I find myself incredibly happy to find some of my old work on viable discs that I had thought I had lost forever when my old computer died ages ago. Hopefully you will also agree it was a good find after reading.

Written sometime in the early 2000's, this is one of the first stories I ever shared publically. The first time shared it was published in NeonRainbow Press' Boss and Bodacious #1. (Many thanks to the wonderful Cinda and Jody for their support and hard work.) Tweaked just a bit for online, hopefully for the better, I left it as a reminder of my earlier writing. Now that I have found usable copies this may be the first in a story arc, if time and real life allow.
Feedback and constructive criticism welcome. It's been proofread, but not beta'd since the tweaking. Any noted mistakes will be gratefully corrected.

Happy reading!

Survival

by Krystina Lee

"Come on, Nick," Cody whined. "Give it up!"

"Yeah, after all, I am the one who found it," Murray chimed in.

But Nick wasn't giving in, . He was enjoying taunting his friends with a game of "tug-of-mail" and enjoying it way too much to stop now. He just shook his head and continued to lay physical claim to the piece of mail in question.

The threesome was gathered around the table inside the salon of the Riptide, . Before the diversion the men had been going through a stack of mail that had built up over the last few days while they'd been working on a case. Cody was just about to give up, declaring every piece to be either a bill or an advertisement, when Murray spied an envelope that had slipped out of the stack.

"Hey guys, that one looks like a payment!" he proclaimed.

As soon as Murray called it to their attention, Nick grabbed for it before the other two had a chance to move. "If it's a check, it must be mine!" he offered playfully., while pulling it out of his friends' reach.

That's when the game began. A casual observer might have wondered just exactly how old these "men" were - in their thirties, as they appeared, or in their early teens, as they acted. Of course, that observer would also be quick to notice the easy way they related to each other, and the almost visible bonds between them. All of these facts pointing to the strong friendship which tied the trio together.

Nick stood up on the bench in an attempt to keep the letter out of his roommates' hands while Cody and Murray made playful grabs, trying to retrieve what they all hoped was a paycheck.

Cody's face, with its blond good looks, had just taken a mischievous turn, the sinister memory of his dark-haired friend's ticklish spots crossing his mind. But before he could act on the impulse they were caught in the act.

"Hi, guys!"

The three stopped dead in their tracks.

Their visitor was a pretty brunette with dark playful eyes. "I knocked but- Uh, am I interrupting?"

Nick immediately dropped his arms and put on his best innocent _ expression. But even with his best effort, he still looked pretty red in the face.

Murray, however, was not going to lose this round. While he their former tormentor composed himself he, the genius gently yanked the envelope out of Nick's hand.

Cody was the first with enough presence of mind to speak. "Hey, Cass. How're you doing?"

Trying to keep a straight face, but sure she was going to dissolve into laughter at any moment, the young woman answered. "Fine, Cody. How're you three?"

Nick stepped down off the bench, still blushing, and replied, "We're doing good. Uhm-" He had an inspiration - change the subject and save their egos. "Cass, aren't you supposed to be working today? I thought tomorrow was your day off."

Way to go, Nick, Cody complimented silently.

Cassandra noted the abrupt shift and tried to maintain her serious _expression. God, he's cute when he blushes. It's a good thing these three never really grew up; they wouldn't be half as much fun.

"'Supposed to,' is the key phrase here. Reilly needed tomorrow off so he called last night and asked me to swap with him. You know paramedics, twelve hours on, twelve hours off and always swapping schedules. It seems his fiancée has big plans for them tomorrow. So that leaves me with the day off and nothing to do. What're you guys up to?"

Is it me or did her smile just become a little more evil? Nick asked himself while exchanging glances with Cody and Murray.

"We, uh, were just going through the mail. Then we're just about done for the day," was his nervous answer. "Isn't that right, Cody?"

He looked to his partner to help dig him out of the hole that seemed to be getting larger. Maybe I can just hide in it.

"Yeah, yeah, that's right," Cody said. "We finished the Rothchild and the Frank cases yesterday, so we're pretty much at loose ends at the moment."

It was the bespectacled, computer genius who pulled them all out of their awkward situation. He had opened the letter that had been the object of their game. "Look, guys!" he exclaimed. "We finally received the payment for that insurance case last month. Two thousand dollars! I was beginning to think we'd worked ten days for free!" He looked up. "I think we should go enjoy this beautiful day. We deserve a day off!"

"This is great," Cody added. "I thought we were going to end up past due on some bills this month."

"I just can't believe it took them so long to pay us," Nick grumbled. "Probably stuck in a computer somewhere."

Murray cast him a quick dark glance, at the slight to his beloved computers. Deciding it wasn't worth pursuing hethen smiled at Cass. "Never mind them, Cassie. What do you say to the four of us doing something together?"

"Sounds great to me. I was bored in my apartment and decided to take a walk , to see what was going on in the world. Then I 'heard' you guys were home." Reminding them of their earlier raucous behavior with a sly smile.

Cassandra had a small efficiency studio above Straightaways. The detectives had met her when she'd moved in a few of months back and quickly became friends. Not to mention taking advantage of her skills to patch them up when they ran into trouble.

"You know, Murray, that might not be such a bad idea." Cody clapped his partner's back. "Now that we have gas money, why don't we take the Mimi out to that island we sighted a few weeks back? We could pack a lunch, take the fishing gear, and make a day of it on the beach."

All eyes turned to Nick, who for some reason looked a little nervous. He glanced briefly at Cassandra. "Spend the day on a deserted island together?"

"Yeah, it'll be boss!" Murray's enthusiasm was working overtime. "We could build a bonfire tonight. Wait a minute, why don't we camp out? That'd be really boss."

"Yeah, sounds good, Murray," Cody said, nodding in agreement. He looked at Cass. "What time do you go to work tomorrow?"

"Trying to get rid of me?" she teased. "I'm afraid you just ran out of luck.

I don't have to be in until seven tomorrow night. I'm game if you are. Nick?"

"Sure, why not?" he said, his cheeks slightly flushed.

Yeah, sure, why not spend the night on an island with three friends? He asked himself. Especially, when one can make my heart beat double-time with just a look.

"Man, it's gettin' hot stuffy in here," Nick said, heading for the wheelhouse. "It's gotta be cooler out there. Let's go!"

"Hey, not so fast," Cody said, moving to block Nick's retreat. "We've got some things to do before we go play."

The quartet quickly made plans, then went their separate ways to grab clothes, bathing suits, fishing and camping gear and food. They agreed to meet at the Mimian hour later.

Nick stowed his gear in the helicopter and stood, waiting for his three companions. He took advantage of his wait to start a preflight check on the Mimi.

Cody, Murray and Cassie arrived a few minutes later and after exchanging hellos with Nick, the trio stowed their gear while exchanging jovial chatter.

"Hey, Nick," Cody called to his best friend. "You almost done?"

"Yeah, that just about does it. We ready to get this show on the road? Or should I say in the air?"

"Only if you promise to keep that sharp wit of yours in check," Cassie teased the handsome pilot.

Murray, on the other hand, was giggling at the play on words. "You gotta admit guys that was pretty good, road- air- Get it?"

"We got it, Murray. We just weren't sure we wanted it," Cody added in a light-hearted, but sarcastic tone.

"You don't like my cute comments today? Just remember I'm the pilot. Laughing assures your safe arrival at our destination."

His companions offered up an exaggerated laugh as the foursome entered the helicopter.

Cassie started to head for the rear passenger area with Murray, but Cody stopped her. "Why don't you go on up front with Nick? I've got some stuff I want to talk with Murray about."

"All right, if you're sure. I don't want to evict you from your normal seat."

"No problem," Cody assured, motioning for her to go ahead. He hopped in the back with Murray., keeping his ulterior motives to himself. The blonde was well aware that his best friend and their newer friend liked each other. He just wasn't sure they knew it yet.

Cass proceeded to the front passenger/co-pilot seat, strapping in and placing the radio headset on.

"Change in seating arrangements?" Nick questioned.

"Yeah. Cody said he needed to talk to Murray and sent me up here."

"Good, Cody gets boring after awhile," Nick said with a smile.

"Hey, I heard that!" came the cry of protest over the headsets. The rest of Cody's comment was drowned out by the sounds of the Mimi starting up and taking

off from its landing pad.

The next forty minutes was filled with companionable conversation, "oohs" and "ahs" over the view, and discussions of plans for their field trip. The time passed quickly and soon the small island came into view.

Cass and Murray, who had not seen the island before, were quick to comment on how beautiful it looked with its sandy beach and large central wooded area. A rocky outcropping poked from the trees a little off from the center of the oblong island, and. tThey guessed that the whole landmass had an area of no more than two miles.

"This is your pilot speaking. For the passengers who laughed at your exalted pilot's jokes we will have a smooth landing in approximately three minutes. For those of you who picked on said pilot, may I suggest jumping now?"

Everyone chuckled at the attempted humor.

The next few minutes quickly turned into the longest, most agonizing stretch of time any of them could remember in recent history.

As Nick finished speaking the roar of an explosion reverberated throughout the inside of the Mimi. It sounded like it came from the roof of the chopper and the whole craft lurched, like it had a mind of its own.

"What the-?" echoed over the headsets as all the craft's occupants tried to get a handle on what was going on.

Cassie risked a worried glance at Nick, and they exchanged small nervous smiles meant to reassure. Below, Cody and Murray were busy trying to scrape themselves off the floor where the lurching motions had tossed them.

Nick quickly checked his controls, followed by a quick visual inspection of the limited amount of the Mimi's exterior he could see. All the while he murmured words of encouragement to the helicopter under his breath. "Come on, Mimi, hold together sweetheart," he pleaded. "You can do it, girl."

Completing his assessment, he spoke louder, "Hold on, we're going down.

I think the main rotor took some kind of hit. I'm gonna try to put her down on the beach. I'm just not sure how smooth it's gonna be. I don't have much control."

Everyone braced themselves for the unavoidable crash while Nick struggled with the controls, doing his best to assure that they would be alive afterwards.

Cassie watched his efforts, amazed at the his concentration and his ability to coax some control out of what seemed to be an uncontrollable situation.

There wasn't time for words. Thoughts on what had set the catastrophe in motion were also pushed aside. All that mattered was thinking positive, praying and Nick's excellent piloting.

The Mimi landed hard at an angle, sliding precariously on one skid before dropping down on two when its nose struck a stand of trees at the edge of the beach.

For several minutes everything remained eerily quiet. Then Cody found himself rousing from the dark, velvet comfort of unconsciousness. He cautiously took inventory of his body. Legs seem to be in one piece, arms, body- Oh, what a headache.

His hand gingerly reached up to the side of the head - blood. But it didn't seem to be an excessive amount. Just enough to let him know that he I probably needed a couple of stitches was he thought to himself. He stretched slightly, realizing that he didn't seem to have any major injuries, but lots and lotsjust many of bruises, accompanied by their a dull throbbing pain.

What happened? Chopper . . . loud noise . . . crash-

Panic crossed Cody's face. "OhmyGod, Nick!"

He was stopped from heading up to check on Nick when he heard a low moan, reminding him Murray was also there.

Cody moved carefully towards his battered friend. "Easy, Murray, you're gonna be okay," the blond reassured as Murray regained consciousness. A quick assessment told Cody that the computer genius was in the same shape he was. He helped Murray into a seated position, then handed him his glasses, which had been lost in the crash. "You okay?"

Murray nodded tentatively. "I think so."

Cody's concern immediately shifted back to the cockpit and Nick. A sudden knawing feeling in the pit of his stomach told him he was going to need Murray's help. As soon as he was sure Murray was able to follow, the blond headed up to the cockpit, moving as quickly as his pain and dizziness would allow.

Climbing through the internal access way to the cockpit area, Cody stopped in horror. When the trees had stopped the Mimi at the beach line's edge the front pilot's area took the brunt of the force.

A very large tree on the pilot's side had served as their "brake." The windshield was shattered and falling in to his left. The console was pushed back towards the back of the chopper, again more on the righthis left than the leftright. Additionally, a piece of the metal framework had broken away and was pressing on the right side of Nick's chest.

Cody blanched at the sight of his friend, unconscious and covered in blood under the wreckage that used to be Nick's beloved Mimi.

Murray climbed up behind Cody, but couldn't see what was going on. "Cody, are they okay? Are they alive?"

That snapped the young man back to reality. Are they alive?

Cody wasn't sure he wanted the answer, but knew he couldn't avoid it. With trembling hands he probed for Nick's carotid artery using the index and middle finger of his right hand. He held his breath as he lightly slipped them towards Nick's Adam's apple, coming to rest in the little notch just behind it.

At that moment Cody was more scared than he'd ever been in his entire life. His first date, Vietnam, even their worst cases couldn't top his fear at that moment. Please, Lord, don't let him be dead. Nick got us on the ground, he's never done a bad thing to anyone. I love him like a brother. Heismy brother. Please, let him be alive.

Cody's fingertips met with a pulse, a fast, weak pulse, but a pulse. He started to breath again, but before he could answer Murray's question, a quiet moan reached out to him from his leftright. Bloody and battered, Cassie stirred, regaining consciousness.

"They're both alive, Murray," Cody said, his voice full of joy and amazement. "Nick and Cassie are alive!"

Cody turned his attention to Cassie. His mind began to plan a reverse kind of triage. There was no way he was going to be able to help Nick without her. Help the least wounded so they could all help the worst. Cassie was Nick's best chance at survival. There was no doubt in Cody's mind about that they'd all have to work together for that.

Cody muttered soft words of encouragement as she regained consciousness. He assessed her injuries: a deep gash in her upper right arm, which was bleeding heavily; she was covered in glass and bruises; and he suspected she might have a couple of broken ribs from the impact with the front console.

As she began to open her eyes, Cody ripped free what was left of her short sleeve and used it as a temporary pressure bandage to stem the bleeding.

"Nick. . .?" was her first word.

"No, it's me, Cody. Take it easy, Cass. You're pretty much in one piece." Cody's words were full of a reassurance he wished he felt himself. "Murray and I are pretty much okay, too."

Cassie blinked fully conscious, but Cody was partially blocking her view of Nick. "Nick, is he. . .?" She tried to stay calm; hysterics weren't going to help anyone.

"He's alive, but pinned in. We're going to have to work together to get him out."

She nodded and turned in the pilot's direction, getting a firmer grip on her bearings. The paramedic rose to the surface, pushing the injured friend to the background. Finding a firm, authoritative voice, she took charge, assessing both Cody and Nick at the same time.

Not seeing any obvious injuries on Cody she made a quick decision that he was mobile enough to help. "Cody, go below and out the cargo door. See if you can get Nick's door open and work from that side. Murray, grab the first aid kit and get up here and help me."

Releasing her seat belt, Cassie inched closer to Nick's side, kneeling in glass and other wreckage. Quickly and efficiently she did a body check and inventoried the obstacles they had to work around. Checking his carotid pulse, as Cody just had, she was relieved to find it - even if its rapid weakness indicated blood loss and shock. Feeling for his breath, she was more encouraged to find him breathing.

Before she could proceed further there was some bleeding that needed to be controlled. There were deep lacerations on Nick's left leg where the collective-pitch lever had cut him and on his forehead where some glass had won the fight with his flesh.

"Murray, work your way around me and put some pressure on his leg." Cassie blindly reached in the kit for a gauze pad and handed it to Cody. "Cody, stop that bleeding on his forehead."

While the two men went about their assigned tasks, Cassie continued her body check. She gently felt the bone structure of his head and face, happy to find no obvious injuries. She checked both eyes, finding them equal and reactive and bringing a smile to her face. "So far, so good," she said aloud, more to herself than the two anxious friends.

The comment drew looks from both men, who found some relief from the positive _ expression on her face.

Nick began to utter small noises and showed signs of coming around. Cassie's voice immediately took on the tone of a mom: soft, gentle, calming, loving. "It's going to be okay, Nick. We're all here. Cody, Murray and me. We need you to stay still until we can get you out of here." She broke from her duties long enough to take his left hand in hers and soothingly stroke his forehead. "I know it hurts. But it's going to be all right. We need you to do your part. Just keep breathing in . . . out . . . in . . . out. . ." She maintained the coaching until he fell into the rhythm, and then went back to the task at hand.

Cody glanced her way, a feeling of selfishness washing over him, but the uneasy feeling that someone else could be in a better position to coach his best friend was brief. He was truly grateful that she was with them to help, even if it meant she was stuck in the situation, too.

Cassie finished her body check. Cody and Murray had managed to stop the blood flow from Nick's wounds and bandage them.

"Now for the hard stuff." She looked to Cody and Murray to make sure they were still with her. They were all definitely the worse for wear, but they just had to hold it together until Nick was out. They nodded their confirmation to each other.

"Nick, keep breathing. And I know this is going to sound ridiculous, but try to relax." That brought a slight smile to all their faces. It was the most active thing Nick had done since the crash. "I need to splint your leg and check what's going on with this metal appendage your chest seems to have grown." She tried her best to keep it light. If their moods dipped now, it was all over.

"Cody, are you up to finding me a couple of sticks we can use for splints?"

"Sure thing." He grasped Nick's shoulder firmly. "Don't go anywhere, buddy,

I'll be right back."

Nick tried to give Cody a quick come back, but he coughed instead, wincing at the agonizing pain it caused.

Luckily, the adrenaline rush from the crash propelled Cody to action before he noticed his friend's response. He was gone on his search before the words escaped his 's reaction.

"Easy, Nick. Relax. Breathe, don't try to talk. Let's get that rhythm going again. In . . . out . . . in . . . out. . ."

Murray did everything she asked and proved to be an able assistant, even though he was pale and trembling.

Nick was breathing steadily when Cody returned, passing two straight, sturdy limbs over to Cass, who in turn asked Murray to splint the leg as best as he could. It could be done better once they had Nick out of the wreckage.

It was time for the moment of truth.

She cautiously ran her hand under the piece of metal, trying to determine just how stuck Nick really was. Breathing a sigh of relief when Tshe realized metal object wasn't penetrating deeply, it was seemed to be just resting on Nick. Though it had apparently 'stabbed' him on impact before pulling out when the copter had slid. So tThe three of them, working together, bent the object forward and out of the way. Cassie was immediately on alert, hearing the telltale sign of air escaping. She hastily ripped Nick's shirt open, just as he started having difficulty breathing.

The first evidence of panic was apparent in her voice. "Shit," she said softly, firmly placing her hand over the small but deadly wound in Nick's chest. Louder she said, "I need something nonporous now! Vaseline gauze, a piece of foil, a gum wrapper, anything!"

Remembered the cooler and their food, Murray quickly scrambled into the chopper. Yanking the cooler open, he grabbed a package of carrot sticks he'd wrapped in foil. Discarding the carrots, he smoothed the foil and nearly leaped back up through the access way to the others. He passed it to Cassie.

Cassie let out the breath she'd been unconsciously holding while she replaced her hand with the foil. Nick was struggling to breathe, turning an unhealthy shade of blue.

"Surgical tape." It was a demand. "Three pieces."

Murray cut ripped it off the roll and passed the strips to her.

Cassie applied tape around three sides of the foil square. In a few seconds Nick was breathing more easily, although he was unconscious again.

Murray looked at Cass questioningly. "What happened?"

"Sucking chest wound. The wreckage was holding the wound closed. When we moved it, air rushed into his chest cavity and started to collapse his lung. I used the foil to make a one-way valve. The air can come out, but none can enter. It should do for the moment."

Cassie allowed herself a grateful glance towards Murray. She caught his eye, conveying her gratitude with a gaze. "Thanks for the quick thinking, Murray. You saved Nick's life."

Murray turned crimson and looked away. It was then that she realized that Cody was frozen to Nick's right side, totally unaware of anything since she'd they'd realized Nick had the life-threatening chest wound. He looked even more ashen than he had before - it was like the sound of escaping air had set him back years.

Cody swallowed hard. The last time he'd seen someone fight for breath like that was Vietnam.

Their unit was under heavy fire.

He was dug in near a new member of their unit. Coop. Walter Cooper. A young man from the Bronx, whose running joke had been that he'd always dreamed of getting out of the city. Vietnam, however, was definitely not the fulfillment of his lifelong dream.

He was a dependable, street-wise kid Cody had taken a liking to. He'd heard Coop gasp in pain when he was hit by the shrapnel from a grenade that landed nearby. The barrage from the enemy increased, and Cody was pinned where he was. There was nothing he could do except listen to Coop's gasps for air. To this day he couldn't understand how he could hear his the struggling breaths of his friend between with the noise of the weapons blasting.

When the skirmish tapered off Cody made his way to Cooper's side, but all that was left was a corpse with a small hole in his chest. A hole surrounded by blood.

Not Nick too!

A soul-chilling shudder coursed through his body.

She reached out, gently touching his arm. "Cody, are you okay?"

The blond did a double-take, snapped away from the memory, and replied quickly. "Yeah, my mind was just somewhere else for a second."

The three looked at each other, realizing just how close it had been. And they weren't out of the woods yet.

The next fifteen minutes were tense. The three who had fared much better than Nick still weren't in great shape. Sheer adrenaline and necessity kept them going.

Cody retrieved an old folding Army stretcher from the rear cargo hold, and they proceeded to gingerly transfer their injured friend from the pilot's seat to the stretcher, finally placing it on a sandy spot near the tree line near the Mimi.

They made the transfer in relative silence, except for an occasional direction from Cassie, or a verbal "One, two, three. . ." Unfortunately that gave them all some time with their own thoughts, which might may or might may not have been for the best. One thing was sure, the central theme of all their thoughts was a plea prayer for Nick's survival.

Cody felt like he could feel every pain that the motion must be causing his friend. Oh, Nick, why you? Why not me? You've gotta be all right, buddy. I wish there was a way I could absorb your pain. You got us all down in one piece, why couldn't you do the same for yourself? His worries turned angry and he scolded himself. Not now, Cody. It's no time for selfishness. Nick didn't do this on purpose. The only thing Nick has to do is stay alive and we'll all be okay.

Cassandra directed the moving of her patient in the calm, professional manner she had managed to regain after stabilizing Nick's chest wound. It's a great facade, she thought to herself. If only they knew. God, help us. Nick's not in great shape here, and since we're stranded, who knows when he's going to get any real help. I'm glad you're keeping him unconscious while we move him, but please, let him wake up. And please let me do the right thing. Keep us all alive and let us get back to King Harbor.

As she lowered the stretcher down to Cody and Murray she took a deep breath and tried to shake off her thoughts. Stay calm. Stay positive. It's going to be all right.

Murray wasn't sure where he came up with the strength or agility to help move Nick, but he did. And for that he was grateful. He took a moment to observe his two companions. I wonder if I look as bad as they do. Nick, why don't you wake up and tell us how lousy we look? Or complain about the accommodations? Or . . . anything except this. Just work with us, Nick, and we'll all get out of this. Cass'll keep you alive. I know she can. Cody and I'll figure out a way to get off this stupid island. It's not all that beautiful anymore, is it? How could this happen?

After gently placing the stretcher on the ground, Cassie quickly knelt at Nick's side. "Could someone get the first aid kit?"

"I'll get it. Murray, see if you can get the radio to work."

"On it, Cody."

They both headed back for the Mimi. "Guys," Cassie called. "Don't wander too far. I want to check you over when I've gone over Nick again."

Both men acknowledged her request as they set about their tasks.

She reassessed her patient. "Triage can suck," she mumbled to herself while tending Nick. She made sure he was breathing comfortably in his new position - head slightly elevated. The dressing she'd previously applied was still secure. And after a little adjustment and tightening to the splint she was only left with cleaning and dressing the lacerations. Nothing was bleeding profusely, so that could wait.

"If only I had x-ray vision to check for internal injuries." She said to herself, Iit was almost a sigh. Cass hadn't noticed Cody returning.

"Since I'm pretty sure that's impossible I don't think you should beat yourself up about it," Cody stated softly with a reassuring smile as he knelt down next to her.

"I guess you're right." She turned to Cody. "Your turn. I want to check you two out before we find out I missed something and you keel over. Nick's lacerations can wait."

He knew she was just as upset as he was, but he made an effort to keep it light. They all needed that, and he knew she'd play along.

"All right, if you have to poke and probe, have at it." He settled into a comfortable position, allowing her to do her job.

"Pupils equal and reactive. Good sign," she smiled at him, and then continued her body check, looking for hidden bumps or injuries, checking for broken bones. She'd seen people with broken limbs keep going when shock set in and necessity required it. There was no reason to take chances with Cody. He'd walk through fire for Nick and she wouldn't put it past him to hide an injury until Nick was cared for.

Finding nothing but the obvious bumps, cuts and bruises, she went on to check the strength in his extremities, asking questions the whole time.

"Nauseous?"

"No."

"Dizzy?"

"No."

"How many fingers?"

"Three."

"Good. Headache?"

"Who wouldn't at this point?"

They both grinned at Cody's exasperated answer.

Cassie dressed Cody's facial laceration as Murray approached with a few electrical parts in his hands. "Okay guys, share. If you found something funny about this situation I'd really like to know what it is."

"I think you had to be here," Cody explained with a smile.

"Well, I'm afraid I don't have anything positive to offer the party," Murray started grimly. "The radio's fried. I might be able to fix it, but I'm not sure."

With Cody's laceration bandaged, she turned to Murray. "Then I suggest you have a seat and let me check you out. Then you and Cody can get to work on the radio and getting us back to civilization."

Murray underwent the same examination as Cody with much the same results. A few bandages later the two men helped each other back to their feet, swaying a bit with some obvious dizziness.

"Yeah, right. No headaches, no dizziness," Cass chastised lightly.

"Hang on there, I never said I didn't have a headache," Cody rebutted like he was defending himself to a little sister.

"Whatever," she started. "I want you two to take it easy. Work on getting us rescued, but don't do anything to overtax yourselves. We've all probably got concussions and I suspect a couple cracked ribs along the lineamong us. Let's not do anything to make anything worse."

Agreeing, the men returned to the chopper while she turned her attention back to Nick.

Crossing the short stretch of sand between their makeshift hospital and the Mimi, Cody reached over and put a hand on Murray's arm, bringing them to a stop. He pointed up at the rotor area on top of the chopper. "Look at the scorched area around the damage."

Murray's gaze followed his friend's. "That's not mechanical or something accidental. That looks like a small bomb went off!"

Both their eyes widened with the realization of what had actually happened. With the realization also came the sudden recognition of how dire their situation was.

"Someone purposely tried to kill us?" Murray asked softly.

It never ceased to amaze Cody how innocent and naive his brilliant partner could be. "That's what it looks like. I'm afraid the who and why are going to have to wait. We need help more than answers at the moment."

But that doesn't stop me from wanting to find that someone and kill them. He glanced back at Nick. Yeah, kill them in a long, slow way.

"I don't think either of us is in shape to climb up there and check it out," Murray agreed. "I better see what I can do with the radio." He snapped his fingers and looked up at the rugged blond. "Wait a minute. What about the emergency beacon? The Mimi has one, doesn't she?"

"You're right, Murray! It should've been activated when we crashed."

They approached the chopper with renewed enthusiasm. But the emergency beacon had been damaged, too.

"Damn it!" Cody hissed.

"Hold on, Cody. This isn't damaged as badly as the radio. I think I can fix it faster than the radio." He flashed a smile at Allen and immediately set to work.

Cody took a moment to survey their surrounding and couldn't believe his eyes. When it rains it definitely pours. Do we have tattoos on the back of our head, or neon lights that say "Disaster Strikes Here"?

With a sigh he turned to his friend. "Murray, I can't believe it, but it looks like we have more trouble coming." He pointed to the horizon where a nasty storm front was building, moving their way. "I think it's time to worry about finding some shelter."

"I didn't notice any gas leaks, and the damage isn't too bad back here. Maybe we could just move into the Mimi. At least it'd be rainproof."

"Good idea, Murray. We won't be able to start a fire, but at least we'll be dry. I'll straighten up a bit and see if I can find some tarps to block off the cockpit and doorway. I don't think the sliding door's going to close flush again."

"I'll help as soon as I finish here. I've almost got the beacon functional."

Cassie tended Nick's lesser wounds. Cautiously using some of the liquid from the melted ice in the cooler she cleaned the lacerations as best she could while conserving their resources. Her headache grew worse when she considered how long they could be stranded. She was confident that she, Murray and Cody would make it through the long haul. A little worse for wear, but alive. Nick, she painfully acknowledged, was a different story.

She applied what was left of the butterfly dressings to his facial laceration. Here I am worrying about preventing a scar. God, Nick, if all we have to worry about in a couple weeks is a scar I'll consider us blessed. Come on girl, shape up here, positive thinking's the only thing that's going to get us through this.

"Okay, Nick, enough is enough," she encouraged the unconscious man softly and teasingly. "It's time to wake up. I'm getting a little tired of talking to myself. Besides, we need you. I need you. And Cody'll kill me if I let something happen to you."

She continued her one sided dialog as she finished bandaging the last thing she could find, a cut on his right forearm. The words didn't matter; she just needed to fill the silence until Nick was conscious and alert. Once she heard him speak she would be able to convince herself that he was going to live. Otherwise she was afraid that, left to her own devices, she'd break down. And sobbing uncontrollably wasn't going to help their situation or her headache.

Stroking his forehead and holding his hand, she continued her monologue. "You're the pilot in charge of this adventure, remember? You need to open those gorgeous eyes of yours. You can't miss another moment of this adventure, sir."

"Gorgeous eyes, eh?"

Cassie jumped, and then smiled down at Nick's open eyes. His voice was weak and shaky, but he was awake. She'd been so lost in her own thoughts that she didn't react to getting caught making her admission.

"Nick! Thank goodness. I thought you were going to sleep through all the fun," she beamed as she teased him.

"And miss this . . .?" He drifted slightly, and then focused back on Cass, who was regaining her professional composure.

Yeah for what, the tenth time since the crash, she thought to herself.

"Relax, shhh, take it easy," she comforted verbally as her hands continued to comfort him physically. Or was it her who really needed the physical contact?

"Nick, I need to ask you a couple questions. Keep your answers brief. Well,

I already let the cat out of the bag and told you your name, so do you remember who I am?" she asked, starting her assessment to make sure he was cognizant of person, place and time. She needed to know just how bad a head injury they were looking at.

"Cass."

She smiled her assent. "Do you remember where you are?"

"Crashed on the island."

"Two for two. What day of the week is it?"

Nick thought for a moment, "Wednesday." Her questions were asked in a soothing voice - a voice Nick felt he could listen to all day. It actually helped diminish his pain.

"Yep. Now for the last one. Do you remember who else is with us?"

Panic entered his eyes. "Cody 'n Murray. Are they-?"

Too late Cassie realized what she'd triggered. "Shh, yes, they're fine. They're at the Mimi, working on the radio. Relax, Nick, it's going to be okay."

She cooed and stroked until Nick settled back and his breathing evened out. Cassie felt the weight of panic lift off herself as well as her patient.

"I was . . . afraid . . . I killed. . ." His voice was even weaker, more hesitant.

"You didn't kill anyone. This isn't your fault, Nick. Getting us down in as good shape as you did was nothing short of miraculous. I have a whole new respect for your piloting skills. You did good, Nick. Better than anyone else could've done."

He managed a small smile and squeezed her hand, the gratitude at her words and confidence in him radiating through that weak squeeze. The two were so involved in the moment that they didn't hear Cody and Murray approaching.

"Hey, buddy, nice to have you back with us," Cody said, his voice mellow and welcoming.

While he didn't startle anyone, he did manage to break the moment and the eye contact between his friends.

"Yeah, Nick, you had us worried," Murray chimed in.

Nick managed a slightly stronger "Hi, guys," while maintaining his handhold on Cass.

"Okay, I don't want you two exciting my patient," she informed the new arrivals. She turned to Nick, "And you, I don't want you to stress yourself. Don't talk unless you need to."

Her orders were firm, but gentle, and they were quickly forgotten when Cody pointed out the approaching storm.

"We better take shelter in the Mimi. It may not have all the amenities, like a nice warm fire, but it'll keep us dry."

Agreeing, Cass firmly squeezed Nick's hand and gave him a reassuring look before releasing his hand and gathering up the first aid supplies. As she climbed to her feet the world took on a decidedly unwelcome spin. She probably would have been back on the ground had it had not been for Cody taking a firm grasp on her waist to steady her.

"Yeah, right. No headache, no dizziness?" Even though his concern was obvious, Cody couldn't resist a little revenge.

She smiled grimly as her own words came back to haunt her.

"You okay?" Cody questioned as Murray and Nick looked on with concern.

"Yeah, I'm fine. It's just what happens when you knock your head around a bit too much," she jokingly answered. Cass slowly eased herself out of Cody's grasp. "Let's move this party indoors before it rains."

After one last glance at Cassie, Cody motioned Murray to take the foot of the stretcher while he took the head. He made a mental note to make sure their medic friend was checked over for injuries once they were settled. Cass picked up the supplies and they moved the short distance back to the Mimi.

Nick was unhappy about not being self-sufficient, but he didn't have much of

a choice at the moment. He took the opportunity to make a quick survey of his companions. All three were looking worse for wear, and he had the distinct impression that lugging him around was probably not the best thing for either of them. And Cassie wasn't looking too steady at the moment either. He noted the evidence of all their bloody, but relatively minor injuries.

God, I wish I could've done a better job of landing. He closed his eyes at the thought.

Cody noticed. "You okay, buddy?" They were just about to maneuver the stretcher in the hold of the Mimi and he hoped they hadn't jarred Nick too badly.

"I'm okay. Just wish I could be more help."

Cody's heart clutched at the sound of his best friend's strained voice. "Don't worry about it. It's nothing you wouldn't do for any of us. You just concentrate on healing."

They had just finished positioning Nick in the chopper and elevating his head when Cody and Murray heard a strange gasp from Cassie. She dropped the stuff she was carrying and headed for the front of the Mimi.

"Hey, Murray," Cody said. "Finish getting things set up here. I want to check something."

Murray nodded and started babbling to Nick about how he fixed the emergency beacon and what his plans were for the radio.

Cody found Cassie supporting herself against a tree and throwing up. He quickly replaced the tree as her support and brushed her hair back out of her face.

"Easy, sweetheart, I've got you. . ." He continued murmuring calming words as she finished vomiting.

He protected her as she slid down the tree, exhausted. They ended up on the ground with Cody leaning against the tree and Cassie leaning against him. He was still stroking her hair. "How're you doing?"

She winced with pain from her now raging headache as she answered. "Guess I have a pretty good concussion here." She leaned back into Cody, drawing comfort from the contact while black dots danced in front of her eyes.

"As soon as you think you can move we'll head back to the Mimi. Once we're there I want to check you over and change that dressing on your arm. You need to take it easy yourself for a bit."

She started to nod her agreement, but it hurt too much. "I want to pull myself together before Nick sees me. He already feels responsible for the accident, he

can't-"

"I understand. It'll be okay. Nick's strong, he'll be all right. . ." At least I hope so. "We all need to take care of each other until we can get out of here."

They stayed that way for a few long minutes before Cass finally motioned that she was willing to give it a try. Cody stood first, using the tree to ward off the minor wave of dizziness he encountered. Then he offered his hand to Cass, who accepted it and got up - very slowly. Once up she hung onto Cody and the tree for a moment.

"How're we doing?"

"Okay, let's go," was the hesitant but determined answer.

They slowly made their way back to the Mimi, Cody helping her inside. Once in, he helped her settle back next to Nick, who watched her entrance with great concern.

"You guys okay?" he asked in a raspy voice.

Cassie was afraid to answer for fear her voice would give her away.

Cody noticed and came to her rescue. "We're okay. I think we all just need a little rest. Maybe something to eat and drink. It's been a long day, and all we can do right now is wait out the storm."

Nick looked at Cassie and she knew she wasn't going to be able to hide. Her little bit of physical activity had let her know that there was at least one broken rib that could use some attention.

"Nick, I'm okay. I just hit my head a little harder than I thought and my stomach decided to let me know. It also wanted to remind me that if I didn't let someone-" She gave Cody a "thank you" look. "-take care of some of my dings and bangs that

I wasn't going to be much help to anyone."

The pilot reached across the short distance between them and took her hand again.

"I'll check on how our food supplies fared. At least I found the battery-operated lantern. We have some light," Murray said.

"Murray, I want to try to get some fluid in Nick."

He pulled at her hand, reminding her that he was there and didn't need to be talked around.

She looked at him as she continued, "We'll Ttake it easy, and try small sips at intervals. If you start to feel queasy, we'll stop. It's not the best plan of action, but we need to replace some of the fluids you lost. I just don't want to do anything that'll result in aggravating that chest wound or make you nauseous."

While Murray went to the coolers Cody helped Cassie slide over to give him room and started examining her. He changed the bandage on her arm, jerry-rigging some butterfly dressings out of tape to try to close the gaping laceration and placed a bandage on top of that.

After Vietnam it was no problem for Cody to find her broken ribs. She didn't even have to point them out. Cody gave her a stern look. "You really should've said something earlier. I'll tape them up the best I can. These really could've been a problem, especially while you were moving stuff and throwing up."

"My only defense is shock and adrenaline," she meekly admitted. "I didn't even feel them until after I took care of you and Murray and you were working on the radio."

"I'll let it slide this time, but I was serious about teamwork and taking care of each other. You're Nick's best chance. If you don't take care of yourself where will that leave him?"

She nodded her guilt apparent.

While Cody tended her ribs he softly continued their conversation. "So, how bad is Nick?"

Looking into Cody's blue eyes, she wished she could be more positive. "We need rescue and we need it soon. He's lost a lot of blood. I'm surprised he's not more shocky than he already is. But it'll get worse. We've got to keep him warm and get what fluids we can into him. I'd give my life for a large bore IV catheter, tubing and lots of Ringer's Lactate right now."

From the conviction in her voice he realized she was serious. She cared a lot about Nick.

"The broken leg and lacerations are bad enough. That sucking chest wound- the one-way valve seems to be working. We have to keep an eye on that and make sure it doesn't deteriorate. But we have a direct opening into his chest cavity. It's only a matter of time before infection sets in and the fever that accompanies it. Change my earlier offer, if they want my life they have to leave some antibiotics, too."

Cody had never seen her look so defeated and deflated. "You need some rest. I can watch Nick and try to keep ahead of his shock. You probably shouldn't sleep too

long- anyway. We'll take shifts. I'll set the alarm on my watch for an hour. Sleep now, I'll wake you up then to check on you."

Cassie started to object, but Cody raised a hand to stop her. "Remember what we talked about? If I need you, if Nick needs you, I'll wake you immediately."

She gave up and closed her eyes. He covered her lightly with one of their sleeping bags and turned back to Nick and Murray.

Murray had kept up a litany of chatter while coaxing Nick to drink some bottled water. Cody was thankful for that. It had given him and Cassie a chance to talk privately. He really didn't want to upset Nick. He didn't want to watch him die either. Murray asked the question to save Nick's strength. "How's Cass?"

"She'll be okay. She's banged up like the rest of us. She's going to take a nap for an hour or so, and then we'll take turns sleeping and keeping watch."

The storm hit just then, the eerie sound of the wind and rain magnifying the negative feelings inside the Mimi and leaving them all unsettled. Cody wasn't going to let the mood last.

"Let's see what we can do about some food here, Murray. Nick, sorry, bud, but I think you better stick to clear fluids for now." Cody grasped Nick's shoulder, conveying his friendship and apology.

"Not a problem. I think my stomach's seen all it wants to see for the moment."

The comment warmed Cody inside. He fussed with a sleeping bag, draping it over Nick, and then checked all his bandages. Nick's eyes drifted closed and sleep overtook him.

The storm continued to assault the Mimi as Cody and Murray settled themselves in a corner away from their two sleeping friends. Murray had rationed out what food they had and the two men were eating their dinner allotment.

"You know, Cody, I've been thinking. The proper authorities aren't the only ones who might hear our emergency beacon. If someone sabotaged us, they might be listening, too." Murray looked down. "They might want to make sure they accomplished what they set out to do."

"Yeah, I know. We're not even sure what theywho wanted to accomplish what. All we know for sure is that we need rescuing and a hospital. This damn storm's going slow down anyone trying to get to us - for any reason. For now we've got to work with what we have and stay alive." Cody reached out and squeezed Murray's shoulder. "We'll have to take everything else as it comes."

"You're right. Anyone who comes our way has got to be better then no one." He was quiet for a moment, cataloguing his thoughts and coming to terms with the fact that things could get much worse for them. Murray looked up at his companion, "I'm going to get back to work on the radio. I've got to do something. At least if we contact someone we'll know who's coming."

"Good idea," Cody said, trying to sound optimistic, but it was getting tougher as each minute progressed.

He watched Murray climb slowly to his feet, his headache obviously still bothering him. He shuffled the short distance to the area he was using as a makeshift workshop.

Cody moved to a position between Nick and Cassie. He knew Cassie was still sleeping and checked his watch. She had twenty more minutes. He reached for his best friend's hand, his other hand softly sweeping the hair off Nick's forehead. He grimaced, realizing that Nick felt warm.

"Nick, buddy, you're not supposed to do this," he murmured.

He dipped a cup into the cooler for some of the melted ice, then wet his clean handkerchief and started to gently bathe Nick's fevered face, continuing the soft reassurances and cooling caresses until his watch alarm sounded.

Murray looked over at Cody, "Time to wake Cass up?"

"If it wasn't for her concussion, I'd let her sleep as long as she could. At least one of us would escape this." His voice was wistful.

Murray understood Cody's desire, and his worries - and, and shared them. He was ready to crawl under a rock and hide himself. He was getting nowhere with the radio and it was frustrating him.

Cody woke Cassie and updated her on the situation, . tThen cleared a path for her to get to Nick.

"Has he woken up at allHow long has he been out?" she asked.

"No, he hasn't even movedHe fell asleep right after you did."

"All right. Time to step things up," she said almost to herself. Turning to Cody and Murray, she continued, "I need you two to do something."

"Whatever you need," Cody assured.

"Yeah," Murray agreed.

"Both of you lie down and get some sleep." The arguments started immediately, but she held up a hand to stop them. "When I took a nap we made an agreement, remember? We take turns. You both look like the walking dead, and I won't take 'no' for an answer. The sooner you give in, the sooner I can pay attention to Nick."

The pair acquiesced and she promised to wake them in an hour, but she was lying. Cass knew they were still feeling the effects of their concussions, but she didn't feel they were in any immediate danger. She intended to let them sleep for at least two. Watching them drift off, she eased her conscience with the thought that her head was worse and it was more important that she stay awake. Plus with Cody and Murray well rested it would be easier for them to do anything they needed to do in the morning.

I figure I'm not going to be much good at anything the way I feel - except for sitting here with Nick.

Cassie took up where Cody left off, monitoring Nick and trying to cool him down. She fought off the nausea and dizziness that still plagued her, knowing that Murray and Cody hadn't felt much better.

The storm and the sound of Nick's breathing kept her company as she continued her vigil. She wasn't certain if her ministrations were really helping, but at least it gave her something to do.

The two hours passed quickly, and with her shift up, she woke the two men, checking to make sure they seemed coherent. The three continued swapping shifts throughout the night.

The dawn brought three revelations to light. First, the awesome surprise that Cody never mentioned nor gave Cassie a hard time about the two hour versus one hour swaps. Murray was even surprised, but followed Cody's lead, deciding that he must have a reason for it.

Second was the sun, driving the storm from the horizon. All three knew that the next few hours would tell whether or not anyone had received their signal. And just who that someone might be.

And third, Nick's condition. They all hovered over him, noting that while Nick hadn't improved, he hadn't deteriorated as quickly as they'd feared. The fever was still present, but continued hovering at what Cassie guessed was between 101 and 102. She was thankful it hadn't climbed high enough to induce delirium. And while he was dehydrated, he'd be a lot worse off if the fever climbed.

And most importantly, he had just regained consciousness. Assessing him again, Cassie was pleased to find that he was basically coherent. He was in a lot of pain, tired, and extremely weak, but he hadn't lost his grasp on reality or his concern for his companions.

"Are y-you, okay?" Nick asked, barely stammering out the question at an audible level. Concern etched his pain-filled face.

"We're fine, buddy." Cody tightened his grasp on Nick's hand and gently stroked his shoulder with his other hand. "Don't try to talk, just rest. Help should be on the way now that the weather's cleared."

Cassie wet a clean cloth and stroked the pilot's dry lips with it. He sucked weakly on the cloth, relieving his dry mouth.

Murray looked on anxiously, wishing there was something he could do to help.

Both men looked to Cassie for her judgment on Nick's condition when he passed out again.

"Nick? Nick?" Cassie called, trying to rouse him unsuccessfully. She proceeded to check his vitals and palpate his skin. "This isn't good, guys. He's really dehydrated."

She proved her point by lightly pinching the skin on his arm. They watched as it tented slightly.

"It's the blood loss and sweating from the fever he still has. And no replacement of fluids. Infection, shock. . ." She choked on the words, and tried to gather her courage. There were tears in her eyes as she fought hard to defeat them.

Murray, closest to her, placed a supportive arm around her shoulders.

Cody kept eye contact with the medic, hoping Cass wouldn't say what he knew she had to. She broke her gaze and leaned into Murray's grasp. "Damn it! I feel so useless. Inept!" There was a brief hesitation before she said, "Nick's reached a point where he's going to slip into a coma and . . . and we're gonna lose him if something doesn't happen - right now." The last words were stressed as she allowed the tears to fall.

The two detectives' tears were not far behind.

As if to answer her plea they heard a helicopter approaching the island. All three perked up and Cody jumped out to flag them down.

No sooner had his feet landed on the sand than he scrambled back in, muttering explicatives and grabbing for the guns he and Murray had left at ready the night before.

"I don't think that's our rescue party - unless they're coming in an unmarked chopper with big guys who have bigger guns, leaning out the sides."

He passed the two handguns to Murray and Cass. Then he began to take aim at the approaching chopper with the remaining rifle.

"Wait!" Cassie exclaimed. "We need that helicopter, or at least its radio - intact - to get help for Nick."

"That means we have to let them land and then take them out individually," Cody replied, his mind racing. "We need better cover. The trees'll have to do."

"We can't move Nick on the run, he'll never survive," Cassie said, the tone of her voice almost breaking their spirit.

"Then what?" Cody almost yelled with exasperation.

"Nick is close enough to dead to pass for it. I'm only going to slow you down. My head's still pounding; I'm dizzy and nauseous to the max."

"You can't-"

"I certainly can. Leave me a handgun, cover us up and leave us for dead." Her voice was even and firm.

"You're not serious?" Murray argued.

Cody gave her a quick once over. "She is, and as much as I hate to agree, the two of us alone stand a better chance of taking them out."

Cass grasped Cody's arm, conveying her wordless thanks and support. She settled in a partially face down position as close to Nick as she could get, hiding the gun in her hand under the two of them.

Painfully Cody and Murray covered the "bodies" with an open sleeping bag. And with one last regretful glance, they were off to find cover in the underbrush and trees.

The minute they exited the Mimi they found themselves under fire. The two detectives made a quick dive for cover.

Once they were obscured from view by the foliage they carefully and quickly started toward the center of the island, hoping to draw attention away from the downed chopper.

The two men exchanged glances when they heard the invading helicopter set down.

"Damnit,"Cody hissed.

They took cover where they could watch the Mimi and waited.

The unmarked helicopter landed down the beach from the battered Mimi. On board was a middle-aged pilot equipped with a sidearm. Sitting in the co-pilot's seat was a distinguished looking man, slightly older than the pilot. His face was edged with determination and his eyes sparkled with a predatory gleam.

In the rear were two men in their mid-twenties. Both screamed military through their appearance. Not just any military, but the dangerous exterior of heartless mercenaries; men who had the air of being psyched for the hunt. Any hunt they got paid for.

"Rogers, Lincoln. Take care of our targets." The order was simple and unemotionally delivered by the gentleman in the co-pilot's seat.

The two men, who were already virtually hanging out the sides of the helicopter to start with, exited with calculated haste and headed for the Mimi. The pilot drew his weapon, maintaining it at ready as he scanned the area, protecting his employer.

"The immediate area appears secure, Mr. Thompson."

"Very good, McMann. We shall sit tight and wait for the others to complete their mission."

Since their helicopter had landed on the far side of the Mimi, Rogers and Lincoln carefully made their way around the rear of the chopper, taking aim in the cargo hold. All that greeted them was a sleeping bag covering two still forms.

With Rogers maintaining his aim, Lincoln yanked the sleeping bag off Nick and Cassie. They were greeted by what appeared to be two dead bodies.

"Mr. Thompson, we've found two bodies in the wreckage. One matches your description of Ryder; the other's an unknown female." Rogers informed Thompson over his radio.

"Good, one down, two to go. The female's just an unfortunate casualty of war. Proceed with the mission. Let me know when you've disposed of the others."

The radio link went dead.

"Friendly fellow isn't he," Lincoln quipped, running his rifle up Cassie's leg. "This one looks like she could've been some real fun. Shame she's already dead."

"Let's get going before you decide you like them dead or alive." Rogers motioned towards the woods.

Lincoln followed.

As the two men reached the tree line a shot rang out, felling Rogers.

Cass held her breath and prayed that, as much as she wanted Nick awake and aware, he would stay unconscious for the moment. Not jumping when their cover was ripped from them was hard, but when she felt the cold muzzle of the rifle stroke her left leg from calf to thigh it took all her control not to move.

Wishing that she too was unconscious, she held perfectly still, willing them to leave. Then the one with the roaming rifle started making his suggestive comments. The nausea she'd been fighting since the crash was bad enough, but now Cass thought she was going to lose it for sure.

But she held on and was grateful for their quick departure. As her body started to tremble, she heard the single shot ring out. Debating on whether to react, she held her ground. Clutching the gun under Nick in her right, she inched closer to him, hoping to give them both more strength.

From their hiding place Cody and Murray observed the goings on at the Mimi. As frustrating as it was, they held their ground, wishing they could hear the would be killers' conversation.

As the two invaders turned towards the tree line, Cody realized that it was probably best to take them out before they could seek cover in the trees and underbrush. The detective took careful aim and fired at the man in the lead.

The man fell to the ground, his partner immediately dropping into a defensive crouch.

All three men were distracted by the arrival of another helicopter. This one bearing the white and orange markings of the U.S. Coast Guard.

"Drop your weapons!" reverberated in the air around them.

Cody and Murray immediately dropped their guns, not wanting to be mistaken for the enemy.

The remaining invader was not as intelligent. He turned and fired on the Coast Guard chopper. His volley was immediately returned by the Coast Guard, and their aim was better than his. The bullets hit Lincoln in the chest and he dropped.

Thompson took the turn of events in stride, ordering McMann to make a run for it as the Coast Guard helicopter approached.

"Better to live to fight another day."

The Coast Guard helicopter hesitated slightly before landing. While they settled on the beach, Cody checked on their fallen enemies. Murray approached the landing site to inform the officers what had happened.

Cody discovered both men dead. Safe, he ran to the Mimi to check on Nick and Cassie, finding her leaning out the hatch in the throes of dry heaves, her stomach long since emptied.

After a quick check on Nick, who was still alive and breathing, Cody turned to Cass. He supported her, and then held her as she recovered from her bout.

Cody was helping a pale and shaky Cass return to Nick's side when Murray and their rescuers arrived at the Mimi. When she recognized the lead Coast Guard medic, Cassie gave him a hopeful smile. "Stan, please tell me you have at least one IV set up and some Ringer's in there?" She indicated the kit he was carrying.

"For you, darling, I've got that and more," he greeted warmly.

Stan and his partner, whose name tag read "Keith," climbed aboard and studied the four survivors. Cass speeded up their triage assessment. "Nick first. He has a pneumothorax, a broken left tibia and he's lost lots of fluids. His pulse is weak and thready and he's been running a temp for about nine hours. He's been intermittently conscious and alert times three. Last time was about forty-five minutes ago, since then he's been unresponsive."

Stan nodded his acknowledgement of her patient assessment as he and Keith set to work on Nick. They contacted the hospital via the radio, exchanging information and carrying out orders. They started two large-bore IV's, administered oxygen, attached a cardiac monitor, reinforced the chest dressing and re-splinted Nick's leg.

Cody, Murray and Cass backed out of the way, anxiously watching the proceedings with silent prayers on their lips.

Cass let out a breath she didn't even know she was holding, when the second IV started. She was thankful Stan was a good medic, finding the necessary veins to start them in. Between the shock and fluid loss she hadn't been sure that Nick would have a viable vein left.

Stan turned his attention to the trio while Keith and another Coast Guard officer transferred Nick into a Stokes basket, heading to the chopper to further stabilize him.

"Looks like you did good here, girl," Stan said as he started his assessment of Cassie's injuries. "Remind me if I have to get hurt in the middle of nowhere with nothing that I want you with me."

Ignoring the humorous compliment, Cass started to object, her eyes following Nick. "Shouldn't we go-?"

Stan interrupted. "Cody and Murray can go with your friend; we'll go in a minute. But first, you look like hell. Stay put."

Cody and Murray exchanged glances and wordlessly made a decision. Cody followed Nick and Murray moved closer to Cass to provide emotional and physical support.

"Let him check you out. After all, we're all going to have to get checked out eventually."

Murray grasped her shoulder while Stan worked. After contacting the hospital he started an IV and double checked her pupil response. "A bit sluggish, my dear." Stan smiled at her. "My guess is that you're going to be a guest of King Harbor General Hospital. You're a bit dehydrated. Still nauseous?"

She was slow to answer. "Yes, but I'll tell you this much, no way am I going to be shuffled off to an out of the way room," Cass asserted. "I intend to stay as close to Nick as I can."

Before Stan could answer, Murray attempted to work a little Bozinsky magic. "Cass, let's cross that bridge when we come to it. For now, just let Stan finish his job so we can join Nick and Cody."

The beast temporarily pacified, the medic finished his ministrations. The other Coast Guard officer returned to gather up equipment. Stan and Murray assisted Cass to the waiting helicopter. Once they were all aboard, the pilot took off and they were on their way to King Harbor General.

O O O

The entire flight was spent focused on Nick.

Anguish was painted like a mask on Cody's face, blocked blocking everything except for the sight and sound of Nick. He never lost physical contact with his best friend and kept up a litany of positive, soothing words he was sure Nick could hear. The paramedics patiently worked around Cody, understanding his need to stay in contact with his friend.

Murray and Cassie watched the medics work. Cassie's gaze locked on the heart monitor, which was beating erratically. Murray's arm was still around her, supporting and kind, and she was grateful.

Murray felt like his heart was about to crumble. Nick had to recover. If Nick died Cody would never be the same.

And Cassie, while new to their "family" - and that's what they were, family - would be devastated. The attraction between Nick and Cassie was apparent to everyone except the two of them. Murray hoped they'd get the opportunity to discover that.

The computer genius tightened his hold on Cass. We're all hurt and tired; it's time for a break. We all have to be okay. We just have to hold on a little longer.

Once the helicopter landed at King Harbor General the foursome were swept up in the chaos that served as order for the Level 1 trauma center. Very quickly they found themselves in four separate curtained cubicles.

Murray and Cody received relatively clean bills of health after having their wounds cleaned and their bandages replaced. It was too late for stitches, so the wounds were cleaned and soiled butterfly dressings were replaced with clean ones. Their concussions were declared mild and both men refused the suggestion that they stay over night for observation. Both were discharged with prescriptions for antibiotics, instructions and a warning to take it easy for the next few days.

Unable to see Nick, they were referred to the doctor who was treating Cassie.

A tall, thin dark-haired man with glasses approached them. "Are you with Cassandra Mitchell?" The man, who appeared to be in his late thirties, extended his hand to Cody.

"Yeah, I'm Cody Allen. This is Murray Bozinsky," he said, the introductions made over handshakes.

"I'm Dr. Lynch. I know you're also waiting for news on your other friend,

uh. . .?"

"Nick Ryder," Cody provided.

"Right, Nick Ryder. Unfortunately, I haven't had an opportunity to check in on him yet. As soon as we finish discussing Cassie I'll see what I can find out for you. The trauma team's with him, and I have complete confidence in them. They're a skilled group of professionals."

"Thank you, Dr. Lynch that would be terrific. In the meantime, how is Cassie?" Murray queried.

"Actually she's in pretty good shape, considering. The concussion is more than mild, but not severe. She's suffering from mild dehydration from the vomiting the head injury caused. We're rehydrating her at the moment, and we've given her something to ease the nausea. We still need to assess the severity of the broken ribs and deal with the associated pain.

"But she's going to be okay?" asked Cody.

"Yes, barring any disastrous complications, I don't see any reason why she won't be out of here by sometime tomorrow. She's delaying the CT scan and refusing additional pain meds until she sees the two of you, and knowing Cassie from working with her, she's stubborn. So, if you'll follow me I'll take you to her on my way to check on Mr. Ryder."

The two detectives followed the doctor, who directed them to cubicle twenty-three. Before he left he added, "I'll meet you back here in a few minutes. I'm sure she won't be cooperative until I can update you on Mr. Ryder's condition."

Cody and Murray shared a knowing chuckle with the doctor. It was the first thing they had found to really laugh about since the beginning of their misadventure.

"Hey, Cass," Cody started. "How're you doing?"

"I'll be better when I know how Nick is," she sighed. "But, since it appears that I have to wait for that I have something I need to talk to you about."

"Anything," was the answer given in unison.

"Before I allow David to sedate me or send me for tests you two have to promise me that you'll keep me up to date with Nick, regardless of what's going on with me. Please, promise you won't hide anything from me."

She was serious; fearing that Cody and Murray would try to shield her if they thought it would somehow help her. Cody and Murray both reached out from opposite sides of her emergency room stretcher to hold a hand. Cody was the one who spoke. "Don't worry; I'll make sure you know everything we know. Short of barging in during your CT scan, I'll get to youkeep you informed."

She looked at both men before she said, "Thanks."

Dr. Lynch announced himself and stepped in to rejoin them. "I take it you've finished your conversation?"

"Yes, David, we have. How's Nick?"

"Extremely lucky would be the short answer. We're not out of the woods yet, but the fact that he's made it this far is encouraging. The trauma team's already taken him to the OR. They're currently repairing the pneumothorax. We're transfusing him and aggressively rehydrating him at the moment. Once the hole in his chest is fixed, they're going to set his leg while he's in the OR. Amazingly enough, he doesn't appear to have any head injury of merit, perhaps just a mild concussion. The next twenty-four hours are critical, but with the excellent prehospital care he received. . ." Dr. Lynch smiled at Cass and she blushed. ". . . He stands a very good chance. He still has lots of other lacerations and such that need care, but he's holding his own."

The trio, their hands still clasped, tightened their grasps. Releasing a collective sigh of relief they allowed themselves to succumb to a cautious optimism.

"Thank you, doctor," Cody enthused.

Murray echoed the sentiment.

"Does this mean I can send this young lady for her CT scan? I do believe they're waiting for you."

"I guess so, as long as you keep me posted on Nick and let me see him ASAP."

"I, Dr. David Lynch, do solemnly swear. . ."

"Okay, you can stop now. I get the point. I'll go peacefully."

Orderlies appeared to take Cass up to radiology and Dr. Lynch showed the men to a private surgical waiting room to await news of their friends. The doctor admonished both men to take advantage of the privacy to get some much needed rest while they waited.

Unfortunately anxiety seemed to be holding their exhaustion at bay. Cody and Murray alternated sitting with pacing, coffee drinking and occasional conversation. Their main concern was Nick, both men certain that Cassie would weather the rest of her treatment without problem. And as long as she didn't hurt herself trying to get to Nick all would be fine.

"Can you believe those two?" Murray asked.

Shaking his head, Cody replied, "If those two don't wake up pretty soon I'm going to be forced to lock them in a room together until they realize they like each other."

"I don't know, Cody. I think we're talking a little more than just 'like' here. I see a major chemical reaction in the works here. It's just a matter of finding the catalyst to set it off."

"Those two have been dancing around each other for months. And the kicker is I really think they're good for each other." Cody hesitated a moment, rubbing his face with his hands. "It's just been the three of us for so long. And before that it was just me and Nick. At first I resented the possibility of sharing Nick with someone, but I like Cassie. She's become one of us. Besides, neither of them ever made a move for the other, so I let it slide. There was no threat while they weren't doing anything. But, now . . . maybe I should've pushed . . . they might not get the opportunity. There might not be a Nick to share." Cody got up, rubbing the back of his neck, and paced.

Murray reached out for his friend and missed. He got up and physically stopped Cody from pacing by facing him eye to eye and putting his hands on Cody's shoulders. "Cody Allen. We cannot start thinking the worst, it's not going help. He'll be all right. Nick's a fighter. Nothing can come between the two of you, or the three of us. It's too soon. We all have long lives in front of us."

Murray's voice was stern and commanding, and his body held an air of commanding authority that even Cody didn't know his friend was capable of. Cody met Murray's gaze head on, the blonds' eyes full of regret and understanding. "Murray, you're right. Nick's going to be fine. The only thing we have to work out is our schedule - who sits with Nick, who sits with Cass, and when."

Both men used the opportunity of their closeness to pull each other into a hug. Using the physical closeness as a vent for their worries and concerns, supporting each other, bolstering their confidence. When they broke apart, they did it slowly, taking a moment to clasp each other's forearms and cement the moment.

A short time later Dr. Lynch and another man in surgical scrubs approached the pair. Dr. Lynch introduced Dr Wrightman, the surgeon who worked on Nick.

"Your friend came through with flying colors. He's a fighter we'll need twenty-four hours or so to be sure, but I'm cautiously optimistic that he'll be fine." Lynch gave them a smile of encouragement as Dr. Wrightman updated the tired duo. "He's inThey're moving him to Recovery right now. We'll He'll be be movinged him to his own room soonin a bit. Then you can see him. there We placed a chest tube and repaired the relatively minor chest wall damage. As soon as we are sure things are doing well and he's past the risk of lung deflation we will remove the tube. The orthopedist set his leg. It's in a temporary cast. They'll apply a permanent cast in a few days when the swelling goes down. He's breathing on his own and doing well."

"Doctor, that's wonderful news. I just know that if he's made it this far, he's going to be fine," Murray said with a smile.

"Well, he's going to have a long road ahead of him in physical therapy. He's not going to heal overnight."

"That's okay," Cody said, "as long as he's alive the rest we can deal with."

"Oh, I have one last bit of news; hopefully it's something that'll make your lives easier. I pulled some strings and Nick and Cassie will be in the same room. She should be released in less than 24 hours anyway, but I knew she wouldn't stay in bed otherwise. Besides, this way you won't have to bounce from room to room. Maybe you'll be able to get some rest, too."

"Thanks, doctor," Murray gushed as he shook the man's hand.

This time it was Cody who echoed the sentiments. They were both ready to get some much deserved rest.

The next couple hours were a blur. Cody and Murray set themselves up in room 719. Cassie was already there when they arrived, fast asleep courtesy of the meds.

A short time later Nick was brought down from recovery. His friends were informed that it could be awhile before the injured man really woke up.

Both Cody and Murray were exhausted. Their own injuries and the activities of the past two days taking their toll. The pair fell asleep within minutes of settling into their chairs.

A couple of hours later Cody was awakened by a stiff intake of breath. Cassie was awake. He shifted his chair closer to her bedside and put his hand over hers. "Good morning, sleepy head. How're you feeling?"

The answer he received was a slight groan of discomfort.

"A little painful at the moment? You probably know more about this than I do, but the nurse told me all you have to do is push this little button," he placed a button on the end of a covered wire in her hand, then gestured at her IV and the machine it was connected to. "It's connected to the IV. YouAnd you can give yourself a dose of pain medication when you need it. She said pain meds and deep breaths were the best treatment for broken ribs."

As Sshe nodded her thanks and pushed the button. All of a sudden it was like someone turned on a light switch. "Nick? How's Nick?" She tried to sit up and only accomplished causing herself more pain.

Cody eased her back down, and then pulled back the curtain to reveal Nick in the other bed.

Cassie's relief was obvious, yet she appeared confused. "The same room, how?" she asked.

"Thank your friend Dr. Lynch. He figured it was the only way to keep you in bed and resting."

Murray awoke at the sound of the voices. He moved immediately to her side. "Good to see you awake."

"Thanks, Murray." The morphine from the pump was starting to take its effect and her eyes grew heavy.

"Hey, why don't you close your eyes and get some more sleep?" Cody suggested soothingly. "Don't worry, I'll wake you if anything changes with Nick, but the doctor says he's doing good, real good."

Cassie smiled thinly, slipping back into darkness. The two detectives also relaxed, settling down and slipping back into their light sleep.

Nick felt himself rising from the depths. He waited for the awful pain he remembered, and there was pain, but it was muted, dulled. His eyes didn't want to work, but he could hear sounds - things clunking in the hallway, distant voices.

He tested his limbs and found that he could move his hands, and his right leg seemed fine, but his left leg was awkward and weighted down.

Cody, barely dozing, heard movement from Nick's direction. He opened his eyes and saw movement. Nick's hand clenched slightly and Cody cleared the chair and the distance between he and his best friend in one lunge.

"Nick, I'm here, buddy. It's Cody. You can do it, open your eyes."

A groggy Nick heard his best friend's voice and obeyed his order. He opened his eyes and looked up at Cody.

"That's it, Nick. Everything's gonna be all right now."

"Hospital?"

"Yeah, buddy, you're in the hospital. But we're all here with you, me, Murray and Cass." Cody's gaze never drifted from Nick as he stuck his foot back to jostle Murray's chair and wake him up. It worked. Murray was up instantly.

"Nick! It's great to see you awake."

Nick managed a small smile; the two mother hens hovering over him were just too funny not to. Seeing that his two best friends were ok that left only one person missing. "Thanks," he said thickly. "Cass?"

"She's fine, buddy," Cody stepped aside slightly so Nick could see her sleeping in the other bed. "It's nothing major. Basically just a broken rib. She's only enjoying the aftereffects of some morphine. She'll be up and bothering you in no time."

While Nick's relief was apparent, so was the fact that he needed more rest. In no time at all he closed his eyes and went back to sleep, leaving two elated men to celebrate the fact that they were all alive.

Murray and Cody spelled each other so they could each take showers and get some clean clothes, not to mention food.. The dawn of the next day found them cleaned up, rested and sitting vigil at their friends' bedsides.

This time when Cassie woke up, she stayed awake, even managing to eat some breakfast. Cody and Murray managed to keep her in bed until she insisted on using the bathroom. They helped her to the door and returned to Nick's bedside until they were needed again.

A few minutes later, washed up, hair and teeth brushed, Cassie exited the bathroom and headed to Nick. Murray got up to help her, and she took advantage of the situation, stealing his chair and carefully moving herself closer to Nick.

All urges from the detectives went unheeded; she stayed put. Luckily it was only a short wait until Nick woke up. He was more coherent and awake longer. At his request Cass returned to rest in her bed, leaving Cody and Murray to wonder how Nick achieved what they had been unable to.

Mid-morning Drs. Lynch and Wrightman came through the door. Murray and Cody retreated to the hall while Nick was examined. When Dr. Wrightman called them back into the room they were overjoyed by the news - Nick's crisis was over; he would recover. Furthermore Dr. Lynch discharged Cassie.

Murray and Cody were just about to flip a coin to see who would go to lunch first while Cassie argued that they should both go and take a break. Nick continued sleeping, though only heaven knew how. Into the fray a surprise visitor entered, bearing a huge arrangement of flowers.

"Bax!" Murray exclaimed. "What're you doing here?"

"Hi, Bax," Cody added.

"I heard that my favorite detectives and their companion got themselves in a tough spot. I wanted to see for myself that you were all in one piece."

"Cass, this is Baxter Bernard," Cody introduced as Bax put the arrangement on the windowsill and returned to shake her hand. "Bax, this is Cassandra Mitchell, a good friend of ours, who also just happens to be a paramedic out of our very own King Harbor General."

"So, you're the Florence Nightingale who took care of my boys here. The nurse down in the ER was singing your praises when I asked about you. Thank you, young lady."

Cassie blushed.

Bax lowered his voice when he noticed that Nick was asleep. "Is Nick all right?" he asked, the concern in his voice obvious.

"He'll recover. It's going to take some time, but the doctors say he'll be fine. We're all in one piece, more or less, except for the Mimi. I don't think its hit Nick yet. Wait until he realizes that she's lying in pieces on that beach," Murray mumbled wistfully.

"In pieces, eh? Exactly what're the coordinates of that beach?"

And that's how Nick's surprise was set in motion. Bax wouldn't take no for an answer. Before he left the hospital room he had set the salvage plans into action. The group of conspirators decided not to tell Nick in advance, but to surprise him with the repaired Mimi when he could see it himself.

Though released from the hospital Cassie didn't wander far. She would be on medical leave while her ribs healed and intended to use every single day for Nick's benefit. His piloting skills were the only reason any of them were alive. If she had an ulterior motive besides gratitude for her actions no one mentioned it.

Ten Ten days later Nick was released. He still had to take it easy for awhile, but he was alive and beginning to think about how nice it was having Cass around so much. He kept his thoughts to himself, though, jokingly kicking her out when she finally did have to return to work. They laughed easily with each other, while Cody and Murray stood back and wondered when they were going to acknowledge their feelings about each other.

Unfortunately, there was no evidence to show who had wanted them dead. Forensics proved that a small bomb with just enough force to disrupt the main rotors was the cause of the crash. Apparently the person responsible hoped that the Mimiwould crash and burn, killing them on impact and destroying any evidence of the bomb. But Nick proved to be a better pilot than their attacker thought.

Three weeks after Nick had returned to the Riptide a blue funk settled over him as he dwelled on the fate of the Mimi.

Sitting at the table with a cup of coffee, he sighed heavily. Sure, he would've sacrificed the machine every time if it meant saving their lives. Besides, it wasn't exactly like he had any other options.

But he still missed her.

That pink eyesore had been a part of his life for so long that her destruction left him with an empty feeling.

And flying. Who knew when and if he'd ever get another helicopter? He sighed again. It was time to close that chapter of his life.

He looked up at a knock on the door. "Come in!" he said, not really feeling like getting up and dealing with his crutches.

Cassie let herself in. "Hi, Nick. How are you doing today?"

Before he could answer Cody and Murray came up from Murray's room. "Hey, Cass."

She seemed a little nervous, saying, "Uh, Cody, do you remember that thing I told you about?"

"Yeah, sure," he replied, thinking, Good thing we preplanned this or I wouldn't know what you're talking about.

"Well, the thing's out there now and I was hoping that you three would come look at it with me."

It took a little persuasion, but finally they got Nick up and going to check out "the thing" she had seen.

It was slow going, but they got Nick up to the roadway along the pier. As they approached its end, there stood the Mimi in all her glory.

Nick nearly dropped his crutches. "How did-? You guys-? I can't believe it!"

Cody slipped his arm around Nick's shoulders. "We had a little help from a friend."

Bax stepped out from behind the Mimi, wearing a smile almost as big as Nick's.

With that they all celebrated, oohing and aahing over the great repair job, examining the classic helicopter inside and out.

Cody helped Nick into the pilot's seat. "Now that's where you belong," Cody informed him.

Nick was so overcome that there were tears forming in his eyes. One look at him and he had the rest of them ready to cry like babies. It was indeed a fine moment for the Riptide Detective Agency and company.

Unfortunately, the fine moment proved could prove to be short-lived. While they celebrated a stranger was sneaking onto the Riptide, sliding a note under the cabin door before making a hasty departure.

The note read: Enjoy your time now. Just remember you're living on borrowed time. I will strike again, and this timethen you will not have any second chances.

The End?