A Long Winter's Hike

by Patricia

ATF Universe

Part 12

Buck and JD rushed over to their companion, dropping down beside him. Josiah had fallen on to his side, making it impossible to see any injuries, so Buck gently pushed his shoulder against the big man, and rolled him onto his back. A large swollen bump stood out on his forehead, already starting to discolor.

"JD we have to find shelter, back at the apartment, Macalister made a comment about us just disappearing for a few days, if we gave him the information he wanted. This looks like a logging road, or a road for recreational use, I'm hoping they were supposed to leave us in a cabin up here. Can you make it back down the road a ways and see if you can find one?" JD nodded, and turned to head off. "JD, don't go far, I'll stay here with Josiah for now, I don't want to have to come looking for you."

As JD took off, Buck wiggled his knees under Josiah's head to get it out off the frigid ground, even if JD, by some miracle did find shelter, Buck was at a loss as how to move Josiah. Buck leaned over his friend's face, partially to keep more snow from falling on him and so he did not have to yell above the wind, "Josiah, you have to wake up, good buddy, we need your help to get out of here."

"Buck, Buck, you were right, there is a cabin just around that bend!" A puffing, excited JD emerged beside him. "How's Josiah doing?"

"Josiah's fine, if you would just stop yelling at me," came a mumbled voice from Bucks lap. "Help me get up and lets get out of here."

Buck and JD each got on one side of Josiah and pushed and shoved and rolled him up, until he was at last standing. Sandwiched between the two other agents, Josiah stumbled along, slipping in the tire tracks. Buck kept grunting in pain on the other side, his left leg dragging behind, before finally giving out completely.

JD took as much of Josiah's weight as he could. "Buck, stay here, I will get Josiah to the cabin, then come back to help you, you hear me Buck."

"Yeah, go JD, I'm not going anywhere for awhile." Buck answered back, sitting in the snowdrift and resting his leg.

The small cabin was only a few hundred feet away, but felt like miles to the two men. Finally they reached the porch, JD turned his back to the door and fumbled for the handle with his tied hands. JD prayed it was open; he was not up to finding something to pry it open with. The prayer worked, as the door swung open to reveal a small room, in total darkness. JD propped Josiah against the door jam and moved inside, he immediately ran his shin into a chair. "God Damn, son of a…"

"Yes JD, you were saying," Josiah managed to mumble out.

"Sorry preacher, my shin found a chair.' Apologized JD, though he wasn't sure why, Josiah knew a lot more swear words then JD, he just spoke them much more eloquently, so it sounded better. "Since I found it, you might as well sit down, I'm going back for Buck, you be okay for a few minutes?"

"Hurry JD, you both need to get in here, out of the weather." After all the exertion it took to get this far, both men were sweating and Josiah knew once they cooled off, if they didn't find heat soon, they were all in big trouble.

JD found Buck right where he had left him, except now he was covered in about two more inches of snow. JD couldn't remember the last time he saw so much of the white stuff come down. Buck hobbled next to JD, trying to put as little weight on the smaller man as he could, but it was real slow going. By the time they reached the cabin, both were huffing, their muscles quivering under the strain.

Josiah was lying on the bed he found after JD left to gather up Buck, a blanket wrapped around his shoulders. JD helped Buck sit on the newly vacated chair then headed back to close the door, hoping to keep in whatever heat their bodies generated.

"JD, reach into my pant pocket, I know you get annoyed by all the sweet ladies who give me phone numbers, but if I didn't remove them you are going to like this." Buck said, stretching out in the chair so JD could reach into his pocket without Buck having to stand.

JD got down on his knees and with his back to Buck reached into his friend's pocket with two fingers. The ropes binding his wrists stopped him before he could find anything. "Push harder JD, this isn't the time to get shy."

"These damn ropes are in the way Buck, I can't get my whole hand in, just a few fingers. Maybe if you lost a little weight your pants wouldn't be so tight."

"Very funny JD, Whoa… watch what you touch there kid, your getting close to my animal magnetism!" Exclaimed Buck.

"Buck, for crying out loud, you are so full of crap." An embarrassed JD snatched his hands away. "What am I supposed to be looking for anyway?"

"Sorry JD, you were doing fine, try again." JD could tell there was a smile in his friends voice; it made him feel better, just like Buck knew it would. JD reached in again, but this time his fingers touched something made out of paper. JD recognized the feel of two matchbooks, struggling behind his back he was finally able to struck a match. Briefly, the small room was awash in a faint light, the men frantically looked around, taking in as much of the room as they could, before the light diminished. On the counter to Buck's right was a sink and beside it a pitcher of cooking utensils.

JD felt his way over swinging his leg out in front ever few steps in case any more chairs littered the small room, once he hit the counter it took a minute to relocate the pitcher and get a knife out. Making his way back to Buck, he felt the back of his friend's hands and gently placed the knife between them. Buck moved his arms up, and down along its sharp blade, until the bonds gave way. Shivering, Buck attempted to light another match, so he could see Josiah and JD when he removed their ropes. If he could just get his frozen hands to cooperate, this would be a lot easier.

JD thought he was going to pass out from the pain, when Buck finally got the ropes cut off his wrists. As he predicted they were black and blue, with red blood blisters, where the skin had been caught in the rope. It was the blood flowing back through them that just about sent him over the edge though. As the circulation returned he sat on the floor, trying his hardest not to moan, wanting to just close his eyes and block out the rest of the world.

In the corner of the room sat a wood stove, Buck and Josiah knew they had to get it going if they were going to have any chance of surviving. "JD, you got to find us some wood to burn before we get any colder, hypothermia going to hit us hard real soon, and then we won't be able to move. JD snap out of it, I know you hurt, but Josiah and I can't move, so it has to be you." Buck yanked on JDs coat collar, pulling him closer. "Kid, I can't walk and Josiah's barely conscious, it has to be you." Buck slapped JD across the back of his head.

"Stop that!" JD cried out, trying to pull out of Bucks grip.

"Get mad, that's it, come on kid fight it off, no feeling sorry for yourself and no resting yet. We are depending on you, you have to look after us for a change."

That last statement really got to JD, as Buck hoped it would. His head came up, his eyes a blaze, he would do anything in his power for any of his teammates. "I'm going Buck, I'm pulling my weight, you know I will look after you both, I can't believe you said that to me."

Buck reached his large hand around the back of JDs head and squeezed. "I do know that kid, but right now we are running out of time, save that energy for gathering wood."

JD tightened his coat around his neck, dug out his hat and gloves from within his pocket, gingerly pulling them on his sore hands and headed back outside. The snow rang around him like little whirlpools. He had heard of farmers who got lost between their houses and barns, ending up dead. He could understand now, how that happened. He was not sure which way to go in to start this search, nor was he sure which type of wood to look for. He really wished if he had to be here, Vin was too. Vin seemed to be able to read the wilderness with his eyes closed, he never got lost, or ate berries that made you sick for a week after. The wind was really blowing hard from the north, so JD decided to stay on the south side of the cabin, to use it as a windbreak. As he came around the side, he walked smack into a pile of stacked firewood, Vin would be proud.

An hour later the three men lay inside their little haven, huddled together under the four blankets someone had stored at the cabin. The stove crackled with the wood JD had found outside, warming their aching bodies and tired souls. It had only been nine hours since Buck and Josiah had arrived at the apartment, but to the exhausted men it felt like a lifetime had past by.

Part 13

Chris sat staring out his frosted window, barely seeing the snowfall outside his warm office. His men had been on the job all night, trying to find their three missing comrades, but they still had nothing. With a sigh, he rose to his feet and stared out to the street below. How could it look so peaceful outside, he thought resentfully, when his team's world was once again turned upside down.

The stress of leading these men felt so great at times, he wondered how long he could continue. He questioned his own grip on reality, without adding the extra responsibilty of six other lives. The faces of his three missing agents kept flashing before him. These were not just men he worked with, but some of the best friends a man could hope to have watching his back.

Josiah, with his quiet, sometimes tarnished spiritual faith, and quick one-liners. The others had come to depend on his worldly wisdom and practical common sense.

Buck had emotion radar where Chris was concerned, every time Chris had needed someone over the years, Buck would suddenly appear, and this last time just stayed. It was Buck who refused to let Chris wallow in his depression after the death of his family, as he was angrily dragged back kicking and screaming to the land of the functional living.

Chris didn't spend a lot of time analyzing his feelings for JD, as they were a generation apart. Buck, for some unexplained reason, had taken an instant liking to the young man, so Chris had been let off the mentoring hook. JD bounced between annoying the hell out of him and showing glimpses of becoming the kind of man Chris wished he could still be. Enough daydreaming, Chris turned back to his desk and resumed going though the data, looking for answers that would get his men home.

Ezra sat in the surveillance van, with two federal agents, watching on video screens the room LaPierre had been in. There was still no sign of Macalister or any one else for that matter. Ezra normally did not spend much time on surveillance, as the resident undercover agent, he was usually on the screen, not surveying them. Not that he would ever admit it out loud to another person, Ezra really missed the bantering that went on between Buck and JD. The few times he was delegated to the back of the van, it had been nonstop fighting, bickering and joke playing. How these two ever got anything done, amazed him, and the fact they were two of the hottest surveillance experts in the ATF was really mind-boggling. Sitting here now, Ezra would love nothing more then to have a joke played on him, the two FBI guys could not be more boring. If that was what it took to be a Fed, give him Buck and JD any day.

Ezra turned to pick up his coffee cup, only to be confronted with two figures. "Oh god, Mr. Tanner, would you please desist from sneaking up on people, I almost shot you!" Ezra put the gun he had been pointing at Vin and Nathan back in his holster, the FBI agents following suite. "My heart can stop pounding any time now, was that the fifth or sixth time you have done that to me? One of these days, I'm going to shoot first and ask questions last, how is it you never make any noise, I think we should tie bells around your neck?"

"Sorry Ez, but we had company behind us as we pulled up, you have two gorillas approaching the building from the back and it looks like two more dudes going up the front steps. I hope we got lots of back up, look at the size of those guys. Nathan you go in first, we will be right behind you."

"I don't care who goes first." Nathan looked around at the men in the van with him. "Let's just go get them, it's time to bring our family home!"

Chris picked the phone up on the first ring. "We got the bastards, boss, I should drop Ezra off at emergency first, but he insists on coming to the interrogation, blood and all, meet you there." Vin hung up his cell; none of them prepared to miss the little talk that was about to take place.

Part 14

JD woke up feeling very stiff, lying on a cold hard floor, not sure where he was. Light filtered in through some cracks in the wall, forming shadows. With a start JD remembered where he was and why, he slowly rolled over to find Buck asleep beside him. Josiah's sleeping form was up on the single bed, his soft snoring reverberating off the walls of the small cabin.

JD immediately missed the warmth of Buck's body where he had been leaning against JDs back. The air in the cabin was frigid; JD could see his breath as he stuck his head out of the blankets. Swearing, he leaped up and threw more wood into the stove, cursing again as the matches refused to light. Finally, after what felt like hours JD had a fire burning and dove back under his blanket.

"How you doing kid?" Asked a sleepy Buck, from under his side of the blanket.

"Fine, just a little sore and hungry, how's your knee holding up, you want me to get you some more ice to put on it." Asked JD.

"Maybe later, I still feel like Frosty the Snowman, the idea of putting anything freezing on my old carcass is not too appealing right this minute." Buck answered as he shivered to prove his point.

"Okay, as soon as it warms up a bit in here I'll see if there is any food stashed around. I meant to get up and check on Josiah and put wood in the stove during the night, but just couldn't wake myself up, great nurse I would make."

"That's okay son, I kept waking myself up snoring."

"Hey, Josiah, how's the head this morning?"

"I feel like I have the worlds worst hangover, without having had any of the fun, if you find food help yourselves, the mere thought of eating makes me sick." Josiah's slurred speech came at them, as he fell back to sleep.

"JD, we have to get help for Josiah, I think he has more then just a concussion, he got so cold yesterday. I want you to stay here with him, I'll start walking and hopefully we aren't too far off the highway where I can hitch a ride." Buck grunted, trying to get to his feet, but his sore leg would not cooperate.

"Right Buck, you're going to walk for help, you can't even get off the floor. I'll bring in some more of the firewood for you guys, and then I'll start walking. Don't argue with me Buck, we don't any other options and you know it." JD stopped Buck, before he could open his mouth to object.

"Okay, but if anything happens to you, I'll kick your sorry butt into tomorrow and don't think I can't or won't."

"I know Buck,"

"I'm serious kid, none of the other guys are nearly as much fun as you to pick on. Vin and Ezra try but just don't come up with the same ammo for me to use on them as you do. If you're not around, I will be bored to death, then I will have to quit and find a more exciting job, probably in another city, forced to leave behind the rest of the guys. Besides, I just repainted the apartment, you know how much I hate painting, don't want to have to move and redo another one so soon, just because you decide to disappear in a blizzard on some god forsaken mountain. We have an understanding?"

"You painted the apartment? You picked the color, I did all the rest of the work."

Buck reached up and grasped JD in a headlock "I know you painted the apartment bonehead, I asked if we had an understanding."

"Yeah, we have an understanding." JD slowly pulled out of Bucks grip and gave him a cocky grin, letting Buck know he was up for this. His friends were depending on him and he was not about to let them down. Both men nodded at each other, then JD went out to bring in the wood.

The wind just about ripped the door from JDs hands and snow poured in, to cover part of the floor. Suddenly he didn't feel quite so confident as he watched the storm rage beyond the cabins door.

JD painfully carried in the wood, the frozen blocks resting on very sore wrists. After stacking it by the stove, he searched the cupboard for any food. Last night they had been too cold and tired to do anything more then crawl under the covers. One small half empty can of hot chocolate was all the there was to be found. JD melted some snow over the stove and for the first time in thirteen hours, the two men put something in their stomachs.

"I think I've procrastinated as long as I can Buck." JD walked over to the stove and started gathering up his outerwear that he had hung to warm up.

"Here, put these on." Buck held up his winter boots.

"They are way to big Buck, besides you need them."

"They will keep your feet dry, even if they are to big and I can wear Josiah's if I have a huge urge to go outside. You had better get going, I want you to have as much daylight as possible." With that Buck pulled JD into his chest, even if it did embarrass the younger man Buck needed a few seconds of contact. Apparently JD did as well, for he just stood in Buck embrace.

"Take care of Josiah." JD said as he finally unwrapped himself from his friend's arms.

"Just worry about yourself, Josiah, and I will be fine." Buck held open the door and watched as his best friend disappeared into a swirling white mass.

"He will be okay Buck, he is a lot stronger young man then we give him credit for and you have to know he would move heaven, and earth for you. If that means walking in to the face of a storm to save you, he will."

"Josiah, welcome back to the land of the living partner, and he is not just doing it for me, your right up here on the JD pedestal too, I've had to make room for the whole damn team. I don't know how I let him wiggle into my life, I'm the ladies man and hell, I used to have three dates in a single night. My biggest problem before JD showed up, was keeping them all straight in my head. Now, you know, I don't think I've gone out three times in the last month and not just because of how busy we've been at work. Of course if that little tidbit leaves this room, I will adamantly deny it."

"Well Buck, I hate to burst your bubble, but we are all very aware of your abbreviated dating schedule. Most of the time we are with the two of you, JDs managed to squash a lot of our dating skills as well. How many hockey, lacrosse and basketball games has that kid dragged us to, and if not watching sports, how many games has he made us play? How many times does he make you drive out to Chris's to ride with him and Vin? Lord Buck, there are not enough hours in a day to hang with JD, and have a dating life too."

" He's important to me Josiah, I mean all you guys are, it's just he needs me more. I want to be the best man at his wedding; I want his first child to be named after me. I want to be uncle Buck, the guy who buys all his kids drum sets and motorcycles. I want to chase all the boys away from his daughters, because no matter how hard he tries, he just isn't intimidating and I want him to do all the same things for me. I just want him to be in my life for a very long time!

Part 15

Two more feet of snow had fallen over night, any trace of tire tracks long gone, only the swedge cut through the thick forest gave any indication there was a road lying beneath the white blanket. The wind couldn't seem to decide which way to blow, swirling the snow around in every direction, trying to push over any object in its path.

The lone figure kept trudging foreword, his head hunched into his coat collar and arms wrapped around his torso. He had tried to keep his hands in his pockets for extra warmth, but had to abandon that idea after his feet slipped out on him and he landed on his face. The trees on either side of the road were the only reason he could keep going in the same direction. One foot in front of the other, fighting through snowdrifts, he kept moving.

JD reckoned he had been walking for about two and a half hours and still no sign of any inhabitation, or a major roadway. He didn't think he could get any colder than he had yesterday, but he was wrong. The only parts of his body not completely frozen were his feet, thanks to Buck's boots. His hot chocolate had worn off a long time ago, a fact his grumbling stomach kept reminding him of.

JD lifted his head up, to get a sense of were he was, his long eyelashes frosted together, making for even worse visibility. Removing his one glove, he grabbed his lashes between his fingers to melt the ice off. It was while he was standing still he heard the noise, it was a snuffling sound followed by twigs snapping. JDs heart started to race, he anxiously spun around looking for the source of the noise. He had been so worried about staying warm and not getting lost, he never thought about the wildlife that roamed these woods.

To his right, a shadow started to immerge from the tree line, slowly a shape formed. The bear suddenly stopped, as if just sensing another's presence now. JD stood frozen to the spot, praying the animal would not take him as a threat and move on. The bear drew in a great gulp of air and started to swing its head back and forth. It's massive paws reached out and tossed snow in every direction, his mouth open, growling.

JD slowly backed towards the trees behind him, his breath caught in his throat. He couldn't remember if he and Vin ever talked about what to do in a bear attack. Blind terror taking over, it was all he could do not to turn and run. He made it to the trees, still facing the bear he climbed over wind falls, their branches pulling at him, catching his clothes and making him stumble.

The bear continued his dance in the same spot, then, as JD got further away stood up on hind legs. It continued to gulp air into its nose, trying to keep the scent. Suddenly, he let out a roar, dropped to all fours and charged at JD.

JD, turned as fast as the too large boots on his feet would let him, scrambling frantically over the downed logs. His frozen legs pumping to push him through the snow needing them to move faster, he could hear the bear crashing across the logs behind him. Using his arms to push branches away from his face, he fought on. He stepped up on to yet another log, when he slipped and fell; his foot became wedged in the debris. JD kicked out, trying to get his foot dislodged, but the branches wouldn't give. Struggling to sit up and turn over, JD pulled at the branches, sobs of fear and frustration coming from the back of his throat. With a powerful pull, the mass shifted suddenly, sending JD on to his back. Yanking out his foot, he rolled on to his hands and knees, before getting back onto his feet and running again.

Eventually he stopped moving, hanging against a tree to stay up, gasping to get air in lungs still sore from yesterday. He could not see movement, or hear anything, but he could feel it breathing, it was still on his trail. Daylight seemed to disappear as JD headed deeper into the forest, the trees blocking everything else from his view, he knew he had to get out of there, but didn't know which way to go anymore.

Running, falling, getting up, he kept pushing on. Limbs slapped at his face leaving welts, grabbing, and ripping his clothes, still he urged more energy from his body. The crashing behind him getting closer, JD headed towards a clearing he could make out in front of him. With a last surge of speed he broke out of the trees and right off a cliff.

One minute he was running, the next he was a giant snowball thundering down the side of a mountain, bouncing off rocks and trees. His body finally stopped sliding from its 300-foot descent, coming to rest against a fir tree.

He lay very still, letting the pain wash over him. He hurt in places, he didn't know he had, but it was manageable if he didn't move. He did a mental check on his extremities, no one particular spot seemed worse than another. Gradually, he became aware of the wet and cold seeping through his clothes, with a groan he staggered to his feet.

At least he had lost the bear for now, it stood on top roaring down at him before returning back into the woods. Not sure which way to go, he couldn't climb back up the cliff even if the bear wasn't there, it was too steep, JD headed towards a small creek that meandered past, partly covered with ice. If he had rolled twenty feet further, he would have landed in it. Watching the direction it flowed, JD followed it downstream, hoping it would eventually lead him off this mountain.

The snowfall had at least slowed and the wind wasn't a steady roar in his ears anymore, the trees offering him some protection. Wishing he had paid closer attention to Vin about what was edible in the forest, JD hobbled along. The last time he ate wild berries, he was sick for a week, the first two days convinced he was dying. He was not anxious for a repeat performance.

JD was so intent on where his feet were going and his hunger pains, he almost missed it. His first thought was the damn bear had followed him into the ravine somehow and he had to find a place to hide. Then he heard it again, he knew this sound, listening carefully, he moved towards it.

Stepping on stones to keep his boots dry, JD crossed the creek and headed for the woods, away from where he had last seen the bear. He just got to the edge of the trees when he came across the barbwire fence, carefully stepping over a section that was down he continued onward.

It was getting louder; JD felt a smile come to his face for the first time since leaving the cabin, there in a thicket before him, stood two horses. JD made his way towards them, talking in a quiet, soothing voice, both animals snorted, the tips of their ears so perked up they almost touched. The larger of the two bolted a few feet, then spun around to look back at JD. A soft nicker reverberated from the large animals throat and he cautiously approached JDs out stretched hand. The horse looked to be of mixed draft breeding, a big bay, weighing almost a ton, with dinner plates for hooves and a head half as big as JD. He obviously was near the end of his twilight years. Gray hairs covered his muzzle, and were sprinkled throughout his winter coat and once large proud eyes, were now sunken back in his head. Sensing no danger from JD, the gentle giant rubbed his head up against JDs chest, just about knocking the exhausted youth over.

The sound of pawing drew JDs attention to the other horse; he looked expectantly at the human. "Oh, I see you are in a bit of a pickle, little pony." JD slowly approached the small black and white pinto, talking in a steady monotone voice, not wanting to spook the little animal. Around the pony's head was a red rope halter, with a long lead shank dangling from it. Unfortunately the lead rope had become tangled in some bushes and from the look of things; the pony had been there for a long time.

The pinto's stomach was all sucked up, like he had not eaten, or had water in along time. JD led the little guy to the creek, passing carefully over the fence that lay on the ground and let him have a short drink. The pinto did not look to be very old; JD guessed he was probably coming up two. If JD could ride one of these horses they might take him to the ranch where they came from. Horses have an uncanny sense of direction; his own horse had taken him back to Chris's ranch on several occasions after JD found him self somewhat lost. He never told Buck, or Chris about those little adventures, they didn't like him riding alone as it was, but they couldn't always go with him. JD wasn't prepared to give up riding for anyone, not even Chris. The pinto was not in very good shape, he needed to go home and fill up on some grain and hay. Besides JD had no way of knowing if the pinto had ever been ridden and this was not the time, or place to play saddle bronc and ride-em cowboy.

JD reached up and unsnapped the lead shank from the pinto's halter. The halter would never fit the old gelding, so JD had to try to make one from the rope. The big horse took one look at the rope coming towards him and walked off. "Whoa now son, come back here, that's a good boy." JD quietly walked along side the old horse, talking nonsense to him, he didn't have much strength left and he really needed the horse to cooperate.

As if sensing the humans discomfort the big horse just stopped and waited for JD to walk up and put the rope around his neck. JD led him over to a log, so he could get on with out having to jump. Tentatively, he placed a leg over the large back and slid on, the bay stood without so much as a flinch. JD made a feather light squeeze with his legs on the horse's side and the horse quietly walked on, with just a backward glance at the pony following.

The horse's once strong broad back, was now swayed with age, but it made it easier for JD to sit on. Heat radiated off the bays hide, warming the insides of JD thighs and his hands where they rested on the large neck. JD could not remember a time when he hurt this bad, or felt this tired. The long hike and the scare with the bear finally taking their toll on his young body, a tear ran down his cheek, freezing to his face before he could wipe it away.

"Get it together, man, you are tougher than that." JD started talking to himself, the other guys never cried when things got hard, or at least that's what JD thought. The big horse under him cocked his ears back and forth, listening to the commentary taking place upon his back. His pace steady; he headed home, since the person on his back wasn't giving him any directions. The little pony walked along behind him, grabbing a mouth full of grass here and there, from under trees where no snow had yet fallen.

The quiet swaying walk was lulling JD to sleep, so he twisted his hands through the mane to hold on. The old horse carefully picked his feet up to step over logs and winding his way around trees, so the branches didn't knock his passenger off. When JD occasionally started to slide off, the horse just shifted his weight back underneath the boy.

JD woke up to the wind and snow blowing against him again; they were now out of the woods and walking across what appeared to be hay fields. The old horse broke into a jolting trot, snapping his knees up to get through the deep snow, the pony whinnied beside him, before kicking up his heels and racing off. JD just hung on and hoped these guys were headed someplace where he could get help for Buck and Josiah.

The first thing JD saw was a chimney, followed by a roof then the whole homestead appeared before him, a log structure with a porch off the front of it, stood near the back of the yard. A large pasture lay in front of the house, a couple dozen head of cattle and a few other horses stood around feeders chewing on hay. The barn was nestled in the back, surrounded be five smaller corrals. All the buildings looked like they had survived a few generations, all were cosmetically fading, but everything was neat and tidy, at least what of it JD could see of it.

The driveway had not been plowed since this last snowfall and he could see no lights shining in the house's windows. Nor was there any smoke coming from the chimney, there was just a silent calm about the place. JD rode over to the barn area and slid off the bay's back, his legs buckling underneath him as he made contact with the ground. His feet felt like shattering glass from the cold. His eyes closed, he stayed down on his hands and knees for a minute, only to be nudged from behind by the pony. "Okay, okay, I'll feed you." JD leaned against his last mode of transportation and stood up, hugging his arms around the great beasts neck for support.

Gingerly, he led them in to the barn and put them each in a box stall. Hay was stacked in a far corner, with an oat bin on the floor beside. JD gave them each a scoop of grain and a few flakes of hay, each stall had an automatic waterier, so JD didn't have to haul any. Satisfied he had done all he could for his new friends, he set off for the house, in search of the ranch owners.

The road had not been plowed, or sidewalks shoveled. JD couldn't even see any footprints except for cat tracks and then very, very large dog prints and there standing on porch the biggest dog he had ever seen "Oh god!" Freezing snow, and mad bears he had survived, only to face being eaten by a monster dog. JD looked desperately for something he could use as a weapon, but before he could even blink a huge mass of fur was hurling itself at him. JD screamed and brought his hands up to cover his face, as he was pole-vaulted backwards into the snow under a massive weight.

Whining and a wet tongue trying to find access to his face made JD stop struggling and sit up. The dog was almost doing back flips he was so happy, barking, and racing in a circle around the agent. "Hey, you big mutt, settle down." JD laughed with relief, as every time he tried to regain his feet, the dog would knock him over. Finally he managed to drag himself up and continue on to the house, the dog banging up against his legs the whole time.

"Hello, the house!" JD hollered, as he banged on the door, but only silence greeted him. He pushed his nose up against, what appeared to be a dining room window and peaked inside. Nothing, or nobody!

JD tried to turn the doorknob, but it would not budge so he walked around the house, all the doors and windows were locked. He didn't have Ezra's skill at picking locks and he really didn't want to break a window to get in. At the back of the house he came across a root cellar, after shoveling the snow off the top with his hands, he pulled up on the handle. After a slight argument the door gave and exposed stairs going down. JD peaked in, it was a small room the owners used for canning, the jars all placed neatly on wooded shelves. Pushing the goofy dog out of his way, JD went down to investigate.


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