They Came to Help
"God dammit." Buck's voice broke the radio silence as the trio of trucks slowly navigated through the cluttered, partially blocked streets. People stared as they passed, some empty-eyed, some panicked…some crying. In various states of dress, they wandered the ruins of the town, heedless of the dark night or the steady soaking rain. A woman wearing only an oversized t-shirt stopped walking and turned toward them. Barefoot, her legs were splashed with mud and scratched bloody. Her hair was plastered to her head and, as she watched them, she absently pushed it out of her face with one hand.
Buck stopped and JD rolled down the window. "Where have they set up search and rescue?" JD questioned.
She blinked and looked around her. "I-I'm not sure they have yet." Her voice was scratchy, like she'd been yelling. "Over by the fire hall most likely…if it's still there."
"Can we help you?" Buck leaned forward, talking in front of JD. "A ride? Anything?"
She shook her head, looking around as if she was debating their offer. "No, no…go on."
She stepped back off the roadway and let them roll on, following the gestured direction she'd given.
JD shook his head as his eyes swept over the broken wreckage. "Didn't they have any warning?" he asked, guilt filling his voice.
"It came fast, kid, hit in the middle of the night. How many folks do you know watching TV or listening to the radio at 3 am?" Buck reminded. He wanted to tell Dunne to let it go, to remember that they did their best to improve the warning systems, that it wasn't their fault it didn't always work…but he couldn't. He felt it, too.
It didn't take long to find the red lights, cutting through the darkness like bold strokes of a painter's brush. It sickened Wilmington and, as he climbed out of the truck, he took a deep breath as Chris pulled up on one side of him and Josiah on the other.
Home base for the volunteer searchers was a ragged tarp strung between two pickups. A man stood beneath it, trying to keep a pad of paper dry as he scribbled on it. He looked up as the seven storm chasers approached. "You Red Cross?" he questioned hopefully.
"No, sir," Josiah answered for them. "Just thought you could use us."
"Sure can," the man sighed and took a deep breath. "Sheriff Foster." He held out a hand. "You don't happen to have a clip board or plastic bag in one of them trucks do you?"
"I got it." JD ran through the puddles and scrambled into the tech van.
"Where do you need us?" Nathan asked. "I have some basic first aid skills," he added.
Foster nodded, already refocused on his list. "Folks are just starting to get here, still too shook up to think right now, but we got an urgent need 'round the corner here," he pointed to where he meant. "I got two of my men searching now, but the other four are scattered. We're still waiting for state emergency teams to get here."
"Here you go." JD was back, handing the sheriff a weather-proofed clipboard.
"Thanks, kid." Foster took the board and transferred his paper work beneath the plastic. "Can I put you all up here?" he pointed again. "Davis boy is missing."
Larabee stared at the wreckage. It was too familiar. He tried to swallow, but his throat was too dry; his heart raced and he wasn't at all sure that he was going to be able to keep from throwing up. He knew he needed to join the others, to help find the missing boy and yet he didn't even know if he could move. He tried to step forward and felt his knees give when suddenly there was a hand on the back of his neck. With one tight squeeze, strength seemed to flow into him and he knew he wasn't going to fall.
He turned and looked into the wide blue eyes of his best friend. "Ready?" Wilmington asked quietly.
Chris shook his head. "Yes."
Vin watched as Wilmington reached out to Chris and breathed a quiet sigh of thanks. He glanced at the search area and shivered. Where a two-story house had stood less than three hours before…now there was nothing but a pile of wood. It reminded him of playing pick up sticks when he was little. One wrong move and the whole thing would collapse. Around him he could hear the others, Ezra's harsh voice cut through the rain.
"Bobby?" The southerner looked like a drowned rat but he wasn't complaining about his own state of affairs.
Josiah's voice joined in the mix, as well as Nathan's and the sheriff's men. Vin glanced at Chris again. It seemed like every time someone yelled, Larabee flinched. God, he hoped they would find the boy alive. Looking around at the devastation he shuddered again as rain continued to pound at him. He wasn't sure if Chris would be okay with this one if they didn't.
JD stepped on a board and flailed as his mud-covered boot slipped.
"Easy." Vin was there, catching his arm and keeping him upright.
JD sighed and wiped the rain from his face. "Any luck?" he asked.
Tanner shook his head. "Not yet, but we're barely making a dent and the kid could be anywhere."
JD nodded, looking down at himself. He didn't think there was a spot on him not covered with mud. Glancing back up, he caught sight of Chris with Buck nearby.
Vin followed JD's gaze. "You know they need each other right now," he commented quietly.
Dunne nodded. "I know." He looked back up at Vin. "You think they'll be okay?" They all knew the story of Chris and Buck's past. They all knew about Chris' family and how they'd died. "This is gotta be like reliving it all," he added.
"They'll be okay, JD," Vin answered with confidence.
"How can you be so sure?"
Vin smiled, his teeth flashing brightly against his filthy face. "They have us now."
Ezra balanced carefully on what used to be the second floor of the old house and pulled on a board and slid it carefully down to Nathan. Beneath it, he saw something shiny and reached for. Larger than he expected, it took him a minute to free it. When he pulled it out he was surprised to find a miniature grandfather clock. The pendulum had stopped swinging but amazingly, the glass face was untouched by the storm it'd endured. "Astounding," he murmured, carefully passing the antique down to Jackson.
Taking a break, he listened to Josiah continue to call out for Bobby. So far they'd found nothing. Somewhere beyond what was left of the house…Ezra heard a dull, constant roar. He turned to Nathan, wiping his wet sleeve across his face to try to clear his vision as the rain continued to fall. "What's that noise?" he asked.
Jackson paused in his tracks. "You hear the boy?"
Shaking his head, Ezra stood to his full height, balancing carefully on the boards beneath him. "No, that sound? What is that??" He tried to peer through the darkness but there was too much rain and even though the night was starting to fade to gray, it was still too dark for their flashlights to expand their visibility very far.
Turning, he looked toward the others. Josiah, JD and Vin were down by the trucks, conferencing with the Sheriff's men while Buck and Chris searched near what used to be the front of the house. He and Nathan were toward the back, higher up and closer to where the boy's bedroom had been located. "I hear something…" his voice drifted as the sound grew louder.
"I hear it too, now." Nathan stepped up closer to Standish, straining to see where the noise might be coming from. Panic filled his voice. "Another tornado?"
Ezra shook his head. "No. No. It sounds like…" he turned, hearing shouting from below. The sheriff's men were waving frantically.
"Ezra?!" Nathan's voice sounded panicky as looked back toward the sound. "That's…."
"Oh Lord," Ezra grabbed Nathan's wrist and started to scramble toward the top of the house but the loose boards just slid out from under them. "Come on!" he screamed but it was too late. He gripped Jackson's arm but the force of the blow was too powerful. Nathan was ripped out of his grasp as they both went flying, their screams swallowed by the wall of muddy water.
Chris wiped at his brow, trying to see through the pouring rain. Moving his flashlight, he swept the muted beam of light over the mix of broken boards and household items.
"Bobby!" Buck shouted from a few feet away. The cries for the small boy had waned as the group worked. Voices were harsh from continued misuse and hope felt like it was slipping from their grasp.
Glancing around, Chris checked on his team. Nathan and Ezra were perched higher on the pile of debris, close to the back of the house. Buck was just to his right, carefully handing larger boards and manageable beams down to Vin. Chris was turning to find JD and Josiah when his light caught a flash of color. Sweeping back, he found the bright red spot and moved cautiously toward it. He moved a board and a shattered lamp, cutting his hand on some glass in the process. He ignored the sharp pain and reached for the object that'd caught his attention. It was cloth, he realized, pulling it out into the rain. The silky material was blotchy and ruined by the storm, but it still shimmered in spots as he turned it over.
A maelstrom of emotions caught in his throat as he focused on the small blue and yellow emblem on the back. His mind raced back in time and his heart broke anew as he recalled a tiny dark haired boy running full speed through the house, his cape billowing behind him.
"Adam Larabee, Freeze!" A usually sweet and gentle voice suddenly sounded harsh enough to command a platoon of soldiers as it cut through the living room.
The boy froze, poised on the back of the sofa, arms flailing for balance. "But Mom, Superman flies," he argued with simple logic.
"Not. In. this. House." Came the fading protest.
As quick as it had come, the memory slipped away. Chris blinked through the rain and tears mixing together, his fingers tracing reverently over the embroidered symbol.
"Find anything?" Buck had moved beside him.
Chris shook his head. "Just the past," he answered quietly, passing the battered cape to Wilmington. "You bought Adam one just like it for Christmas that year."
"God, Chris." Buck managed a small pained smile. "He wore it all the time."
"Drove Sarah crazy." Chris stood wearily as Buck chuckled. "Any signs of the boy yet?"
"No." Buck looked around trying to peer through the rain. "Would help if the rain would stop."
Chris nodded then paused. "You hear that?"
"Yeah, what the hell is…Oh shit!" Buck grabbed Larabee and pulled him, tripping over boards and debris toward the road.
Chris looked back as Buck continued to drag him, horrified to see Ezra and Nathan struggling to reach higher ground. Instead, it was as if the building just disintegrated beneath them. In and instant a wall of water and mud washed up over them and pulled them under.
"NO!" Chris tried to wrench free of Wilmington's grip, but someone else grabbed him by the collar and hoisted him into the back of a truck. Vin, Josiah, JD and Sheriff Foster scrambled with them into the truck bed, in a chaos of arms and legs.
"Go! Go!" Someone shouted and the overloaded vehicle was in motion, tearing up the hill, barely outpacing the water swirling higher around its tires.
Chris' eyes never left the spot where Nathan and Ezra had disappeared, ready to fight his way free, but stilled instantly as Josiah pulled him into a tight, unbreakable hug. "We can't lose you, too," the older man half pleaded.
"Preacher." Chris breathed heavily as the truck bounced to a sharp stop. Water reached the wheelbase but no further. Where they had been was nothing but a raging muddy river.
"I know," Josiah responded, his voice choked with emotion. "We'll find them," he added.
"Damn straight." Buck leaned against Vin, still trying to catch his breath. Tanner and JD stared out as the angry water, eyes searching already for any sign of their friends.
Sheriff Guy Foster shook his head, rain spraying off the brim. "We should be okay here, even if the water rises."
"What happened?" JD asked.
Foster shivered, his eyes still filled with shock. "Best guess, flash flood. There's a river a quarter mile north west of here that flows through the entire county. Been raining for days and it was already skimming its banks."
"And you didn't think it might've been important to warn us?" Chris exploded, trying to push past Josiah and Vin to get to Foster in the crowded truck bed.
"I'm sorry!" Foster shouted back. "Half of my town was just wiped out. I haven't even heard from a third of my men, my sister or my wife's brother to know if any of them are okay, so excuse me for being a little distracted!"
The anger seemed to melt out of Chris. "What can we do? Do you have boats?"
Foster calmed as well. "Have to wait until we can get to them. I'll send Shultz to check, but right now we don't even know if any survived the twister."
"So we wait," Buck mumbled, water lapping around the tires.
Chris leaned against the cab as the rain continued to fall and the sky began to lighten. "I hate waiting."
Ezra struggled, spinning and flailing in the rushing water. Once he thought he'd felt ground beneath him, but something had slammed into the back of his legs, catapulting him forward again.
He broke through the surface and gasped in giant gulps of air before going under again. He tried to find Nathan but there was no time for anything but trying to stay above water. Finally, he caught a board and, clinging to it, managed to pull the top half of his body up onto it. His shirt was gone and his pants were virtually shredded. He could see nothing but dark churning water.
"Nathan!" he tried to shout, but his voice caught and he choked, coughing violently. Debris lashed and tore at him, dragging both him and the board beneath the surface and propelling him out again. Fighting to keep hold of his floatation, he was caught off guard when something beneath the water stabbed his thigh. He screamed, losing the board completely as his leg was gouged deeper. Pinned, he fought desperately, but the waves were relentless and he felt his strength slipping quickly away. He reached for whatever held him as he was dragged under. It felt like thick round metal bar…rebar, the thought crossed his mind as he realized he was skewered. His lungs burned as he struggled with the bar, pain slithering through his entire leg. Just when he thought he couldn't hold his breath any longer, the metal shifted and he was free again. Pushing to the surface he was numb and disoriented. His limbs felt like anchors and exhausted, he gave up and let the river control his path.
Nathan clung to a tree branch, searching the churning water, swirling completely around the tree, for any sign of Ezra. He had no idea how he'd ended up in the tree, he only remembered the low roar, Ezra grabbing him and then the overwhelming panic as the ground disappeared beneath him, tearing him from Standish's grip.
His head throbbed and from the bleeding gash above his eye, and he wondered if he'd actually lost consciousness briefly. Other than the head wound, his body ached as if he'd gone three rounds with Mike Tyson, and he was freezing.
Blinking blood from his eyes he scanned the murky river again, praying that Ezra had already made it to higher ground. Then he saw the flash of skin coming toward him in the current.
"Ezra!" he screamed at Standish and inched further out on his thick branch. "This way, Ezra." He didn't even know for certain it was Ezra, he just hoped, fear growing at the person's unresponsiveness. Nathan stretched his arm out, as the body was swept closer, if he could just reach…
The body bobbed under the surface and popped back up just out of Nathan's grasp. Stretching further, Jackson barely maintained his own grasp on the tree but managed to catch a handful of hair. Pulling up, he ignored the scream of pain that burst from the other man, relief overwhelming him that, not only was it Ezra, but he'd caught him, and Standish was aware enough to feel his hair being yanked.
"Give me your hand," Nathan ordered as Ezra struggled beneath him. The current continued to pull at them both. "Now, Ezra! Give me your hand!"
Ezra was aware of pain and then suddenly it was as if the top of his head was being ripped off. He screamed, and then heard the voice yelling at him. Nathan? Adrenaline kicked him into motion, and realizing the situation, he swung a heavy arm above his tortured head. He felt Nathan's wrist and grasped desperately onto it.
Nathan took a deep breath and let go of Ezra's hair, catching Standish's wrist instead. Their hands locked around each others' arms in steel tight grips. "Hang on, Ezra," Nathan assured, ignoring the burning pain that immediately laced up his arm and through his shoulder. "I've got you."