by Angie

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Almost as if the avalanche had frightened it, the Alberta clipper retreated. The jet stream surged northward and pushed away the clouds leaving behind an azure bowl over the valley. The temperature slowly crept upward as the snow solidified its grip on the earth.

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The figure huddled at the base of the tree twitched as his brain called the roll. His aching limbs announced attendance by wiggling as his ribs reminded him that they were on the injured reserve list. Vin opened his eyes to the brilliance of sunshine on the expanse of snow and rocks. He blinked at the sudden brightness before his brain reminded him of his lost companions.

“CHRIS! BUCK! JOSIAH! NATHAN! EZRA! JD! ANY OF YA HERE?” Vin yelled and then curled up in agony as his ribs protested the exertion.

A tickle in his brain called for him to pay attention and Nathan sighed.

“Chris? Josiah? Buck? JD? Anybody! Can anybody hear me?” Vin yelled again, biting off the end to clench his teeth against the urge to scream in pain.

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A cough was all he could produce at first. Swallowing hard a few times, Nathan managed to croak out weakly, “Vin? Over here!” He waived his right arm; not at all sure the other man could see him.

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A familiar voice was calling. If he could only work up enough breath to reply. Buck moaned softly as he tried to draw a deeper breath to call out. The warm bundle at his chest moved and he gasped at the renewal of excruciating pain in his ribs.

The moan cleared her mind and Julia tried to move away from the body pressed against hers. The louder sound frightened her as she realized that she was pinned against him by the weight of the snow around them.

From close by, Vin heard a muffled groan. Inching forward, he moved toward the sound that seemed to come from the nearest trees. The corner of a mattress stuck out of the snow. Taking a guess, Vin called the name of the person who had been closest to the bed when he saw it last.

“Buck? Can you hear me? Bucklin!”

At the cry of his name, Buck’s head lifted slightly in the confines of his snow cocoon. Summoning his strength, he called back.


Just as he neared the trees, his hand punched thru the snow. Dropping flat of his stomach, he reached into the hole he’d made. His fingers were pretty numb but his palm registered hair and he called out again.

“Bucklin? That you?”

“Vin! We thought that guy killed you!”

“Nah, just broke a rib and colored outside the lines. Are you all right?”

“No, it hurts to breathe, son. I can’t move my left arm and I’ve got the girl pinned up in here with me,” Buck answered. “Have you seen any of the others?”

“Do you remember what color Ezra had on?”

“That red and blue ski jacket?” Buck offered.

“Okay. You hang in there. I’m gonna see if I can find the others.”

+ + + + + + +

Opening his eyes, JD struggled to remember what had happened. His eyes registered very little in the gray light. He tried to move and heard a soft groan. The hand he’d pulled up to his chest was warm and he pressed it against the dark colored mass in front of him. He remembered seeing Chris lunge for him just before the snow knocked them down.

“Chris?” He called hesitantly as his fingers sought a pulse.

“Yeah, kid. You all right?” The team leader spoke softly as JD’s hand touched his face.

“My head hurts and I’m awfully cold,” JD answered. “Did you hear someone calling our names?”

“I though I did. Can you reach up and see how deep we’re under?”

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After summoning the moisture to swallow again, Nathan tried to call out again.

A weak call sounded from somewhere to his left and Vin started across the snow. As he angled toward the weak call, he saw an arm moving. Both Nathan and Josiah had the same color on their jackets so Vin couldn’t tell whom he’d found.

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Maybe he’d imagined it. Maybe the pain and cold had finally driven him out of his mind. Nathan continued to waive his free arm even as he tried to talk himself out of the idea of being rescued. Out of the corner of his eye, the medic saw a most welcome sight. Vin crawled carefully over the crust that was setting up on top of the snow.

“Nate? How you feelin?” Vin queried as soon as he made eye contact.

“Not good. My arm is pinned and I’m sure it’s broken under there,” the medic replied.

Images of the rock climber who amputated his own arm floated across Vin’s mind as he tried to find Nathan’s arm under the rock.

“Vin? Are you all right? We thought that crazy bastard shot you.”

“Nah, just broke a rib or two. I’m okay for now.”

“You find any of the others?”

“Buck and the girl so far. I think I spotted Ezra but you were closer. I’m gonna see if I can scare up some help. Can you hang on?”

“As long as I need to, Vin. You just be careful with those ribs. If you put one thru your lung before I get free, you’ll be in big trouble.”

Tossing an Ezra-like salute, the Texan moved on to the next splash of color. The southerner had been thrown mostly clear of the slide and was only lightly covered by the loose snow. Vin called as he got closer.

“Ezra? Can you hear me?”

Lifting his arm from across his eyes, Ezra winced at the glaring brightness. A heavily accented groan emanated from under the hastily replaced arm. With his other hand, Ezra unzipped his coat and fished for his shades. Vin reached into the pocket and plucked the glasses out and placed them under the seeking hand.

“Thank you, Mr. Tanner. As soon as I am able to see, I am sure that I shall be delighted to see you. I trust you were not perforated by that cretin when he removed you from our presence?”

“Nah, just popped a rib. How about you? Can you move?”

“I fear that my leg is broken and the only thing preventing me from feeling it is the snow that is seeping into my clothing. Have you recovered any of the others?”

“Buck and the girl are alive, so’s Nathan. I’m gonna keep searching. Will you be okay for a while?”

“Certainly, Mr. Tanner. Do take care not to further injure yourself.”

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Wincing as he pulled his arm out from between him and Chris, JD pushed up toward the light shining on the snow above his head. Loose snow fell as his hand punched thru and fresh air floated into the space. Both men sighed as the bright sunlight penetrated their icy cocoon.

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As the temperature climbed and the top layer of snow warmed enough to harden into ice, the danger to those trapped increased. The warmth of their bodies would thaw the snow around them enough to harden and they would be trapped in an enclosed space with no fresh air. Carbon dioxide, expelled when they breathed, would fill the space. Without oxygen, those trapped were in danger of suffocating.

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The moment that JD’s hand broke thru the surface, it was grasped from above. With a startled yelp, he tried to pull it back. Vin widened the hole and peered in. Two pairs of startled eyes stared back at him.

In spite of the cramped quarters, Chris pulled his arm from around JD and thrust it upward. Immediately, he was rewarded with a firm grasp on his forearm that nearly took his breath away.

“Vin! Are you all right?” Chris managed around the tightness in his chest and past the huge lump that had suddenly formed in his throat.

“I’m good, cowboy. Are either of you hurt?”

“No, just stuck in here pretty tight. I’m thinking that the kid might have some explaining to do when we get out of here,” the team leader joked.

“Me?” JD squeaked. “You’re the one who grabbed me, remember? I’m sure that Judge Travis has rules about fraternizing between his men!”

“He don’t need the rules for the men, kid. You sure there isn’t something you want to share with the group?” Vin teased.

It felt good! Even though he was stuck in an icy glove, the warmth he felt from hearing the teasing banter between the two youngest infused Chris with strength. He had felt his heart beginning to freeze when he thought the Texan was dead. The warmth radiated out and he squeezed the arm again before letting go.

“Buck’s hurt, Chris. And Nathan’s arm is pinned under a rock. Ezra has a broken leg and Julia seems to be all right but she’s sandwiched in with Buck. I need to get you two out so you can help the others. I got a broken rib and Nathan will kick my ass all the way back to Denver if I pop a lung.”

“If he doesn’t, I will! You take it easy. We can get out of here on our own,” Chris growled. The last thing he wanted was for Vin to damage his lung up here.

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Something dripped on his face and Josiah opened his eyes. He squinted at the brightness all around. The snow weighted down his legs but he managed to move them around enough to pull them free. Not knowing how deep the snow was beneath him, Josiah didn’t try to stand; instead, he got to his knees and looked around. About ten yards away, he saw what he thought was the young man, Adam. Farther up the side of the valley, he saw Ezra. Movement caught his eye and caused his heart to leap. Vin Tanner was moving across the snow holding his ribs.

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For the past few minutes, Julia had been watching the man struggle to breathe. He shuddered and tightened his grip on her as an agonizing cough wracked him. He groaned and pulled against his broken arm reflexively. The struggle to breathe caused him to panic. Julia reached up and stroked his shoulder as she pressed her cheek against his chest. Her presence seemed to calm him and his chin rested against her head.

“Sorry to get you stuck in here. If I’d let you go, you might have had a better chance,” Buck began, only to be interrupted.

“Or I might be dead! Don’t apologize. Just hang on until your friend gets back, okay?”

She felt him nod. His breathing evened out and she realized that he was asleep. She let her head fall to rest against him and she began to pray.

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Crawling across the snow, Josiah reached the young man. The small puffs of steam announced that he was alive so the older man rested his hand on the pale forehead. The eyes opened and flinched at the brightness. A trembling hand reached out and caught hold of the arm attached to the hand as if to confirm that he was real.

“Lay still, son. Are you hurt anywhere?” Josiah asked as he settled beside the young man.

“My leg, I think it’s broken. Julia? Do you know what happened to Julia?”

“Not yet. You just rest. It looks like some of my friends are digging out and we’ll get to you next, okay?”

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After an exhaustive struggle, Chris and JD managed to enlarge the cocoon around them. Vin had enlarged the opening above them before the Larabee glare had sent him to check on Nathan and Ezra.

+ + + + + + +

“Vin, we need that first aid bag! It was in the suburban. Can you make out either vehicle? We ain’t got much of a chance without that bag,” Nathan called urgently.

“I’ll find it for you, Nathan. Take it easy. Chris and JD are okay. They’re almost free. I’m going to check on Ezra.”

“You better not jar that rib!” Nathan called with as much power as he could summon.

Vin nodded and gave a two-finger salute before scooting away. The southerner had managed to maneuver himself around so he was leaning against a rock with his injured leg out straight in front of him. The Texan noticed the rapid trembling in Ezra’s hands.

“How you doing over here?”

“I’ve survived worse. How are the others?”

“Nate’s in a bad way. His arm is pinned under that rock. Chris and JD are almost free; I’m going to check on Buck and Julia before I try to get to Josiah. Do you need anything?” Vin had a suspicion that Ezra was suffering from low blood sugar, he’d had it himself a time or two and his hands had the same tremble.

“You don’t have anything sweet stashed in your jacket do you?” Ezra asked.

“You mean besides myself?” Vin teased and was rewarded with a sigh and roll of the southerner’s green eyes. He unzipped his pocket and pulled out a bag of M & M’s.

“Thanks, Vin. I should remember to put something in my pocket for emergencies such as this. I have never been incapacitated by hypoglycemia, but there’s a first time for everything.” Ezra poured several of the bright colored candies into his hand and offered back the rest.

“You eat them, I got plenty. I’ll be back to check on you in a bit.”

+ + + + + + +

Seeing that the young man was fighting back tears, Josiah struck up a conversation.

“What are you and Julia doing up here? Isn’t it early for spring break?”

“No, the Christian college lets us out before the public colleges. That way, there’s less of a chance that we’ll do any of the reveling that other kids do,” Adam replied.

“You’re studying for the priesthood?”

“Not Catholic, Lutheran. I’m studying to be a Pastor. Julia’s working to get into the mission field. She wants to go to South America. Our missionary workers came back with pictures of children living in a dump in Guatemala and captured her heart.”

“It’s quite an undertaking, mission work, I mean,” Josiah offered. His own father had been a missionary and the family had traveled the world.

“She’s so good with kids. She has all this love inside and she’s just busting to help those kids. I hope she gets the chance.”

Josiah moved to try to make the young man more comfortable only to have him scream in pain as soon as he moved. In spite of the pain, Adam pulled himself up to wrap his arms around the other man.

Hearing the scream, Vin diverted from his chosen path and slid down to where Josiah was cradling Adam as the young man sobbed in agony. Seeing that there wasn’t anything he could do that Josiah wasn’t already doing, Vin turned back to his original plan. Peering into the opening in the snow, he saw that Buck was either asleep or unconscious and Julia was resting against him, trembling.

“Julia? Are you okay?” Vin asked softly.

She looked up and he saw the tears.

“He’s in so much pain. We have to get him out of here,” she cried.

“I know. Chris and JD will be here in a few minutes. Hang on, okay?”

Looking around from where he knelt, Vin surveyed the area where the vehicles had been. He moved toward the most likely looking mound and began to dig. Miraculously, the suburban had not flipped but had drifted until it reached the foundation of the cabin where it stopped. In spite of the pain in his ribs, Vin dug into the snow.

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JD and Chris were lying at a slight angle in the snow. JD’s weight, little though it was, pinned Chris on his back. Working together, they managed to loosen the cocoon around them. Chris used his fists to break thru the ice so that JD could push away and finally crawl out of the tunnel in the snow. Chris managed to turn over and crawl to freedom. Taking a quick look around, the team leader came to a decision.

“Go help Vin, I think he’s trying to find the first aid kit. I’ll go see to Nathan. Go slowly, I don’t want to have to pull you out of a hole,” Chris said as he kept hold of the young agent.

Moving along the tracks Vin had made, JD detoured to look in on Buck. Edging closer to the hole, he looked in. His stomach rolled when he saw the bloodied patch of snow around his roommate. Julia had her hand resting on Buck’s cheek as she sang softly. Realizing that she was being watched, she stopped and looked at JD.

“How is he?”

“Weak. He’s lost so much blood and I can’t do anything to stop it. He keeps calling for you. He won’t believe that you’re alive. I’ve been singing show tunes to him for the last little while, it calms him.”

“Holler when he comes around again and I’ll come over. I have to go help Vin find the first aid kit.” JD remained a moment longer looking at his friend before moving away.

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“Mr. Larabee, it is good to see you’re uninjured. I fear you are a minority in the group this time around. I have been trying to get to Mr. Jackson to see if I could offer a word of support. He has been in a great deal of pain.”

“He’s unconscious for now. How are you?”

“I’m certain that my leg is broken but I’m concerned that I cannot feel it,” Ezra answered. The concern was shining brightly in his green eyes.

“You will, when it starts warming up, you’ll wish for this again. Could you stand for me to move you closer to Nathan?” Chris offered.

“Your energy would better be conserved for Mr. Jackson’s extrication. I will make my way over there at my snail’s pace. Take these, perhaps you and Mr. Jackson can share them,” Ezra offered the M & M’s.

“Vin’s?” Chris guessed.

“He gave them to me when he realized that I was suffering from dangerously low blood sugar. I consumed only what I needed to stave off the dizziness and trembling.”

Chris accepted the bag and poured several into his hand. Smiling, he made his way back to Nathan.

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Even before he was close to Vin, JD could hear the labored breathing. The Texan was trying to dig down along the driver’s door of the suburban. Vin’s hands were bleeding in places and he had no gloves.

“Vin, stop!” JD demanded. “Get over there and rest. Nathan will break some more of your ribs if you hurt yourself!”

“We need that first aide kit, JD!” Vin protested. The young agent reached out and gripped Vin’s shoulder. “Buck is in a bad way, kid. We gotta get Nathan free so he can tend to Buck but he can’t do a thing without that bag!”

“Let me dig for a while. You rest.” JD took the rock that Vin had been using as the Texan crawled out of the hole and sprawled on the snow.

Before he began to dig, JD studied the side of the vehicle. It looked like Vin was trying to dig down far enough to open the door but the window was shattered from when Blake had fired at Buck. Setting the rock aside, he kicked the glass into the seat and slid inside. It took a couple of minutes to find the bag and shove it back thru the window.

“Vin? Can you pull the bag out for me? Vin?” JD stuck his head out to see that Vin was asleep. A light bulb went off in his head and JD reached back for a couple of the sleeping bags. Squeezing out, he pushed everything back up on top of the snow and climbed out of the hole. Kneeling at Vin’s side, JD opened the sleeping bag and placed it over the sharpshooter.

Chris looked up as JD came into sight. His smile was warm and bright as the kid had both the first aid kit and a sleeping bag. Between the two of them, they managed to get Nathan into the sleeping bag with his pinned arm sticking out thru the zipper. Ezra edged closer as Chris and JD prepared to try to move the stone.

“Get some of those gauze pads ready. If the artery is torn, it’ll pump when the pressure is relieved. If one of you can spare your belt, we can tourniquet above the elbow to try to control the bleeding,” Nathan said calmly.

JD immediately whipped off his belt and Chris worked it under the trapped limb. Finally, they were ready to begin. Ezra scooted close and reached out to hold Nathan, as Chris and JD were ready to try to roll the stone.

“Once it starts to shift, don’t let it roll back if you can prevent it,” Nathan asked.

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A scream of pain caused Josiah’s head to pop up and Adam to whimper softly. Vin was startled by the scream and sprang up, dropping the sleeping bag. He was disoriented but the little bit of rest had rejuvenated him. From where he was standing, he could see the stone roll away from Nathan’s arm.

The scream also jarred Buck. His head lifted from Julia’s and he winced in pain. The girl had worked his bare hand into the pocket of her snowsuit to protect his fingers from frostbite. When Buck startled, he pushed against Julia, causing more pain to course thru his chest.

“I’m sorry, Buck! I’m sorry! Don’t move, please?” Julia pleaded as her nervous hands danced across his shoulders.

“JD?” Buck called weakly.

“He was here a few minutes ago. He went to help Chris get Nathan free. Just hang on Buck, you’re next,” she promised.

+ + + + + + +

Throwing his weight across Nathan, Ezra felt the break in his leg for the first time. The team medic jerked as the agonized scream was ripped from his throat. As soon as the stone rolled away, Chris dropped to his knees and studied the damaged limb. There was no sign of bleeding but he could see where the bones were broken in several places. He shifted his eyes to Nathan’s face. He was unconscious.

“Ezra, are you all right?” Chris asked because the southerner was several shades of green under an abnormally pale glow.

“I will be, if I can ever get the sound of that scream out of my head. I am not made to be the one to inflict pain.”

“Wait till you have kids,” Chris remarked with a wry, teasing grin. “Look in that bag and find a splint. Maybe we can get it on before he comes around.”

Between JD and Ezra, they found the inflatable splint and JD helped Chris to put it on and then the kid pumped it up while the team leader held it steady. Just as they were preparing to shift the broken arm into the sleeping bag, Nathan wakened. He angrily demanded to be gotten to his feet so he could check on Buck. Chris supported him for the trek across the snow.

“Ezra? If you can get on the sleeping bag, I’ll pull you over to the others,” JD offered.

In spite of the pain he was feeling, Nathan knew that he had to help Buck. He could see that there had been a lot of bleeding but it appeared to have stopped. The girl was doing all she could to keep him warm and calm with her body and her voice.

“Chris, can you pull her out of there?” Nathan asked.

Julia looked at the dark skinned man as if he’d slapped her. Huge tears rolled down her cheeks as she stared up at him. She offered up her hands and Chris pulled her free.

“We need to tramp down this snow so I can get to him. Grab a sleeping bag and tuck it around him. JD? Get over here, I need your help,” Nathan called.

Vin offered the sleeping bag he’d been covered with and moved to comfort Julia, who had dropped to her knees in tears. He pulled her away from the others and steered her toward Adam. As soon as she saw her friend, she raced to his side.

“Adam! Adam, I was so afraid I’d lost you!” She fell to her knees at his side.

“Josiah, why don’t you see if you can help them with Buck? I’m not much good with these hurt ribs,” Vin suggested.

After easing Adam into Julia’s arms, Josiah crawled around the trees and made his way to the site of all the activity. Chris and JD were enlarging the opening around Buck by tamping down the snow and throwing out the rocks. Nathan was chomping at the bit to get into the hole and check on Buck.

Finally, there was enough room in the hole for the team medic to be lowered in and Nathan was eased down. He used his hands to check Buck’s vitals before going any farther. The piece of metal that protruded from Buck’s chest was a rod from the headboard of the bed that Julia had been on before the avalanche. He carefully maneuvered around to see if the bar was still attached to the frame. They had freed Buck’s other arm from the snow and it hung limply at his side.

Unable to bear the sight of Nathan poking and prodding his friend, JD crawled back into the suburban and pushed out the rest of the sleeping bags. He took one and went in search of Vin.

“I hate to say this, but we’re going to need a hacksaw to cut this bar loose,” Nathan decided. “There’s no way I’d attempt to remove it here.”

“There should be one in the toolbox in the suburban,” Josiah answered.

Chris looked around and saw that both Vin and JD had disappeared and Ezra was in no shape to be crawling around so he went to look for the saw himself. It took him several minutes to find it in the dark but the toolbox was too heavy to move. He offered the saw to Nathan.

“Josiah, can you help me? I’ll hold him still while you cut the bar.”

“I think you’d better let me help Josiah. Your arm won’t take too much more,” Chris suggested. “There’s room for all three of us if you want to stay down there with him, Nathan.”

+ + + + + + +

JD offered the sleeping bag to Vin and he opened it to wrap around Adam and Julia. The Texan had crawled up and looked at the young student’s leg and knew it was not good. He had lost a lot of blood already and would lose more when they tried to get him free.

+ + + + + + +

Draping Buck’s left arm over Chris’s shoulder, the team leader wrapped his arms around the ladies man. Nathan had given Buck a low dose of Morphine for the pain but dared not give him any more with as much blood as he had lost. Josiah flinched at the soft groan of pain Buck emitted when the hacksaw was set against the rod.

“Are we ready, brothers?” Josiah asked.

Getting a nod from Chris and Nathan, he looked into the pain filled blue eyes of the explosives expert. Buck nodded weakly and whispered.

“Just get it over with quick, Josiah, please?”

Providence was with them as the lower part of the bar was partially hollow and it cut thru easily. Once freed of the bed frame, Buck’s knees folded and he sagged against Chris. Josiah moved to take some of the deadweight off of the team leader while he waited for direction from Nathan.

“We need to get him out of here as carefully as possible. I need him lying down. Let’s move him gently.”

“JD! Vin! Get up here, we need your help!” Chris called.

We’ll be right back, Julia. You two just hang on, okay?” Vin assured the co-eds before moving to follow JD.

JD was spreading a sleeping bag near the hole after pulling Nathan out. Josiah took most of the weight on himself as the two men tried to lift Buck out of the hole without jarring him or the bar that bisected his body. Vin and JD tried to help as they got Buck part of the way out of the hole. They supported Buck while Chris climbed up to take over from the top. After Buck was gently settled on the sleeping bag on his side, Nathan continued to examine him.

“I’m, uh, going to check on Julia,” Vin announced. JD popped up to go with him. When they reached the other side of the tree where Adam was lying, Julia was crying.

“Julia? What’s wrong?” Vin asked as he knelt at her side. The young woman was sobbing and rocking Adam slowly. JD reached out and felt for a pulse before shaking his head sadly. They sat with her as she sobbed out her grief and loss. After several minutes, they coaxed him out of her arms and covered him with the sleeping bag.

+ + + + + + +

“Nathan, would it be better for him if we could get him inside of the suburban? We could uncover the rear door and get him inside,” Chris offered.

“Yeah, it might keep him warmer, out of the wind. It might keep us all warmer. If we could fold down the seats and all of us pile in together.”

The uninjured members of the team worked to dig out and tamp down the snow so they could get to the back doors of the suburban. Julia knelt beside Buck and held his hand as the tears rolled down her face. Nathan kept checking Buck’s blood pressure. It was dangerously low with all the blood he had lost. Ezra and Vin sat watching, as Nathan wouldn’t let them help.

Josiah yanked the frozen door open and crawled inside. He quickly folded down the seats and tossed out anything that they might be able to use to survive. They had some leftover food supplies, not much, but it would have to do. They used a sleeping bag to keep pressure off of the bar as they moved Buck into the back of the suburban.

Vin moved to kneel beside Julia. She was still crying inconsolably about Adam’s death. She leaned against the sharpshooter and let him put an arm around her. JD opened another sleeping bag and draped it around her shoulders.

The sun was heading down by the time they got Buck settled in the suburban. Josiah broke several branches off of nearby trees and started a small fire in the area where they had tamped down the snow. He and JD had gathered rocks to put under the fire.

“Chris, we need to give him blood. The saline solution is nearly frozen, I can’t give it to him. If I don’t raise his volume and blood pressure, his organs will begin to shut down. You, Ezra, JD and I are usable donors. I don’t want to have to give him all the different types unless we have to. I’ll start with you and Ezra. If I have to, I’ll go to JD and myself. I need to get the inflatable cast on Ezra’s leg and bind up Vin’s ribs before it gets too dark.”

The pain in his arm was becoming nearly unbearable. Nathan wanted nothing more than to give himself a shot and go to sleep but he still had to tend to Ezra and Vin. Josiah and Chris helped get the cast onto Ezra’s broken limb and pump it up. They then gently maneuvered him into the vehicle and made him as comfortable as possible. Nathan gave him a shot that sent him into oblivion.

Kneeling near the fire, Vin took off his coat and shirt. Chris winced at the ugly shades of black and blue that covered the Texan’s side. He marveled that, with all the pain Vin must have been in, he still managed to free them from their frozen prisons. The team leader, under the direction of Nathan, wrapped the broken ribs. They settled Vin in the front seat with a sleeping bag and he received a shot of Morphine for his pain.

The fire gave off a little warmth but its colors and patterns were somewhat soothing as Julia stared into the flame. Tears continued to roll down her cheeks as she sat. Words to prayers and Bible verses floated up in her mind that gave no comfort. Images of Maggie, bleeding out on the floor of the cabin, intruded and she began to whimper.

Inside the suburban, Josiah took the bag of saline solution and tucked it inside his coat to warm it. Nathan rigged the supplies he had to start a transfusion from Chris to Buck. JD was huddled up on the front seat with Vin.

When Julia’s keening reached into the suburban, Josiah moved to try to comfort the girl. The fire had melted some of the snow and her snowsuit was soaked thru at the knees where she was kneeling. She was staring into the fire and crying out her grief. The older agent gathered her into his arms and soothed her. He coaxed her into the suburban and cuddled her inside the sleeping bag wrapped around her shivering frame.

After the first transfusion, Buck’s blood pressure improved slightly, giving Nathan hope. He raised the ladies man’s feet and tucked the sleeping bag more closely around him. Chris leaned back beside Ezra and dozed off for a little while. Josiah closed the doors and positioned himself against one door with Julia in his arms to make room for Nathan to lie down.

“Give yourself something, Nathan. You need to rest too,” Josiah urged.

Darkness descended on the mountains and it got dark quickly in the confines of the vehicle. JD rested against Vin’s legs as the two young men shared their warmth. Ezra and Chris shared a sleeping bag. Josiah and Julia remained cuddled up together until the young woman began to have a nightmare. She whimpered and shifted against Josiah until he wakened enough to talk to her. Nathan reached out to check Buck before closing his eyes again in sleep.

A few hours into the darkness, Buck began to moan and move against the pain. Nathan reached out to try to settle him and jarred the bar extruding from his chest. The team medic cursed the inky blackness inside of the vehicle.

“Has anyone seen the flashlight?” Nathan asked angrily.

An idea flashed in his head and JD asked, “Josiah, do you have the keys in your pocket?”

“No, they should be in the ignition, why?”

The sound of movement in the front seat was followed by the click of the ignition and the dome light came on. The sudden addition of the little bit of light caused several of them to squint. Nathan blessed the light as it enabled him to see his patient. Buck relaxed when he saw Nathan leaning over him. A pair of hands touched his shoulders and he knew it was Vin and JD.

“How you feeling, stud?” Chris asked lightheartedly.

“Been better. Is everyone here?”

“We lost Adam but everyone else is here. You just try to rest, okay?”

“Cold, Nate. I’m in trouble aren’t I?” Buck’s brilliant blue eyes sought the truth.

“You’re doing better now. We’ll give you some more blood in the morning. You want a little something for pain?” Nathan hated to give him anything with his vital signs being as weak as they were but he couldn’t bear to let him suffer.

After giving him a low dose of Morphine, Nathan tucked the sleeping bag close around the ladies man again. A shuffling sound caused him to turn. Julia crept out from under the sleeping bag she had been sharing with Josiah and snuggled up close to Buck. She rested her head lightly on his uninjured shoulder as she pressed her chest close to his side.

“Turn off the ignition, JD. The dome light will stay on without it,” Josiah called.

“Better turn out the light, we may need it again,” Nathan said after he settled again. The light went out and the group lay in the absolute darkness.

Having the girl at his side warmed Buck. She had unzipped her snowsuit and her body warmth seeped out to him. The comfortable weight of her head on his shoulder also soothed him. Vin’s hand remained on Buck’s shoulder. The medication took the edge off of his pain and he drifted off to sleep.

+ + + + + + +

Turning off the news, Liam Montague picked up the phone. He dialed the number from memory and listened as it rang until the machine picked up. Hanging up the phone, he debated his next move. The reports said that several small avalanches had devastated campgrounds and ski resorts in the higher elevations. He had not heard from Josiah and was beginning to worry.

+ + + + + + +

JD shifted, uncomfortably crowded in the front seat of the suburban. Vin flinched as the young agent’s arms came close to his injured ribs. Ezra also wakened, his chestnut hair pressed against Chris’s neck. He felt the call of nature and dreaded the thought of trying to stand on his broken leg. Just as Chris had warned him, with the warmth came the pain.

The others began to waken and Josiah opened the door and climbed out. JD had already wiggled out of the broken window and taken care of his need. Nathan checked on Buck and Ezra before working his way out of the suburban. Chris helped the southerner out before going back for Vin.

The movement around her wakened Julia and she stretched. In spite of the cold air, she was pleasantly warm cuddled up against Buck. She felt his arm tighten around her back and his lips pressed against the top of her head.

“How do you feel this morning?” She asked as she propped herself up on her elbow at his side.

“Just seeing you makes me feel better,” he answered with a big smile. A dark haired face appeared in his field of vision.

“I can’t believe you! Even as hurt as you are, you are still flirting!” JD said with mock severity.

“Jealous? I don’t see any beautiful women cuddled up with you up there, kid.”

JD blushed as he reached over the seat to place a reassuring hand on Buck’s shoulder. Julia eased out from under the sleeping bag and slipped out of the suburban to go to the bathroom. Josiah and Chris were busy breaking limbs off of the trees to build a fire. Ezra was seated against one of the suburban’s open doors. Nathan eased himself back into the vehicle to check on Buck. Josiah had given him the bag of saline solution after warming it to body temperature overnight in his coat. Vin limped around the area, looking for the Dodge.

After a light breakfast made from the dwindling supplies, they crawled back into the suburban to get warm. Julia ended up snuggled up with Ezra under a sleeping bag as Nathan had started the IV in Buck’s uninjured right arm. Josiah and Chris took the front seat so that Vin could lie down and JD could sit beside Buck. The fire built in the opening at the end of the vehicle warmed the inside of the suburban a little.

+ + + + + + +

At noon, Liam finally called the forest service and reported that there had been people at his cabins and that they may have been trapped by the avalanche. He spent the rest of the afternoon pacing in the confines of his living room as he scanned the news reports.

+ + + + + + +

The team remained together in the vehicle for a good part of the day, resting. The more able bodied gathered more wood to keep the fire going. Chris and JD found the Dodge turned over against a tree. The gear was spilled and buried in the wave of snow. The two men worked to see what they could recover. The tarp and several of the ski poles were still attached to the truck bed. The skis were uncovered in mismatched pairs and only one snowboard. JD hooted when he discovered the box containing the cooking utensils. With the larger pot, they would be able to melt more water for them to drink. Water would keep them alive a little longer.

Looking at the dark haired agent, Chris blanched at the sight of the black and blue marks that covered the side of JD’s face. Taking stock of his team, Chris knew it would be a long time before they worked again. His worry about Buck had driven him out of the back of the vehicle, he couldn’t bear to see him suffering.

One of the limbs he was breaking up struck his arm and Josiah winced. Julia moved to his side when she saw the bloody puss run from his coat sleeve. As soon as she touched him, Josiah pulled away from the pain. Her hand tightened on his coat and she pressed her hand against his forehead. Shaking her head, she pressed her hand under his coat at the shoulder and she frowned.

“You have a fever. You didn’t tell anyone that you’re hurt,” she accused.

“Nathan has enough to worry about. It’s just a scratch,” he defended.

“What’s just a scratch?” Nathan called from inside the suburban.

The big, graying agent sighed his frustration as he pulled off his coat. The bloody wound was swollen and hot to the touch. The medic glared a fair imitation of the Larabee glare as he moved painfully out of the vehicle.

JD brought the pot filled with clean snow and set it next to the fire. He explained what he and Chris were doing before moving off again. Julia offered to help Nathan tend to Josiah. Vin climbed out and went to see if he could help Chris and JD. They were spreading the tarp and pinning it down to give their location to any aircraft flying overhead.

With trembling hands, Julia did what Nathan told her to do. She pressed on the sides of the wound and forced the puss and nylon bits from the coat out of the deep gash. Nathan had given Josiah a shot so that he wasn’t in any pain during the procedure, making it easier. When the water was nearly boiling, a gauze pad was dipped and used to clean the wound. When he was satisfied that it was clean, Nathan stitched it and wrapped a bandage around it.

+ + + + + + +

The forest service got the report on the possibility of skiers at a campground. They were receiving reports of missing and trapped people every couple of hours. So far, there were over a hundred people missing in the areas hit by the avalanches. The report of seven men on a ski trip was added to the list.

+ + + + + + +

In spite of the cold, Buck’s temperature soared. Nathan was forced to do a transfusion from Ezra after lunch. Julia slid in next to the front seat and eased Buck’s head into her lap as she mopped his fevered brow. JD knelt next to his roommate and held his hand. Lunch had been a couple of cans of soup cut with extra water. The little bread they had was stale and they dipped it into their soup. Julia coaxed the soup into Buck before he passed out again.

As the sun rolled toward its nightly respite, the eight people on the mountain huddled around inside the suburban. Ezra slept after his blood donation. Julia continued to soothe Buck whenever he twitched in his sleep. Josiah was sleeping in the front seat as his own temperature climbed. The young woman also comforted him as he murmured Bible verses in his delirium. Vin paced rather than spend time sitting in the confines of the vehicle. Chris and JD sat around the fire, conversation between them was stilted.

+ + + + + + +

The forest service helicopter floated over the slide area. The landmarks they normally used to identify their location were completely gone. Trees and cabins were gone and roads were covered and impassable. The pilot had only enough fuel to return to base when he spotted the blue tarp staked out on the side of the mountain. He radioed to base that he thought he had found some more survivors and gave them the location.

+ + + + + + +

The sound of the chopper brought Vin to his feet as he yelled and waived. The tail of the chopper swung around and an arm waived back before the pilot flew away. Chris and JD had just made it to the tarp when the chopper flew away.

“He saw us! He saw us, Chris!” Vin called excitedly.

“Then why in the hell did it fly away like that?”

“Sun’s going down, maybe they’ll be back in the morning.” Vin offered.

As the sun went down, Team 7 and Julia began to jockey for positions in the suburban. JD took the place that Julia had abandoned under Buck’s head. Josiah remained in the front seat under the sleeping bag. Chris settled under Buck’s calves to leave more room for Ezra and Vin to lie down. Nathan stayed in the small area between the injured men. Julia climbed over the front seat and curled up in the floorboard near Josiah. She kept him calm by reciting Bible verses with him when he wakened and soothing his forehead with a clean shirt that Chris and JD had found along with some of their luggage.

Just before daylight, Buck began to seize. Nathan shouted for the light as he reached out to try to prevent Buck from doing any more harm to himself. Julia banged her head on the steering wheel as she turned on the dome light. JD and Chris were hanging on with all they had and Vin managed to get on his knees to lean over the shuddering body. Chris lost his tenuous grip on Buck’s feet and one leg managed to strike the Texan in the ribs.

After several moments, the seizure ended and the restraining hands backed away. Vin tried to rise and a white-hot pain ripped into his side. His agonized cry was cut off by a cough that brought up blood. Gasping for breath, Vin fought to remain conscious, to keep his body from collapsing onto the broken ribs.

“Nate!” Chris struggled out from under Buck’s legs to pull Vin to an upright position. The change in posture caused Vin to cough again, spraying blood across the sleeping bag.

“Vin!” JD cried out and struggled to move. Nathan waived him back down.

“Don’t move, JD! You’re safe right there. Chris, we need to get Ezra out of the way so that I can work!” Nathan ordered.

Julia began to tug Josiah into an upright position as the southerner levered himself over the seat. His inflatable cast came to rest on the seat and Ezra leaned against Josiah as Julia rearranged the sleeping bag to try to keep him warm. Chris continued to hold Vin upright as the Texan fought to draw his breath.

“Lay him down, Chris, easy! Try to relax, Vin. I know it hurts. Try to relax. On his side, Chris. Hold him still,” Nathan ordered.

Unzipping the coat, the medic carefully slid his hands over the injured ribs. At Vin’s agonized scream, Nathan withdrew his hand.

“Damn! Broken rib got his lung. I’m going to have to open him up and fix it. Hold him still. I’m going to need another set of hands. Chris, can you do this?”

“You want me to help you operate on Vin? Nate, I, I don’t know if I can,” Chris denied.

“You can do it. Hand me the bag.” Nathan pointed to the first aide kit.

Chris watched while Nathan drew up a large dose of Morphine and injected Vin with it. The pain filled gasping eased as the Texan went completely limp. Nathan dug out a metal, screw top canister and opened it. He poured the contents into his hand, a pair of surgical scalpels. Taking one, he returned the other to the case.

“Nate, I can’t, I can’t sit here while you cut him. Please?” Chris pleaded.

“I can help, Nathan,” Julia offered.

The young woman climbed over the men and the seat and eased in behind Vin. Nathan pressed a clean shirt into Chris’s hand and indicated that he should keep the area free of blood. After the first incision, the team leader remained solidly focused on his one responsibility. Julia did exactly as she was told without hesitation as Nathan told her what to do. She eased the broken bone out of the hole in the lung. Nathan threaded a needle and closed the wound in the lung, one handed. Julia took the needle and closed the skin. She placed a gauze pad over the incision and they taped the area carefully before easing him onto his back.

Chris covered Vin with a sleeping bag before collapsing against the door and dragging his hands thru his blonde hair. Burning, bitter tears rolled down his cheeks as he fought to control the rage that was boiling up inside him. Julia shuddered before returning to her place in the front floorboard. Burying her face in Ezra’s lap, she sobbed softly.

“He absolutely cannot be moved! I don’t know how we’re going to get out of here!” Nathan’s voice had taken on a hint of panic and hysteria.

A second set of soft sobs joined Julia’s as JD buried his face in the bend of his arm and wept. Ezra reached back and tried to soothe the young man with one hand as he soothed the young woman with the other. Josiah began to rouse slightly from his delirium and shifted about, jarring Ezra. Chris opened the door and fled the vehicle. He made his way to the tarp and threw himself down as he struck the surface with his fists.