RNLI Alternate Universe
Disclaimer: Just playing. I know I can't keep 'em damnit!
Thanks to Katy for RNLI
Summary: A shout involves all the rescue services, but disaster ensues. Can Crew Seven survive the fall-out?
While the Coastguard, the St. Nicholas lifeboat, and a Sea King helicopter gave chase in an attempt to aid an out-of control speedboat, every last one of the men and women in pursuit knew it would not end well. When it became evident the exact same conclusion was drawn by the boat's operator, he aimed it for the Island of St. Just, and bailed literally seconds before the racing vessel mounted the beach, and headed straight into a small wooded area. No one was surprised when the incident ended with an explosion, and resulted in a fire fierce enough to threaten the safety of the Monks residing there.
With the Sea King hovering on standby for airlifting, and the Coastguard assisting the fire services with extinguishing the fire, the police, ambulance services, and the St. Nicholas lifeboat crew were transporting reluctant Monks off the island and to the harbor, before heading back again. On their third return trip, and with the flames no less fierce, another explosion caught the rescue services unawares, and all hands were called to assist in removing injured rescuers. Activity was frenetic as personnel were dragged from the blaze with varying degrees of injuries, and taken off the island as fast as boats and the helicopter could handle.
Chris pulled alongside a jetty, and while the crew hastily disembarked, he turned to JD, who was in the navigator seat next to him. "Take the helm, and wait here."
JD looked crestfallen. "Chris, no!"
Briefly turning back before jumping onto the jetty, Larabee raised one finger. "That's an order, crewman!" He watched JD snap his jaw shut, but reacted to the fear and longing in his youngest crewman's eyes with a wink, before racing up the beach after the others. With a knot in his stomach the like of which he had never experienced before, JD watched him and his surrogate family go. It would become a feeling he would remember for the rest of his days.
Splitting into two groups, Ezra, Nathan, and Josiah quickly spotted several men in urgent need of assistance close to the burning speedboat. Each taking a man, they helped them to safety and waiting personnel, before going back to check for more casualties. Just as Nathan and Ezra confirmed over the radio to a returning Josiah that there were none, another explosion ripped from the wreck, and Josiah's blood froze in his veins when his two friends and crewmates were sent up and forward into the air by the blast.
"Nathan Ezra!" Seeing their prone, smoldering forms slumped in the grass, the big preacher raced to them. After patting out the burning embers on their protective clothing with his bare hands, he checked their vitals and used his radio to quickly call it in. There was no time for debate as the fire raged ever closer, despite the water again being pumped over it, and with all his might, Josiah lifted both unconscious men under each arm, and staggered his way toward the beach, and safety.
Having listened to the radio calls and their increasing urgency, JD was on the jetty and racing toward the fire, his fear for his friends consuming him. Firefighters toting casualties were stumbling toward him when a blast of noise and hot air took them all off their feet. Recovering quickly, JD helped the fallen men and women up and on their way back to the beach, before continuing on to find the men he considered family. JD's alarm was off the scale as he ran toward the wall of heat and flames. He visibly wilted with relief on seeing Josiah heading toward him, but his anxiety increased when he realized the big man was actually carrying two of their friends. With no words necessary, JD slipped his arm around Ezra's waist and, with Josiah just ahead, grabbed the limp man's hand, looped Ezra's arm around his neck and half-dragged, half-carried him back toward the beach.
Dodging a blast, Chris, Buck, and Vin, along with four firefighters, and two policemen, scoured the edges of the blazing area for casualties. Finding none, they were all just debating whether to venture further into the inferno, when the call to withdraw went out. The evacuation of the monastery was complete, and all personnel, bar them, were accounted for. Chris acknowledged the order over his radio. As the group pulled back, something out of place caught Vin's eye, and while encouraging their six companions to go on, the three RNLI men went to investigate. Seconds later, another explosion that literally shook the island, engulfed the area with a blazing ferocity no man could survive.
A paramedic had run to join JD and Josiah and, urged by the teenager, helped the ailing priest with his precious cargo. At the edge of the sand, Ezra and Nathan were eased down so the paramedic could do a quick assessment.
Shocked and trembling, and while unable to hold back the welling tears, JD watched the drama unfold. It tore at his soul to see his friends badly injured, and that he hadn't been there to help. It was only when Josiah reached out and put a comforting hand on his arm that JD realized the kindly priest had been injured, too.
"Josiah your hands are burnt," the boy gasped out, clutching the man's wrists to get a better look.
"It's merely superficial," Josiah assured, just as the call over the radio to evacuate was repeated.
The paramedic applied neck braces to the two casualties, and then looked up. "Okay, let's get them up onto the deck," he called out, quickly realizing he would be riding back with the RNLI crew in order to tend to the injured men, as most of the other rescue workers had already departed the immediate area, to leave the firefighters to tackle the blaze.
At the sound of the call, JD stared toward the burning portion of the island just ahead of them, where Chris and the others had earlier headed. Fresh terror gripped his heart when he realized there was no sign of them. "Where are the others?" His voice quivered, and a lump of emotion mixed with his rising anxiety.
No sooner had JD spoken; a ferocious, heated blast from the direction he was looking toward took him and Josiah off their feet. The crouching paramedic ducked to protect his patients. At the same time, all hell broke loose. Frantic radio calls for head counts went out, which soon confirmed nine men were unaccounted for, followed by orders to return to assist. Recovering his composure, and ignoring the small cuts from flying debris, it took JD a few seconds for realization to sink in. Only then did the enormity of what had just occurred, hit him.
It took all of Josiah's considerable strength to stop the boy from racing into the inferno after their friends. Josiah was of the same mind but, despite warring with desperate need, common sense kicked in when trees combusted and crashed down around their ears, sending waves of unbearable heat and blazing debris their way.
"No noooo! Let go, Josiah LET ME GO!" JD strained with all his might to get away, while screaming out at the top of his lungs, making his throat raw.
"Chris Vin! Buck! B-u-c-k!!" He twisted violently in Josiah's arms. "They need help. Let go of me, preacher! LET GO!" Despite the teen fighting like a demon to be released, a heartbroken Josiah clung on until JD's strength waned and the boy sobbed. "Please oh God please no "
His own tears falling, Josiah pulled a spent and weeping JD tight against his chest as more firefighters raced past them toward the site to help pump water into it and beat down grass and shrub fires. Through tear-filled orbs, a horrified Sanchez watched any hope for their friends' safety evaporate. A soft voice broke the spell.
"We need to get these men to a hospital."
Josiah's attention snapped back to Nathan and Ezra's dilemma, and the paramedic tending to them. He stared down at his blistered hands and then out to the rescue team flooding the area. The Sea King had headed inland with casualties it was up to them. With a heavy heart, he rested his chin on the head of the quaking boy in his arms and spoke in a soft, deep tone. "JD son we have to get Ezra and Nathan to a hospital. We have to get the St. Nicholas to the harbor."
Slowly, JD eased back and looked up at Josiah. The boy's face was a picture of desolation, but the big man could see his words were filtering through. The teenager glanced over to the hellhole that would be forever known as the place his heart shattered. He wanted to help, but how could he leave, not knowing if Buck, Vin, and Chris were still alive?
"I want to stay and help."
Even before Josiah answered, JD knew he could do nothing more right then; and as if endorsing his recognition of that fact, the chief firefighter ordered them off the island, insisting only specialized personnel would remain. The teenager's gaze moved to Ezra and Nathan, and despite the huge tears lingering on his lashes, his chin squared resolutely.
"Let's go," he rasped out, his voice hoarse from his anguished cries, and the thick emotion lying like wet cement in his throat.
The three struggled to get the lifeboat's stretchers up the walkway, instantly easing Nathan and Ezra down onto the aft deck. Both the injured men's faces were sooty, and bloody. The impact of the blast had thrown the pair several feet and, without scans, there was no way to know the full extent of their injuries. The paramedic set up IVs, and treated the visible wounds and burns to the best of his abilities. His attention was drawn to Josiah's hands.
"Get them into water or wrapped in wet cloths, quickly. I'll come and check them over as soon as I can."
The priest acknowledged the advice, but his focus was on JD, who was staring back at the organized chaos on the island. He had to stop himself from dwelling on the fate of men as close as brothers, or reacting to the broken boy before him, and the lack-luster, hazel gaze that met his.
"They're not dead, Josiah. I can't believe they won't find them."
Sanchez nodded. "There's always hope, but it's out of our hands." He raised a blistered hand to squeeze the back of the boy's neck. "Nathan and Ezra, however, need our help now." He watched JD look again to his injured friends, nod, and make a final, shimmering glance back toward the island. Outwardly switching his demeanor to autopilot, he walked to the wheelhouse. As Josiah rested his hands in a bucket of water, he stood with JD while the young navigator steered them home.
The quayside was filled with onlookers, anxiously awaiting news of the incident. Some were relatives of the personnel in attendance, the strain of not knowing if their loved ones were safe, mirrored in their faces. The relief lifeboat crew, along with several paramedics, jumped aboard the St. Nicholas the instant she docked. The relief coxswain, Peter Kemp, looked at Josiah, his head gesturing to a motionless JD. One look into the priest's eyes told him something very bad had happened, so he placed a hand on JD's back.
"I'll take her now, JD."
As if waking from a long sleep, JD stared at the man and blinked slowly before his face crumpled. Quickly recovering his composure, JD jolted into action. "I need to take her back out there are men missing Buck Chris, Vin oh God! We've got to get back there."
Three paramedics were busy attending to Josiah, and preparing Ezra and Nathan for transport. Another was holding a foil blanket for JD. It didn't take a medic to see the boy was in danger of going into shock. Peter nodded to the EMT, and then carefully prized JD away from the consul.
"Come on, Kid you need medical attention. I'll go back, okay?"
Expecting the outburst that followed that instruction, Josiah moved in and wrapped his arms around the howling teenager, soothing words spilling from his lips in an effort to get JD off the boat so Pete could get going. But the teen was resolute and, despite every possible attempt, once Josiah, Ezra, and Nathan were on dry land, the relief crew sailed off, along with JD.
Over five hours later, and with darkness adding to the air of gloom, flotillas of lit up boats, and a Sea King with its flashing lights, headed back to shore. The fire was out, and the search for life, which had been fruitless so far, was ongoing with fresh men. Despite his bandaged hands, Josiah had forgone painkillers in order to stand on the dock to greet the lifeboat. Foil blanket in hand, he wrapped it around JD's shoulders when the youth disembarked, fresh tears springing to his eyes at the sight of the quaking, sooty, devastated teenager before him. It struck him how much Buck or Nathan were needed right now. In no doubt JD was shutting him out right then, Josiah eased the boy toward his car, parked just a short distance from the harbor.
Pulling up in the private car park of the Lifeboat Inn, a place that normally only Buck, JD, and Inez were allowed to park, Josiah helped JD out of his car and into the building. Inside, Inez and Gloria were waiting on news, the former wringing her hands in despair. One look at JD was enough to tell the Spanish beauty their Buck was lost to them, and she collapsed sobbing into Gloria's arms.
JD hung his head and silently cried. He had no energy to comfort her, but when Inez embraced him, the pair clung to each other as if their very lives depended on it. The doctor had been called as soon as Josiah heard the men were returning, and the physician sat JD down on a chair right there in the bar to examine him. It was clear JD was in shock, and in need of a hot bath or shower, but the teenager shook his head and stared tiredly when offered something to help him sleep.
"I have to go see my friends they've been hurt."
Josiah squatted next to JD's chair. "They're sleeping, son. Get some rest, and we'll go to the hospital to see them tomorrow."
"But we need to search tomorrow," JD said in a hoarse whisper.
"And we will but not if you haven't rested."
Gloria handed JD a mug of warm milk, and the doctor placed a pill into the youth's hand. In a daze, JD popped the pill and drank the milk, suddenly realizing how tired he was. With a nod to his companions, Josiah eased JD to his feet, and led him up to bed.
"I need to be with Rain," Inez said, dabbing her eyes and blowing her nose with a tissue. Knowing Josiah was taking care of JD, she felt keeping her mind occupied was preferable than trying to sleep right now. Gloria nodded, and offered to drive her to the hospital.
Inside JD's darkened room, Josiah watched the glisten of hazel eyes staring back at him from the bed. JD was fighting sleep, but thankfully, between his exhaustion, grief, and the sleeping pill, the glint of hazel narrowed until it disappeared behind heavy eyelids. In the silence of the room, Father Sanchez finally took his pain pills. Sitting in the chair in the corner of JD's room, he first prayed for the safe deliverance of their injured and missing brothers, and then wept.
Rain was sitting between Ezra and Nathan's beds, each of her hands resting atop of theirs. Several scans, x-rays, and examinations later revealed the pair heavily concussed, and bruised, as well as suffering cracked ribs, and mild burns to their back and legs. They had both awakened briefly, but were confused. She only hoped the news from JD and Josiah would be good, and give the pair something to focus on.
As soon as Inez and Gloria appeared, Rain knew her hopes had been dashed, and a tragedy was unfolding. Outside the lifeboat men's room, Rain held her sobbing friend close.
"They found their bodies?" Rain asked.
"No no, not as yet," Inez sniffed.
"Then there's hope," Rain assured. "We have to believe that there's hope."
Inez nodded, unable to stop the tears. Agreeing the pub would remain closed until further notice, Gloria said her goodbyes, and left the two distraught women together.
Inez and Rain became inseparable, and remained at the hospital constantly. Josiah and JD had visited the hospital the second they were awake, showered, and dressed that morning, but only managed a brief and uninformative conversation, before deciding to head back home and return to help with the search.
By midday, the village of Four Corners was officially in mourning. The rescue had been halted after several bodies were recovered, and a thorough search of the area revealed nothing more than ash and cinders.
Heads were bowed, and hats doffed while most of the villagers lined the quayside to watch the Coastguard's boat dock. Having only just returned from searching themselves, and now standing behind the teenager as they joined their neighbors, Josiah held onto JD as tightly as he could, partly to give the teenager support, and partly because he needed it, too.
When news of a finding went out, grief had turned to joy, but then quickly back to heartache when the grisly truth unfolded. Now, apart from crew, all who were leaving the Coastguard's boat were in body bags, and hope of finding any of the missing men alive was fast turning to hopelessness.
His knees weakening at the sight before him, JD felt a strong grip keep him upright, and he heard Josiah's voice in his ear. "They still have to be identified." Leaning back against the priest, JD nodded, but his heart was heavy. He hated to have to visit the hospital again later without the news they hoped for. Ezra and Nathan deserved better but what he hated more was the thought that his brothers of the heart could be in one of those hideous bags.
Standing there, on the quayside, Josiah was quiet in his grief. JD was devastated, and wasn't afraid to show it as his tears flowed freely. They both drew comfort from the fact that Ezra and Nathan had survived, but knowing that things would never be the same again since the four firefighters, two police officers, and three RNLI crew went missing, was tearing them apart. The hours were melding into one, as Inez wept, Josiah prayed, and JD felt as if his heart had been ripped from his chest.
No one moved until the last body bag was in the official transport. Once the ambulances pulled off with their heartrending cargo, Josiah and JD headed back to Helston, and its hospital.
That afternoon, and as the two women and two men watched their injured friends sleep, Orin Travis quietly entered the ward. Terrified, yet desperate to know the outcome of the Coastguards' earlier delivery, all eyes turned to him. He made his report concise.
"It wasn't them."
As Orin's words resonated around the room, JD wondered if it was a good thing that he felt relief. He was clinging to the belief that, if their bodies were not found, Buck, Chris, and Vin could still be alive. He needed them to be alive. He didn't think he could go forward without them at least, not here, in Four Corners.
Day Two of his hospitalization saw Ezra more lucid. The burns on his arms, back, and legs were mostly superficial, but stung like a bitch, and were keeping him awake. For the first time since the explosion he was thinking clearly, and memories of the moments before the blast ran through his mind. He could recall turning to Nathan and confirming their task was complete. He and Nathan moved to leave, and then...Ezra sighed. And then, nothing.
He felt sure the lack of recall from there on was a blessing. Watching JD valiantly trying to keep his delicate state of mind from slipping while he visited them convinced Ezra that blissful oblivion would be more than welcome right now. Having to endure the knowledge that three men he had come to love as...brothers...yes, family for sure...would never grace his presence again was, quite frankly, unbearable. He shifted in the bed, inadvertently groaning, and looked up apologetically when Inez, Josiah, and JD's faces peered at him with concern.
"You okay, Ezra?" JD voiced the question for everyone.
Standish attempted a smile. "Not entirely, but in reference to my physical circumstance, I'm doing quite well, thank you."
"Can we get you anything?" Inez asked, her drawn, pinched features barely a hint of the sorrow in her heart.
He almost said `no', but instead, Ezra nodded. "I fear my medication has ebbed and is causing me some discomfort."
Glad for an excuse to get out of the room, Josiah stood. "I'll go find the doctor."
JD watched him go, envying Josiah his moment of freedom. For the first time since his mother died, JD was lost. He had no words of comfort, no stalwart attitude. He wanted to be the man Buck had said he would become, but right now, without him close, JD preferred to remain the boy he felt to be, small, lonely, and insignificant. He was worthless in aiding his friends' recovery, and just wanted to go to his room, curl up into a ball, and remember the missing three men he loved, before the memories and images faded.
He shook himself. No...
Actually, what he wanted to do was go back to St. Just and keep searching. He couldn't explain it, but his mind and body refused to accept they were gone, but every time he mentioned it, he'd get `the look'...the one that told him the person listening was sorry, but wanted him to move past it. So he simply nodded in the right places, helped when he could, and just sat there...listening, and watching.
Though, one thing he *was* sure of...no matter the outcome of all this, he frequently gave thanks that Josiah, Nathan, and Ezra were spared. He'd yet to voice his feelings, but he loved them, too, like family. The seven of them had become far more than best friends, but it was only now, after losing three of them, had JD fully understood their collective relationship.
Except for Buck.
JD knew he found a brother almost the moment the pair met. Buck had taken him in, reminded him what it was like to have someone worry about him. Given him confidence. How could he go on without his teasing, to not hear the man's laughter, to no longer have Buck's brotherly love?
JD shuddered. Buck wasn't dead...none of them were dead! Nothing but seeing it for himself would convince him otherwise. He glanced at the others. Now he had to figure out how to persuade them to think likewise.
From his bed, and with a heavy heart, Nathan watched JD's inner struggle. Squeezing Rain's hand conveyed his despair far stronger than he realized. How could something like this happen to them? If it hadn't been for the explosions catching a few firefighters and policemen off guard, they would never have needed to set foot on land. Their task was to transport monks and casualties to Four Corners' harbor...or wherever it was deemed necessary. But the first explosion changed the plans; and the next one, the course of their lives.
Four of them surviving was a miracle, but the knowledge of what they had lost made it impossible to be happy about it. Nathan touched a hand just over his heart, to the aching spot in his chest, while pondering if he would ever feel truly happy again.
He realized he must have dozed off at some point, for Josiah, who had left to get his dressings changed, was back and talking in a low voice. Attempting to sit up, Nathan drew the attention of the others and Rain raised the head of the bed; but not too high, so Nathan could see everyone. It was clear the doctor and RNLI crewman was still struggling with pain from his injuries.
"What was that?" Nathan asked, nodding to Ezra, who was also sitting up and listening.
"The speedboat was taken away for examination earlier," Josiah reiterated. "It was discovered that the boat had been carrying crates of spirits...quite a lot, as it happens."
"Smuggling?" Ezra asked.
Josiah nodded. "Yes. The man who jumped ship was arrested after being treated, and has since confessed he was trying to outrun the Coastguard."
JD felt a wave of heat and anger surge through him. "That's why the boat blew several times? It was more than just the petrol tank that ignited?"
Josiah sighed. "Yes." His chest tightened as a distraught JD got to his feet.
"That waste of skin wasn't in need of help...and as a result..." JD couldn't bring himself to say it, and knew he had to go...now. "'Scuse me."
The two women and three men watched the teenager hurry out of the room. Sighing, Josiah turned back to the others. He addressed Ezra. "As you're being released tomorrow, and while Rain will have Nathan's care in hand...I'd like you to stay with me, Ezra...until you're well."
Standish smiled. "Flattered as I am for the offer, Josiah, I am looking forward to the comfort of my own bed, so I will politely decline." He watched the big man stand and walk to his bed.
"Please. I would offer to come stay and take care of you, but..." he glanced after JD, and then turned his gaze to a pale, quiet Inez. "...But the village needs me close to hand. Please?"
Deeply touched and fully appreciative of the priest's predicament...and while acknowledging the man was grieving, too, Ezra nodded. "Then I shall offer my thanks and accept." He too glanced toward the door. "In hindsight, perhaps it's a time for brothers to be close."
They all agreed. Right now, this all seemed like a horrible dream. Each of them, and most definitely JD, were in some degree of denial, and no one doubted it would get worse. Placing a hand on his friends' heads one by one as he mumbled a silent blessing for each of them, Josiah then moved toward the door.
"Ladies, may I offer you a lift home?"
Rain looked at Inez, who nodded to the silent question. "I'll bring Inez home, Josiah. We won't be too much longer." She then turned to Nathan and Ezra. "And tomorrow, we'll return to bring two of our heroes home."
A dry, husky cough broke the eerie silence. The tinkling of dust and shale sounded when a head emerged from the rubble and gritty eyes gazed around. Vin coughed again, grimacing at the pull to his ribs and stomach. Shakily, he thumbed off his white helmet, and then pushed up, but halted when he realized his legs were obscured by rock and debris. That was the point when the pain hit, and the Welshman inhaled sharply, which in turn started him coughing again. When the agony finally subsided, Vin took another look around, but it was too dark to see much. Locating the torch attached to his belt, Vin snapped it on, and was relieved to make out two more mounds of rubble that looked suspiciously like the outline of his two friends. Unaware of the streaks of blood trailing down his dusty features from a split brow, and the various cuts, scrapes and bruises adorning his handsome face, Vin took as deep a breath as he dared and called out.
"Chris! Buck! Hey! Wyt i'n popeth yn iawn?" He shook his head to clear it. "Are you okay? Hey HEY!" A groan made his heart soar. "Chris?"
Larabee had never experienced a headache like it. It was a cross between a brain freeze, and the hangover from hell, accompanied by the thrum of the drum cadence of a military band performing inside his skull. It took a minute or so for a familiar voice to pull him from the pain-free abyss he had been enjoying, for him then to realize he was face down on shale and rubble, and hurting everywhere.
"Can hear you "
"Thank God! Chris, I'm pinned by my legs. You?"
There was a pause while Chris assessed his position. "Apart from what feels like a ton of crap on me, I think I can move my limbs." With great caution, he did so, tilting the coarse silt from his back and legs to eventually get to his elbows, but every movement was pure agony. However, Chris possessed an amazing aptitude for blocking pain, and his gritty determinedness got him to a sitting position, where he removed his helmet. He would reflect later, that their safety headgear probably saved their lives. He stared across at Vin, allowing the relief on seeing him look back to flood his features, while hoping it masked the shock of seeing the blood streaked face of his friend. He had no idea Vin's alarm on seeing Chris's similar injuries were being well concealed, too.
As one, the pair glanced across to the other heap of debris, now able, from their more upright positions and Vin's torchlight, to see Buck's gray, dusty, slack face just visible beyond a large chunk of rock resting on his chest. More rubble covered Buck's lower torso, and Chris suddenly had a surge of fear overwhelm him. Against all his instincts, he dragged his battered body over to his oldest friend and cleared the shale from Buck's face, revealing numerous cuts, grazes, and bruises, much like his and Vin's. A nasty gash ran from the brow line above Buck's nose, and across the underside of the eyebrow, coating Buck's left eyelid and cheek in sticky red blood.
"Hey Buck? You hear me, old man?"
There was an ominous silence before a croaky voice sounded. "You're older `n me Stud "
Relieved beyond description, Chris leaned in and smiled or hoped he had, his face ached too much to be sure. Aware of the raspy breath sounds, Chris asked the question. "How bad?"
"Pinned good. Chest hard to breathe. I can feel my legs, but can't move `em."
Clutching Buck's hand, and happy to feel a squeeze back, Chris nodded. A quick assessment told him it would take at least two to clear Buck's chest. "It's best I leave your helmet on for now. Hang in there. I'm just going to check on Vin."
"Yeah we all are, pal. I'll be right back, okay?"
"Not going anywhere."
Chris gave a tight smile, and edged across the sandy ground to Vin. Testing the debris on Vin's legs, he glanced at the Welshman. "I think I can shift it. Hold on." He slowly removed each layer in the sparse light, wincing when it aggravated his own injuries. Chris hoped Vin's legs weren't damaged. His prayers were answered when one leg was freed, and the RNLI mechanic moved it.
"Not broken," Vin smiled, his teeth looking frighteningly white against his dirt-streaked features. He noted Chris staring at him as he freed Vin's other leg.
"I don't think Buck's doing too good."
Understanding, and once Vin had taken some time to allow the circulation back into his feet, the pair ignored their own pain to help Buck. They slowly, but successfully removed all but the heavy, large slice of rock across the publican's chest. It would have crushed him, save for one edge resting on rubble on the ground, leaving the tiniest gap for Buck's ribcage to expand when he breathed. No matter how they tried, it wouldn't budge. Buck waved off their efforts.
"This is good, for now. Help will come and get us out soon, save your energy."
All three men relaxed for a moment, unaware that the torchlight concealed the fact that they had been trapped for over eight hours, and they were going into a new morning.
Inside the Catholic Church, the altar candles cast a warm, comforting glow as Josiah made his way down the aisle and to the solitary figure sitting in a pew. With barely any sound, he approached the altar, bowed his head, made the sign of the cross, and lit two more of the waxen pillars before stepping two pews back and sitting in next to JD's hunched form. After taking a few minutes to pray, Josiah turned to JD.
"Been a while since you came to my house, John Dunne." For a moment, he thought JD wouldn't answer. Seconds later, Josiah almost wished he hadn't when the boy's tear-stained face looked up at him, and JD's broken speech sputtered out between deep, racking sobs.
"I can't be strong Josiah. I want to be but I can't."
Josiah's eyes filled. "Grief has no rules, JD. No one's judging you. Let it out, son." A tear escaped his pale blue eyes as the priest watched the youth's body heave with the sorrow coursing through him.
"I hate God! He he lets murderers thieves and drug pushers walk free and takes the people who are good "
Unable to hold back, Josiah pulled JD into a fierce embrace, and held tight. "It's alright, John God understands how you feel, even expects it, and he instantly forgives " Before he could finish, JD pulled back, his face a mask of grief and fury.
"I don't care what he thinks. I've only ever asked for help when people I loved have been in desperate need. So far he's ignored me for my mum and now " He allowed Josiah to haul him back. "Damnit, Josiah I want them back I want Buck."
"I know, me too " was all the kindly man could say, as he allowed his own emotions to break free. Right now, he was confused, also.
Once spent, JD apologized for his breakdown, and made his way back to the pub. The place was in darkness, and save for the light illuminating the stairs, JD wanted it that way it matched his mood perfectly. He stopped at Buck's door and hesitated for a moment, reaching out to touch the painted wood, before pushing it open and walking in. He jolted when the landing light illuminated Inez's tear- streaked face. She was sitting on Buck's bed, clutching at a previously worn shirt as she inhaled the familiar fragrance of the body she adored.
"I I'm sorry," JD mumbled, and turned to walk away, but delicate fingers curled around his.
"Sit with me?"
Wearily, JD nodded, and the pair sat together on Buck's bed, hugging each other for comfort and support while they tried to come to terms with losses they both feared they may never get over.
Even in the light of day, and in the comfort of his own home, Nathan's mood stayed grim. Ensconced in a large, stuffed armchair in the living room of their flat above Rain's shop, the doctor was sipping on a cup of tea, but it might as well have been arsenic, for all the enjoyment it was bringing him. Looking out of the window, he stared across the narrow street at the Lifeboat Inn, wishing he could turn the clock back forty-eight hours. To the fun they were having that night teaching JD how to play poker, and seeing another side to Ezra, as he deftly passed cards JD needed in order for the boy to win. They had taken bets as to how long Ezra's compassion would last. Nathan swallowed as tears pricked at his eyes. That was one pot that would never be collected, now.
He looked up as Rain approached him. The dark-skinned beauty knelt before him, leaned in, and kissed Nathan so passionately that, any other time he would have swept her into his arms and made love to her for hours. As she pulled back, he gazed deeply into her shimmering brown eyes.
"If I had lost you, I believe my soul would never recover. I can't begin to know how JD and Inez, Nettie and Casey, as well as you, Ezra, and Josiah are feeling, except to know how much my heart aches for our lost friends. I love you Nathan Jackson. Don't shut me out let me be here for you." She watched as Nathan's face crumpled, and held him in her arms as the grief he had been holding in was finally released, all the while making a silent vow that she would see them all through this.
Ezra replaced the receiver after his phone call with Maude. He supposed he should be grateful she had taken time out of her skiing holiday to call but, despite a comforting conversation, he felt no better. Josiah had insisted he rest in bed, and Ezra was grateful for the solitude between visits from the priest and friends. It allowed him the opportunity to cry in private. In truth, the fact he was crying at all, surprised him. He had spent years honing his emotions to a point where very little cracked his icy façade.
Very little, except his six surrogate brothers. Their compassion had reached into his hardened soul and melted it. He had men to look up to, six to stand with, and a little brother he had never knowingly pined for, but wouldn't want to lose now for anything. Until recently, his life had seemed complete, but here, today, it lay in tatters. He had no idea how to make this better, and right now, no desire to try.
He smiled when Josiah brought him some soup and homemade bread. He had little appetite, but appreciated the gesture. "Thank you. Have you seen JD this morning?"
Josiah perched on the edge of the bed. "No, but I'm heading to the pub soon. Word is, the all clear for the monks to return has gone out. I'm hoping I can persuade JD to join me in assisting their return maybe it will keep his mind off his misery for a short while."
"Good idea," Ezra nodded, idly stirring the soup.
"Gloria is coming over while I'm out. If you want to get up and move downstairs later, allow her to help you get settled. I'm sorry to leave you so soon after your hospital discharge "
Standish waved him off. "Please just being here instead of alone, is more than I could have hoped for. I'll see you later, my friend." Once Josiah left, Ezra began eating. In those few moments he decided the best way he could help was to get well and be there for the others. To do that he needed to eat so he tucked in.
From a bench on the quayside, JD stared out across the bay toward St. Just. It used to be a vista he loved, now now it made him go cold. He hadn't recalled falling asleep last night, but he woke up on Buck's bed, fully clothed, and alone. He guessed his exhaustion finally beat him, and Inez had left him to sleep. He tried speaking with her this morning, but the woman was cleaning up a storm, so he left her to it. Everyone had their own coping mechanisms JD guessed that was hers that, and likely avoiding conversation. That's what he was doing.
He swiped at his eyes. Tears still flowed, and nothing he tried could stop them, so he decided to hell with it, he'd just let it out. It wasn't helping that his thoughts had turned to Chris, a man who JD had the utmost respect, admiration and affection for. And Vin, who had taken time to play laugh and teach him, and who he cared for equally.
And then there was Buck. JD sobbed. How could he go on here without the man who had given him a home, and loved him like a brother? A love he had returned in no lesser amounts. Three good men, like the three who had survived, who JD wanted to grow to be like.
What would he and the others do without them?
A shadow cast over him and he looked up. "Hey Josiah."
"JD." The priest sat next to the teen, waiting a few moments before speaking. "The memorial service for our lost friends and colleagues will be tomorrow. So far, Buck, Chris, and Vin's names have not been included." He turned to the boy. "John should we not add their names ?"
"NO!" JD's eyes flashed, before his shimmering gaze softened. "Please I'm not ready to let go yet please, Josiah. Their deaths haven't been officially declared yet."
The kindly clergyman draped an arm around the boy's shoulders. "So be it, John. When you're ready, we, Inez, Ezra, and Nathan will talk it through." JD swiped away his tears with his hand as his gaze turned back to the ocean.
"Buck would want me to be a man about this and look at me."
Josiah sighed. "Buck, and also Chris and Vin, would be honored to know you are prepared to show your grief for them. Buck loved you, son. I recall the first time he referred to you as his little brother " The man brushed away his own tears, recalling that magical conversation which truly opened Buck's deepest sentiments to the priest. It was a discussion he would always cherish, and store in his heart forever. He swallowed hard when he heard a barely whispered, `I love him, too all of them '
A long pause later, Josiah composed himself and spoke again. "John the monks need a hand to move back home. I was wondering "
JD leapt to his feet, using his jacket sleeve to wipe at his face. He had wanted to return to the island to be where Buck, Chris, and Vin might have met their untimely deaths...or were laying, injured, and waiting for help. He nodded. "Okay."
Josiah's pale blue eyes gazed compassionately at the youth. "Are you sure? Only "
"No, I'm sure. Now?"
Josiah smiled and stood. "Now would be good, thank you."
Several hours of box-hauling later, JD managed to slip away from the monastery and was now staring at the blackened area from the fire. His gaze roamed the site, taking in every rock pile and missing tree. Looking at it now, it was easy to see why the men that died could not have survived. The area was ravaged. A small outcrop had collapsed into a heap of rocks, and the scorched earth and shrubbery told a dismal tale. With a heavy heart, and a final glance back, JD returned to Josiah. He had seen enough.
The battery on Vin's torch finally gave up and the beam flickered and died. In seconds, Chris had turned on his flashlight. Buck was drifting in and out of consciousness, and the three were parched to the point of being unable to talk much. Neither of them could understand that no one had come for them, and were now pondering reasons why. Neither man really wanted to consider the worst case scenario, but ever so slowly, it began to dominate their thoughts.
Did the others think they were dead?
Chris leaned into a semi-delirious Buck. "He's not here, Pal."
"JD safe JD!"
"He's safe, Buck," Vin assured, limping from out of the gloom. "Chris ordered him to stay on the boat."
Buck relaxed. "Good. Need him safe "
"He's fine. You worry about yourself," Chris insisted. He tried to swallow, but had no spit.
"Look at this."
Hobbling from a dark corner, Vin dragged a case of whiskey. Chris grinned. "Now that's what I call a drink!" It wasn't ideal, but it would do for the interim, and allow him to focus more on Buck's condition and maybe getting out of there. Taking and savoring a grateful swig of the amber spirit, he noted Vin pointing behind him.
"Way out's blocked. We're trapped."
"Terrific," Chris sighed, and took another sip of whiskey.
Larabee turned to the voice. "Yeah, Buck?"
The trapped publican drew in a painful breath as his eyes blinked open. "I just need you to hear me out. Please."
"Watch out for the kid and Inez please Chris."
Vin sat his weary body down with them. "Knock it off, Bucklin. We're not going anywhere without you."
"No!" The Welshman was adamant. "We're getting out of here all of us! Got it?"
Buck offered a weak smile. "Got it "
Chris nodded his approval as he affectionately brushed dust from Buck's dark locks before offering him a sip of whiskey. "Yeah all of us."
He stared at his ailing, and oldest friend before casting an anxious gaze toward Vin, and then back to Buck. The brunet was scaring him. His obsession to do right by JD and Inez was as if suggesting Buck didn't think he was going to make it; feelings which Buck had never expressed before, even in their darkest hour, and there had been a few. Was there something he wasn't telling them? A sound caused him to turn his anxious gaze back to his closest friend.
Trying to get comfortable, Vin groaned and glanced apologetically at Chris. He felt like shit, but knew Chris did too, and with the blond worrying about Buck, and no doubt Tanner as well, the Welshman inwardly cursed his slip-up. In the gloom, he felt fingers curl around his forearm.
"Hang in there, Vin."
Vin huffed, softly. "I will if you will."
Larabee nodded, and allowed himself a small grin. "Then we're good." Reaching out to comfort Buck with his other hand, Chris tried to slow his pounding heart and stay positive. `Come on, boys, come and get us.'
On his return from the beach, JD eventually found Josiah and Brother Benjamin in the monastery's wine cellar. The monk seemed relieved there was no damage.
"I fear I cannot do more than pray for your friends' souls, so I hope you'll forgive me."
"Nothing to forgive," Josiah answered. "We have to move on somehow." They both looked up and smiled as JD entered. No one spoke of where he had been; it was clear how the teen was feeling, the red-rimmed eyes concealing nothing.
JD took a good look around. "Almost done?" he said at last.
"Indeed," the Brother nodded. "Thank you for your kindness, now, and the other day."
JD shrugged. He didn't want to dwell on `the other day'. He pointed to something in a darkened corner of the room. "Where does that door lead?"
Brother Benjamin turned to look, before offering a small smile. "Quite a tale there. Brother Eustace discovered it back last year, and after several months of clearing away overgrown brambles and undergrowth, he found it lead to another door and a hidden cove that comes out onto the beach. Apparently, many years ago, it was once used for smuggling, to stash away the contraband, as it were." He smiled wider. "Not sure if the Abbott knew about it nevertheless, the door is here. We thought, maybe next year, after we've worked on it, we could include it in our guided tour."
JD's mind was racing. There was no outlet on the beach that he had seen, and he'd examined it all, thoroughly. His mind raced, and his eyes widened. The rocks! A ways back, in a small, overgrown inlet, there had been a fresh rock fall. Was it hiding the entrance to a cave? It was the perfect setting for one. Afraid his imagination was running wild due to his inability to accept the loss of their three friends, but working with the feeling now knotting his gut, JD looked at the monk. "May I go through it?"
Instantly curious, Josiah watched the monk nod. "It's solid stone, so it should be reasonably safe, after the fire, I'm not sure what the exit looks like, or whether you'll be able to get out the other side. Here " He reached up and handed him a torch from a shelf. "You'll need this." He tried not to look startled as the eager boy thanked him and brushed past him. Accepting a second flashlight, Josiah disappeared through the rickety wooden door and into the gloom after JD.
Well into the winding, web-encrusted corridor, Josiah struggled to keep up "JD! Ease up!"
Panting, the boy stopped and looked back at him. "I know you're going to think I've cracked up, but what if Buck, Vin, and Chris were never in the fire?"
Josiah's gaze saddened. "John "
JD pointed. "There's no exit on the beach like Brother Benjamin said, Josiah. Just a huge rock fall."
Unsure if letting JD do this was the best way to go, Josiah simply nodded and followed him, while trying to suppress the butterflies starting up in his own stomach.
While investigating their tomb, Vin and Chris had found a concealed doorway, or at least the top of one, way at the back of the cave. From when they discovered it, the pair had been clearing rocks from in front of it, but it was slow going, and their injuries, and lack of water was hindering them greatly.
Slipping back intermittently to check on Buck, Chris realized the big man was becoming more in need of stimulation to keep him awake, so he and Vin agreed to take turns at clearing, and sitting with Buck. To the background sounds of soft grunts and tossed rocks, Chris took Buck's cold hand in his.
"Stay with me, pal."
"No plans to give up just yet," Buck rasped out. Chris offered him the tiniest sip of whiskey. He dared not offer too much, but hoped it would ease Buck's parched throat, and maybe his pain somewhat.
"Quite a pickle " Buck whispered.
"Just a bit," Chris replied. "How are you doing?"
Buck attempted a grin. "Apart from the headache from hell, and this here rock squishing me, I've never been better."
"Thought as much," Chris quipped. A pause ensued.
"No one's coming, are they?"
Larabee sighed. "I honestly don't know, Buck. Where we came in is blocked." He gestured with his head. "Back there, we found a door; at least, we think it's a door."
"A door, in a cave?" As he asked the question, Buck coughed, barely able to catch his breath for a few seconds. Chris put the palm of his hand on Buck's shoulder to ease him. Eventually, the coughing subsided. "Damn that hurt like a bitch." Buck could barely breathe. His chest was tight and scarcely seemed to expand to take in air, and his back kept going into agonizing spasms. The fire in his thighs had subsided from numbness, and Buck feared his body was shutting down as he grew ever drowsier.
"Maybe you shouldn't talk, yeah?" Chris laughed softly at the incredulous look from his oldest friend. Asking Buck not to talk would be like asking the tide not to turn.
Buck closed his eyes for a moment as he rode out another wave of pain. Seconds later, he gazed at his oldest friend. He desperately needed Chris to listen to him he was beginning to fear his message might never be known. "Chris about JD "
"Jesus, Buck, I have no idea why you think you're not getting out of here with us alive and "
"Just just hear me out, yeah?"
Chris pursed his lips and after a pause, nodded.
"If I don't you know there's a letter in my bedside table, taped to the underside of the drawer. See that he gets it?"
"You'll be giving it to him yourself, mate."
"No if I do get out, he won't need it. If I don't " He nodded when Chris thumbed away a tear from the corner of Buck's eye. "There's also one for Inez in my underwear drawer."
Chris coughed. "Where? Why there?"
Buck chuckled, coughed, and then regained his composure. "My final fantasy Inez, rifling through my underwear for her letter."
Chris outright laughed. "Buck, you're incorrigible."
The brunet winked. "Oh yeah." Buck coughed again, but this time the combination of the effort, multiple flashes of pain, and the pressure of the rock pinning him was too much. His eyes rolled back in his head and he convulsed momentarily before passing out.
"Shit! Buck!" Chris felt for a pulse. "VIN!"
The Welshman swiped at the moisture stinging his eyes, streaking a mixture of sweat and blood across his forehead. His right knee was aching like mad, and every muscle in his body throbbed. Each stone he removed felt like a lead weight, but seeing a little more of the door emerging, kept him going.
As he worked, he reflected on his time in Four Corners. His friends, the people, his job. He had never been happier. Vin sighed and stretched his aching back before resuming. This mess was his fault. On their way back to the lifeboat, he spotted the entrance to the cave, just to one side of where the speedboat had grounded. His curiosity got the better of him. It wasn't burning yet, and he wondered if anyone had crawled inside for safety. Chris and Buck decided he wouldn't be checking it out alone, and instructed the others with them to go on. They had only been inside for several seconds when a loud noise, and the shockwave from it, took the three men off their feet and plunged them into darkness.
Vin stretched again. He had to get them out of here. It was the least he could do they all, especially Buck, needed help, plus, the air in this place was getting heavy and stale. Picking up one rock, Vin cried out in anguish, falling to his knees from the pain. Landing on his injured knee caused hot shards of agony to streak through his beat-up body and he lay there panting and willing for the torture to subside. He felt light headed, and dizzy, and almost gave in to the welcoming oily blackness calling him, when his head jerked up at the sound of Chris's frantic call. Taking up Buck's torch, he dragged himself to his feet, and limped back to his friends.
JD was exhausted but he battled on. He swiped away newly grown hanging brambles, and shrubbery that tore at his skin, as he and Josiah edged further down the winding corridor beyond the door from the wine cellar. Josiah followed, holding up the second flashlight to aid them, while desperately wanting to halt JD and guide him back to the monastery. He couldn't bear the thought of the boy being devastated twice in as many days.
However, he also appreciated the grave need to do this. Josiah wanted nothing more than for JD to be right, no matter how fanciful it seemed. And if he was wrong at least the boy had peace of mind for trying.
A scraping noise had them both halting. JD ran the beam from his flashlight over the ground and up the walls. "Was that rats?" The teen shuddered. He wasn't afraid of them, but didn't like the idea of the little critters running around his feet, either.
"Not sure," Josiah whispered, "but look!" From his own torchlight, he drew attention to another door, partially covered with ivy vines and brambles, but nevertheless, there it was.
"Holy shit!" JD turned to Josiah. "Sorry, Father."
Sanchez nodded. "If you hadn't said it, I would have." More scraping caused them to shush, and listen. JD swallowed against his dry throat.
"I think it's coming from beyond the door." His torch beam wavered as his hands trembled at the possibilities assaulting his mind. They paused to listen for a moment or two in the ensuing silence. Josiah jerked when JD yelled out. "HEY! Anyone in there? HEY!"
All that greeted them was silence.
On hearing Chris's cry, Vin had hobbled back to his and Buck's side. "What is it?"
"Help me, Vin, Buck's not breathing!"
Chris was trying to find a way to get to Buck safely and give him CPR. Tilting the brunet's head back, Buck's airway cleared and he inhaled a raspy breath. "Jesus Christ, he was swallowing his tongue!"
Larabee was trembling as he sat back and rested a shaky hand on his oldest friend's shoulder. "We have to get the fuck out of here!" With a groan of pain he stood, moving to walk to where Vin had been working, but the Welshman held his arm.
"Let me. Take a minute for your heart to slow down, and then we'll stick to the plan, and take turns to work and watch Buck, okay?" Vin was visibly shocked to see Chris so shaken, but understood how he was feeling, because he was feeling the same way. Watching the man sink to the ground and curl his fingers around Buck's slack ones, Tanner nodded and made his way back to the half-buried door to the sound of Chris begging Buck to wake up.
Half-way through clearing their side of the door of undergrowth, Josiah halted them with a raised hand and listened. The scraping noise was back. JD instantly realized what the priest's eyes were conveying and yelled out again. This time, he almost passed out when a familiar, if not weakened Welsh voice answered.
"JD? That you?"
Tears openly falling, JD pressed up against the door. "Yeah! Josiah, too! Vin, you okay?"
Another agonizing pause. "I'll live, Kid. We could use some help, we're trapped from both sides."
"Vin! Buck and Chr " JD turned when Josiah grabbed his shoulder.
"JD, you need to run back and raise the alarm now!"
"NO!" JD looked crestfallen. "What about ?"
"JD!" Vin's muffled voice caused JD and Josiah to look back toward the door. "We're all still here but we need help, fast."
JD caught a sob, and as huge tears rolled from his lashes, Josiah's big hands held his face. "Now you know. Run, son! God's speed!" He watched JD nod. The boy hugged him, elation evident, and Josiah returned the embrace. Watching JD take off, Josiah waited a few seconds until the youth was well out of earshot, and turned back to the door.
"Vin how bad?"
Tanner fully understood the double reason for JD's instruction to go. "Buck's pretty bad. He's trapped under some rock and is unconscious, now. Chris and me are battered, but okay. We're really thirsty, too."
"Is the door locked?"
"Not sure. Right now, it's blocked with rubble. I'm trying to shift it, but it's slow work."
"Step back." Leaning his shoulder into the door, Josiah took a breath and heaved for all he was worth. It took a few seconds, but the door moved not much, but enough to let in fresher air, and for the two friends to clasp hands. The two men clung tight, and savored the moment.
"As soon as JD gets back, we'll get some water in there," the preacher promised. Josiah and Vin remained there for a moment, relishing the connection, while both saying their own silent prayers of thanks.
"Josiah, I'm going back to tell Chris the good news."
"I'll be here, Vin," Josiah promised.
JD's lungs burned with exertion. He often jogged, but never had he run like this. Twigs and foliage smacked at his skin as he raced through the corridor, but JD was oblivious. The news he yearned for had arrived, and nothing was going to stop him from his goal. He burst into the wine cellar, cursing softly when there was no sign of Brother Benjamin. Running out and up the two flights of stairs to the west quadrant, he came upon three monks walking through. "HEY!"
Brother Alfredo halted him. "Young man, this is not a place in which we run, or shout "
JD waved a hand as he gasped out his message. "NO! Listen the missing lifeboat men they're here " He pointed. " I mean there, under the wine cellar."
The three monks stared at him as if he had two heads, and demons on his shoulders.
Breathlessly, JD tried to explain. "There's a corridor, in the wine cellar. It leads to a cove on the beach, only the explosion blocked it. They're trapped, and hurt. Call in help!"
Understanding him, and as JD bent over and rested his hands on his knees to catch his breath, two of the men hurried off. JD grabbed the third. "I need water bottled water." He wasn't sure if he could get it to his friends, but not having it would be a travesty. A minute later, and assured help was on its way, JD was running back to Josiah. "Hang on boys please, hang on."
Nathan had been slowly walked by Rain over to Josiah's home, and was visiting with Ezra. The pair had briefly touched on their experience, but realized talking about it only made it harder to accept that Chris, Buck, and Vin were gone. Father Liam Connery, Josiah's curate, brought in two cups of tea and some biscuits, but his demeanor was decidedly less than calm.
Ezra frowned. "What is it?" His eyes widened on recalling that two of their friends were out and about. "Are JD and Josiah alright?"
Liam nodded, his eyes glistening with unshed tears. "There's been a call emergency services are heading to St. Just as we speak."
Nathan struggled to his feet. "Why?" His heart was asking, while his head was willing him not to. He realized he was trembling when Ezra's quivering fingers reached up to envelope his arm.
"I don't know all the details, but word is, JD raised the alarm. He told the monks that he and Josiah had found Chris, Buck and Vin alive!"
Nathan dropped to his knees and embraced Ezra as the man sat frozen in his chair. "Keep the faith, my friend," Ezra mumbled into Nathan's broad chest. "Our prayers appear to have been answered."
"I hope you're right," Nathan said, softly. Neither man could hold back the emotion, and neither cared. Finally parting, they both looked to the curate.
"Can you get us to the harbor?"
Liam nodded. "You'll need wheelchairs. I'll get Mrs. Widge, the housekeeper to help."
Walking back to her home and business, Aquarius, Rain stopped dead when a police car raced past her running full `blues and twos'. She stared after them, catching hold of one of many people heading toward the harbor in its wake. "What's going on?"
"Rumor has it them three lifeboat chappies may be alive," the man hollered out, before running after the throng.
In shock, Rain ran the little distance left to the shop, crossing the road to the Lifeboat Inn and bursting through the door. "INEZ! GLORIA!"
The Spanish beauty appeared from the stairway to the living quarters. Gloria was answering the phone. "What is it?" Inez asked, a little shaken by Rain's exuberance.
As Rain was about to speak, Gloria replaced the phone's receiver after talking to Orin Travis. "They may be alive," both women said together.
Inez clutched at her heart. "Please, I cannot my heart will not take another "
Rain embraced the quaking woman. "Believe, my friend. Too many people already do for it not to be true."
"Does JD ?"
Rain smiled. "I think it was he and Josiah who found them."
"Madre de Dios!" Inez wept, but once composed, and after hearing Nathan and Ezra were en route, the three women headed for the harbor, to stand with their family, friends, and neighbors.
Not knowing where the energy came from, JD ran all the way back down the corridor, four bottles of water in hand. Stumbling in the gloom on some loose rocks, he went tumbling, hitting the ground with a thud and sliding a few feet. With a huff of pain, he scrambled to his feet, grunting when his ankle pulled as he stood on it. JD brushed himself down, gathered up the bottles, and limped until he got used to the pain, then took off running again.
In the cave, Chris was at the door now, while Vin sat with Buck. On Josiah's instruction, he was clearing the rocks near to the slit opening, in the hope that Josiah could edge it open a little more, but in truth, despite his elation, his body was slowly betraying him. Ten minutes later, Josiah pushed again, and Chris's battered face appeared in the gap. "Good to see you, Chris," Josiah choked out, taking hold of the blond's extended hand.
"Just thinking the same thing, my friend," Chris's grin shone through encrusted dust, blood, and dirt.
The pounding of feet had them both looking back up the corridor. A jerky flashlight approached and soon JD's sweaty, grimy form appeared. He stared at the green eyes focused on him.
"Chris!" Both men grinned at the huge smile from the stunned teenager. "You got it open?" he asked Josiah.
"No, but there's a small gap now."
JD passed over three bottles, offering one to Josiah. Chris nodded. "I'm just taking these to Vin and Buck. We'll be back."
Bursting with happiness, Josiah and JD hugged again. JD pulled back. "Have you spoken to Buck?"
The priest squeezed JD's arm. "Buck's trapped "
"Oh my god he's not "
"No! No, he's alive, but he's not well." He watched JD frantically push at the door.
"We gotta get in there!" He went purple in the face trying to move it, and to Josiah's astonishment, it did; only a fraction, but damnit, it did. Leaning in, Josiah put all his weight into pushing with JD and it scraped back another few inches. Suddenly, JD was jammed in the gap, trying to squeeze through.
"JD, you can't " Josiah watched, and would never know whether it was pure determination, his slight build, Divine intervention, or all three, but after the most agonizing of moments, and with an enormous grunt of air, JD finally slipped through the tiny gap. Sanchez looked up. "Thank you. Now speed up the rescuers, please."
Vin and Chris looked up in astonishment as JD half limped, half hurtled toward them. Vin stood and JD paused, then carefully embraced him. The normally undemonstrative Welshman clung to the youth like a lifeline, as if knowing what the others, and the village of Four Corners believed that he, Chris, and Buck had perished. With gentle pats to Vin's arm, JD pulled away and turned to a now standing Chris, who happily received the impending embrace.
JD felt a sob building, but failed to pull away from Chris before it escaped. The blond simply squeezed the back of JD's neck, concealing the fact that he too was emotional. Stepping back, JD glanced at Buck, then back to Chris, the question obvious.
"He's hanging in there. Hearing your voice will help."
Nodding, JD cautiously picked his way over to his big brother's side and eased down next to him. Noting the blood and bruising, the youth leaned in and took Buck's hand. "Buck Buck, it's JD." He reached up to touch the slack face. "Buck? Please, Buck."
A voice he at first thought was in his dreams permeated his foggy mind and Buck blinked open his good eye. His cut and bruised one opened, too, but only a little. "Kid? That you, boy?"
JD grinned with relief. "Yeah it's me." Through his tears, JD stroked the man's battered features. "Lord, Buck you look awful."
Lifting a hand to thumb away a tear from the end of JD's nose, Buck smiled. "Boy, you know that's damn near impossible." He sighed happily when JD got down closer and leaned gently in to carefully touch his forehead to Buck's head.
"I thought I'd lost you," JD whispered, hoarsely. "All three of you."
Feeling a peace wash over him, Buck relaxed. "No chance, little brother, you don't get rid of me and the boys that easily." JD's lack of retort drove it home just how serious their predicament had become. In the relaxed silence that ensued, and as the cool, bottled water was savored, they all jerked when Josiah's voice boomed out mere seconds before a barrage of noise bombarded their ears.
"Help's here, boys!"
In no time, the rescue workers had broken through the rock fall and were now helping each injured man breathe in oxygen through masks. Vin and Chris refused to leave until Buck was freed, and defiantly stood with JD and Josiah as the rescuers talked Buck through the procedure.
Buck's pale, sweat-soaked features nodded his understanding as he looked up at them, his hand clinging to the mask delivering precious oxygen into his abused lungs. With a final look and wink to JD from the man, several workers removed the stone pinning Buck's chest.
Alarmed cries went out when Buck passed out, and JD had to be restrained while paramedics worked on the publican. Buck's vitals were stabilized, but not a moment was spared in getting him, Chris, and Vin out onto the beach and to the hospital. All Josiah and JD could hope as they watched their friends being prepared to travel, was that their ordeal was finally over. While the rescue teams celebrated around them, the pair clung to each other in silent thanks and overwhelming relief.
Five days later, and Buck's hospital stay was shorter than feared, but more to determination from the brunet to go home than the lack of severity from his injuries. Suffering from concussion, a nasty head wound just above his eye which needed sutures, and minor crush injuries to his thighs and chest, exacerbated by two broken ribs and back spasms from being pinned down, Buck was in severe pain, but never once complained. He told them all that the pain was a great reminder that he was still alive. Once he had been freed, Buck had gone on by Sea King to Helston, a decision that saw JD happy that Buck would get urgent treatment, but despondent he couldn't go with him. He made up for that by refusing to leave Buck's side, until Josiah physically carried him out for a proper meal on the third day of Buck's hospitalization.
Chris and Vin were gray, and not just from dust. Their battered features told a grisly tale, and onlookers watching their arrival home audibly inhaled on seeing Chris and Vin's bare upper torsos peppered front and back with large bruises, and red welts and abrasions from where the rocks had hit and/or lain on them. The brief reunion on the quayside between them, JD and Josiah, Inez, Nathan, Ezra, Nettie, Gloria, and Casey had been deeply moving and emotional, while the rescued men and their saviors were greeted by a tumultuous round of applause from the gathered villagers and emergency services. From there, they all followed the injured men to Helston, no one leaving the hospital until satisfied all were out of danger and resting comfortably.
Apart from physical injuries, all three men were dehydrated and suffering low oxygen saturation. While Buck was kept in longer, Vin and Chris remained in hospital for two days, and on release, ordered total rest and no driving until their GP signed them fit for duty which didn't happen for four weeks in Chris and Vin's case, and six weeks for Buck.
Chris's injuries were mostly bruises which caused him to stiffen up and ache all over, along with a badly bruised shoulder, and a mild concussion. Vin had a severely bruised knee and, like Chris, a mild concussion and multiple cuts and bruises. Nettie had opted to temporarily move into Chris's home, and on the insistence of Chris, JD and Josiah, Vin did, too. The older woman took care of the two men for the first two weeks of their sick leave, nursing them through their discomfort, and the terrible nightmares they both suffered.
JD and Josiah, at first, and then Ezra and Nathan when they were more mobile, visited the casualties daily, and Nettie saw firsthand how deeply affected by the incident the group were. Buck was not allowed to travel for the interim, which caused more consternation, until Chris and Vin decided, to hell with doctor's orders and, between JD and Josiah, the four healing men were collected once a day to spend time with Buck at the Lifeboat Inn.
The reopening of the popular hostelry by Inez, Gloria, Sally, and Tom had seen the place filled to capacity. JD went back to work with them by the second week and only then because he insisted. He made sure he paid frequent trips to check on an improving Buck, still needing to see for himself that the man he looked on as family really was there. His own nightmares were always the same that he would awaken to learn finding Buck, Chris, and Vin was only a dream. JD kept his bad dreams to himself, but he was fooling no one, especially Buck.
Ezra and Nathan's burns healed nicely, but they still needed to keep them moisturized and dressed in special bandages for a while. They were signed off as fit the week before Vin and Chris. Both men were also suffering with nightmares, but neither could remember what about. Rain was a tower of strength to Nathan, and Josiah, despite Ezra's insistence to the contrary, encouraged the younger man to stay on at the presbytery for at least another week. Ezra stayed for two.
Despite all the treatments and pain, the seven were together every night until Buck was discharged from the hospital, and once Chris and Vin had put their feet down about not being allowed to travel, at least once a day thereafter. Inez was convinced that their being together was speeding up the healing process. Until the group met daily, Buck was doing well, however, once the seven were united, the speed of his improvement accelerated by at least fifty percent.
Vin's torment became evident during such a gathering, and became evident that each day it was growing worse. One evening, the group tackled him over his demeanor, mentally kicking themselves for not realizing why he was suffering. It was quickly pointed out to the increasingly disconsolate Tanner that, had he not diverted himself, Buck, and Chris into the cave that day, they would have surely lost their lives, just as the six men they had originally been with, did. Vin slowly accepted the truth in those words, and his own recovery took a dramatic turn for the better. It was good to see him smiling again.
JD found solace too maybe Divine intervention was the reason their brothers of the heart were still alive after all. He joined Josiah in church the morning after Vin's confession, and together, both made their peace with God. JD was not a devout Catholic, but his mum had been, and it felt good to revisit that part of his life, even if it was only for times of need. As Josiah pointed out, for him, it was a calling, but for others the Church was there to draw strength from, to offer whatever was needed for peace of mind. His heart swelled to see JD slowly but surely begin to find harmony after so much heart wrenching anguish.
Several weeks later, and regardless of the six men's still healing injuries, Josiah's hands were considerably better, but not quite fully functional, all seven men attended the memorial service for their fallen comrades, a date that had been put back in order for them to be present. They received a standing ovation there, too, and two weeks later, the seven men, along with all who were involved that fateful day, received decorations. Posthumous awards were given to the families of the fallen.
As she peered into Buck's room one evening, Inez hugged herself, and smiled when she stood there in the doorway. The injured man was resting in his bed. Memories flashed through her mind as she recalled that glorious moment when the lifeboat pulled in and the crew and paramedics carried two of the injured men out and into the ambulances, and JD told her how Buck was doing. A soft sigh drew Inez from her reverie, and she watched Buck for a moment, before her gaze drifted to the pull-out bed in the opposite corner of the publican's room. JD was sound asleep in his temporary place. No one had argued with him when he set up in there, least of all Buck. The boy had barely left the man's side until Buck was asleep, or resting. In fairness, JD wasn't intrusive, only settling in when Buck was already asleep or he thought he was.
Buck was tickled by the gesture, and understanding how JD felt about the whole incident, happily allowed the boy he considered a brother to fuss over him. He knew JD needed it, and, in truth, so did he. JD's squeeze through the door the day they were rescued had caused him to scrape his back and belly, and crack a rib, and so added to his cuts from the bushes and brambles that day, and the explosion he and the others were caught in a few days before. Along with the bruises and twisted ankle from his fall in the corridor, he wasn't too mobile himself for a day or two, which had given Inez a great opportunity to fuss them both.
Buck had been so proud of JD, when he cornered Josiah one evening and returned the favor afforded him at his lowest ebb by encouraging the man to finally talk about his experience. The teen had recognized that, while physically not seriously injured, Josiah, like himself, Nathan, and Ezra, had suffered mentally from the initial ordeal of losing men that meant so much to them. In truth, the close little extended, impromptu family had all been hit hard by the powerful grief and emotions the incident caused, and it was clear it would take some time before they were over it.
Buck's soft whisper in the dark sent tingles through Inez and she approached him. Kneeling down, she placed her face near to his. "Are you in need of something?"
"No, just wanted to look at your beautiful face." He sighed inwardly as delicate fingers stroked his cheek.
"It is dark, you cannot see me."
"Just knowing you're this close is more than enough," he breathed. Buck chuckled at the flick to his nose.
"JD is right, you are so full if it." She kissed his smiling lips tenderly before rising to her feet and stroking his hand. "Rest well, mi amore." Crossing to JD, she pulled the bedclothes up and brushed her fingers through his hair.
JD sighed, turned over and mumbled in his sleep. "'Night mum."
Buck chuckled again, laughing harder when Inez slapped his hand this time. "I may not be, but I am honored at the endearment." With a flounce of her skirt, she left her boys to sleep, unaware that both were now lying wide awake in the darkness.
Playing a hand of poker, five men looked up when she entered the closed bar. "They okay?" Chris asked.
"While one desires to gaze upon my face, despite the darkness making it impossible, the other, while he sleeps, wishes to refer to me as his mother."
They all laughed. "I sincerely hope that the endearments were in the order of Buck, and then JD," Ezra teased.
"Anything to eat?" Vin asked, picking up two cards. He noted Nathan's eye roll. "What? I missed about two day's meals, remember?"
How could they forget? But the devastating awkwardness had passed, now. "You've more than made up for them, Vincent," Josiah reminded.
Vin feigned a deliberation before his twinkling eyes met the priest's. "Nooooo I don't think I have."
Smiling, Inez headed to the kitchen. From now on, these men could have anything their hearts desired within reason. A flabbergasted Rain appeared from the front of the pub.
"Here you are! Nathan Jackson bed, now!"
"Now, there's an offer you can't refuse," Chris winked, almost spitting out his whiskey when Rain gently slapped his good shoulder and caused them all to laugh at the audacity of someone hitting Chris Larabee.
From his room, Buck chuckled softly at the rising laughter, and then yawned.
Buck's grin widened at the voice in the dark. "Yeah, Kid?"
There was a long pause, and then a soft sigh. "I I Oh God, Buck " There were still things JD wanted needed to say, but as yet, had failed, miserably, unaware that Buck knew, because he had wanted to do the same. They would talk, in time, but it was all far too raw to revisit, yet.
Buck swallowed the lump in his throat. "I know, Kid. It's okay soon, JD we'll talk soon." He yawned again, comforted by the younger man's presence. He smiled on hearing JD attempting to settle back down.
"`Night John Boy." Unable to stop himself, Buck cackled at the groan and when something that felt like rolled up socks came out of the dark and hit his nose.
Turning over, JD grinned at the familiarity. "'Night big brother. See you in the morning." In his creaky bed, he said a soft prayer of thanks that he could still say such a simple phrase and know it to be true.