Castaways - The Storm 

By Yolande

Thanks Mitzi and NotTasha - as always you're the best!

No 2 in the Series and follows Castaways - Marooned.


Part 1 

Three days had passed since they’d been shipwrecked on the island, and after a number of scouting missions, it was concluded that they were alone, completely surrounded by water with no signs of previous habitation.  With the yacht’s communications system damaged and the irreparable destruction to the vessel, it was with subdued acceptance that their only chance of escaping the island would be with a rescue coordinated from offshore.  And with that conclusion, the seven crewmembers and passengers of the shipwreck would have to work together in the ultimate goal of survival.  For there was no knowing how long they would be marooned on the island. 

Vin Tanner dropped the empty canteen and let it swing on the cord about his neck.  It was working out to be a scorcher of a day, and it was only early afternoon.  He squinted up at the cloud-free sky, studying the telltale signs; he licked at the moisture that played along his lips.  With his hip leaning against the trunk of a palm tree he exuded a stance of relaxation, but only someone familiar with his ways would have recognised the growing trepidation that surged beneath the surface.   

The security guard shaded his face, watching Buck and JD as they unloaded more essentials from the yacht and dropped them to the beach.  His lips curved slightly at the comical antics of the duo. It hadn’t taken long for Buck to take the young stowaway under his protective wing.  JD Dunne was energetic and positively beaming under the guiding hand of Buck Wilmington.  He joined them with enthusiasm and resourcefulness, showing them that he was willing to pull his own weight.  He was welcomed to the group with equal gusto. 

Tanner was certain that of the seven, six could find some common ground, especially as five of them were already firm friends.  In fact, they already worked well as a team.   As for the seventh member of their tribe - that still remained a questionable factor.  Ezra Standish had yet to show any alliances with them, although Josiah seemed guardedly protective of the black sheep.  He wondered how Standish had drawn Sanchez into his loop.  

Vin seriously doubted the Southerner had the endurance and mental aptitude that was required to survive on this island without the support of some kind of friendship.  Ezra appeared, on the surface, to be a loner.  And Vin could see that because that is how the security guard would have described himself before he got to know Chris and the rest.  Tanner was only fairly new to this whole group thing himself.  He remembered the first time that the five of them all came together.  He was the newest to the group, and nervous didn’t describe his turbulent emotions.  But to his relief, Tanner fit comfortably within the group.   They made him feel welcome.  Vin decided that he gained some insight into Standish’s situation with his reluctance to open up to them.  He figured the Southerner only needed a little extra time to come around.  And given the opportunity, Ezra would return the friendship.  Or so he assumed.  

Tanner first met Chris just on twelve months ago, while he was working as a bouncer for a local nightclub.  A fight broke out with thirty of the customers joining in the fray.  Chris was at the club that night, and across the crowded room their eyes meet for the first time – it was an instant understanding and connection that bonded them for a lifetime.  It was as though they had always been friends and knew how each man was going to react.   It didn’t matter, that, in taking on thirty drunken and aggressive men, that it was two against insurmountable odds.  And, by the time the cops arrived, both Chris and Vin lay unconscious on the floor.  Vin smiled at the memory – God, but that had been a good fight - what he could remember of it, he grinned.  

When he woke up, Tanner was in the hospital with a broken arm, concussion and several broken ribs.  Chris Larabee shared his room, and he sported two black eyes, concussion and numerous bruises and contusions.  Of course, Tanner lost his job as a bouncer at the club, but he did, in a roundabout way, acquire his new job because of his association with Larabee. 

As it turned out, Larabee, along with Buck Wilmington had inherited an old yacht.  The lawyer, Orrin Travis, who handled the transfer of the legal aspects for Chris and Buck, had his office broken into during the same month.  Chris knew that Vin was out of a job and automatically suggested him to take over the security of the office building.  Travis wasn’t convinced so readily.  But after doing a surveillance course and passing the scrutiny of the background checks, Tanner found himself in charge of the security for the five-storey office block.  That was ten months ago now. 

“You planning on holdin’ up that tree all day?”  Larabee dropped the heavy tarp and shared his flask of water.  He wiped the sweat from his upper lip and followed Vin’s upward gaze. 

“Hey, cowboy,” Tanner smirked, his smile brightening at the scowl that crossed Larabee’s forehead.  There was a comfortable silence that lagged between them, where neither man felt the necessity to speak.  Vin pushed off the palm.  “Reckon I ought ta get back ta work.” 

“Yeah, in a bit.  Somethin’ up?”  Larabee had been watching the security guard for the past ten minutes, gazing periodically up at the sky and frowning. 

“Yeah.  Storm’s coming.”  He nodded at the near perfect sky and wasn’t surprised at the incredulous eyebrow that arced in response. 

“You sure?” 


“So we get a little wet,” Chris dismissed easily. 

“Nah, it’s gonna be more than that.  More like the one we had the other night,” he predicted, “except this one’ll be a lot worse.” 

Larabee rubbed the back of his neck, attempting to ease the tense muscles and nodded his understanding.  Just what he didn’t want to hear.  Wasn’t it enough that they were dumped on this island, without any hope of leaving?  “Where are the others?” 

“Josiah and Nathan went to get fresh water; they should be back soon.  Haven’t seen Standish since this morning.”  Both Wilmington and Dunne were obviously accounted for as they were still on the beach. 

“We need to get as much of this stuff, as we can, up to that cave we found yesterday.”  Chris pointed at the growing mound of supplies.  How was it that he’d been nominated leader of this unique bunch of men?  Just because he’d been the captain of the yacht, all six of them had looked to him to take control.  He didn’t know whether he was up to it or not.  Taking responsibility for his own life had been an uphill battle over the years, and now he was expected to organise and protect seven lives, including his own.  What a laugh.  They were relying on him, and that’s what made it so much harder. 


Part 2 

“Sure is warm,” Nathan puffed, wiping the sweat from his brow.  Lowering the knapsack from his shoulder he rolled his aching neck.  His shirt was damp from perspiration and the thick sultry air made it difficult to breath.  

“Ya got that right, brother,” Sanchez responded, flopping his large frame to the lush grass and fanning his face with his open hand.  “Gonna have drunk all this water before we get it back,” he chuckled.  

“Maybe we can talk Chris into setting up camp a little closer to the stream.”  

Josiah poured a generous helping of water down his parched throat and then a small amount into the palm of his hand.  Using the luke-warm liquid he splashed the contents from his hand onto his face.  “Sure is nice here,” he sighed with pleasure.  Then seeing the look of aghast horror in Jackson’s expression, he amended, in deference to the doctor, “Except for the heat.” 

“It’s hot, Josiah!” Jackson objected. 

The older man shrugged non-committally.  “You’re just used to the air conditioning you work in.” 

“Ain’t always had that pleasure…and how can you not notice it?  All of those kitchens you work in are like boiler rooms…” 

Josiah sighed.  “It’s a different kind of heat.  This is quite refreshing, compared to the claustrophobic environment of the workplace,” Sanchez sighed contentedly.  He heard the brush rustle and glanced in that direction expecting to see some colourful parrot spreading its wings.  The diverse array of bird life on the island enthralled him.  “Well, well…Mr. Standish…would you like to join us?”  He sat up and crossed his legs, sitting Buda style.  The older man noticed that Ezra had changed out of the expensive suit and now looked more comfortable in a pair of worn jeans, Reeboks and a black T-shirt.  But didn’t the man own a pair of shorts?  It was much too hot to hike around in long pants.  

The younger man suspiciously eyed the doctor and cook; his decision finally reached when Sanchez beckoned holding up a water bottle.  He stepped forward, his eyes glued to the water container.  His fingers wrapped around the bottle and he moved to back away, but Sanchez retained a solid grip on the container.  Standish lifted his eyes to Sanchez’ blue gaze.  “Thank-you,” he croaked hoarsely. 

Sanchez smiled at the Southerner and dropped his hand to the grass, content to run his fingers through the course blades of grass.  “Been out exploring?” 

“Yes,” he nodded in agreement, though did not elaborate further. 

“And what do you think of this veritable paradise?” 

Standish licked the droplets from his lips and returned the bottle.  “Marvellous,” he drolled mordantly.  

Sanchez chuckled at the Southerner’s sarcasm.  There was a lot they didn’t know about Maude Devereux’s son, and his dry humour and acerbic tongue made the man that much more intriguing.  “We could use a hand to get this water down to the beach,” Josiah solicited. 

“That’s if ya ain’t too busy,” Jackson snarled churlishly.  Standish had made it obvious over the past days that he couldn’t tolerate the company of the black man.  Nathan had initially made overtures of friendship, but Ezra had ignored him, even refusing to listen to him when Nathan had tried to point out that the Southerner should help with setting up their camp. 

Standish raised his eyebrows a fraction, taken aback by the doctor’s viscous tone of voice.  What had he done this time to warrant an attack?  What could he have possibly done to offend the doctor?  He’d hardly spoken to Nathan lately.  In fact, he’d made a deliberate effort to stay away from Jackson after he had berated him in front of the group the first day on the island.  And for what?  He knew he was wrong.  Did he constantly need reminding that it was he who damaged the radio?  Couldn’t Nathan just leave it be?  No!  He had to make a big deal of it.  There was nothing he could say to defend himself – Nothing that anybody would believe, or wanted to hear.   They were trapped on the island because of his selfish act.  One, apparently, that he was forever going to have to remember and pay for.  And Jackson seemed determined to be the one to do it.  “By all means,” Ezra agreed, and nodding in deference to the older man he picked up the backpack that Sanchez had been carrying and without waiting, trudged toward the beach.  He smiled irreverently; two could play at that game, Mr. Jackson.  And ignoring him seemed to garner the anticipated reaction. 

Sanchez turned his frown on the dark skinned doctor.  “You got some beef with Ezra?  I suggest you get over it real fast, ‘cause we’re gonna be sharing this island with him for a while to come.  You ain’t gonna be able to avoid him for long.” 

“Ain’t nothing personal…” 

“Sure sounded personal to me.”  Josiah pushed to his feet. 

“Ah, come on, Josiah.  Surely you can see it?” 

“See what?” 

“He don’t want to be here with us…” 

“Can you blame him?  I bet you, Chris, Vin, Buck and JD don’t want to be here on this island either,” the cook countered, gesturing in the air. 

“That’s not how I meant it.  I can see it in his eyes…he don’t want to be near me ‘cause the colour of my skin,” he explained bitterly. 

“I think you’re reading more in Ezra’s eyes than is really there.” 

“Well I disagree.  And until Ezra proves he ain’t judging me, then I don’t want to have anything to do with him,” the doctor haughtily announced. 

“Sounds mighty prejudiced, Nathan.” 

“Just reading it as it see it,” he harrumphed.  “I can tell a racist when I meet one.” 

“Even when it’s you?” 

They returned to the beach with little more than a word spoken between them.  Nathan fumed, blaming the Southerner for his argument with Josiah. And the soaring temperatures and high humidity further soured his mood. 


Part 3 

“Hey Buck, do we really need to take all this stuff?  Wouldn’t it be easier if we just left it on the yacht?” JD panted, dropping the folded tarp and blankets on top of the large ice cooler. 

“Chris says we take it out, so that’s what we do, kid.”  Wilmington lifted off the coil of rope from about his neck and added it to the growing mound.  “We should sort this stuff as we bring it out.  Make certain that we get everything up to the cave that is essential, and leave everything else that isn’t, until last.” 

“They’d be like our luxury items, huh?” 

“Yeah, kid,” he chuckled.  Survivor was a hit in his lounge room, too. 

JD nodded, dutifully following the moustached man back to the yacht.  “You and Chris have been friends for a long time, haven’t you?” 

“Sure, kid,” Buck replied absently.  He and Chris had known each other for the best part of twenty years.  The two owners of the yacht met during their freshman year at school.  They’d seemed an unlikely pair, but eventually, they became firm friends.  

Both men vied for the opportunity to date a fellow classmate, Sarah Connelly, in their senior year.  They even both asked to escort her to the prom and she accepted both dates, saying she couldn’t choose between them and wanted to use the dance to sort out her feelings for each man.  Chris and Buck had gone along with the request.   With an escort on each arm and two corsages pinned to her dress she danced the night away, alternately with each prospective beau.  By the end of the evening it became obvious to Buck, that Sarah was a little more smitten with his friend.  He left the dance alone, and didn’t see either Chris or Sarah for the next four years.   

They went their separate ways, and it was ironical that both men wound up with careers that revolved around boats.  Chris joined the police force and moved on to become a private investigator, but he eventually found his calling as a coast guard.  

Buck Wilmington was a little disillusioned with life.  After losing Sarah to his best friend, and then finding his mother murdered in her own bed, he decided to pull up stakes and start a new life.  He chose to join the Navy, determined to put distance and a career between the triangular relationship.  He found that it was easier to do than he first perceived.  The ladies’ man quickly forgot his passion for the dark-headed beauty and discovered the delicacies that each new port had to offer.  

It was during his third year out to sea when he met up with Nathan Jackson, a young midshipman.  Jackson had been the brunt of every practical joke on the vessel, and some nasty racial slurs and eventually an unprovoked attack.  Buck had arranged to meet up with Jackson in the mess after dinner, when he didn’t show, Buck made it his responsibility to find the absent sailor.  It was six hours later when Wilmington found the beaten and bloodied midshipmen.   

Nathan had garnered many serious injuries in the vicious attack that caused him to spend six months in hospital.  After that, he spent two years in and out of the courts, defending his name and honour, and ultimately Nathan managed to get an early discharge on the grounds of misleading information that led him to begin a career in the navy.  The crew that assaulted him managed to get off scott-free leaving Nathan vastly unimpressed with navy life and with the lawyers that defended him so inadequately.  Even Buck’s testimony was not enough to convict any of the men who attacked him. 

It was after spending so much time in the hospital that encouraged Nathan to study medicine.  He had to do night school for a few years to get his grades up in some classes, but eventually, all the hard work, little social life and working two and three jobs at a time, paid off.  The pair had kept in contact with one another over the years and when Buck left the Navy they began to see each other more regularly.  The ladies’ man had even gone out on a few dates with Nathan’s younger sister.  Fortunately the doctor held no grudge with the gregarious man when the short-lived relationship ended with his sibling.  

Buck was on leave when he heard again from Chris and Sarah.  And it was with major consternation that he accepted the invitation to attend their wedding, supporting Chris as his best man.  Buck suspected that upon seeing his former flame that all the emotions would rush him, but to his relief, the surge didn’t happen.  He was incredibly happy to be part of this union, and when he brushed his lips to Sarah’s cheek in a chaste kiss at the end of the ceremony, she wrapped her arms around his neck and returned the kiss smack on his mouth.  And when Chris hugged him and Sarah together, Buck knew he’d found a new family. 

“Buck…hey, old man,” the young stowaway called again. 

“Huh?”  Wilmington shook his head. 

“And the others?  Ya all know each other?” 

“Yeah…except for Standish,” he amended. 

“But he’s okay,” Dunne jumped to the defence of the man who courageously saved his life at the risk of his own. 

“Dunno, kid.  He’s real hard to figure.  Too quiet; don’t seem right for what you’d expect of a car salesman. Guess he’s laying low for a bit…especially after what he did, smashing the radio and the GPS.” 

“He did save my life,” Dunne stated. 

“Yeah…he did,” Wilmington admitted thoughtfully.  He shrugged, flicking the baseball cap backwards off Dunne’s head and climbing inside the wrecked vessel.  “He probably just doesn’t want us asking too many questions.  Man’s entitled to his secrets.  Come on,” he’d had enough with the twenty questions, “we got more stuff to get yet.” 


Part 4 

When Standish returned to the beach, it was to discover Larabee swinging his arms about, as though he were madly directing traffic.  There seemed to be a lot of activity surrounding the doomed yacht, and a looming mound of materials littered the beach.  JD and Buck were dismembering the boat of its contents, and Vin was bent-over packing smaller items inside a heavy box.  Ezra stood motionless for a minute, just studying the commotion.  He rubbed at his eyes and wearily sighed, psyching himself to join them.  Why was it so hard? 

“Hey, Ezra!”  JD waved, drawing the attention of Buck, Chris and Vin as he stepped closer. 

Standish smiled weakly, dropping the backpack at his feet.  The smile remained steady in place when he heard the approach of Jackson and Sanchez behind him.  A large hand clamped over his shoulder and he struggled not to flinch.  

“You got a bit ahead of us, son,” the older man panted, and ruffled the Southerner’s hair affectionately.  He chuckled light-heartedly and was rewarded with a derisive scowl. 

“Good, I’m glad you’re all back,” Chris called out, effectively bringing the byplay to an end.  “We need everything off the beach and safely undercover.”  His tone encouraged immediate capitulation and the urgency apparent. 

“Why the rush?” Ezra frowned, feeling entirely unenthusiastic just looking at the amount of supplies Larabee wanted transported.  And a lot of the items looked heavy.  He wasn’t a damn packhorse, and it was far too hot to even consider it.  

Vin pointed to the sky.  “There’s a storm on the way, and it’s gonna be big.” 

Ezra looked sceptically at the cloud-free sky and returned his disbelief in waves.  Not that he was any kind of expert, but it just seemed so unlikely. 

“Take Vin’s word for it; there’s a shit-stopping storm heading our way, and we’d best be prepared.” 

“Is this all really necessary?  Couldn’t we leave it until the weather was more amenable?” 

Chris spun on Standish.  “We don’t have time to pamper your needs, Standish.  Just because your mama’s a wealthy woman, doesn’t mean that you’re gonna be treated like royalty.  We’re all equals here and this needs to be a team effort.”  He aimed an index finger and shook it severely, emphasizing his point, “And we expect you to take your share.”   Larabee picked up the first thing he could grab and tossed it to the Southerner. 

Ezra found himself fumbling a weighty duffle bag that Chris had shoved at him.  He stared blankly at Larabee and immediately dropped the bundle. 

“Here, I’ll take that one,” Sanchez intercepted. 

“No, don’t bother.” Ezra continued to stare at Larabee.  “I’ll take it.”  He staggered a little before hefting it over his shoulder and disappearing through the brush. 

“A little rough on him, weren’t you, Chris?” 

“Josiah, if he wants to question my every order, then he shouldn’t expect anything less.” 

The older man chewed his bottom lip.  “Maybe ya ought ta try asking for a change, instead of ordering…might work more effectively.” 

Tanner smirked, totally agreeing with Sanchez.  Closing the lid on the box, he snapped it into place.  “Here, Larabee.  Ya mind taking this end?” 

“Yeah, fine.  Nathan, could you and Josiah start bringing up those other boxes.”  Chris glanced at the chef; his hunched back was turned facing the sea.  “Will you be alright with him?” 

Jackson nodded grimly.  His relationship with Josiah had been solid prior to being shipwrecked, but now it was fraying around the edges because of Standish.  He’d never had an argument with Sanchez before, but now they couldn’t seem to agree on anything.  It was disappointing to have his friend questioning his own motives. 

Buck and JD initially stayed with the yacht, continuing to unpack the ship of its vital parts, and deposit them on the sand, while the others ferried the supplies to the cave. 

Ezra passed the others on the path, lowering his head and refusing to look them in the eye. His pace didn’t slacken, and he made as many trips as each of the others, but he ferried the goods on his own.  He didn’t waste time on the beach, quickly finding new items and left on his way before any of the others caught up with him.  


Part 5 

The trail leading from the beach to the cave took ten minutes each way, but with the addition of hauling boxes and equipment up the path it generally took closer to twenty.   

The temperature soared and the unforgiving sun stroked the earth.  The sky to the west darkened to a deep shade of black with an added hue of green; it threatened and moved in a slow methodical dance.  Clouds bulged with promising rain and hail, and lightning flashed between the upper atmosphere.  With the approaching storm, daylight was diminishing with each progressive minute. 

“Mind if we stop for a breather?” Sanchez panted, dropping his end of the storage box to the earth.  He arched his back, rubbing it with bronzed hands.  He lifted his hat and wiped the beads of perspiration from his brow and upper lip. 

Jackson sagged to the wooden box, happy to comply with the older man’s request for a rest.  “Be glad when it hits,” the doctor grunted, exhaustion numbing his senses.  He’d lost count of how many trips he had already made, but his legs were protesting the unusual exercise. 

Sanchez looked to the heavens and with a determined second wind jumped to his feet.  “Should be able to get a few more loads, yet,” he predicted, picking up the rope handle of the box.  Jackson grunted in response, allowing Josiah to take the lead.  They only managed a few paces when Sanchez tripped, rolling his ankle on a half buried rock.  “Arg!” he groaned, dropping his end to the box and grasping at the injury. 

“Here, let me see,” the doctor ordered, kneeling in front of the giant and manipulating the foot back and forth.  “Think it’s just a sprain, but ‘til I check for sure, it’d be best to keep off it.” 

Josiah grimaced, pulling back his foot from Nathan’s grasp.  Steeling his features, he straightened, testing the amount of weight the limb would tolerate.  He groaned unintentionally, but hobbled forward a few paces. 

“You can’t carry this, let’s get you to the cave.  I’ll get one of the others to help me bring up the box,” Jackson reasoned.  It was already bad enough having to tend Josiah’s sprain with the limited medical supplies he carried in his first aid kit, but with no hospital to rely on, no x-ray machines or medicines, he was worried about any future accidents, and illnesses, that were likely to occur while they were shipwrecked on this island.  This was going to test his resourcefulness and patience. 

Sanchez took another step, screwing up his tired face in pain as sharp bolts speared through his foot.   “Sure,” he capitulated, sighing in resignation. 

When the pair reached the entrance of the cave they stared in bewilderment, witnessing the Southerner riffle through the supplies.  He was so intent on his purpose that he didn’t hear the approach of Jackson and Sanchez. 

“WHAT THE HELL DO YOU THINK YOU ARE DOING?” Nathan thundered, leaving Josiah to flounder without the support of Jackson’s steadying presence. 

Ezra startled, stumbling backwards as the doctor roared and stormed further into the enclosure.  His eyes widened, and for a moment fear flashed through them, before the mask fell into place.  He glanced to Josiah for help, but found none coming from that quarter, meanwhile Jackson closed in on him.  “I…I…” he stuttered, warily keeping his eyes on the irate African-American. 

“We’re trying to prepare for the storm and you’re stealing from us?” he accused incredulously. 

“I resent that, Dr Jackson,” Ezra responded tightly, finally finding his voice. 

“Then how would you explain it?” 

“I think we’d all like an answer, Standish,” Larabee added, as he stalked past Sanchez. 

Standish took another step backwards and found he was hard up against the wall, with no more room to move. His eyes darted nervously between the tall doctor and Larabee and over to Sanchez and Tanner who guarded the mouth of the cave.  He swallowed past the lump in his throat and evaluated his chances of getting by all four men intact.  

Chris and Vin had arrived just as Nathan was berating the Southerner.  Chris watched Standish retreat, cornered like a deer in headlights.  It occurred to him, for a split second, that Ezra acted like he was the victim.  That he was innocent of Jackson’s allegations.  But if that was so, why didn’t he defend himself?  He wondered what it was that Ezra was searching for and why it couldn’t wait.  But his anger gripped him as he remembered that Standish had only recently displayed a self-serving attitude, which had ultimately been a major factor in their lack of communications with the outside world.  He was the one responsible for tampering with the ship’s communications equipment.  What additional reasons did he need to vent his anger?  There was no way he was going to stand back and allow a thief and a conman to remain in their midst.  “Is what Nathan claimed, true?  Were you stealing from us?” he verbally attacked the smaller man. 

“Isn’t it enough that we caught him in the act?” the doctor snapped.  “He’s guilty, Chris!” 

“That’s enough!” Josiah growled, limping inside.  Daring Nathan to contradict him, he spoke soothingly to the Southerner.  “Ain’t nobody gonna hurt you, son,” he declared, putting a restraining hand on Nathan’s shoulder. 

“If anyone’s interested, storm’s almost on top of us,” Tanner drawled matter-a-factly. 

“Josiah, you stay put, the rest of us will bring up another load,” Larabee ordered.  “In pairs,” he paused, accessing the grouping of Jackson with Standish and dismissed it.  It hadn’t escaped his attention that Josiah and Nathan had teamed up, Buck and JD and himself and Vin, leaving Standish to manage on his own.  Obviously that had to change now.  “Vin, you go with Ezra.”  Leaving no doubt in anyone’s mind that he would join up with the doctor.  

As the attention drew away from the Southerner, he manoeuvred to the front of the cave.  He heard Chris announce the new pairings, and briefly wondered, what was the point?  If none of them wanted to partner him before, he sure as hell didn’t want to have one now.  He didn’t wait, he’d had enough.  Ezra raced out and down the path, almost colliding with Buck as he made his way up the track, arms full with life jackets and torches.  JD jumped quickly to the side to avoid Ezra and had to juggle his hold on the assortment of tackle boxes and fishing poles as a result. 


Part 6 

Tanner glanced up and saw Standish disappear down the path.  He’d catch up with him in a minute.  Right after he’d said his piece. “Ya can’t honestly believe Ezra was going to steal from us?” Tanner asked, appalled at the direction his friends’ thoughts had taken. 

“He was going through all our stuff,” Jackson protested, pointing at the opened boxes and emptied knapsacks.  

“Even if there were the crown jewels and a million dollars hidden there, what good would it do him here?”  Vin flashed a stern look at the doctor then at Chris.  Why weren’t these people willing to give the Southerner a chance to redeem himself?  Well a second chance, after all, he had damaged the radio and GPS on board the yacht.  He also thought that Sanchez had left his support a fraction too late.  Of them all, the chef had been the only one to come to the former car salesman’s defence.  That’s if he didn’t count JD, but he saw only the good in everyone, and Ezra had saved the young stowaway’s life.  “Ya ought ta think on that for a bit,” he growled.  “Buck, JD.  You see Ezra?” Vin asked the pair as they entered the cave. 

The ladies’ man glanced about the room.  He could feel the tension; it was rife in the small enclosure, too thick to cut.  Nathan wouldn’t even meet his eyes and hung his head guiltily. Something obviously had just happened. He wondered briefly what.  “Yeah, almost barrelled…” he began, coming to an abrupt halt as the security guard raced out.  “…Us over,” he finished lamely, staring intently at his best friend, waiting for an explanation. 

“Ain’t getting into it right now,” Chris responded.  “We’ve probably only got time for one more trip, then we’ll be stuck in here to wait out the storm.  Buck, can you and the kid go down and bring up the box along the path?”  He assumed that they had seen it, because he and Vin had to climb over it on the way up.  “Then I want you both to stay here, once you’ve got it back.” 

“Sure,” Buck agreed, eyeing Larabee suspiciously, eager to find out what had transpired in his absence.  


Part 7 

“Ezra!”  Vin slid down the well-used path and jumped from the bank to the sand.  He’d made it to the beach without finding any sign of the Southerner.  He glanced up at the sky; it was almost completely black.  The wind had picked up, forcing the waves to pound the beach with increased menace.  The air was heavy with the scent of rain.  There was no time to waste in organising a search for the missing passenger; the tempest was all but on them.  He’d do it alone.  Besides, with tempers already flaring, he doubted Standish would welcome one of the others seeking him out.  As it was, Tanner couldn’t anticipate what kind of reception he’d receive. 

“Ezra!” he called again; his voice drowning under the roar of the wind.  It wouldn’t be long before the clouds opened at the seams.  “Dammit, Standish!”  He whirled in a circle glancing quickly up both directions of the beach.  Tiny specks of sand lifted to the air and were blown about in the gusts clouding his field of vision; Tanner closed his eyes as the miniature projectiles stung his eyes.  Turning his back to the wind he headed in the opposite direction, hoping he was not going the wrong way. 

He glared at both Larabee and Jackson as they joined him on the beach.  It wasn’t the time to get into anything at the moment and he hoped they realised this and allowed him to keep looking for Standish.  Larabee pulled him around stopping him in his tracks. 

Confused at not seeing Standish already with Vin, he quickly glanced up both ends of the beach, and back to Vin.  “Where is he?” he shouted. 

Tanner shrugged, but suspected that the wrecked yacht would be a good place to check.  “I’ll find him.  Leave it to me.”  Vin turned and left Chris, not even giving Jackson the time of day, he sprinted over the sand.  Tanner looked back up the beach and waved Larabee off as he ducked inside.  Chris and Nathan were already heading back. 

Vin crawled through the hatch of the shipwreck on his hands and knees; water bubbled through this section and his clothing quickly absorbed the water.  The ship rested on its side, and even now, the waves buffeted the vessel, rocking the damaged yacht restlessly on the sandy shore.  The sounds from outside were slightly muted, but the ferocity of the gale-force winds and the deafening claps of thunder caused the vessel to vibrate, timbers creaking and bending under the strain.  “Ezra!” 

The yacht seemed bigger than Vin remembered, and with each room he searched out and didn’t find the Southerner, the closer the storm gained on them.  He had to be in one of these rooms.  How many places were there to hide?  That was assuming Standish was on board the wrecked vessel. 

“Ezra?” Tanner called softly, jumping when a hand touched him from behind.  “Geez!” he sucked in a mouthful of stale air and swallowed it painfully.  “Give a man some warning, next time, will ya,” he panted, still shaken at being taken unawares. 

“My sincerest apologies, Mr. Tanner.  What can I do for you?”  Standish hunkered down, a sad ambiance settled around him. 

“This ain’t the safest place ta be, Ezra.  Not with a storm coming.” 

“That hardly matters,” he answered dejectedly.  “Perhaps you should be leaving…” 

“They didn’t mean it…” well maybe they did, but they were wrong and you need to prove it to them.  “I know ya weren’t trying to steal from us,” he confided.  He was a little ashamed to see the speculative gaze of Standish as he considered the assertion.  Ezra refused to comment.  Seeing that he’d not yet gained Ezra’s trust, he persevered.  He had only a short time to convince the other man it was not safe inside the yacht and they needed to leave immediately.  “So what were you looking for,” he asked cautiously, attempting to draw the man into his confidence.  “Bet it was something important,” Vin hedged a guess. 

The Southerner sighed in response, rubbing absently at his temples.  “I was just looking for a couple of painkillers,” his voice a mere whisper. 

“You hurt?” he asked stepping closer to assess the Southerner once more, but Standish reacted quickly and backed out of reach. 

“It is nothing of consequence,” he muttered, wincing in unison with the crack of thunder. 

Vin didn’t believe the Southerner for one minute.  After all, Standish was an ex car salesman, and everybody knew how conniving and manipulative that breed of people were.  And in normal circumstances, Vin probably would have accepted the simple answer, but not today.  Not after what had just occurred.  “Must be awful bad to need painkillers,” Tanner prompted, searching Standish for any visible injuries. 

Standish rolled his eyes and immediately regretted the action.  “Oh, for heaven’s sake…it’s just a headache,” he shouted, wincing again when his voice echoed loudly in his ears.  He’d be fine if he could just have a few hours sleep with some peace and quiet.   Was that too much to ask?  And besides, it was nothing serious, he attempted to convince his suffering body, even though he felt deathly ill.  And nobody died of a headache, he reminded himself.  So it can’t be that bad.  Right?  Except it hurt like hell!  And he was nauseous and light headed, his eyes screamed in agony and he just wanted to lie down and die.  Not really, die… well, maybe just for a few hours, until this monster headache had passed.   “Please leave,” he begged. 

Tanner shook his head.  There was no way he was leaving without Ezra.  The man was in obvious distress, and was constantly rubbing at his eyes.  He was even swaying, and it wasn’t in time with the yacht.  He wondered if the Southerner had been drinking sufficient fluids during the heat today.  He hadn’t been partnered with anyone, so there was a doubt that he’d been drinking properly.  Larabee had been a hound on his own tail, making them stop and drink at regular intervals.  But who took care of Ezra?  Taking the partially empty canteen from about his neck, he offered it to Standish.  “Here, drink,” he ordered flatly.  The headache was probably a result of dehydration. 

“I’m fine,” Ezra refused. 

“Drink some now and I’ll help you find something for ya head, when we get back to the cave,” he bargained. 

Ezra’s hand shook as he snatched at the canteen.  Fumbling with the lid he spilt some out before it reached his cracked lips.  He emptied the container and glanced at the security guard to ascertain if he had any more.  

“That’ll do for now.”  He offered his hand and Standish grasped at it as though it were a lifeline.  “Rain’s started.” 

“Marvellous,” Ezra drawled with no enthusiasm. 


Part 8 

“Time to go, Ezra,” Vin pushed him from behind. 

“I think it is preferable to stay here,” he decided. 

“Nope!  This tub is gonna end up like banana in a food processor - mush.  Don’t recommend stayin’ around for the curtain call.” 

Standish swayed unsteadily on his feet and appealed to Tanner.  “Mr. Tanner…” 

“Ain’t open for discussion.  Let’s go!” he ordered, slipping a hand under Ezra’s elbow and dragging him from the protection of the yacht. 

“Agh!” he shuddered.  “It’s wet!” he grumbled, believing Tanner wouldn’t hear the sentiment over the howling wind. 

Vin grinned, reading the horror clearly on the Southerner’s face. He enjoyed the harsh power of the weather and the rush of adrenalin that surged through his veins.  He thought it hilarious that Standish didn’t share the same outlook.  But then, not everybody was at peace with nature.  And he figured Standish was the type that was more accustomed to swank hotels and fine cuisine, than roughing it in the bush, camping.  That was definitely more Vin’s style.  His long hair became plastered to his scalp the instant they exited the yacht and he had to literally fight to remain upright.  His jeans and shirt stuck to him like a second skin and his sneakers, which were already soaked, squelched with every step.  His companion fared little better.  

The short distance of beach they had to cover before they reached the undergrowth suddenly seemed a hundred times further away.  With each step forward, they were pushed back two.  And in no time they were exhausted from the effort they had to apply.  And, in addition, it wasn’t just the sand that was being thrown up at them either, palm fronds, branches, leaves, basically anything that wasn’t permanently attached to the ground seemed to find a course concurrent with theirs.  

Tanner laced his fingers tightly under Ezra’s belt; their strength lay in the premise that they stayed together.  He felt the savage wrench of his shoulder as Standish stumbled and went to the ground, but he refused to release his hold, instead he followed the Southerner down.  He could feel Ezra’s heart pounding rapidly through his shirt and the panic stricken face that turned and looked up at him shook him to the core.  The normally pokerfaced man was scared and not attempting to disguise the fact.  And the reality of the situation hit him like a sledgehammer, knocking him askew.  It would be easier to go back to the yacht, but that option would leave them with no hope.  With renewed determination he pulled Standish upright and pointed up the path.  It was no use voicing his directions, it wouldn’t be heard in any case. 

The hail started suddenly and fell with painful precision; many were the size of golf balls.  The globes of ice bounced on the shore and within minutes, covered the beach.  Tanner thought it strange to see the icy white hail covering the land instead of the accepted soft sand.  The hail crunched under their shoes, shattering like glass and squishing into the ground.  The rain mingled on the trodden path and formed a slippery brown slush, making the journey that much more difficult.  Vin winced as the top of his head was struck with another icy projectile, and he was thankful that some of the impact was deflected through the baseball cap.  Standish didn’t wear any headgear and valiantly attempted to protect his head with his arm. 

The sky illuminated, lightning streaking across the heavens, and the rain fell almost horizontally.  The water quickly drained through the sand, but first it had to find passage through the thick layer of ice.  Hail melted on the previously sun baked shore, but was rapidly replaced with more - a never-ending cycle.  

Finally they reached the bank, where the jungle met the sea.  Rainwater cascaded along the slick track, running down the path in a torrent. The heavy traffic during the day had worn away the top layer of grass that bound the earth beneath and the thin layer of topsoil was washed away in the first flush of rain, leaving the route guttered and holed.  Similar tracks over the island were treated in the same manner.  Still, the hail exploded from the sky.  At least once they entered the brush the canopy of the trees would deflect some of the larger pieces before they hit the earth. 

Both men were reduced to climbing up the slick path on their hands and knees; even then it was difficult to find purchase up the track.  Hands and fingers groped for exposed tree roots and vines to assist in the passage, but the rainwater hampered their progress.  More and more often the pair were struck with flying branches, scratching and clawing at bare arms and faces.  Palms uprooted and crashed to the ground, landing within inches of their progress and adding to the storm’s melee.  


Part 9 

Chris Larabee stood impatiently at the mouth of the cave; he’d been waiting there for at least half an hour.  He and Nathan had made it back to the cave just as the rain began to fall in earnest.  His clothing was wet and plastered to his lean body, but that didn’t deter him from the task at hand.  His pale blue eyes glared intensely down the path, his hands knotted in fists at his waist.  Where the hell were they?  They should have been only minutes behind him.  What could be keeping them?  

Larabee took a backward step, attempting to stand clear of the lashings of wind and rain that entered through the wide opening.  The action had little effect.  Unless he moved to the back of the cave where the others sought shelter, then he was going to be besieged by the furore.  He felt as though his breath was sucked from his lungs as the winds circled and swirled about the entrance, and his legs and body muscles were overwrought from holding them rigid so he wasn’t snagged from the hole.  

The boat-owner looked back into the tunnel, craning his neck to see around the high pile of supplies that created a barricade between them and the rest of the cave. He could see part of Nathan’s back and a protruding foot, that obviously belonged to Sanchez; the doctor was winding a bandage around the swollen appendage.  He couldn’t see either Buck or JD, but he wasn’t concerned about that; he knew they were both safe within the walls of the cave.  With a sigh, Chris turned back to waiting for Vin and Ezra to return.  

A blanket of rain screened his vision, so in effect he could only see a few feet outside.  It was impossible to know if they were standing on the other side of the sheet of rain or if they were still on the beach.  If they didn’t get here soon…Hell…he didn’t know what he’d do.  It would be foolhardy to go outside when the island was being thrashed by the typhoon.  He turned his wrist over and glanced again at his watch; the hands had not moved since the last time he checked.  He shook the instrument in frustration, wondering if the batteries had died, but even as he did this the minute hand swept to a new position, thus disabusing his theory. 

A shudder ran up his spine and Chris knew it wasn’t from cold.  The longer both men remained missing, the worse he felt.  His gut twisted and the guilt of his accusations echoed in his mind.  If he hadn’t been so quick to judge the Southerner, then his best friend wouldn’t now be out, possibly fighting for his life, in the storm. And it was too soon to realise, that part of his worry was also directed at the suave gentleman.  He’d only known Ezra for a matter of days and had yet to form any lasting impressions of the loner, but still, he was responsible for the irritating conman. 

Chris startled as a large hand closed over his shoulder. Without turning he knew it was Buck.  

“They’ll be here soon.  Don’t worry.”  Wilmington had to yell to be heard over the din. 

Chris didn’t hold the same belief as his jovial friend, but couldn’t bring himself to voice the thought.  Instead he nodded grimly, returning his gaze down the track. 

“They’re on their way.  I can feel it in my bones.” 

“That’s yer arthritis, Buck,” Chris drawled half-hearted, a small smile came to his lips. 

“Ain’t your fault.” 

“I’m responsible for everyone, Buck,” Larabee growled.  “I should never have left them, when I did.”  Vin had waved off the boat-owner when he reached the yacht, indicating that he wouldn’t be far behind Larabee and Jackson.  Something must have happened.  Maybe Tanner had more difficulty persuading Standish to leave the wreck and return to the cave.  Damn, he should have gone and dragged the Southerner from the yacht himself.  That might not have worked, though he conceded. 

“What are you?  Den mother?  You can’t make grown men conform to your every demand.  They’ll sooner rebel than obey the order.  They’re like children really,” he shouted, “got to make them think it was their idea.  Can’t always protect them from the dangers of the world either.  There are some things a man’s gotta find out for himself.” 

“But I’m the one responsible.” 

“Yeah.  You’re responsible fer shooting from the hip and asking questions later,” he chuckled.  “But so far as getting ‘em back here…ya made a decision to let Vin handle it…leave it at that, huh?” 

“What if they don’t make it back?” 

“Then we go looking for them when the storm’s passed.” 

“How’d you get so smart?” 

“It was all that time I spent picking up after you,” he grinned.  

“I wasn’t so bad…was I?”  Larabee watched the moustached man’s eyebrow’s disappear into his hairline.  “Aw, come on…” 

Wilmington shook his head, smiling widely at his long time friend.  He didn’t relish the prospect of bringing up Chris’ past, but it was a pleasant surprise to see the sparkle of life shine in Larabee’s blue eyes, and not the familiar hooded and pained expression of old.  

It had been a struggle to pull Chris from his devastation after the death of both his wife and son.  They had been involved in a car accident, and Chris blamed himself for not being there.  Sarah had borrowed his pick-up to drop Adam off at school, when some lunatic sideswiped the vehicle spinning them into oncoming traffic.  Sarah died at the scene, but Adam survived the crash only to lay comatose in the hospital five days.  He never woke up.  And Chris was by his side the entire time, not willing to leave his son.  The driver of the other vehicle was never caught, leaving Larabee unable to vent his rage.  Instead he had dived head first into the bottle, barely coming up for air.  And when he did surface into sobriety, he was angry and mean and hell bent on revenge.  


Part 10 

Ezra no longer contemplated the initial reasons he so desperately wanted to leave the cave, by now only concentrating on the all-consuming goal to return in one piece.  It was a slow process, crawling up the slope. And, it had been more than a passing thought to just give up and allow the tempest to do its worst, but some inner voice urged him to go on.  And the determination in Tanner’s bright blues eyes encouraged him like nothing ever before.  He could feel the security guard’s resolve burning through his mind.  A simple reassuring squeeze and friendly smile was all that was needed.  

A path that should have taken only ten minutes to cover had so far eroded the majority of an hour.  In this time, Standish had become totally lost.  He kept heading up, just hoping that sooner or later he would recognise something, or at least stumble upon the cave.  He wasn’t certain that the path he followed even led to the appointed destination.  The terrain was awash in swaying palms, fernery, broken limbs torn from the larger trees, not to mention the effects of the blinding rain.  

He was confused, disorientated and utterly fatigued.  His head was permanently throbbing and the light-headedness had developed into waves of dizziness.  He slipped in the muddy track falling heavily on his right hip and skidding to a halt crashing into Tanner, knocking both of them over.  Untangling from each other he mouthed the words of an apology, unable to meet Vin’s eyes for fear of recrimination.  He slipped again, wincing as his foot twisted wrongly, but he ignored it and resumed his steady climb.  He felt Vin touch his shoulder, signalling him to turn back around.  Standish complied, his face frowning a questioning mask.  His features brightened somewhat when Vin gestured with a thumbs-up. 

Every so often, Standish would check over his shoulder to ensure Vin was still following close behind him.  Twice already, Ezra had found the space behind him empty, and the surge of grief that welled up in his chest burned, only to be swallowed gratefully as Tanner reappeared.  His relief was short lived, for on the next subsequent check, Vin was again missing.    Ezra waited, shivering and swaying on his feet.  His legs quivered and the stationary position grew more difficult to maintain.  Surely Vin could not be too far behind?  Standish took a faltering step back, straining to see through the curtain of rain.  He rubbed at his eyes and glanced pensively up his intended route and then back the way he’d already come.  He knew he wouldn’t be welcome in the tight-knit group if he didn’t have the longhaired Texan with him.  “Mr. Tanner!” Standish cried over the howl of wind and rain, stumbling as he retraced his steps.  


Part 11 

Josiah wriggled his foot, wincing as the bandage pulled against the tender joint.  He rolled his shoulders once more and attempted to find some comfort on the hard-packed floor.  Lifting his backside, he smoothed out the surface, ridding it of loose pebbles that were digging into his posterior.  Still he couldn’t settle.  He couldn’t see out of the cave, as he sat perched behind the barricade of boxes, but he knew Chris stood a vigil at the mouth, waiting for their friends to return.  He sighed deeply and frowned at his inability to help. 

Sanchez’ face held a grim line, and he felt ill inclined to speak with anyone at the present.  He was angry with himself for not defending the Southerner earlier than he did, but he was stunned also, and it took a few moments to process the situation.  He hadn’t expected Standish to just stand there, looking guilty as hell.  

His ankle throbbed and he lifted it from the rolled blanket, bringing his knees to his chest.  He groaned inwardly as a shadow fell over him. 

“You need to rest it, Josiah.” Nathan came over and clasped his shoulder. 

“I know, Nathan,” Josiah wearily replied.  “How’s young JD coping?” 

Jackson sighed, glancing at Buck and the stowaway.  On the surface they laughed and joked as though nothing was wrong, but he’d be blind not to see the worry that was clearly written on their faces, and the tense silences that periodically came between them.  “Reckon Buck’s taking his mind off things.” 

“Good.”  Dunne was such an innocent; it would devastate him if either of the two missing men didn’t return.  The young man had grown close to both the Texan and the Southerner, and would undoubtedly grieve their loss, if that should happen.  They’d only known each other for such a short time, but he would also feel deeply saddened if Ezra and Vin couldn’t make it back. 


Part 12 

Wilmington rustled the stowaway’s unruly hair, smiling indulgently at the youth.  “You got a lot to learn, kid.  And you’re lucky you’ve got me to teach you,” he boasted, slapping his chest, Tarzan style. 

Dunne rolled his eyes.  “You’re so full of crap, Buck.” 

The ladies’ man laughed.  “You only just working that out?”  The smile faltered as he glanced over to where Chris was waiting.  He patted the younger man’s knee and walked over to join Larabee in his wait. 

Dunne sighed and began drawing lines in the earth.  The young man envied the strong relationship Wilmington had with Larabee.  Well, all of them really.  He wondered if he’d ever have that.  It was almost like family, he mused sadly.  

JD sniffed back the tears that threatened and unzipped his duffle bag.  He rummaged through it, and with a weak smile withdrew a photo and held it to the waning light.  His mother’s image smiled back at him and he kissed the reflection uncaring of what the others might think.  “Why did you have to leave me?” he whispered.  “Things could have been so different if you hadn’t got sick.  There are so many things I want to tell you, and I miss you, too,” he ended on a sigh.  Ma, you would have really liked Buck – probably too much actually.  Buck’s that kind of guy, a real ladies’ man.  But he’s fun to have around.  He’s sorta like a big brother.  The stowaway grinned at his startling conclusion.  

“What you got there, son?” Sanchez lowered his giant frame down next to JD. 

JD automatically hid the photo, pressing it against his chest.  Realising what he’d done he looked away sheepishly.  “It’s my ma.”  Dunne held out the photo for Sanchez to see.

Josiah glanced at the object and nodded his understanding.  “Mighty fine looking lady.”  He was happy to see a proud nod from Dunne.  “You must miss her a lot?” 

Again, JD nodded, unable to find his voice. 

“I’m guessin’ that you’re thinking about Ezra and Vin…they’re big boys, they’ll be fine,” he confidently predicted. 

“But what if they’re not?” 

Sanchez grimaced; he’d been thinking a lot on those lines himself.  “Reckon there might be a real nice lady up there,” he thumbed his finger to the ceiling, “ready to take care of them if they don’t.” 

“You think she’d know them?” 

Sanchez nodded.  “I reckon she’d be keeping an eye on her son, so she’d have to know them, now wouldn’t she?” 

“I guess.” 


Part 13 

Ezra climbed over a fallen trunk that wasn’t there when he’d first climbed up this part, but now dissected the track in two.  “Vin!” he called urgently, wiping the rain that mingled with tears off his face.  “Vin,” he croaked hoarsely.  The throbbing in his head had worsened and his stomach cramped.  Both his ears were ringing and he couldn’t determine whether it was his headache that caused the loud roar or the storm.  His vision swam, but he refused to allow his ailments to be his reasons for not finding the Texan. 

Straddling another palm uprooted close to the path, he was surprised to see panicked blue eyes staring up at him from under the timber.  “Vin!” Standish knelt beside the trapped man, uttering assurances that couldn’t be heard.  Ezra ran his hand along the smooth trunk, finding the point where Vin was pinned beneath the tree; it had most of his left leg caught, disappearing under the length. He felt Tanner tense his leg and quickly apologised for any further harm he’d caused the man.  “I’ll get you out,” he promised, glancing to his left and right for something he could use as leverage.  

Standish quickly found a sturdy limb and jabbed it under the trunk.  He gave a nod to Tanner, then levered his weight onto the branch.  It had little effect; rolling the palm slightly, but quickly falling back into place.  Tanner screamed, clutching the palm with his hands and throwing back his head.  Standish winced in sympathy.  He squeezed Vin’s shoulder, and prayed that he wasn’t about to cause him any permanent injury.  

Ezra wiped the incessant rain from his face and smiled reassuringly.  Picking up a rock he rammed it under the palm.  Finding another, he did the same, continuing until he had the palm stable.  Then Ezra gently levered up the tree, panting, he used his foot to kick the closest rocks under tighter.  There was now some clearance between the palm and Tanner’s leg.  Not a lot, but he might be able to pull the Texan clear if he dug around the ground first to deepen the gap. 

Standish gripped under Vin’s arms and dragged him out, being careful not to bump the injury.   Vin rested his head against Ezra’s chest, panting and moaning in pain.  His knee was screaming at him, and it was swollen tight in his jeans.  He knew it would be impossible to walk on his own, and he’d be reliant on the Southerner for assistance.  “Thanks,” he whispered. 


Part 14 

 “Why don’t you join us in back?” 

Larabee scuffed the toe of his boot, grateful for the gregarious man’s diversionary tactics.  “You think they’re not gonna make it.”  It was a statement, devoid of emotion. 

Wilmington whistled softly, not wanting to be the bearer of bad tidings.  The more time that passed, the less the likelihood of Ezra and Vin returning.  He didn’t want to say that he’d never see Tanner again, or Ezra for that matter, but he didn’t want to see Chris tearing himself apart either.  “It’s getting’ late…” 

Larabee nodded, patting Buck on the shoulder.  He squeezed his eyes closed tightly and rubbed his face on his sleeve.  It shouldn’t be happening like this!  Damn it!  He hadn’t worked his butt off to save their lives the other night, only to have all his efforts wasted.  Vin was his best friend!  Chris wasn’t about to lose someone else that was close to him.   He snapped his eyes open and a surge of determination sparkled in them.  “I’m going to look for them,” the rough tone of voice brooked no room for argument.  Buck’s hand snaked about his biceps, spinning him in a circle.  “Let go, Buck,” Larabee growled, intent now that he’d made his decision. 

“Ain’t it bad enough that we’ve already lost two?” he ranted, drawing concerned looks from the others.  “If you go out there, we’ll be losing you too.  Is that what you want?  Leaving the four of us to fend for ourselves while you selfishly sacrifice yourself?  And for what?  They’re probably already dead!”  There, he said it.  And he cursed himself instantly when Chris turned a shade paler. 

“And what if they’re not?” Chris asked, his voice a low growl.  “Tell me, Buck.  Could you live with yourself, knowing that you abandoned Vin and Ezra?  They could be hurt.  They might be at this very moment waiting for us to come and help them.  I’m not asking you to come…you’re needed here…” 

“Dammit, you’re needed here too!” 

“Something I’ve gotta do, Buck.” 

“You’re asking me to just stand aside and watch you walk out in this typhoon.  We ain’t even got the worst of it yet.  Chris think about what you’re considering,” he pleaded.  

Larabee stared at his friend thoughtfully for a long moment, finally shaking his head.  “You look after the kid, Buck.” 

“No!”  Wilmington shouted, pulling the blond man back inside.  “I could stop you,” he threatened, flexing his fist at his side.  He didn’t want to use violence, but if that was the only way to stop Chris then he’d do it in a flash. 

Larabee smirked, and quickly hugged the taller man, throwing him off balance.  “I gotta do this…” 

Buck blinked, swallowing hard, tears threatened to fall.  He glanced out the mouth of the cave and spun his oldest friend around, pointing through the dense screen of falling rain.  “Is that what I think it is?” he gaped, open-mouthed.  “It’s them!”  He jumped, punching the air with his fist.  “Yes!”  


Part 15 

Chris raced out of the cave, uncaring of the tempest outside.  A wide smile spread across his face at the sudden appearance of the missing men.  It dropped a fraction when he saw Standish supporting Tanner up the slippery gradient.  He immediately took up position on the opposite side and hustled the injured man inside. 

“Bring him over here,” Jackson directed.  “We need blankets, and start stripping him out of those wet clothes. 

Vin shivered.  He felt the loss of Standish at his side and sluggishly looked about for the Southerner.  He heard Nathan through a thick fog, and fought to understand the doctor’s orders, but his mind was filled with cotton wool and his body refused to obey his own simple commands.  “Chris…” he slurred barely coherent. 

“Yeah, pard…yer safe now.  You do everything the doc here tells you to.”  Tanner’s eyes fluttered once, then again, before he fell limply against Buck.  Chris surged forward, a pained expression marring his features.  He glanced at the doctor, demanding an answer. 

“He’ll be fine, Chris,” Nathan reassured.  God, he hoped so, he silently prayed.  If he had the chance, he would have crossed his fingers just to hedge his bets.  “JD, did you find my kit yet?” 

“I see it,” he grunted, digging down to the bottom of the stack.  “Have it out in a jiffy…” 

“What about his knee?  Is it broke?” Buck asked.  They’d all gasped in horror when the limb was exposed. 

“Nah, it ain’t broken,” Jackson rubbed the swollen area while he spoke.  Damn he wished for an X-ray machine, just to check the damage.  It was risky using guesswork.  And it was his first year as a resident…what if he got it wrong?  What if Tanner is never able to properly walk again?  It would be his fault.  There was nobody who he could refer his patients to, they depended solely on him.  

“Deep breaths, Nathan,” Josiah’s calming rumble brought him back into focus. 

Taking the kit from JD, Jackson unzipped it and opened it out.  He knew where everything was, because he’d packed it himself.  The doctor removed a wide bandage and began to wrap Vin’s leg.  “Keep that blanket wrapped around him, Josiah.  He’s gonna be mighty sore for a while,” he contemplated, adding ruefully.  “He won’t be going on any hikes for a bit.  You boys are going to ensure that he stays off it,” he looked directed at Chris with the last directive.  Larabee would keep Vin in line. 


Part 16 

Larabee sought out the conman, but Ezra’s gaze was fixatedly on Vin, a pale shadow in comparison to the man who had stood before him earlier in the day. Chris stepped aside to allow Nathan more room, while keeping a steady watch on Standish.  He didn’t even blink, but Larabee could see the rapid rise and fall of his chest and the quivering pulse that throbbed at his neck.  It was the slow seesaw motion that finally moved Chris into action.  They had been so concerned about Vin that they had completely forgotten the Southerner.  He just managed to reach Ezra as consciousness left and exhaustion took over, eyes rolling upward and knees buckling forward as Standish sagged to the earth.  “Shit!  Nathan!”  He cradled the Southerner’s head, preventing it from hitting the ground.  “Easy there, pard,” he soothed, wiping the damp hair off his face.  “Nathan!  What’s wrong with him?” 

Jackson tied off the bandage and joined Larabee.  It came as a complete shock to see the blond-headed man supporting the conniving Southerner.  He certainly wouldn’t be so forgiving.  “Same drill,” he ordered with less enthusiasm.  “Blankets, and get his wet clothes off.”  The doctor crouched, and lightly tapped Standish’s face, but it lolled in Chris’ hold.  “Ezra,” he shook the unresponsive man’s shoulder, none too gently.  “Ezra,” he spoke more roughly, pushing harder to get a reaction.  Jackson drew back his hand preparing to strike his patient, when Larabee leant forward and effectively blocked the blow. 

“Nathan!” Chris admonished, glaring at the doctor, while protecting the recumbent southerner.  “What’s got into you?” 

Jackson sighed, turning his back and returning to Tanner.  “I don’t think I’m gonna be able to help him…” 

Ezra moaned and attempted to roll on his side, but found something prevented this movement.  His head ached and his stomach lurched, threatening to spill its contents.  With any luck he could avoid the embarrassment and keep it down.  He opened his eyes a slit, groaned, and lifted his arm to cover his face.  He heard the doctor’s refusal to tend him and accepted it, knowing it as his due.  He vaguely wondered who supported his head, but couldn’t manage to convince his mutinous body to cooperate, thus his eyes remained closed and hidden beneath his forearm. 

“Ezra?” Larabee scowled at Jackson’s back, tugging the space blanket up over Ezra’s bare shoulders.  “How you feeling?” 

The Southerner heard the query from the boat-owner, but hadn’t the strength to respond.  He wanted to sleep for a week, and longer if possible.  Couldn’t they leave him alone?  

“Ezra…” Larabee drawled out the name, lifting the arm off his face and tilting his head up.  “I know you’re awake,” he continued in the calming voice that Standish was unfamiliar with. 

Josiah hobbled over and rested a hand over the position of Ezra’s heart.  “I got a bed ready for him,” he informed Larabee, then swooped in and lifted the limp man off the earthen floor, transporting him to the bedding.  “Son, I ain’t gonna drop you,” he assured, feeling the tension that gripped the younger man when he was lifted into his arms.  

Once settled, Sanchez moved back allowing Chris to take up position between Tanner and Standish.  Chris glanced at Vin’s relaxed features then down at the frown that crossed Standish’s.  He knew the Southerner was awake, because he flinched when Chris touched his arm.  “Ezra, I just want to say thanks…for helping Vin…” 

Standish shot upright, eyes frantically searching the room.  Vin!  How did he manage to forget the Texan?  “How is he?” he rasped, choking on the bile that rose to his mouth.  The sudden change in position made his head ache even worse, if that was possible. 

“He’ll be fine.”  Chris glanced over at the doctor to confirm his prognosis and Jackson confirmed this.  “How about you?”  Chris noticed the way Standish had begun to shake, tremors wracked his body.  He lowered his head between his raised knees and started rubbing it.  “Nathan?” Chris crawled to his knees, worriedly glancing at Ezra and the slowly moving doctor.  

Standish wrapped his arm around his middle, rocking back and forth.  He should have remained lying down, he berated himself.  His vision was a complete blur and he wasn’t going to win this battle.  “Don’t…feel…well…” that was all he managed before throwing up.  A watery mixture erupted from his mouth and nose, covering the space blanket.  Tears formed in his eyes, and rolled down his cheek.  

“He’s got a headache,” Tanner informed them all, waking up just as Ezra threw up.  “He was searching for some painkillers earlier, not trying to rob ya.” 

“Oh, Shit!” Jackson bowed his head.  


Part 17 

The typhoon kept them trapped inside the cave all through the night.  The winds and rain ravaged the island, ripping palms from their tenuous hold in the ground and tossing them like toothpicks scattered from a box.  Inside the cave, Ezra was fighting his own battle with a mammoth migraine.  He spent much of the night alternating between heaving bile from his empty stomach and lying deathly still curled in a tight ball.  Eventually, toward morning, the stomach cramps had lessened and he was now in a restless sleep. 

JD panted, running up from the beach.  “You ain’t gonna believe what’s happened…” 

Josiah, Nathan and Buck all stopped what they were doing and turned as one at the young stowaway’s harried arrival.  

“Don’t tell me,” Wilmington dramatically put his hand to his forehead, fingers massaging his skull and squeezed closed his eyes,  “the tide’s come in,” he pronounced. 

Dunne rolled his eyes. “Ha ha, get real, Buck!”  JD glanced over to where Vin and Ezra were still sleeping and realised Chris wasn’t inside.  “Where’s Chris?” 

“Wasn’t here when I woke up,” Nathan informed them. 

“Something on your mind, son?” Josiah stretched out his long limbs, wincing at the twinge that radiated from his ankle. 

“It’s just…” 

“Yacht’s gone,” Larabee announced coming in behind Dunne.  A collective round of gasps greeted the revelation. 

JD jumped at the boat-owner’s entrance, but sighed gratefully that it wasn’t him who had to inform the others of the missing yacht.  “Um, yeah…that’s what I was trying to tell you guys.” 

“It’s gone?” A muffled voice echoed from under the blankets.  Standish pushed back the covers, groaning at the concerted effort the simple gesture took.  With no further reserves of energy left he lay lethargically in his swaddle of covers, searching out the bearer of said news with unfocused eyes. 

Jackson crouched beside the Southerner and placed the palm of his hand over Ezra’s forehead.  He withdrew it quickly before Ezra had a chance to pull away.  “How you feeling?” 

Standish wearily watched the doctor through hooded eyes; he vaguely seemed to recall it was Nathan, who helped him through the ravages of last night, but it was all a thick haze and the flashes were few and far between.  He was already feeling the weight of his eyelids droop and the need to resume his interrupted slumber.  He finally shrugged off the query, not certain how to answer, or what exactly was expected.  “The yacht’s really gone?” 

Larabee nodded his head.  “Yeah.”  He hadn’t expected to find the vessel this morning after the storm they had the night before.  It would have been more of a surprise if it had been there.  He’d left the cave before any of the others had woken and made his way down to the beach, where he’d discovered his and Buck’s vessel no longer in sight.  

Larabee searched out each of the faces that were trained on him, and could feel the growing apprehension of the group. “We’ll find a way off here,” Chris promised, making a point to meet JD’s gaze.  “There’s bound to be a search and rescue mission organised.”  He saw the guilty expression that Standish wore and smiled amenably at the sick man.  “Don’t go there, Standish.”  He watched Ezra fight to stay awake, but his body betrayed him, and it wasn’t long before he succumbed to the much-needed rest.  It was probably for the best at the moment.  Both he and Tanner needed to recoup.  “Is he gonna be okay?” 

Jackson pulled the blanket up around the Southerner’s shoulders and tucked it in.  Standish had certainly given him some worried moments the previous night, but given the bouts of vomiting had ceased, he was more confident in predicting a total recovery.  “Give him a few days, and he’ll be back to his normal self.” 

“Just what we need,” Chris groaned. 

The End


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