Holiday On Ice
(Seven Seas Fantasy Expeditions)
Disclaimer: I don't own them, or the show they rode in on. I wrote this for fun, and no profit is made from it.
Archive: Starwinder's, You Want Fries With That?, and The All-Ezra FanFic Archive --- all others, please ask.
Summary: SSFE team faces a crisis in the arctic when one of their clients acts foolishly, jeopardizing Ezra's life.
Warnings: Slash content, nothing very explicit
Author's Note: This is a new universe, and this is the first story in it. Don't know if I'll write in it again, and so it's open to any interested Mag7 fanfic writers. Originally a contribution to Lumina~'s EBOS on-line magazine.
Completed: 27 April 2003...Posted to lists on 7 September 2003
Feedback: firstname.lastname@example.org welcomes comments
He burrowed into the drift, teeth gritted in effort. Everything felt perfectly normal. The only problems were that he couldn't see anymore and none of his extremities were working. He thrust his uncooperative body deeper into the drift of dry granules, wishing he felt the burn. Wishing he felt anything.
Concentrate. Mind is last to go. Mustn't sleep. Think of Buck and warmth and the beat of his heart.
Ezra's frosted lashes blinked slowly, lowering against blank whiteness so pure that it was an arrow into his brain.
"No, don't want to wake up, damn it." Buck groaned and twisted in his full-body sleeping bag, fighting the containment as JD tiredly shoved his shoulder again.
"GET. UP." Dunne was righteously exhausted. He'd pulled the long midnight to 6 AM shift and wanted only to sack out. It was Wilmington's shift now. He was too tired to wonder that Ezra's bag was empty on the shelf next to Wilmington. He'd seen their meteorologist only a couple of hours ago, shuffling out through the control room, mumbling something about checking the cups of the anemometer, something about them sticking. He shrugged; Ez was probably warming up in the cook room now over a mug of cocoa.
Wilmington finally cooperated by sitting up and unzipping his bag from the inside, as JD kicked out of his indoor felt boot liners and slid, feet first, into his own already zipped up mummy bag. Before Buck was kicking long johns covered legs free, the younger man's dark hair was a puddle on the cocoon pillow and snores could already be heard.
Buck dressed with skilled rapidity; didn't pay to lose body heat even in their temporary arctic home base shelter. Buck twitched his nose, mustache dipping and rising, as he zipped up the lightweight canvas jumpsuit. The polypropylene lining made it a perfect compromise for halfway between bedding and outdoor gear. But still he shivered in the 'nearly balmy' 50 degree temps of the cabin. Their generator was a permanent hum in the background and he only could hope that Vin had tuned up the spare since they needed to switch them out today. Their prime generator had been working non-stop since they'd arrived and needed its own tune-up.
Scratching his chest through multiple layers of fleece and silk, Wilmington yawned mightily and eyed his partner's empty sack. Must be out in the main cabin, checking that front that was moving in last night. Buck wandered out and turned right, going directly to their chemical head. The Morrisons would be expecting their gourmet breakfasts in a few hours and the missus was very particular. But first, time for a little morning relief.
Ezra tried to swallow. Nothing happened. He felt a tremor take his body, and he curled tighter.
Buck would come for him. Buck, and the others. He'd given them his trust all those months ago and they hadn't failed him, even though appearances made it seem he'd run out on them.
A cough wanted to bubble up from his chest but he suppressed it, knowing somewhere deep inside that he shouldn't disturb his chest's limited functions, if he could help it.
They hadn't known him well back then. He was the replacement for a well-liked teammate who'd gone off and gotten married, settling for a more sedate life style. Standish was the question mark that Chris Larabee had trolled up at a local news and weather bureau in San Francisco, exiled there from the Tropical Prediction Center, core of the National Hurricane Center of Miami, for taking too many risks, even if his calls had a better success ratio than any other meteorologist in the business.
Easy, Ezra, this is no time to reduce yourself to plebian language.
A tiny smile cracked open his lower lip. Hot blood welling up momentarily, before freezing in the air, was the only warm spot on him.
Buck will come.
Chris and Josiah were both in the cook room, Sanchez presiding over the portable cookstove while Larabee sipped a cup of java two-handed. The rising steam fogged his spectacles, perched halfway down his nose as he read from a palm pilot, checking the news back in Frisco. Even at the ends of the earth, Chris, who was as big a news junkie as Sanchez and Standish, would find time to keep up-to-date. Buck met Nate Jackson at the door as the team medic-biotech collided with the engineer-survival specialist.
"Geesh, Buck, watch where you're going!" Jackson's morning voice was still gravelly and slurred with sleep.
"Same for you, Nate, old pal." Wilmington spoke without heat. In close environs like this, everyone worked at keeping even keels. Didn't pay to have tempers collide, too.
The others raised their heads, then hands in silent greetings. Buck looked around as he entered. "Where's Ez?"
Heads came around, eyes searching as if to find the missing meteorologist.
Everyone became alert. Buck never had to ask that. He and Ezra always knew each other's location. It was part of who they were now. The camp wasn't large either, only a few pods of space, broken apart for privacy or utility reasons. If Buck didn't know where Ezra was, then they had trouble.
Chris was rising even as he answered, "Wasn't here when I came in."
Sanchez turned off the stove, lidding his various pots. "Haven't seen him at all."
"Shit." Buck spun on his heels and had a little dance of intentions with Jackson, before the medic stepped fully to one side to allow him to pass. Jackson turned and followed, the rest right behind.
The control room was empty, everything in standby mode, standard technique between shifts. Larabee was already sliding into the seat in front of the individual GPS locators' board as he spoke. "Buck, check the outrigger sheds. 'Siah, go with him. Use the inside corridors." He spoke to thin, cold air, as Jackson came in and settled behind the medical bio-scan console.
Chris flicked a raw finger against the dials on his board, fear for his family, for that is what these men had become, crowding his heart but pushed from his thoughts with concerted effort. Green lights came on across the board, one for each member of his team. The clients' blue-green lights were ignored. He breathed out with relief that was short-lived when he realized Standish's green light was unmoving and not inside their temporary camp station. "SHIT!"
Over on Jackson's consoles, the medic was having similar reactions. "Chris! Ezra's signs are on the board but way down. He's nearly in hibernation mode."
Arn Morrison walked in at this point, rubbing his hands together, eager to start another day of his dream vacation. His family might only be putting up with his fantasy, but these boys sure knew how to throw a party. He had found the Seven Seas Fantasy Expeditions site through another member of his home Explorers Club. His friend had raved about the team's reputation of being able to take you wherever you might want to go on earth, or under it. Arn could only hope that someday his son Olaf would see the absolute thrill to be had in such adventures. For now, the sulking teenager was only a hump of restlessness at the edges of the activities. His wife Tara had been more supportive, as long as her own rather high expectations were met. So far, the SSFE team had met his and Tara's varying expectations with ease.
Walking into the control room to find Larabee and check on the day's activities planned, Arn found the leader and Jackson, another member of the team, hunched over electronic displays. The only sounds were the clicks of keys pressed, a quiet mutter from Jackson. The very air seemed to thrum with their concentration. The stiff shoulders and tense bodies, noses nearly touching the hard plastic screens, were a far cry from what he'd seen so far. Each morning, he'd been met with the sight of relaxed slumps and sprawls, competent laid back styles, and it had been the cook room, not control room, where he usually found them. Not this morning.
The repressed emotions that confronted Arn were an instant alert to the billionaire oil magnate. "Trouble?" He spoke in a low voice, not wanting to interfere but wanting to know.
Expedition Chief Larabee looked up grimly. "One of my men is missing, seems to be outside."
Outside. Outside in Antarctica spelled serious trouble, especially when you added "missing" to that. Morrison took a step closer, believing the sudden worry lines on the blond's stoic face. "What can I do?"
"Stay out of the way." Buck Wilmington's no-nonsense voice sounded almost harshly from behind him. He came in hopping on one foot, forcing his felt boot liner back into his mukluk. The second sealskin boot was held in one hand, the other hand out for balance.
Jackson leaned back and made eye contact with Buck. "He's alive, Buck, but not in good shape."
"Where?" The single word shot over to Chris, who responded wordlessly with a pointing finger. The GPS tracking triangulator was already up on the main screen. A green light blipped there, cross hairs honed in on it, the roughly dotted outlines of the base camp off to the side.
Crowding in behind Buck came Tanner, and Dunne, who was looking bleary and red-eyed with lack of sleep.
Vin Tanner had been in the machine room, setting up the preparations for the generator change out, waiting on Buck's arrival to begin the major work. He'd already heard everything over their closed-circuit mikes and earpieces and gone immediately to check the exit that led to Ezra's weather gear outside. He was grim.
Buck had roused JD Dunne, demanding to know what had happened to Ezra. The boy should have known, he'd been on the last shift watch. However, JD had squinted up at him, only half awake in his sleeping bag, and gaped. He had figured that Ezra was fine, back in the cook room after seeing to his equipment. Dunne had hastily crawled out of his sleep rack and dragged on a jumpsuit, running after Buck who had already stormed back out of the room.
JD squirmed in to the control room now, nothing short of guiltily terrified. "Oh, god, I didn't check, I didn't check-"
"At ease, JD," Chris said sharply. "Ezra had his guidelines, shouldn't have been able to stray so far."
Tanner came fully into the room. "I checked outside." He opened his anorak and the parka below, tugging free a piece of temp-resistant thick cord, bright blue, one end cut short. "Someone decided to be funny."
No one spoke as Arn put a shaking hand to his mouth. Even knowing that these men would find their seventh soon didn't help. There was only one person on this expedition who would even think to do something like that. Faded blue eyes filled with pain and anger. "I'm sorry. I'll deal with him."
"No, Mr. Morrison, not this time." Larabee swiveled back to his monitor. Long, competent hands ran some switches. Without looking back, the gruff voice continued, "Once we left Frisco, this became my responsibility. He became my responsibility. My problem. I'll deal with it and with Olaf."
Buck wasn't listening. He'd walked over to stand behind Nate and read the scanner graphs with his stomach clenching. He tensed further and turned away. "I'm outta here."
"Coming with you." Tanner's voice was reassuring.
"Me too." JD sounded resolute.
"No, JD." Buck paused long enough to place a gloved hand on his younger teammate's shoulder. "You're in no shape to be out there; you put in a full shift already."
"JD, you can help out here." Chris was standing up. "Take over this station."
Dunne nodded realistically. It wouldn't pay to be out there at less than one hundred percent. Nope. He sank into Larabee's vacated seat and checked dials as the room emptied. He glanced once, over at Nathan, who was glued to the bio-tech screens. No need for the medic to go outside, the rest would bring Ezra in - Nate needed to be ready with diagnostics so he could act once they had Ezra safe inside for recovery treatment. Every team member was well trained in emergency rescue and aid treatment, so the medic was better staying here. JD tried to keep his hand from trembling too much as he adjusted a dial.
Arn Morrison dragged up a spare campstool to sit behind Dunne, eyeing the monitor. "Just where is Standish?"
JD shuddered as he pointed to the blinking green dot. "There."
"But, that's not in the camp, not even on one of the lined paths-"
Jackson interrupted. "It was blowing up last night, early this morning. Whiteout. If the line broke, he'd be lost before he could tell where he was. Only takes a step or two."
"Ah, Christ." Morrison leaned his head down on his forearm on the rough wood table that held the bank of equipment, as he closed his eyes and rolled his head in denial. Oh, dear god, what had his son done?
Two more cracks in his lower lip tore sharp stabs of pain through his head. It felt like he was being slowly sliced open with broken cut glass. Ezra's green eyes slitted open to be met once more with only a painful white brilliance that blinded him to details. He shut his eyes with stiff muscles. Buck would come soon now. He had to.
He remembered the first time they'd shared a pup tent on the high desert. Wilmington had lectured him on bed check for scorpions and snakes. He'd nodded serenely and ignored the man. Until a slithering finger across the back of his neck nearly had his heart in his throat. Buck had collapsed in laughter and tackled him, warning in a low voice that it could have been for real.
Ezra was never one to ignore a challenge and countered that he knew what was real, and this was real. And had kissed the big lummox, silencing the man for all of three nerve wrenching seconds. Then those big, dark blue eyes had grown, and he'd been swallowed in a second consuming kiss, his body drawn up into the bigger man's powerful embrace. That had been a night to remember.
He tried to suck on his lip without success as an involuntary smile cracked another raw split into his flesh. By now his lower lip was reddish brown with dried, frozen blood. Layers of color. Layers of Buck upon him. Soon. Please.
Sanchez met the others in the gear-up room. He was already in full snowsuit, wolf-fur hood pulled tight over his Balaclava. The tiny hollow opening made him look like a space-suited moonwalker. The rest were suited up and ready in less than three minutes, Josiah holding one of their portably linked triangulators in his mitted hand. The sensapad was corded to it from within the mitt, where fingers could actually touch the surface without temperature challenge. "Everyone ready?"
Three grim nods. Four men clipped on leads in a daisy chain, and Sanchez led out with the tri-pad in hand.
Chris Larabee was worried, as much for his old friend Buck as for their missing member. Ezra would be alright. He had to be. He just hoped they all survived Buck's mother hen act when they had Standish back among them. He watched his friend's back and hoped for the best.
Tanner anchored the tail of the line, playing out his base cord as they went, trudging at a safe walk. Sanchez led, using one hand to hold the tri-pad, his other with a test pole to ensure they didn't walk into a hidden crevice.
Buck's focus was Sanchez's weaving tri-pad hand. He watched as it turned slightly, the man following, he following after.
Ezra, hold on, we're coming. Oh, god, Ez, hold on.
He didn't dare check the bio-scan unit that he'd picked up from the gear-up room. He'd set it for Standish and seen the weak signal, then slipped it into the clear casing pocket on his left mitt. He could check it there without touching, but didn't want to see that signal weaker or, god forbid, gone.
Oh, geesh, Ezra, hold on.
Up head, Sanchez eyed the slight lift of snow. The eighteen-hour days, on clear days, made for blinding brilliance, and they were all wearing amber-lensed glacier glasses to screen out the UV and high-end light show. Today, though, a whiteout was just dropping with a slowing, still gusty wind. He leaned against both the irregular wind pushes and the pull of the daisy chained line. There. Something not white. Part of a boot.
They had found Standish.
Ezra felt himself moving, like his entire body was hardened into a pretzel shape and being pulled from the oven. Or freezer.
"Uck." His whisper went unheard as his rescuers worked frantically to drag him from the protective drift he'd burrowed into.
He would have no memory of the return to base camp. It was just as well.
Chris Larabee was always a formidable man. The ex-Stealth operative had gathered men of similar ilk around him, but he still stood out as the most threatening, even on a good day. This was not a good day.
The Morrisons sat in a row at one of the dining tables, portable folding tables. Arn and Tara were to one side, both looking at their son with scared, unhappy eyes. Out here money was meaningless, and they both knew that. Their son was about to learn it.
Larabee stood facing the youngest Morrison, ignoring the boy's parents. This kid had nearly gotten one of his men killed, on a lark. A stupid, juvenile prank. The teenager would be dead now in some primitive tribes. Condemned to death for such an act. For a brief moment, Chris contemplated the surge of adrenaline in his system that craved such vengeance. But Ezra lived. The man was going through painful recovery under close supervision by Nathan with Buck hovering. So Chris wouldn't kill today.
"He lived, so what's the big deal?" Olaf really didn't seem to get it.
Or maybe he would. Kill, that is. Larabee reached forward with two hands.
JD handed a hot mug of instant cider to Vin Tanner. The mechanic grinned his thanks as they listened to a screech from further in to the base station's sprawling multi-roomed cabin. Sounded young and male. Raising his mug to Dunne who tipped it with a similar one, both men sipped the heat gratefully, hearts healing with the second cry that howled down the corridor.
Sanchez hooked an elbow back on his chair and cocked an eyebrow as he listened to the animal-like sounds mewling now from down the station. Sounded like the young Mr. Morrison was learning his lesson. Good.
Buck tenderly rubbed his mitted hands up and down Ezra's belly, the silk drawers helping to create a warm friction there. His arms encircled his lover, his chest tight against Ezra's slight back.
Nathan was working on the southerner's face, massaging more mink oil cream into the healing cracks of the meteorologist's lips. That had been the worst of Ezra's injuries miraculously enough. He'd paid careful attention to Vin's survival briefing this time, that was clear. Ezra had pushed himself into the snow bank for insulation, the better to retain body heat and prevent exposure. Tanner had made sure every team member had a good idea of what it took to keep alive in sub-freezing temps, his stories about how animals like sled dogs instinctively managed body heat in burrows had probably just saved Ezra Standish's life.
Buck smiled and laid his face down against the slender neck, warming his nose against the fleece liner. "Gonna be fine, Ez, you're gonna be fine." He didn't bother to lower his voice; the whole team knew their relationship and had accepted it. No choice there. It was accept it - them - or they'd walk. Larabee was too savvy to allow that. So he didn't lower his voice; after all, Nathan had said that even though Ezra was still unconscious, he could probably hear Buck and would be reassured.
Dark blue eyes looked up and met approving brown ones. Jackson smiled and so did Wilmington. They'd beaten the odds this time. Thank god.
"We can cut short the trip, if you'd like, Mr. Larabee," Arn spoke regretfully. He rubbed his chapped hands together, looking up from under beetling brows at the SSFE owner.
"No." Chris didn't hesitate. "Only time to get out is at our scheduled rendezvous with the Arctic Goose. That bird can't land without proper weather, and Ezra plotted it to the dime before we ever left Frisco."
"Will have learned a lot of arctic survival by then, sir." Chris' slow grin was infectious. "Be a better man for it."
"Mi- Mis- Mister Tanner, sir?" The plaintive voice of the youth made Vin smile into his wolf furs.
"It's getting c-c-cold out here."
"Yeah." Tanner settled in more securely in his down bag in their two man arctic pop-up tent. Not often he got to get out on his own, or nearly so, on one of the team expeditions. He sighed in pleasure. Not even the presence of the callow youth in the other bag would dim his treat.
"Ezra? You ready to wake up now?" Buck rubbed noses with his best, dearest heart. He could see how Eskimos had come up with this technique; just about the only bit of skin he could reach.
Ezra felt warm and safe in Buck's gentle embrace. Wait a minute. When did that happen? He blinked and opened his clear green eyes only to meet deep blue ones staring back from mere inches away. His Buck held him safe. Buck had come for him, Ezra'd never doubted that he would. He was home and he was safe. With Buck. "'lo, -uck."
"UCK?" Hissed humorous indignation in the answering voice warmed Ezra's belly.
"Well, Ezra, hello. Welcome back." Buck's affectionate whisper was warm on his face.
"Me too." Buck rubbed noses delicately again, then rested his face against Ezra's, careful not to collide with the man's, no doubt, numb, healing lips. "Me too."
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