CHAPTER 4

The blinding light of pale sun meeting snow kept the figure before him
in shadow. John called out for Evangeline again, as he ran through
the ankle-deep flights of winter. His heart broke into clean pieces
when he came upon the figure to discover Todd Manning.

John struggled with himself, with the urge to wrap his fingers around
Manning's neck and squeeze. He let out a guttural cry into the
universe, bending over with his hands on his knees, catching his
breath, trying to control himself.

"Glad to see the LPD keeping up with those fitness requirements," Todd
said, eyeing Antonio as he limped toward them. "The two of you, what
heroes."

"What are you doing here, Todd?" Antonio asked, putting his spare hand
on John's back to help him concentrate on the task at hand.

"That's Tio Todd to you, Antonio-Manuelito Vega-Santi-Vega."

John's eyes had turned black by the time he trapped Todd in a stare.
"Manning," he growled. Nothing more.

Todd thought about the blood on Evangeline's clothes and sighed. As
much as he wanted to torment McBain, he didn't want Evangeline to
suffer. The sign on the door had said, "Gone for help." His friend
was in trouble.

"I came here for the same reason as you. To find Evangeline," Todd
said. "I found a cabin a couple of miles back that had an SOS in
front of it. I went inside "

"Was she there?" John asked fervently, unable to wait for the answer
he knew was coming. No, she was not there. If she had been there,
Manning wouldn't have been standing in front of him. He would have
gotten her to safety and let John and Antonio rot on the mountain,
looking for her.

"Is she dead?" John asked quietly, his vision hazed by a slate of unshed tears.

"She's not dead, John," Antonio interjected.

"Aren't you a detective? Quantico's finest? I said I was looking for
her looking, present tense," Todd said, squinting at the looming
army of naked trees with their branches outstretched and burdened with
heavy flakes of white.

Todd grabbed John by the shoulders and made him stand straight. "Get
yourself together, McBain. We don't have time for you to wallow in
all your whatever it is. Take a pill," Todd said, shaking John for
emphasis. "She's hurt. I saw her clothes, and there was blood on
them."

Antonio shivered. He and John had been out for hours, since the
sunrise. Both men were exhausted, and Antonio didn't know how much
more his friend could take physically or emotionally.

"She can't have gone far, if she's injured," Antonio said.

"On one of the local maps, there was a ranger call box about two miles
east," John said, pulling out a compass, feeling more grim than ever.

"How in the hell would she know about a call box?" Todd yelled,
walking after John who had already started in that direction.

"Whoever got her to that cabin knows," John said, publishing a leaf of
hope under his breath, breaking into a trot.
_______________________________________________________________________________________

Killian dropped to his knees, next to the sled bearing Evangeline.
The telephone receiver, dangling off of its hook, teased him with a
signal each time it swung past his ear. A dull buzz droned in and out
of his head. He couldn't make any connections, and he couldn't go any
further.

His extremities were numb. His lips, cracking. His hands were
bleeding through the gloves, the red stains freezing instantly on the
surface of the thick fabric, and the wind stabbed his lungs each time
he inhaled.

"C'mon, lad, get to moving," Killian said aloud, trying to inspire
himself. Every muscle in his body begged for sleep, though he knew
that if he closed his eyes, he would never open them to the mortal
world again.

"Rajani. Rajani," he said deliberately, as in prayer. "Help us."

The cold was drugging him, and his thoughts slushed around in his
brain. Maybe this was Rajani's plan all along to have him join her
in the beyond. He laughed for no reason. The laughter turned into
brittle coughs. He was overexposed. He recognized the symptoms:
uncontrollable tremors, slurred speech, frequent stumbling. He should
have planned better.

The unreasonable, desperate laughter came again. "Why did the
Irishman cross the mountain, Evangeline?" he said, unable to finish
the humorless quip. She was the answer to the question. She was why
he'd ventured outside to die, instead of slowly dying in his cabin,
alone, lonely.

Killian's eyelids became heavier, and it was a brief flash of black
kept him from giving in to permanent hibernation. He pushed himself
up from where he knelt. He could feel the cracking in his knees.
There was a man running toward them. Maybe the rangers did hear after
all. Then there were two men. Killian nearly fell again from the
relief.

He waved his arms and yelled, "Help."
_______________________________________________________________________________________

John could see the man, but he couldn't see Evangeline. He needed to
see her. Where was she? He dug in deep, a flat-out sprint. He
ignored the screaming of his muscles. He let the panic for
Evangeline fuel his adrenaline. Manning was on his heels, but John
needed to be there first.

When he got close, close to the ghost-man barely standing, John nearly
slid into him. The man looked at him, his eyes half open, and almost
smiled.

"You must be John," the man said slowly, his brogue heavy. "It's
about time, brother. She's been waiting for you."

The man fell forward, into John's arms. John propped the man up
against the sled, Manning kicking a snow cloud around them as he
arrived on the scene. John was about to shake the man, ask him where
Evangeline was, when he saw the mound on the sled move.

"Help him," John commanded Todd.

His heart slammed against the walls of his chest like a car crashing
into a wall. "Baby, baby, baby," he murmured as he pulled the
blankets back. Killian had covered her completely with the bedding,
fearing that even her fever wouldn't stave off the bitter cold.

John pulled her limp body up to his. Her skin seared his. In the
background, he heard Manning screaming at his pilot to get over to
them immediately. He heard Antonio ask him how Evangeline was. But
he was in a vacuum, and there was only he and Evangeline left in the
universe.

He turned his mouth her ear, so that he would be heard, even
through the darkness of her unconsciousness. "Stay with me, baby. I
need you to stay," he said.

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