Larabee's Unit:
Winter's End

by Kris

Search & Rescue A/U

Disclaimer: The characters belong to those that don't appreciate them, I do and so I play with them. Note: Thanks to Gina for onsite intel, thanks to Ewaje (otaku_fr_la) for the beta, thanks to Forest for the snowboarding info.

Mares emailed me the most hilarious missing scene, she gave me permission to include it in this story. It fits in between winter one and two.

Prologue: Larabee's Unit:
Winter's Beginning...The Missing Scene by Maeres

Josiah rapped lightly before pushing open the door to the room that served as the Unit's office. Chris Larabee still sat behind the desk, idly pushing a pencil around, staring at some papers on the tabletop, but clearly not seeing what was on them. He was lost in thought, a gray pallor of strain evident on his face.

"Chris?" Josiah said softly.

Larabee looked up at the large man, a slightly vacant look before he focused on who stood before him.

"Josiah - take a seat." Larabee sighed as Josiah did as he was bid.

"Nathan was just in here. He told me about the bear, and the problem. I just wanted to get another view of the situation. You saw what happened?"

"Well, I heard what happened. Ezra was the one who really dealt with it."

"You think that it is going to be a problem?"

"Chris?" Josiah frowned at the leader, worried that he was being asked to make a judgment call on his friend's ability.

"Ezra and fire, Vin's claustrophobia, and now Nathan's debilitating fear of bears...I wonder if there are any other little 'problem points' on this team...". Larabee looked at Josiah and arched his eyebrows. Josiah merely cocked his head and shrugged his shoulders in response. Larabee's gaze returned to the papers in front of him.

Josiah sat for a moment and studied the man before him, concern showing in every line of Larabee's face. Slowly the large man got up.

"Chris, seems to me that unless we come upon a flaming bear in a small enclosed space, the team should be okay."

Josiah patted the leader on the shoulder, turned and left, leaving a slightly befuddled and bemused man in his wake.

Two weeks later

Avalanche warnings were coming in hourly. All that is necessary for an avalanche is a mass of snow and a slope for it to slide down. Until they threatened populated areas, the standard procedure was just to keep an eye on the troubled spots.

Chris called an early morning meeting to update his team. He had a funny feeling and wanted to take precautions. "The large avalanche that's being watched might release as much as three hundred thousand cubic yards of snow. That's the equivalent of twenty football fields filled ten feet deep with snow. These type of large avalanches are often naturally released. I'm not real concerned with that one. What is worrying me? The Slab avalanches." Seeing Josiah's and Nathan's puzzled looks, he explained in more detail, "Slab type avalanches are the most common and the most deadly. It's where layers of a snowpack fail and slide down the slope. Since nineteen fifty, two hundred and thirty-five people in the USA have been killed in slab avalanches. Hard slab avalanches involve large blocks of snow and debris sliding down a slope crushing things in its path."

Vin sat straighter as he added, "Keep in mind that some of these conditions, such as temperature and snowpack, can change on a daily or even hourly basis. This means constant observation of your immediate surroundings. While most folks should be doing this with any wintertime backcountry travel, they usually don't. Only the most experienced do and they know when to leave. The route they chose may be safe when they begin, but may become dangerous if conditions change dramatically throughout the day." Vin looked back at Chris as he said, "If they'd let us go now, we could prevent a dangerous slide. But the bureaucrats don't like calling in outside help."

"Lagos again?" JD asked, impressed how professional Vin sounded whenever he spoke of his triggering work.

Chris nodded. "So we just need to stay on top of things. Vin keep your triggering gear with you."

"Always do during the snow months." Vin grinned.

"Even though the hot spots are on park property, we need to be ready. I‘ve got a bad feeling." Chris told them.

Buck sat up and looked alert, "Shit, Chris, why didn't you just say so." Buck looked to the others, "In the service, whenever ‘ol Chris said he had a bad feeling, all hell would break lose. The only thing that kept our team alive and the mission a success, was we never doubted Chris' word and we made alternate arrangements."

"Then let us not break with tradition." Ezra commented.

Chris smiled at the group of nods he received. "JD get us satellite stills for the area encompassing Montana and Wyoming. Get the weather updates hourly. Nathan, set up a communications command post. I'll get the Governor to back us. Josiah, take Vin out to scout possible hit sites. Let's be over prepared. Lagos won't ask for help until it's too late."

Vin left to get his bag and arranged to meet Josiah in ten. Nathan and JD worked together to get the conference table set up as their communications center, then to get it up and running. Chris headed to his desk in the back office to call the Governor's office.

Buck picked up the ringing phone on the desk closest to the door. "Search and Rescue, what can I do for you?"

"You can quit wasting my time and put Ezra Standish on the phone." A female voice said.

Buck's eyebrows raised as he held the phone far away from his body, "Ezra, it's for you."

Ezra looked at Buck's peculiar manner as he took the phone from him. "Standish."

"Ezra, dear , how's my darling son?"

"Mother." Ezra's voice gave nothing away.

Everyone's ears picked up at the word mother. They all stopped and turned toward Ezra. Buck reached over and hit the speaker phone. The area was small enough that all could hear without straining.

"Well hello there, Mrs. Standish. Pleasure to talk to our darling Ezra's mother." Buck sounded all polished as when he spoke to women.

Ezra sighed to himself as he replaced the receiver, he hoped his mother wouldn't alienate the whole team. He looked out the window as he heard her voice again.

"Hello and the name is DeBruan. Ezra, are you there?" Ezra's mother asked.

"Still here. What do you want?" Ezra asked, again giving nothing away with his voice.

"Sie werden diesen foolishness und Rückkehr Heim jetzt gleich aufhalten." The phone voice said.

Ezra responded in kind, "Nein werden Mutter, ich nicht. Beginnen Sie wieder, mein Leben ist meines eigenes nicht. Jetzt hören auf, unverschämt zu werden, und sprechen Englisch."

JD, excited that he understood, quickly translated for those near him. "She said, You will stop this foolishness right now and return home. And Ezra answered, No, Mother, I will not. Do not begin again, my life is my own. Now stop being rude and speak English."

"How dare you speak to me like this. I demand respect."

"Mother, I'm working, we will have to continue this later." Ezra said to the phone.

"That is exactly what I'm talking about. Working. Why would you waste your time doing that. There is plenty of money, just come back and live in Europe."

"Ah, Mother, as much as this conversation moves me, I am needed elsewhere. Goodbye Mother." As Ezra hit the disconnect button, his mother's voice could still be heard protesting.

Josiah spoke first, "She sounds right enchanting." Not wanting to insult Ezra's mother.

Ezra thought to himself that Josiah must have been listening to some other conversation, but his expression gave none of that away as he turned to face the others. "My mother Maude DeBruan."

Vin had walked in at the halfway point and now looked at Chris. They remembered some of the facts disclosed on the file on Ezra. Ones that the others weren't aware of. He took a quick peek at JD too.

"You have a mother, Ezra?" Nathan didn't mean for it to sound as dumb as it came out.

"At one point in time, Mr. Jackson, we all do." Ezra left the office to avoid further questions.

"JD, satellite photos?" Chris said, by way of putting them back on track.

+ + + + + + +

Buck made the morning coffee, afraid to let Vin near it. Buck liked a strong brew, but Vin's would melt the stirring spoon. He placed a mug atop Chris' desk as JD approached. Chris smiled his thanks as JD handed him the sheet of relevant news stories. Heading the list was the missing sled dogs. The youngest member of the team had also made copies for Vin and Ezra as they both had expressed concern for the dogs.

The news brief said that the Canadian authority had passed the search onto the US as the team had moved into Montana.

JD wasn't surprised when Chris picked up the phone and put in a call to the Governor. Chris was hoping to gain permission to assist, he knew that Vin and Ezra wanted to help if they could.

Chris nodded his thanks to JD as he sipped his coffee and finished reading the brief. Elk poaching was at an all time high and the NPS was taking a lot of flack. Chris knew that the Park Service wasn't to blame, there was too much land to canvas and too little man power. Usually it was a lucky break to catch any of pilfers.

Ezra came in reading JD's brief and was grateful that the coffee was decent. He sat down at the computer to do some checking on his own. Buck came up and tapped his foot impatiently behind him. When Ezra could stand it no longer, "What is it that you desire, Mr. Wilmington?"

"Waitin on you Ez. It's our turn, remember?" Buck told him.

"If I remembered, I would be doing it, so obviously I don't." Ezra said impatiently.

"We gotta go feed the horses." Buck smiled at the look of disbelief that crossed Ezra's face.

Then with disgruntled acceptance, Ezra stood and sighed, "I'll change my clothes and meet you at the barn."

As the door closed behind the muttering voice Chris asked of the room, "Where's Vin and Josiah?"

Nathan said as he looked up from a medical journal, "They had that eight a.m. with Lagos. Vin wanted to get some onsite specks of the snow packs." Chris nodded at the information.

An hour later the Governor's call came through, he informed Chris that the Montana authorities gladly turned over the reigns to Wyoming authority. Chris announced to the room at large, "Travis okayed the team's inclusion on this." He looked over at JD, "Josiah back yet?"

"ETA about twenty minutes. His voice sounded pretty disgusted. Said Lagos hadn't evacuated Jensen's lodge.

Larabee rolled his eyes, that was another disaster waiting to happen. "Thanks, JD."

JD went back to the computer. The latest satellite photos were due and he knew Chris was anxious to note the changes.

Buck and Ezra walked in noisily and went straight to the fridge. "It may be damm cold out there, but shifting around all that hay sure makes a fella thirsty."

"Exactly, Mr. Wilmington."

"Buck. Hell Ez, call me Buck."

Ezra smiled as he drank back his soda.

"Ezra," Chris got his attention immediately by the tone alone. "After Josiah refuels, I'm sending you out with Vin to find the dogsled team. They've been spotted at the border and Travis okayed our involvement."

Ezra nodded and headed for his apartment to change again.

+ + + + + + +

After an hour in the air, Josiah shared, "We'll refuel in Billings and then track Ballard's route. JD said he'd radio any updates as he got them."

Vin looked thoughtful, "That bastard looks like he's been running them straight through to have made it this far." Anger was a tangible in his voice.

Thirty five minutes later, after coffee and fuel, they were up and tracing the route most likely, based on JD's guesstamation of Ballard's actions so far.

+ + + + + + +

The man drove the dog team past their endurance. They were tired. He screamed at them, he yelled but they stopped, exhausted. The man mumbled to himself as he left the sled group behind. He had to keep going on, but at least the dogs were free.

He stumbled on, his mental capabilities so far gone, he never realized he had stepped off a cliff.

+ + + + + + +

JD radioed Josiah that the dog team had been spotted on the Montana – Wyoming border, the Absaroka Range. Josiah was able to fly low as visibility was better than expected. Vin and Ezra were along for the dogs only, Nathan was there for the human. Reports were garbled, but as of the last sighting, he had been reported as probably unbalanced.

Josiah's infra-red detected a longer than usual warm sign. He headed straight for it.

They spotted the dog team as they drew closer. "Do ya see Ballard?" Nathan asked, puzzled at the dogs being left alone.

"No, but that edge is awful close. Do ya think he fell over?" Vin asked.

Josiah flew over the edge, all four saw the dead body. "Doesn't register on the heat sensors what so ever." Josiah informed them. "Let's drop Vin and Ezra off and go down and check closer."

Nathan nodded.

Josiah flew back up to the top and hovered close enough to the group of dogs not to frighten them, but enabling Vin and Ezra an easy jump.

Vin rushed over to the dogs and yelled back to Ezra, "Get some extra water."

Nathan handed down two more water canteens, then waved as Josiah lifted off.

Ezra left the supplies and joined Vin beside the dogs. He let each one sniff his scent as Vin already had.

"They seem to be okay, just tired." Vin then started to give water to each dog and Ezra joined in and covered half. They followed it with kibble that each dog wolfed down hungrily. "Let's take it slow and let them set the pace. Flip ya for the reigns." Vin grinned at Ezra.

Bundled appropriately, neither were cold. So Ezra just shook his head, "You may go first, Mr. Tanner. I'll take over half way."

Vin smiled and said, "Thanks Ez."

They gathered and loaded their supplies into the hand crafted oak sled. The workmanship was superb and Ezra couldn't help but admire it. Ezra made himself comfortable, settling into the blankets of the sledseat.


In a single tandem movement, ten dogs stood. With a light twitch of the reigns, the team took off. The rhythmic breathing and perfect stride created the ancient Inuit cadence of their ancestors. They headed in the direction Vin indicated.

Vin loved the feel of the sled team, their cadence, the live power beneath him. The tracker relished this time; brisk wind hitting his face, silence save the breathing of the dogs, nature wild and free. Vin let his spirit join with all around him.

Ezra had forgotten how much fun sledding was. He was warm and comfortable. He startled himself with that thought. Comfortable. He realized that he must trust Vin considerably to be so unconcerned with the ride.

He reflected on Vin in general. At times he became troubled about the closeness that was developing with the outdoorsman. He recognized the automatic withdrawal that he retreated into after times of great affinity. It was almost like a kindred connection and Ezra knew it was not wise to develop those. Inevitably they were severed and the pain was not tolerable. Vin was a tenacious baggage though, and didn't accede to his wishes. He kept pushing the boundaries. He was uncomfortable with the warmth that stole through him at the thought of Vin refusing to allow Ezra any choice in the matter. Vin was determined to be friends. No one before had not given up. He was seriously considering taking the biggest gamble thus far. Real friendship.

Everyone thought that he took reckless chances with his life. Nothing that he wasn't capable of handling, but the emotional stuff, that was dangerous.

To force a change of thoughts, he pondered Chris Larabee. He had been with Larabee's group about six months now and the man was still an enigma.

Buck loved the thrill and danger; and Chris. Josiah needed to be useful. JD was youth, innocence and exuberance in one tight package. Nathan wanted to help others, despite being so judgmental.

Vin was an internal mirror image. Outside they were nothing alike. But inside, that was closed off, they were reflections of each other.

Chris; a leader unparalleled in his experience, was still a hard man to get a bead on. Unlike himself, that had to practice how to remain aloof, it seemed to be apart of Larabee himself.

Larabee had a strong ethical base, and a driving need to help or save victims. He was remarkably good at what he did, but the loss of his wife and son had diminished some of the inner man. But putting all that together still didn't expose who Larabee was.

Ezra smiled at himself, he was a fine one to talk, but he intentionally kept everyone at bay. With Larabee it was automatic. This rescue team thing did seem to be getting to the paradoxical man. Ezra was afraid it was also getting to himself.

The crackling of the radio brought Ezra out of his ruminations.

"About four miles ahead, you'll have a steep decline." Josiah's voice said over the air.


"Mr. Tanner I would love the opportunity of transversing the decent." Ezra asked.

"You got it, Ez," Vin touched the reins ever so lightly and the dogs stopped as one.

Ezra gave the phone to Vin after he had made himself comfortable within the sledseat. Hood pulled tight, Vin was warm and sheltered. Ezra's fingers itched to feel the reigns, to lead the canines safely through the decent.

"Mush," Ezra directed out and the team of dogs once again moved out as a solitary unit. With the small tug on the reigns the dogs responded instantly to the command. The minutest hesitation in following a command could bring disaster for all. That's what made these dogs so special and the sport so demanding. Today these creatures and Vin depended on him to do it right and there was no doubt within Ezra, in his ability to accomplish this kind of task. For the lifelong loner, this was an easy one.

Josiah and Nathan watched as the sledteam traversed the narrow mountainside. To the high observers, it was like Ezra already had a printout of the course. Each turn was made carefully and with precision.

At the bottom of the mountain, the sledders rested the dogs and together they made the decision to run them into Cody, rather than to try and cram them into the helicopter. Josiah said that he would radio ahead and correct transport would be available when then got there. Vin figured they'd arrive just before dark. With a tiny whoop from Ezra, they were off again.

Josiah and Nathan watched them take off again. Josiah leaned over and reached for a lever near Nathan and flipped it on.

"What's that's?" Nathan inquired.

"The new video-cam Chris got. Let's film some of their trek." Josiah explained as he pointed out the mini screen with a smile. Josiah loved some of his new toys.

+ + + + + + +

The avalanche situation near Jensen's Lodge worsened through the night and Chris' phone and pager went off at four a.m. He reached for the phone thinking that good news doesn't ring at four a.m. "Larabee."

"Chris, situation is critical." Travis announced without preamble.

"Can't do nothing ‘til it's light." Chris grumbled.

"If Lagos saw fit to awaken me at three forty five, I knew I just couldn't deprive you." Travis' tone tried poorly to conceal his mirth.

"You gotta order him to evacuate. He should have done it before now." Chris was serious in this complaint.

"Already ordered." Travis told him.

"We'll handle it." Chris hung up the phone and set off the other six beepers.

Twenty minutes later found the seven men discussing the plan a final time. Vin was to precision trigger the Jensen area. Chris and Buck were to trigger some outer worrisome areas. Nathan would aid and relay information at the Incident Command Center. Chris was still afraid there'd be injuries. JD and Ezra were going to aid in the chalet evacuations as they were the best skiers. Some of the chalets were quite secluded up on the hillside. Josiah was delivering said man to said areas and then joining Nathan at the ICC.

Joisah dropped Buck and Chris with their skis at the Squaretop Mountain ridgeline. With their GPS coordinates they took off to lay their charges.

Vin was dropped off much further away from his target so as not to startle the avalanche. Even with all his equipment, Vin made the trek look easy.

Josiah landed in the helizone and waited as Ezra and JD got the coordinates of the furthest chalets. He taxied them to opposite ends and they began their door to door. Josiah then joined Nathan down at the ICC. Josiah knew that Chris usually did that on purpose. Nathan and himself tended to be a bit more tactful around Lagos, not much, but more than Chris could.

The evacuation was complete by noon and Josiah shuttled JD and Ezra back to the station. Someone had to mind the store. He was on his way to pick up Buck and Chris.

JD went to check on the horses as Ezra headed for the shower. He turned on his coffee machine on his way in. JD watered and fed the animals and headed for a warm shower himself.

Chris and Buck awaited Josiah atop the opposite ridgeline from where they were deposited. The small explosions triggered the cycle. The sound and rumble startled the animals that escaped as the snow and rock below tumbled down the mountainside. The focal point gouged a deep path down.

Close enough to the end of winter, Larabee figured the weight wouldn't build back up to unsafe levels before the melt. He and Buck felt the pride of a job well done.

Josiah handed each man a thermos of hot coffee. "You're a godsend, Josiah," Buck told him as he gratefully took the warm container.

"So, I've been told." Josiah smiled at his friends. He turned the directional and the flew to Vin.

+ + + + + + +

Vin had already set the charges. He took his time, he had to fine tune it so the fall area was exactly where he wanted it. He skied across to the other side, with his specialized binoculars he rechecked his setting, finger posed to hit the remote.

What he didn't know was that back on the other side he was in someone else's scope. A rifle scope set atop a rifle powerful enough to stop a seven hundred pound elk. The hunter thought his poaching in the elk refuge was discovered and decided to solve his own problem. He pulled the trigger.

The bullet hit Vin in the shoulder of his trigger arm and his fingers tightened automatically about the remote, setting it off. The poacher had no way of knowing the he triggered his own death as the targeted table of snow cascaded down on top of him.

Josiah, Chris and Buck saw Vin fall, but had no idea why. It wasn't until they were closer that they saw the red stained snow and understood why Vin hadn't stood back up.

+ + + + + + +

At the Search and Rescue station, both JD and Ezra heard the helicopter blades whine and went to the window expecting to see Josiah. Instead an unfamiliar copter was sinking for a landing. The helicopter landed, whipping dirt and the few snowflakes about. The door opened and a woman exited and waited for a hand down. JD was outside fast and offered his hand.

Her brisk thank you was followed with, "Where's Ezra?" in a command tone.

Ezra took a breath and stepped outside. "Here, Mother," he said with dignity.

"Must we stand out here?" Maude was cold and sounded more brusque than she intended.

With his hand extended, Ezra indicated the way. He preceded her up the stairs and waited. He opened the door to his apartment and let her enter first.

Maude walked in expecting to find a dinghy, small hovel. Instead, a warm, nicely furnished home awaited her. She headed to the fireplace to warm herself up.

"Mother, what brings you out here?" Ezra asked, hoping that maybe it was some emergency that he should know about, or a genuine desire to spend time with her son. Not the usual inspection and attempt to alienate all whom he associated with. Ezra was doomed to disappointment.

"Ezra, haven't you had enough of this foolishness. What a waste of your god-given talents. Edward is a dear and would be very pleased to have you in our home. His niece is coming for a prolonged stay and Ezra, dear, she is quite wealthy. I'm sure you could manage to get her to spend a considerable amount on you." Maude was extremely pleased with the carrot she had to dangle this time. No mention of marriage at all.

Exasperated, Ezra told in a firm voice, "Mother, I have never had an interest in leading that kind of life. It may be what you enjoy, but it is not for me. How much plainer need I be?"

"Working? You enjoy working?" Disgust heavy in her tones, "If that is what you call living out here, in the middle of nowhere playing GI Joe."

"Search and Rescue," Ezra corrected her.

"Whatever, this is not what grown up people do with your breeding and education."

Anger simmered below the surface as he retorted, "Breeding? You call what...."

Ezra's response was interrupted by a loud yell of his name.

"EZRA." JD bellowed as he ran up the stairs to his apartment. He burst into the livingroom talking fast, "Buck just called. Vin's been shot." JD turned back toward the door, "Josiah's arriving now." he called over his shoulder as he headed back down.

Without a second thought, Ezra picked up his keys and headed for the door. "Ezra! Where are you going? I'm not through yet." Maude stated impatiently.

"Mother, my friend is in the hospital, what you have to say is not important at the moment." With that, Ezra followed JD down the stairs and ran straight to the waiting helicopter. He left a shocked mother in his wake.

+ + + + + + +

Ezra knew as he stood at Vin's bedside, these were the feelings he had wanted to avoid. They said that the tracker would be fine. This time. If he allowed himself to get closer, all he was doing was opening himself up to a more extensive pain. He wouldn't do it. He couldn't afford to.

A raspy sound brought his attention back to the patient in the bed.

"Ez, what happened?" Vin said with evident dry mouth.

Ezra held a cup with a straw to Vin's mouth and let the tracker drink his fill.

Vin nodded his thanks and waited for a reply to his question.

"Your wild and woolly look was mistaken for an elk." Ezra related with a straight face. Though, Ezra couldn't maintain it in the face of Vin's dubious expression and he cracked a smile. Then in an altogether different tone, he told Vin seriously, "One of the elk poachers evidently felt you were a threat and shot you."

Vin nodded, understanding immediately. "Ya catch him?"

"No. Mother Nature did." Ezra folded his hands across his chest, "Josiah's copper cam recorded the incident on his way to retrieve you. The retort of the bullet that hit you triggered a slide behind the poacher and it buried him. They'll retrieve his body in the spring."

Vin smiled. Then he looked at Ezra challengingly, "Doc says I'll be outta here tomorrow. Guess getting shot and falling into the snow really cuts down on blood loss. Doc said I should be fine by our next days off. Don't think you're getting out of the Caribou."

Ezra took up the challenge, "Wouldn't dream of it, Mr. Tanner."

+ + + + + + +

Another snowcat escapade had the team assembling quickly. Chris held up his hand to two of his men. "No way Vin, you're staying here."

"Damm, Chris, doc okayed me." Vin cajoled.

"Yeah, light duty for two weeks, not two days. You stay here with Buck."

What?!" Buck exclaimed.

"Hell, Buck, get you feet within those snowcats and we'll be rescuing you. You both are communications." Chris' tone told them his decision was final. Both men pouted.

Chris took in the situation as they landed. "King of the hill. Crazy fools. They see how high they can get the snowmobile up a steep incline and forget how heavy the vehicle is when it falls on them. I'll get the hook, Josiah. Nathan, check all the others for injuries. Ezra, JD, keep the heads down of those close when Josiah lowers the hook."

The three men scrambled to do as bid and worked efficiently together. JD and Ezra kept an eye on the folks as Josiah drew in close. They explained that the snow would be whipping around and would sting their faces. Best to keep their faces down and covered. One man that tried to watch, yelped in pain as the snow and pebbles hit his face.

Chris placed the hook on the chain that he had attached to the vehicle and the helicopter pulled the snowcat up easily. Josiah placed it a fair distance away. The owner was about to complain regarding the distance he'd have to walk to retrieve it, but squelched it in the look he received from the lead rescuer.

Nathan addressed the minor wounds, the major one to the driver's dignity was not in Nathan's black bag.

JD provided gas and directions just before they took off. He said to the occupants he shared the chopper with, "How do they get out here without knowing the way back."

"Obviously, they weren't all Boy Scouts." Ezra reminded the youth with a half smile.

"Dorks," was Josiah's comment.

+ + + + + + +

JD and Nathan cleared the dinner remains from the table as Ezra got the decks of cards. It was cards night and Chris chose this week and he chose poker. He thought he could beat Ezra tonight. They were all sitting down and Chris dealt. It was after they all had finished betting that they heard the helicopter approaching.

JD said, "Hey, Ezra, could that be your ma again?"

"Again? What do ya mean, JD?" Buck asked as they all got up and went out side. Josiah flipped on the flood lights.

A man stepped off the helicopter, neatly dressed in a suit. With a German accent, he said in English, "Mr. De Braun asked me to deliver this personally to you, Mr. Standish." Ezra accepted the package and then the well dressed delivery man stepped back into the helicopter and it lifted off.

"De Braun, ain't that your mother's name?" Buck asked.

"Sure was a fancy dressed UPS guy," Vin smiled.

"There's a note," JD pointed out.

"I'll read it inside, gentlemen," Ezra told them as he walked away, back to the office rec area.

Chris closed the door as the others gathered about Ezra and the package.

"The box has little air holes and sounds like crickets," Nathan observed.

"A pet, Ezra's gonna have some kind of pet. Hope it's not a goldfish." Buck prattled on aimlessly.

"Shut-up, Buck," JD nudged him in the side with his elbow.

Ezra unfolded the note and knew he could not escape reading it allowed. They'd fish it out of the trash if he threw it away and if he burned it, they'd make it into a big deal. He read aloud, "Dear Ezra, your mother mentioned her visit to you and upon her description, I thought your ‘bug infested' home could use Rover's help. Warmest regards, Edward." As Ezra accepted the knife Vin handed him, he thought on how Edward was one of the nicer men his mother had married. He also had a zany sense of humor.

"Rover? No dog could fit in there," JD couldn't help himself from commenting.

Within the box was a tiny plastic cage. Ezra pulled it out using the handle. Holding it in his hand, he looked inside and saw the tarantula housed there. The name on the cage was Rover. Ezra smiled.

JD screamed and backed away from the cage. He didn't stop his backward progression until he hit the wall.

"What the....?" Buck question, seeing the real fear in their youngest's eyes. "What's the matter, JD?" Buck asked concerned.

"I'd say he was afraid of spiders." Nathan noted the real fear too.

Ezra put the cage down, out of JD's view. He'd take it up to his place after he heard from JD.

Chris motioned Buck to sit JD down and Vin brought him a beer. JD nodded his thanks as he twisted off the top and swallowed a huge gulp. He wiped his mouth and rubbed his eyes before speaking.

"Sorry to over react, but I have a thing against spiders. That sure was a big one." JD turned big eyes at Ezra. He just nodded for JD to continue. "When I was just a little kid, one of the babysitters I had would punish bad behavior by putting spiders down our backs." JD shuddered at the memories conjured up at the telling.

Josiah looked over at Chris and met his eyes with an amused glance. Chris's expression back said, hell why not spiders too. Then followed it with a lopsided grin.

Buck and Nathan were comforting JD as Ezra took care to conceal Rover's container from the youth's sight. Vin walked along side and grabbed Ezra's jacket and dropped it over the spider owner's shoulders as they left the common room.

"Low maintenance pet there, I'd say." Vin surmised with hidden glee.

"Yes, I least I won't have to take him for walks." As he caught the gleam in the tracker's eye, he couldn't help but laugh too. "Are you good at catching crickets?" Ezra joked.

"Just happens to be my middle name." Vin joked back.

"Vin Cricket-catcher Tanner, hummm, does have a nice ring." Their laughter could be heard back down in the common room.

+ + + + + + +

Just back from off days, Josiah was doing an inspection. Lagos' aide had called, apparently no one had yet mentioned the privately owned winter homes at the base of Granite Peak. Chris had remembered that they were in the watch zone, so Josiah was doing a fly by.

Looking at the area, he'd say it was obvious that a slide was likely. He figured that the dwellers had heard first that the evacuation was optional and conveniently missed the required evacuation notification. He knew that Chris would have the team out by first light, so if the snow waited until morning, they'd get the people out.

Chris had them assembling before first light. He had left a message with the Governor's office and Lagos' office as to their intent and they were off.

The onsite visual and the satellite photos confirmed for Vin that there was no way to set the avalanche without affecting the homes. Buck, Vin and Ezra were set on one side, Chris and JD on the other for the door to door.

Their bright orange Search and Rescue jackets stood out against the white snow. They looked every bit as official as they were. JD found to his amusement, that very few attempted to argue when Chris gave them that Larabee stare. JD figured he'd have to establish a no nonsense stare for himself. qqq qqq Buck, Vin and Ezra spent time checking that one place was indeed uninhabited. Two other families almost seemed glad that they were being forced to leave, and one refused.

"Due to circumstances beyond our control, you do not have a choice in this matter." Ezra tried again to reason with the people. "You will be physically removed if you do not comply."

"Folks, this is in your best interests. You can get out safe and sound." Buck used his sweet talking voice.

The six foot man stood there, eyes narrowed, "You can't set that thing off if we stay here." Said it as if somehow that was a threat.

"Sir, we want to set it off, so we can direct the course. It's going to slide no matter what, but without our help it could damage your home or your persons." Vin told him plain.

"You threatening me?" The man asked, puffing himself up to look intimidating.

A voice from inside the house could be heard, "Oh, Harvey, stop that. We're leaving. Tell them we'll be out in thirty minutes."

The man looked to the Search and Rescue men with the expression, heard that? and closed the door.

"Well, that went well." Buck observed as Vin and Ezra threatened to throw snow on him. They skied down to the next dwelling.

By ten a.m., the two teams were taxied back to the top to repeat their route and double check that all persons vacated.

Vin felt the snow was looking wrong and radioed Josiah to stay back and give him coordinates of the heavy side. He warned Buck and Ezra as he skied out to a view point.

Buck and Ezra came upon a family that had agreed to leave but were still there. They seem to be trying to take everything with them. Buck went over to the car where the woman and child were playing in the snow next to it. "Ma'am, you all need to be on your way right now," he explained without trying to alarm the child.

"My husband says you have to cover all bases and we have plenty of time." She was about to say more when she froze, listening to the large cracking sound above.

A low, heavy rumbling sound growing in force and volume, permeated the mountainside.

Vin yelled, "Avalanche." He skied to the fringes to watch the flow to see which way to flee.

Buck grabbed the women and child and moved them behind the stoutest tree, keeping them low to the ground.

Ezra saw the man coming running out and get caught in the dirt sliding before the snow tossed him. Ezra followed on his skies as he rode the outskirts of the fall.

Snow bombarded the mountainside, rocks rattled off the face of the canyon walls, all cascading its way down the mountain side, heading for the area that Buck and Ezra were in.

Josiah and Nathan tried to keep a visual but their view was obscured by the air whirling everything about. Chris and JD watch in horror as their friends were lost within the tonnage of snow. Vin had his eyes glued to Ezra's path.

The sounds diminished, the air cleared, the snowfall stilled, all looked serene and tranquil. All is not as it looked.

+ + + + + + +

Buck used his body to shield the women and child beneath him. He had them hold onto the tree roots. The women screamed as the snow covered them. The sound was deafening but Buck kept repeating, "Just a few more seconds and we'll be fine."

The child kept repeating, "Okay, okay, okay." As if he was answering Buck's words.

The movement around them stopped, the sounds stopped. Buck was overjoyed that they were in the same place, just covered by snow. Before panic could set in, he had them rock their bodies back and forth.

"We want to make an ice cave. We'll be able to compact the snow and make us an area to stand in." He told them as he moved away to make the area larger.

Each person concentrated on their chore. The women felt more in control as she saw the results of the rescuer's words. With an area large enough to separate and sit comfortably, Buck took off his skis and pushed them up through the snow above him. He didn't reach top with one. He took one pole and wedged it in between the boot and ski and pushed it up. He worked it in little circles, he could tell he was close to the top, it seemed lighter. He locked his other pole onto the one already used and again pushed it up.

The young boy sat and watched intently, curious. He asked, "Why ya doing it?"

"One, you all will see an air hole, and with my pole up top, our rescuers will be able to see where we are." Buck told as he worked.

The women asked anxiously, "Won't those other men be trapped too?"

"Maybe, but there were the men in the helicopter and on the other side. They know were here and won't leave us." Buck assured her."

Outside, Josiah dropped Chris and JD at the top and each took a side. JD, the same side as Ezra and Chris where Vin saw Buck last.

Chris was able to see the chimney just sticking out beneath the snow and counted the houses and skied down to the one that Buck had stopped at. Vin told him by the trees so Chris started his survey there. He saw a single ski pole and wondered if it was part of the debris. He side stepped over to it and saw that the pole was attached to another pole and he smiled in relief. He called out, "Any one need rescuing down there?"

Buck's voice answered, "Well we do have this nice snow cave, but you can get us out at anytime." It was followed by several yells of please.

"Don't worry, we'll have you out in no time." Chris called down. Chris radioed Josiah.

Josiah had already requested help and the Park Service was sending volunteers. Nathan came down to help Chris excavate Buck and his charges.

Josiah beeped Vin and Vin called up on his phone, "Josiah, Ezra and the man are in this area, just don't have an exact fix."

"Buck's been found. You move back by the tree, shield your eyes." With that Josiah slowly lowered and hovered, blades whipping the ground cover. Josiah did this as he moved in circles, uncovering what the snow had covered.

Ezra was uncovered first, hands now covering his head. Josiah moved up to allow Vin in to help their downed man.

"Ez, you okay?" Vin asked as he ran up to the supine figure.

"Yeah, just hit my head," Ezra replied as he sat up.

"Ah, so nothing important was hurt," Vin responded, relieved that their team was okay. "Where's the guy?

"He should be in this general area." Ezra looked around.

"Here, let's get by the trees and maybe Josiah can help uncover him." Vin phoned back up to Josiah. Then he helped an unsteady Ezra over to cover.

The helicopter lowered and again began to clear the area of the snow. Josiah moved to an area further down and he then uncovered the body of the other victim. Josiah took the helicopter up, letting Vin and Ezra in to check on the man. Vin called up that he was alive but probably had two broken legs. Josiah told Vin that he would pick up Nathan and be right back.

Vin and Ezra waited silently, content that all members were well.

+ + + + + + +

Ezra was excited, he'd heard of Caribou, but hadn't yet the opportunity to ski it. Beautiful British Columbia, seen from the helicopter above twelve thousand feet was indeed a beautiful sight.

Josiah taxied the three snowboarders to the Valmont area of Caribou. He had been surprised that Chris had let him go too. Four members gone at the same time, but Chris assured him that the three of them could cover for three days. He planned to tape their runs so the others could share in it. Josiah sincerely hoped that the weather held long enough.

Ezra, Vin and JD waved to their pilot as he took off. They waited for him to depart before they started their run. The three exhilarated men gave nods and thumbs up to reassure each other they were ready.

JD checked his snowboard's fittings as Vin moved into position on the edge. With a wave, he pushed off. JD counted twenty before he too pushed off. Ezra watched Vin and JD as they made their way down. What a joy to watch the moving poetry. He edged himself over and gave himself up to the thrill of rushing quietly down a mountain slope on a single board.

The risk taker knew that if he so wished, he could pass the others on the downhill run, but he chose to abandon his alpine training and opted for the twisting turns and tricks of a free style run. Ezra loved to push himself to the limit, so he perused the route before him and spied the perfect trajectory rock to jump from. He took air and did a 360o before landing. On his next air jump he flipped and landed smoothly. A satisfied smile escaped the stoic face. Finding several such suitable launches, Ezra tried all the standard moves and created a few new moves of his own. Basking in the silent solitude, where he could wrong no one else. A freedom of the soul existed for him in the action that was denied else where. Even for him, a man of words, the vocabulary eluded him that would explain his need to do this to others.

All too soon for the risk taker, the run came to an end. He reigned himself in beside and exuberant JD and a tranquil Vin. Meeting the clear sky eyes of the tracker, he saw a serene pocket that could mirror his own. He again recognized a kindred on an intuitive level.

Josiah awaited them and taxied them once more to the white heights for the zealous snowboarders.

JD started the run, he tried some of the moves he had observed his cohorts do. Some with ease, some with the ending result of an intimate knowledge of the snow beneath him. Vin and Ezra stood side by side and watched JD complete his run, then as if on cue, they pushed together. They progressed down the mountain, matching each others moves as though they had practiced together for years. The kindred wavelength that they traveled in life manifested itself in the synchronized movement the men made together. Jumps, turns, curls, all together, never missing a beat. Making the resulting run a distinctive novelty for both hardened athletes.

It was a week later that the rest of the team watched the video that Josiah shot of the three snowboarders. The team watched in respected awe as their compatriots surfed over or carved through the steep, snowy mountainside. A pin drop would have sounded like an explosion as the others watched the timed precision of the jumps and spins that Vin and Ezra had executed together. Frog jumps and leaps, flips that crisscrossed one an other's paths, ending with a tandem stop had five men applauding the almost magical beauty of the skiers.

"They didn't even practice," JD told them with still a little awe in his voice. He turned to Josiah, "Can I get a copy?"

Chris looked at Vin and received a grin in return. He looked at Ezra and received a raised brow, as though he expected a criticism of some sort. Chris surprised him, "Love to go with you guys next time. Doesn't look that hard."

Ezra smiled unexpectedly, "It would be a pleasure to let you tag along."

Vin laughed before Chris could sputter out a response. Josiah handed him his beer and smiled.

Later, as the others were breaking up for the evening, Vin found Ezra out looking at the stars and handed him a fresh cup of Josiah's coffee. "Winter's turning over to spring, ten days, no more."

Moved out of his reverie by Vin, he answered, "Another season under our belts."

Vin, more in tune to Ezra's actual thoughts, said, "Are you marking time, or trying for the long haul?"

Ezra, spooked by having his contemplations aired so succinctly, answered honestly, "I've never looked further ahead than a season at a time. Usually I and those I associated with, were ready for the parting. This time I find I am not."

"Then don't"

"Is it that simple? Just, don't." Ezra asked, knowing the answer must be more profound.

Vin nodded, "Stay, until you're sure."

Ezra looked at the man next to him that was as close to a friend that he'd ever had, in his eyes he saw the hell and the salvation. Maybe. "'Til I'm sure?" Vin nodded once and Ezra answered with a single nod.

They stood sipping their coffee in a companioned silence.

Inside Josiah joined Chris at the window. "Was it easier seeing it?"

"Yeah, it was. A lot less hazardous than what my imagination had them doing. Thanks."

"No problem. You gonna tell them?"

"Tell them what Josiah?" Chris asked.

"That you love them."

"Vin knows, this is the family he never had. Ezra wouldn't believe it." Chris sighed, knowing that the man beside him saw a lot more than most figured.

"He's not ready for it yet. Seeing Vin shot was tough for him. I thought he might bolt then." Josiah told him.

"You felt it too?" Chris confided. Josiah nodded. "Don't know what kept him here?"

Josiah smiled, "Don't think he knows either."

Chris smiled in return, his eyes sweeping in the picture before him. Buck squabbling with JD, Nathan shaking his head at the by-play, Vin and Ezra in some kind of silent communion with the night and Josiah, solid in his belief that they were all at the right places at the right time, as they should be. Chris smiled to himself, what he knew was he was content, for the first time in a long time.


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