Larabee's Unit:
Winter's Beginning - Search and Rescue

by Kris

Alternate Y2K Universe


Nathan cleaned and bandaged Hawk's leg. Raine came over to ask if she could assist, Nathan smiled as he declined. He did ask them questions about their project, to take their minds off their current ordeal. Raine was delighted to talk about her passion. Singin and Hawk added to Raine's dialogue. The fate of the wolves were very important to these people. Nathan was captivated by Raine's passion for her work, that was an aspect he shared. It was unexpected to learn that he wolves mate for life and are exceptional parents.

Josiah came out from behind the vehicle as he saw Vin make his way down. He took the rope he got from Jason and tied the shooter's hands behind his back. They pushed him toward the chopper. Singin helped Nathan load Hawk into the helicopter and Nathan told him the hospital where they would drop Hawk at. He looked to Raine.

She handed him her business card and said with a smile, "Call me.

The helicopter lifted off as the wolf team returned to their project.

+ + + + + + +

Hell's Half Acre, a canyon that was glacier formed, but reminded Ezra of a cave floor upside down. Stalagmites hanging, casting shadows of all shapes and sizes. You can lose the sun early in the deepest part of the canyon and lots of hikers this time of year don't bring jackets.

The four searchers had they headset radios and compasses. JD also had his GPS 2000, he was high tech.

The four men took the different routes. Chris had explained the various terrains they could encounter. Chris had tried to get more info, he was waiting for their names, the man at the command center forgot to ask, and he was to call for and relay the names. It was easier to shout for a specific.

Buck was following a litter trail. Fruit roll-ups, twinkies, apple cores, candy bar wrappers. Buck spoke to the others, "Following a trail of food wrappers, they're probably sick from eating." He kept on the wrapper trail, calling out, boys or son. Hoping for a response. It was the moaning that Buck heard first.

Two twelve or thirteen years olds were sitting in the shade. One was bent over, apparently he had already thrown up once, and looked as though he intended to again. Buck let the others know he'd found them and gave them his heading.

"Search and Rescue boys, I was sent to find you. You look ill, young man," Buck called out to them so they wouldn't freak.

"Boy, are we glad to see you. We were supposed to walk the whole place as a dare. But our packs got so heavy that we started to eat the stuff in it so out packs would get lighter. But Jimmy here started to get a belly ache, and then he barffed. So we stayed and we're gonna hike out later," the one boy rattled off.

Buck smiled, thinking he'd rival JD in the jabber department. He sat and talked with the boys, offering them water. Chris joined them, just as JD hopped down. Chris called to Josiah for a picked up estimate as Ezra arrived. But as he was enroute to a hospital, Larabee decided that they take the boys themselves.

They took it slow and even carried the two boys and reached the vehicles an hour later. They arrange to meet the parents at the Ranger station. They headed back home.

Buck commented, "They still had half a pack full of junk food. Vin mighta mugged them for it." The other three couldn't help but laugh at how true that statement could be.

+ + + + + + +

Buck, Josiah and Nathan were already in the TV room watching a movie, they didn't have kitchen duty. When it was over, Josiah popped out the tape and the screen reverted back to what had been on the TV. Buck watched the screen a moment, then popped in a blank tape and hit the record button. He wanted to get what was coming up after the commercial break.

Buck yelled out, "Hey Chris, you might wanna watch this, hurry."

Responding to the tone of Buck's voice, Chris dropped the paper work and headed in.

Buck waved Josiah and Nathan back into their seats and the four sat, opened mouth as they watched the screen. After the twenty minute National Geographic Explorer segment was over, Buck reached over and turned off the VCR. He then sat back to watch Chris with a smile on his face. He knew that Ezra and Vin would be joining them soon, probably JD, too.

Sure enough, after about fifteen minutes, the trio walked in. JD and Vin were teasing Ezra over something and Ezra remained as stoic as ever.

Chris Larabee watched as the three men entered the common room. Vin headed for the fridge and silently asked if anyone else wanted a beer. He brought over four, Ezra and JD's and one for Josiah, he twisted the top on his and sat down. As Vin looked over at Chris, he noted an odd expression.

After the three team members were seated, Chris asked silkily, "Ezra, you said that you and Vin went kayaking on your four-day, isn't that right?"

The question didn't mean anything was wrong, but Ezra felt that the air about Larabee was electrified. "Yes, we did, in Mexico. Very enjoyable." He looked over at Vin, who nodded his head in agreement.

"Just a simple trip, nothing special?" Chris asked, his tone would melt butter.

"Chris it was exhilarating, that's right, ain't it Ez?" Vin replied, not sure where he misstepped by his answer didn't seem to sit well with his friend.

Buck handed the remote to Chris, he had already rewound the tape. "Now it's always possible that the words, simple and enjoyable have a different meaning for me" his tone implying that they didn't, "But it seems remiss on your parts not to share with us an adventure of this magnitude."

Chris pressed the play button and the National Geographic announcer introduced the segment as "The extreme of the extreme. Daredevils that count danger and death, from the edge of insanity. Today I have world record holder Tao Tamata...."

Vin jumped up, excited, "Hey, Ezra, we know him. Great guy."

Ezra didn't want to look at the leader of this group, already with an inkling what was on the tape.

The announcer continued, "What made you come here?"

Tao smiled into the camera, "year before last, Ezra and I had done a eight story drop. It was even and very controlled, we want to challenge the sport and looked for longer drops. With safety in mind, of course."

"What safety can you insure in kayaking off waterfalls?" The announcer asked seriously.

"Studying the fall, learning the terrain. You land flat, you could shatter your back or if you lean backward, you could smack your head, which could be lethal if you flip. You learn to control your drop, you lean into the water before you drop," Tao smiled again as if it was the easiest thing.

"So here behind us is an ten story waterfall. Tao did it this morning and was the first, and now holds the world record for waterfall kayaking." The footage then showed Tao running the waterfall and followed his drop and plunge into the water below. His cry of joy had the camera crew hollering with him.

Vin smiled at Ezra, Vin had loved that day. A first for him.

The footage cut to the announcer again. "Tao, who are your friends?"

Tao pointed at the two figures that were putting on their helmets and introduced them. "Ezra Standish, long time kayaker, and Vin Tanner, a kayaker but this is his first waterfall running, but he's a natural. Watch them. Ezra is going first." The camera was on Ezra. He strapped himself in and gave a thumbs up to Vin and pushed himself off the side. He approached the rapids as a man familiar with his craft. The close up of his face showed how completely focused he was. Over the falls and a straight plunge down.

Even though four of the men had already seen it they still held their breaths as they watched Ezra fall. He hit the water and after the splash subsided, Ezra was there and making his way to the side. A huge grin plastered on his face. Once he took his helmet off, the poker face was once again in place.

The camera went to the top again as it focused on Vin. Watching the lithe man, one would never guess that he had never gone over a falls before. He followed Ezra's instructions to the letter. The feeling of plunging as one with the water was awesome for Vin. He naturally leaned into the drop and landed perfectly, as though he was the water himself.

The announcer and Tao both, looked impressed with the beauty of Vin's fall. The rest of what the announcer said was drowned out by JD's yelp of awe, "Woah, guys that was spectacular. You guys are great. Why didn't you tell us you were on TV?"

Vin shrugged. He hadn't known. Ezra, too seemed surprised that this was filmed, but with Ezra, it was tough to tell if that was really true or not.

Chris' smooth as silk voice asked, "This was simple?" Then, some of the fear that had been in his throat was released. "What in the hell were you thinking, letting a novice plunge off a waterfall."

Vin tried to interrupt before Chris tore a strip off of Ezra, but Chris wasn't heeding the man at all.

"It's one thing if you are careless with your own life, but you don't drag others into your games of danger." Chris' chest was heaving with the suppressed anger and fear.

"Yer outta line Chris," Vin's stern voice cut through the room. "Ezra didn't drag me anywhere. I've been kayaking half my life, I knew what I was doing. I had done several drops earlier in the day. It was fun and I'd do it again, even higher. Ezra and I did it together. We had fun. It ain't no more dangerous than free climbing. It's part of who we are. Quit yer worrin, and stop trying to put blame somewhere." Vin took a swig of his beer and sat back down. Saying causally, "I want a copy of that tape. He smiled at the many head shakes he received from the rest of the guys.

Chris wasn't happy and Ezra left the room. Josiah stood and quietly stepped next to Chris. Talking very softly he said, "You kinda made it sound like you didn't care if Ezra puts his life in danger or gets hurt, but you did about Vin. On some level, even for Ezra, that's gotta hurt." Josiah stepped away, still not quite sure how the enigmatic man would take his words.

Chris looked up at Josiah and nodded his head. The man was right, he had to do something about it now. First he turned to Vin and put his hand on his shoulder, "You're right. I was out of line. I'm sorry. You guys.....well, I worry. Don't know how not to." He raised his brows and his shoulders at the same time.

Vin grinned his huge happy grin. He looked at Chris, "Yeah."

Chris returned the smile then took a deep breath and headed outside into the late autumn night. He heard the five all talk at once over the tape and JD's, "Let's see it again," as he closed the door behind him.

Ezra was leaning on the basketball pole that was now part of the heli-pad. Looking out over the night, surprised at the hurt and disappointment he felt.

Chris walked up to the silent man. He figured that Ezra knew he was there, just didn't want to acknowledge him. "You gonna give an old jerk a chance to say he's sorry?"

"You have nothing to be sorry for, Mr. Larabee," Ezra replied with no emotion.

Yes, I do," he sighed, "I implied that I wasn't equally worried about you as I was about Vin. And that wasn't true." Chris sat down on the edge of the concrete. He sighed again. "I get the feeling that if I care about you, I'll get slapped down. So, I don't show it. Don't mean it ain't there. You're part of this family now, and I don't want to lose any of you."

Ezra sat there, listening to Larabee's words. When he originally sized up this man, he knew that he didn't mince words. Usually said what was on his mind. Didn't use or hide behind words. Lots of times, he didn't say it pretty, but he said it honest. So he knew that he was speaking the truth now. And Ezra wasn't sure if that wasn't worse. If he believed that Larabee didn't really care, he could remain detached, leave when he wanted to. But if Larabee, truly did care, it would make it hard to for him to leave this group. The pang that assailed him at that thought was a shocker. He didn't want to leave. Could he accept their caring, Chris' caring? He'd have to see. He had nothing to compare it too. He didn't know if he could. But if he was honest with himself.....he wanted to try. That meant accepting Chris' apology and put it behind him.

"Apology accepted," Ezra said aloud.

Chris couldn't tell if Ezra just said that, or meant it. He turned his head and looked Ezra in the eye, and didn't see the mask. Instead, in the green depths, he saw the real Ezra, the one that just meant he truly accepted the apology, the one that would try to let them in. Chris put his hand on Ezra's shoulder as he had done Vin's, and squeezed it.

They sat together in silence for another fifteen minutes, then the bite in the air was too much for them both.

Ezra said aloud, "Winter's almost here."

Chris nodded, "yup, end of the week." The two men walked back into the station together.

+ + + + + + +

The snow came, and it came and it came. With the snow, came the people, skiers, snowboaders and snowmobilers. The open areas appeared more crowded than they had in the summer. All the Ranger stations called in and requested they work together, as they were maxed out on their daily permits. Chris agreed, only provision was they had to fax him all the permits granted and update it daily. It wasn't that Larabee didn't trust them exactly, it's just that he knew he could count on his own team without reservation.

Chris arranged for the ski lifts in Casper to be made available for their use on Mondays. The lowest use day and the one they had the least amount of call outs on. He wanted his team to refresh their skiing techniques and learn all they could from JD.

JD showed them unique stopping methods, different types of jumps, all the little tricks the Swiss and Germans had taught him. He showed them ways to restrap their boots without stopping or falling. He drilled them and gave them pointers. Though in his mind, Vin didn't need any. Vin skied like he was on a first name basis with the white powder.

While all the men were good skiers, they all recognized that in JD, they were looking at one of the few elite.

JD was just so stoked that he had a skill to share with his partners, something that his age had nothing to do with. Though, if he were honest, with the exception of Buck, no team member treated him like a juvenile. Then, even Buck seemed to be mostly teasing him. He really loved his job.

+ + + + + + +

It was Ezra's turn to ride a sky patrol, so he joined Nathan as they walked to Josiah's chopper. He put the headset on and listened as Josiah and Nathan pointed out the terrain they had traveled on the ground, and how to recognize it from the air. As they were sweeping the west, Ezra could see some of the bat caves the biologist pointed out.

"Mr. Sanchez, is it possible to land and check on the biologist. As she plans to winter in this area, I would like to ascertain that she doing well at the onset," Ezra asked.

"Why can't you just ask if we can land and check on the girl?" Nathan asked.

"Why, Mr. Jackson, that is precisely what I did ask," Ezra retorted.

"Geez, Ezra." Nathan shook his head.

Josiah just landed the bird. The three men put on their snowshoes and made their way to the cave entrance.

"Ms. Devore, are you present. It's Ezra Standish of Search and Rescue." He thought he heard a muffled sound, and he waited patiently. Finally the sound drew closer and they could make out the words.

"Hello, and welcome." A tarp was drawn back and the three men were surprised, it had looked like a bush in front of the entrance. Rami smiled and invited the three men in.

They looked around them, again surprised at how comfortable the inside temperture was. Ezra made introductions.

Nathan looked around and asked, "Where are the bats?"

"In their own cave. I like my winter conditions a whole lot warmer than they do," Rami explained.

"Do you need anything?" Josiah asked softly. His gaze taking in the little comforts that made it livable. It reminded him of his wife. He should make time to visit her on his next days off.

With a smile she answered, "No, thank you, Mr. Sanchez, I learned last winter what I lacked and so for this one I am well stocked. But I do appreciate the offer."

"You have a varied taste in reading," Ezra commented as he noted the vast number of books she had.

"Well, I don't get good cable coverage here," she said drolly.

Ezra grinned in response.

They all reminded her to call if she needed anything or got into any trouble. She thanked them again as she said good bye.

They were almost back to the helicopter when a loud growl stopped them in their tracks. They slowly looked around them and Ezra spotted it first. "There to the left, a bear,"

Nathan froze in his spot. All the childhood fears rushed in and he couldn't move and didn't hear the other two men talking to him.

Josiah said calmly, "Move to the bird as I distract her," Josiah bent over slightly, then jumped, waving his hands. The bear reacted and moved backwards.

Ezra expected Nathan to move right along with him, but noticed immediately that he had not moved. When he looked at his face, the Southerner recognized the fear that gripped the frozen man. He tugged on Nathan's arm and received no response. As Josiah continued to baffle the bear, Ezra picked up Nathan in a fireman carry and transported him to the helicopter. Josiah moved as he waved his arms and made it to the helicopter safely, also. As he shut the door, he noticed what the bear was doing. It had been separated from it's cub, and had been protecting it. It lumbered over to the cub that was hanging from a branch in the tree behind where the men had been standing.

Josiah lifted the chopper into the air and arced around. He turned to Ezra, "How is he?"

"Still out cold. I believe it would be best to return to the station," Ezra suggested. Josiah agreed.

+ + + + + + +

Josiah was fixing Nathan a cup of coffee. He handed it to the shaken man as he sat across from him. Nathan smiled his thanks. "When I was a small child, my uncle had been attached and killed by a bear. All us kids saw it happen, but there wasn't a thing we could do. We all ran away screaming. This is the first time I have seen one in the wild since that time. I had no idea I'd react that way. Thanks, Josiah for getting me out of there," Nathan told the man sincerely.

Josiah shook his head, "Was Ezra that carried you to the helicopter. Didn't pay any attention to the bear, just got you to the chopper straight away. Thank him."

Nathan didn't say anything, just looked pensive.

+ + + + + + +

The weekends became a blur of activity. The recreaters came out in anything that would get them there. They picked up snowboarders that lost their boards, skiers that lost a ski. Snowmobiliers that ran out of gas. Little things that you couldn't ignore.

Thanksgiving holiday weekend, one of the busiest, provided an ample stage for their collective talents. They had hoped to make a turkey and sit down together, but it was not to be.

They had a call out that some skiers tried to race downhill in the Wind River Range, but came to discover that the backside of those mountains were frozen lakes. If you land too hard, you go through the ice.

Within minutes of the call, the seven men had their winter gear, extra clothes and supplies and were ready for lift off. Chris was in communication with the reporting party, getting as much usable information as he could.

As Josiah surveyed the area for a landing site, Chris explained. "Fifteen people came up together. Two skiers went into the ice. A man on an Arctic Cat tried to go in after them and sunk himself. JD, you and Vin, ski down from the top, search about in case they never made it down. Nathan, prepare for the worst. Josiah will show you how to keep the heat going. The rest of us will fish them out. Buck will rig the systems. You will wear the harness attached to the rig line at all times. I don't want to have to drag you butts out of the lake too."

Josiah dropped Vin and JD off at the top. They talked with the people waiting. They knew for sure, that two went down the back sides, but they weren't positive that they ended up in the lake. Vin relayed that information to Chris.

Vin and JD conferred on their routes and took off down the slope.

Josiah hovered as Chris, Ezra, Buck and Nathan jumped out and surveyed the area. They easily found where the snowmobiler went in. He was a good bit out and Chris thought that Josiah lowering a cable would be the most successful. Ezra jumped back into the craft and secured himself into the ropes that he would be hanging by. Josiah flew over the lake, out to where the man was huddled on top of the sinking vehicle. Josiah stayed high enough so he wouldn't cause waves on the exposed water.

Ezra opened the door and lowered himself on the cable. Checking his knots one last time, left go and fell like a bungee jumper. Hanging upside down, Ezra held himself as still as possible as Josiah slowly lowered the helicopter. The man looked as if he intended to jump up and grab the rescuer. Ezra prepared Josiah for the possible ramifications. Josiah lowered the cable and Ezra was able to reach the man. Ezra fastened a harness around the man's chest and across his back and snapped the carabiner to the cable and signaled Josiah.

Josiah moved the bird sideways to the shore and into the waiting arms of Nathan. The man panicked as Nathan was undoing the harness. As he came lose, his thrashing about caused the line that Ezra was attached to, to swing wildly. Josiah, not wanting to get caught in any updrafts, moved out toward the middle of the lake. With the oscillation of the cable and the wind, Ezra was not able to control the movement. When he struck the exposed vehicle, no one on shore could hear the impact, nor could Josiah. It wasn't until Josiah brought the cable over land again and Buck went to help him, that he saw the blood on the unconscious man.

"Nathan, Nathan, Ezra's hurt. Hurry."

+ + + + + + +

Vin followed the ski tracks down the hillside. The tracks stopped three-quarters of the way down and Vin checked the brush. Draped over the shrubs was a bundled up skier. Skis stuck in the bushes. Vin radioed down that he found one. "Unconscious, but breathing steadily."

Vin then checked the body for breaks. As he was finishing the legs, the man came to. "What happened?"

Vin grinned, "Was going to ask you the same thing. Are you in pain?"

"Cold and uncomfortable," the man answered.

"Okay, then. You hold on to me and your skis will act as the rudder and we'll get down together."

Vin buckled the man to his back, placing the man's skis where he wanted them and they began the downward run. He used some of the tricks JD taught him and the decent was taken slowly.

JD was taking the route the other skier had used and it seemed that this person did make it all the way down. Just didn't fall in the lake. Their ski had twisted and they were stuck in the snow. JD radioed Chris. "Skier down, hypothermic and a injured ankle."

Chris answered with, "Vin on his way with a litter."

Vin had already brought his man down and grabbed the litter and cross-country skied to JD. They secured the man in the litter and JD ran a long rope and tied the extra skis there and the dragged them along.

When Vin and JD returned, then saw Buck and Nathan loading Ezra into a litter of his own. Both hurried over to them. "What happened?" Vin demanded.

"Victim panicked and caused the cable to thrash about and Ezra must have hit the sinking snowmobile. With this guy, we're loaded and ready to go."

Vin knew they couldn't all go, but he turned to Chris and stated, "I'm going with Ezra."

Chris understood the concern Vin had and nodded. Vin hurried over to the chopper and climbed in. Chris, Buck and JD stayed behind and waited with the other folks. Some of their party, that had stayed up top, left in the vehicles they came in. Josiah was flying them into Lander and would return in forty minutes.

The three men settled the folks, but their thoughts were with Ezra.

+ + + + + + +

Josiah radioed ahead and the hospital was waiting for them. Ezra went in first, then the hypothermic victim. The other two were there for observation.

Vin traveled right beside Ezra. The blood frozen on his face made it appear worse than it was. Vin wanted to believe that. The nurses made him wait and he paced in the waiting room. Nathan found him there. As he looked at Vin's pacing, he knew there wasn't any information as of yet.

As the other four rushed into the emergency waiting room, a doctor emerged. "Who's here for Mr. Standish?"

"We are," a chorus of six answered at the same time.

The doctor raised his brows as he explained to the group, "He has suffered a concussion, he has a bad laceration along the hair line. We had a plastic surgeon stitch it up and so it won't show and he'll have virtually no scar. Although he does have quite a few on his body. What does he do?"

Vin answered, "Search and Rescue."

The doctor counted the men before him and said, "Oh, you all must be that Magnificent 7 team that papers write about all the time. They just don't seem to get pictures of you. Now, about Mr. Standish, does he have someone that can stay with him? He needs to be watched for several days."

Chris nodded, "yes we will all be watching him."

"Good, the extreme cold kept all the swelling down, but it may occur, so the next few day he must be watched for signs of concussion. So care must be taken. I will leave a list of instructions." The doctor nodded as he took his leave.

There was a collective sigh of relief in the waiting room.

+ + + + + + +

When Ezra opened his eyes, he saw Nathan sitting in a chair near his bed. "Good morning, or is it evening, Mr. Jackson?"

"Actually, about lunch time, Ezra," Nathan smiled. "You hungry?"

"A good cup of coffee would be most welcome." He put a hand at the stitches on his scalp. "The last I recall, I was hanging upside down over a lake."

"That man caused the cable to swing and your head hit the snowmobile. You have a concussion, we have to watch you for a few days," Nathan told him.

"Well, I can assure you Mr. Jackson, I am fine." Ezra ignored the headache that he had.

Nathan grinned openly, "Ezra, you just woke up. The doctor says we're to watch you for a couple days. You're stuck with us."

"I definitely need that coffee," Ezra said his drawl pronounced.

+ + + + + + +

The Governor had a turkey feast flown in, so they did get the Thanksgiving dinner, just not on the day, but the guys didn't seem to mind that it was December first. Buck was elated, it was his turn to cook. It was always amazing to him how much this group could eat. A thirty one pound turkey and they weren't even going to get any leftover turkey sandwiches.

After all the food was put away, Vin went looking for the dare-devil, had a feeling where he'd find him. Outside, under the big open sky. Alone with his coffee. Vin sauntered up next to him and stood quietly, shoulder to shoulder. Finally asking, "Head still hurtin?"

Ezra didn't turn his head as he answered, "Not really."

"I was half afraid at dinner that JD was gonna ask what we were all thankful for. I was all set to say... food," Vin commented as he watched his breath float away.

"I believe our Mr. Wilmington kicked him under the table," there was amusement in the answering drawl.

"Is it as different for you this year as it's been for me?" Vin asked the hard question of this man that was still fighting the growing friendship. But he knew there were times when the truth would leak out, he was hoping this was one of them.

"This is the first time in thirty years that I felt wanted at the dinner table." The stark reply was more than the free climber expected from the private Southern man.

"It kinda feels like home. I'm tryin to figure if this is a good thing." Vin's honesty reached into Ezra.

The major risk taker nodded his head in real understanding, "Well, we shall see."

Inside the building, the team leader stood at the window, watching the loners. Josiah joined him, looking at the same sight. "They're more alike than at first glance," Josiah commented.

"Becoming part of this group, really a part, is important to both of them. They just haven't realized that yet." Chris knew that Vin wouldn't fight it as hard as Ezra, but he wasn't yet ready to let his guard completely down.

"Only a matter of time, Chris. You put something special together. Hard to fight something that compelling for too long," Josiah sighed in contentment.

Chris grinned as he turned away and looked at Josiah, "We have the hardest part of winter still to come. If they don't kill each other, it should do the trick." He smiled some more, just thinking on what could happen.


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Author's Note: Tao Tamata is the world record holder of waterfall kayaking. The National Geo special did air, but without Ezra or Vin on it. Ezra and Tao are not friends.