Challenge: February Challenge by Yolande to show what the boys get up to when they’re not saving the town or off rescuing a village…when they’ve got far, far too much spare time on their hands
(Story moved to Blackraptor in November 2009)
"If you were gonna be trapped on a deserted island somewhere with nothing to do for, say, a month and you could only have one person with you, who would you choose?"
JD's question, coming out of nowhere, caused all six of his companions to stare at him blankly. They had been whiling away the evening with a few hands of poker but interest in the game had waned as it became clear that the only one with any real money left was Ezra, who didn't seem inclined to oblige them by parting with any of it. Silence had fallen as they contemplated what else they might do with this very quiet evening.
The youngest lawman grinned, seeing the interest flaring in his friends' eyes as they contemplated his words. He decided to throw in a few stipulations, hoping for a lively conversation. "Wherever you're going, there's plenty to eat and drink and you're not in any danger; you just can't leave and there's nobody to talk to except for the other person. And the other person has to be a guy."
Laughter rolled through the nearly deserted saloon as each of the men watched Buck's thoughtfully leering expression change to one of dismay. "No women?" he squawked. "For a whole month?"
"Take it easy, Buck," Nathan chuckled. "It's just a hypothetical question, we're not gonna try it out just to see if you survive the experience. Just for the sake of argument, let's say you have to live out your month with one of us here at this table. Who would you choose and why?"
Seeming mollified, Buck considered the question seriously. "I can think of a lot of reasons why any one of you would be good to have along," he decided, "I think I'd have to go with Josiah, though."
His choice brought looks of surprise to almost everyone. JD looked slightly indignant at not having been chosen but Chris had nodded approvingly and everyone else just looked curious, particularly his chosen companion. "Why me?" Josiah wondered aloud.
"Well, you and me don't usually get a lot of time to talk but when we do it's always interesting," Buck said with a shrug. "Even when I don't understand what the hell you're talking about."
Josiah chuckled. His habit of quoting esoteric literature and odd parables did tend to make most people's eyes glaze over after a bit. It was an effect he found highly entertaining. "I don't suppose there's much chance we'd get bored with each other."
"Nope," Buck agreed smugly. "I got about a million good stories I could tell and something tells me you could return the favor if you had a mind to. Besides, if it turns out there's no ready built shelter on this deserted island, I want somebody along who knows how to build one quick!"
"An admirable sentiment, Mr. Wilmington," Ezra approved as everyone snickered. He tipped his drink toward Buck in salute to his self-centered reasoning.
"I suppose you'd choose me for the same reason," Josiah said dryly. "Free labor close at hand and the promise of many lively discussions?"
Remembering his own use of those words when he had first met the ex-preacher, Ezra grinned. "Those both make excellent recommendations for your companionship," he agreed, "but, no. If I were to have this hypothetical island to myself and one other person for an entire month, I believe I'd have to go with Mr. Larabee."
"Me?" Chris spluttered, caught flat-footed by the choice. "We'd kill each other before the month was out! Or else we'd wind up in a nut-hatch somewhere."
"No harm would come to either of us," Ezra countered calmly. "I have long believed that hidden beneath your surly and taciturn demeanor there lies a most interesting and agile mind. At first, you would spend most of your time ordering me to stop talking to you, but after a week or two, I believe you would give up on the idea and begin talking back in self-defense."
Unable to help himself, Chris laughed, knowing it was most likely true. "And you figure we'd have a lot to talk about once we got started?" he asked, curiosity piqued. He was the last person he would have expected the southerner to choose but now he found the idea strangely intriguing.
"Indubitably. Such a situation would naturally cause barriers to soften and personal exchanges to flow more easily," he continued. Then, with a twinkle of his jade eyes, he added, "Which is my other reason for choosing you, sir. Should I happen to forget myself and say something I would regret having become public knowledge, I believe you would be the most capable of keeping whatever you heard to yourself once we returned to civilization."
"Sounds like you're hiding a couple of right interestin' secrets there, pard," Vin said with a grin. "Almost makes me wish you'd picked me instead of him."
Ezra laughed. "You could always choose me yourself. You would reap the same benefits from spending a few weeks in more than usually loquacious company."
"Nah, reckon I'll take JD along on my trek through the desert," he said, choosing his location along with his companion. "Been promising to teach him all kinda stuff about tracking and living off the land. Figure a month would be enough time for him to get it all down. Sides, I wouldn't never have to worry about talkin' that way. The kid ain't managed a solid five minutes of silence since the day I met him, unless he was asleep."
The friendly backslap to the chest that he delivered along with the comment took the sting out of it and JD smiled, happy to have been chosen by somebody. "Sounds like fun," he decided. "I was figuring on choosing Buck at first, just 'cause we get along so well, but listening to you fellas got me thinking. If I had a whole month to get to know somebody better, I think I'd like it to be Nathan."
The healer looked pleased. "Mind if I ask why?"
"Well, it's kinda like Buck was saying about Josiah. You and I see a lot of each other when we're on duty or when we're all in a group, but there's never been much time to just sit back and jaw about nothing. I'd like to find out what your life was like before I met you. Things you've seen, places you've been, why you chose to do the things you do. Just…stuff!"
Nathan was nodding thoughtfully. "Reckon I could stand to learn a lot more about you too. We'll have to do that some time, JD, desert island or no."
Chris had also been nodding at the list. "Figure I'd ask Buck to come along for the same sort of reasons, kid," he said quietly, not missing the surprise in his old friend's eyes at his choice. "I already know about his past and a lot of the places he's been, but I reckon I could stand to catch up on some of what I missed over the last few years. I'd probably hear a lot of interesting things."
He aimed a shallow nod at Wilmington, his message clear. If Buck wanted to talk about anything, old times, good times or anything else, he would make the time and he would listen. Buck swallowed, suddenly a bit overwhelmed by the direction this light-hearted discussion was taking. Clearing his throat loudly, he knocked back a swallow of beer and said, "What about you, Josiah? You takin' me up on my offer of that extra bunk?"
The gray-haired man smiled. "Thanks just the same, Buck, but I figure Vin's gonna be my guest on that solitary plain. He seems like the one who'd most appreciate the serenity of having no one else around for a few weeks. Might enjoy getting a chance to pick his brain on a few subjects, too."
"Like what?" JD asked eagerly. "Hunting, fishing, maybe some trapping?"
Josiah shook his head. "All admirable skills that I wouldn't mind taking a few pointers on, son, but what I'm referring to is the spiritual side of life. Like to know what sort of things he learned living amongst the Indians a few years back; maybe share some of what I learned with him."
Vin was nodding, intrigued by the notion. "That'd be right nice, Josiah. Figure we could work in a few other subjects as well in a month's time."
"I imagine we could," the older man agreed serenely. "We'll have to find out one of these days."
With a nod, Vin sealed the deal. One day when neither of them were needed for awhile they would go renew their acquaintance with Mother Nature and find out more about each other in the process.
"Guess that just leaves me," Nathan reminded them, the sparkle in his eyes making the other men wonder what he was thinking. "I made my pick right when JD first asked the question and I ain't changed my mind. I'm just telling you that, so you won't think I picked you because nobody else has."
Ezra straightened a bit in his chair at realizing that Nathan was speaking to him, surprise replacing the bland look he had worn a moment earlier. He had been rather miffed that nobody had chosen to spend their month of isolation in his company. Ezra prided himself on being able to converse intelligently with just about anyone and had honestly expected his efforts to be recognized by one or more of his companions, but not by this particular one. "You expect me to believe that I would be your first choice," he clarified with a smirk. "You can barely tolerate an entire jail shift without growing exasperated with my company, Mr. Jackson. Why on earth would you wish to subject yourself to an entire month of it?"
"Cause no matter what else you are, you ain't ever boring," he replied with a grin. "You got more stories than anybody I ever met, including Buck, and you got a right entertaining way of tellin' 'em. Might be fun just to try and figure out which ones are true."
The rest of the men laughed, never having quite mastered that ability either. Ezra was laughing too, his momentary fit of indignation forgotten. "And you haven't even been graced with a selection of my better stories yet," he quipped.
"I believe that," the healer said with a chuckle. "Another reason I'd choose you is what you said to Chris a minute ago. After a month, anybody would start to let his guard down and let the person inside out for some air. I'd count myself real lucky if I were around to get to know whoever really lives behind all them fancy words and pretty clothes and high-fallutin manners. Reckon he wouldn't be half as hard to get along with as you are."
Nathan's teasing tone removed any hint of offense from the jibe and Ezra found himself wondering if the other man was right. It had been a long time since he had allowed the man inside to see the light of day. "Perhaps you'll find out one day, my friend," he said simply, picking up his cards and shuffling them to avoid meeting anyone's eyes.
A few moments of contemplative silence passed among the seven men, then a universal groan went up as JD said, "So, if you were trapped in a collapsing mine with two other people and could only save one of them besides yourself, who would it be?"
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