Note: I know nothing about Alaska so apologise here and now for any mistakes - of which there will be many. Thanks to Kerry for the very speedy beta work.
"Tell me again why we are here?" Ezra griped, he was stamping his feet and with his arms wrapping around himself he tried to beat some heat into his body.
"'T see the dawn," Vin replied, with the bored tone of someone who had answered the question a dozen times before.
"Ya didn't have t' come, no one forced you," Buck pointed out as he gazed out over the city toward the paling sky. "It ain't like it's early, it's nearly ten."
"But it's cold," Ezra griped again.
"What did you expect at dawn in fucking Alaska," Buck reminded him.
Standish didn't respond he just scowled at his two companions and then turned to greet the sun.
The three of them had just finished an assignment. The Russian Mafia was attempting to set up a route into America across the Baring Straits for illegal explosives and arms, and, as it turned out, weapons grade plutonium. In recognition of their services, the Alaskan authorities had paid the three agent's hotel bill for an additional four days - it being Friday, a free holiday. Not that a long weekend in Alaska was Ezra's idea of a holiday. Buck and Vin were in their element, and had instantly started planning to ski the fine powder snow, go dog -sledding and skidoo excursions into the winter wilderness.
Dawn at ten was the only civilised thing about Alaska as far at Standish was concerned. Though how he came to be on a very cold, windy, high rise rooftop to view it, he wasn't sure. The amount he had to drink the night before was at least partly to blame. As the first rays appeared through the dawn haze over the distant sea he forgot his complaints.
"Come on children we almost missed it," came a female voice through the near silence.
All three men turned to see a pair of women ushering a gaggle of school children across the roof terrace to stand beside the three men.
"Now remember children we watch in silence then I will tell you the stories."
The children did watch in silence - for the most part - then when the sun was clear of the horizon one of the teachers began to tell them an Inuit legend about how light came to be. Ezra, despite his innate love of children, wasn't intending to stay on the roof one moment longer then necessary. He had agreed to go skiing, much as he hated the cold, virgin Alaskan powder was calling even him. Most of Ezra's skiing was done in Aspen or occasionally Vale, usually skiing from the door of the hotel, or close enough. He wasn't used to having to go look for his snow, but then snow like that which awaited him was too rare to miss.
Buck and Vin were both listening to the story and didn't follow, promising to only be a few moments. The teacher was a Native American, as were at least half the children, the story was almost done when one of the children, a small girl in a red hat, cried out; "Mrs Eagle! Mrs Eagle! Tommy's nose is bleeding!" The second teacher, a young woman with close-cropped blond hair, instantly broke away from the little girl she had been holding hands with and approached the hapless Tommy. Dressed in a blue parka the little boy was bent over trying to catch the blood that streamed from his nose.
"Gina? Youd better take him down to the bathroom and sort it out, I'll meet you at the bus."
"Are you sure?"
"Yes, I'm almost done here."
With that she turned back to the remaining children and resumed her story telling. Once it was over, she shepherded the children to the elevators, with two ATF agents following behind.
"Now, children, we can't all get in the car at the same time so some of you will have to go down to the first garage on your own, just get out at the bottom and stay by the doors."
Some of the children looked unconcerned, others looked positively terrified. Buck reckoned the average age to be six or seven.
"I want to stay with you," the little girl who had been holding the assistant's hand piped up.
"My mom says I'm not allowed in an elevator on my own."
"I wanna go with Josh."
"Oh Lord," the teacher exclaimed.
"Ma'am?" Vin stepped forward. Would ya like us t' look after some while you take some down?" he asked.
The woman, who was in her fifties and stood no more than five feet, looked at him suspiciously and was about to say no, when Buck stepped up.
"Ma'am we're both federal agents - if that helps." He pulled out his ID, as did Vin.
"Oh, thank you! That would be a blessing if youre sure you dont mind?" Both men assured her they were happy to do it. "Thank you so much." She turned to the children. "Theses two men are federal agents, so we can trust them, federal agents are like police men and woman, they arent strangers. So, who would like to stay up here with them for a little while longer?"
Several hands shot up instantly and the teacher divided up the class in to two groups, taking the biggest group with her and leaving six behind, then she headed to the elevator.
"We are meeting in the garage, in the basement," she explained.
"No probl'm ma'am, we're headed that way to," Vin called out, as she did a final head count.
Once the teacher had gone, Buck turned to look at his temporary charges. "Now I don't want any of you ankle biters to go astray, you stay right here - okay?"
Almost as one the children, all six of them, nodded. "Yes sir," they chimed.
"Mister, are you really a federal agent?" a small boy, the smallest of the children, standing right in front of Vin, asked.
"Are you an FBI agent, my daddy is in the army."
"Nope." Vin wasn't the comfortable with children.
"Hey little buddy," Buck squatted down by the boy. "We're with the ATF, you wanna see my badge?"
Several children instantly clamoured to see the badge, which he duly pulled out and showed. One little girl looked at it very intently and then studied Wilmington with equal intensity.
"Somethin' wrong sugar?" he asked.
"You look nicer than your picture," she announced.
"Well, thank you darlin'."
Vin gave an exaggerated sigh and rolled his eyes, even six-year-olds fell for the Wilmington charm it seemed.
"Have you got a gun?" the small boy asked.
"Yes but I'm not gonna show it to you, so it's no good asking me."
"Oh, okay," he said, with dramatic resignation.
Buck chatted to the children, while Vin watched for about five minutes. Then the elevator dinged, announcing its arrival. Vin entered the car and Buck shepherded the children in.
"Bucklin!" Vin suddenly called, pointing over his shoulder.
Wilmington looked behind him to see a small figure on her own standing at the rail, looking out at the newly risen sun.
"Da Darn, go on, I'll round her up and follow you." With that Buck turned away and headed toward the small form at the rail.
Ezra, having left the roof early sat in their hired SUV, with hired skis strapped to the roof. Ezra drew the line at hiring ski clothing, and had purchased a new, designer ski suit, claiming he needed one anyway.
"Ez I've seen your ski suit, it's hardly been worn," Vin commented.
"I take care of my apparel Mr Tanner, unlike some, so my clothing doesnt become - dilapidated, only out of date."
The hotel offered skiing practically on the doorstep - you could be on a ski lift less than 400 yards from the hotel's front door. But that was piste skiing, they could do that in Denver, real wilderness off-piste skiing was a different matter, and an opportunity not to be missed, even by Ezra, now that he was properly attired. The unmistakable sound of the elevator made him look up from his daily study of the financial pages to see the teacher who had told the story emerge with a gaggle of small children. With a disgruntled sigh he went back to his book.
Vin pressed the button for the garage level and stood back, to lean against the side of the car as it began it's decent. Five eager faces tilted up to look at him.
"What's your name?" one of the children asked.
Before he could answer there was a jolt, then there was a scraping, screeching noise and finally as the light flickered, it became a rumbling accompanied by vibrations. The children squealed, almost as one, five high-pitched voices gave vent to their instant fear. Had he been alone Vin might have joined them, as it was he grabbed hold of the rail that ran around the wall at hip height. The lights flickered and then died, plunging them into instant darkness. Now the children shrieked in terror.
"Its okay kids." The voice in the darkness sounded calm and reassuring, Vin was mildly surprised to discover it was his. "Jist hold on and well be fine."
Shrieking gave way to sobbing. "I want my mommy." Came one plaintive request.
"I want the light on."
"I know honey, but were gonna have t wait a while fer that." Just then the slightly ethereal blue emergency light stuttered into operation. Vin instantly looked back at the control panel, hoping for an emergency phone and finding only a call button which he pressed, repeatedly.
Vin cast his eyes around his charges. Five small faces, up turned, looking to him to make it all right, to make it better.
"Why did it stop?"
Vin looked at the very small boy who had been so interested in Bucks gun. "Dont rightly know little fella, could be a whole lotta reasons, but most likely a power cut." With that Vin pressed the emergency call button a few times more.
"I think it was an earthquake." The speaker was a tall, thin girl with braids.
"You always think its an earthquake," someone rebuked.
"I do not, but it was, cause there was shaking."
"Carries right I think it was too, Ive been in an earthquake before so I know."
"Dhur! Weve all been in earthquakes dummy, they happen all the time."
"No I mean a real big one, last year we was on holiday in California and we had an earthquake and it was so cool cause there was the huge crack in the road and this building caught fire and "
"Youre such a pain Gary," one of the kids complained.
"Is the hotel gonna burn down?"
Vin had had about as much six-year-old bickering as he could take. "Hush all of you," he commanded.
The children fell silent and looked at him as if he were about to explain the meaning of life.
Ezra felt the car move beneath him, his initial thought was that someone had hit the car, then the movement continued, there was a loud rumbling and dust and debris began to shower down from the roof, just as the lights went out. He heard the children scream and looked over in the direction the sound had come from, as the dim emergency lights flickered into life, he saw the teacher usher her charges to stand under the limited protection of a roof beam. Instantly he was out of the car, with no thought to his own safety, for he was much safer in the strong SUV then out of it, he sprinted over to the small group huddling under the girder near the exit. There was no chance of running out of the building, a rain of roofing tiles, and small lumps of concrete showered down on to the exit ramp just beyond the large opening.
After what seemed like hours but was only a few minutes, if that, it stopped. Ezra had positioned himself at the other end of the line of scared children. He had said nothing to them or the teacher, only holding on to the closest child and offering her his support just by being there.
"Is it over?" a small voice asked from below him.
Ezra looked down to see a girl, with jet black hair, that hung down in long bangs and fell in her eyes, clutching on to his leg and gazing up at him.
"For now that would appear to be the case, yes." He was well aware of the possibilities of aftershocks.
"We better get out of here," the teacher said, trying her best not to convey her fear to the children.
"Indeed, I " Ezra was about to state that he would help her get the children out and then go in search of the other children and his friends, when there as another rumble, but this time the ground didn't move, instead there was a huge rush of icy cold wind that rushed into the garage. Ezra had a sudden feeling, no more than that, but the knew they had to move, to get away from the garage opening. "RUN!" he bellowed.
Without waiting for the teacher to react, he grabbed the little girl with the bangs and started running toward the back of the garage. Left with no choice but to follow, little feet pounced across the concrete just as wall of snow rushed into the entrance, invading the space, overwhelming the vehicles closest to the exit, burying them as it forced its way ever deeper.
Ezra dropped the little girl on the steps in the far corner of the garage and then turned back to help the others.
"Hurry!" he shouted, as he almost pushed the children past him toward the steps, while moving himself toward the back of the line. Mrs Eagle had picked up a child who had fallen, but another little girl had fallen behind. Ezra sprinted on to scoop the child up just as the snow wall hit.
Buck jogged over to the rail and came up beside the little girl.
"Hi there little darlin' what ya doing over here, we almost left you behind." He squatted down next to the child, golden tufts of hair curling out from under her knitted hat.
"But I wanted to see it more," she explained, pointing at the now beautifully lit red, pink and pale blue sky.
"Well it sure is pretty, but we gotta go now."
The girl sighed. "They've all seen it lots, but we only moved here last week."
Buck gave her a sympathetic smile; she'd been in the state as long as him and it had snowed everyday, until now, no wonder she wanted to see more.
"Well it'll be here for a lot of mornings, you can see it again. Come on." With that he stood and held out his hand.
Giving one last dramatic sigh she took his hand, wrapping her mitten clad fingers around two of his as she walked beside him. Up on the roof there wasn't much noise, except the sudden eruption of car alarms from the street below. Then the roof below their feet began to move, shifting from side to side. Buck stumbled; slipping in the snow as his centre of gravity was moved unexpectedly. The little hand around his fingers tightened, he heard a sudden intake of breath. Instinctively knowing he needed to comfort the child he dropped to his knees and enveloped her in a hug as the whole building continued to shake. He wasn't aware how long it took before the movement stopped. Long enough for him to think.Damn this is an earthquake and a big one too! Eventually it stopped.
"What what hap...pp ened?" the little girl asked.
Buck pulled back a little to look her in the eye. "I reckon it was an earthquake, they happen quite often here, no big deal, see we're still here, no one hurt - right?"
She nodded, still clearly scared.
"Well okay. So now I think we need to get downstairs and find your friends." Taking her hand again he headed for the exit.
The elevator and stairs were protected from the weather by a small structure. There were two doors at either end and a huge picture window in between. Buck took the little girls hand and once more headed toward the structure. On arriving he pulled at the heavy glass door. It didn't move, he tugged again, still no movement. He let go of his charges hand and used both hands to pull on the door, but it was no good. Even as he pulled he could see the large gap between the lintel and the frame, where the earthquake had moved the structure.
"Darlin' you come with me while I try the other door," he instructed.
The little girl obediently followed him to the other side. But it was no good, both doors were jammed solid, he tried everything, even breaking the glass, which proved not surprisingly - to be unbreakable. In the end, after he had shoulder charged the door, he was forced to give up. Cradling his arm, he looked down at the little girl, who had watched his efforts in meek, trusting silence.
"I'm sorry darlin', looks like we're gonna have to wait for someone to come and get us."
"Will they come soon?" she asked.
Buck squatted down again.
"I'm not gonna lie to you, it might take a while, but we'll be alright. Now lets get aquatinted, My name's Buck, what's yours?"
"Well Helen, I'm real happy to know you, all we can do now is wait - okay?"
Vin slid down to sit on the floor by the control panel, one by one the children copied him. It was no secret that he was slightly claustrophobic. He could lay in a tiny space, gun in hand, motionless, totally focused for hours on end, it didn't bother him because he could see a way out. It was confined spaces with no exit that bothered him. Elevators were okay so long as they weren't too crowded and kept moving. Semi dark elevators that were stuck were not. His stomach was a mass of manic butterflies all conspiring to return his large breakfast. He could feel the cold clammy perspiration breaking out on his forehead as he tried to gain control over his rebellious stomach.
Vin suddenly became that one of the children was speaking.
"What's gonna happen?"
"Well we wait here until someone comes to get us, but " he looked up at the roof and prayed that what he was about to say wouldn't happen. " we might have to wait a long time, because if it is an earthquake, then there may be a lot of people who need help before us."
"I dont know."
"But what if we need the bathroom?"
"What if they don't come?"
"But what if they forget?"
"No one will forget us, don't worry."
"But what if "
The 'what ifs' continued, each possible scenario more implausible and more serious than the last.
Take control Tanner, youre the adult here, Vin chided himself.
"Children, stop it," he commanded. "I don't know the answers to your questions, all we can do is sit here and wait - okay?"
The little faces looked contrite, and scared as they stared at him.
"Come on let's talk about something else," Vin encouraged, trying to sound up beat. "What do ya wanna talk about?" He had no idea what six year olds talked about.
"What's your name?" a boy asked.
"What?" he responded.
"My name's Gary, what's yours?"
Vin looked at the boy; he was the one who had been in California. "Vin, m' name's Vin." He took a deep breath. "Why don't you all tell me your name and a bit about yourself," he suggested.
Ten minutes later he knew all their names, and a little about them. Gary's father worked in oil, but he didn't know exactly what he did. Carrie's mother was a librarian but her father had left home. Tony had six brothers and his dad repaired cars and skidoos, Dan, the very small boy, was the one who's dad was in the army and Brenda's mom was a nurse.
"What about you?" Dan asked once they had all finished.
"Me?" Vin asked worriedly, "What about me?"
"What does your daddy do?" Brenda asked.
"My daddy?" Vin asked incredulously. Five little heads nodded earnestly.
"Well, he's dead."
"Oh," Tony exclaimed. "I'm sorry."
"It's alright it was a very, very long time ago now, when I was smaller then you guys. I don't remember him at all."
"My daddy left us," Carrie stated again, Vin got the impression this had happened relatively recently. "Did your mom look after you?"
"For a while, then she died as well and I went to live with my grandfather."
Several children expressed their sympathy and asked about his grandfather. When he let slip that he was a Native American, the children became very interested, all of them were Native except for Carrie and Dan. Finally they found common ground and the children seemed genuinely interested in what he could tell them of Comanche traditions and stories.
"Dig children, dig!" the teacher shouted, even as she shouted she was digging at the snow with her hand, sending plumes of it out between her legs. The avalanche that had all but filled the underground parking garage had caught and buried not only Ezra, but the last of the children, all that was visible was Ezra's outstretched hand. Although some of the children were crying and others too frightened to even move, plenty of little gloved and mittened hands began to scrabble at the surprisingly deep snow. While the children worked around her, May Eagle worked towards where she hoped the two heads would be. Suddenly a mound of snow before her caved in, revealing a hollow. She could see Amy's little red hat, and to her relief she heard the child cough and a hiccuping sob. The ATF agent had managed to get his body around the little child, making a tiny air pocket for her. Much as she wanted to help the child she had to fine the man's head and clear his airway. Seconds later she found his snow encrusted hair and frantically brushed snow away from his nose and mouth.
"Mister!" she shouted, shaking him violently. "Come on mister! Open your eyes, breathe!" In her desperation she thumped him on the back, sending clouds of powder snow up in the faces of the children clustered around her.
"Is he dead Miss?" one of them asked.
"No! Now help me get him out of the snow. Come on Amy dear, youre alright, up you get," she encouraged without looking behind her at the child. Pulling off her glove she held her hand close to his mouth and was relived to feel the faint warmth of his shallow breathing.
"Ok, good, you're breathing. Just don't stop breathing," she instructed.
Amy had stood and was no longer crying. She was now just standing silently, staring at Ezra.
"Amy?" the frantic teacher, called softly, trying to keep her own fear under control. She got no response. "Come on dear he'll be okay." She picked up the child and carried her to the steps. "Now sit there," she instructed firmly.
Amy was in shock but she obeyed, responding like a programmed Pavlov dog to the firm command.
"Teacher!" one of the digging children called.
Leaving the traumatised child she turned back to the digging children.
"Look, we found a tree," one of the boys exclaimed.
A small tree not much more than a sapling, but its trunk was at least a foot in diameter, was embedded in the snow directly behind Ezra. He had instinctively pulled up his legs to protect Amy, and this had save him. The tree, which had been snapped off above the roots, had barely touched him. One long splinted end was embedded in his calf but other than that he was untouched. Had he not tried to make space for child he had never met, he would probably have lost a leg.
With the children's help they finally got the rest of the snow off him. "Wake up!" she bellowed at him." What else could she do, she couldn't carry him and she had cold, scared, possibly injured children to look after.
Ezra heard someone shouting, except it seemed a long way away. Someone was telling someone to wake up, to open their eyes. He wondered who it was. Something shook him; the shouting voice was closer. Maybe it was him who should open his eyes, he didn't want to, he was tired and he wanted to sleep.
"Wake up!" May bellowed again.
Whoever they were, they were persistent.
May stopped shaking him when she saw his eyes flutter, then his mouth opened and he gasped, before pulling in a long breath of icy cold air, that instantly started a coughing fit.
"Mister?" May asked anxiously.
"Yeah?" Ezra rasped.
"Listen to me. Don't move yet - okay? Just don't move yet."
Ezra became aware he was both cold and wet. He tied to get his body to respond, forcing himself to get up. But even as he pushed himself up, his arms gave way and he slumped back down onto the snow.
"No don't get up, stay still!"
After the initial shaking the only noise to be heard up on the roof was the wailing and beeping of dozens if not hundreds, of alarms, mostly car alarms, and a few building alarms. Still cradling his arm, Buck walked to the edge of the roof that faced the main road; he could see people out on the snow-covered street. Across the road the workers from an office building were huddled together in the parking lot while someone with a clipboard called the roll. The safety rail was set some six feet back from the roof edge proper, that meant that not only could Buck not see the street directly below them, no one at street level could see them. He could get over the barrier of course, but the roof was covered in snow and ice and he only had one good arm. Besides that would mean leaving Helen and he didn't want to frighten her. Even if Vin was stuck in the lift and he sure hoped he wasn't, Ezra would know they were missing and get help as soon as possible, not to mention the teacher who had gone down earlier with the unfortunate Tommy.
"Buck?" He looked down at the girl beside him.
"How long do we have to wait?"
"I don't know little darlin'. Oh shit!" Buck suddenly exclaimed, and then realised what he had just said. "Oh sorry," he apologised as he fished in his pocket for his cell phone, which until now he had forgotten. It wasn't a pain free process, as disturbing his shoulder sent daggers of pain down his arm and across his chest. Once he pulled it free he dialled 911. 'No signal' the phone announced.
"Oh well, good idea while it lasted," he commented, before the quake it had worked just fine, no doubt the transmitter had been damaged.
"Does it work?" Helen asked.
Buck flipped the phone shut to save battery power, shoving it back in to his pocket. "Nope, not right now."
Helen sighed. "Oh well, we just have to wait then."
For a while they just watched, occasionally they moved to another part of the roof and watched the world below them from there. Finally they moved to the back of the roof. It was Buck who realised something was wrong with the world he could see. Gone was the largely abandoned parking lot behind the hotel, instead there was a vast sea of snow with huge broken and mangled trees, littering it's surface. He knew what had happened intstantly, behind the lot was a steep mountainside. He remembered it being covered in a deep shroud of snow, snow that the shaking of the earth had dislodged and sent it rushing headlong against the building he was now trapped in - or rather on. This, he knew, would mean it would be sometime before anyone even missed them, let alone looked. There would be too many far more immediate problems to deal with.
Helen seemed happy just to wander and watch and ask questions, she reminded Buck of Vin, while seeming to be very quiet and composed, she had a great thirst for knowledge. But as first one then two hours passed and the snow continued to swirl in the wind, and his shoulder - which he reckoned was dislocated - began to ache more and more, he found it harder and harder to answer her questions. He was tired, in pain and cold. Eventually Helen came back to stand beside him.
"Will they come soon now Buck?" she asked.
He looked at his watch again, more then two and a half hours had passed. "I don't " Just then the whole building shook.
The children in the lift gasped or screamed as the whole car shook with the aftershock, it took all Vins self control not to join them. Fear was rising in him like an unstoppable tide, making rational though more and more difficult. More than anything he knew he had to get out, he needed sky above him. He was hot, it was getting hot in the small enclosed space, he imagined the air getting stale. Logic told him this wouldnt happen, the elevator wasnt hermetically sealed after all, but logic was rapidly deserting him in favour of panic. His heart was pounding, faster and faster; he could feel beads of cold sweat breaking out on his forehead.
Im gonna lose it, Im losing control here, he thought, somehow some part of him was still detached, looking on as the rest of him fell apart.
He had one hand on the rail that ran around the wall, clutching it in a white-knuckle grip, the other hand was trembling, he could feel it, even with out looking at it. More evidence that he was going crazy. If only he could get out, hed be okay if he just got outside, just for a second or two.
Come on Tanner, get a grip, your trapped here, theres no getting out until someone comes to rescue you. Keep calm, just stay calm, for the children, he lectured himself.
But it was no good, he could now feel his heart beating, he was getting light headed, his stomach threatened to rebel on I him. Try as he might he couldnt focus on the anxious, scared faces around him. He didnt see their looks of fear and concern.
As he pulled his knees up into an instinctive position of protection he heard the children speaking.
"Is he okay?"
"What's wrong with him?"
"I think hes ill."
"Is he gonna hurl?"
"Eww no, puke smells, yuk!"
"Hey Mister Vin, you okay?"
No, no I'm not okay! How can I be okay? I'm trapped in a tiny metal box in an earthquake!
He might be able to think but he couldn't speak, his heart was pounding so fast he thought it might explode, he was trembling now, not a slight handshake, all over trembling.
"Maybe we should chant?"
Chant? What the hell is chant? Oh forget it Tanner you're losing it does it matter what the kids do?
The children went into a huddle, thought he barely noticed. Then there was a noise, a gentle drumming, he wasn't sure were it came from, probably someone's hand on the wall. The slow rhythm was joined with voices; the five children began to chant. He didn't know the words or even the language but he knew it was an Inuit chant and it wasn't that different from the chants he had heard as a boy. The words were repetitive, and the tune simple and limited. It rose and fell like the tide, gentle and calming. The music forced its way past his conscious mind, the part of him that was lost in a full on panic attack, and began to work on his deep subconscious.
"Madam," Ezra managed to say feebly. "I am cold."
"I know, you have some wood stuck in your leg, I need to work out how to deal with it."
Ezra looked up at the kindly looking middle aged lady crouching over him. He was aware of a dull pain in his leg, but he was too cold to distinguish it from the general background pain. "Oh," was all he could managed in response to say in response.
May sent the children who had done the digging to sit on the steps with the others. Then she made a quick visual check of the wound - which was mainly hidden below his dark pants - and the tree splinter, without a saw there was no way to detach it from the tree. She asked Ezra if he had a pocketknife, but he didn't, not on him anyway. There was no way around it; the splinter would have to be pulled out. She knew enough to know that was risky, he would bleed, possibly very badly.
"Okay I'll hold the tree back, you have to move your leg forward." She bent down to whisper in is ear. "I know it's going to hurt - but, try not to scare the children, please."
Ezra looked up at her and then glanced over to the huddled children. "I'll do my best, let's get on with this."
It was agonisingly painful; the dull pain was ignited into daggers of fire the moment the foreign object in his leg was disturbed. He clamped his jaw closed in a desperate attempted not to let any sound escape. He forced himself to keep his leg moving forward until he actually heard the sucking 'pop' as the splinter came fee. As he stayed there on his hands and knees, panting, for a few moments, until May Eagle came back to his side.
"Ready to get off the snow?" she asked softly.
"Most assuredly." He took one more breath and allowed the surprisingly strong women to help him to his feet.
Once he was on the steps, where the children made room for him, the teacher squatted down and took a look at his leg. It was hard to see what the damage was, the dark material of his pants hid much of it and the low level emergency lights provided little illumination, but she could feel the blood, it was rapidly soaking into the cloth. Looking around the sea of little anxious faces she focused on a boy call Sam. Sam was well wrapped up against the cold and taking his scarf wouldn't compromise him. Using the scarf, she bound a big handful of snow over the wound, hopefully the cold would slow the bleeding.
Ezra forced himself not to wince or pull away as she ministered to him. Finally she was done.
"There that ought to hold it for now," she announced.
"My thanks madam, perhaps now would be a good time for introductions, my name is Ezra P Standish." He held out his hand to her, and they shook.
"May Eagle, I won't say a pleasure to meet you because the circumstances are hardly pleasurable, but I am so very grateful you were here."
Despite the pain and cold Ezra smiled, May Eagle at least seemed to know how to use the English language. He also got the feeling she was a woman of substance; their situation was precarious yet she remained calm and focused.
"Children, I am going to see if I can find a way out of here, you are to stay here with Mr Standish, do as he tells you and do not wander away," she announced.
Ezra noticed that the children all seemed to accept what she said, her natural authority gave them faith and confidence. He decided they were probably very lucky children to have this woman as a teacher. She had been gone about five minutes when the aftershock hit.
The chanting ignited Vin's childhood memories, it took him back to sitting on a flat rock with his grandfather, watching the sunset, listening to the old man chant. He could not longer remember the meanings, but the sound of those chants had never left him. The deep ingrained memories began to bring him back from the edge the panic attack had taken him too. His heart began to slow, the cold sweat began to dissipate and his nausea receded. Eventually he let his knees drop and he released the handrail.
The children stopped chanting and stared at him intensely. "Mister Vin, are you alright?"
Vin looked up to find Dan, the very smallest boy looking at him, with a frown on his face.
"Um, yes, I'm okay now."
"See it worked," Gary announced.
"How did you know what to do?"
"It's what teacher does if we get too excited or noisy, we all have to stop and do a chant, to make us concentrate and calm down," Carrie explained.
"That was the 'Joy' chant," Tony supplied.
Vin had never had a full panic attack before, the one or two times one had started he had been able to get out, the last time had admittedly involved kicking his way through a stud wall but he got out. He took a deep breath and rested his head back on the wall. He was okay, he wasn't going to die, the air wasn't going to run out, his heart wasn't going to stop, he was in control. Just sitting and waiting to be rescued wasn't something that came naturally to Vin, but there was no option and for the first time he felt able to accept that.
Up on the roof it was getting cold. The aftershock had been scary, Buck wasn't a man who was ashamed to admit when he was scared, but he didn't want to worry Helen so he hid it. She had squealed and grabbed onto his leg, but apart from ringing the car alarms and shedding more snow of the elevator house roof, nothing happened. When it was over Helen looked up at her protector without releasing his leg.
"What was that?"
"Aftershock, it might happen again, but each time it will be smaller - don't worry, okay?"
She forced a smile. "Okay."
"Come on, lets see if the shock has loosened the door."
It wasn't easy, his shoulder, which he was sure was dislocated, was no use to him and protested every movement. The doors were still jammed solid; no amount of kicking would budge them. The wind had picked up significantly now and Buck moved them into the lee of it, behind the very structure that was denying them access to the warmth just below them. He instinctively wanted to wrap his arms around the small girl and make her feel safe, but the slightest movement ignited fires in his shoulder that would only die down again slowly as the cold got to it again.
Damn but that hurts! You're in trouble boy, real trouble, if they don't find you soon, this could all go south real quick. Look after the kid, least I can do, keep her warm. Christ I hope the others are okay - wheres Chris when you need him?
He rested his cheek down on top of hers, relishing the warmth.
"How you doin' little princess?" he asked.
"I'm okay. Buck?"
"They will come wont they?"
"Sure they'll come, dont you worry. You just snuggle up to ol' Buck and everything will be okay."
"We are getting reports of an earthquake in Alaska. The US Geological Survey say this was a substantial quake, the epicentre seems to have been some way in land."
"Guys!" JD bellowed from the conference room. "Come look at this!"
"Josiah go see what he wants," Chris instructed tersely. With no Buck to 'play with' no Vin to plan jokes with and consume sugar with and no Ezra to keep all three in line with barbed comments, the three older agents were having a hard time coping with JD's constant movement and need for activity.
With a long suffering sigh Sanchez pulled himself up and strolled with no haste into the conference room - where Chris had banished JD with the excuse that he needed the large table to sort out the weapons manuals. After only a few minutes Sanchez was back.
"He's right, you need to see this," he announced.
The other two traipsed into the conference room and watched CNN for a few moments. A map appeared the newscaster explained that this indicated the towns most affected.
"Isn't that ?" Chris started.
"Yeah, that's were they are," Josiah confirmed.
As they watched, more reports started to come in, eventually pictures from the local TV station, though not closest to the town where their three team mates were staying which had suffered a power blackout. Chris tried calling the hotel; unsurprisingly the line was out of order. Some of the Alaska contact numbers were out of order, some were just busy. Josiah and the others called their friends cell phone numbers, but all were 'switched off'. That had to translate to unreachable, no doubt the local transmitter was affected.
Chris took a deep breath, sometimes being the guy in charge really sucked. "Guys, there is nothing we can do, in all likelihood theyre fine and as soon as they find a way to contact us they will, so " He looked at the three men before him, their worry all to plain to see. "JD can we get CNN on the set in the bullpen?" he asked.
JD nodded. "Sure."
"Good, all we can do is wait, so we might as well get back to work - okay?"
It went against every instinct, but they agreed. As they walked back into the large bullpen Josiah whispered to Larabee. "JD isn't going to actually do any usable work you know," he pointed out.
"I know that, but we need to keep him occupied, I need to keep occupied," he added honestly.
"As do we all," Josiah admitted.
When the aftershock hit, almost all the children either squealed or gasped, holding their breath until the shaking stopped, one little boy threw his arms around Ezra's neck in an instinctive search for comfort. While the structure around them seemed solid enough the snow wasn't. It moved, creeping closer to their safe retreat, somewhere a half-buried car's alarm sounded, it's orange flashing lights just visible under the snow. Ezra hadn't said anything, but he was fairly sure he heard a door slam just after the shaking started. He had a horrid feeling in the pit of his stomach that May Eagle was on the wrong side of that door and it was probably now jammed. He had no evidence to support this theory, but it was the ability to extrapolate information from tiny scraps that made Ezra the formidable and successful agent he was.
Assuring the children he would be right back, he went in search of the teacher. Getting to his feet was painful and he felt light-headed, but he pressed on. The vast majority of the cars in the garage were buried under the snow, a few were still partially visible but too far away to be of any use, they would have had to clamber over the debris strewn snow and buried cars to reach them. He limped a long the wall to see where Mrs Eagle had gone, behind the service block, were they had been sheltering, was a wide, short passage that lead to the door through which Mrs Eagle had presumably passed, he tried it, but the door would not move.
His efforts produced a banging on the door from the other side. "Madam!" Ezra called. "Is that you?"
"Oh yes, I'm sorry," she called. "I lost hold of the door during the aftershock, now it's jammed."
"Have no fear, can you get out from there?"
"I don't know yet, there isn't much light, I'll try."
"Very well, the children and I will wait for you, good luck."
Ezra limped back to the children and explained what had happened, he believed in being honest with children, treating them, as much as possible, like small adults. They took it remarkably well considering. He then looked around and took stock of their situation; there was no knowing how long their rescue would take, so they needed shelter and warmth and - if the emergency lighting failed - illumination. Most of the cars were inaccessible but a mini van close to them looked as if they could at least dig out the driver's door. Activity would help warm the children up, so - making sure they all had gloves - he set them to clear the snow. It only took about half an hour, Even though his leg was increasingly weak, he could feel it trembling as he strained to help pull a larger branch free. The car door was locked.
"How are we gonna get in?" Sam asked.
Ezra smiled an impish grin that made his dimples show. He cast his eyes of his new flock and their assorted backpacks. "Well now, do any of you young ladies and gentlemen have a ruler?"
There was a chorus of 'yes's'.
"Can you show me?"
Rulers were pulled out and held up like trophies. Ezra surveyed each one carefully and selected a thin flat on from a beaming boy called Henry. With that it only took him seconds to pop the door lock and not much more time to silence the alarm.
"Come children," he announced, "our shelter awaits."
It was something of a squeeze to get them all, it but that was good in a way, it would warm things up faster. Once all the children were safely in the car he climbed in behind the wheel and hot-wired the ignition so they could have the heater on. He knew the battery wouldn't last forever but it would warm them up until their body heat did the job.
The children in the elevator had taught Vin six chants while they waited, when there was a banging on the roof.
"What's that?" on of them asked.
Vin pulled himself to his feet and looked up. "I think the cavalry's here kids."
Not long after that a section of the roof was pulled up the grinning face of a fireman appeared.
"Well hello there," he announced. "anyone want out of here?"
Vin carefully lifted each child up into the waiting arms of the fire fighter, from there they were placed in the safety harness while they climbed the ladder the short distance the open doors above them. Carrie was the last one out.
"You will be there when we get up, won't you?" she asked.
Vin smiled, "Yeah, I'm gonna be right behind you."
JD wasn't doing much work, he was sitting in front of his computer but his eyes were on the muted TV in the corner of the office. Suddenly he was up, drawing the gaze of the other men to him.
"Did you see that?" he asked as he grabbed the remote and turned on the sound.
'As you can see the winds have dropped but snow continues to fall on the scene of devastation. The avalanche that engulfed the hotel parking lot and underground garage has buried dozens of people.'
"See what?" Josiah asked, as he come over.
"Get a tape, I need a video tape!" JD was frantically scrabbling in the draw under the TV set.
"JD calm down, there's nothing we can do but wait, you know that," the older man counselled.
"No, you dont understand I saw something, were are the damn tapes?"
"Here." Nathan came up with a new tape, which JD grabbed and shoved into the video, rapidly selecting the channel and hitting record.
The commotion had brought Chris out of his office, demanding what was going on, but JD took no notice. "Come on, come on," he muttered to himself as he watched the pictures from the new helicopter as it hovered above the rescue workers in the parking lot.
'We still have no idea how many casualties there may be, at least ten bodies have been recovered already, as well as nearly twenty survivors. In the hotel five children and one adult were found after nearly four hours in a trapped elevator. With sunset only an hour and a half away there is an added urgency to this rescue effort.'
"No," JD complained to the TV, " go back to the roof, show me the roof again!"
The others asked him what the matter was, but he waved them off. "There!" he suddenly shouted as the new helicopter swung away from the hotel, its camera sweeping over the apparently empty roof. JD pulled the tape from the machine and bolted from the office, heading for the lab were they evaluated surveillance tapes. His team-mates following curiously in his wake. As they watched JD ran the tape on the edit machine and stated to examine individual scenes of the roof.
"There!" he pointed to a fuzzy blob against the wall of the small structure on the roof.
"What?" Chris asked.
"Wait." JD transferred the picture to the computer and ran and enhancement programme. Little by little the fuzzy blob became a more defined blob and then it was quite clearly a body. "See!"
"Damn, how did you see that?" Chris asked.
"Young eyes," Nathan commented.
It took more than a few phone calls and a considerable amount of Chris Larabee 'persuasion' before he made contact with an airforce base in Alaska, who it turn were in contact with the news helicopter. Back in the team's office they watched live as, in the gathering darkness, the chopper returned to the roof and landed. The cameraman secured his cameras in a fixed position before he and the reporter ran across the snow-covered roof. They disappeared from view and then the reporter could be seen running back with a large bundle in his arms. He disappeared from view for a while then reappeared and ran back to meet the cameraman who was struggling to support the inert form of a tall man.
Suddenly JD gasped.
"That's Buck's jacket," Chris breathed.
"Lord save us," Josiah added as they watched the rescue unfold before them.
Rescue workers, professionals and volunteers worked desperately to reach the inside of the garage. They knew by now that at least one adult and a group of children were trapped down there. Mrs Eagle had found her way out and into the hotel, it had taken sometime to find a policeman who would listen to her and do something. While one team worked to free the heavy jammed door, others continued to dig their way in from the outside.
It was the diggers who made it in first, darkness was falling as they moved cautiously over the snow, using their long probing rods to test for air pockets below them where survivors might still be entombed. At first they couldn't see the children they were looking for, then they spotted the steamed up, partially excavated car.
"Hello?" the rescuers worker called as he tapped on the glass and gently opened the door. Inside a gaggle of children were snuggled up to each other on the back seat and a few more on the passenger seat, at least two of them with arms wrapped around the man slumped over the wheel.
"Shussssss." One of the children admonished her finger on her lips. "Ezra is sleeping, he's very tired and his leg hurts so you mustn't wake him up."
"Ezra?" The voice was familiar; there was that annoying twang to it. "Come on pal, open them eyes fer me." He was tired he didn't want to open is eyes, who was it, why was a Texan talking to him?
"Come on Ez." A Texan? Did he know a Texan? A vision of a scruffy looking young man with an impish smile on his face appeared to him. Vin? Did he know Vin? Yes!
"Yeah it's me, come on, time to wake up."
He forced on eye open, yes there was the scruffy Texan all right, even had the impish grin on his face.
"Oh God," Ezra groaned.
"Nah just me."
Finally Ezra opened both eyes and took in his surroundings, hospital great - his favourite place not to be.
He must have licked his lips because Vin offered him a glass of cool water and a straw, which he accepted gratefully.
"What do you remember?" Vin asked once he had put the glass down.
"Earthquake?" Vin nodded. "Snow, snow everywhere, was there an avalanche?" Vin confirmed that there had been. "The children. I was trapped with some children, my leg was hurt and we sheltered in a car."
Vin confirmed all he had said an added some information about the rescue.
"Well go on then, tell me," Standish finally instructed.
"It ain't that bad, you passed out on account of the shock. They cleaned out the wound in your leg and gave you back some blood. Doc says your gonna have to take it easy, take some antibiotics, just in case, but you'll be fine in a week or so."
Ezra suddenly tried to sit up and was rewarded with a stab of pain in his leg and a wave of nausea. "Buck?" he asked desperately.
"Easy, lay down again, 'fore ya make yerself sick. They pulled Bucklin off the roof with the little girl." Ezra looked puzzled. "Oh sorry, you don't know about that." He went on to explain how Buck ended up on the roof alone. "So anyways he was protecting her, from the snow. He's got a dislocated shoulder."
"I do not envy him that," Ezra commented, remembering all too vividly the pain and inconvenience that particular injury brought with it.
"Yeah I know," Vin sympathised. "And hypothermia."
"Is he going to be alright? Where is he?"
Vin could see Ezra getting agitated again. "They're taking real good care of him, gonna bring him up here just as soon as he's a bit warmed up, and they pop his shoulder back in."
Vin didn't share the vision of Buck in the emergency room, covered in heated pads; a tube down his throat so warm fluids could be passed directly into his stomach. Nor did he mention the decidedly unpleasant sight of the doctor reducing the displaced shoulder which did indeed 'pop' back. As if on cue the door opened and two orderlies wheeled a slumbering Wilmington into the room and transferred him to the vacant bed beside Ezra. The nurse followed him in; she re-attached the IV, switching on the device that heated the fluid. Ezra sat up and watched as Vin crossed the room. He looked on as she placed an oxygen mask on Buck and switched on the humidifier. As Vin looked down he thought that Wilmington looked very peaceful, tucked up under a thick quilt and sleeping on a fleece covered head pad.
"Is he gonna be okay?" Vin asked.
The nurse smiled. "The doctors are very happy with him, his core temperature is coming up nicely now," she explained. "He needs a lot of rest, no exertion at all for a few days and he should be fine." She looked up and over at Ezra. "Mr Standish, how are you?"
Ezra was still looking over at Buck. "Pardon? Oh thank you madam, I am recovering."
Two days later they were almost ready to go home. Ezra was going stir crazy, hobbling about the hospital when he was meant to be resting. Buck still slept a great deal of the time, but he no longer needed an IV or oxygen, he didn't really need the heated pad, but the nurses let him keep it. On seeing Ezra's face in response to hospital food and Buck's puppy dog eyes - even JD didn't do 'puppy dog eyes' like Buck did - the nurses had started to bring in cakes, cookies and pies for the two men. It was more food than they could manage, but Vin was happy to take up the slack.
They had finally made contact with Denver and assured everyone that they were on the mend and heading home as soon as possible.
Vin was in their room, eating chocolate chip cookies and watching cartoons with the sound turned down, while Buck snoozed and Ezra read a book one of the doctors had loaned him, when the door opened. Mrs Eagle stepped softly into the room.
"Is it a good time to visit?" she asked.
Ezra put down his book and smiled. "Madam, a pleasure to see you, do come in."
"Well I'm not alone." Small heads appeared around the door.
"Mr Vin!" Gary called and pushing past his teacher ran to greet Tanner. The other children from the elevator joined him.
"Hey guys, good to see you, but keep it down, my buddy's sleeping." He pointed over at Buck.
"Oh okay," Carrie whispered.
The other children filed in and stood around Ezra, except Helen who stood alone at the foot of Buck's bed, and the unfortunate Tommy, whose nosebleed had involved the three men in the first place, who stayed with the other teacher.
"Hello Ezra, we brought you a present," Sam announced.
"Yeah," Sam announced.
Amy edged forward, she smiled shyly at her saviour and handed him a huge home made envelope and a package wrapped in Christmas paper and a mountain of sticky tape. Ezra lay the card down and opened his parcel. Inside was a box and in the box was a large glass jar. Inside this jar, stuck down on a plinth of white plastic was a model car, the same type of car they had sheltered in. Small and some not so small flakes of white plastic had been added and the jar filled this water. The children had made him his very own snowstorm. Putting it down with great care he opened the card. Inside was a painting by Amy of all of them in the car surrounded by snow, and around the edge of this painting, small individual self portraits of the children had been stuck down, inside all the children had signed the card. Ezra found himself in the highly unusual position of not being in control of his emotions, he fought to control the tears that threatened to flow, and to keep the tremble from his voice as he thanked them. Finally he leant down and kissed Amy on the cheek.
"Thank you my dear," he whispered in her ear.
The five children, who had been with Vin, handed him a card and a similarly wrapped parcel, though his was smaller and flatter. The card was much like Ezra's; it showed him and the children in the elevator and the fireman on the roof. His present proved to be a CD.
"It's us," Gary explained.
Vin frowned and looked at the label on the box, there, listed were all the chants they had taught him.
"We sang them for you," Carrie adder.
"Well you know guys, I'm the one who should be thanking you, but I'm gonna treasure this, it's gonna be a real help to me, thank you."
The five little children gathered around him, giving him a hug.
Helen had a card and a present too, she stood silently watching her protector sleep, finally she moved forward and stood facing him. Tentatively, she reached out a single finger and stroked his cheek.
"Mmm," he murmured, causing her to freeze and then step back.
Slowly, deep blue eyes opened and blinked at her owlishly for a few moments. "Is that you Helen?" he asked softly. She nodded. "You okay now?" She nodded again.
Like most children, she withstood the cold much better than the lanky Wilmington and she had been protected from the wind and warmed by his body heat as she sheltered against him.
Slowly she offered him her card and a small package. Buck pushed himself up and took the proffered gifts. With only one arm he needed her help to get his gifts unwrapped. The card was a detailed picture of the two of them on the roof, looking out over the city. In the parcel was a box of cookies. "My mommy made them," she whispered. As well as the cookies, there was a medal. It was made from card covered in foil and had a big red ribbon attached to it. The words 'My Hero' were inscribed in a childish hand in the centre.
"Oh darlin' thank you. You wanna help ol' Buck put it on?" She nodded, so he leaned down and she placed it over his head. Then he kissed her on both cheeks. "I'll keep it forever, I promise you."
"Come on children, we must let these gentlemen rest, they are going home tomorrow." There were some protests but the children stepped back. "Their parents also wanted to thank you but the doctors said that would be too many people.
"To see the children safe and well, is all the thanks we need," Ezra explained.
"Yeah," Vin added.
"Ezra's right," Buck commented, as he gazed down at his medal. "That's all that matters."
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